Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Birthday, houses and home

From Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold (we sometimes put on subtitles in German if available, as John is learning it, or French or Spanish, as a brush-up exercise, but I put on English subtitles when I rewatched some of this, as there were so many quotes that I wanted to see in writing in addition to hearing the voice; it can add a layer of something I can't quite put my finger on)

‘I realised [the novel Play It as It Lays] was about anticipating Quintana was growing up. I was anticipating separation. […] I was actually working through that separation ahead of time. So novels are also about things you’re afraid you can’t deal with. In that sense that a novel is a cautionary tale, if you tell the story and work it out all right, then it won’t happen to you.’
Joan Didion, in Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold

What I paint and what I read and think about and feel, and things that come into my life without my prompting them, seem to constantly interweave in astonishing - or perhaps expected - synchronicity.

It was my birthday yesterday, and talking to my mentor and friend Margie, the themes of home and rebirth and becoming through coming home to ourselves came up. I am working on the painting above, which was also born (excuse the pun) out of conversations with Margie and inner child work (my younger sister had recommended the book by Stefanie Stahl, which is about accepting our ‘shadow child’ and thus freeing our ‘sunshine child’) and may call it 'Birthday' (also as a nod to one of my favourite paintings). 

Margie had asked me a while ago whether I had something symbolic that could represent the child in me, and while I searched I kept thinking of a blurry sepia photo of me on a beach that I had saved when my sister sent me a digital copy of it and that I had been meaning to use as the starting point for a painting. 

The book I mentioned in my last post, On Chapel Sands, starts with a girl – the author’s mother - disappearing from a beach, and the memoir is about where we come from, among other things. And incidentally, I just started swimming in the sea again last week.

The house my sisters and I spent the best part of our childhood in is being transformed into a home for my younger sister and her family, with an integrated apartment for our mum. I am so glad they will be under the same roof (the guilt of having left my tribe and moved to another country remains), but there must be something potent in the symbolism of the dismantling and rebuilding, as a lot of my dreams these last few weeks have been about home and a nostalgia for my childhood. Not being able to go to Germany at the moment comes into it as well, no doubt. There is a walk John and I like to go on here that, even though it is at the edge of wild dramatic windswept Connemara, has a softness that reminds me of the fields and ditches surrounding our village at home.

In a sense a lot of art is ultimately about the journey home; it is one of those archetypal themes that underpin pretty much everything. Yet I am still struck by how it is such a dominant thread in my reading and painting at the moment. 

John gave me the recently published Lives of Houses, a collection of essays about the physical homes of various artists, literary figures, composers, politicians, etc. and how they shaped their lives and work. And I bought (and have read the first few pages - then I put it away, as my currently-reading pile is about to topple) Elizabeth-Jane Burnett's The Grassling, about place and landscape, memory and grief. It also includes wild swimming.


We watched two excellent documentaries that are available on Netflix at the moment. Becoming, about Michelle Obama’s memoir of the same title, which also has some moving scenes of her revisiting her childhood home and reminiscing about her late father, and Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, a portrait of the iconic writer, created by her nephew. 

I realised recently that I had quite the collection of literary works dealing with grief and packed away some of them to donate, but I still have Didion’s exceptional memoirs about the deaths of her husband and daughter, The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, and I want to reread them after watching the documentary.

A lot of my recommendations these days are the opposite of feel-good escapism*; between my choice of books and TV and the themes of my paintings (and the sea-swimming!), salt water is featuring heavily at the moment!

* We are also watching After Life.


  1. Happy Belated birthday Marina! Hope you had a lovely day. That painting is so beautiful.

    1. Thanks so much Nancy! Oh, I am so glad you like the painting; thank you. Hope you are keeping well xx