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Daily Rituals: Women at Work

Daily Rituals: Women at Work by Mason Currey

Blurb:

More of Mason Currey‘s irresistible Daily Rituals, this time exploring the daily obstacles and rituals of women who are artists–painters, composers, sculptors, scientists, filmmakers, and performers. We see how these brilliant minds get to work, the choices they have to make: rebuffing convention, stealing (or secreting away) time from the pull of husbands, wives, children, obligations, in order to create their creations.

From those who are the masters of their craft (Eudora Welty, Lynn Fontanne, Penelope Fitzgerald, Marie Curie) to those who were recognized in a burst of acclaim (Lorraine Hansberry, Zadie Smith) . . . from Clara Schumann and Shirley Jackson, carving out small amounts of time from family life, to Isadora Duncan and Agnes Martin, rejecting the demands of domesticity, Currey shows us the large and small (and abiding) choices these women made–and continue to make–for their art: Isak Dinesen, “I promised the Devil my soul, and in return he promised me that everything I was going to experience would be turned into tales,” Dinesen subsisting on oysters and Champagne but also amphetamines, which gave her the overdrive she required . . . And the rituals (daily and otherwise) that guide these artists: Isabel Allende starting a new book only on January 8th . . . Hilary Mantel taking a shower to combat writers’ block (“I am the cleanest person I know”) . . . Tallulah Bankhead coping with her three phobias (hating to go to bed, hating to get up, and hating to be alone), which, could she “mute them,” would make her life “as slick as a sonnet, but as dull as ditch water” . . . Lillian Hellman chain-smoking three packs of cigarettes and drinking twenty cups of coffee a day–and, after milking the cow and cleaning the barn, writing out of “elation, depression, hope” (“That is the exact order. Hope sets in toward nightfall. That’s when you tell yourself that you’re going to be better the next time, so help you God.”) . . . Diane Arbus, doing what “gnaws at” her . . . Colette, locked in her writing room by her first husband, Henry Gauthier-Villars (nom de plume: Willy) and not being “let out” until completing her daily quota (she wrote five pages a day and threw away the fifth). Colette later said, “A prison is one of the best workshops” . . . Jessye Norman disdaining routines or rituals of any kind, seeing them as “a crutch” . . . and Octavia Butler writing every day no matter what (“screw inspiration”).Germaine de Staël . . . Elizabeth Barrett Browning . . . George Eliot . . . Edith Wharton . . . Virginia Woolf . . . Edna Ferber . . . Doris Lessing . . . Pina Bausch . . . Frida Kahlo . . . Marguerite Duras . . . Helen Frankenthaler . . . Patti Smith, and 131 more–on their daily routines, superstitions, fears, eating (and drinking) habits, and other finely (and not so finely) calibrated rituals that help summon up willpower and self-discipline, keeping themselves afloat with optimism and fight, as they create (and avoid creating) their creations.

Thoughts:

This book is a collection of many fascinating vignettes about the kind of obstacles that female artists had to overcome. Currey wrote this when he realized how few women there were in his first book. Of course, it is not exhaustive: many more women artists, especially from Asia and Africa, have greatly captivating stories, but this is a start.

I read books on routines, schedules, and rituals to learn from them. Most of them say the same: prioritize your art/work, but the practical how-to is missing from many. This book is also not a guide to help you form effective habits. 

It reiterates that there is no perfect routine; you have to do what works for you. However, it has 143 examples from which you can choose what suits your needs. 

The book shows you that many artists resort to strange practices, such as waking up or going to sleep at odd hours, smoking, drinking, isolating themselves, etc. It was reassuring to know that even great artists struggled with their routines and their creative process.

The stories may seem repetitive. The information about the 143 artists is inconsistent in quantity and quality, which is understandable because the details available may have been sparse in many cases.

Currey has provided an introduction to each artist. This was helpful because I didn’t know many of them. It took me quite a long time to finish the book, as I went off tangent researching them. Overall, a good book that I may return to from time to time.

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