I am often asked about my working habits. Until now, I have eschewed revealing them. Some may find them bizarre but, more importantly, they are so personal and idiosyncratic that I am certain they cannot be put to productive use if emulated by others.
Success, however, has attracted attention which, in turn, has fostered a combination of vanity and willingness to shock. The devil-may-care liberation of being able to say virtually anything without creating offense — indeed, almost always thereby enhancing my aura – has led me to describe the processes leading to (what many have described as) my colossally powerful oeuvre.
I forewarn you that what follow is my actual process; it is not invented to mock the question, nor as a comedic send-up. I follow my regimen each working day, or rather afternoon. I have never known a great idea which could be attributed to labor expended prior to noon-time.
I sit in a conventional office, albeit without telephone. I sit in an inexpensive black leather chair, although my buttocks do sometimes inconveniently stick to the surface as I wriggle. You see, I always work in the nude. In this fashion am I open to all available sensations, as well as having access, as needed, to erogenous zones.
I do have a touch of whimsy, however. It reminds me of the basic humanity which must be at the core of very great works. I wear a white chef’s toque, always immaculately clean, as I “cook up” my productions.
And I have never enjoyed being barefoot, and over the years have experimented with numerous shoes and slippers. I have, this past decade, adopted very light running shoes, to “speed” my effort and to keep my feet reasonably cool, as I must maintain air temperature in the mid-seventies by reason of my nudity.
My computer is my link with my assistant, Bertha Zvik, who sits in the adjacent room but obviously cannot enter my workspace on a regular basis. When I need to instruct her directly, she must put on her blindfold, and then enter and guide herself to the front of my desk by use of the handrail we have installed for that purpose.
I arise at ten precisely, take twenty minutes of stretching, shower with tepid water, and eat half a cold pink grapefruit. I do not like my grapefruit sectioned; I rather prefer to pierce the moist flesh with the side of a non-serrated teaspoon and segment it from the binding filaments in a deliberate if squirty motion. I wear a robe while eating, to keep the citric spray from my body, as I find that the spray dries to an unpleasant sticky residue. I take one cup of coffee with a generous pour of cream to cut the dark roast, but only one cup; otherwise my need to urinate during work time becomes a distraction. At precisely noon I pass by Bertha, nod my hello, enter my office, remove my robe and place it on the hook, take my fresh toque from the table, walk across the highly polished linoleum floor, and seat myself.
You may be surprised at the linoleum; not the kind of floor covering you would expect in the home office of someone such as myself. As a child, my bedroom floor was covered by a medium gray sheet of linoleum, which my father had carefully rolled out, using an industrial razor to trim the edges and to fit the carved flaps around the feet of my steam radiator. This linoleum had a pattern of darker, ebony squiggles as an overall design, and with my child’s imagination I sometimes awoke with an awareness that those squiggles were alive, moving and malevolent. I would be careful never to let my bare feet touch the floor, relying on a series of close-toed slippers, nor would I allow my bedding to droop onto the floor and allow the squiggles to climb up and onto my mattress while I slept.
At first, I pretended that they could not climb the legs of the bed, but as I grew older I realized that this was an implausible supposition. That is when I placed the pie tins under each leg of the bed, and filled each tin with water. My parents were stunned by my assertion that squiggles clearly could not swim, but after faint protest and an earnest discussion which I could almost hear through the common wall of our bedrooms, I was told at breakfast that I could maintain my moats – which I did for many years until I left for college.
Now when I set up my home office, my staff could not locate linoleum either in rolls or in tiles that were anything like the design of my childhood, but I found an artist in Soho who undertook the task of creating a huge linoleum-based work in light gray, festooned with squiggles conforming to my best recollection, and I had that installed on my office floor.
It is a reminder of how we move forward from our childhood fears and yet, we are also tied to them in some indirect way, as if they inform our world view at a very basic level.
Perhaps that is why I am careful never to slip out of my running shoes while I am working.
In any event, I work without food or drink from noontime until I feel myself drained of psychic energy. Or need to toilet. And then I arise, save what is on my computer, lock my handwritten notes and any dictated tapes in my locking vault, place my toque on the table so staff can replace it for the next morning with a freshly laundered toque, resume my robe and leave the work wing. Typically, Bertha will be at her desk, although if I have been lost in creativity I may have worked into the late evening and Bertha may have left. Our arrangement is that if I have not exited by 9 p.m. and have not texted her to stay, Bertha may leave without formally advising me.
I follow this regimen, while in residence in the City, Tuesday through Friday. On Saturdays I prepare for receptions, galleries and restaurants. On Sunday I read the Times cover-to-cover, skipping only the automotive section and anything written by Tom Friedman, as I find discussions of the flatness of the world distasteful, and one never knows when Tom will take off in that direction. Besides, Tom has a derivative mind, although when I mentioned it to him he did not seem to agree.
Mondays are my days of renewal, and information gathering. I can walk in the City with a modicum of freedom. The theaters are dark, keeping hoards of undesirables away. Most working drones are attentive to their occupations and are off the streets, particularly after a weekend. This allows me to observe all those people with whom I feel allegiance; truckers delivering stuff, clerks restocking shelves, working women taking a day off, the unemployed, the crazies, the con men, the people of ambiguous intent, the people trying out their new/old hustle (“brother, you are looking really fine today” followed shortly by “I’ve enjoyed talking with you but now I gotta confess that I find myself coming up just a little short….”).
I often go downtown for lunch, dim sum or a deli, maybe a dirty water dog from a street cart. I talk to people continually, often turning on a small tape recorder or taking a quick picture with my cell phone so that I can capture the moment and later extract the nuance.
Once or twice a year, I travel alone for a week or two, sometimes new places and sometimes old ones. I have given up on France, I tell you. It’s a long story, and a shame, but it is fully the fault of the French, and not me. ‘Nuf said. I rather like the Greek Islands, where the locals try to hustle you at backgammon. Retsina has replaced Chambertin Clos-de-Beze as my go-to libation. On these excursions I take no notes or photographs. I just absorb. When people recognize me, which often happens, I smile and chat but never sign. I think it rude they should ask, but do not say so.
That’s it. That’s my work “process.” The mechanics of my life. I owe it to posterity to be accurate so, you should note, I hereby assure you that everything I have told you is accurate, and without hyperbole. Not very interesting, but remember that you asked to hear it. I suppose now this information will be bisected, dissected, parsed, conjugated, analyzed, reinterpreted, related to my body of works, be speculated upon in my biographies, and otherwise blown out of proportion by people like you. Well go to it. As for me, I am a few minutes behind schedule.
Would you please pass me my robe? Ah, thanks….