“A wild patience has taken me this far…” Adrienne Rich
At the start of my late and strange life as an artist, I spent two summers beside England’s oldest lido determined to write a mile on scrolls of paper as long as the pool.
In the aftermath of my sudden near-death a decade earlier – when I almost died in minutes – I became fascinated with the idea of slow time. A life in which hurry and rush would be reserved only for accidents and emergencies.
As I sought out stories of extreme effort and patience in service to artistic, social and spiritual causes, my palm-sized private diaries in those obscure and recuperative years became an ongoing commonplace book: Hokusai, Rilke, Jung, Wendell Berry, Agnes Martin – I wrote out by hand what artists and writers across the ages had to say about these values. I read the Paris Review Interviews archive from the 1950s to the present day to learn the working methods of hundreds of playwrights, poets and authors. Said aloud pages and pages of work by writers I most admired in order to tune my ear, before attempting short essays of my own.
In this way I was also dedicating myself – and my unexpected second life – to the practice of effort and patience. What might it do to my days, my imagination, my relationships? If I focussed on process not results?
As I knelt to my five 150-foot long rolls of papers during those first seasons of my self-created midlife apprenticeship, I had by heart this passage from the poet Adrienne Rich as courage and inspiration:
Freedom. It isn’t once, to walk out
under the Milky Way, feeling the rivers
of light, the fields of dark –
freedom is daily, prose-bound, routine
remembering. Putting together, inch by inch
the starry worlds. From all the lost collections.
Five years later, and the Wild Patience Scrolls are completed (all 100,000 words of them), having opened up for me a public life of rich connections unimaginable to the shy student and office worker of my first four decades.
Now, as I work in a more solitary way on my book The Cure for Sleep (Weidenfeld & Nicolson: Feb 2022) I will share here occasionally short perspectives from that earlier time, in case it keeps even one other person company in their own creative awakening.