THE PENCIL OF TRUTH

Yesterday, I read an article on writing by one of my favourite writers - Joan Didion - and I’m going to steal chunks of it here because I think it’s important. It was for me, but maybe it will resonate with you too. Here goes:

Like many writers I have only this one “subject,” this one “area”: the act of writing. I can bring you no reports from any other front. I may have other interests: I am “interested,” for example, in marine biology, but I don’t flatter myself that you would come out to hear me talk about it.

Sometime later, she hits The Nail really hard in the face with The Hammer:

In short my attention was always on the periphery on what I could see and taste and touch, on the butter, and the Greyhound bus. During those years I was traveling on what I knew to be a very shaky passport, forged papers: I knew that I was no legitimate resident in any world of ideas. I knew I couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was.

Which was a writer.

By which I mean not a “good” writer or a “bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?

That section in bold is the one that swung it for me:

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. 

When I had read this over and over because I was captivated by what it meant, I realised she was talking to me. 

I figured that what people respond to most is when I write about life. Anyone - (well, maybe not anyone) - can write a 'story' but only I can see through my eyes and colour it with all the filters that already exist in my head. I see no other reason to have accumulated so much junk in there and held onto it for so long. Thus, on this fine day, I have decided not to write certain types of things anymore - ie: fiction, though I do have a few scraps around here that I'll finish just because I should.  

There simply comes a time when you must decide what you're going to talk about around here - and that time is now.

It sits well. Maybe I need a photograph of myself that makes me look like the kind of writer I think I am. Here's a picture of Joan (from Vogue I think) that says more than any biography could. Once you know she's a writer, this photograph says everything else there ever was to say - in fact, you don't even have to know she's a writer for it to speak to you:

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I will more than likely steal this idea very soon. I don't think Joan will mind.

There's also a Netflix documentary about her called The Center Will Not Hold. Here's the trailer:


Later that same day, I went over to the bookstore looking for magic and found zero magic happening. No crime novels from any country at all jumped out at me, no music bios to speak of, no art books of earth shattering essentiality. I guess it could be me at fault but I'm not 100% convinced about that.

Determined not to leave empty handed, I dug deep and found this:

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Which is more or less about the lost art of finding your way around the place using your natural gyroscopes of intuition and feeling. Here's how Tristan explains it:

"A sixth sense outdoors is not something mystical or new age. It is expert intuition.

When we practice noticing certain patterns, signs and clues outdoors, there comes a moment when our brain will take a shortcut. When this happens we sense something without consciously thinking about it.

I call the signs that allow us to redevelop this ability the 'keys' as they help unlock this ancient skill.

This sense may not be mystical, but it can feel magical when we experience it for ourselves."

If nothing else, it's out of my normal scope of reading and that can only be a good thing. Maybe I'll even test it out.