Reading Marion Milner’s On Not Being Able to Paint I realize that what I want to do is to “combine”—to refocus, to adjust, to put together, to pace, to circle, to speak through. In response to feeling unable or unwilling to represent the “visual fact” of the world around her in painting, but instead something else, a feeling or form or attitude that is separate from what she sees, she worries that it may be a form of cowardice, a retreat. “But it did not feel entirely like a retreat, it felt more like a search, a going backwards perhaps, but a going back to look for something, something which could have real value for adult life if only it could be recovered.”

What is “recovered,” in writing? A novel, or a short story, is rarely what I set out to write. It’s something aimed towards, it’s a pulling back (of the arm with the arrow stuck between two fingers). What makes me upset about Milner’s book is a question I asked myself later in the day—for a long time everything I experienced and everything I thought slowly circulated inside me, a kind of cauldron of thought and feeling. A feast made up of scraps. This is the state of being that I made for myself after so much renunciation, so much hard toil. It’s what I feel like I am. When I don’t feel this way I feel confused and lost, absent from myself. Like I’m watching myself go from far away, through a window.

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