Thursday, September 17, 2009

Juggling, juggling

Today I'm editing and revising what I've written about Van Gogh's two years in Nuenen. These were important years for him. He wasn't yet the painter he would become, but--through dogged work habits and finally some peace in his life--he began to mature and produce some of his first exceptional work. It's also known as his "Dutch Period." My big problem as I look over what I've written is knowing how much and what to include. There are so many different aspeccts of his life in Nuenen that, in my opinion, need and deserve to be reflected in the novel: his up and down relationship with his family, especially his parents (who lived in Nuenen); his suddenly strained relationship with his close friend Anthon Van Rappard; his first forays into teaching drawing and painting to others; his up and down relationship with the town; his growing insight into the "laws" of color, especially as interpreted by Eugéne Delacroix, a painter he greatly admired; his indifference to the Impressionists (about whom he knew only a little then), his father's death and how that affected the family; his difficulties finding models; his ever desperate need for indepedence; his love of Brabant and the peasant population; his ongoing epistolary relationship with his brother Theo. And that's just a starting list.

You can see my problem. In a novel that's already getting too big, how do I make scenes out of all that stuff and keep this beast from becoming Ugly Monster Big. By very judicious choices, of course. But that's easier said than done. By giving the novel what the novel needs--and nothing else. Of course, but that's easier said than done. It all seems necessary. (This guy had a quietly big life!) Errrr . . . The old schoolboy nerd in me really comes out in these situations. I want to be thorough! I want to cover it all! I remember way back in high school when I was assigned to do an oral presentation for an American History class. I was assigned a reading and basically was just supposed to explicate it to the class. I can't remember the time limit, but I went up to and beyond it--and I still wasn't done. More points to get to! The teacher had to stop me and schedule the rest of my presentation for the next day. "I think I gave John too much to read," he said, very generously. But I remember, even then, realizing the truth: I just didn't choose carefully enough. I tried to give too much information. It all seemed fascinating, relevant, important. Yes, I'm sure it was. I'm sure it was . . .


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