My previous post discussed Twyla Tharp’s practice of “scratching” for creative material and how it supports the Process. But a part of her philosophy I can’t follow is her advice to “Maintain the White Hot Pitch.” For Tharp, “Scratching is not about control or repose. It’s about unleashing furious…energy and watching it bounce off everything.” Of course she is a legendary Creative Full-Timer, and her work is her whole day, her whole self. My life as a CPT, not to mention my nervous system, doesn’t work that way. I need “control and repose” to have a healthy and creative life. My nature is not full-time fierce, I’m afraid, and I also like to watch several detective series. Oh, and I have two jobs. After reading her book, I pondered this contrast.
I wanted to explore more artists’ habits and found Mason Currey’s 2013 book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, an enjoyable, all-you-can-eat buffet that includes many types of creatives across centuries. His spirited introduction states “my focus…was really people’s routines. The word connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought…But one’s daily routine is also…a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources…” Ah, Gentle Cuz. He also quotes the writer V. S. Pritchett on how “great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.” Can I rest my head in VSP’s lap and hold Currey’s hand?
But as it turns out, there are the strugglers, the time-wasters, and the differently-calibrated out there: William James, Franz Kafka, Samuel Johnson, and Gertrude Stein, who gave creatives the Best Quotation Ever, “It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.” Hey, these people still produced, right? Currey offers plenty of evidence that there’s “infinite variation” in how to make Art happen. Of course, there is always that difference between Those who Actually Do Not Do Anything but their Art, and Those who Have To Do Things other than Art. Era, material resources, gender, choice, and other human things do factor into routine and ritual possibilities.
Some of that infinite variation follows in a breathless jumble:
Poet W.H. Auden lived adamantly by the clock, his daily routine down to the minute. All day, every day. But he took amphetamines every day, too, to maintain it, and stood behind that choice.
Anthony Trollope, whose novels are long, hit the desk at 5:30 every morning and would “allow myself no mercy,” writing for three hours, two hundred fifty words every fifteen minutes. And then stopped work. For the day. He had his mother to inspire him: in his youth she cared for an ill husband and six kids, had to write for money, and hit the desk at 4:00am every day. (And there’s Ginger, as they say, doing everything Fred does, backwards, in heels.)
Author Thomas Mann closed himself in his study at 9:00am, at which point the door did not open and the whole family fell silent until noon. Joan Miro’s day included five morning hours of painting, rigorous exercise, lunch, exactly three cigarettes and a five-minute nap, before he began painting again at 3:00. Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, walked, drank coffee, and wrote. He had more than fifty different cups and saucers.
Gertrude Stein wrote about half an hour a day, sometimes outdoors, and firmly believed that thirty minutes of real work every day adds up. (Are we listening, CPTs?) Novelist Francine Prose once said the world “will pay me to do anything BUT write.” The price of fame. She secludes herself in the country when she can, where she finds she is either working productively or “standing in front of the refrigerator.”
TS Eliot had a job at a bank and later at a publisher. Although poet Ezra Pound set up a scheme to crowd source his comrade in the 1920s, Eliot kept the day job. William Carlos Williams was a doctor. Wallace Stevens worked in insurance. Lucille Clifton wrote poems at the kitchen table in a house full of children. WB Yeats made sure he wrote his poetry two hours a day, and read, and engaged in outdoor leisure, but he claimed never to have “done more than five or six good lines in a day.” Of the articles he wrote for money, he said, “One has to give something of one’s self to the devil that one may live.” Brrrrrr.
Maya Angelou favored writing in a hotel room during the work day, 7:00-2:00, with “a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry.” Whee. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote mornings and sometimes afternoons, unless he wanted to watch a sunbeam move across the floor for the second half of the day. Whee again: see Stein quotation above about doing nothing. Hawthorne also held his share of day jobs, so give him a break. Georgia O’Keeffe had painting days and “other things one imagines one has to do” days for everyday and social stuff, all rushed through to “get at the painting again.” Nature writer Edward Abbey had a quiet shack for bouts of work and then long, gloomy vacations between books. He hated to write under pressure, but it was the only thing that made him write.
Novelist Bernard Malamud thought there was “too much drivel” about rituals. “You write by sitting down and writing…you suit…your nature,” he said, concluding, “The real mystery to crack is you.” So I’m working on the mystery of Me, and working on a post about that work. And feeling empathy for Franz Kafka, who wrote “time is short, my strength is limited, the office is horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through…” What are YOUR rituals/routines/wriggles in your CPT Life? What makes them work, or not? Inquiring blogger wants to know!