Some wisdom about creative forays

Last month (24Jul2016) I read a piece in The Guardian about children’s love of particular books and authors. In the middle of the article there was a story about Kurt Vonnegut which I was so taken with that I copied it and mailed it to myself. I have just got round to dealing with it in my mail queue and I’ve realised it is a highly appropriate postscript to my attempts to do something artistic with my doodles. I make such artistic forays, despite not having any technical talent, to satisfy an inner creative desire; and sometimes I’m aware they may appear to be a bit weird. This story about Kurt Vonnegut provides encouragement to all in the face of such weirdness or uncertainty:

Kurt Vonnegut, prisoner of war and survivor of the Dresden bombing, wrote some of the most singular and humane fiction of the last century. Towards the end of his life, some schoolchildren wrote to invite him to speak to their class and reflect on what he had learned. He wrote back with all the wisdom anyone probably needs: “Dear Xavier high school, you really know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make many appearances any more because I look like an iguana.

“What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: practise any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, no matter how well or badly, not to get money or fame but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow… Do it for the rest of your lives!”

Doodle Destination

Although my digitisation journeys continue to give me a great deal of satisfaction, I do look forward to the opportunities that arise to be a bit more artistic and creative. So, I’ve enjoyed the last three or four days spent trying to make something out of my doodle collection. The material seemed to fall into three categories – people (or maybe alien) figures, objects (such as trees, birds etc.), and patterns; and I decided that I would try to assemble the figures as though they were having a group photo taken surrounded by the objects, and that I would use the patterns as the frame for the display.

The material was all on rectangular notepad sheets so the first thing I did was to cut around the figure and object doodles and discard the blank paper. This exercise brought it home to me how many items there were and made me realise that I was going to need a big space to mount them on. After thinking about it for a while I decided to use the red brick back wall of the garage as my canvas. To stick the doodles to the wall, I used a roll of double sided selatape which I had acquired many years ago and which I’d been keeping for ‘when I might need it’ – it’s always satisfying to find a use for such things! I started off by assuming I would need a space of about 130 x 100cm  and ended up with a picture, including frame, of about 180 x 130cm. Within that space, I managed to include nearly all the figures and objects – but the frame only used up a proportion of the patterns.

As I stuck the doodles on the wall I came to realise that this wasn’t going to look very much like a group photo and more like just a collection of things in a frame – a rather less interesting prospect that I envisaged. Apart from anything else, it was impossible to have the face only doodles appear as if their bodies were obscured by the people in front of them. The picture ended up being just rows of cut out doodles, one row on top of another. I was aware that what I was doing would appear rather weird to an onlooker – weird doodles being stuck onto a garage wall. This combination of a falling away of a general design and vision, and the growing awareness of weirdness, spurred me on to complete the job. I finished sticking on the figures and objects, cut out the frame and stuck that on, and then started to take some photos. Unfortunately it was windy, and when I opened the garage door one of the doodle pages got blown off. I hastily shut the garage doors, took a few photos with the flash, and decided to wait for a less windy day with a bit of sun. Such are the considerations which make artistic work a little more interesting and challenging!  Luckily the following day (Sunday) was better and I managed to take some photos with the garage door open. Then it was a relatively quick job to remove the doodles and put them into the recycling ready for pickup on Monday morning.

This was not the most interesting or rewarding of artistic ventures – but I still enjoyed doing it; and I’ve been thinking that, perhaps, sometime in the future, I could capitalise on what I’ve achieved by using ArtRage to capture the outline of the photo and to colour in the doodles. However for now my doodle travels – and scribbling travels generally – have ended. The DD (Doodle Destination not Double Diamond) is shown below.


One of Digitisation’s advantages

Yesterday I finished the sorting and scanning work on all the scribbles. As anticipated, detailed scrutiny of my reflective writings from forty-plus years ago in order to understand their contents and to date them, was an uncomfortable exercise. However, there is no doubt that having the mission to organise, index and scan the material gave the exercise a focus which made it easier to grapple with the contents. In the process of going through each item I found further instances in which I had remembered false versions of events (as mentioned in my previous entry), as well as coming across at least one instance of an event that I had completely forgotten about. Such is the potential fallacy of our memories and the value of the written record, though, of course, there is no guarantee a written record is not incorrect or designed to be deliberately misleading. Hence the need to apply a critical mind to all sources of information – I assume this is a fundamental lesson which is drummed into all historians

One of the great advantages of digitising things is that it provides a halfway house between keeping originals and destroying them. I felt this was particularly advantageous for all the highly personal scribblings I have been dealing with. Having been through them all, there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to get rid of this pile of many-shaped and scrawled-upon bits of paper – no-one but me would ever want to go through them all, and I myself did not really want the evidence of my younger turmoils lying around. However, the material is very much part of me and conveys an intimacy with my past that I could never reproduce from my consciousness. Therefore, the ability to both tear up the paper into small enough bits as to be unreadable and throw them away, while, at the same time, having them hidden away in the depths of my computer – but indexed, labelled, and accessible – left me with a feeling of relief and accomplishment.

In my previous work on Mementos, I developed a ‘Wish Table’ spreadsheet to identify why I was keeping specific items and what should be done with them after my death – options for the latter being keep (K), destroy (D), and keep or destroy (KorD). I completed a Wish Table for the scribble items as I went through them and, interestingly, while ruling out a K designation, I found it hard to choose between D and KorD. In principle, because this stuff is so personal, I should really want it destroyed so no-one else can read it. However, there’s a little part of me that thinks it would be such a shame to destroy something that’s taken some effort to organise and digitise; that combines with the mementos and other digitised material to represent a whole picture of me; and that really takes so little effort to just keep in electronic form as part of the overall collection. I guess that when I initially came up with the Destroy option I was thinking that my offspring wouldn’t want to keep things that are of no interest to them i.e. more of a ‘Discard’ option. Wanting things to be destroyed because you don’t want them to be read downstream is a completely different rationale. I think I’ll extend the Wish Table Template accordingly. As to whether I decide to choose the Destroy option for this material – well I’m still pondering that.

With all the digitising complete and most of the paper thrown away, I just have the doodle hardcopy left to play with. I’ve been looking forward to seeing if I could do anything artistic with the doodles – perhaps by assembling them together in a very large overall picture. One possibility might be to have all the figures I have drawn (many of the doodles are of strange alien looking people) all assembled in front of a Stately Home as if having their picture taken. This shall be my next exploit.

Getting to grips with the content

After taking a look at the first dozen or so items in my two scribble folders I realised this is not going to be like sorting out a load of old mementos which bring back some interesting memories. With the exception of the doodles, most of it is very personal stuff reflecting deep-felt, often troubled, emotions. Furthermore most of it is some 40 years old and I have no memory of some of the contents. It will certainly make me reflect.

However, regardless of the contents there was still an initial Order from Chaos job to be done to get this pile of paper in order. I did an initial sort into rough piles, and then a more detailed  sort based on a quick read-through of each item. This was a bit of an eye-opener. It was quite hard to read some of the stuff without squirming or feeling embarrassed about some of the things I had written or had done. However, this is the nature of looking back across our lives since there can be few of us who have not said or done things they perhaps wish they had done differently. Having that material written down gives it even greater impact.

One thing this initial read-through made me realise is that in at least two instances my memory of 40 year old events was either completely wrong or missing large chunks of significant elements. I suspect this is not uncommon and is a possibility that is always worth bearing in mind when being told stories of long past events by other people.

Having completed the read-through and let the contents settle in my mind for 24 hours or so has made me feel more comfortable with the material; and having all the items sorted and categorised has enabled me to have a clear view of what needs to be done. The 14 categories that emerged into which the 277 items were placed are:

  • Doodles (161)
  • Design of a questionnaire about religion, sex, attitudes towards people and education done in my teens at school (1)
  • Items written by other people including poems, cards and notes (6)
  • Material for cards I made – one rough outline for a card; and two with a poem by George Macdonald I had written out in italic writing (3)
  • Comments from other people – one on a survey I did at school and the other with humorous remarks on questions I passed round party attendees probably at University (2)
  • Story writing – story outline and some pages of text based around the Shroud of Turin; story outline and full text on having German Measles at university; short two pages about a ship being torpedoed; the essay I submitted for the school prize essay in 1964; the first 25 pages of a thriller I started writing at school; and a short story about an alley cat (6)
  • Exercise books containing English essays I did at school in 1962-3, 1963-4 and 1966 (3)
  • Description of a dream I had in 1979 (1)
  • Sketch of a design for a house (1)
  • Activity Diary for about 1 month probably from my first term at university (1)
  • Letters I wrote to various individuals but never sent (8)
  • Poems I wrote (41)
  • Reflective writings I produced (42)
  • Short note I made in 1965 on religion-related behaviour I aspired to (1)

I’ve created a working document in which I’ve noted various ideas of what to do with each item, and this has made me realise that some of the material can simply be added to existing hardcopy and/or digital items in my mementos collection; and the remaining items will be new additions to the collection. Having an existing mementos collection with an established Index and approach to hardcopy and digital filing will certainly make the whole exercise much easier and quicker. So now I’ll start to work through the items in each category and deal with them accordingly.

Scribbles – my final clutter frontier

Like  many other people, I wrote some poetry in my youth, wrote a few pieces of text and went through a phase of avid doodling. The term ‘scribbles’ refers to all these things, as well as to diary entries, though I’ve already dealt with my own diaries so they are not included in this particular journey. The various bits of paper on which my scribblings were scribbled were shoved into folders over the years such that I now have a two inch stack of unsorted material – the final set of material that is cluttering up my cupboard. There is no point in keeping it in its current state – it is taking up valuable space and will only get thrown out when I die. I want to organise it, reflect on it, and even make use of it in some way. For, example, for some years I’ve had a notion that the doodles might be combined into some much larger picture.  I’m hoping some ideas will emerge as I go through the material.