Clearing the decks

Is it a naval expression? I like it. I like doing it. I like a clear deck before I start work but it can absorb, eat time. Emails, notes, photocopying, tidying away, getting things out. Stuff. Time eating. Eating time. And yet it feels so good to cross things off lists. I still have a Filofax. Old-fashioned, I know. But I like to write things down and my phone is an ancient, simple thing. My Filofax holds it all, images, cut-outs, notes, bits of coloured paper. I like the feel of it. I like my address book, a mass of crossings-out and additions. It is my life, a hot-potch of ideas, of jobs, of aspirations somehow contained.

No more writing for a bit. I need to concentrate on preparing for my performances in October. I am happy to do so. Sometimes this pick up and put down attitude towards both my writing and my making does neither of them any good. Or perhaps it is fine, it is just me that is unsatisfied. Stop start, stop start. I read back what I wrote on Tuesday. So long ago, but I’ve been busy with other things, earning money things. And it is awkward, clumsy. Some bits are OK. But I must leave it, let it go where it needs to go. A complex layering that I long to simplify. It is hard to let it rest, unresolved. I will need help, I can see that. I want it. I want to work with an editor on it. A fresh look, an outsider’s view. Is it any good? I don’t know. It doesn’t need to be, not yet, not yet.

So back to making. I’ve much to do. Shall I talk about it? Two performances. One in the National Gallery where I intend to sew a copy of van Gogh’s Sunflowers in front of the painting. Is it still there? Can I be photographed? Can I get near enough? I don’t know. I have the image of it so clear in my mind, I have to try it. Meanwhile, I have to prepare the tapestry so that it is recognisable as an imitation of the painting. And it takes time. And I’m not very good.

(You do not have to be good, the poet wrote, you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves… I forget her name, it’s called the Wild Geese, it will come, it will come.) Soft animals – that reminds me. I saw a little creature on my way up to the studio yesterday. A soft, brown little round-ended creature. To rounded for a shrew and seemingly no tail so it couldn’t have been a mouse or a rat. A mole? Surely not. I didn’t see side-flippers. It happened so quickly. A delight. A precious sighting. It took me somewhere else. The knowledge of this other world, this ‘family of things’ to which we belong.

So, yes. The sunflowers. It takes me back to being a child. I was never any good at keeping within the lines when I coloured-in. My elder sister’s work was so much better, so much neater. I’m the same with this cross-stitch piece. I’ve miscounted, mis-read the plan. It’s OK no-one will know but I will. I will. And I feel the same disappointment at my apparent lack of skill that I did as a child. I’m just not good at following instructions. Persevere. I think of the women who are. My friend’s daughter, a logical, ordered, confident young woman and the woman on the check-out. We pass the time of day. She’s a knitter, crochet-ter and a maker of cross-stitch. She’s good at it. Does loads. I’m fascinated by the kind of women (and indeed, men) who choose to do such things as hobbies. Such a commitment for an end result that is swamped in kitschness. And yet, it moves me. Is it the dedication, the silence, the inwardness of the work? I want to collect quotes – the things people say about sewing. Make it contemporary. Much was said in the nineteenth-century when women sewed regularly but what of now?

And the other? I want to perform my ‘work’ piece on the tube. A tapestry of the word ‘work’ cross-stitched over and over again. Why? I’m interested to see what my fellow commuters will do, if anything. It’s about thinking about notions of stillness when all around me is moving fast, it’s about the nature of work, of seemingly gendered work (how much more powerful it would be I was a man doing it – do I need to dress up, man-up?) of being made invisible by an activity. Test pieces. I want to see what happens and how it makes me feel. I will write about it. Get him to document it. He is nervous, not confident with the camera. It’s OK, I want the images to look spontaneous, snatched, snapped. We shall see. But for now I must prepare. It is slow work.

I think of the French artist spending ten years erasing Proust. Ten years. A page a day. I like that discipline. That routine. How did he keep himself going, confident, believing? A beautiful piece of work, not only the erased, ghostly book but the dust too. A pile of grey matter. So much to think about but I must clear the decks. Get to work. Switch on the radio and pay attention.

Adieu. A bientot. x