Wednesday, October 6, 2010



According to a 2007 New York Times review of an Edward Hopper retrospective at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, "Hopper once said that, as an artist, the only thing he ever aspired to do was to paint 'sunlight on the side of a house.' "

I'm thinking of Hopper this morning, having just returned from six days in the high desert town of Joshua Tree. I read, I napped, I did errands, I drove to the Yucca Valley Starbucks to get online. Every night around five I walked up Covington Flats Road and watched the colors and clouds and shadows over the mountains as the sun set. I wrote, I pondered, I prayed. But I've been worried about a lot of things lately. I feel tired and old. So a lot of time I simply sat and looked out the window.


At the behest of my (wonderful) teacher friend Alan Pulner, I once gave a little talk to a class of third-graders at the Hobart Middle School here in L.A. I couldn't believe how smart these kids were. "What's your genre?" they asked, and "Does it take you a long time to revise?" and "How do you know when you're done?" But to me the question of the day came from a small Asian girl in a green cardigan sweater who, after sitting quietly the whole hour, finally raised her hand. "Do you..." she began shyly, then stopped to gather herself before continuing. "Do you find it helps when you write to look out the window?"


I wanted to jump up and clasp that little girl to my breast. I wanted to say, Now you are a writer. You will suffer. You will spend much of your life alone. You will get very little understanding and almost no support. But just to be able to ask such a question....that is everything. To devote your whole life to learning how to paint sunlight on the side of a house is everything. To devote your whole life to describing the feeling in your heart when you look out the window and see a gull skimming over the water, or a man buying his bottle of Thunderbird at the liquor store is everything. I settled for, "Yes! I find looking out the window helps absolutely! I spend a lot of time looking out the window. I am a big fan of looking out the window."

Sometimes we look out the window. And if we wait a really long time, no matter how discouraged or tired or hopeless we get, sometimes what's out there begins to look back.



  1. Love Hopper - love your writing. Both are pure and raw and show the naked truth.

  2. such beautiful writing on writing this week. This piece and one by Michael Cunningham I've sent to you that I think you'll apprecitate. Especially his use of the term "cathedral of fire" which rather evokes "shirt of flame!"

  3. But woe to the writer whose desk faces the window. A bare wall, by contrast, contains nothing and everything. Best to have a window at 90 or 180 degrees, as I learned the hard way!


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