The Ritual is the Cab

There’s a paragraph from Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit that lodged firmly in my brain when I first read it in college. (I loaned my copy of the book to a friend years ago and it was only recently returned it to me, so this is the first chance I’ve had to go back and reread it in a long, long while.)

A photograph of a page from Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit. It reads: I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.

THE RITUAL IS THE CAB.

Eh-hem. Anyway. She goes on:

Turning something into a ritual eliminates the question, Why am I doing this? By the time I give the taxi driver directions, it’s too late to wonder why I’m going to the gym and not snoozing under the warm covers of my bed. The cab is moving. I’m committed. Like it or not, I’m going to the gym.

The ritual erases the question of whether or not I like it. It’s also a friendly reminder that I’m doing the right thing. (I’ve done it before. It was good. I’ll do it again.)

This bit at the end! The question of “whether or not I like it” immediately countered with the truth that if this ritual is something I have built that will carry me towards things I have decided are meaningful to me, then it will automatically be the right thing.

But even when the right thing has proved, time and time again, to be rich, pleasurable, surprising, rewarding, and thrilling, I still have a brain that fixates on the times it is not. Sometimes it is infuriating, terrifying, or disappointing (although almost always those feelings come at the start, not during the act itself—or after the finish). I latch onto the negatives, drowning in avoidance, believing I can think my way around them.

Tharp’s model requires a clear-eyed statistician’s view—an assessment of the facts. And the fact is I feel good about the act of creation far more often than I feel bad about it. The ritual becomes a method of tipping over the edge into that inexorable slide—the point where it would be far more work to turn back than it is to go forward. The point where you can’t help yourself.

This is the mantra I need going into my next project, quaking in my boots because it all feels new and beyond my capacity or control:

I’ve done it before. It was good. I’ll do it again.

The 100 Day Project

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Those of you following me on social media may’ve noticed a new series of drawings going up over the last couple weeks! I’m participating in The 100 Day Project, which comes to us via Elle Luna and The Great Discontent. The premise of this project is simple: make something every day for 100 days. That’s all. Could be anything; a written word, a cake, a joke, a drawing, a button. I’ve actually been pitching it as a do anything for 100 days project—so one could even eat an apple a day or something similarly arbitrary. I think it’s the regularity of the ritual that’s important. There’s also value in creating something small every day and using the exercise to break down our inhibitions around perfection, but regularity breeds ritual, and ritual can take many forms.

Anyway, I’ve opted to use up the many, many Scout Books and Field Notes sketchbooks I’ve been accumulating from various events by chronicling 100 objects in my possession with words and pictures.

Notebooks
Notebooks from Linework NW (designed by Lisa Congdon), XOXO (designed by Brendan Monroe), Reid Psaltis, Scout Books, and Erika Moen.

The format involves a drawing, however crude, and as much context about the item as I can cram on the page. It started here:

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And has continued apace for the last couple weeks.

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I love projects like this that require relatively little commitment on the day-to-day, but add up to something vast over time. I’m really excited to see where this goes. If you’d like to follow along, take a peek at my Instagram page or follow along on Twitter.