Re-reading My Favourites

I’ve been re-reading some of my favourite novels, including Peter Ackroyd’s Chatterton and Graham Swift’s Waterland.  The first examines the relationship between history and fiction (and their interpenetration and contingency) and the second explores history and human affairs using metaphors of land reclamation.  Both are deeply moving and extremely well written.  Next will be an older book, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a novel investigating immigration and the rise of unionism in the United States.

I once took an undergraduate English course at the University of British Columbia.  It was on the post-World War II British novel.  Some of the most excellent books I’ve ever encountered were on the reading list for that class.  I remember the instructor’s name was Graham Good.  He certainly was good at picking books!


The Visual Journal (a Lifelong Process)

Twenty-six years ago, when I started to keep a journal, I  broke in that intimidating blank page with this quote: “The personal life deeply lived always expands into truths beyond itself” (Anais Nin).  You see, the only people I knew that kept journals (which to me sounded loftier than the teenage-tinted word “diary”) were literary figures like Anais Nin and Virginia Woolf.  Only later did I discover Frida Kahlo’s diary along with those kept by many others.  And only recently has visual journalling entered the mainstream, becoming a staple of blog entries, how-to books, and web pages.

My very first entry, in April 1985, when I was twenty-three years old, reads: “I will now begin my journey to the spiritual island within myself…”  I laugh at this line.  To think that I once believed this was possible, or that the process, which has become lifelong, would be “spiritual” in nature, rather than intellectual or emotional.  That it could ever have a destination.  If I were to use one word to describe myself now it would certainly not be spiritual.  Perhaps I would use the word curious.  At other times I might use the word troubled or contented or engaged.  Such are the ups and downs of the daily and the quotidian.  I approach everything by absorbing it cerebrally; feeling only comes later.  Because for me, older and wiser (?) now, it is only knowledge that will save us.  Because only action informed by knowledge is responsible and effective when faced with the incomprehensible.

I’ve included a photograph here of over two decades worth of visual journals, fifty two of them!  What on earth will I do with these as I get closer to old age and death?  Have them buried or cremated with me?  It has always been the writing of them, not the reading of them, that has been significant.  The creation of a place for reflection, for venting, for processing, for writing poetry, drawing pictures, making collages…I really don’t know if I’ll ever read them in any systematic way, if I read them at all.

The past always impinges on the present; there is no escaping it.  Events, trauma, joy – all find their way into these pages.  The need not to lose anything is strong, if unrealistic.  So strong, in fact, that if it didn’t get written down, it’s almost as if it didn’t actually happen.  Is that the appeal of this almost daily ritual?  The documentary impulse, the fear of emptiness or of an imprecise and/or degraded memory?

Have these books become more of a burden than a relief?  Excess baggage?  Or do they still serve that purpose of helping me gain access to a deeper, more complex, more interesting world?  I oscillate between viewing them as an encumbrance and a treasure trove.  But I know I cannot stop filling them.  They are now inextricably wound up with my sense of self, they have ensnared me as if they were an external force compelling me, rather than a trajectory I am responsible for setting in motion with purpose and strong intent.

Artists’ Sketchbooks and Visual Journals

I found a site with some fantastic sketchbook pages.  Very inspiring.

I’ve put this under my links.  The creator of the site also writes about the creative process.

There is also a new Lynda Barry book out entitled Picture This.  Here are a few tidbits:

“You have to be willing to spend time making things for no known reason.”

“Doodle is a name I dislike for a kind of drawing I love.”

“What if drawing was a way to get to a certain state of mind that was very good for us?  And what if this certain state of mind was more important than the drawing itself?”

Lessons to spur us into action.