I encourage people who are seeking the creative source to try an enforced solitude, it worked for me and clearly has worked for Dr. Angelou.
I was immensely saddened to hear about the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou this morning. During the course of this routine I have gained a ton of respect for her life and he work ethic. We have lost a true visionary and I hope this piece offers people who love her a chance to connect with her in a new way. I felt honored to walk in her shoes for one day.
You probably consider yourself a creative person. Your Instagram photos are artfully composed, your Facebook statuses are witty, or maybe you’re lucky enough to work in a creative field. The question is, though: just where does creativity come from? Is there a reserve of it somewhere deep within us waiting to be tapped? Or, does creativity need be harnessed and trained like a wild beast. I figured a good way to attempt to answer this question was to try to live a day according to the routine of a legendary creative force: Dr. Maya Angelou.
A titan of creativity, Dr. Angelou has written poems, plays, and essays. In addition, she was at the center of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and interacted with countless cultural icons such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and numerous presidents. Her creative and cultural output and subsequent impact on the world is exemplary. If there was anyone to help me crack the creativity riddle it was her. Pulling from her routine Daily Rituals – How Artists Work I did my best to stay true to her process. Her schedule is in italics and what I did follows.
5:30 AM I usually get up at about 5:30, and I’m ready to have coffee by 6, usually with my husband. He goes off to his work around 6:30, and I go off to mine. The wake-up goes off without a hitch as I made a point to go to bed reasonably early the night prior. I whip up a quick breakfast scramble and enjoy a cup of coffee from my drip machine (no French press here yo!). While Maya may have a husband, I have a lovely fiancé, but she does not join me for breakfast. 5:30AM is just too early.
6:30AM I keep a hotel room in which I do my work–a tiny, mean room with just a bed, and sometimes, if I can find it, a face basin. I figure a “mean rooms” isn’t for luxurious relaxing, so I do a Google search for pay-by-the hour motels. This leads me to South Los Angeles, not the most glamorous of neighborhoods. The first place I try is the Mustang Motel. Signs cling to the walls of the building reminding occupants that the hotel is under constant LAPD surveillance There are at least three women wearing X who I assume are prostitutes prowling the grounds. This certainly is a place with mean rooms, but alas they’re booked up completely. I try the hotel across the street and see if they have any availability. They do. I speak to a voice behind a mirror and grab my room key, the cost: 36 dollars for six hours. The name of hotel – The Snooty Fox Motor Inn.
7:00AM I keep a dictionary, a Bible, a deck of cards and a bottle of sherry in the room. I try to get there around 7. With all those items (I use Spanish wine instead of Sherry, which is hard to find, and my phone for a dictionary, this is 2014) with me I settle into my room. While there are some small burns on the carpet, scuffed dressers, and plastic chairs for furniture. It’s surprisingly nice, but the mirrors at the head of the bed, on the ceiling above the bed, and next to the bed remind me of this room’s primary functions. This is the mean room I’m looking for!
7:00AM-12:30PM I work until 2 in the afternoon. If the work is going badly, I stay until 12:30. If it’s going well, I’ll stay as long as it’s going well. It’s lonely, and it’s marvelous. I edit while I’m working. Away from the internet, no phone (I put mine on airplane mode) and stuck in a foreign environment, it certainly is lonely in the room but soon I settle into a groove with my writing. I end up writing two essays, a short story, and two poems (including one about Maya herself), which is greater than my usual output (usually I procrastinate something fierce). I try to fill any time I’m not writing by playing a game of solitaire to occupy my “little mind” but it makes me realize I don’t know ANY solo card games, but it’s ok because once I start having some of the wine/Sherry I really start cranking on my short story. As the wine flows and my loneliness increases, the story becomes much longer (and weirder) than I intended. I guess this is a taste of creativity and I would say it is marvelous. By 12:30 I miss the outside world too much and gather my things and leave the Snooty Fox behind.
2PM-5:45PM When I come home at 2, I read over what I’ve written that day, and then try to put it out of my mind. I shower, prepare dinner, so that when my husband comes home, I’m not totally absorbed in my work. We have a semblance of a normal life. Once I leave the Snooty Fox I go grocery shopping, eat a quick lunch (another omelette) and go home and review what I wrote. I’m satisfied with my output but even still reading in a different setting provides a sense of perspective. After that I fill the rest of the time with a shower, catching up on some work related emails, and finally start preparing a feast for my fiancée.
6:15PM – We have a drink together and have dinner. Maybe after dinner I’ll read to him what I’ve written that day. He doesn’t comment. I don’t invite comments from anyone but my editor, but hearing it aloud is good. Sometimes I hear the dissonance; then I try to straighten it out in the morning.” My dinner of steak kebabs cooked on the grill and sweet potato fries is well received and the evening drink is relaxing as well. This is good because after the meal I take out the notebook and read everything aloud to Michelle. Hearing everything aloud was nice and I do hear a lot of dissonance and circle portions to improve on for the morning. The ban on comments from her is strange because I immediately want to know, “Is it good?” “Was the panther story too weird?” “Do you think I’m nuts for writing a poem about trains in Alaska?” But per Dr. Angelou no response from her is the rule. I call a slight audible and retreat to the kitchen to tweak some of my work, but soon I give it a rest and see the day through by watching some TV and raising some hell in GTA Online. I’m in bed by 10:30PM. I wake up the next morning and briefly revisit the writing. Real life calls and I’m back to the office, but the creative juices still linger from my adventure the day prior.
The routine confirmed that deep within all of us is a creative energy waiting to be utilized. The secret is knowing how to get it and how to control once it starts flowing. A lonely hotel room started it flowing for me, but how maintain in daily life is a whole other battle. I encourage people who are seeking the creative source to try an enforced solitude, it worked for me and clearly has worked for Dr. Angelou. I’ll leave you with one of the poems I wrote in that room that day. Hopefully you’ll enjoy my creativity in action, too.
A schedule a routine
A sequence of events
Following footsteps of greatness
I awake early
Martin Luther King Blvd
Western Avenue running south
Hotel Rooms. Many Mirrors
Is this a mean place?
No computer. No Keyboard
Only a pad and you my pen
Expressing caged emotions
Creativity. We press on again.
Back into the Palm Tree Sky
I emerge reborn
Onto Maya’s footsteps
I progress on.
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