Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Sunday, 11 October 2015


Untitled Doodle (4.3.85)

Unable to find words angry enough
yet still needing to write,
he resorted to scribbling wildly,
and ended doodling:
boxes within boxes.

4 March 1985

SamuelBeckettDrawingI don’t doodle. One reason I don’t doodle is that I use a computer of one sort or another to write all but the briefest of notes. There’s always one to hand. And I expect that’s the case for many people. Which makes me wonder if doodling is becoming a lost art and, if so, is it such a huge loss? Beckett was a doodler. I was surprised when I saw some of his manuscripts to see his wee drawings. But there they were and you can see some here. And he wasn’t the only one. There’s a nice we article here with examples by the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Franz Kafka, Henry Miller and Vladimir Nabokov. National Doodle Day is on February 6th. There’s a site with examples of other famous doodlers and an article discussing the meaning of doodling.

Why doodle? Well, we all know when we doodle and there’s the key. Doodling apparently absorbs your bored energy—not quite sure if that’s the scientific term for it—without affecting your levels of concentration. It seems free-form scribbling can actually help you concentrate and retain information because it’s mindless enough not to cause “cognitive overload”, but just stimulating enough to prevent us from spacing out.

I’m trying to think when the last time was when I doodled and it has been years. I’ve looked though my old notebooks and there are no doodles and I honestly can’t remember ever doodling on a manuscript while I was working on it. When I was at school I used to work with a wooden board across my lap and I doodled and scribbled on it but never on paper. Here’s the thing: I think they’re untidy and I’m a very tidy person. The thing I love about writing on a computer is that it’s always tidy. No smudges. No creases. No scorings through. No crossings out. And no untidy or illegible writing.

I think there’s another reason why I’ve never doodled and that’s because I’m never bored when I’m writing. If I can’t write I do something else. I don’t sit there staring off into space. I get on with another project and trust my subconscious to get on with the job and let me know when I need to step in and write stuff down. It’s a theory. I don’t really know. Maybe I just don’t think in pictures. I like visual images, paintings, photos and the like but I don’t think I’m really what you’d call a visual person. There are very few descriptions in my books in fact I noticed something as I was editing this current one: the narrator talks about his cleaner’s glasses and starts off intending to describe them but actually never does. Made me smile that and I’ve no intention of changing it.

Not sure why I’ve included the date in the poem’s title. My guess is that it was such a horrible day I expected to remember it forever.


Gwil W said...

I certainly doodled in school. I impressed myself with my circles and ovals and got so carried away that it took a slap on my ear to bring me to my senses and another 100 repetitive lines of punishment which was also meditative in an odd way. But then I became bored and would resort to sellotaping two or three pencils together and write the lines in short time. Once I tried to do this with 6 pencils but found it too cumbersome.

Kass said...

I have a friend who teaches an advanced form of doodling call Zen Tangles. I doodle while I talk on the phone, but they're really ugly, probably because I hate to talk on the phone.

Boxes within boxes is a pretty tidy, symbolic way to manage your anger.

Jim Murdoch said...

I loved Techie Drawing at school, Gwilliam, and especially isometric drawing so when I talk about boxes within boxes in this poem I’m being quite literal. When I doodled back them I would begin with a cube which I would then modify, usually by boring holes into it. I was never happy drawing curves but that’s the perfectionist in me. There’s not much you can do to screw up a straight line. Love your innovation with the pencils by the way. I’m sure I tried something similar but not to do lines. What I did like—this is years later—was writing with an italic split nib. I went through a phase when I was in my early twenties when I was quite obsessed with fountain pens. I still have them all but they all need a damn good clean.

And, Kass, I think the image of boxes within boxes came from something I read at the time actually. It was a book or an article analysing doodles (no doubt written by a Freudian) and whoever wrote it said that if you doodled boxes then that meant you felt trapped. I’m not so sure. Sometimes a box is just a box. I found some YouTube videos on Zentangling. I can see the attraction. I used to do something similar at the end of Primary School. The videos annoyed me—even the ones where they use a ruler—because they didn’t measure. I would measure everything and I never crossed over a line; very sloppy. I was the same with colouring in as a kid.

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