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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

master pieces

Apart from my recent astro-ponderings, which had me checking the foundations of my motivation (I'm still checking; I'm always checking), I also had project-fear yesterday as vacation-time ended and it was time to get back to my PC in my diurnally empty house. Project-fear manifests as a vague but definite reluctance to open files related to my project. Upon introspection, also undertaken with reluctance, I find that the underlying emotion and cause is fear.

Fear of...? I'm not exactly sure. Inadequacy, probably. Having disengaged from the project for about a week (the last part of Kimmie's vacation), I don't exactly remember what I was doing, and am afraid I won't be able to get back up to speed; or I have a lazy disinclination to put in the effort to remember what I was up to; or, most likely, am afraid that once I rediscover what I was up to, I won't think it's very good.

Another problem is being harsh with myself. This is the stern-voiced taskmaster in my mind that commands me, "Get down there and write five pages, you useless sloth!" Well, what does any sane sentient being do when spoken to that way? He might, at most, make a show of compliance, but he'll certainly slack off, just to show the taskmaster who's really boss. Yeah, you can talk nastily to me, but you can't make me produce, muvvah!

So there's that. I try to unplug the taskmaster and replace it with this gentler guide: Just try looking at your project, and only do stuff that's fun. If it's not fun, don't do it.

This guidance feels pretty nonthreatening. Under this noncoercive regime, this morning I opened up my notes document for chapter 19 and reviewed the last entry. Hm, not bad. I thought of another idea, something maybe to be addressed in the next draft, and keyed a new note in the document. That was ok, yeah, even kind of fun.

I opened up the chapter draft (arrested at page 18) and looked at it. This wasn't as pleasant for me as opening up the notes document--something along the lines of "potential" (notes) vs. "actuality" (draft). Actuality always loses those contests. Still, I know the score: if you want to have a book, you have to actually write it. There's nothing for it. So I checked out the material, and, braced by my new notes, started typing. (Always remember the Truman Capote quote, I believe in reference to Jack Kerouac's On the Road, "That's not writing, that's typing".) Having thought through my scene a bit more, I had an idea of what needed to happen, and I unblocked somewhat. I wrote 3 pages.

A couple of days ago I got from the library a DVD version of an Italian miniseries on the life of Leonardo da Vinci. When I started watching it I realized that it was the same miniseries I had watched at age 13 or so--1972. (The production date is nowhere on the DVD package.) I was happy about this, though, because I have always had fond memories of that series, and it made an impact on me. I remember being struck even at the time by Leonardo's restless dissatisfaction and obsessively inquiring mind. He left so many projects unfinished, and many that he did finish came to bad ends.

I identified with Leonardo, and I still do. My life has also been a restless quest for knowledge. I'm not an inventor--not in the sense he was, anyway--but I am a seeker. And the search in many cases has been more important than the works that may have resulted along the way.

So I watch the isolated and lonely Italian genius on TV, thinking his thoughts, making his cool, objective notes, being mocked and ridiculed by the younger genius Michelangelo (although worshipped by another young master, Raphael) and creating works of art that draw the eye and the mind to this day.

What is the meaning of an unfinished masterpiece?

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