Joanna: This is something I’ve pondered lately, with my own work and as I’ve been coaching students. How do we set rhythms and patterns that help us with our writing? What do they look like? How do we adapt them to the realities of our lives?
In the life that we’ve chosen and love, each day is different for me. Some days are structured around college teaching, others are about teaching piano, and every day also has to be about teaching my own kids. Sometimes we throw other kids into the mix, respite foster care or playtime with friends’ kids. And church stuff. And investment of time into dear friends and family. How does writing fit into those patterns? How do I make some of my long-term goals a priority as I work through the shifting rhythm of my life?
While musing on this, I came across a compelling book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Here, Mason Currey briefly traces out the daily habits of authors, musicians, directors, actors and visual artists. The evidence is taken from memoirs, letters, biographies, and sometimes, personal correspondence with the author.
It was a weird and wild read. Writing in various stages of dress and undress. 19-hour work days. Drinking cups of sugar with a little coffee on top to melt it down. Snail companions.
It was also one where privilege often came out. You have someone to make your tea the exact temperature in the perfect cup at the precise minute each and every day alongside a pastry made by the hands of angels, while someone else comes and helps you do your daily handstands? And another person comes to cook you all your meals and do all your cleaning? I exaggerate. But just barely. This is not my life. And I imagine it’s not the life that most of us live.
However, hidden within the privilege and bizarre moments, were some great principles. For one, a lot of the book could be boiled down to two main paths to creativity:
A) chemical alteration (binge drinking and nicotine were among the top contenders, but don't forget about absinthe!), poor sleeping habits, and a shortened lifespan
B) regular routines, a strong work ethic, and some kind of work-life balance. Many built in reading time with their partner, playtime with their kids, time outside walking or gardening, and hosting weekly meal times for friends and colleagues.
Choose wisely, folks.
And probably the most encouraging moment in the book was finding out that Gertrude Stein never wrote for more than thirty minutes a day. Currey includes a quote from her autobiography, “If you write a half hour a day it makes a lot of writing year by year. To be sure all day and every day you are waiting around to write that half hour a day.” (Currey, 51)
There are days where I might only have a nugget of time and thinking about Stein reminds me that these bits and space of time can be used productively. I hope you find this as enormously encouraging as I do!
More in the next post on some practical advice I’ve found on rituals.
Joanna: A few weeks back, Tim and I went to the Society for American Music meeting in Boston. This society has been one of the most mentoring, supportive groups that we’ve encountered in academia. I think this comes in part both from the diversity of topics, as well as the diversity of backgrounds. It’s never been a society just for those on the traditional tenure-track. The variety of voices within the society, I believe, has made it stronger even with the shifts in American academia. But that's a topic for another time!
Tim presented on some of his Cold War music research. He talked about the weird and wacky songs from the early Cold War period about fallout shelters. The songs reflected many people’s attitudes in the late 1950s and early 1960s, that shelters made better party rooms than protective spaces from hydrogen bombs. Here’s an example of one of these songs:
At the business meeting, we were invited up to receive the Hampsong Education Fellowship in American Song for the book that we are coauthoring Atomic Tunes: The Cold War in American and British Popular Music.
We've been offered an advance contract from the good folks at Indiana University Press, who published Tim’s first book on British progressive rock band Jethro Tull.
We’re very excited about this fellowship, especially with our interest in writing for the general public, and more specifically with the work I’ve done in the past with the Voices Across Time project.
Years back, I worked on proofreading Voices Across Time lesson plans, and served as a summer student assistant for one of the NEH-sponsored conferences while working on my PhD at the University of Pittsburgh. Here I saw firsthand the power of musicology in the public sphere as a variety of speakers--musicologists, historians and performers--came in to mentor middle school and high school teachers as they learned how to use songs to teach American history in their classrooms. The vivid demonstrations and discussions shaped the way that I approach the classroom, and the way I think about audience when I'm writing. It's a joy to come full circle as we adapt materials from the book into lesson plans and other educational/public musicology resources.
Joanna & Tim
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