The Writer’s Routine
Six o’clock. Greeting her in the dim light, the mirror on the far wall can only fit a proportionate view of her features. It is small and inornate, but she can see a pair of eyes and ears, a nose and lips. She is a writer, but nobody the likes of Virginia Woolf stares back at her. Even so, Woolf was human just as she, who too could see and hear and taste and touch. The writer reminds herself of this before the dawn rises.
Six-thirty. Nobody is awake, but beneath the blue-pink dawn and down a steep staircase, the onsen has not slept. Its waters have sat patiently for the screen door to slide open and the first person to undress in its reflection. The writer is quick to wash and twist her hair up until the water flirts with her hairline. The steam is private, only sharing space with the dewdrops gathering upon the windowsill, trickling in small crowds between the smooth rock and resting upon her cleavage with each breath. Cypress is good for the skin; the onsen is nourishing for the soul. She is too impatient to wait for her hair to dry before she is out the door and into the cold.
Nine o’clock. Every sculpture in the Open Air Museum remains rooted in place, erect in its podium without complaint. They are taut and strong, devoid of objection to the woes of winter or the toils of the world around them. François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne’s ‘La Pleureuse’ cries into an aquamarine pool that shimmers with the onslaught of rain. Beneath darkening clouds the Grand Statues of ‘Force’, ‘Victorie’ and ‘Liberte’ each have a lesson to teach the writer, towering over her and clutching greatswords that artist Émile-Antoine Bourdelle fashioned from bronze.
When the writer cranes her neck up at them, she wishes that she, too, was as forceful, victorious and liberated as they, with eyes transfixed to the sky and chiselled faces glorified by the fading sun. Perhaps then she could become something resembling Virginia Woolf, carved by a legacy that remains against many winters.
The artistry of Picasso, however, is not any of these things. It is exuberant and child-like.
“I am fated to work,” the writing on the wall of his exhibit says. “To work without even pausing to draw breath. In my actions and creativity, I am overcome with enthusiasm.”
His words are an echo in her psyche, and she can feel it – the astounding presence of his thoughts and imagination lingering between his ceramics, tapestries and paintings. Hanging from the walls and seeping from the floor, the voltaic thrum of the artist that precedes him and grants him new life through the eyes of a hopeful, awe-struck writer.
Midday. It has begun to rain. She takes a bus further out, shrouded in fog. The staff at the POLA Art Museum offer a headpiece guide. There isn’t an English option. She takes it anyway.
The profound intensity and same thrum that jolted her in front of the works of Picasso are suddenly ablaze when she comes face to face with Claude Monet’s ‘Nympheas’. Hypnotised for 30 minutes whilst the audio guide attempts to claim her subconscious, she suddenly ripping rips the headpiece off to instead bask in the painting’s silence. It births the desire to tear the frame from the canvas, smash the glass that holds it and run her fingers along every brushstroke to allow the paint to bleed into her skin. There is a fervent need within her to fashion colour, word, art and life into everything she has ever imagined with the same grace of Monet’s brush. 250 paintings in his ‘Water Lilies’, and she has been reduced to the brink of tears in front of just one.
Four o’clock. When she is stirring her tea at a cafe, her ears pry into a conversation about a famed onsen that lies beyond the river, through the twisting roads and deep into the forest. She does just that, unravelling the mountainside and steep roads, peering through the thickness of the forest until she finds a bathhouse steaming beneath the fog. For the second time that day, she strips, washes and opens the screen door.
Women sit alone, in groups and pairs, with small towels on their heads and their hair pinned back. Across rocks, deep in the water, with just their feet tucked in the ripples, against their companions, aside trees, in the centre of the pools – there is no right way for a woman to be naked. The writer finds the hottest pool to fight against the cold, leans against a rock that fits the curve of her body and closes her eyes. Soaking in the waters, allowing the steam to rise to her nostrils and the quiet chatter of women to be carried into the fog, she sits in what she has experienced that day; the things she has seen, heard, touched, felt – divine inspiration, artistic legacy and pure, uninhibited passion. She cries into the pool at the joy of being an artist.
Eight-o’clock. There is something enigmatic about how infinite the number “eight” is. She is drawn to its unstoppable nature, a number that propels her into a chasmic focus of which is ignited by her experiences, the crackle of inspiration catching flame to paper. She has charged herself with enough divine inspiration that it cannot be held within her anymore, and the ignition of her creativity grants her the ability to write infinitely. Many people come and go from the bar in the coming hours – but nestled beneath the kotatsu, she doesn’t lift her head once, with fingers charred from the lead that bleeds onto the page.
Midnight. The thought of rest only occurs when her handwriting becomes illegible. After closing her journal and putting away her pens and books, she thinks of Woolf, Picasso and Monet, and touches her face in the darkness against the futon. Ghosting her fingertips down the descent of her eyes, across the bridge of her nose, between her lips, and coming to a quiet realisation.
Each artist that she contemplates is different and riveting in their own right, with dissimilar trajectories and lives, polarising ways to go about their day, and an independent relationship with their craft. Woolf, who began her morning with a large breakfast and was writing by nine-thirty (where our writer began almost twelve hours later), Picasso who awoke closer to noon and began making art well into the night (this, she can agree on), and Monet, whose routine was elusive and unknown to the world (a seemingly comforting thought).
Who knows what time it is when she finally realises she can never be Woolf or Picasso or Monet. Just as artists and writers are so contradictory, their routines are not linear – they are not supposed to begin and end at a certain time of day, to write however many words or paint however many paintings, or to materialise books in the span of a year or so.
The writer’s routine is to feel, taste, smell, hear and see, and from all these things, above all things, to write. Not when the word wills it, but when she does.
Collage by the author