Pooka Quick Pick: “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work”

There’s not a single, solitary, living Pooka who has a daily routine. We’re much too spontaneous for that. My kind prefer to live by the seat of our pants — or at least we would, if we wore any pants. We like to run, and jump, and careen about, and try to embody the phrase “catawampus” as fully as possible. (The word is a misnomer if ever I’ve heard one. Cats are known for being cool, composed dickheads – not for being lovably off-kilter and a little askew. “Bunnywampus” has a truer ring to it, if you ask me). We do what we like, when we feel like doing it, and however we feel like doing it. None of this “She went for a walk, every day, without fail, leaving the house at 7:30 a.m. exactly, by way of the kitty-door, and returning precisely 45 minutes later at 8:15 in the morning, a bell around her neck signaling her departure and arrival like clockwork.”

A Pooka lets herself be taken over by feeling. She exists in the moment – and every moment of every day is different. It can never be lived again, and a bun knows to live it uniquely – kick a leg out here, shake her head around there, flop an ear down, flop it up, do a 180 degree turn-jump, and then lay down, only to jump up and run diagonally from one side of the room to the other as fast as Pookily possible. Then maybe she’ll sit down to drink more cups of strong, sludgy coffee – with a splash of milk – than she can count on one paw. And finally, if the mood strikes her, she may type out a way-too-lengthy review on her laptop with her non-opposable digits. Her blog posts come randomly and sporadically, and she rejects all forms of schedule and organizational principles.

If you need a visual, never fear. I hate to disappoint.
Here’s a video of some of my Pooka pals, pookin’ around, being their jazzy selves, kicking their heels up, and leaving the very notion of “routine” in the dust:

My lack of discipline does lead me to do things in a way that’s not always ideal, however. Which is why my first review of 2014 is of a book that I read and finished in 2013: a book about artists and their routines.

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Title: Daily Rituals: How Artists Work
Edited and With Text By: Mason Currey
Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Pub Date: April 23, 2013
Hardcover: 278 pages.
Is There a Pooka In This Book?: Mark Twain was almost certainly a Pooka.
Pooka Rating: 3 out of 5 Nibbles

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work describes the daily schedules of over 150 authors, poets, composers, painters, dancers, physicists, and philosophers. In reading it, one learns how everyone from Sylvia Plath to Andy Warhol to Albert Einstein spent their day-to-day lives – and how they indulged or disciplined their genius to create stunning works of art (or mathematics – which some believe bears a striking resemblance to art. I cannot count myself among their number, though I envy those who can).

Right upfront, I have to tell you… I am not a non-fic gal. Reading this book was a complete variation from anything even close to the norm. I can never seem to get lost in true stories the way that I can in fantastical ones. The only non-fiction author that I really, truly enjoy reading is A.J. Jacobs. The man is a cute, quirky, smart, hilarious godsend. (If you’ve never read A Year of Living Biblically or The Know-It-All, do yourself a favor: read them. And immediately develop a silly little biblio-crush).

Mason Currey is not A.J. Jacobs. But he’s okay.

I wish his book had been a little bit shorter. Some of the artists he chose to include could have been eliminated. I don’t know if he added them simply because of their fame, but if an artist’s routine isn’t interesting, regardless of how interesting their work is, I don’t want to read about it. I don’t need to know what time someone rises, eats breakfast, takes a nap, starts writing, stops writing, takes tea, writes some more, stops writing again, and goes to bed, if that’s all s/he does. Now, if a lady writer (Patricia Highsmith) keeps snails as pets, and tends to 3oo of them in between penning pages, even going so far as to transport them over country lines by smuggling six-to-ten of them at a time, on multiple trips, underneath each breast, then that’s a different story. That’s something I need to know about.

Fortunately, most artists are also eccentrics, so the bores were few and far between. I’ve compiled a list of my favorite weirdos and their weird activities below. Please enjoy!

  • Gertrude Stein (writer, poet) liked to write while staring at cows. Every day, she would make her partner, Alice Toklas, drive her out to the farm and herd carefully-selected heifers into her line of vision. If a particular cow wasn’t doing it for her, she’d make Toklas go and find her another, more suitable muse (there’s got to be a pun about moos/muse in there that I’m missing).
  • Benjamin Franklin (inventor, author, patriot, polymath) enjoyed taking air baths – which meant that he’d take all of his clothes off and sit in the buff, in the cold air, for at least a half an hour each morning.
  • John Cheever (author) “placed a high value on the salutary effects of erotic release. He thought that his constitution required at least ‘two or three orgasms a week’ and be believed that sexual stimulation improved his concentration and even his eyesight. [He said], ‘with a stiff prick I can read the small print in prayer books but with a limp prick, I can barely read newspaper headlines'” (112).
    How irreverent and bizarre!
  • Flannery O’Connor (author) was a devout Catholic and would read daily prayers from her copy of A Short Breviary, as well as taking in some of her seven-hundred page volume of Thomas Aquinas every night. She explained, “I read a lot of theology because it makes my writing bolder” (143).
    It makes sense. To make the assertions that many religions do (eternal life, resurrection, the existence of angels and demons) certainly requires a high-degree of “boldness.”
  • Friedrich Schiller (poet, historian, philosopher, playwright) “kept a drawer full of rotting apples in his workroom; he said that he needed their decaying smell in order to feel the urge to write” (153).
  • Charles Dickens (author) required a precisely-arranged writing desk. In order to be at his creative best, he was in need of very specific items: “goose quill pens and blue ink… a small vase of fresh flowers, a large paper knife, a gilt leaf with a rabbit perched upon it, and two bronze statuettes (one depicting a pair of fat toads dueling, the other a gentleman swarmed with puppies” (161).
    I love a man who knows the importance of rabbits.

And those are only a few of the wacky things you’ll learn in reading Daily Rituals.

The only other thing I can say about this book is that I wish it had assumed less of its readers. Currey assumes his readers have a broad and vast knowledge base, and I needed more of a guide. I’m great with novelists, but for some of the entries I was halfway through reading a person’s routine before I figured out who s/he even was! This was especially the case with the composers (and some of the artists). It would have been wonderful if, underneath each person’s name, their profession was identified, along with the titles of their most famous works – or pictures, if they were/are visual artists!

Daily Rituals was a decent read. I wish it weren’t the last book I was trying to finish before the end of the year. It would have been better to make reading it a “daily ritual” – and read about one or a few artists a day. Reading about 40 of them every day was a little much. It’s important to note that Daily Rituals was a blog before it was a book – and I think that format would have worked better. I wish I’d paid attention to it earlier, when it was still active. I did stumble upon an entry once – one about Mr. Rogers, which sadly wasn’t included in the book. It’s seriously awesome and has stuck with me for years. If you don’t read Currey’s book, at least go read that entry. It’s worth it.

Happy New Year, everyone!
May your 2014 be filled with creativity, inspiration, and productivity (and whatever you need for that – whether it be orgasms or rotten apples).
And, of course, a buttload of fantastic reads!

Pooka Rating: 3 out of 5 Nibbles.

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About pookapicks

I'm a 20-something gal working in Children's Library Services. My likes include googly eyes, coffee, magical realism, leading Story Hours, and forcing my taste in books down people's throats. I have a pet rabbit named Moxie Crimefighter.
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One Response to Pooka Quick Pick: “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work”

  1. “slightly aswing at the fine bobbing nest of himself”–great line…

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