Do artists take vacations?
Yes and no
Happy Labor Day to all who celebrate! I hope that’s at least a few of you—though I suspect that many of you are taking advantage of the extra day off (at least in the U.S.) to steal away some extra hours for your creative practice. What a life! As much as I have written about the importance of taking a break and embracing the occasional strange empty day, I also tend to agree with Eleanor Antin, who said: “I’ve always defined an artist as someone who never takes a vacation.”
OK, that may be a bit extreme—of course artists take vacations! But the key difference may be that even their vacations are, at some level, in service of their work. The other weekend I devoured the French writer Emmanuel Carrère’s new memoir-novel, Yoga, and I appreciated his admission that even when he had embarked on a ten-day silent meditation retreat—at which not only were smartphones banned but also books and even a notebook and pen—he was also simultaneously plotting how to write “an upbeat, subtle little book on yoga” as soon as he got home, even as he knew full well that doing so was in direct opposition to his reasons for going on the retreat in the first place. Relatable!
Before reading Yoga, I finished re-reading Lewis Hyde’s classic 1979 book The Gift, and felt extremely seen by a young Ezra Pound, whose 1916 poem “The Lake Isle” Hyde reprints at one point. Here’s the last stanza:
“Where one needs one’s brains all the time” is so good. What a gift, and also what an annoying burden!
Meanwhile, on the enthusiastic recommendation of the novelist Rumaan Alam, I’ve also been listening to the Audible edition of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle while I do the dishes and putter around the house, and, even though I don’t have kids, the following passage from Book One had me chuckling with recognition. Contrasting his chaotic family life with the other families he sees out and about, families “who successfully organize their lives,” Knausgaard writes:
The children are clean, their clothes nice, the parents are happy and although once in a while they might raise their voices they never stand there like idiots bawling at them. They go on weekend trips, rent cottages in Normandy in the summer, and their fridges are never empty. They work in banks and hospitals, in IT companies or on the local council, in the theater or at universities. Why should the fact that I am a writer exclude me from that world? Why should the fact that I am a writer mean our strollers all look like junk we found on a junk heap? Why should the fact that I am a writer mean I turn up at the nursery with crazed eyes and a face stiffened into a mask of frustration? Why should the fact that I am a writer mean that our children do their utmost to get their own way, whatever the consequences? Where does all the mess in our lives come from? I know I can change all this, I know we too can become that kind of family, but then I would have to want it and in which case life would have to revolve around nothing else. And that is not what I want. I do everything I have to do for the family; that is my duty. The only thing I have learned from life is to endure it, never to question it, and to burn up the longing generated by this in writing. Where this ideal has come from I have no idea, and as I now see it before me, in black and white, it almost seems perverse: why duty before happiness?
I could go on, but I’ll stop there. Some of you may now be asking, wait, what is the point of all these quotes? The point is that I’m working on Labor Day and if some of you are too, perhaps against your better instincts . . . I see you and salute you.
ON THE OTHER HAND . . .
Every time I start to feel that I’m engaged in some sort of noble vocation, I read something like the following quote, from the recent New York Times profile of the publicist Kaitlin Phillips, who is also a writer, or at least intended to be a writer before she stumbled into publicity:
All you do when you’re a writer is you stay home. I hated it. And you don’t make any money. I didn’t want to write, I just wanted to hang out with writers.
That does sound better! Though, to be honest, I’ve never been very good at hanging out with writers either, whereas I am very good at staying home, so maybe I’m in the right line of work after all.
AND NOW FOR THE OBLIGATORY PITCH
Speaking of how writers don’t make any money: As I continue to try to finish the manuscript for my book on making art and making a living, I am poised to make, in 2022, the least money I’ve made in years, possibly since I first started freelancing almost a decade ago. I know, such delicious irony! I may write about it in the book. In the meantime, if you feel inclined to support my book- and newsletter-writing efforts, you can do so by upgrading to a paid subscription and/or buying one of my Daily Rituals books.
In all seriousness, I really appreciate your support. If you can’t afford a subscription, or have already copped one, you can also support my work by forwarding this newsletter to a friend or—you knew this was coming—sharing it on social media👇🙏
EVERGREEN MEME 🌲
OK, thanks for reading! See you in two weeks, when I’ll be cooking up something special for the 100th issue of Subtle Maneuvers, holy moly.