Bushnell Keeler, the father of my friend Toby, always had this expression: “If you want to get one hour of good painting in, you have to have four hours of uninterrupted time.”
And that’s basically true. You don’t just start painting. You have to sit for a while and get some kind of mental idea in order to go and make the right moves. And you need a whole bunch of materials at the ready. For example, you need to build framework stretchers for the canvas. It can take a long time just to prepare something to paint on. And then you go to work. The idea just needs to be enough to get you started, because, for me, whatever follows is a process of action and reaction. It’s always a process of building and then destroying. And then, out of this destruction, discovering a thing and building on it. Nature plays a huge part in it. Putting different materials together—like baking something in sunlight, or using one material that fights another material—causes its own organic reaction. Then it’s a matter of sitting back and studying it and studying it and studying it; and suddenly, you find you’re leaping up out of your chair and going in and doing the next thing. That’s action and reaction.
But if you know that you’ve got to be somewhere in half an hour, there’s no way you can achieve that. So the art life means a freedom to have time for the good things to happen. There’s not always a lot of time for other things.
David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish
I wish I were one of those writers who could write at any time—in the 45 minutes between working and dinner, or in the hour after showering and before you have to be on campus. Sometimes, if I’ve been working on something for a while, I can make that happen because it’s already in my brain. But usually I’m more of the I-need-four-hours person, which is tough.
I think my biggest problem is that I often forget about that last thing Lynch says: that there’s not always a lot of time for other things. And I think, “Oh, I technically have time to do all of these Things” - so I go for a long run, I read that article in The Atlantic everyone’s talking about, I attempt to cook some good nourishing dinner with a lot of ingredients, I watch the presidential debates, I organize my bookshelves. And you know what? Truly? That stuff can wait.
There will always be articles to read, dinners to cook, things to watch, fitness routines to engage in. But those things should not necessarily be priorities. Not if I want to leave time for the good things to happen.