For Christmas I received a book that had been riding on my Amazon wish list for a while now. The things on that list are items I would not necessarily buy for myself, but I think they would make a great gift - for me or anybody.
And I was indeed very pleased that my niece got me the book, Daily Rituals - How Artists Work.
Mason Curry, a writer from New York who now lives in Los Angeles, had the brilliant idea to research how some of the most brilliant minds of the last 400 years got their product out for us to enjoy and to make their immortal mark on the world. As someone who loves to be creative but who has also perfected procrastination into performance art as I move from room to room making messes that will become later projects to be completed before I sit down and write something - I am very interested in how people I admire like WH Auden, Maya Angelou, Willa Cather and Thomas Wolfe got it done.
I've decided to read just a bit of this book every day before I get out of bed to see if there's a ritual that speaks to me - something that I might spark to that I could add to my life and which would create the space where I actually create rather than beat myself up for doing nothing.
I love that Mason owns up to his personal procrastination in putting off of an assignment and so a blog was born which became the book. However my heart started sinking when I read references in the introduction to Edward Gibbon who took Horace along with him on a military campaign and studied in his tent and the quote from an essay by, V.S. Pritchett stating, "the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing."
Thank God that the introduction goes on to reference William James and Franz Kafka who apparently wasted time and waited for inspiration and were racked with doubt and insecurity. I can't wait to read the bits about them!
Yesterday I read about WH Auden, a poet of the 20th Century, whose poems are evocative the time he lived in, born at the beginning of the 20th century, he made it 3/4 of the way through, dying in 1973 which if you think about it made him witness to quite a bit. Apparently he was big into routine and was obsessively punctual believing that, "a life of material precision was essential to his creativity, a way of taming the muse to his own schedule." He got up at 6 am had a cup of coffee and quickly got to work, took a break for lunch and worked through the afternoon.
I found Auden's rituals and taming of a muse by infliction of routine to be a depressing idea and then I got to the last paragraph.... "To maintain his energy and concentration, the poet relied on amphetamines, taking a dose of Benzedrine each morning the way many people take a daily multivitamin. At night he used Seconal or another sedative to get to sleep."
So basically his daily ritual was to pop pills and he did this for 20 years.
I'm going to take a pass.
Today I read about Francis Bacon the hedonistic, hard partying, insomniac hoarder, Simone de Beauvoir who planned her life around Jean Paul Sartre and Thomas Wolfe who stood naked and fondled his genitals for inspiration - no rituals I would care to adopt here. I've already done versions of Bacon and de Beauvoir and neither patch stimulated any meaningful product. I would give the Thomas Wolfe plan a shot, but I think one needs a penis to evoke the "good male feeling" that lit his creative fire.
This morning as I read about Patricia Highsmith who created such wonderfully twisted thrillers as Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley I thought perhaps she was on to something. Her ritual involved easing herself into the right frame of mind by sitting in an almost fetal position on her bed surrounded by crap like cigarettes and ashtrays and cups of coffee - a "womb of her own".
I love my bed and I love laying curled up in it as if I was in a womb of soft white sheets (no cigarettes and ashtrays) with a cup of tea and a snack.
Then I got to the part about how she would have a stiff drink before she wrote and again I will have to pass. I do not have the constitution to drink and remain awake. And she also chain smoked Gauloise all day - GROSS. I tried them in my 20s and was unprepared for how truly horrible they smelled. Ms. Highsmith went on to be a raging alocholic who was more comfortable with animals than people. She ended up breeding snails. Seriously. She brought a bunch to a party in her handbag and when she moved to France which prohibits bringing live snails across the border she smuggled them in with multiple trips, carrying up to 10 under each breast.
Remember that Billy Crystal - Danny Devito movie, Throw Momma from the Train that was a riff on Strangers on a Train? Remember the actress that played Momma? Well let's just say that there's something of a resemblance - and I cannot stop imagining the snail smuggling.
Really looking forward to reading about all the rest of these talented people and kind of loving the fact that they all seem a little bit (or a lot) nuts.
It makes me feel better about my quirks - but I'm still looking for a ritual.