|Towards Strumble Head - M Charlton c. 1998|
Every so often a friend or fellow blogger will ask if I still paint. The honest answer is that I don't, though I will usually fudge it by saying something like I occasionally draw, or only for fun. In many ways, this isn't a total deception: I take an interest in images; I love art shops; I think in a visual way... In my mind, I could pick up my brushes tomorrow.
But it wouldn't work.
Painting seriously takes practice and dedication—as does running, or chess, or physics... Occasionally, people refer to me as a polymath (one blogger did so yesterday), but in truth, I mostly focus on one thing at a time. If I want to lose weight it will obsess me till I‘m thinner; if work is busy I tend not to write for pleasure; when I learned to play the saxophone, it consumed me for two years—in retrospect a bad idea.
Because I'll never be any good at jazz. Sure, I can bash out a tune and fake the odd riff, but deep down I'm not a musician—and no amount of practice will change that. What's more, it's an all too easy distraction from those projects that in my heart I know are more important. Writers are notorious for finding excuses to delay; sometimes we need simply to focus and type—in my case, with the music turned off.
Not that I shall sell my saxophone. For I've learned to stop playing when it matters and to see that as something gained rather than lost. The same is true of painting: to begin again wouldn't be right, but that doesn't mean all interest has gone. My love of the outdoors is similarly slimmed-down: I still kayak and cycle and climb mountains, but all in a more relaxed and less obsessive way.
This is good, I think.
For there is pleasure in learning and letting go.
|Life drawing 1997|
I could say much the same about poetry, or fiction: I wrote them for my degree and learned a great deal, but they are not my genre. Though interestingly, I write often in a 'fictive form', constructing my blogs and essays not dissimilarly to short stories. I obsess too over words, in the way of a poet.
And this illustrates how in letting go, we don't lose all that we've gained. It's forty years since I studied economics, and yet in drafting this piece I originally wrote a line in a paragraph above: '...it's like the law of diminishing returns: once optimal capacity is reached, further growth requires disproportionate resources... ' Thanks for that are due to my teacher, Mr Johnson; I owe much the same debt to Ms Davies who taught me to draw.
But for all it's good to have a reservoir of knowledge, the fact I chose to reposition the words is due to an experienced eye, which saw that they might add more elsewhere. That judgement—and intensity of focus—comes only with practice, and were I more rusty, I'd probably have missed it. This is the dilemma we face in pursuing our passions; how to balance the breadth and depth of our skills and understanding.
Though actually, that's not quite correct, because a true dilemma is a choice between two outcomes, both of which are bad. There is no word for its opposite, so it seems to me that in our choosing depth over breadth (or vice versa) we are more in the realm of preference. Both are equally good. And they can feed off each other, as do music and dance, science and nature... or for that matter, writing and painting.