The Muse and Me, Part Three
One of my favorite passages from books about the artist’s life is this one from Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit:
I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.
There is great wisdom to Ms. Tharp’s ritual/habit. The key phrase is ” … the ritual is not the gym … the ritual is the cab.”
In other words, it’s the practice, not the product.
What counts is not “Did I come up with a great dance breakthrough today?” (I.e. what happens in the studio.) What counts is “Did I do my practice today?” (What happens through the whole day, from the very first moment.)
What does it mean to “have a practice?”
We usually think of that phrase in terms of yoga, say, or the martial arts or other spiritual pursuits.
“I have a yoga practice.”
“I have a meditation practice.”
Twyla Tharp has a dance practice, a choreography practice.
Or more accurately, she has a creativity practice.
You and I have a writing practice.
As I turns out, I start my day exactly like Twyla Tharp. Except I live in Los Angeles so I don’t hail a cab or an Uber to go to the gym, I drive. But, like Ms. Tharp, my practice starts the instant I roll out of bed.
I am getting ready for the Muse.
My goal for that day—and every day—is not to kick ass at the keyboard or solve Narrative Problem #27 or lick Act Two.
My goal is to do my practice.
A practice is lifelong.
A practice is not about results, it’s about the work.
It’s about the doing.
It’s about the effort, and the patience, and the frame of mind.
A practice is about the link between the physical and the level above the physical.
Starting the day at the gym (for me) is about seeking the proper mindset.
I’m rehearsing being focused.
I’m rehearsing the confrontation with Resistance.
I’m rehearsing patience.
I’m rehearsing humility.
I’m rehearsing aggressiveness.
I’m rehearsing intensity.
Like Twyla Tharp, I’m practicing for the studio.
The finish of the day, it turns out, is just as important as the start. Because the finish is part of the practice too.
When Ms. Tharp catches a cab home from her dance studio, I’m certain that a part of her is getting ready for tomorrow. She’s rehearsing pulling on her sweats, riding the elevator downstairs, stepping into the street and raising her hand to hail a taxi.
A practice is lifelong.
The point is to do it today and do it tomorrow and do it the day after that.
The Muse is watching Ms. Tharp, just like she’s watching you and she’s watching me. Call it the unconscious if you like. The Self. The soul.
It’s that part of us that knows us better than we know ourselves.
That part that understands our calling.
That part that holds the works-in-potential that we as artists will, with labor and sweat, transform into works-in-reality.
The Muse likes to see Twyla hailing that cab.
On Ms. Tharp’s Manhattan block there may be a hundred, five hundred other aspiring artists, dancers, writers, filmmakers, entrepreneurs.
Which one do you think the Muse favors at 5:30 in the morning?
A final sidebar: I used to drive a cab in New York City. Had I known of Twyla Tharp’s pre-dawn ritual, I would’ve found out where she lived and parked my taxi outside her building every morning. I would’ve made sure that I was the dude who took her to the gym.
I have a feeling she’s a big tipper.
Thanks for this Steve. The concepts of “practice” and “rehearsal” resonate with me. Several mornings a week my daily walk is around the campus where I work. My route takes me past the music building and along a row of perhaps two dozen practice rooms. Even at 6:30 a.m. half the rooms are already filled as I walk past and hear pianos, oboes, saxophones and violins. Artists showing up.
This was great, Mary. Definitely no amateurs at that hour. Only pros. 🙂
Thank you Steve, I love this kind of thinking.
Shalom – Bing
My productivity ethic bristles at the notion of practicing because it sounds like the opposite of accomplishing. An accomplishment is the real thing, and practice sessions are only stepping stones to the real thing. I think my productivity ethic needs rehab… What a concept. I really needed this today.
You are wise, Master Pressfield. Reminding us of the journey rather than the end result.
“Driving for Ms. Tharp” reminds me that one of my motivations in life, dating back to my armed forces days: I like being around others with “do the work” and, as you would say, “stick to the mission” ethics. I find such people humbling and motivating.
Needless to say, I have those ethics too. I am always dimly surprised when others don’t.
I love this and reminds me of what you’ve said in the past: you have a right to your labors, but not the end product/success. (I’m paraphrasing).
In other words, work hard (thru a practice) and then let the product ship, and do not worry about its success or failure. I still remember this piece of advice often.
The thing about the process—the repetitive “Do the Work” day after day—for artists, athletes, artisans, entrepreneurs, etc., is that once the process produces a product (an album, a game, a deal), whether that product is great, mediocre, or didn’t work, it’s catch-your-breath and on to the next process. Product is a by-product of the perfecting and performance, consistently, of process.
You really rang my chimes with the Twyla quote today, kemo sabe. (My bride calls this “exercising the show-up muscle.”)
Oh, brother Steve~
So, hit the nail on the freakin’ head.
Bless you for waking up each day and shining some light for all of us!
I love you…
I didn’t like this blog post. It is loosely thrown together like a child throwing paint on the wall. There are many blog courses you could do to learn how to write more coherently
Raven Hello..WOW you are Amazing!!!!, but I think SP was referring to his Philosophy of how to Jump Start any Creative endeavor, first step, show up and do the process that leads you to the next step…not the actual nuts and bolts of writing
Harry your a Fuckwit!
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