Most artists would agree that part of the struggle involved in consistent creativity is to stay away from standardization.
I thought that I believed that, but I realize now that I don’t.
A few days ago my good friend Arian used her social media resources to recommended a book she had just started, and at first sight I jumped on the library website and reserved a copy. I haven’t been able to put it down for days now. My wife and I both have bookmarks in its pages, and we keep passing one another, back and forth
The book is called Daily Rituals, by Mason Curry. It is based on his previous blog, Daily Routines. Mason has spent the past few years accruing the details of the personal daily rhythms and routines of hundreds of painters, writers, composer, statesmen, and scientists. Needless to say, the book and the blog are an endless source of interesting information about the strategies and quirks of the men and women who have influenced a multitude of cultures in the past 400 years. We’re talking Benjamin Franklin, Simone de Beauvoir, Mahler, Matisse, and Mr. Rogers.
Reading this book has been more than simply diverting for me. Of course it appealed immediately to me because of my slight obsession with biographical details on creative geniuses, but there is a looming crisis in my own life for which I secretly hoped this book would provide solution.
I’m not good at being creative, and my efforts to be diligent usually throw off everything else.
For the majority of my life I have procrastinated from creativity as I have any other pursuit. I’ve always marveled at my prolific friend Chris who is occasionally so smitten by a design in his brain that he cancels everything else because he has to pursue the project to its fulfillment. He can’t commit himself to any other goal until he had gotten some version of that creative spark out.
It’s just that good.
It’s just that savory.
Referring to my tendency to idolize this trait, he recently said to me that “everyone is different in how they create.” It was a simply, sagely statement plainly expressed, so I ignored it completely.
As I opened Daily Rituals, I was searching for answers. My family life is confused and I’m constantly feeling inadequacy as an artist and as a father and husband. I needed to find someone’s little secret that could suddenly throw open the heavy curtains before the shadowy recesses of my mind. In a way, I found something like that.
The book is especially wide ranged in covering all types in all time periods. The average individual probably produces 2 hours of good work a day. Tea, alcohol, coffee, and tobacco become buzzwords in its pages. Some work best after dark, others swear by starting fresh just before dawn. Winston Churchill promises that he has figured out a rhythm that allow him a day and a half every 24 hours. Some live completely secluded, working the same schedule seven days a week with barely a single outside contact; others work madly for a few weeks here and are off for a month there. Some write when their children nap, some spend hours and hours every day simply walking the countryside or over drinks with friends. Some raise hundreds of exotic snails and sneak them into France under their breasts. Yes, you read that sentence correctly, and it is in there. The only constant theme is that every artist has some unique surprise up his sleeve and everyone swears by his own methods as far as personal effectiveness is concerned.
I was reading about Saul Bellow’s joyful and lighthearted habits in his flower garden as told retrospectively by his wife, when suddenly I realized that there is a theme in this book. An accidental theme, and one of staggering beauty. Despite their many downfalls, their abuses and neglects, every creative was defined by a willingness to search their own soul, to plunge into the still, dark depths of themselves and share some form of it with the world, in hopes that the humanity in it might be a sounding board for an0ther’s soul. To do so, every single one had to spend years, some claimed decades, to build a completely personal rhythm that gave them space to plumb those depths. Many of their own stories became tragedies of dependence, broken relationships, and bizarre, spiraling brokenness.
Yet every single one cries “Recognize the truth and don’t shy from proclaiming it!” and the force of its multitude speaks freedom over me.
For months, years now, I’ve been slowly recognizing that I have not been prepared for the level of commitment being creative takes. I’ve tried to put off the creative spark, then to force inspiration in a timeframe, and all along I’ve really just been confused myself. I’ve watched many friends, some artists, build productive structures in their daily lives and imagined that if I could only have the will to replicate some of those structures, I could pursue this craft more sincerely. But I’ve had it all backwards. As when one pursues any other goal, setting up a rhythm that is completely taylored to the objective is a necessity.
Creativity is about self-exposure and eventually perhaps, a sense of intimacy. Exposure, firstly, of one’s self to one’s self. Then, perhaps, to a wider audience. We choose to be ourselves, and our creativity is a record of that. We create because we desire to know, and we desire to have something in common. We feel our humanity. We build empathy. We realize that something that was at first glance altogether foreign is actually like us. The community that comes from creation comes out of each of our uniqueness, and the hard, bitter task of pursuing those uniquenesses.
I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is when they are at their best, creatively. They need to ask themselves, What does the ideal room look like? Is there music? Is there silence? Is there chaos outside or is there serenity outside? What do I need in order to release my imagination?”
– Toni Morrision