So, May 2020.
‘Shinrin Yoku’ is a Japanese noun which means, ‘A visit to a forest for relaxation’. It originated in the 1980’s as a reaction to urbanization and disconnection from the land. I vote we add it to English!
I’ve been leaving the house and experiencing the socially-distanced paradise of walking amongst trees. I try and vary where I go. I’ve been struck how each patch of woodland has its own unique spirit of place, influenced by geology, soil, climate and history. They live and breathe, and are intensely precious.
Working without supervision isn’t always easy. Achieving a sustainable daily structure is important. (I tend to write in the afternoon, preferably sitting outside if the weather is clement, which annually isn’t a lot. Also writing something every day eventually turns into a superpower). A routine eventually achieves the quality of ritual. I find it fascinating reading about the daily routines of artists and writers.*
So here are a few.
Amongst the most intimidatory examples of self-discipline is the famously-prolific novelist Anthony Trollope. He paid a servant £5 a year to wake him up at five o’clock in the morning with a cup of coffee. The author would then work for three hours, writing “250 words every quarter of an hour.” If he finished a novel he would start writing the next one on the same day without taking a break. Then he would go to his job in the Post Office.
Ludwig Van Beethoven, another hard worker, rose every day at dawn. After a breakfast of coffee (sixty beans a cup) he would work at his desk until the early afternoon. He then took a vigorous mid-afternoon walk, taking a pencil and music paper with him.
The philosopher Rene Descartes usually slept in. “After my mind has wandered in sleep through… enchanted palaces where I experience every pleasure imaginable, I awake to mingle the reveries of the night with those of the day.” He stayed in bed after he woke, thinking and writing, until eleven o’clock.
Truman Capote wrote for four hours while lying down, “either,” he said, “in bed or stretched out on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy.”
Franz Kafka had a day job in insurance and wrote, depending on his “strength, inclination, and luck,” from ten-thirty at night until “One, two or three o’clock” in the morning.
It’s almost banal, yet these artists used the ordinary and everyday to create something immortal.
That is the end of this month’s newsletter! Thanks for reading.
*One of the best books on routines is ’Daily Rituals’, by Mason Currey.