I am starting work on a new novel and going over old notes both digital and paper. I found a note that I wrote to my father after my mother died.
Jane was an artist. She wrote in notebooks through most of her working life. We found a stack of them after she was gone. They were large composition books, the kind you use for homework, brightly-colored, spiral-bound, hers bent with age and worry, her handwriting spidering over the pages in straight lines at the beginning, then not so straight at the end. Her tone in the notebooks is by turns petty, bold, inventive, and finally heartbreaking. My father didn’t want to read the notebooks. He was afraid of what he would find in them. So he asked me to read them. Here is what I wrote to him about the last notebook.
I have read Mom’s notebook. It is quite short, covering only the last 18 months of her last terrible time. There is not much in it that will surprise you. But there are many things in it that are true. She calls you heroic. Her love for you, Dad, shines through. She says that Liz [my sister; their daughter] is great. She means it.
Jane’s intellect comes through loudly. Yet her will to finish what she started in art slowly dissipates page by page. That is heartbreaking. But it is only a slice of 40 years of making art and there is ample evidence of her courage.
Reading this again reminds me of how important it is to seize the time you have to make good work. The struggle for me is to make my purpose sharp but also to turn away from the unknown deadline, to ignore the steadily approaching moment when the curtain is drawn shut and the room goes dark. What we need is a steady sensation of desire. Open the notebook. Press the button. Pick the right pencil from the jar. Just begin every day. It’s as easy and as difficult as it sounds.