Black Spring - Henry Miller
A couple of weeks ago I made myself a serious "To Do" list. This is nothing new for me but these lists are usually of a daily nature. This one is the most depressingly long one I've ever made and could not be accomplished in a day or even a week. I even color coded it for things like: Red for Urgent, Green for Leisure and Bright Blue for Completed.
I lived "by and with" the list for at least 3 days, making daily lists which included items from the BIG list plus time to work in my studio, exercise, meditate, practice my piano, eat, dress, a little social time etc. By the third day I was ready to kill myself. I never even bothered to list household duties such as tending to and careing for my pets, cleaning house, doing laundry etc. and never mind activities such as Facebook, twitter, Linked-In, or Pinterest. No wonder we're all tired.
So what does this have to do with art you may be asking. I received a nice newsletter this week from Joan Schultz who I greatly admire. I admire her obvious work ethic and her willingness to venture away from the middle path. She included in her email a list made by the famous writer Henry Miller which he identified as his Work Schedule, 1932 - 1933. I think creative people are especially prone to making lists so as to ensure there is time set aside to do their work. I appreciated most of the things Miller had on his list but I was very aware of all the things he didn't include or perhaps he didn't have to include them.
Here is Miller's list with my notations:
COMMANDMENTS ---Oh dear, I'm in trouble already.
1. Work on one thing at a time until finished. I like this one as it fits nicely with most of the materials and process I use but it wouldn't work for everyone. My husbands current work allows him to work with several pieces at once and he usually has 4 pieces "cooking" at one time. I'm jealous.
2. Start no more new books, add no more new material to "Black Spring." --- Black Spring was one of Miller's books which was divided into 10 sections according to Wikipedia. It isn't a long book but evidently he needed to remind himself not to make it more complex and not to start writing a new book. I believe he was saying "don't start another book until you finish this one". I'll bet he was already thinking about the next book and he needed to reinforce rule #1 by writing rule #2.
3. Don't be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand. --- I love this one. It's especially meaningful if you remember Miller made this list for himself. When people become famous it's hard to think of them as ever being nervous but in truth they likely are more nervous because there are huge expectations for them to meet or exceed what they have already done. I'm going to put this one on my wall, not because I am or ever will be famous but I like the part about joyously and recklessly.
4. Work according to Program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time. --- It sounds like he set aside specific hours to be at his writing desk. Most of us are "better" either in the morning or evening. I've never heard anybody say they are most creative from 1-3 pm have you? I do hear people say they stayed up all night working on something. Not me. I've never been able to do that. I work hard but usually know when to stop.
5. When you can't create you can work. --- I certainly believe in this rule. Waiting for the Muse can cause you to miss the bus. Just go ahead and catch a bus, any bus and you are more likely to get to your desired destination than waiting for the perfect bus.
6. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilizers. --- My interpretation of this is experimentation is great but at some point you have to make a commitment and he's suggesting you do that daily.
7. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it. --- Trust me, Miller had no problem doing this. He was a well know womanizer and evidently he also gave himself permission to imbibe when he liked. I do agree that you need to be with other people and "have a life" just remember that restraint can be a very good thing.
8. Don't be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only. --- Yep. There are days you will be better off taking a break, relaxing and having some fun. This does not have to include "drinking" or cheating on your spouse. Take a walk, read a book (Tropic of Cancer perhaps) go visit an art museum.
9. Discard the Program when you feel like it - but go back to it next day. --- If I'm going to do this I will have to write a new Program. I do agree with him however. You just have to keep working.
10. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards. --- Miller enjoyed painting watercolors and had a number of extensive correspondences including his VERY prodigious exchange with a playboy bunny named Brenda Venus which included 1500 letters. I'm thinking this indicates you will have time for something besides art.
OK... Just having a little fun myself. I need to go clean up my studio. I'm taking a short trip and I promised to clear the work tables so Tom can have a go in the back studio.
Thank you Joan.
And thank YOU!
Please comment as I love
hearing from you.