Creavity a la Tharp

I've been reading Twyla Tharp's book The Creative Habit. In addition to thinking that she's a terrific choreographer and dancer, I have a soft spot for Ms. Tharp. For my 30th birthday, two of my friends from high school flew me Washington, D.C. to see her company perform at The Kennedy Center. Not too longer after that, in Miami, I saw Mikhail Baryshnikov dance (beautifully) in Tharp's Sinatra Suite and
Push Comes to Shove, which Baryshnikov had commissioned for American Ballet Theater, and I was hooked.

I read 80 pages of the book this afternoon in one sitting, partly because I find Tharp's message compelling, and partly because I find her dedicated approach to her art appealing. She's of the school that believes that talent doesn't count for much unless you're prepared to work hard and consistently. And that's much of what the book is about: setting work habits that foster the conditions in which creativity is most likely to flower. Here's some of what I jotted in my Moleskine this afternoon while I was reading:
"When I'm unable to shake my fears sufficiently, I borrow a biblical epigraph from Dostoyevsky's The Demons:" I see my fears being cast into the bodies of wild boars and hogs and I watch them rush to a cliff where they fall to their deaths." [beats counting sheep.]

"The other obstacle to good work is distractions. When I commit to a project I don't expand my contact with the world; I try to cut it off...I list the biggest distractions in my life and make a pact with myself to do without them for a week." [she cuts out movies, multi-tasking, "numbers," and music. Add the Internet for me.] "Subtracting your dependence on some of the things you take for granted increases your independence." and

"There's a difference between a work's beginning and beginning to work." [In other words, starting to work doesn't necessarily mean that you know how the work will begin.] "Just start. You never know where it will take you."
Here's Baryshnikov in a bit of Tharp's Sinatra Suite and in Push Comes to Shove, for old times' sake:


What I'm Listening To Today

Forgive the digression from books today.

Oren Lavie: Her Morning Elegance

According to Lavie's blog on MySpace, the video is made up of roughly 3225 still photos, using one camera hanging from the ceiling. It took four weeks before the shooting to create the animated storyboard for the video, using 3-D dummies.

More about Lavie here, who in addition to writing songs, writes plays and children's books. Thanks to Steven for the heads up.


2008 Reading Redux

As usual, there were some standouts in the year's (2008) reading, as well as some clunkers. Reading is such a personal experience, 'though, that I hesitate to mention the latter, since my clunker may someone else's well-oiled machine. I'm reminded of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, which I read in '07 and thoroughly, deeply disliked. It was a selection of my book club, and at least half of the group -- and we have a large group -- thought it was terrific.

I had a great time reading or re-reading several classics -- Jane Eyre, especially. I'd forgotten what a smart and strong (and feminist) character Jane is. (I was so taken with the book that I wrote about it here.) I enjoyed my sojourn into Henry James country, re-reading some novels and savoring some short stories for the first time. I went on a bit of a Henry James jag and also read a very good biography, The Mature Master, the second of two volumes on James by Sheldon Novick, and an equally good fictional version of James's literary life by David Lodge: Author, Author.

Other books that have stayed with me -- which is one way I judge a book's value, with the caveat that some of the truly bad ones also won't go away -- include When Will There Be Good News, the third book in British author Kate Atkinson's series about Jackson Brodie (wonderfully written and cleverly crafted); A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby (as usual in Hornby's work, funny and touching at the same time, but never sentimental); Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses (a quiet, lyrical novel), Child 44, by Tom Robb Smith (a compelling thriller set in Russia during Stalin's regime), and The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, by Kate Summerscale. This last focuses on the actual murder of a child in 1860s England, and Summerscale uses her extensive research to explore the rise of the English detective and his role in English society. Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, which I'm reading now, and which was written a few years after the case described in Summerscale's book, borrows much from that book's real-life detective.

I loved Three Junes, Julia Glass's first novel, which I came to late, after having read and enjoyed The Whole World Over a couple of years ago. I liked Willilam Gay's Twilight (no, not that Twilight), a strange, striking novel set in the Tennessee country in which the author lives; enjoyed The Accidental Masterpiece, essays on art and artists by Michael Kimmelman, and Valentines
, a slim volume of poetry by Ted Kooser; and was nourished by poet Kathleen Norris's thoughtful The Cloister Walk, about her retreats in a Benedictine monastery.

Thankfully, I didn't read anything last year as unfortunate as The Memory Keeper's Daughter. Still, there were ho-hum books, the kind that take up time that could have been spent reading something one enjoys more. Among these were In the Garden of Iden, The Society of S, The Spellman Files, The Writing Diet, (a weight-loss book by Julia Cameron of Artist's Way fame) and Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance (what's with all the fuss over the years about this one?). But, as one good friend says: "If you like this kind of thing, then this is the kind of thing you'll like."

Here's to all the books yet to be explored in 2009. Happy reading.

[Photo Credit: Woman Reading by Henri Matisse]