Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Of attics and apples

Do  the books that writers don't write matter? It's easy to forget them, to assume that the apocryphal bibliography must contain nothing but bad ideas, justly abandoned projects, embarrassing first thoughts. It needn't be so: first thoughts are often best, cheeringly rehabilitated by third thoughts after they've been loured at by seconds. Besides, an idea isn't always abandoned because it fails some quality control test. The imagination doesn't crop annually like a reliable fruit tree. The writer has to gather whatever's there: sometimes too much, sometimes too little, sometimes nothing at all. And in the years of glut there is always a slatted wooden tray in some cool, dark attic, which the writer nervously visits from time to time; and yes, oh dear, while he's been hard at work downstairs, up in the attic there are puckering skins, warning spots, a sudden brown collapse and the sprouting of snowflakes. What can he do about it?

With Flaubert, the apocrypha cast a second shadow. If the sweetest moment in life is a visit to a brothel that doesn't come off, perhaps the sweetest moment of writing is the arrival of that idea for a book which never has to be written, which is never sullied with a definite shape, which never  needs be exposed to a less loving gaze than that of its author.

Julian Barnes: 'Flaubert's Parrot' (1984)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The cow at the creek

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained;
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition.
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins.
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied - not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is responsible or industrious over the whole earth.

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Until a day or two ago it had not rained for months. There is so little feed around that the cattle belonging to a farm up the creek are getting through fences and wandering over neighbouring properties, including ours.

Today when I went down to the creek to feed the ducks, there was a large old black cow, with huge horns. As I approached, she did not run away as they always do, but looked at me wearily.

I stopped. Leisurely, she put her mouth to the water and drank and drank. It was then that I noticed she was heavily pregnant. Slowly and laboriously, she climbed the steep bank opposite and went on her way.

I liked her, so dignified and long-suffering. She wasn't young.

The people who own these cattle over-stock them.  A neighbour reckons they are animal hoarders, hoarding also dogs and cats in their dozens.

People do sicken me at times, but never animals.  There's a bit in a Alice Munro story where a woman has on her tombstone, 'She was kind to her chickens.'

I can't think of a better epitaph for me.