How does repetition turn relationships stale and lifeless[…]? What is it about repetitive acts that makes us feel that we are wasting our time? Although it is easy to dismiss our daily routines as trivial, these are not trivial questions, any more than sloth is mere laziness without spiritual consequence. Acedia & Me p186 (boldface mine)
This, at core, has been my difficulty with habit-forming.
In my life as a computer network maintainer, I prided myself on my stack of Frequently Asked Questions—if I heard a question more than twice, I wrote down my answer. And copy-pasted it into all pertinent messages thereafter. Done! Answering a question the first time, I’m often interested in my answer…and my twinge of sympathy for the asker is still fresh. Twice could be a statistical anomaly. Three times? I might get stuck talking about this Same Dang Thing every day for weeks! Written down, I could drop both question and answer from my mind and move on to the next new thing.
And this predilection hasn’t gone away. I’ve been thinking today that I need another non-fiction book, a ‘next new thing’ to feed my restless mind and turn into compost. But in living this year’s Phase II of my writing life, I now physically understand:
The human need for routine is such that even homeless people establish it the best they can[…]. p187
Even repetition-averse yours truly needs routine.
During Writing Life Phase I, I drifted in my days and was neither happy nor unhappy about it. Or, more precisely, I was so vaguely and mistily dissatisfied with how I was working that I never turned and looked head-on at what I did. Instead I patted myself on the shoulder with words like ‘flexibility.’ And to be fair, I do feel a qualitative difference between those days, with their undercurrent of hands-on parenting, and now. Something beyond the additional interruption-free hours between when high schoolers once returned home and when for-hire spouses still walk in the door.
I think, though, that my ten-month interlude of for-hire work was what sharpened my sense of schedule. Part-time labor often does, since one has to part one’s time. But I can see that the work I was doing re-awakened my time protectiveness, the crisp delineations between ‘their time’ and ‘my time’ that I had hammered out when the girls were babies. The work I was asked to do would easily overflow any boundary set for it, yet having tasted ‘clear space’ for my creative work I was never tempted to let that be drowned.
Plus I operate my time more efficiently when there’s something for me to push against. Hence many of the difficulties in rebuilding my work-life after the contract ended!
I had not counted on the power of routine to provide a protective scaffolding. p187
It’s only been in the treeless prairie of those post-contract days that I’ve confronted the brittleness of my prior ‘no habits’ lifestyle. If every day has to be mapped anew as you wake, the day is spent as much in mapping as doing…which is uninteresting as well. It’s the part I hate about post-post-modern novels: meta-textuality. I don’t want to think about the ways about thinking. I want the heroine to pull out her sword and chop some snake’s head off. Let’s just do something! But what? I don’t know…
In the paragraph surrounding the above quote, Norris is musing about how her time in a Benedictine monastery freed her to write prolifically and deeply. Not that she chose time in the monastery for that outcome—she chose it for other reasons, then was startled to find a fountain pouring forth. Lauds, pause, Prime, pause, Terce, pause, Sext, pause, None, pause, Vespers. Pray, then work. But around the time work fractures and spalls, pray again. An impressive, tested scaffold.
When I began writing A Thing every day, I thought of it as a sort of dare: would I really make time to string words together? Each day? I would. In part because the treeless prairie gives no shade: what the hell else in my day would outrank this? Short of accidents requiring an ER visit, I do nothing that cannot be foreseen and accounted for. Including writing. If there is no reason not to, then the task should be done.
Besides, I like to write.
[quoting Paul Bosch] “Whatever you do repeatedly has the power to shape you, has the power to make you over into a different person—even if you’re not totally ‘engaged’ in every minute.” p188
For the span of my life as a grown writer, I have wrestled with the admonition that true writers write daily. My poems still resist that treatment: a good poem, a poem worth reading, demands full engagement in every minute for the writer as well as the reader. But creative non-fiction, for me, is more malleable. I can sketch an idea, then days later fill it in. I can start, and go to dinner, and return—though I’d rather not. And blog-posts, as a form, are more malleable still. Each day has the prompt of the blank page, but turn this day over and look! There’s a blank place to begin again, no strings attached.
Writing daily has, in turn, re-formed my days. I now get up at the same time, prepare myself for the day, and follow my map. Lately I’m testing “write in the morning” as a new r-o-u-t-i-n-e, yes, something I do at the same time each day. It’s wobbly yet; it’s too soon for conclusions.
But as the days stack on top of each other, setting more and more of my day’s map in routine’s ink seems wise. If I know where my feet are going, I can use my eyes to observe what’s around me, right?