Sunday, November 3, 2013

Getting Words on Paper

Baguettes and bagels ……..Freud knew a phallic symbol when he saw one but what did he think about the twenty cigars/daily he smoked for sixty years? Then there was Mrs. Freud who squeezed toothpaste onto his brush every day. Hmmm? Or didn’t they have tubes in those days? All in the service of finding time to write, she got his plate on the table at 1 o’clock sharp which made him a happy man but reports that he sang, You make me feel so Jung, are a rumor I just made up.

Jung’s preference was a more austere life style. He built a stone cottage retreat by a Swiss lake, without running water or electricity, which turned into Bollingen Tower. Here he thought great thoughts and wrote his body of work by oil lamp. Unlike Freud he did not have a barber call every morning to trim his beard.

Many of the juicy tidbits on this post come from Mason Currey’s new book, Daily Rituals, which offers over 100 short pieces on the working habits of writers and other artists. We learn that Thomas Wolfe told his editor, Maxwell Perkins, he wrote better while fondling his genitals. What would Siggy have said about that? One can imagine the 6 ft. 6 inch Wolfe’s 800 pages of, You Can’t Go Home Again, coming to him as he wrote while standing up using the top of his refrigerator as his desk. His verbosity might be forgiven as ejaculations.

Freud might also have had a field day knowing that Patricia Highsmith, author of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, would come to parties with an oversized handbag containing a head of lettuce and a hundred snails which she apparently found more convivial than people. Penis envy?

Stravinsky found it necessary, when blocked, to stand on his head to clear his brain. Doesn’t everybody? Idiosyncratic behavior seems to be tied to creativity. Nabokov started writing Lolita in the back seat of his parked car. Glenn Gould was such a hypochondriac he would hang up the phone if the party he was speaking with started to sneeze.

Time management is a priority for most artists and writers. They establish a ritual around smoking, drinking or eating. Eric Satie could manage a thirty-egg omelet while Proust existed on café au lait and a croissant as a daily diet while writing away bedded in his cork-lined room. Surprising how many, in mid 20th century, relied on massive doses of drugs. Was that Sartre talking or his amphetamines?

If I’d known that’s what it takes I’d have cultivated some eccentricities. Not that I include myself in such distinguished company but after writing about 460 short essay-blogs I can say I do know the feeling. Finding a subject can be so daunting it brings me to my knees… except when it comes in torrents. My best time is in the morning soon after waking. If I took naps it would be anytime right after waking. The key is to extend the half-awake state and drag myself to the desk hanging onto the clarity and imaginative material. A kind of focused meandering is my mode.

Professionals assign themselves to a rather rigid daily schedule and adhere to it. There are good days and bad ones with deliberation and doubt never far away. Flaubert once said that he spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it.

Philip Roth, in his day, regarded each book as a form of combat which energized him. Though he wrote form mid-morning to late afternoon he said he was on call 24/7 like a doctor in an emergency room and he was the emergency. I resonate with that. The seeds of an idea reveal themselves any hour of the day if the antennae are in a receptive state. One of the wonders is that the antennae turns into fly paper with ideas and images sticking to it that would have otherwise gone unnoted.

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