Paris Review interviews are pure indulgence. They keep some great ones online, and it’s delight to look back and read P.G. Wodehouse or whoever – how they write, how they live, how they behave and what they laugh at. All beautifully written, of course, and well set-out. Reading about writing is a particular favourite of mine… Now in a way, it feels a bit naughty; it always reminds me that I am not, at that particular moment, writing, and that if I had been, that would be a better use of my time. Blogs, books, I don’t care, throw it all at me.
The interview I have currently been reading (and rereading) is one with Vladimir Nabokov. This man has a delicious way of dismissing the opinions of others in a way that’s one part diplomacy, one part snobbishness. I find him very amusing, and refreshing now, when everything disliked is broken down in essay after essay. Everything he dislikes he simply ignores; it’s not worth his time. He claims to have an “absence of natural vocabulary” in English which must be irony. “All right for describing a sunset”, I mean, honestly. Writers whose first language is English who are better than he is are few and far between. Read the interview, do. It’s delicious.
Let’s talk about something else, so this whole post isn’t just a plug for the Paris Review. Art! I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I’m trying my hand at watercolour. Every so often I’ll post an attempt on my instagram. I am not very good, and I have no idea what I’m doing. I’d like to learn to draw, too – it’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to be able to do, but never practice enough to get any good at. A friend of mine gave me some advice today: “Start with vague shapes and representations of things, refine, lather, rinse, repeat”. I find myself stymied, still… A little afraid of trying, perhaps. It’s one of those things that as a younger person I always assumed one either had a knack for, or didn’t. Now I know that, like everything else, it’s a matter of practice, of trial and error. (I am not helped by the existence of a younger cousin; all of seven years old and with an eye and a talent for art that I find astonishing. She’s made some abstract pieces in felt tip pen that were genuinely very good. It’s really quite annoying.)
In a way, I have quite an academically-oriented mind. It’s difficult for me to understand that if you flail around in the darkness for long enough, you’ll make your way. I used to wish learning things could be as easy as on the Sims – you just do it over and over again until you get better at it. It’s still tough thinking that, yes, that’s actually how things work. You just do them until you’re good. I always feel like I should have structure. Lesson plans, step-by-step. I enjoy learning that way, but you can’t go to school for everything. I’m learning German with Duolingo (I really ought to brush up on my French too) and I’m at the point now where I need to sit down and write out some vocab, because I’m never going to retain it otherwise.
How did Nabokov learn his languages? He uses a lot of French in Lolita. Never mind… I should go and study. Practise makes perfect.