Check out this article from Flavorwire examining the preferences of writing conditions of famous authors.
Not all these geniuses are crazy, but most have established idiosyncratic, hyperspecific habits.
I don’t know how set my own writing habits are. I typically require a stimulant, ranging from caffeine to yerba mate to the occasional adderall. Candles or incense always do wonders for mood-setting. Alcohol is usually a hindrance for me since I quickly become distracted, blurry-eyed and preferential to social rather than non-social situations. Being in a closed off room or an ensconced corner of a library is pretty critical.
Maybe I need to develop some weirder habits to get the literary juices flowing!
I did find that trying to understand or connect with an unemotional, oddball scientist was more forced than my attempts to click with imaginative Newton or a creative writer. I chalk that up to my right brain thinking.
Thinking Numerically came easily because I was studying math for the GREs, rediscovering such titillating concepts as factorials and slope (y=mx+b!). As I struggled to FOIL and reduce fractions, I could not help but wonder how Tesla would have likely scoffed at my mathematic deficits. These are the types of principles that would have been second nature for a scientist of his caliber.
I also attempted to count things – trees, poles, food morsels, etc. – but found it to be a useless activity.
I did almost no writing this week, but I did spend a little time attempting to daydream about plot and character. Instead, I more or less fell asleep.
Some of my more successful Tesla-esque activities included:
Ambrosia! After finding a recipe, I concocted a botched version of this archaic drink in my trusty cocktail shaker. Recipe called for brandy, apple brandy, raspberry syrup and champagne. To avoid buying new ingredients for this novelty beverage, I made do with what I had. I shook up a shot of Jim Beam, .5 oz of amaretto, a shot of Big B’s Apple Cider and .25 oz of maple syrup and poured the concoction into a wine glass. I filled up the 2nd half with Andre’s Brut Champagne.
I was expecting to choke it down and trash the leftovers, but it was unexpectedly DELICIOUS! I drank the whole thing and then some. I used it as a pre-gaming drink 2 nights in a row with great success!
Voltaire. Candide was not at the library so I found it online and read it in a single morning. It was hilarious account of a young man named Candide during an Inquisition trying to find and marry his lost love. Tragedy persists in impacting the lives of all characters. Finally, he marries his love but she’s grown ugly and his life is boring.
The philosophical messages are: 1) everything happens for a reason so accept your circumstances, and 2) perhaps zest & happiness are found in the search, rather than the attainment.
She understood me and I understood her. I loved that pigeon. Yes, I loved her as a man loves a woman, and she loved me.
-Nikola Tesla on his beloved avian amigo
Tesla (1856-1943) and 12 year old girls have a few things in common. They both tend to:
- Care a great deal about their looks
- Believe the other sex to have cooties
- Delight in warm milk and crackers
- Engage in catty rivalries with peers
Despite his quirks, Tesla’s brilliance is formidable. He is most famous for being down with the curves – that is, those of Alternating Current (AC) power transmission as opposed to Direct Current (DC). Straight-flying Edison, meanwhile, advocated for DC. Hence, the War of Currents that raged betwixt them!
The productive electrical engineer also conceived of an induction motor, a high-voltage generator, a flying machine and wireless transmission. He enjoyed some zanier pursuits as well, such as Martian radio communication.
Numbers dictated much of Tesla’s life – they were the stuff of his work and they dominated his decision-making a la OCD. He loved 3, developing rituals around it and preferring numbers divisible by it. For example, he required a pile of 18 napkins at dinner. Since germs, along with pearls and human hair, frightened Tesla, handwashing was one of his favorite pastimes.
This Serbian celibate was also a dreamer. For hours, he would immerse himself in virtual reality simulation, mentally mapping out technical inventions. He drew diagrams in the sand with a stick. He enjoyed writing about himself in the 3rd person. Over a tall glass of Ambrosia, he poured over Voltaire’s entire oeuvre. During sleepless nights, he worked in darkened rooms in his New York and Colorado labs.
Later in his life, he holed himself up in a hotel room, went into debt and became fast friends with street pigeons.
To live Tesla, I will:
- Think numerically
- Daydream my novel’s plot up
- Defend Alternating Current to any lingering DC devotees
- Drink Ambrosia (and first find out what it is)
- Write in the dark
- Read Voltaire
Hemingway’s manly man, drunken lifestyle may have inspired him to produce remarkable prose, but it was pretty ineffective for me.
Out of this week’s living genius to-do list, I focused on the last item: “Hit the bottle!”.
Impressively enough, I managed to imbibe 70% of the week, enjoying:
- The winning combo of PBRs and pool at Timbers
- Partying with the AARP crowd at Gunnison County Democrats Dinner
- Knocking back mojitos at 4 Seasons whilst writing old school style (pen!)
- A Bacchic bike tour of New Belgium & Odells Brewery
Boozing has been fun, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be as far as inspiration. I’ve spent all my time at work, out or hungover, which doesn’t create conditions conducive to me writing. Especially when I tried to run some trails to fulfill “sport.”
So the works of the Lost Generation remain unread by my eyes. My attempts to set my alarm early and write 500 wds standing were feeble at best. I will note that I’m standing right now as we speak at work! I bought a storage cube, plopped it atop my desk and have been working upright ever since, much to the amusement of my chair-loving coworkers and anyone who sets foot in the office. Does that count?
And, the bullsh*t detector is going pretty well, I don’t believe I’ve fallen for a single lie, white or otherwise, all week!
The one significant writing-related activity I did partake in was joining the Gunnison Writers’ Group. I thought, if I can’t discipline myself to write, maybe some other writers and the pressure of monthly meetings will! Maybe we can be like the Gunnison Lost Generation…
Much to my amusement, the Group turned out to be a 55+ female crowd. Why am I
continuously drawn to activities treasured by senior citizens? Anyway, it was a hoot n a half, with a memoir about a grandmother’s dope trade in Telluride, a political romantic thriller penned by an 80 year old and the recollections of a former hockey mom.
Check out this article about crazy, brilliant Bobby Fischer and the upcoming movie about his life. The movie, Bobby Fischer Against the World, airs tonight on HBO.
Fischer exhibited “bizarre, truculent” behavior, but was a mastermind at the most intellectual board game ever to grace a toy shelf.
Develop a built-in bullsh*t detector.
A lofty body of work materialized from Ernest Hemingway’s (1899-1961) exploits, which included service in WWI & II, travel, fishing, bullfight observation, hunting and womanizing.
“One of the best things about being a writer,” he wrote to pal Ezra Pound, “is when you’re having the wildest time…you’re still working, or at least you should be.”
Indeed, Hemingway seemed to chart his life according to what inspired compelling content.
The Way of Heming was to frequently shake up his life like a cocktail. He had four non-simultaneous wives. He made homes in Illinois, Wyoming, Paris, Florida, Cuba and Idaho. In Paris, he and his bohemian buddies comprised “The Lost Generation,” WWI-era aimless, creative twenty-somethings. He got wasted with James Joyce and bickered with Gertrude Stein. At one point, he owned dozens of polydactyl cats.
Perhaps oscillating Ernest was also given to change because of his manic depression. Happiness can be eternally hunted for in novelty.
In addition, Hemingway was an avid lush, quaffing daquiris, rum and whiskey, no doubt with a fat cigar propped up in his lips. Cloaked in a flannel, checkered shirt, he espoused art, sport and nature over politics, economics and fashion.
The shortest answer is doing the thing.
This elusive quote is like a pre-redneck “git ‘er done.” In keeping with this tenet, Hemingway lived a colorful, active life. He woke up early and wrote 500 words on foot. He poured himself into whatever activity was at hand. He listened.
Famously, Hemingway ended his life in a similar vein with his favorite shotgun.
Already, I can identify with Hemingway’s deliberate way of, more or less, living as research. Since I began writing, I often make decisions designed to produce unexpected, comical results, e.g. living in a quadrilingual apartment, hopping about the Bolivian desert with a broken foot, working in a carrot factory or undertaking Living Genius. To be Ernest, I will:
- Retrofit my gullibility with a built-in bullsh*t detector!
- Pursue noteworthy experiences of art, sport & nature
- Survey the Lost Generation’s outputs: Pound, Stein, Joyce, Hemingway
- Wake up early and write 500 words, standing up
- Hit the bottle!
Now let’s hear from Kenny Chesney, esteemed country music star, on the namesake for his album Hemingway’s Whiskey:
As it turns out, living Newtonian is pretty fun, Enlightenment style. Despite his lustrous white wig and dark grimace, I can safely say ol’ Isaac would probably be a mildly enjoyable guy.
Divine Universal Puzzle
Newton’s perspective on the universe as a divine enigma for man to solve is truly enthralling. Every little thing is imbued with meaning and mystery. I find myself wondering whether x shrub or y rock is a clue to the cryptogram! Of course, the wondering ends there since I’m not any kind of scientist.
I felt pretty good about Sunday pie-making in spite of my efforts to wallow in guilt. I had a breakthrough with a high altitude dough recipe and sliced many an apple with nary a cut. If anything, I felt guilty for laughing at the image of Newton in his darkened scullery with a stomach full of self-condemnation.
The Late Greats
I checked out a copy of Dialogues of Plato that hadn’t seen much action since 1983. The writing was boring in an entirely unexpected way. Rather than soporific, sloth-like prose, think overeager philosophy professor with homosexual tendencies on speed. Next time, I’ll opt for a treatise, entitled On [insert broad concept.]
My list started with wreaking havoc in a toy store (age 5) and progressed into the ambiguous territory of poor judgment and impulsive action. Sinventorying facilitates self-evaluation and lesson learning.
The territory of truth is a gray area. I considered reading Sojourner Truth, for obvious reasons. Instead, I assembled a selection of TRUTHful activities:
- Read Maya Angelou, who, after all, knows why the caged bird sings! Wise words on complaining:
There are people who went to sleep all over the world last night, but they will never wake again…their beds became their cooling boards…And those dead folks would give anything, anything at all for just five minutes of this weather or ten minutes of that plowing that person was grumbling about.
- Watched portions of The Universe, starring Newton, black holes and nerdy scientists. Corporations aren’t the only ones merging. Galaxies are doing it too!
- Climbed some lichen-laden, dirty rock on Decade Wall
- If drum circles aren’t truth, I don’t know what is. Witnessed an awesome Bear Dance Pow Wow (warning: sub-par footage quality!)
If I saw further than other men, it was because I stood on the shoulders of giants.
Sir Isaac Newton will be the first genius I explore since he had a 2060 rapture-prediction, quite the timely topic with infamous 5/21/11 in the recent past!
English Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) will be forever remembered for his incredible discoveries in mathematics, physics and astronomy. If an apple hit you in the head, would you say “ow” or conceive of gravity?
Darker pursuits also appealed to Newton, who believed the universe was a “cryptogram set by the Almighty” for humans to decipher. When I say master puzzle solver, I’m not talking about jigsaw. You may remember a certain hyperbolic History Channel special on the subject (see clip below).
Newton may have stood on his predecessors’ shoulders, but nowadays we’re all propped up by his robust work, which enabled technology like aerospace travel (among 1 million other things).
In general, Newton was an odd fellow who kept to himself. Amicus Plato; amicus Aristoteles; magis amica veritas, junior Newton penned in his journal, which means: “Plato is my friend, Aristotle is my friend, but the truth is my best friend.”
In light of his obsession with the Divine Universal Puzzle, Newton tried to live as piously and benevolently as possible. At age 20, he compiled a list of all his sins, including:
Making pies on Sunday night; punching my sister; peevishness…for a piece of bread and butter.
Newton’s perception of sin probably means he would think most of us are depraved, hell-bound a**holes.
To live like Newton, I will:
- Catch up with ancient pals Plato & Aristotle
- Try to learn something about BFF TRUTH
- Make a pie on Sunday night and feel bad about it
- Ponder the Divine Universal Puzzle
- Inventory all of my wrongdoings
- Conduct optical experiments on my own eyes (joking!)
There was never a genius without a tincture of madness.
Geniuses come in as many forms & varieties as tropical fruit. They are scientists, inventors, writers, philosophers, artists, musicians and more. In at least one case, genius has manifested itself in a horse – Clever Hans, alleged to have solved fractions with a tap of the hoof.
Diverse as they may be, these individuals have one thing in common: eccentricity. Rare was the genius who adhered to the norms of his/her time. Rather, many lived idiosyncratic lives characterized by, among other attributes:
- Fear/avoidance of opposite sex
- Irrational & overblown aversions
- Substance abuse
Why care about the way geniuses lived their lives? Well, if eccentricity is a trend then perhaps there’s some correlation with intelligence or innovation. Is it possible that unusual behavior creates conditions that foster genius expression?
In my experiment, I don’t intend to drive myself crazy. By no means am I a mad scientist, but I’m also not your average Jill. I have OCD tendencies, relish in a good substance and studied at Oberlin (which to some might be a mark of weirdness in itself).
The hope is that by marching to the beat of geniuses’ drummers, perhaps I’ll create the conditions in my life conducive to the completion of my novel. Or maybe I’ll become so preoccupied with this experiment that I won’t work on it at all!
Hopefully, it’s the former…