I woke up today about eight hours after I went to sleep, with some light shining in my window. In the months with less light, I like to keep the blinds open and get as much daylight as I can, and it’s getting late enough in the year that I can do that without waking up too early.
Like I find many mornings, I had nothing I immediately wanted to do upon waking up, other than using the bathroom. But when I get out of bed with no idea of what I’m doing, I tend to waste time, so I lay in bed until I could figure something out.
I had writing I wanted to do, but I did not yet have the energy to do it. Writing requires a certain sharpness, and for me it often requires me to ease into the day. I don’t know if it’s the accumulation of consciousness, if it’s just the flushing of whatever chemicals come with sleep, or something else not as obvious.
Sometimes it takes so long to get to the point where I can write what I want that I will need to stay awake writing. Karen Russell, my first and best writing teacher, told a question-asker at a book signing that she finds time to write mainly at four in the morning, that it used to be the only time she could write. When I wrote for her class, years earlier, that’s when I did most of my writing too.
So writing was out. I needed food, but my stomach was not quite running, and I didn’t want to go to the time and energy to cook something, not having anything immediately preparable. I would end up unsatisfied, and it would be much later than I had hoped.
I checked my email to see if someone would give me something to respond to. There was nothing, but I read a long email from a cousin; I’ve been corresponding a lot with various family members and friends. It was a good email, with a lot of thought about how to reconcile meditative and intellectual life with the power structure of the world, and I thought a lot about my response.
With something to think about, I got out of bed and started walking. Walking is always a good idea, if you have the time for it. But sometimes I don’t, and sometimes I don’t even have the will to do what I know is a good idea.
I tried a few times to establish a clear “morning routine.” Many people do this, and consider it essential and valuable. I never put too much stock into that, because there are many things that people do regularly that might be a good idea for them and not for me, or might not be a good idea at all. But there are some times when I feel that I can harness the power of routine to guarantee improvements, like a mental accounting trick.
In reality, like all things, it’s easier said than done; accomplishments are not achieved by scheduling. I get bored, or I have bigger problems, or the amount of energy I spend on the routine means it’s no longer a big idea, and that it wouldn’t actually be worth it to continue.
I used to lament my failure to adhere to routine, but now I’ve come to see it as a kind of defense, a way to stop the stifling accumulation of chronic detritus, to clear the debt of promises to myself that can’t be kept, save capital for things that really matter.
As the saying goes, it’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
Here was my morning routine when I worked as an EMT:
Get up around 10:30, 11, or noon, having showered at night because the morning is too unreliable. Put on uniform, grab equipment. Get on the C train to Euclid Avenue. Get off at Euclid, wait for one of two buses. If the buses are slow, start walking to the base. If it’s too late to walk, run a few blocks. If it’s already too late to take the train, take a taxi for $20-25 bucks, 2-3 hours of pay. If it’s early, grab a Nutrament and a snack at the corner store.
Get to the base, clock in for the 12pm-10pm+ or 1pm-11pm+ shift. Put a quarter in the machine, get watery coffee. Wait for partner, or greet partner if partner is already there. Drink coffee while you check the vehicle. Use bathroom, get a second cup of coffee for the road if there’s time, go “available.”
I like the feeling of having brushed my teeth, and of course I like the effects of it. But sometimes it’s hard to counter the boredom of it, and I start rushing the job. When this happens, I often miss the molars, gums, tongue. Sometimes I swallow some toothpaste because I don’t have patience to rinse it out.
I recently got toothpaste with baking soda, and for the first few days I used it compulsively, craving that strange new baking soda flavor I had just acquired a taste for. But acquired tastes peak and fade, and I’ll need either some deeper-rooted maturity or some new tricks to keep up my good habits.
Here was my morning routine when I worked for an insurance company as a quality controller:
Wake up between 8 am and 9:15 am. (If earlier, have something to do). Snooze until it’s getting in question whether arrival before 10:00 am can be guaranteed, or rested enough that getting up earlier is worthwhile. Shower, unless running very late. Get dressed, grab backpack. Get food from home if alert enough to remember, and if food is available. If running early enough, walk to Atlantic Terminal and take 2/3. Otherwise, take C train to Fulton Street and transfer. Arrive at 2/3 Wall Street stop.
If running near-late, get bagel (w/ cream cheese) or donut from cart outside office entrance, or peanuts/cashews from adjacent newsstand. If running early, go down block to cart with grill, get bacon/egg/cheese bagel.
I try to pare down my actions to the essentials. There’s no limit to the amount of bullshit that can creep in if you allow it, if you welcome it. Extraneous chores, extraneous diversions.
Here was my morning routine when I went on an all-services-taken-care-of wilderness rafting vacation with my family:
Wake up when natural, rise when people sound like they’re stirring. Quickly pack everything into drybag, duffel bag, bring bags and cot down to the water. Walk off to urinate, walk back to camp. Eat breakfast. Find life vest, helmet, walk and talk, assist with takedown if help is needed. Get in kayak if available, raft if not.
What is it about routine that bores me? The waste, the limitation, the repetition, the rigidity? Could a routine be devised without these downsides? I dream of pleasant routines, of fortifying routines, of routines that make my life what I would want it to be. But does the routine contain these awards, or is it just a crude expression of what I really want?
I’ll develop and see what works.