When It’s August And You Want Everything

It’s the circle of life: after two months of being swaddled in shapeless linen sundresses we are all ready to dress in proper clothes again. Remember the things with sleeves, waistbands and zippers? As mornings inevitably start getting crispier and the September issues hit the shelves, Scottish plaid starts to look inexplicably alluring again.* 

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Fancy Feet

It has come to pass that my meticulously maintained morning coffee and croissant habit has been severely interrupted by my having to haul my ass to a pilates class at the crack of dawn these days. This is because I am a long-time sufferer of every postural problem ending in “-sis“, such as lordosis and scoliosis, and the pain was starting to hit new limits, making daily life pretty much intolerable. Also I was starting to look like a middle-aged female Pisa.

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How to: When Everybody Leaves Town

As is characteristic to Brussels and the expat community the world over, people change jobs and consequently their country of residence in the summer because of school holidays and also it’s more fun in sweltering heat. Thus, ’tis the season of goodbyes and people trying to get rid of their house-plants and unwanted kitchen knick-knacks by smuggling them to office in the name of “circular economy”.

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I’m Really Busy Right Now

For reasons I cannot fully explain I continue to be obsessed with finding out what kind of daily routines interesting people have. Therefore imagine my delight as I ran to ​Daily Rituals – Women at Work this weekend. It’s a compilation of habits of 143 female authors and artists by Mason Currey, whose first book on the habits of great minds concentrated on men, and he wanted to make amends with the second book dedicated to women. 

My work does not allow me to fully be the master of my calendar and I live in a busy-culture. With busy-culture I mean the kind of culture where people ask “Are you busy?” instead of “how are you?“, and you’re expected to reply by assessing your busyness on the scale of “yes, very” to “it’s fucking killing me”. You must be busy, otherwise there’s something very seriously wrong with you or – and this is the worst – you are not very important. The busier you say you are, the better you are allowed to feel about yourself. 

I’m interested in habits and routines because I believe they must be the key to creating more space for thinking. Hands up everyone who has taken part in an office brainstorming session where people are seated in a meeting room with a numbingly meaningless consultant-speak slideshow on the background and those who are not jumping up and down, excusing themselves for “having to take this call” are checking their social media feeds on their phones?

Our brains are required to produce creative ideas in the most absurd of circumstances.

While (successful) creatives might have the autonomy to decide on their daily comings and goings, I thought I could still get some transferable inspiration. Herewith some of my favourites:

Coco Chanel’s team would spray a mist of Chanel No. 5 near the entrance of the rue Cambon offices every day so that Coco could walk through the cloud of her own signature scent when she came to work. There was an alert from the Ritz when Mademoiselle was on her way so that the perfume-spritzer could get ready. 

– Elsa Schiaparelli was famously punctual to the minute. She rose every morning at eight, had a glass of water with lemon and a cup of tea, read the papers and tended to her private correspondence. Oh, and gave the menus of the day to the cook.

– Songwriter ​Carole King found that the key to not having a writer’s block was not to worry about it. Ever. “If you are sitting down to write and nothing is coming, you get up and do something else. Then you come back and do something else. Then you come back and try it again. But you do it in a relaxed manner. Trust that it will be there. If it ever was once and you’ve ever done it once, it will be back.”

– Writer ​Susan Sontag believed it would be the best to write every day, but she barely managed this herself, usually writing in “intense, obsessional stretches”, often motivated by “an egregiously neglected deadline that she finally couldn’t ignore any longer. She seemed to need the pressure to build to an almost intolerable level before she could finally begin to write”. 

– Virginia Woolf valued privacy and “space to spread her mind out in”. This meant problematic relations with real people. ​”The truth is, I like it when people actually come; but I love when they go”. Woolf’s friends remembered her as an inattentive and borderline rude host, to which she responded “I wake filled with a tremulous yet steady rapture, carry my pitcher full of lucid and deep water across the garden, and am forced to spill it all by – someone coming.” 

– In the acknowledgement section of her novel NW writer Zadie Smith thanked two pieces of Internet-blocking software called Freedom and Self Control for “creating the time”. Smith does not use any social media.

– Artist Tamara de Lempicka strived to have a regular routine for the sake of her daughter. After she had put the child to sleep, Lempicka hit the Parisian nightlife in search of her preferred drugs: pellets of hashish dissolved in sloe-gin fizzes, or hits of cocaine sniffed from a miniature silver teaspoon – together with anonymous sexual encounters. She claimed “it is an artist’s duty to try everything.” Returning home, she would paint nonstop for hours. To calm her nerves for sleep, she turned to herbal supplement valerian. No matter what, she made sure to be up in time to have breakfast with her daughter, regardless how little sleep she’d gotten.

– The French novelist, playwright and screenwriter ​Francoise Sagan did not want to fall into habits: “The material problems of day-to-day living bore me silly. As soon as someone asks me what we should have for dinner I become flustered and then sink into gloom.”  

As various as their approaches to their creative processes were, there’s the one thing they all have in common, and Sagan put it very simply: “I had a strong desire to write. I simply started it.” 

There’s another excellent book about writing by Stephen King, and his message is very much the same as ​Sagan’s. In his book he discusses his writing routines at length, but what I loved best was his reasoning why writing retreats are not all that: 

​It is the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl,
not pearl-making seminars with other oysters. 

From On Writing by Stephen King.

June Podcasts

When I’m not reading, I listen to podcasts. I have issues with full length audiobooks, so my podcast choices tend to be conversations and discussions. Also I am too lazy (and behind the curve as far as cool new music is concerned) to keep up an interesting music playlist on my device, so it’s pretty much Lady Gaga and Lana del Rey from a million years ago paired with a selection of podcasts. 

When I’m on board public transport I like to isolate myself from the world with headphones (I like to kick it old skool and don’t have those wireless things that kids these days have), and also when I’m walking around in a park or such where it’s not excessively noisy, podcasts come in handy.

Herewith a list of some of my favourites for inspiration. There are lots of extremely interesting current affairs podcasts, but I’m leaving them out because while I do listen to them on occasion, I get an overdose of politics and current affairs at work, so I have no particular urge to immerse in them in my free time whenever I feel like winding down. 

Breaking Beauty

I like Breaking Beauty because they have seriously high-level names as guests – founders of the most hip and happening cosmetics brands are frequent features (Glossier, Jen Atkin of Ouai, Tata Harper, Kirsten Kjaer Weis, Bobbi Brown, RMS, Deciem & The Ordinary (RIP Brendan), Drunk Elephant, they are all there). Podcast is hosted by two long-time American beauty editors Jill Dunn and Carlene Higgins. New episode twice a week. 

Pardon My French 

French Garance Doré‘s podcast, normally in English (but her recent episode with Perla Servan-Schreiber is in French and I much recommend it. Google Servan-Schreiber for inspiration). Topics range from entrepreneurship to creativity to wellness. Episodes come out rather infrequently, though there’s a shorter version “Carte Blanche” that comes out more often.

Goop 

The episodes with Gwyneth Paltrow herself are the ones worth listening to, because she’s the one who gets the most high profile guests in. I liked the talks with ​Brene Brown, Stella McCartney and Sarah Jessica Parker. Then there’s of course a lot of stuff about healing illnesses with crystals and such crap, but there’s obviously no need to listen to them. Also there’s now a spinoff Goop podcast for men, and, um, it’s called ​The Goop Fellas. 

Yes. The Goop Fellas.

The Business of Fashion

Offers a more business-side of fashion (duh) with high-level guests such as Serena Williams and, again, Stella McCartney. The latter has been recently been talking a lot about fashion and climate change (McCartney launched the UN Charter for Sustainable Fashion at the Climate Conference COP24 last year). Her recent talk on BoF-podcast about this topic is very inspiring.

The New Yorker Writer’s Voice

The New Yorker has about million different podcasts, but I like Writer’s Voice best. In the episodes authors read shortish stories (30-40 minutes). The New Yorker of course have the luxury to have the most happening contemporary authors come in, such as Sally Rooney, Zadie Smith and pretty much anyone who’s anyone, so there’s plenty of choice. 

The Guilty Feminist

A British podcast by Deborah Frances-White is hilarious, as is her book Guilty Feminist (based on the podcast-fame). Comes out at least once a week, has interesting guests, is entertaining and thoughtful and very funny.

La Poudre and Chiffonlepodcast

Yes! People do this stuff also in French. Whenever I want to feel extremely smug about myself, I listen to podcasts in French. La Poudre is hosted by Lauren Bastide, a journalist and feminist activist, who has all kinds of cool folk (Julie Gayet, Anne Hidalgo, Leïla Slimani) join in intimate conversations with her about a range of topics from sexuality to literature to politics. Some episodes are dubbed into English. 

In Chiffonlepodcast journalist Valérie Tribes hosts conversations about people’s relationships with fashion and clothing, again with high-octane Frenchies (Anna Dello Russo (OK she’s actually Italian and oversees Vogue Japan), Inès de la Fressange, Mireille Dumas etc). New episode out once a week.

​Tim Ferriss

I have a complicated relationship with Ferriss. He’s the bestselling author of several self-help-y books about habits of “the titans”, for which he is particularly famous for – basically the book is about sharing the habits of highly successful and effective people. I listened to his podcast episode which focused on this, with several (male) guests sharing their morning routines which ranged from waking up at 5a.m. to eat half a kilo of raw minced meat followed by U.S. Navy Seals workout routine on the beach to visualising the enemy the second you open your eyes in the morning. Given that my daily routine is limited to exactly one habit, which is crawling to my coffee place in the morning for a caffeine fix and a piece of greasy French pastry, this episode did not resonate. 

In all fairness Ferriss has done a ton of talks with lots of interesting people – men and women – so it’s not fair to judge based on one episode. He’s the advocate of 4-day work week, and much of his topics evolve around work-life and personal development. Have a look.