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Daily Rituals: How Artists Workby Mason Currey
Synopses & Reviews
Franz Kafka, frustrated with his living quarters and day job, wrote in a letter to Felice Bauer in 1912, “time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”
Kafka is one of 161 inspired — and inspiring — minds, among them, novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, who describe how they subtly maneuver the many (self-inflicted) obstacles and (self-imposed) daily rituals to get done the work they love to do, whether by waking early or staying up late; whether by self-medicating with doughnuts or bathing, drinking vast quantities of coffee, or taking long daily walks. Thomas Wolfe wrote standing up in the kitchen, the top of the refrigerator as his desk, dreamily fondling his “male configurations”. . . Jean-Paul Sartre chewed on Corydrane tablets (a mix of amphetamine and aspirin), ingesting ten times the recommended dose each day . . . Descartes liked to linger in bed, his mind wandering in sleep through woods, gardens, and enchanted palaces where he experienced “every pleasure imaginable.”
Here are: Anthony Trollope, who demanded of himself that each morning he write three thousand words (250 words every fifteen minutes for three hours) before going off to his job at the postal service, which he kept for thirty-three years during the writing of more than two dozen books . . . Karl Marx . . . Woody Allen . . . Agatha Christie . . . George Balanchine, who did most of his work while ironing . . . Leo Tolstoy . . . Charles Dickens . . . Pablo Picasso . . . George Gershwin, who, said his brother Ira, worked for twelve hours a day from late morning to midnight, composing at the piano in pajamas, bathrobe, and slippers . . .
Here also are the daily rituals of Charles Darwin, Andy Warhol, John Updike, Twyla Tharp, Benjamin Franklin, William Faulkner, Jane Austen, Anne Rice, and Igor Stravinsky (he was never able to compose unless he was sure no one could hear him and, when blocked, stood on his head to “clear the brain”).
Brilliantly compiled and edited, and filled with detail and anecdote, Daily Rituals is irresistible, addictive, magically inspiring.
How artists work, how they ritualize their days with the comforting (mundane) details of their lives: their daily routines, fears, dreams, naps, eating habits, and other prescribed, finely calibrated "subtle maneuvers" that help them use time, summon up willpower, exercise self-discipline and keep themselves afloat with optimism.
Artists considering how they work — in letters, diaries, interviews, beguilingly compiled and edited by Mason Currey. Portraits that inspire, amuse, and delight and that reveal the profound fusion of discipline and dissipation through which the artistic temperament is allowed to evolve, recharge, emerge.
From Beethoven and Kafka to George Sand, Picasso, Woody Allen and Agatha Christie; from Leo Tolstoy and Henry James to Charles Dickens and John Updike, here are writers, composers, painters, choreographers, playwrights, philosophers, caricaturists, comedians, poets, sculptors, and scientists on how they create (and avoid creating) their creations.
A Sampling of Daily Rituals:
Dickens's eldest son recalled that, "no city clerk was ever more methodical or orderly than he; no humdrum, monotonous, conventional task could ever have been discharged with more punctuality or with more business-like regularity than he gave to the work of his imagination and fancy." Dickens rose at 7:00, had breakfast at 8:00, and was in his study by 9:00. He stayed there until 2:00, taking a brief break for lunch with his family, during which he often seemed to be in a trance, eating mechanically and barely speaking a word before hurrying back to his desk. On an ordinary day he could complete about two thousand words, but during a flight of imagination he sometimes managed twice that amount.
I keep a hotel room in which I do my work — a tiny, mean room with just a bed and, sometimes, if I can find it, a face basin. I keep a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards, and a bottle of sherry in the room...
About the Author
Mason Currey was born in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Currey’s writing has appeared in Slate, Metropolis, and Print. He lives in Brooklyn.
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