a full day
Note made in 1983: “E’s husband is an economics lecturer with a boyish face which has begun its imperceptible slide into age without any intervening stage of maturity. ‘Washing up!’ he exclaims with a laugh. ‘Sometimes I wake up sweating in the night thinking of it!’ He wears a grey cardigan with dull suede trimmings. It is stretched and a bit thin and hangs loosely, emphasising the academic droop of his shoulders. Is this a game he is playing?” Happily, I never used this, and can’t now remember who “E” was. A bit lower down the page, after some stuff about the difficulty of describing people whose presentational style was formed two generations ago (“we only have the cliches we inherited from them”), I have written, in capitals, in red ink: “Observe facts, exhibit implications. The meaning runs in balance over the surface of the prose; the prose runs in balance from scene to scene; scenes dissolve one into the next in balance over the meaning. Invent your own ancestors. Be brief.” And then: “Sometimes I think that continuity, or the urge to it, the basic flaw of the human character.” Finally, from a letter of Zola’s, “‘What a terrible trade, where you are always beginning again, and always with the same problems…'” It seems to have been a full day in terms of self-invention, but back then I rarely had an empty one.