Thursday 28 May 2015

Plugging Away

I forgot that yesterday was Artistic Wednesday, so I will write about Art today.

Art is not magic. Art is the application of skill on a canvas, real or metaphorical. You can learn how to do any art, and if you practice it frequently, with attention, you can become rather good at it. That said, I am surprised that I am becoming rather good at swing-dancing. But this is foolish of me, for I have been taking two hours of lessons a week since March.

However, the surprise is born of my former hatred for swing-dancing and inability to push myself through the initial weeks of misery, boredom and embarrassment. I did not know then, as I know now, that forcing myself to go to class would pay off eventually.

Interestingly, the reason I used to start swing-dancing classes, during bouts of university, was the hope of meeting men. The reason I started swing-dancing classes this time about was to keep a shy friend company. That said, I have always liked Big Band music. If she had wanted company to salsa....

Incidentally, there may be a correlation between a man's personality and his chosen dance form.  Last week I asked a Latino man if he were interested in salsa, and he said no, it was too bossy and macho. And last night I asked a Polish man if he also danced the tango, and he said no, it was too serious. Another Polish man went on at some length about how much fun swing is. But I digress.

Early efforts at any art form are going to be rudimentary and probably pretty dumb. It turns out there are universal and possibly necessary human stages in drawing and painting. The wannabe sketch artist and painter has to go through the stages, and the only way to do that is to try again and again and again and again and take advice from teachers instead of giving up. I haven't yet worked through the stages myself yet because I haven't done enough. However, I can make pastry, and have been able to make pastry even since I married, whereas before I was married, my pastry was rather hit and miss. (On one memorable occasion, I gave up in a tantrum and asked my mother to finish my poor whatever-it-was. ) At first I thought it was the change in atmosphere, but now I am convinced my hands + brain just "clicked."

My first stories were rudimentary and pretty dumb. Here is the earliest (extant) story I ever wrote:

A Winter Wonderland Tale
by Dorothy

THE LITTLE SNOWFLAKES. The Little Snowflakes come lightly down. On a cold winter,s day. All the little children go to play in the snow. P.S. I bet the children have fun!

Frankly, there is a lot to critique in this composition. First, it seems to have two titles. Second, it reveals a misunderstanding of conventions surrounding the use of capital letters. Third, unnecessary sentence fragment. Fourth, the author has confused the comma with the apostrophe. Fifth, the author has inserted her own personality--tacked onto the end--in an obtrusive way. Sixth, the author has a lot of nerve talking about "little children" in that patronizing tone when I see by the date that she is only seven years old.

However, speaking as a published author and columnist, I am impressed by the phrase "come lightly down." As it so happens, the fat snowflakes of Toronto winters do come lightly down. When I read that sentence, I can see again the view from a now-smashed kitchen window into a now-destroyed Toronto garden and hear the utter stillness as the flakes fall from the dark grey sky on a windless day.

A+, Miss Cummings. Keep on, child. Keep on.

Over thirty-five years later (on May 21, 2015 to be exact), I wrote:


John's flatmate Bob loved horror films. In the evenings, John would often work late in his room, televised shrieks and groans of agony seeping under the door. Sometimes he would pause in the doorway of the sitting-room as he went to the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. He noticed with sadness that the first victims of homicidal lunatics usually looked rather like himself: tall, willowy, bespectacled. They were often scholarly and soft-spoken, too, tongue-tied around girls, fond of animals.

This is harder to judge, as I--not the seven year old I used to be--wrote it. However, I will suggest that it shows a marked development in style. For one thing, there's no derivative tosh about "little children."

Nevertheless I suspect it was harder for me to write that than it was for the embryonic author to besmirch the white page  of her first journal with her fat, blue, slightly chewed pencil. I know this because I have made a strict promise to myself and B.A. to write three pages of fiction every day, and the end of last story I finished is marked "May 12."

Why the delay? Above all, I think I am out of practice. Squeezing your mind until it produces images and conversations that run down your arm into your pen and onto the paper is a lot of work. It takes practice.

Blogging, however, is like breathing in and out. At least, I think it is like breathing in and out. I've done it at least five days a week, at least fifty weeks a year, since November 2006. If I gave it up cold, I might have a hard time starting again.


  1. From lightly falling snowflakes to shrieks and groans of agony. Your dichotomy made me laugh as soon as I read it. Then I remembered that we had frost warnings just last week.

  2. Dorothy Aged 7 knows how to spell. That's pretty good!



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