For writers, to be gifted by chance comes not just in the practice of craft, but also in the practice of reading. To write is also to read, and a lifetime is required to become a skilled reader.
Reading deeply isn’t easy. Even taking the time to do so isn’t easy. To be caught reading by the UPS guy through the window invites guilt and the imagined accusation of sloth and the consumption of certain chocolate confections.
No deliveries trouble me when I’m in my writing shack in Idyllwild, Calif. No person, no vehicles, save certain utility trucks from time to time. The shack is near the dead end of a dirt road. With snow, there is ice; with rain, mud; and always, gullies, bumps, sandy soil. It is not an inviting road. I’m grateful.
Reading in the writing shack allows the work of others to enter the heart, soul, mind. The creek, pine trees, live oaks, mountain, and in certain seasons, moths beating against the screened door, hurl no accusation of sloth or gluttony. They are who or what they are, without ambition except survival. Likewise the occasional mule deer family, single coyote, sleek bobcat.
The shack invites one to be — without expectation, ambition, desire.
Books read here have the resonance of those devoured in childhood and beyond, into the early twenties. The shack allows for full presence with the book in my lap — at least most of the time.
The Daybooks of Edward Weston bit into me with pleasure and pain. My used copy contains two volumes: I. Mexico II. California. The book is edited by Nancy Newhall, who died in 1974.
This particular edition was published in 1981 by Aperture. The daybooks kept by Weston span the years 1922-1924.
The photography of Edward Weston (1886-1958) changed the nature of photography. He became famous as a young man for his work; but when he felt with swing and sting of modern art and music, he turned and followed the tilt of his time. These modernist photographs of shells, sand, water, nudes, peppers are what we know of him and seem to have been part of the American iconography forever.
But they aren’t of course. Weston was also a gifted and honest writer and the Daybooks follow the course of the making of a great artist and the contours of a lively and adventurous life. (All those women; all those friendships!)
What we have of his personal notebooks was, alas, not only edited by Newhall but by a couple of friends before her, well-meaning, or not.
But there is no quibbling about what remains. The entries are deep, intense, honest.
December 29, 1929:
My last entry this year, — after hunting for my ink for half an hour, and finding it in Brett’s room. [One of his four sons, Brett Weston, who became a well-known master photographer.] That is the boy’s great problem in life. How to overcome carelessness, to create order, without which no one can reach great heights as an artist, or anything else. Brett loses everything he touches, breaks things right and left, is forever hurting himself. All symptoms of a disorderly mind. And art is based on order! The world is full of sloppy “Bohemians,” and their work betrays them.
“My press is heating up in preparation of mounting forty-five new prints all done in the last two days. This is a record, and I felt the strain yesterday, piling into bed at 8:30; but up this a.m. at 3:45, and feeling quite fit. I am blessed with great recuperative power, though I abuse myself, knowing this, by working on my nerve force.”
March 21, 1931
“My work has vitality because I have helped, done my part, in revealing to others the living world about them, showing to them what their own unseeing eyes had missed . . .”