The Way Your Life Goes
I recently started reading The Lives of Lucien Freud by William Feaver (Alfred A. Knopf, 2019). I know his name, as an artist, and I'm not particularly drawn to his work, more the connection to the world of a past Freud. I didn't have to read very far when a passage struck me.
"Painting absorbs whatever affects the painter. Every consideration, emotional or otherwise, Freud believed, stretches a painting's potential. [Freud says] 'I don't think there's any kind of feeling you have to leave out.' If the feeling wasn't there, then ultimately the painting failed. Yet the feeling in a painting was necessarily filtered, distanced, objectified. He stressed the need to avoid 'false feeling' or gratuitous fervour. 'I don't want them to be sensational, but I want them to reveal some of the results of my concentration.' His concentration over the years yielded paintings, drawings and etchings that fix insistently on what we are, on the motif whatever it may be, getting a hold on the ungrained uncertainties that spice a life." (p. xv)
If I replace the words painting/painter with writing/writer . . . writing absorbs whatever affects the writer . . . the meaning is still as clear and relevant. Isn't this what we do as writers?
Feaver concludes the prologue with Freud's words: "the fact of your life being the subject matter doesn't in any way change the nature of art or artistic enterprise. And therefore it seems absolutely obvious, as well as convenient, to use as a subject what you are thinking and looking at all the time the way your life goes." In the back of my head, as I read and reread these words, is a mantra "something to say". This quote embodies that concept, and exemplifies why I write genealogical fiction--this is what I look at and think about all the time--not just the preservation of history but the understanding of the people who came before me, and thus make up, in their totality who I am (truly, apart from what society has tried to make of me). And, to leave this understanding behind for those who come after. This is why I write.