Drinking poison and expecting the other person to die

by SJ Griffin

Let us begin this month’s post with a moment of reflection on how well posting monthly is going for us.

Done? Good.

Let us created another beginning, after that false and self-indulgent beginning, and let that new beginning be a quiz. This is an extract from Jean Cocteau’s Past Tense, The Cocteau Diaries Vol 2. He wrote this on August 16 1953. He was not very cheerful around that time, he was ill. He was ill a lot. The question is:

Who is he talking about in such a disparaging, critical and largely unbecoming manner?

X’s obsessive researches led to failures in the fabrication of his floors. In his lifetime he saw his works crack become covered with patches, fall into dust. None of his machines was executed. While he was painting his very tiresome last supper, the duchess [of Milan] kept interrupting him, sending for him to repair her plumbing, regarding him much more as a sort of handyman than as a painter. He must have lived better in the court of Francios I. Yet he was asked to do quite a lot of plumbing there too. Too bad.

Can you guess?

Yes?

No?

No googling…

OK. I will tell you.

Leonardo Da Vinci.

I know, right? I’m not sure where to start with what’s hilarious, unattractive and terrifying about this. Jean Cocteau made some thoroughly marvellous films, if you haven’t see Orpheé you must, wrote some poetry I don’t much understand, was a great graphic artist and did loads of other stuff that I can’t be bothered to list here. From reading his diaries it seems like he was creative most days of his life and could fund a very comfortable lifestyle doing it. We might aspire to being like Cocteau. Except for the ‘Leonardo da Vinci is a handyman and a plumber’ aspect. The last supper is “very tiresome”? I admit it is quite strange that they are all sitting around one side of the table but it’s not supposed to be realistic. I bet you a million pounds that more people have heard of Leonardo da Vinci than have heard of Jean Cocteau. This clearly rankles with Cocteau. Professional jealousy. I can understand that. I do it myself.

Or maybe that should be I did it myself. The day after I read that diary entry, I read this headline on the Guardian website: ‘Self-published star Jasinda Wilder lands seven-figure deal with traditional imprint’. Usually I would sneer a bit, feel queasy and hot, and then look at some nice pictures of bicycles until I felt calmer. But I did not do that. No, gentle reader, I read the article. I didn’t even snigger that they seem to not be sure how you spell her first name because it’s wrong in the URL. You’ll note, though, that I still felt compelled to mention it. I allow us a tiny snigger.

What I did do was say ‘That’s nice for her I’m glad this is possible because it means I could get a traditional deal for my new book and as I only want a one book deal, I guess that would be easier to get hooray what a beautiful day I must go and finish chapter five.’ I meant it too. And then I let myself down a bt and chuckled at the style of the photograph being all EL James-y and that, but I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m saying that:

If someone else has done what you wanted to do it means it’s possible. And that’s a good thing, a great thing. It means you can do it as well. So, let’s go and do it, yes?

Also, good luck Jasinda and Leonardo, I hope you crazy kids make it!

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