The Things We Don’t Mention

The Things We Don’t Mention post image

In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron writes:

Your [creative] block doesn’t want you to see that. Its whole plan of attack is to make you irrationally afraid of some dire outcome you are too embarrassed to even mention. You know rationally that writing or painting shouldn’t be put off because of your silly fear, but because it is a silly fear, you don’t air it and the block stays intact. In this way, “You’re a bad speller” successfully overrides all computer spelling programs. You know it’s dumb to worry about spelling… so you don’t mention it. And since you don’t, it continues to block you from finding a solution.

The things you don’t acknowledge tend to make you crazy, even outside of artistic endeavours. They seem to linger somewhere in the back of your psyche growing ever louder the more you pretend they don’t exist.

I discovered the most extraordinary book today. To be honest I didn’t quite grasp what it was when I first picked it up, or even when I bought it. Infact I’m still grappling with it. What impressed me was the imagery, the sketches, the paintings, the prose that fills it’s pages. This book is titled, “The Doyle Diary: The Last Great Conan Doyle Mystery.” Let me quote from the inside cover to give you some sense of what it is exactly.

“Keep steadily in view that this Book is ascribed wholly to the produce of a MADMAN. Whereabouts would you say was the deficiency of Intellect? or depraved taste? If in the whole Book you can find a single evidence of either, mark it and record it against me.”

It is difficult to imagine a more poignant or disturbing opening to the bizarre and hauntingly beautiful sketchbook diary of Charles Altamont Doyle, father of Arthur Conan Doyle. The time of writing was 1889; the place, the dreary confines of “Sunnyside,” as Doyle called it, part of the Montrose Royal Lunatic Asylum in Scotland, where the 57-year-old Doyle, epileptic and ailing, was interned – “imprisoned,” he says, “under the most depressing restrictions.”

I don’t know if Charles Altamont Doyle was a mad man, though I wouldn’t guess it from looking at his work. There were fantastical creatures and fantasy themes, and even a preoccupation with mortality, but all in all the work seems to be quite thoughtful. In fact in places there appears to be a rich sense of humour. Over the course of a two page spread there are a collection of self-portraits. On the left page there are two self portraits. The first looks like a drowned rat, as though he had been caught out in the throes of a heavy rain. The second portrait features the same man though his hair and beard are sticking up on end. The caption reads, “I believe this is technically known as a ‘pick-me-up.'” Perhaps more interesting is the caption that is written across both pages, “These two pages induced by a tremendous headach[e].”

Charles Altamont Doyle's pick-me-up

John Lacey wearing a Dunce's HatI’ve felt like something of a mad man lately myself. Life has felt like something that ‘happens’ to me almost despite my own actions or involvement. And yes, frankly, it often looks quite crazy too. One night when I was particularly despondent over a slew of “Your job application was unsuccessful” responses I took a page of newspaper classifieds and fashioned a dunce hat out of it. Because that was how I felt, and those job ads seemed to encapsulate the whole messy problematic job search process. I was toying with the idea of using those newspaper ads in an artwork but it didn’t come together. The next thing I knew I was wearing this dunce’s cap.

In a way I never expected, it did actually make me feel better. Because even though it wasn’t a particularly sophisticated expression it made a point I thought was too ‘silly’ to mention. Namely that cumulatively the rejections were getting to me, that I was feeling out of my element and that I felt it quite acutely.

What’s keeping you blocked? What do you have to acknowledge?

0 comments… add one

Leave a Comment