An entry from A Writer’s Diary by Toby Litt, published by Galley Beggar Press on 1 January 2023
Except when I’m doing zazen, I most note my breathing when I’m yawning. Why did I think of Howard Hodgkin just then? I don’t consciously control my in-breaths and out-breaths when I’m at the desk, no more than I control my thoughts. Howard Hodgkin doesn’t weary or bore me. But as I become aware of my breaths, I become aware of my frequent sighing, soughing, sniffling. I can’t compare it – the use of the sigh – to anything but a wave on the sea near a beach shelving steeply. I met Howard Hodgkin twice – once at his studio, once at the dinner for the opening of his retrospective at Tate Britain. Before a sentence, I now realise, I inhale more profoundly and exhale for a longer than usual time – then I scribble. And I sometimes write without breathing in again, for a longer than usual time. Howard Hodgkin was a terrible interviewee: he didn’t want to give anything away for free. My breathing is like a wave drawing back, raising itself to its last full height, before laying itself out on the stretch of the beach. I do not yet have the chesty equivalent of pebbles rattling pebbles or sand sliding over sand, with my withdrawal towards the full stop. (Chesty Hodgkin did.) I got Howard Hodgkin to admit his colours meant what they commonly mean – crimson for passion, grey for despond – that they weren’t a private code, as with Kandinsky. Perhaps when I’m not observing it, and the sentences are coming regularly, like waves on a non-windy day, my breathing doesn’t consist of sighs and recoveries. They are – I insist – silentish sighs, not groans; all anyone nearby would hear is the unfurl out of the nostrils – the air-catch at the top edge. Hodgkin Howard Hodgkin Howard Hodgkin. Still, I’m surprised at how irregular my breathing-patterns is: impressionistic, expressionistic. Among the guests at the retrospective dinner were Julian Barnes and Cate Blanchett. In a long perfectly hung cream suit, she is still the most glamorous woman I’ve ever seen – Bianca Jagger outdone; and Julian Barnes mentioned the Hodgkin he owns, a green skyscape or seascape painted on a breadboard. I must try to notice my breathing when I’m not noting it. Howard Hodgkin himself had the colouring and smoothness of driftwood.