Sunday, December 6, 2009

Where to now?

Having dipped a tentative toe in the water I've discovered that it's all very well to create a blog, tell everyone that it's up and running, then sit back and stare at it. What, I wondered, happens next? People have said that they will follow progress with interest - and (I'm new to this, remember) I began to understand that there's more to blogging than introducing yourself, rummaging through the files for a half-way decent photograph, and waiting for developments. Progress is expected, and the question is - what kind of progress?

What is a blog for? Perhaps it's self-puffery - babbling on about yourself and your doings. Yep, it's that all right. People are usually worth listening to if you get close enough to find out what makes them hum. Anyone who gets out of bed most mornings with glad cries because he or she has something tempting to do that day is an interested, and therefore an interesting, person. My motivation for starting a blog was to tell people about the exhibition in March, so there you are - self-puffery.

A blog can be a diary. Time was when people's lives were archived in the form of oral history, or long letters and documents sometimes discovered in old trunks in attics by later generations, or biographers on the hunt. There are no longer attics, or old trunks, and papers don't lie around for long enough to become significant. Really interesting or important people of the past would have been bemused had they known that not only their letters but also their postcards and shopping lists would be preserved, to form a picture of lives once led. Nowadays our letters are ephemeral, too often trivial and ill-considered, and dealt with and deleted with a click of the mouse, but our blogs are out there, everywhere, forever. Sobering thought. But how about this fascinating possibility: perhaps the ether of the internet will one day be the dusty attic of the future, and in a century or two people will be trawling through the gazillions of blogs being generated today. We may be contributing our two-cents worth to posterity after all.

A blog can be a forum for self-expression - that age-old excuse for having a rant or a whine. The need to express yourself is one of the basic motivations for hopeful writers because it harnesses a wellspring of energy and allows them to release it creatively. Anything that gets you going is worth a try. Maybe the spleen needs venting. This is the organ responsible for keeping the blood in good order, and if it isn't doing its job you become bad-tempered and spiteful - what our great-grandmothers called "liverish" as they ladled castor oil down the throats of their wailing children. But no, not in a blog; why inflict vented spleen on everyone else, you just come across as cranky. Memo to self: leave the spleen out of it.

A blog gives you a self-indulgent chance to say what's on your mind on a given day. However, faced with this enormous, world-wide forum the mind can suddenly take fright and go blank. There are areas you don't want to venture into: for example, family and friends are off limits for me. Laurence J. Peter (he wrote The Peter Principle) said that "if a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is the significance of a clean desk?" You should see my desk just now - it is pristine.

Actually it's not, if we're talking in real terms rather than metaphorically. It is not so much a desk as a door - a two metre door which I dragged out of the garage roof and scrubbed clean. It still has holes in it where the handle and hinges were, the paint is flaking off at a rapid rate, and it is balanced on an old desk so that there are drawers underneath. On it there is a computer monitor and keyboard at one end, plus the usual writing junk. At the other end, and moving inexorably inwards, is painting junk. This is temporary, and I worry (but only a little) about dribbling paint on the carpet when I'm splashing it around. The desk, when it is concerned only with writing, is extremely tidy most of the time and not cluttered at all but furnished.

I'm a writer, and writers think of things to think, and then to say. Perhaps the blog should be primarily about writing and the writer's life. And of course about painting and the painter's life. And maybe a few other things as well. We'll have to see as we progress.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I'm a writer by profession and a painter for fun. As a writer my work tends to skim along under the radar; only people who read the book page of the Christchurch Press see the reviews I've written, only people who read books and discuss them in groups (in the NZ WEA Book Discussion Scheme) read the notes that I might have provided. Feature articles have appeared here and there over the years, and the occasional short story turns up in magazines. Students I've taught have been at least partly responsible for the manual that eventually arose out of the courses they attended, and many others have bought the book and followed the hints and ideas they found between its covers. I'm not, therefore, a high-profile writer of blockbuster novels but rather a bread-and-butter writer who can sometimes add jam to her toast.

Painting is something else. Sunday painters are timorous creatures, unsure of their talent, usually untrained and easily squashed. People surge back and forth in front of their pictures trying to find something to say, because they too are unsure. They are also possibly afraid that if they enthuse too much they might get given the picture, because hobby painters no longer have enough room in their houses to hang any more. Amateur painters seek the approval of amateur critics (because they are the only ones they know) so they tend to paint pictures that their friends approve of - topographically accurate landscapes (chocolate-box pretties), apples and pears that look like apples and pears, and portraits that as someone once said always have something wrong with the mouth. Bad mistake. Even if it is true that, as Edward de Bono once said, unhappiness is best defined as the difference between our talents and our expectations, it is better to paint pictures that you approve of and take the consequences. A friend once described an exhibition of modern art as being full of pictures that looked as though they had been at the bottom of a bird cage. Praise like that has so far eluded me, but I have hopes. I am having my first exhibition in March 2010 at the Christchurch Arts Centre and hope to hang several quite bold pictures as well as a few more conventional ones. Here's a sample - it's called White Water.