Daily Rituals

On a mission to read all the books that I bought this year and haven’t read yet, I started with Daily Rituals: Women at Work by Mason Curry. It’s about the working habits of 143 painters, authors, actors, designers, composers and other artists. I got it back in March and I think it was probably suggested to me by Amazon’s algorithm. As I’m interested in how creative people (or anyone really) organize their work and their lives I thought I might as well read it. It was cheap, and it started off with Octavia Butler, one of my favourite authors. So I bought it and then never got round to reading it.


Well, when I initially started reading, I was irritated, because the profiles of each artist are very short and at first sight appear superficial. But then I got into it and found it interesting and congenial. Naturally, a book about 143 artists can’t go into depth (what was I thinking?), but it does what it set out to do: it gives the reader an insight into the working habits of these women. I read about a lot of creative women I’d never heard of and found their different work habits kind of inspiring for my own life. Some of these habits wouldn’t suit me at all and I’m not half as intense and driven as most of these women, but I can relate. The reports got me thinking about my own talents and how I want to continue to develop them.

What is my greatest talent? I’d say reading. It’s the one thing that I’ve been passionate about all my life. Is reading even a talent? It’s definitively a skill and one can get better at it through practice and challenging oneself. I like reading for pleasure and for a very long time during my working life that’s all I did. This side of my reading doesn’t need improvement (what would that even mean?). I certainly won’t stop reading books for pleasure but I also like reading to learn things and to participate in world culture – in my case with a focus on the humanities, on literature and history, biography and memoir and whatever else strikes my fancy. Sometimes I also read about scientific topics, rather seldom though. I’d like to not only read but get better at thinking critically about the things I read and retaining them. I started the blog to keep a record of the books I read and it also evolved into a kind of journal. The blog is a creative outlet and I’d like to improve my writing skills, too. I’m happy that I’ve managed to keep this blog going for almost two years and I hope to continue with it for a long time. This means, of course, making time for both reading and writing.

Making time for reading doesn’t seem to be terribly difficult for me, but there are some pitfalls. I read at least every morning and each evening in bed, before getting up or going to sleep. But reading at night in bed isn’t great for complicated topics, I’m too tired to concentrate. After work I usually do my blogging (although I usually start during my lunch break) and then from around 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 I hang out with Partner, which I don’t want to change that – my relationship with Partner is important. Also, Curious Dog needs to be walked and played with (also not negotiable). So most of my serious reading time is on the weekend and I’m not particularly well organized. Luckily, I have long weekends, because I don’t work on Fridays. But I still have to do everyday life stuff like cleaning the house, gardening, washing clothes, cooking… whatever. Also, I like just hanging around in a leisurely way on weekends, so I certainly don’t want to organize my weekends to the last minute or hour (sounds gruesome) – I am definitively not as passionate as some of those artists in Daily Rituals. Some of them wouldn’t bat an eye about sacrificing their weekends to their calling. Others got a lot done during short amounts of time.

Making time for writing, well, that could definitively be improved. Somehow, I only seem to manage it on workdays. On weekends and on vacation, other things seem to gobble up all my time. I’ll have to see if I can get myself to do at least some writing during my leisure time.

As you see, I found the book very thought-provoking. It also introduced me to many creative women I hadn’t heard off and reminded me about others. When I’m looking for a new biography or memoir to read, this book will be useful guide to find people with interesting lives.

Some quotes that I liked:

“It’s really all about establishing a flexible routine,” Zittel said in 2017. “Having a pattern helps ensure that you fit everything into a limited amount of time, but too much of a pattern and you get stuck.”

Andrea Zittel (an American artist) in Mason Curry, Daily Rituals: Women at Work, 2019, p. 121.

“I enjoy people best if I can be alone much of the time,” Butler said in 1998. “I used to worry about it because my family worried about it. And I finally realized: This is the way I am. That’s that. We all have some weirdness, and this is mine.”

Octavia Butler (sci-fi author), in Mason Curry, Daily Rituals: Women at Work, 2019, p. 4.

“The only thing that I do every day is I read something,” Giovanni said. “Even if it’s just the comics pages, I read something. And I say that to my students: I think it’s way more important to read something than it is to write.”

Nikki Giovanni (a poet), Mason Curry, Daily Rituals: Women at Work, 2019, p. 180.

I also found Jean Rhys, author of Wide Sargasso Sea (which I haven’t read yet) intriguing. She had a difficult life and a difficult time writing, as I gather from her profile. Near the end of her life she wrote: “Isn’t the sadness of being alone much stressed and the compensations left out?” (Daily Rituals: Women at Work, p. 323).

Curry has written another Daily Rituals book focused on famous men with a smattering of women. I guess it would also be interesting, maybe I’ll check it out sometime.

Keep safe, world.