Sunday, July 09, 2006

Still Working

I actually have been working on my new novel, somewhat secretly. If the first book is say, a piece of shiny sheet metal, I'm trying to make the next one like brocade velvet. Not stuffy, not overdone, just richer on the tongue.

It's kind of a wreck right now, in some ways. But I like that about how novels take shape. I like to see how the strangeness first emerges, then it's not so strange, then eventually it works. This part is somewhere in between those first two things:

She masked off some squares, six or eight small sections she could surely do without tiring. She pushed some paint around on a piece of wood—a makeshift palate that she preferred over anything formal—and the blue mixed with the darker blue until she had what she wanted. At one time she could paint the tiny squares without tape or even a straight edge, perfect straight lines that defied logic (and enraged the critics.) She was famous for it. But, like other things, that skill vanished with menopause. Specifically the patience. Or maybe she gained another kind of patience—and what she let go of was the need to paint everything freehand, of having to prove that she was a good painter. Getting older doesn’t really change you; you simply exchange one thing for another. Ambition for confidence, vigor for exactitude. You learn a new kind of precision—with words, with relationships (if you’re lucky,) and with your art. In her thirties—no, before that, her twenties, the loud years before Daniel—there was a kind of circular drive: you have to show them that you’re a great painter, and so you become a great painter; they want to believe you’re a great painter, so with their help you become successful; they want to believe that great painters still exist. Art is a closed community, full of all the shit you see on nature shows: cannibalism and infanticide. But—if you could manage it—what it all boiled down to was, thankfully, the pure solace that comes from one tiny square after another. Pushing the brush into a puddle of color. Blue against dark blue. Darker still until it is nearly black. Until it shines like a crow in the late day sun.

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