routine

Chair day

If I have to start somewhere, and I do, it’s going to be the chair.

I’m starting with the chair because before the chair, there wasn’t nothing, but there was nothing great. There were places to sit, and they worked in the way that a handful of nuts works in the midafternoon, just to keep dinner at bay. There were places that held up my bones and muscles and ligaments, this structure that supports me, but they didn’t give much in return.

I sat because sitting was necessary and I wrote and edited because that was necessary too, with deadlines and publication schedules and everything that just has to get done. Now the time to be bound by time is gone, but something needs to take its place. I turn back to the words because I know them and I want them to be home.

But I’m not just mind and words spewing out through fingers, I’m this bag of bones and ligaments that need to assume a posture, they need to settle – I need to settle – and focus, dig into the visceral feeling, burp it out over this keyboard, stretch, and then go back with the technicians edge and polish it up.

Enter the chair.

The chair is a place to sit, but more than that. It’s a throne, a glorious place to be, a solid foundation that yields just a touch with the gentle kindness of a minor lean. The chair is a commitment to diligence and discipline. It has to be, because I’ve never spent this much on a goddamn piece of furniture in my life, and if it isn’t a commitment then it’s a warning sign of reckless behaviour.

Or is it symbolic, a gesture that I’m taking the work that I do while I’m sitting in it, myself included, seriously? Does it really need to be anything more than a chair, why must I justify the writing by a chair, and then justify the chair by writing? Aside from this – this vaguely chair-focused word-vomit – have I even written, or written anything worth reading? Perhaps this was all just a rotten idea.

Pause.

This is the process, it always is, and it always looks the same, or close enough to the last round that I can discern the pattern. Commitment. Optimism. That first creaking lunge, an adrenaline rush. Settling in. An ache, a distraction, heads buried in hands, doubt. Paranoia, questioning, fear, fuck it just run away. Or not.

The trick is to start, and if I have to start somewhere, why not here? So I tell myself, start with where you are. Start with where you will sit. Start with the chair.

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Maintenance

“But you can make it yourself” has almost reached cult status in my family. I can always count on hearing it from my mom if I mention wanting to stop to grab a coffee or a bite to eat – why, I could have just made that at home for (insert cost of said food/beverage). And it would be better, of course.

While I may have acquired the skills to make a lot of things myself, I haven’t quite perfected the routine of maintenance. This has been a sore spot, a failing, a source of shame for a while. Why can’t I just keep myself organized enough to do the most basic things?

To make coffee at home means I have coffee on hand, which means I’ve gone grocery shopping, and which also means I haven’t re-allocated my grocery budget to something more pressing. What could be more pressing than eating? Well, cats eating, for one, because they don’t really do logic and reason when I try to explain to them that kibble is coming even though their bowl is empty now. They will just howl. And my eating can be patched together with canned goods and leftovers, I can stretch it a little longer.

It also requires that home space be kept in workable order, building a foundation of items and order so that cooking and cleaning are tasks, not expeditions. But when did I last do the dishes? Well over a month ago, not counting a small refresher load of mugs and bowls after every single one was dirtied. Dinner tonight was pizza, frozen, because in a glorious burst of forward planning I bought 6 when they were on sale. Later on when I look back, and realize I was thinking ahead, I’m grateful that my past self was planning for my future self in some way, looking for an easier path through the day.

But for the regular things to be done easily, there needs to be more than sporadic effort. The infrastructure requires maintenance.

Evidence of last week's tiny flash flood of domestic ambition (Don't ask how long the muffin tins sat unwashed).

Evidence of last week’s tiny flash flood of domestic ambition (Don’t ask how long the muffin tins sat unwashed).

I’m sitting here tonight with dye in my hair, a half-hearted refresher to a well-faded purple last updated I can’t remember how long ago. I’m getting my hair cut tomorrow for the first time in six months. This used to be the one thing I maintained, either by shelling out cash or wielding my own colour brush and scissors. But I’ve let it slide, I’ve almost entirely quit the maintenance of my hair, and of personal aesthetics in general.

In a space without maintenance, routines dissolve. Sometimes, in the case of a kitchen, it can be chaotic. In other areas, like caring less about my appearance, it can be freeing. This thing that I thought I had to maintain, or that I thought I wanted to maintain, wasn’t a priority for a while. Eventually I had to reconsider how much of a priority it really was. At what point was I keeping it up for myself, or because it was important, and to what extent did this just become a habit?

Maintenance becomes routine becomes habit, habit becomes unquestioned mechanical repetition. Yes, in some areas I’d like to have a bit more consistency and take out the guesswork. But sometimes that guesswork is necessary, to try out new ways of thinking, of being, of opening up pockets of time and new possibilities.

Perhaps I could do anything myself if I really tried, including perfecting the routine of maintenance. But I’m starting to appreciate its rough spots, the little gaps that keep the days from falling into drone-like repetition. Perhaps it’s not necessary, or obligatory, or the price to pay for keeping up a facade of functional adulthood.

Maintenance, like everything else, is subjective, and taking a moment to observe the places it thrives and the places it’s never even visited – the piles that seem to be growing and toppling, constructing their own geography of abandoned domestic wilderness – might even be more important than trying to impose it everywhere without a second thought. It’s less of an answer and more of a question. What, here, is worth maintaining?

Routine? I’ve considered it.

I keep hearing about the positive benefits of building routines and regular habits. It’ll save you time, because you’re not always thinking about minutiae. It provides regularity, stability. And I eat these messages up – regularity? Stability? Free-brain-time? Gimme some of that!

But even when I manage to make it through the mythologized 66 days to establish a new habit, well, I tweak it. I change it. I’m drawn, constantly, to trying something new. As a prairie girl, I’m used to watching the world extend in from of me for miles and miles and miles. But put me in front of a hill, and I can’t resist, I’ll climb it. What could be on the other side? Ask me to walk past that same hill every day, keep to the same routine…no, no way.

At times, I can appreciate that even the things we call “same” are never truly the same twice, and try to embrace the small daily changes rather than lusting for larger ones. Like the tall tree that caught my eye on the way home a few weeks ago, standing just off to the side from the other trees. I made it my mission to notice it every day while walking to and from work.

It stood majestically in front of an apartment building that often blasted Joan Jett, and held onto its leaves longer than the other trees. Among spiny, desperate November arms, it was a glowing sunny giant. The next day, its foliage began to thin, and the sidewalk was lightly speckled with fallen yellow leaves. The day after that, it was a little thinner, and in the afternoon the wind picked up. On the fourth day it was bare, and the sea of yellow leaves on the ground below went up past my ankles as I kicked through them gleefully. On the fifth day the leaves were raked and my commute was uninterrupted sidewalk. Blah.

So that was a fun game, noticing the tree. But now it’s over, well, in hibernation at least. I started turning down a different street on my walk home, looking for more things to catch my eye and inspire my walking time.

I wonder if the best habit I’ve ever developed is that of avoiding habits, disrupting routine. Every time I’m one step away from the cusp of boredom I’ll change the path, even just slightly, to make sure that as I’m moving along, the world still feels exciting and new.

NaBloPoMo November 2014