Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

routines and rituals

Here’s a thoughtful brief review by Siobhan Phillips of Daily Rituals, a book by Mason Currey based on his now-dormant blog Daily Routines. Phillips:

An artist’s schedule is important, Currey’s book reminds us, for its refusal to squeeze the most working minutes out of the artist’s waking hours. At a moment when we’re working longer than ever — and, as we dutifully lean in, trying to feel inspired and empowered by working more — it’s useful to recall that many of the greatest minds planned to fritter away parts of their days, that their routines protected creativity by filling the time around a more or less fixed window of possible, genuine intensity. Some strategies are more whimsical, like Patricia Highsmith’s habit of tending snails or Flannery O’Connor’s of raising birds, but most are very ordinary: Stephen King watching baseball, Jean Stafford gardening. There’s a good bit of smoking in this book, and a steady attention to drinking; there’s a lot of walking, too. (It seems to work even if you don’t, like Tchaikovsky, panic at any stroll shorter than two hours.) But one suspects that smoking and drinking and walking are so popular because they are the most universally accessible way to stave off the restlessness of the hours when one cannot — should not — be at a desk. They offer a way to forget how brief and chancy is the ability to create something new, to refine something beautiful, to think something true.

And about that ability, of course, schedules can say very little. That’s another point to be taken from this fascinating compendium. As if to recognize the mystery, Currey’s title evolved, when he turned his blog into this book, from Daily Routines to Daily Rituals. The amendment sneaks something spiritual back into his obsession with habit. Like the rites of religious devotion, the timetables of art surround an essence that is unrepeatable and unquantifiable. “It will appear like a calm existence,” Maira Kalman says of her schedule, but “the turmoil is invisible.” We fetishize that trackable calm because we cannot reproduce the inexplicable turmoil.

Lovely, and correct — and an understanding of creative labor pretty much impossible to reconcile with our society’s current obsession with “productivity.” There are many lessons to be learned from Currey’s book, but people who read Lifehacker might not be ready to hear them.

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