• Jennifer

Book Review - Daily Rituals: Women at Work

I so enjoyed Mason Currey's first book, "Daily Rituals - How Artists Work," that I grabbed this next installment off the shelf when I stumbled upon it in a bookstore recently.

We are bombarded with articles and books promising that if we can just manage our time/color-code our schedules/batch our activities, etc., then we will transform into an entire other plane of existence: hyper-productivity. What is wrong with me that there are all these ways to be hyper-productive but I still struggle to feel like I've accomplished anything?

This is not a to-do book, and you will not finish it with a new method in hand to organize your day and your life. But what you may walk away with is a new respect for the ways in which women struggle - and overcome - the obstacles to acting upon their creative urges.

I truly enjoyed his first book, which was the same basic premise, but it did bother me that it featured so many men who found time to father dozens of children but were otherwise unencumbered by any domestic responsibility. I wonder what feats of greatness I might achieve if I spent every afternoon for years walking the moors of Scotland, or holed up in a study with servants bringing me tea - circumstances seldom afforded to women in history (or today).

What about the people who had to take care of the children and get dinner on the table? I can organize most of Currey's profiled women into one of five categories:

1. Didn't marry or have kids, by design or by chance, and as a result had few domestic responsibilities. If they wanted to live in filth and eat cereal for dinner because it was expedient, that was their prerogative. These women accomplished a great deal, but there was an aura of otherness about them, like they were a different species.

2. Married and had kids, and then waited until they were largely grown to write/paint/design. (One author didn't publish a book until she was 58! But she kept publishing regularly until she was 80. Woo-hoo!)

3. Married and had kids, and then missed out on *a lot* of sleep in order to find quiet time for their passions.

4. A few impressive souls managed to create in the margins - writing while cooking, or painting while changing diapers. This is the one that most amazes me as I can't wrap my head around writing with one hand while stirring the soup pot with the other, either literally or metaphorically.

5. And - by far the smallest category - there were a few ladies who essentially abandoned their children, explicitly stating that they would have drowned in the sea of domesticity and escape was the only viable option. (No word on how their children felt about this choice.)

The 143 women profiled did not have any one miraculous ritual in common. Some were rigid schedulers, adhering to a strict timetable on a daily basis. Some were rather flighty and let their muse dictate their days. Some worked only when the creative spirit moved them, others were adamant that one must put the derriere in the chair, every day, so to speak, and produce, even if the result was terrible. Some insisted on solitude, others needed to be spurred on by the company of friends.

Although Currey doesn't illuminate any secret solution to the dilemma of being a woman wanting to create (which is reasonable, since it doesn't exist), all in all, this was just as inspiring a read as his first book. Every woman must carve her own path, and although we can look to those who came before us for ideas about how best to do that, at the end of the day, we all must invent our own unique way.

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