Monday, August 10, 2015

The More Loving One

I've been slowly making my way through the most fascinating book called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Have you heard of it? The author chose 161 inspired and inspiring people from human history–writers, scientists, composers, poets, inventors–and did meticulous research on the habits that surrounded their work and gave structure (or lack of structure) to their days. Interesting, right?

As you might expect these creatively brilliant people were mostly quite odd, and many of them followed their routines with a manic sort of discipline. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard would fill his coffee cup to the brim with sugar, pour acid-strong coffee over it and drink it in one energetic gulp. Thomas Wolfe wrote his novels naked, standing up, using the top of his fridge as his desk. Gustav Mahler dragged his wife Alma on 3-or-4-hour walks every afternoon, often stopping to compose for an hour or two at a time while he insisted she wait for him. Gertrude Stein usually wrote no more than 30 minutes a day and often got her creativity flowing by staring at individual cows and rocks (!) in the French countryside.

Along the way I've been doing a lot of Googling because I find myself wanting to know more about the actual work these people did. I'm familiar with the composers he's written about and a lot of the writers but the psychologists and poets are a little less known to me. In my side research the other day I discovered this poem by W.H. Auden. It's called The More Loving One.

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us, we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

I love this poem. It's simple but so emotionally honest. If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me. How beautifully self-sacrificial to prefer the giving end of unrequited love, to have heartbreak rather than cause it.

Anyway, I highly recommend the book. It's gotten me thinking about my own habits as a creative person. Mostly though, it's sort of like peeking into someone's window which is something I find endlessly intriguing. We've talked about my nosiness before, right?


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