Last year, I joined Urban Sketchers as a way to get out into the city more, to observe, to play, to get out of my head and scribble. What I didn’t expect was how much simply looking around would rekindle the energy that caused me to become a writer in the first place. Everything was new, and every sketch both a frustration and a small victory. When you are a beginner, lines on a page are beautiful and imperfect. You can celebrate roughness and newness and every small discovery: making a window look like it’s reflecting light, capturing the energy of a woman eating a sandwich on a park bench, translating the feeling of a light rain in the summer heat. I took a fountain pen sketching workshop in June and filled several pens with beautiful water-soluable ink and purposely flooded my drawings with water, so that the lines bled in unknowable and mysterious ways.
I’m a perfectionist by nature, and also impulsive. I think most artists wrestle with these two qualities. In the last few years, the perfectionist part of my nature has gotten the best of me. Lately, I’m fighting this desire for control. I find myself appreciating weird, rough novellas that defy quick meaning. (I will write more about these novellas soon.) I’m drawn to stories that veer dangerously off-course only to somehow work. When I’m working well, I let my stories balloon. I feed the beasts, and then I put them on a diet, sometimes editing and chiseling for years. Condensed writing is an American speciality, thank you Gordon Lish, but there are drawbacks to this kind of editing. You can easily revise the life out a thing. You can forget how to play.
I have been writing and revising a novel for five years. During that time, I have written notes for so many other novels, screenplays, stories, and essays, lots of essays. This blog will be an attempt to make a space for some of those ideas, to write about visual art and film, Chicago history, creativity, writing, reading, and more. In short, a messy little writer’s sketchbook.
Oh, and if you’re interested in joining or learning more about Urban Sketchers, here’s a link to the main page, as well as one for the Chicago chapter. There are Urban Sketchers groups all over the world now.