Monday, May 18, 2015

TURNING TIME INTO LANGUAGE: THE WRITER'S FETISHISTIC RELATIONSHIP TO WORKING HOURS


BRENDAN BEHAN

In a recent piece on Anthony Trollope in The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik observed: "Writing is turning time into language, and all good writers have an elaborate, fetishistic relationship to their working hours."

And I thought it was only me!

In the library a couple of days later, I came across Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Edited and with text by Martin Currey, the book is a compilation of short profiles of visual artists, composers, sculptors, and authors.

Here's Mozart:

"My hair is always done by six o'clock in the morning and by seven I am fully dressed. I then compose until nine. From nine to one I give lessons. Then I lunch, unless I am invited to some house where thy lunch at two or even three o'clock, as, for example, today and tomorrow at Countess Zichy's and Countess Thun's. I can never work before five or six o'clock in the evening, and even then I am often prevented by a concert. If I am not prevented, I compose until nine. I then go to my dear Constanze, though the joy of seeing one another is nearly always spoilt by her mother's bitter remarks..."

"Altogether I have so much to do that often I do not know whether I am on my head or my heels," he observed elsewhere to his father.

With the exception of my hair being done at six (or ever), I can relate.

Some people have set times; some wing it. Some can write only in the morning; others only at night. Certain common threads run through. A daily walk.  Strange or OCD eating habits. For some alcohol and tobacco, for others, coffee. A sharply curtailed social life. The hideous, never-ending burden of correspondence.

Constant tension.

"Beethoven rose at dawn and wasted little time in getting down to work. His breakfast was coffee, which he prepared himself with great care--he determined that there should be sixty beans per cup, and he often counted them out one by one for a precise dose. Then he sat at his desk and worked unto 2:00 or 3:00, taking the occasional break to walk outdoors, which aided his creativity."

Edward Abbey (American environmentalist and essayist, Desert Solitaire): "A writer must be hard to live with: when not working he is miserable and when he is working he is obsessed."

I was surprised to discover that many artists played cards at night. This made me feel a little better about my own Brain Jam habit (I'll only play the games rated "Hardest": screen name: "Scrapper"). By night-time my overheated brain needs a rest and winning at cards, even an elevated form of solitaire, serves to soothe my ravaged, always-behind-the-eight-ball psyche.

Some of the artists enjoyed getting together with fellow artists, often nightly, to discuss their work. But personally I'm with Catalan painter and sculptor Joan Miro (who, for you non-artistic types, was male):

"Merde! I absolutely detest all openings and parties! They're commercial, political, and everybody talks too much. They get on my tits!"

3 comments:

  1. Speaking of author angst, I think of "Moby Dick" as a guilty pleasure in that I feel a vulture, feeding off the entrails of a troubled soul. From a review of a Melville biography:

    "Early biographies touched on the question of madness but did so lightly, noting, for instance, that at one point Melville’s family had him examined by a doctor on psychological grounds."

    It's said that Melville was surely manic-depressive and the preponderance of evidence suggests he was physically violent towards his wife. The enjoyment I feel reading his prose makes me feel that I have somehow profited from his torture, since it's unlikely he would've produced such gold without the furnace of despair. Do you get the genius without the angst?

    But perhaps that's the way of earthly life - we almost all work for living, which means someone profits from our sweat equity, however small in comparison. And, of course, Jesus was the ultimate exemplar of a giving profit to us in his suffering and death.

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  2. Thanks for this piece. Due to my current levels of discouragement, regarding things like time, writing, and the point thereof, I found this piece mildly encouraging. I can, however, envision a time (preferably in the near future) when I will find it extremely comforting. Already upon rereading a few days later, it presents itself as more hopeful than I remember.

    And here's to hoping that one's lack of genius bodes well for the tenacity of one's madness. :)

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  3. Muy interesante, he leído como tu post, gracias.

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