I picked up this leaf in my neighbor’s yard and had to paint it because it was so bright, and had such a nifty mix of hues, like all those fake colors they put in a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal.
I left the two leaves (mine and Mother Nature’s) out to dry, and the next morning Ma Nature’s leaf didn’t look too good. I hurriedly took it to the scanner, to get an image of What A Difference A Day Makes, especially this time of year.
A week ago we were in full blown Maximum Fall: trees still had leaves, their colors were popping, multiple mild breezes rustling playfully amongst the branches, etc. One week later, it’s a whole different story. Now, we have a November that means business. Most of the trees are bare and I can’t find any good leaves to paint (I actually raked yesterday, a drastic change in mind-set) and it’s cold and rainy and cloudy. November is here to stay.
Which is just as well. I’ve had to put away the paint brushes lately and concentrate on writing. I’m doing the final edit of the text for That Damn France Book, weeding out the redundancies, juicing up the verbs, cutting out the adverbs, debating over punctuation and capitalization and making sure that if I write out the word twenty on page 6, that I don’t use the numeral 20 on page 59. Editors hate that. They’ll let you do either twenty or 20, but not both. I learned that from my first book: be as idiosyncratic as you want when it comes to grammar and stuff, but be consistent.
What else is making me a bit more persnickety about my prose these days is the fact that one of my agent’s writers just won the National Book Award for Non-Fiction: Patti Smith won it for her memoir Just Kids. This book was a dream project for my agent, Betsy Lerner, who worked with Patti for 10 years to get a manuscript about her early years as a struggling artist in New York City, and her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Patti’s got a killer story to tell and she tells it with simplicity, clarity, and an inimitablePatti-Smith-wiftiness. And by that I mean a total lack of irony or condescension about her 20-year-old self that I didn’t think was humanly possible.
I can’t stand my 20-year-old-self (and I remember her all too well) but Patti has a deep respect for hers, a respect that I don’t think any 20-year-old in the world deserves but then, I’m not Patti Smith.
Example: She and Robert Mapplethorpe were living in the Chelsea Hotel and trying to barter rent money with their art work. The owner of the hotel looked at the work and refused to accept it as payment; Patti writes that she went back and studied the rejected work and found that “it was good” so she wasn’t too dejected by the rejection. End of discussion about her art.
Of course, we the readers are left to wonder why “it was good”…and if it was so good, what did the owner of the Chelsea (who had a lot of experience judging art work in lieu of rent money) miss? What was the work about? Was it only good back then, for a 20-year-old, or is it still good, all these years later? Patti doesn’t feel the need to explain, contextualize, or judge. If you want insight into her process as an artist, forget it: this dead-pan self-assurance is pretty much the whole tone of her book, and after a while it becomes very appealing.
Anyhoo. By some fluke in the cosmic hierarchy, Patti Smith’s literary agent is my literary agent. That reminds me that I am a writer first, and an illustrator second. Some days I forget.
If you were at a party, who would you rather talk to: an artist or a writer?