Recycling, routines, and rituals

Once again the tie had come out too long. After considerable practice I had the number of attempts down to about two or three on average, and this time I would have to trim things back a little, to prevent the end of the drab cloth covering the belt buckle.

I had risen early, as usual (little differentiated my weekday and weekend mornings back then), and after the lethargy had worn off the engrained ritual had been taken care of: personal hygiene (hair, shaving), posture, a suit, a tie, clean shoes. All to keep the machine ticking over and the engine running while something caught.

I had always used the past as a template, something to hold onto. It was the ever-changing screen on to which current thoughts had been pinned, future aims, in the hope that I could create a context as time rolled unstoppably onwards. Perhaps that is why the loss of the job had been so traumatic, at first. The template had to be reinvented, the notes re-adjusted and re-pinned, the aims scrapped and re-written.

I had come to rely on my routines and rituals: this was all precious material that needed to be not discarded, but recycled, I had told myself. These were my constants as the slate was wiped clean and I could start again, a leg to stand on while the stones in the stream were tested and navigated with the other.

Leaving the flat at 8 on the dot was also a part of the tradition that I could not bring myself to part with, and it was later over coffee (black) in the café that I thought back to the dream that had left me perplexed that morning and veering frequently off my usual path, fighting harder than usual to maintain the course before lunch:

It had been the weekend, and it seemed as if I had been dosing on that Sunday morning: I had found myself awake at 8, but then missed the chime of 9 and was awake again at 10. In that time I scrambled down a concrete slope, feet finding hold (just) on horizontal slats. At the bottom was a wall and some graffiti, street art, and I knew my book would be as much about my dreams as my dreams about my book. Off to the side, just outside my field of view, was a windswept boulevard, rising up, trees on either side with walls taller than a man, big slabs on an industrial scale. Little scraps of paper buffeted here and there by little invisible twirls and dust devils, and I saw the graffiti:

Littered Street of Childhood Dreams

Because all there is, then, are those pieces of paper and the dancing of the wind. One moment merges into many, and many more into one. The eyes blink open at night with a thought, scratching furiously before the morning wipes the slate clean. Like those Tetris bricks, which keep falling, falling, falling, behind your closed eyelids even when you know for sure you’re fast asleep. I felt peripatetic (how that word always reminded me of pathetic): no time to take out the camera and capture the light, the vapour trails: only enough time to enjoy the sudden buzz, and the moment was gone, taken away. A ray of golden light through November clouds: gone.

It was at that juncture that I realized I wasn’t going to be getting to lunch as I had done in the past weeks. My predictions of the future had been based on data collected in the past, my future behavior predicated on past experience. I had tried to see the continuum, with ever-thinner slices of time (time-depth) approaching the transition from past to present to future, trying to see habits, patterns, and trying to weed out those better removed from those that seemed to require nurturing.

Incorporating routines into the normal day had been useful to set some things in stone, automate some tasks, and generally free the mind while doing chores or banal tasks. In fact, clearing the field to make the turnover of chores and banal tasks possible had been elevated to the level of ritual (making favourite tea/coffee, the walk to work) which had then made the task something special, and re-focuses the mind on the process, rather than away from it.

But now these rituals had started to fill the whole day, and only little time remained in the evening because the majority of the waking time was routine-filled. The day passes smoothly, without a doubt, but what room was left outside the routine (which has swung to the negative again, become grind) for new thoughts, the challenge of flexibility, or unexpectedness?

And with this latest wobble I sensed that I wasn’t going back to the well-trodden path to the lunch hour. I am returning to the “why?” phase: having learnt, having pressed forward, and over time having hit walls, pinpointed gaps, and gained experience, it was now time to recycle, reflect, re-assess, with a titanic accompanying shift of the tectonic plates making up my world. First I had been slow, then faster, only to learn later that being faster is just a sign of being selective, either through being very smart (lots of information: no applicable) or stupid (no information: progress based on gut feeling).

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