A Day In The Life of Oliver Sacks

Stories & Interviews

I get up around 5 A.M. or so -- not out of virtue, but because this is the way my sleep-wake cycle goes. Twice a week, I visit my analyst at 6 A.M., as I have been doing for forty years. Then I go for a swim. Swimming gets me going as nothing else can, and I need to do it at the start of the day, otherwise, I will be deflected by busyness or laziness. I come back hungry from my swim, and have a large bowl of oatmeal and the first of many cups of tea, hot chocolate, or coffee which get me through the day. I use an electric kettle, in case I get preoccupied with writing and forget to turn it off.

Getting to the office -- a two-minute commute, because my office and my apartment are in adjacement buildings -- I look through the mail (hugely abundant now, especially with e-mail) and answer what seems to need an answer. I do not use a computer, so I write or type my own letters. I then have patients to see, sometimes, and writing to do, at all times. I may sketch out thoughts on my typewriter, but I generally prefer pen and paper, a Waterman fountain pen and long yellow paper. I often write at a standing desk, sometimes perched on a stool, to spare my bad back from too much sitting.

I take a brief lunch break, walk around the block, practice piano for a few minutes, and then have my favorite noon meal of herrings and black bread. The afternoon is spent writing, if I am up to it. I sometimes fall asleep, or into a deep reverie, lying on my couch, and this may put my brain in an "idling" or "default" mode. I let it play with images or thoughts on its own; I come to from these altered states, if I am lucky, with energy renewed and confused thoughts clarified. 

I have an early dinner, usually tabouli and sardines (or if I have company, sushi), and play music (usually Bach) on the piano or a CD. Then I settle down to "pleasure" reading -- biographies, histories, letters, occasionally novels. I hate television, and rarely watch it. I go to bed early, and usually have vivid dreams, which may haunt me until I reconstruct and (if possible) deconstruct them. I keep a notebook by my bed for memories of dreams, or night thoughts -- many unexpected thoughts seem to come in the middle of the night. On the (rare) occasions when I get into a really creative mode, my daily structure is completely ignored, and I write non-stop, sometimes for 36 hours at a time, until the burst of inspiration has completed itself. 


- Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was a neurologist, scientist, and author.




Oliver Sacks. Daily Rituals - How Artists Work. p. 215. Mason Currey.

Image: Oliver Sacks, New York Times.

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