What Should You Do When You Need To Take a Break?
Interview with a Vampire Queen: Cris Griffin
Losing IdeasWombat Droppings
by Ursula Vernon
I had a great idea for a column this month.
Seriously, it was awesome. It would have been a joy to read.
It occurred to me while I was driving, and I savored it for a few miles, filed it mentally, and promptly forgot it.
I was crossing the Haw River at the time, a local waterway that's really quite scenic from the bridge when the water's at the right level, and I remember the white foam over distant rocks and the hot green light of the late sun through the new leaves and I remember clearly having the idea, and thinking "That'll be fantastic!" and now of course I have no idea what it was.
This happens to me a lot.
It happens with painting ideas the most, of course. When I was young and innocent* and took the world very seriously and had a memory like a pitcher plant, luring tasty fragments of poetry and random facts inward, eventually to be digested and stored for eternity, my mother once talked to me about a series she was thinking of painting, based on Catholic saint niches and the molecular structure of pesticides. She talked at great length, for nearly an hour, while we drove across the countryside.
I mentioned it to her a year later and she said "Huh?"
It astounded me that anyone could forget such a detailed plan for a series of paintings. It seemed unfathomable. All that mental energy devoted to it! How had she lost it? Couldn't she hold it all in her head?
Then I became an artist, and discovered that I could whip out a detailed plan for a meaningful series of paintings before breakfast, and completely forget about it by lunch. Sooner, if there's something interesting on the bird feeder.
My desktop is strewn with sticky notes -- I have a program that makes them on the desktop, my entire life is in them, if they ever crash I will be totally destroyed -- and half of them are ideas for paintings written down, and I have made almost none of them and no longer remember the fragments of imagery that went with them. The line "weeping woman with a stone fish" is easy enough to reconstruct, but what went with "Madonna/whore -- between pillars!!" and why did it deserve two exclamation points? Was "kudzu forest -- creature takes birdseed from hand in fog" a painting or a story or a dream I had once? What's a scatterjack, and why did I underline it?
(It's not just the sticky notes, though -- I'm worst with directions. I scribble down mapquest directions, and then I use the directions to write that brilliant idea about the extinct animal saints painted in white robes, and then the directions get dropped on the passenger seat and eventually gravitate to the passenger wheel well of my car, where they are shoveled out en masse every few weeks, along with the old water bottles and the fast food receipts.)
Really, though, it's probably for the best. I flip through my old sketchbooks, or that vast Sargasso Sea on my hard drive that holds abandoned digital sketches, and I see the bones of good paintings, bad paintings, paintings that were perfectly fine but failed to hold my interest. It's disturbing, but it only happens when I go looking for it.
The thumbnail, though…
There is a small thumbnail sketch of a painting, on real cardstock, done in ballpoint pen at a coffee shop some weeks ago, and it is nagging me. The navy blue lines wave at me whenever I glance at it -- the edge is tucked in under my computer monitor -- and demand to know why I haven't painted it yet.
It's not that it's bad. If it was bad, I could ignore it. It is good. It might even be really good. And I would have forgotten it by now, except that it's RIGHT THERE and the way it nags makes me think that the fact that I forget all those ideas is probably a merciful thing.
After all, if I kept all those ideas around, I'd never get anything done.
*A number of friends would like to argue that I am still rather absurdly innocent, and retain a capacity for shock despite everything.
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