Booze as Muse for Yesterday’s Literary Stars
A young and mostly unknown Ernest Hemingway met the newly celebrated F. Scott Fitzgerald allegedly in Paris’s Dingo Bar, a common hang out for ex-pat writers. That year, 1925, Scribner’s Sons had published The Great Gatsby, a book which helped make the young blond writer from Minnesota America’s golden boy of literature.
According to Hemingway – both in a letter from the time as well as in his literary memoir A Moveable Feast – the literary boy wonder, so sloshed from booze, could barely balance on the bar stool. The account has been doubted, but the image has stuck.
Booze as muse – that idea perpetuated by images of hard-boiled American writers such as Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Capote, and a slew of others during the twentieth century. It’s one that I and some of my fellow writers grew up with and tried to emulate.
No, not all writers have dried out and replaced bourbon with breath work. And, yes, quite a few yoga practitioner-creatives still savor their martini, and if 88% dark chocolate is a drug, then consider me addicted.
But whatever the reasons and exceptions, many writers are smarter about taking care of their bodies than their predecessors. (In an article called “Don’t Let Inspiration Kill You,” Amy Harrison takes up this matter at Lateral Action.) These writers are also – and this is where this body talk goes beyond “exercise” – learning from the mounds of research that ties movement, exercise, and respiration to productive creativity.
Brooklyn Copeland is just one example of a successful writer who avidly practices yoga. The yoga teacher received in 2010 one of The Poetry Foundation has five Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships. Alice Blue Books will release Copeland’s chapbook Laked, Fielded, Blanked later this spring. (See Hutnote at the bottom of this article for recent quip Brooklyn made on her blog.)
Another case in point: For six years, Sharon Oard Warner, founder of the University of New Mexico Taos Summer Writer’s Conference, has invited me to teach a five-day writing course that integrates yogic tools and principles into the creative process and as a way to inform aesthetics and craft. (The 12 seats usually fill up.)
She also ropes me in to teach early-morning yoga classes to some of the 200 conference attendees in a courtyard. It’s not uncommon to spot some other renowned writers from the faculty sneaking into those classes.
Body & Breath Versus Booze Breath
Journalist Karen Macklin published a feature in Yoga International this month called “Art & Soul: The Yoga of Creativity.” Writers (myself included) share how movement and breath quiet our egos and rev up our prose. Classically trained pianist and psychologist Stephen Cope chants to engage his inner ear for rhythm and melody. Another pianist and composer describes how yoga and meditation have spurred his capacity to improvise.
Macklin covers a range of topics that you creatives and professionals might find valuable – creative states of mind, letting go of outcome, refining artistic skills, and being intentional with our art-making practice.
15 Minutes to Gain an Hour
I’m pleased this article came out on the very week we launched the second Yoga As Muse (YAM) TRIBE Facilitator Training. A key YAM tenet we’re exploring is this:
It does not take 90 minutes of sweat and pretzel-like contortions to sample and savor how yoga can sweeten your work life and stoke your productive creativity.
Take the other morning, for instance. My toddler daughter awoke at 5:30 am on the one morning I thought I might sleep in. Instead, I tended to the little joy-flower until 8 am when she, my wife, and I had breakfast. By 9 am, I headed to my study, already heavy-headed and heavy-limbed.
My physical body was not feeling up for what my thinking mind wanted – to write.
Still, I avoided the computer and all-things-distracting Internet, and rolled out that rubber rectangle that has saved me from myself many a time, the yoga mat. I do a few brief practices to calm the Congress in my head – all those voices debating on priorities and arguing about how I should focus my day – to connect with my purpose and intention for writing.
Within two minutes, my mind has entered a different, more centered space.
Now to help the rest of the body catch on. I elongate the rate at which I breathe in and out as I moved slowly through about 15 easy-to-remember yoga postures. Then I sit and breathe some more. This is actually where the best results come. Breathe through one nostril, lengthen the breath, engage the diaphragm in specific ways, and retain the breath with care – all of these tools are really creative tools.
They’re creative tools because they affect my brain chemistry, attitude, and physical energy in remarkable (and, yes, measurable) ways that will boost me into an optimal work flow that will last a solid 90 minutes to two hours before I take a break and renew.
Otherwise, what takes me 90 minutes to write after a 15-minute yoga practice would have taken me at least an extra hour or more of trying to stay focused and overcome my body’s aches (After two bouts of Lyme disease, the symptoms still linger.). That’s a savings of an hour at least.
A client from Florida recently told me the same thing, more or less. She had been sluggish and unfocused when waking up. So we developed a 45-minute pre-sleep routine that included specific breathing tools recommended activities and ‘avoidances’ during the 45 minutes before going to bed.
“That breathing stuff works,” she said over the phone. “It’s given me an extra hour in the day.” She now gets up an hour earlier than she used to even though she doesn’t go to bed any earlier.
15 minutes of smart yoga = an extra hour of focus and flow.
A Different World with the Body In It
We don’t live in the same work world our grand-parents worked in. I can’t imagine Don Draper shaking out his tension in a jump session or harnessing his energy with Tony Schwartz’s The Energy Project. (Then again, Mad Men fans have witnessed the vagaries of martinis as muse on the creative ad genius.)
It’s a different world not just because creativity is being taken seriously again in all walks of life.
And not just because merry troupes of non-conformists are uniting in Portland at the World Domination Summit in free-lance, free-flying fashion.
It’s also a different world because we creatives and creative professionals
are getting our bodies back. And we’re not alone.
During this past year, the first class of Yoga As Muse Facilitators has led numerous workshops in the U.S. and Canada – one, Cat Holms, is even holding a series of Yoga As Muse workshops combined with readings on her book tour.
Schools have caught on, too. Tanya Robie (MFA, Spalding) took Yoga As Muse into a private school for a six-weeks series. Would that my inferno years of middle school had included that class.
Quick invitation, by the way:
If you missed the retreat I held in Taos last March, then check out this writing course – WHERE IT ALL BEGINS: WRITING, YOGA, & WONDER.
UNM Taos Summer Writer’s Conference
12 people capped
This conference offers an exceptional mix of stellar faculty who both know their stuff and know how to embrace and encourage whoever is in their course. So, don’t be intimidated. And if you’re serious about your work, don’t fret about the instruction being diluted. It won’t be.
This conference and the course I’m teaching are neither stuffy nor fluffy.
It’s taken some of us forty years to arrive at the home of our bodies. And it’s taken the modern work world and creative communities and creative cultures only a hundred years or so to pick our idols off the bar floor, brush off their pants, and encourage them: “Head thee, to a yoga studio!”
Drop in the Hut
I’m eagerly capturing ways that creatives of all kinds engage their bodies as part of their creative work flow. Drop in the hut, and share your stories and tips and resources.
I’ll offer a reading and resource list on this topic soon. If you have some resources you think I should share, let me know – and I’ll give you credit.
See you in the woods (or on the mat),
Hutnote 1 (from Brooklyn Copeland’s blog): f.) I am finding the most authentic people have nothing to do with creating anything. I am finding that anyone who possess a sense of “knowing” (all creative types) are incapable of being fully authentic. Some creative types make their art of affecting authenticity. Some creative types quietly sidestep it. Some creative types belligerently dispel any hope for its existence in art.
g.) That’s all a lie, of course. ^