The Way We Lied

And it made me think how I always put other demands first and never allow myself to have a fixed time for my work. Even yesterday, when I knew she was coming and should have been working here, I was running down to the post office to send off some packages for Simon, though it could have waited. And the day before that I had to suddenly run to the chemist in town to pick up prescriptions that he could easily have collected in his lunch hour.
Then, after I had apologised for not doing much work and explained how busy I had been, Mary said she thought I had taken an important step forward in creating my own private work place, by which she meant the shed. She said it would mean I could leave my other life and travel – well, walk down the garden – to my office and enter my working life. She thought it was good to have a separate space which was devoted just to me and my work and that I should even think of making a timetable to give myself targets. But she said that even if I sometimes came to the shed and didn’t draw or paint, that would still count as work time as long as I was thinking. She said so much of our creative work comes from the time we spend daydreaming, as other people would put it.
And then finally she suggested I show her the half-finished painting and my sketch books and she really liked the drawings I had done of Granddad’s old garden tools, especially the battered spade. She said they were gutsy and honest. I think I could see what she meant and I was pleased she liked them. Then I said I felt that this shed was a new beginning for me and that was the only thing I had thought of that was relevant to the project and she seemed to quite like it. She said it was an emotional and creative turning point for me and that she was sure it would be strongly reflected in my work if I wished to pursue it. And as she said this I began to see that this could be my response to the theme and I started to talk with great excitement about drawing seedlings and the transformation of the shed and painting cabbages with caterpillars and tight buds opening.
It was a revelation that I could move on from where I had been and yet not be afraid. It was a departure, but not a radical or frightening one for me. I want you to feel the strength in those tools, Mary said, experience the sap rising and the earth crumbling. Use cracked mossy pots and let there be soil scattered around. I knew what she meant. I had been too clean, too tidy before. This had to be real and earthy.
And then we arranged that she would come in another two months to see how I was getting on. When she came I was still a little apprehensive, but this meeting was even better than the first. I have been doing a lot of sketches and I have just started a large painting of an old boot – the sort I imagine my grandfather might have worn – thrown on to a table next to a tool that I think is called a dibber ( it is a pointed fat stick with a handle, for making holes for seeds and small bulbs). I found some old seed packets when I was clearing out the shed and I had kept them because I liked their bright colours and simple designs, even though the paper looked as if mice had been chewing them. I like the contrast between the polished wood with its strong grain, the cracked leather with eyelets for the laces and the creased paper. There is lots of texture and shape there.
And I was so pleased when Mary appreciated what I was trying to do and liked it. I was beginning to wonder if I was getting it wrong, as Simon had looked at my work at the weekend and asked if I was sure I wanted to paint all this dirty stuff. I could tell he didn’t like the arrangement on the table and was dying to grab a dustpan and brush and sweep all the soil up and scrub away the caked mud.
But Mary loved it. She said even at this early stage she could almost smell the hard work and sweat wafting from the boot, as if the gardener had just kicked it off after a hard afternoon on his allotment and was now sitting back with a strong mug of tea to read his paper. And then we laughed about what paper he might be reading – Mary thought the Daily Mirror – and whether his wife was expecting him back soon for tea, as we thought he would call his evening meal.
By this time it was early evening, so we had a glass of wine while we talked instead of cups of tea and watched the sun sinking and the damsel flies flitting over the pond. We talked about how much I could expect to produce before the spring show next year and whether I should continue in this vein.
And I felt happy and fulfilled.

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