Yesterday, Nancy Hall of Sandy Hook, Manitoba wrote, “As an artist, mother, farmhand, two-dog owner and a writer, I would sure welcome some organizational tips! I’m curious how you pack all you do into your life.”
Thanks, Nancy. Early one morning when I was a very small kid, I was standing on some rocks at the beach below where we lived. The water was flat calm and grey to the horizon. I remember thinking what a remarkable thing a day is. I wasn’t thinking about a “special” day, I was thinking about an ordinary day — a day you could do things in. As I grew older I came to realize that days are golden units by which our lives are measured. As a self-anointed self-manager I realized that if I were going to get anywhere, I needed to bring good habits, joy and a certain amount of sacrifice to my days. By the time I was in my teens, I had figured out that habits were holy — I saw in habits the key to an independent creative life:
Work doggedly, one thing after the other.
Begin work early, finish many things each day.
Work on what comes to hand, what demands attention.
Have rough plans — work them daily.
Rest from the work — look at the water.
Regarding joy, Winston Churchill said, “It is no use doing what you like; you have got to like what you do.” I observed that all kinds of people worked at jobs that were distasteful to them. I didn’t want to be like that. Besides, I was struck with a peculiar disorder — I couldn’t concentrate on dull jobs. I was really lousy at everything except those things I wanted to do. I needed to have work that was some sort of automatic or semi-automatic joy. I wanted to be most often in “the joy mode.” I figured my work habits would take me there. By my mid-twenties I had discovered that work is not work when the work is loved. I had fallen in love with art.
Regarding sacrifice, early on I found that my days were not long enough. I had to be more efficient in my use of the time allotted, and I was prepared to make sacrifices. It was okay to cut back on the time taken socializing, commuting and eating. One must not, I thought, sacrifice sleep, exercise, contemplation, love, family or dog activity.
PS: “Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.” (Mary Jean Irion)
Esoterica: To be fair, a supportive partner and studio assistants go a long way toward fooling people into thinking that one is organizationally competent. Helpmates are above angels. The telephone and the computer, on the other hand, present special problems. I save some outgoing calls for the car — and actually look forward to making them on a relatively safe, hands-free (Bluetooth) system. A studio computer frees up, speeds up, and actualizes an artist. Around here, Tuesdays and Fridays are particularly full because there are so many Inbox friends. As I’m older, and perhaps more mature, this universal socializing is hard to resist. I’m eating better too.
This letter was originally published as “In praise of days” on September 12, 2006.
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