All posts filed under: inspiration

The capacity to work feeds on itself

My children were at that time six, three and one. Their care came first. Doctors’ appointments, reading to them, rocking the baby to sleep, car pools — all that had to be done, and done as well as I could, before I could turn to myself. Confronted by this situation, I made two major decisions. The first was to invest in myself, as needed, the money I had inherited from my family. I simply poured my capital into my work […] The second major decision was to increase my energy output and use it as wisely and as fully as I could. Again fortunately, during the years from 1948 to 1961 I had formed the habit of working in my studio almost every single day. Rain or shine, eager or dragging my feet, I just plain forced myself to work. This habitual discipline came up under me to support my revved-up schedule. I simply got up early every morning and worked straight through the day in one way or another, either in my household or …

Things I Don’t Want To Know

  Now that we were mothers we were all shadows of our former selves, chased by the women we used to be before we had children. We didn’t really know what to do with her, this fierce, independent young woman who followed us about, shouting and pointing the finger while we wheeled our buggies in the English rain. We tried to answer her back but we did not have the language to explain that we were not women who had merely ‘acquired’ some children – we had metamorphosed  (new heavy bodies, milk in our breasts, hormonally-programmed to run to our babies when they cried) in to someone we did not entirely understand. Things I Don’t Want To Know, Deborah Levy We’re speeding now, towards the summer holidays. Two weeks and two days to go. And yet, there’s so much to be fitted in. Sports day, the school summer fair, the Moose’s visits to T’s school which he will start in September. Play dates and picnics and holiday preparations. It’s all fun, but it has the …

Freshening the world

Poems that change our perceptions are everywhere you look, and one of the definitions of poetry might be that a poem freshens the world.   By writing poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say “We loved the earth but could not stay.” The Poetry Home Repair Manual, Ted Kooser From my morning reading, a little re-visit to Ted Kooser’s slim and wise book. I love Kooser’s practicality and warmth; his wonderfully simple definition of what a poem can be, of what we might aim for when we’re writing. But oh, that ‘could not stay’…really, can I really not stay? It will never be enough. We found this blackbird’s egg on the pavement as we walked to school one day last week. The Moose took it to pre-school and now it’s disappeared into T’s classroom. I wish I could let you hold it in your hands, feel how paper-thin that beautiful blue shell is, how it seems it would shatter at the lightest touch. Then there was …

Oxford

Painting from nature is not a matter of copying the subject, but of expressing one’s feelings. Paul Cézanne On Saturday I had an adventure all of my own. A day with no responsibilities, no requirements, no restrictions. I took myself on the train to Oxford, to the Ashmolean to see Cézanne and the Modern. The whole day was magically mine in a way that no other day has been for far, far too long. The exhibition, and the whole Ashmolean, were a revelation: small enough to enjoy, but vast in scope and perspective. In the exhibition a Van Gogh lit up an entire room, an electric shock of colour. But my favourites, the paintings that I chose to stand or sit in front of and just breath in, were quieter. Cézanne’s still life watercolour of three pears, so exquisitely simple and lucid. A small oil study of a male bather. And another nude from behind, this time a woman by Degas. I seemed to be particularly attracted to these figures seen only from behind – there’s …

Lost In Living, free documentary this weekend

  Lost In Living, confronts the contradictions inherent in personal ambition and self-sacrifice, female friendship and mental isolation, big projects and dirty dishes. The complex realities of family life unfold in this documentary film about the messy intersection of motherhood and artistic expression. If the trailer is anything to go by, Lost In Living is the perfect movie for me right now. Filmmaker Mary Trunk followed four artists over seven years as they combined motherhood with art, two becoming mothers for the first time and two continuing their established careers with adult children. And it’s streaming for free this weekend here (4pm PST on Friday May 9th until midnight on Sunday May 11th). [Via the wonderful bluemilk.]  

Going to join the poets

A few years ago, I took Tamar Yoseloff‘s Routes into Poetry course at The Poetry School in London. On Tuesday evenings I would leave work in Victoria, walk past Westminster Abbey, along the backstreets to Lambeth Bridge, and cross over the Thames to join the poets. One of Ellen Gilchrist’s fantastic Rhoda stories is called ‘Going to Join the Poets’ (in The Age of Miracles), and I felt exactly like Gilchrist’s exuberant heroine, both desperate and alive when I was in that class. Tammy was a warm and engaging teacher, and my fellow poets – a journalist, a scientist, a sculptor, a civil servant and many, many teachers by day – were wonderfully generous with someone who hadn’t written a poem since school. But for two hours every week – longer if you counted the pub afterwards – I could be in a room where poetry & words, the breath & the line were all that mattered. I wrote some poems, mostly to do with either the Biscuit or the mice who had invaded our …

Density & speed

I watched the ever-sparkling Kirsty Wark interview Donna Tartt one evening just before Christmas as I was preparing dinner. Soon I was watching, cooking and taking notes. I just love what she has to say about the qualities that she looks for in a book: Reading’s no good unless it’s fun. But what I always want is…that childhood quality of just that gleeful, greedy reading, can’t get enough of it, what’s happening to these people, the breathless turning of the pages, that’s what I want in a book. But I also want something that’s well constructed too. I like to be able to drop down. Dickens goes so fast, he goes like lightning, but at the same time, any sentence you can lift up and it’s a marvel and a miracle. So to me, I want those two qualities, the two qualities of any great art: density and speed, density and speed. I stood stirring dinner and having one of those light-bulb moments: yes, that’s what I want, to be swallowed whole, totally consumed by …

Under the tree

1. Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life, Hermione Lee; 2. Sweet Peas for Summer: How to Create a Garden in a Year, Laetitia Maklouf; 3. Home Ground: Sanctuary in the City, Dan Pearson. Well, okay, there are a few other things that I want for Christmas too. A few things that might have tumbled into my Amazon basket before I’d actually managed to buy anything for anyone else. What can I say? But I wasn’t as naughty as I could have been: they’re safely tucked away in a box at the bottom of the wardrobe, waiting for someone to wrap them & give them to me on Christmas day. Hmm. Thinking about all the other wrapping also waiting to be done, it might have to just be enough to open the box on the big day. An abridged version of the Penelope Fitzgerald biography was beautifully read on Radio 4 a couple of weeks ago by Penelope Wilton (already vanished from the iPlayer I’m afraid). Having read nearly all her books (just a couple tucked up my …

Gorging

Not only on plums, but on the delectable words of Tove Jansson. Her writing is so clear and spare — invigorating in the way that I imagine a day in the Finnish forest would be. Somehow her prose gives equal weight to the spaces between the words (and between what is said and what is unsaid) as to the words themselves. When the biscuit was new I stood by the bookcase in the bedroom re-reading episodes from Jansson’s masterpiece, The Summer Book, whilst joggling her to sleep. Sophia and Grandmother’s adventures and arguments, the worlds conjured from their imaginations, all reminding me that the tiny bundle in my arms would grow to delight in the smallest of things. The Summer Book reminds me of my relationship with my own grandma — the conspiracy of old and young and their powerlessness against the whims and fates of the generation between them. It’s about life and death, creativity and nature; it’s about how, without despair or equivocation, we can live our lives in the full knowledge of …