Drawing trees and elephants
Never mind: How to emerge?
What about: How to make work? Or, at least, how to think about it? That is the current question. Reading and drawing is often my way in. Drawing is a direct form of visual thinking for me. I need to draw.
My first work day since the ‘big crit’ and I’ve gone from: shall I draw a tree to what about an elephant? Seems a long way away from my usual cheery subject: murder and abduction
Because I took hundreds of photos of blurred winter trees from the car, last winter in Normandy. In the pictures, the grass is very green and the tall spindly trunks very black against an insipid blue sky. I love the way French trees [in Normandy] are so often planted in lines, as wind-breaks, but also very commonly planted in rectangles round the edge of a field, a farm or house as protection from the weather and perhaps, as a form of ownership and privacy. I know there is a name for this special tree planting …
And Elephants … because I’ve been reading Jonathan Franzen’s intense, complex and strange, even surreal, 1988 novel Twenty-Seventh City* [before I relax into his supposed 2010 Tolstoyian masterpiece, Freedom]. Describing a decision by one his characters, Martin Probst, to consider himself as an elephant, Franzen writes: ‘Caution dictated that he determine the boundaries of his role right away. He decided to see himself as a costly and essentially immobile fixture. He saw himself as an elephant.
Elephants weren’t very articulate … Elephants didn’t zip around … Elephants were heavy, however, and Probst agreed to trample whatever influentials needed trampling.’ [Franzen, p. 333]
Several times after this, Probst uses the concept to justify and make shortcuts in his decision-making process: [Think] ‘Elephant, he told himself’.
Elephants as a provision against difficulty.
Raymond Carver, in a short story entitled: Elephant, describes a character who is bogged down with responsibility for his family’s debts. In a dream, he thinks back to being a child, and sitting on his father’s shoulders, safe and happy, without cares or responsibilities.
‘My dad went on walking while I rode on his shoulders. I pretended he was an elephant. I don’t know where he was going. Maybe we were going to the store, or else to the park so he could push me in the swing.’ [Carver, p. 86].
Elephants as a larger-than-life form of security – strong and safe.
For anyone who hasn’t read the short stories of Raymond Carver, I couldn’t recommend him more highly. The ittsy-bittsiness (?) of everyday domestic life, relationships, materialism and often a close-up view of blue-collar America in the 70/80’s. There is also a sort of rythmic, dead-panness to his prose, and the stories often begin and end rather abruptly, like you are just catching a glimpse of someone else’s life. Tragically, for the readers, RC died early aged 50 of lung cancer.
A favourite story is Cathedral, where a sighted man draws a cathedral with a blindman, so he might understand something of a cathedral’s magnificence & grandiosity – typically deadpan but equally, moving. See below for link to a great, well-designed Raymond Carver website.
*Franzen, Jonathan, Twenty-Seventh City (London: Fourth Estate, 2003)
**Carver, Raymond, Elephant & Other Stories (London: Collins Harvill, 1989)