Sunday, 19 January 2014

bedtime reading - Daily Rituals by Mason Currey

Every once in a while a book comes along that is not only a great read, it's such a good concept you can't help wondering why someone didn't think of it before. This week I finished one such book. Daily Rituals by Mason Currey came about after he started a blog called 'Daily Routines' detailing 'how writers artists and other interesting people organize their lives'. As soon as I saw the cover in my local indie book shop I knew I had to read it, it features some of my favourite creative people, it's about creativity and organization and the cover illustrations are a delight, plus it fits in my bag for reading on the tube, always a must as that's the only time I find to read (there's a ritual right there!) The book contains bite sized bits of information on the routines of 161 people as varied as Frances Bacon, Ernest Hemmingway, Flaubert, Benjamin Franklin, Kafka, David Lynch, George Orwell, Darwin, Le Corbusier, Karl Marx and Simone de Beauvoir.

Aside from the natural curiosity about how these people went about writing and creating great works, what drew me in was the subtitle of the book ' How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get To Work'.

For any creative type with a day job, finding the time and space to do the things we love and need to do can be difficult and what I really wanted to know what how does one find the time to paint, write a great novel or formulate a general theory of relativity when most of us are struggling to keep up with the laundry? Broadly speaking, most of the people in the book didn't have 'day jobs', most had wives or assistants making them breakfast (in Freud's case his wife even put his toothpaste on his brush for him!) and had enough free time to structure their days as they needed. Now the average person doesn't have this luxury, we are working office hours, taking the kids to school, paying bills, running households and generally trying to sane in an increasingly fast paced world. What I did take from the book though that in order to be creative and inspired, you have to give yourself room. A lot of the writers for example took long lunches, took an hour out of their day to read the paper or a book, almost everyone seems to have taken a daily walk and almost no-one watched TV. Less healthy rituals seem to involve a lot of substance abuse; drugs, alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes are all tools of the creative trade here.

So what's this got to do with a home blog you ask? Well, I got to thinking about how routine can be a positive thing if used well.

"The word connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought; to follow a routine is to be on autopilot. But ones daily routine is also a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a limited range of resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as will-power, self discipline, optimism."


By having some tasks as part of a routine, it frees your mental energy for other more creative options. So if for example you can get your cleaning into a routine (Apartment Therapy has some great examples here & here) it not only becomes less stressful, you have time to actually relax and enjoy your home. In the book Currey details dancer Twyla Tharp's day and part of her ritual was to get up at 5.30 each day and hail a cab to take her to the gym. The routine of doing this "she avoids the question of whether or not she feels like going to the gym". So if you have a set time or day to do something you can just do it without procrastination. I've been putting this into effect recently myself. I have set days for running and unless weather stops play, I don't debate if I feel like going running, I just do it. 

I have also scheduled one day a week where I don't make plans, Sunday is my day, for running, blogging and allowing myself a break from the break neck speed that the rest of the week proceeds at. I allow myself a proper lie in and treat myself to some me time. Later today for example, I'm going to do one of the 'slow' activities I promised myself in my new years post and I'm going to bake some vegan cookies. I can have this time because in the week I stuck to my rituals, I cleaned the flat as I went along, went grocery shopping at the usual time and dealt with all my life admin (British Gas I'm looking at you) as things came up, rather than putting them off. So while by Sunday might usually be spent trying to catch up with myself, or being so exhausted from the week that I don't move far from the sofa, today I can do what I like. What luxury!

Other home routines could involve always making the bed, dealing with the post as soon as you walk in the door or dealing with bills and other unpleasant tasks on a set day. Basically, routine can get the job done and help to eliminate stress. So, inspired by the routines of the people in the book I'm hoping that I can carve some extra time in my week for blogging and more creative projects. As John Updike said "a solid routine saves you from giving up" and that applies as much to writing as it does to a home project or a mountain of washing up.

Another great quote that can be applied to your home life is a passage describing the routines of Simone de Beauvoir by her lover Claude Lanzman:

"There was the presence of only essentials. It was an uncluttered kind of life, a simplicity deliberately constructed so that she could do her work."

I like the idea of 'an uncluttered kind of life' free from the unnecessary things that waste time and stop you from enjoying what you do. Really, there's so much to take from this book the most enjoyable read I've had in a while! 

Daily Rituals by Mason Curry, £12.99 published by Picador

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