It’s Routine

I’ve been thinking about Lillian Rubin’s The Man With the Beautiful Voice (assigned) and how much I disagree not so much with her actual decisions about when she should allow physical contact (with no sexual overtones from her) to be part of her therapeutic work with someone, but how she reaches those decisions. I’ve been thinking about how to handle posting things that I might someday in some strange alternate universe have a chance to rework and publish…somewhere… (And that looks a little grandiose written down, but what the hell.) But most of all, right now, full of rice and cheese and with a half-finished cup of really good coffee, I’m thinking about routine, and how much better it makes my life, and how sad it is that the word ‘routine’ is tantamount to a condemnation these days.

I went for several years (actually, maybe, most of my life after I left home to go to college, but I’ll focus on the past handful of years) with almost no routine at all except that I brushed my teeth at night, and I tried to remember to take my meds as prescribed.

(I have such a tangential brain. It’s like I think in hypertext. From here, the discussion splits into at least four parts. In the first part, I continue talking about the past few years and comparing it to the past few weeks in terms of establishment of some routine and desire for more, which is what I propose to discuss below. In the second part, I divert to an anecdote–

(and here, my account splits again, half into the anecdote itself and half into a rumination on the way I was brought up in a story-telling family and the way stories are core to identity for me, so that I remember my parents’ stories as though they were a part of my life and not just theirs, and I remember my friends’ stories sometimes longer than they do because they become part of how I perceive/know/understand/conceptualize my friends, and here’s another split, into the concept of being the identified person in a group who holds onto stories and the word griot, which I don’t use because of concerns about appropriation – especially since I’m white – and using important concepts without fully understanding let alone participating in their contexts)

–about the time when I was 21 and discovered that caffeine was physically addictive and was outraged at having been exposed to an addictive drug all my life, unawares, and told my father all about it on the phone and he said, wonderingly, ‘So if you don’t have coffee in the morning, you get a headache?’ and I said, ‘Well, don’t you?’ and he said he didn’t know, he’d never not had his coffee. And in the third part, I consider the awkwardness I feel as someone who not only takes medications but sometimes takes quite a few, sharing classes and making friends with people who are in the program I’m in especially because they think pills are a terrible thing and to them ‘holistic’ means ‘not using Western medicine’ which in turn translates to ‘eastern’ as though an entire hemisphere shared a philosophy which the other hemisphere had failed to grasp. And the fourth part becomes a dissertation on how tangential my thinking is, and how I don’t actually think of this as a flaw so much as a strength – a natural outgrowth of analogic thinking – that I haven’t learned how to manage properly yet.)

So for the past few years, at least, I’ve had very few routines. I was working overnight shifts, but not always at the same places, so the times I had to leave the house and the times I got home varied considerably depending both on when the actual shifts started and stopped and how long my commute was. And then, when I wasn’t working, either days off or times when there was no work available, I tried with varying success to shift myself to a more diurnal schedule because I knew I functioned better that way, only to have to shift back again when work started again. Before going to bed, I eat a small meal, because if I wake up hungry I tend to spike in anxiety, which makes it impossible to get back to sleep. Then right before bed, I brush my teeth, take night-time meds, get into my pajamas if I haven’t spent the day in them anyway, and sit in front of my altar for a few minutes.* Everything else – how long I sleep, what I do when I get up, how many meals I have a day, how soon after waking I have the first one, what kind of food it is…it’s all been up for grabs.

I quit working night shifts when I started school. I still tend to stay up late and sleep late, and that’s partly because it’s what I’m used to and also partly because my partner stays up even later, and I like to have time with her. But one of the things I’ve been doing with some regularity is cooking a huge batch of mixed grains** every week or two, which is by far the healthiest starch/platform-for-food I could imagine. And partly because I have that and other staples in the house, I have been able to develop a morning routine. It seems very strange – strange, and oddly fragile, as though by doing something so definite as putting it down here in writing that pretty much no one is reading, I may break it – that I can say, here is what I do in the morning: I get up, and I take the omeprazole and levothyroxin that are both supposed to be taken on an empty stomach. Then I check my email and Skype, mostly to give the meds a little time alone in my stomach. Then I fix a cup of strong dark coffee which I will doctor with copious amounts of sugar and the milk which I still consider to be my-partner’s-that-she-lets-me-use**** even though sometimes I buy it now, and a bowl of 8oz of rice-stuff/mixed-grains-with-mushrooms-and-onion-and-garlic-and– (and I measure it, which seems absolutely bizarre and compulsive to me, except that I discovered that I liked knowing how much I was getting, and we have mismatched dishes so I can’t just always fill to the same place on the bowl) with cheese melted on top to turn it into a sort of savory rice porridge, and I sit back down at my desk and eat these things, usually while reading some piece of fiction I’ve read before.

Oh, and while I’m moving around the kitchen, I feed my tiny guppies and fill the CO2 dispenser in my nano planted fishtank, since that, too, is in the kitchen, and if it’s a Saturday or a Wednesday, I add general plant food and extra potassium to the water, and if it’s a Monday, I just add potassium. And then, quite often, I sit for a couple minutes on a footstool in front of my fishtank and admire my fish and worry about the beard algae I haven’t been able to get rid of and my disappearing shrimp.

And it’s wonderful.

It’s impossible to describe how stabilizing (and really, I need all the stability I can put my grubby little hands on) it is to know when I’m getting up what I’m going to do first. If I’m in a hurry, I get dressed while the coffee’s brewing and the food is heating up. If I’m really in a hurry, then the food and coffee are put in traveling containers for me to eat on the bus. But the core is there.

When I was an adolescent, I was very focused on freeing myself from constricted patterns of life and thought. I still think it’s important. (I didn’t learn the story about tying the cat to the bedpost until years later, but even as a teenager I knew how that kind of thing happened.) And I think it’s something similar that makes ‘routine’ sound either negative or dismissive so often. But I think I let that ideological point become an excuse and an obstruction from forming stabilizing routines, not the unexamined cat-bedpost habits, but the known, chosen, desired, cultivated habits which make a life more orderly and focused. I would like a little more order and focus in my life, even if I am and expect to stay tangential.

* And here’s another track I could take: my spiritual practice. There’s a lot more to it than these nightly moments, but those are all I’m going to discuss for now. I could say meditate, or pray, or ground myself, or something else. I often do any or all of those things, or more. But I’ve found that the description of what I do that feels truest and closest to the heart of things is in this case the simplest: I sit in front of my altar. Usually I light at least one candle or oil-lamp. For the past six years or so, I’ve done at least one short thing that could be called a prayer or invocation without fail. But there is no right or wrong, and no accountability. The only thing I truly vouchsafe is that I sit in front of my altar for a few minutes before I go to bed.

** And here’s another topic that could be a whole post, because I’m very pleased with myself about this foodstuff I have developed, for which I have no better term than ‘rice’ or ‘mixed grains’ which doesn’t even start to do its savory goodness justice. But that, as The Neverending Story says, is another story, and will be told at another time. And if this was a different blog, that might be a good subtitle for it.***

*** Not that you can currently read my subtitle anyway. I’m not sure why WP refuses to change the color of the text for me, but I’ve come to sort of like having the words disappear into the light on the water, anyway.

**** That’s twice I’ve just casually mentioned my partner and just happened to use a female pronoun. But no digression about her, or about closets, or about the self revelatory process! Yet.

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