Summa: diary (January 2-7, 2023)

Dad told me that he’d once found a dead sparrow in the attic. As he took hold of it, the bird turned to dust (May 5, 1987).

January 2. Diaristics:

I caught the 7.35 pm bus from Cardiff to Blackwood, and changed at Newbridge. There, I waited for half-an-hour in the doorway of a derelict Co-op in the company of an old man who, in the manner of valley-folk, cursed the weather, public transport, and young people […] Standing [in the darkness] — watching the rain glisten on the amber-lit surface of the road; looking at children striking lowryesque poses; [and] tracing the necklace of golden gems, made from streetlights, up through the valley — was very special. Such an experience may, in the future, inspire a hazy sense of something, and compels me to […] make it concrete. The contours, the distances, the indigo and orange, the drawn curtains of darkened terraced houses, and the sound of buses that continues long after they’ve gone from sight: this is home in a deeper sense than language alone could ever describe.

Diary (August 23, 1985).

While most of the yellow-orange sodium street lamps have been replaced by the anodyne LED type of illumination, my valley (the Ebbw Fach) retains many of those other visual and acoustic characteristics. I travel there, physically, only occasionally. Emotionally and imaginatively, I often return. It has not done with me, yet. Nor I with it. Presently, we’re being drawn towards one another again. But neither of us knows why.

John Harvey, Approaching Home (1991), gouache and watercolour on paper, 29 x 32.7 cm.

January 4. I’ve stepped-back from the projects for the first few days new year to survey the broader landscape of my commitments and construct a flexible weekly timetable within which to fulfil them. Resolutions must be tempered by pragmatism. At this time of the year, it helps to walk along the river banks of my life in the direction of the distant past in order to trace the tributaries of my creative concerns, and fundamental convictions about the nature of things, back to their source. The questions: ‘Who am I? Were have I come from? Where am I going?’, to quote the Roman Catholic priest and philosopher Henri Nouwen, are interlinked. Our identity, origin, and direction — like Ezekiel’s vision of gyroscopic wheels within wheels — move together. Thus, the more I understand one the greater cognizance I gain about the others.

I recall a salutary conversation with the tutor who’d had the greatest influence on my early development as a painter. He confessed to having taken many wrong paths during his career as an artist. There’s no evidence of that career today, sadly. Having strayed from his true path, he may never have been able to find it again. That terrifying prospect threatens all who venture into the fog of unknowing, creatively speaking.

January 5. The weekly diary will be filled-in after a two-week period of trial. I want to determine which of my activities are best suited to mornings, afternoons, and evenings; weekdays and weekends. My family and friends tell me (with tact and sensitivity) that I’m prone to inflexibility. They’re correct. My weakness is the, not unsubstantiated, conviction that if I concede an inch to spontaneity, it’ll take a mile. However, I’ll not hesitate to break-off from whatever I’m doing when other people’s needs beckon. And there’re times, too, when I’ll throw a spanner into my own works and do the unexpected. 8.30 am: I invariably begin the day with writing. This is my gymnasium for developing the muscle of straight-thinking that’ll be required during the rest of the day.

7.30 am-9.00 pm

Over the last few days, I’ve rejigged my ‘The Life to Come’ document in order to, first, better reflect the prioritisation of my determinations; secondly, delimit them; and, thirdly, ensure that they’re doable. As this present UK government fails (refuses) to grasp: its easy to aspire; far harder to deliver on the vision. 9.30 am: I returned to the ‘Nothing is Without Sound’ [working title] project, moving from squidgy provisional notes closer to a firm proposal. When reorientating myself to a project after a period away, I dedicate two sequential sessions of the day to the research. 7.30 pm: I completed a review of my diary for 1987 and continued research on sound and the cinema. Evenings are a good time for reading and making notes.

January 6. How hard am I committed to work?; How long am I prepared to strive?; And how much am I willing to sacrifice and endure to accomplish what I desire to achieve? The measure of our determination and perseverance is the implacability of our ambition. (I won’t allow either my inability or disability or constitutional unsuitability to deter me from achieving a goal.) 9.30 am: Today (this week) is earmarked for sound theory and praxis. Mornings are a good time for acquiring new knowledge and skills, grappling with difficult ideas, and dealing with details. Afternoons are a good time for consolidating new with existing knowledge.

As I learn, part of my brain observes how I learn. (This is intuition (the inner-teacher) in operation.) I believe in rote learning, where some types knowledge acquisition and retention are concerned — so long as the fruit of memorisation is integrated with meaningful and associative modes of learning. In the visual and sonic arts, there’re perceptual and tactile modes too. I can neither understand nor deploy theories of painting and music unless I have either a brush in my hand (while looking) or my fingers on a fretboard (while listening): theory through praxis; learning through doing. Nor can I grasp something complex unless I, simultaneously, devise a method of imparting it to someone else. (Learning through teaching.)

7.30 am-5.00 pm

January 7. Each major project should have one at least whole-day dedicated to it. Thereafter, each will be addressed throughout the remainder of the week at regular intervals, according to their need. The completion of some projects require a discipline that must be practised daily.

As a consequence of daily diary reading, my dreams are sometimes populated by those who’re now dead. People from my far- and near-distant past, who’d never met when they were alive, now talk with one another, and to me once again.

Beyond Twelfth Night: the ritual ‘debaubling’ and defenestration of the Christmas tree:

1.30-3.30 pm

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