The Luxury of Daily Ritual (& Finding It with a Toddler!)
Photo by Nuntyia Mills, Bean and Sol Photography
I recently picked up Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Curry from the library. It made for an enjoyable read that I could peruse when I had a small moment. Quite a few of the artists featured in this book were in a financial or social position to exclude any elements of life they might not care to spend time on. Most of us don't fall into such extremes, and those of us who have loved ones we care for, full-time jobs, or other demands on our time will never be able to shut ourselves in a room from sun up to (or even past) sun down every single day. But I think our routines can be infused with elements of ritual, and sometimes just establishing a routine—no matter how or when we find it—is enough. Artists certainly benefit from solitude and carving out at least a little time for that is important, but most of us don't live in such extremes.
Some of my favorite excerpts from the book featured people working with similar constrains to what I face today, and some are just too fun not to include.
Jane Austen, writer:
Austen never lived alone and had little expectation of solitude in her daily life. . . . she lived there with her mother, her sister, a close friend, and three servants, and there was a steady stream of visitors, often unnanounced. . . . Austin wrote in the familiy sitting room, "subject to all kind of casual interruptions"...."She was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants, vistors, or any persons beyond her own family party. She wrote upon small sheets of paper which could easily be put away..."
I don't feel the need to hide my work (though I do have to keep computer keyboard and pens out of the reach of my toddler's active hands), but I love the evidence of a busy mind despite Austen's many unannounced intruders.
Frédéric Chopin, composer:
Most days he rose late, had breakfast in his bedroom, and spent the day composing, with a break to give a piano lesson to Sand's daughter, Solange [his partner].
Obviously his commitment had long lasting impact, though not a ritual I could or would want to follow!
Haruki Murakami, fiction writer:
In the afternoons [Murakami] runs or swims (or does both), runs errands, reads, and listens to music; bedtime is 9:00. "I keep this routine every day without variation," he told The Paris Review in 2004. "The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it's a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind."
I'm always enamored of repetition, and especially fascinated by Murakami's almost ritualistic routine. I think it's especially interesting how physical activity impacts his creative work, as is explored more thoroughly in his memoir on running and writing.
Francine Prose, writer:
The school bus came, I started to write. The school bus returned, I stopped.
A ritual I (and many parents juggling work and family, I'm sure) can get behind! Nap time has become precious to me, and though some days I'm too exhausted to make much of it, when I'm determined to work this time allows for a focus I don't think I often experienced before having a child. This kind of routine most often does not involve anything ritualistic, just a honing of thought and attention to get immediately to whatever task is at hand.
Truman Capote, writer:
"I am a truly horizontal author," Capote told The Paris Review in 1957. "I can't think unless I'm lying down, either in bed or stretched out on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy. I've got to be puffing and sipping. As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis."
Not a practical ritual for most of us, but it sounds quite dreamy to me!
Georgia O'Keeffe, painter:
"I like to get up when the dawn comes," O'Keeffe told an interviewer in 1966. "The dogs start talking to me and I like to make a fire and maybe some tea and then sit in bed and watch the sun come up. The morning is the best time, there are no people around. My pleasant disposition likes the world with nobody in it."
The closest I can come to being a morning person is trying not to fall back to sleep when my toddler wakes me around 7am. Sleep has become too precious to me at this stage of my life to adopt a ritual like this, but I know it's one that many take advantage of to great success and I may try it in a few years. I love the idea of such a sacred and quiet time of day, and tea—of course—makes everything that much better!
Anne Rice, writer:
'I certainly have a routine, but the most important thing, when I look back over my career, has been the ability to change routines.'
I think having a child has actually awakened me to the importance of routine (and I have seen the chaos that can ensue when you break away from it), as well as the need for its flexibility.
Gertrude Stein, writer:
'Miss Stein has an outsize bathtub that was especially made for her. A staircase had to be taken out to install it. After her bath she puts on a huge wool bathrobe and writes for awhile, but she prefers to write outdoors...because there are rocks and cows there. Miss Stein likes to look at rocks and cows in the intervals of her writing. The two ladies [Stein and Alice B. Toklas, her lifelong partner] drive around in their Ford till they come to a good spot. Then Miss Stein gets out and sits on a campstool with pencil and pad, and Miss Toklas fearlessly switches a cow into her line of vision. If the cow doesn't seem to fit in with Miss Stein's mood, the ladies get into the car and drive on to another cow.'
Quoted in Daily Rituals from a 1934 New Yorker piece by Janet Flanner, James Thurber, and Harold Ross
I have a big spot in my heart for Gertrude Stein, whose poems are such a delight, especially when read aloud where the language can marinate on the tongue and tickle the ears. There is such a simple decadence to following cows with a loving partner to accommodate one's every whim (and I hope Stein appreciated it!).
My day follows much more of a routine than it does a ritual, and that routine is guided by my quickly growing young daughter, who I care for while working from home. Right now, the work part of my day is very part time, done mostly during A's naps and some evenings. While a big change like having a baby could drain one's creative work, for me it has invigorated it. The limits on my solo time have forced me to think more intentionally about how to spend it, and what my time is worth. I am able to be more present in whatever I am doing, whether it's playing with my daughter or working on a client project. The energy devoted to raising a child is creative energy, so it fuels the rest of my work in rewarding way.
At least a couple times a week, I reserve at least the first ten minutes of nap time to do something for myself (read, be still, work on a creative project); and I should probably try to do it every day because it always makes me more productive with any other work I have to do.
Even on days I can't devote to my own personal projects, I am lucky that so much of my client work is creatively fulfilling and still involves an element of play and experimentation. Any ritual elements to my routine are scattered haphazardly throughout my day. A cup or pot of tea is almost always a welcome aid to creative work, and I jot down notes in a book or my phone if there's something I want to remember when I am better able to focus. I try to work with my hands when I can, because it seems to be a shortcut to reconnecting to my more creative self, and benefits even more technical computer work. A warm bath with a book like Daily Rituals is a welcome respite and recharge from everyday routine. I am always storing away ideas to be ready when I have an uninterrupted block of time.
What are your daily rituals, and how do they fit in to your life? Do you need long blocks of uninterrupted time, or do you work better in short bursts?
All photos featured in this post are by Nuntyia Mills, owner of Bean and Sol Photography. Tyia recently came to my home and later ventured out to the Fisher Building in Detroit to take photos of me, which will be featured on my About page very soon! It was a pleasure working with Tyia, and I look forward to future collaborations on branding for Tyia's photography business, as well as other ventures in entrepreneurship and friendship. Thanks, Tyia!