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Some mornings, in a perfect world, you might wake up, have a coffee, finish meditation, and say, “Okay, today I’m going into the shop to work on a lamp.” This idea comes to you, you can see it, but to accomplish it you need what I call a “setup.” For example, you may need a working shop or a working painting studio. You may need a working music studio. Or a computer room where you can write something. It’s crucial to have a setup, so that, at any given moment, when you get an idea, you have the place and the tools to make it happen.

When you don’t have a setup, there are many times when you get the inspiration, the idea, but you have no tools, no place to put it together. And the idea just sits there and festers. Over time, it will go away. You didn’t fulfill it—and that’s just a heartache.

— David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish

The New York Times posts an online gallery

From Arthur Lubow (The New York Times):

Her own residence, though, is the chief attraction. More than five years after her death, the house still feels inhabited by the woman who called it home. Dresses and coats hang in the closet. Magazines and diaries fill the bookshelves, which display the breadth of Bourgeois’s interests, including the “Joy of Cooking,” the Bhagavad Gita and J.D. Salinger’s “Nine Stories.” (more…)

I’m just an individual who doesn’t feel that I need to have somebody qualify my work in any particular way. I’m working for me.

— David Bowie

Just finished Oliver Sacks’ final collection of essays, Gratitude. Written in the last five years of his life, these short pieces form a fitting epilogue to his recent memoir, On the Move. Gratitude documents Sacks’ shifting attitudes towards his diagnosis of terminal cancer, alongside broader reflections on life, work, and relationships.

Stephen Moss (The Guardian) traces Beckett’s lifelong fascination with the game
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Samuel Beckett
Beckett had a lifelong interest in chess and was a keen player, following many of the big matches, says his nephew, Edward, who oversees the Beckett estate. Samuel was taught to play by his elder brother, Frank, and by his uncle, Howard, who achieved the remarkable feat of beating the Cuban José Raúl Capablanca, later world champion, at an exhibition in Dublin. There are a score of chess books in the library of Beckett’s old flat in Paris, which is now occupied by Edward and his wife. Beckett played regularly with friends during the second world war, when he was holed up in France working for the Resistance; he liked to annotate master games – the chess books in his library are full of comments – and corresponded with Spanish playwright and fellow chess aficionado Fernando Arrabal. In the early 1940s, he also played – and lost to – Marcel Duchamp, an expert on the game who wrote a chess column for the Paris newspaper Ce Soir.

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Through exclusive interviews and previously unseen photographs, a new documentary offers an intimate portrait of the relationship between translator Barbara Bray and Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett

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If you must write, you must do it in the face of all opposition. […] Do not spend too much more time on culture & reading, these are traps. When everything conspires to make the thing impossible, when you are tired, worried, with no time, or money, it is then that things get done.

— Samuel Beckett to Claude Raimbourg, 3 May 1954

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, & the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.

— Søren Kierkegaard, Journals and Papers

Let us say that the freedom exists, but it is limited to the one unique act of choosing the profession. Afterward all freedom is over. When he begins his studies at the university, the doctor, lawyer, or engineer is forced into an extremely rigid curriculum which ends with a series of examinations. If he passes them, he receives his license and can thereafter pursue his profession in seeming freedom. But in doing so he becomes the slave of base powers; he is dependent on success, on money, on his ambition, his hunger for fame, on whether or not people like him. He must submit to elections, must earn money, must take part in the ruthless competition of castes, families, political parties, newspapers. In return he has the freedom to become successful and well-to-do, and to be hated by the unsuccessful, or vice versa.

— Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game

I have always been fascinated by the daily rituals and routines that govern people’s everyday lives. Daily Routines has compiled a wide and varied selection of such rituals, taken from interviews and biographies of some of the world’s most distinguished writers and thinkers. It makes for fascinating reading – even if browsing the daily routines of others leaves little time for our own.

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“With a Spartan rigour which never ceased to amaze his landlord-grocer, Nietzsche would get up every morning when the faintly dawning sky was still grey, and, after washing himself with cold water from the pitcher and china basin in his bedroom and drinking some warm milk, he would, when not felled by headaches and vomiting, work uninterruptedly until eleven in the morning. He then went for a brisk, two-hour walk through the nearby forest or along the edge of Lake Silvaplana (to the north-east) or of Lake Sils (to the south-west), stopping every now and then to jot down his latest thoughts in the notebook he always carried with him. Returning for a late luncheon at the Hôtel Alpenrose, Nietzsche, who detested promiscuity, avoided the midday crush of the table d’hôte in the large dining-room and ate a more or less ‘private’ lunch, usually consisting of a beefsteak and an ‘unbelievable’ quantity of fruit, which was, the hotel manager was persuaded, the chief cause of his frequent stomach upsets. After luncheon, usually dressed in a long and somewhat threadbare brown jacket, and armed as usual with notebook, pencil, and a large grey-green parasol to shade his eyes, he would stride off again on an even longer walk, which sometimes took him up the Fextal as far as its majestic glacier. Returning ‘home’ between four and five o’clock, he would immediately get back to work, sustaining himself on biscuits, peasant bread, honey (sent from Naumburg), fruit and pots of tea he brewed for himself in the little upstairs ‘dining-room’ next to his bedroom, until, worn out, he snuffed out the candle and went to bed around 11 p.m.”

— Curtis Cate, Friedrich Nietzsche

In his introduction to Schopenhauer’s Essays and Aphorisms, translator and scholar R. J. Hollingdale describes the philosopher’s daily routine

From the age of 45 until his death 27 years later Schopenhauer lived in Frankfurt-am-Main. He lived alone, in ‘rooms’, and every day for 27 years he followed an identical routine. He rose every morning a seven and had a bath but no breakfast: he drank a cup of strong coffee before sitting down at his desk and writing until noon. At noon he ceased work for the day and spent half-an-hour practicing the flute, on which he became quite a skilled performer. Then he went out for lunch at the Englischer Hof. After lunch he returned home and read until four, when he left for his daily walk: he walked for two hours no matter what the weather. At six o’clock he visited the reading room of the library and read The Times. In the evening he attended the theatre or a concert, after which he had dinner at a hotel or restaurant. He got back home between nine and ten and went early to bed. He was willing to deviate from this routine in order to receive visitors. (more…)

Friedrich Schiller's workspace. Photograph: Patrick Lakey.
Friedrich Schiller’s workspace. Photograph: Patrick Lakey.

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The Decisive Years

From Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (translated by Shelley Frisch):

Asceticism was a magic word for Kafka, an intricate complex of images, cultural paradigms, idiosyncrasies, fears, and psychological techniques that he incorporated into his thought that feelings and gradually made a focal point of his identity. He was entirely justified in asserting that he had ‘a fabulous innate capacity for asceticism’. It is remarkable how tenaciously he clung to the rule of self-abjuration once his period of dawdling came to an end. The way he steadfastly denied himself warmth, meat, drugs, and medicine clearly refutes his alleged weakness of will. He reduced his good intake, toughened his body, and simplified his habits. […]

Asceticism is not austerity for its own sake; it is a process of self-regulation and self-formation based on the utopian notion of attaining complete control over one’s body, self, and life. All Kafka’s interests, habits, and penchants were modified accordingly. A diet of nuts and fruits, a flawless method of chewing, devotion to calisthenics, and long walks. He cultivated and shaped his body. He gained awareness of his body as well. He felt a growing aversion to and even loathing for everything that threatened to undermine his new sense of autonomy, especially doctors who treated his body as though they were plumbers, and medicines that had unanticipated side effects. He contended that it was degrading to battle insomnia with valerian: his insomnia was not caused by a lack of valerian.
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On the set of Eraserhead

An excerpt from Chris Rodley’s wonderful book, Lynch on Lynch, quoted by Criterion Collection

Eraserhead took five years to complete. You must have been completely dedicated to the film to sustain both the project and your own enthusiasm over such an extended production period. What was it about the idea that you loved?

It was the world. In my mind, it was a world between a factory and a factory neighborhood. A little, unknown, twisted, almost silent lost spot where little details and little torments existed. And people were struggling in darkness. They’re living in those fringelands, and they’re the people I really love. Henry’s definitely one of those people. They kind of get lost in time. They’re either working in a factory or fiddling with something or other. It’s a world that’s neither here nor there. It came out of the air in Philadelphia. I always say it’s my Philadelphia Story. It just doesn’t have Jimmy Stewart in it!

I could be on the set at night, and I would imagine the whole world around it. I imagined walking out, and there were very few cars—there might be one far away, but in the shadows—and very few people. And the lights in the windows would be really dim, and there would be no movement in the window, and the coffee shop would be empty except for one person who didn’t speak properly. It was just like a mood. The life in that world . . . there was nothing like it. Things go so fast when you’re making a movie now that you’re not able to give the world enough—what it deserves. It wants to be lived in a little bit; it’s got so much to offer, and you’re going just a little too fast. It’s just sad. (more…)