I am constantly tweaking the shape of my life, making tiny (or sometimes not-so-tiny) changes to better accommodate all that I need to do in a day–write and work, homeschool and run, connect with my kids and crash with a book.
Twyla Tharp’s life revolves around a whole “arsenal of routines.”
I repeat the wake-up, the workout, the quick shower, the breakfast of three hard-boiled egg whites and a cup of coffee, the hour to make my morning calls and deal with correspondence, the two hours of stretching and workout out ideas by myself in the studio, the rehearsals with my dance company, the return home in the late afternoon to handle more business details, the early dinner, and a few quiet hours of reading. That’s my day, every day. A dancer’s life is all about repetition.
Tharp has carefully honed her daily routines so that she never has to waste creative energy deciding what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, or what time to go in to work.
It was interesting to read Daily Rituals: How Artists Work hot on the heels of Twyla Tharp (who appears in the volume herself). The compendium lays out the daily routines of 237 writers, composers, painters, choreographers, playwrights, poets, philosophers, sculptors, filmmakers, and scientists.
It’s fascinating to read 237 routines back-to-back (although I did kind of feel like I was being bombarded after a bit).
In Daily Rituals, I was struck by how many artists had day jobs. The money didn’t hurt, but for many of them, the structure the work provided also did them some good. (It was impossible not to notice how many artists’ lives and careers were wrecked by serious substance abuse problems, and–though this is far from scientific–this seemed to occur much less often for the artists who held down “day jobs.”)
George Orwell and Franz Kafka had office jobs. Toni Morrison was an editor at Random House, taught college courses, and single-parented two sons. As a young mother, Alice Munro wrote “in the slivers of time she could find between housekeeping and child-rearing duties.” I talk to many women who follow exactly the same routine, 60 years later.
(I loved reading about Charles Schulz’s family-oriented routine, built around the school day: he drove morning carpool in the family station wagon before he settled into his studio, and wrapped up his work day just before the kids returned home.)
I talk to so many people–in person and online–who struggle with making time for their art amidst the demands of day jobs and family life. I was pleasantly surprised to read how many great artists struggled with the same demands–and how sometimes, the structures necessitated by earning money and caring for family didn’t diminish their work, but made it better.
Or at least the structure kept the artist from going down in self-destructive flames, and that’s kind of the same thing.