All posts by Zack Ramey

What Writing and Drawing Have in Common

Sometimes I pick up a book, only half intent to read it.  I carry it with me.  It is now a moving body, it seems, with a mind of its own, for I leave it in places and don’t know why.  I lose sight of it, become half aware of it or forget about it completely.  If it travels far enough, it ends up on the bedside table, and there I wait for an artful moment to open it.

Some authors I struggle to read, they’re so good.  Pages and paragraphs are long meditations.  Lately it’s Annie Dillard.  We have this collection of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, An American Childhood, and The Writing Life in one book.  A few days ago I was somewhere with it reading An American Life.  I relished reading about Dillard’s mom, with her childlike joy for the sounds of certain words, like “portulaca,” “poinciana,” and  “Terwilliger bunts one,” as well as her artistic (and I would add adult) sense of duty toward form.  Today, I thank Dillard for my meditation.  Here’s how The Writing Life begins:

“When you write, you lay out a line of words.  The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe.  You wield it, and it digs a path you follow.  Soon you find yourself in new property.  Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject?  You will know tomorrow, or this time next year.”

Tomorrow or next year.  Like you have been digging all that time.  And nothing but more cave ahead.  The idea works for drawing, too.  Whatever makes that possible is very interesting.  She is using one medium to talk about something even larger than writing, per se (or drawing).  She’s located the foundation under art and life.  This, to me, is an amazing accomplishment, worthy of mention.  By virtue of this multivalence, or what theologian David Tracy would call an “excess of meaning,” she’s articulated that how art works is how life works.

Calligraphy Quote – “A culture is no better than its woods.”

 

More calligraphy doodling (the doodling only really happened because I smudged the ink mid-way through).

The last line from a poem by W.H. Auden called ‘Bucolic II. Woods.’

“The trees encountered on a country stroll
Reveal a lot about that country’s soul.

A small grove massacred to the last ash,
An oak with heart-rot, give away the show:
This great society is going smash;
They cannot fool us with how fast they go,
How much they cost each other and the gods.
A culture is no better than its woods.”

Auden had a wonderful voice.  I first heard it from one of The Books’ songs called “Be Good To Them Always.”  Their music, and in particular their sound collage technique, changed the way I thought about and made music.  Their influence is clear in this old track from high school.

A friend and I used to go “hunting” for sounds with an old Sony tape recorder.  Those are fond memories.  We would drive around with the Sony seeking out anything that might produce a novel sound.  It changed the way we looked at things.

One sample comes from finding an empty Skoal can littered under a pavilion; you can hear it rolling across cement.  Not surprisingly, playgrounds seemed to have the most interesting instruments.  A swing set sampled.  The hollow metal tubing banged on sometimes produced different pitches–sometimes even tuned!  Whoever produced the equipment most likely had no idea.  It was our discovery!  At one point in this track you’ll hear a clip culled from those manic contraptions called spring riders: the horse, fish, or car attached to a massive spring in the ground.

The song is called “Funny Nostalgia.”