How important are threads? Are they all connection points? Are they life’s force displaying the unity of all things? Am I merely talking of coincidence or serendipity?
Miller speaks of threads: ‘I am aware that in many quarters of natural science this is objected to: therein something repulsive to many but I do not know why and I am inclined to just let people have their way of liking without protest. To me it is an expression of thought of beauty of a deep kind. It is a freeing of the mind and letting it flow out along the thread connecting all things, permeating all and passing from what we call a class to another class – without any more hitch than that of passing thro’ the water in a glass to the glass itself, their permeating thought is opposite from that thought which focuses on our object then jumps to another, the break, impact then subsequent break, is not pleasant for me. I prefer the thread instead of the steps. The cord holding the Beads to the Beads. I believe there is a great opening or blossoming in such nature of thoughts.’ Letter to Lew 17/2/36
Brenda Niall in her book Life Class speaks specifically of beads and quotes Leon Edel [on choosing certain episodes in the lives of his nine Bloomsberries] ‘string them together as one strings beads’ ‘When the string is complete and harmonious each bead has a relation to the other beads on the string’ p. 224-225 Life Class
Brenda shares too, Samuel Johnson’s quote: ‘As the process of these narratives [the Lives of Poets] is now bringing me among my contemporaries, I begin to feel myself walking upon ashes under which the fire is not extinguished and coming to a time of which it will be proper to say nothing that is false rather than all that is true. p.153 Life Class
Recently I found a photographic restorer to assist me in enhancing the few photographic materials I borrowed from New Zealand and it turned out her mother has an early Miller, a country scene, probably painted late 1920s to early thirties, maybe Warrandyte or London. In some way this thread, from a conversation about mothers, somewhat coincidental, slipped in with all the others and I knew I had chosen the restorer with the right eyes for the work.
The practice of recording biographical threads:
1. Commit to a note taking protocol which will be easy to use when you get to the point of putting the work all together – It took me a while to decide on how much of the letters I would transcribe, I moved from rough notes per letter to full transcription because I found that it was only on reading a letter after transcription that I really understood it – the importance of the whole
2. Keep a note book adjacent to your transcription activity with two headings Tasks & Questions/Ideas. Transcription will inevitably raise a few tasks for you to pursue that should be noted before you digress into another letter or document, ditto for questions/ ideas that come to you as you focus on your research materials.
Always be questioning you materials, your subject, yourself
3. How to reference – I was referencing purely by letter date, now I add Miller’s page numbers where I can and maintain my own page numbers on all documents I create
4. Keep a contents page for all related materials – List manuscript materials against each volume, note against each volume the progress you are making; list correspondence in the same way as it makes it easier to refer back and find that elusive quote. I separate interviews from correspondence and note all the interviewee details including appointment arrangements/commitments and the full list of questions I have used along side the final interview transcription
5. Keep your contacts in a notebook where you can record names, addresses, phone numbers and dates and type of contact. Currently mine exist across several notebooks reflecting the way I received the contacts and needs organising
6. Commit to a daily notes practice – it doesn’t actually have to be daily but is a wonderful way to keep yourself honest, note your progress and reveal the gaps – the gaps reveal themselves but you need to be paying attention and capture them when they surface
7. Formatting of all your documents needs to be consistent for many reasons but also so you can readily identify quotable material from your own notes – I highlight some sentences/paragraphs with a thematic colour code and insert square brackets when I am inserting a comment or question or extending factual/historic content which I often do within the transcribed text – I even add hyperlinks and images Miller refers to
8. At all times you need to be thinking how will I need this material? How will I refer back to it in my text? How will I gain permissions and keep a record of these? Then change your practice to ensure that when you are in a more formal writing phase all your threads will be waiting for you, as you need them
9. Maintain a detailed bibliography and acknowledgements list as you go, as biographical research can continue over years and it would be too easy to miss giving credit where it is due when you are finally collating your text
10. The more you let go the more the answers come to you quite naturally as you work through your materials…in fact you have to let go. Keep working with focus but let go of any preconceived structure or self expectation and some how you do reach your biographical subject. ‘It is a freeing of the mind and letting it flow out along the thread connecting all things… GM’ ‘As she writes, images emerge from the understream. She tries but should not. For bliss will come unwilled for. OS Letter to BL 8/10/10’