daily rituals

Author Quotes: Mark Twain, Alcohol, and Amusement


Here is another absolute gem I came upon in Mason Curry’s Daily Rituals.  This time it is none other than Mark Twain being described by a personal friend.  

“In those days he was troubled with sleeplessness, or, rather, with reluctant sleepiness, and he had various specifics for promoting it. At first it had been champagne just before going to bed, and we provided that, but later he appeared from Boston with four bottles of lager-beer under his arms; lager-beer, he said now, was the only thing to make you go to sleep, and we provided that. Still later, on a visit I paid him at Hartford, I learned that hot Scotch was the only soporific worth considering, and Scotch whiskey duly found its place on our sideboard. One day, very long afterward, I asked him if he were still taking hot Scotch to make him sleep. He said he was not taking anything. For a while he had found going to bed on the bath-room floor a soporific; then one night he went to rest in his own bed at ten o’clock, and he had gone promptly to sleep without anything. He had done the like with the like effect ever since. Of course, it amused him; there were few experiences of life, grave or gay, which did not amuse him, even when they wronged him.”
*Bold emphasis mine.  

This little anecdote seems to summarize the popularity of Samuel Clemens’ work and a good many of his famous thoughts quite well. There is something very comforting and reassuring about an author (or any human) who is capable of sharp cultural and personal analysis while maintaining a good-humor. We trust people who are well aware of the travesties of humanity in general and their own brokenness while maintaining hopefulness and engaging others. We know the truth, we recognize it together, and we keep renewing our faith.

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Author Quotes – Charles M. Schultz and Creativity Through Anxiety


As a child, I was obsessed with comic strips. I spent years filling spiral bound notebooks with fan fiction and rip-off strips of my own design, sprinkled throughout with drastic, emotional diary entries. I never got into comic books or super heroes, but I loved goofy, highly-stylized caricatures, political cartoons, and any form of a panel-based gag. I even indulged regularly in the eye-rolling puns of Garfield. Calvin and Hobbes was (and still is) more breath-taking and thought provoking with every reading, not to mention a great vocabulary expanding tool. Along side The Far Side, Baby Blues, Zits, Tintin, Family Circus, and many others of my preteen world were Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Charles M. Schultz.

The death of Charles Schultz was perhaps the first celebrity death I can recall impacting me. Schultz was the first person I ever researched and studied biographically from purely personal interest.

I’m not a die-hard Peanuts fan to be perfectly honest. I prefer a good simple twist in the third panel, and most of Schultz work stuck to self-deprecation or anxious social commentary in a way that most artists in the field had long abandoned. I loved him more for what he was than for attachment to his work. He was the last standing giant from an age of world-renown innovators in the field.

It was interesting then to read the following in Daily Rituals concerning Schultz.

“He would begin by doodling in pencil while he let his mind wander; his usual method was to ‘just sit there and think about the past, kind of dredge up ugly memories and things like that.‘”

And

“The regularity of the work suited his temperament and helped him cope with the chronic anxiety he suffered throughout his life.”

As I mentioned concerning Samuel Beckett, it continues to impress me that great art comes not from overcoming our troubles and idiosyncrasies  or ignoring them, but from exploring what they actually mean about us.

Author Quotes – Samuel Beckett & The Value of Depression


Excerpt from “Daily Rituals” by Mason Curry.

The siege began with an epiphany. On a late-night walk near Dublin harbor, Beckett found himself standing on the end of a pier in the midst of a winter storm.

Amidst the howling wind and the churning water, he suddenly realized that the ‘dark he had struggled to keep under’ in his life–and in his writing, which had until then failed to find an audience or meet his own aspirations–should, in fact, be the source of his creative inspirations. ‘I shall always be depressed,’ Beckett concluded, ‘but what comforts me is the realization that I can now accept this dark side as the commanding side of my personality. In accepting it, I will make it work for me.'”

In an age of anti-depressants we’re taught that to feel a certain emotion is to feel wrongly and need reparation, regardless of its legitimacy. I’m reminded of so many stories of WWII veterans who returned from war only to find that they had no way to voice the immensity of the horrors they experienced first hand. What is even worse is that no one back home actually wanted to know anything about it after it was over. Throughout my life, I’ve heard a constant stream of people reinforce the idea that a bleak outlook in this world is something to be overcome and left behind. Many of my own friends have voiced opinions that art that reflects anything overtly evil thereby implies that the artist is himself damaged or not to be trusted.

As you will probably find very quickly, I happen to believe that we should face the demons of this world honestly and boldly. I think appreciating the gravity and inevitability of death and the tragedies of humanity actually give us sobriety to step into life and chose to live.

If we cannot look boldly into the face of the oppressor, how can we claim to understand the gravity of our hope?

An Accidental Book Review


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