Diary Entry

Between Procrastination and Productivity

The semester is almost over. Next week is my last class. Soon, my academic calendar will clear and…And what? Which of the many pieces of unfinished writing will I drag out of my file drawer and set out to finish, finish or, terrible thought, discard as beyond repair. For now I have a delicious feeling of possibility.

One of my side-bar activities for the past couple of years has been graphic cartooning. Or rather, attempts to create graphic representations that others might also enjoy. It’s hard because I have no natural talent. I’m not one of those people who have been drawing since childhood. Because I lack the requisite skills to move past doodling, I’ve worked periodically with a drawing teacher. But this winter, snowed under with work, I stopped lessons and drawing altogether.

To restart my artistic endeavors I went to a show last week with the artist Jen Waters, my most recent teacher, to see the paintings, mainly self-portraits, by the Austrian artist Maria Lassnig, at PS1.

photoI had been stunned by the self-portrait that appeared in the Times, equally by the fact that I had never heard of her, that she was 94 years old, and, as I felt strongly when I saw the scope of the work, feminist.

As I walked through the rooms of paintings with Jen and her adorable infant daughter in a stroller, we talked about my resuming lessons. We talked about this sense of excitement, between, as she said, procrastination and productivity. I’ve been trying to create order in my study, stem the overflow of shmattes in my closets, cull the multiple hair products in my shower, in a word, make room for the new.

Will I? Will I stop shopping at Muji for more and more ingenious Lucite storage boxes?

What if none of the work that in memory seemed so promising pans out? What if, despite more lessons, my artwork still remains hopelessly primitive? It’s the desire to postpone that disappointment that keeps me finding ever more tasks of preparation before settling down to confront the reality of the pages that fill my drawers. Sometimes I want that moment never to come. It’s so much more enjoyable just to contemplate what I might one day do.

P.S. As I was finishing this post I went to check the article that had alerted me to Lassnig,
only to discover in a new article that she had died a few days before we went to the museum.

I am glad I didn’t know this when I looked at the paintings. But at the same time this reminds me that in life, especially for me at my age, what matters most, I should remember, is the work one has left behind. Maybe all work―though I don’t consider my writing art–a footnote if I’m lucky―is no more than an attempt to cheat death.

There’s still time to see the show.

Nancy K. Miller. Diary

Welcome. Some musings on my current preoccupations with the worlds of illness and the worlds of books, the vicissitudes of living with cancer and the need now, in my eighties, to imagine what new writing might be. 

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