I have a dear, dear friend (as I have mentioned before) with whom I stay in as close contact as weekly emails will allow. Most weeks it’s a written conversation with different letters or symbols indicative of our mood on the day we write delineating our news and/or comments. It is, in fact, an ongoing history of our lives, hopes, dreams and, since we are both wives and mothers, our families. One of the things we include in each email is an outline for the week ahead with occasional updates (at least, my memory has proven a fickle thing lately). Sometimes there are no real updates. In fact, more than once I find myself typing the same schedule for Monday through Friday: the same errands, the same exercise classes, the same chores. It’s always a temptation to type, “See last week; nothing’s changed.” Then, after one recent documentation of such a schedule, I caught myself typing: “We’re in a rut here.”
And the question mentally followed that admission: When did I lose the o, i, n, and e in that word? (Think about it; you’ll get it in time). In other words, when did I lose the perspective to see above the rut sides to the larger world that showed me why I was plodding along in this well-worn path?
[NOTE: I did not and will not say my path is a straight one. Never has been, never will be]
Routines, schedules, the patterns of daily life, these are how most of us live and accomplish anything. Waking up, work hours and duties (in my case which class I’m teaching today), which exercise class I have to drive to, what cleaning chores need doing – all these determine what day of the week it is and what I “have to do” that day.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s a lovely thing to cross off items on the never-ending “to do” list I dutifully make each week, and then revise into daily sub-lists as new items crop up like weeds in my vegetable garden. Finding myself at week’s end with all or nearly all items crossed off sometimes borders on the elation of scoring a goal or touchdown or winning a race with Mrs. Should Be. I’ve been known to snake my tongue and giggle at such a list.
Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Make the list, do the list. On schedule. In good time and good order. Like the clichéd well-oiled machine. The trouble is, human beings are involved here and most of us find routines maddening at some point.
I suppose that’s the purpose of vacations and/or holidays (though the routines and expectations for the latter are twice any day-to-day burden, unless you are a hermit), to break up the routine. Take a break, do something new and hopefully exciting, see new things, sleep in strange beds, go off the diet and generally elbow routine in the ribs. The expression is “breaking routine,” but I have a news flash. Routines don’t break. They may eventually tear, but, in the main, routines are made of a potent elastic mixture of habit and responsibility that will bend far before they break. The poking done, the elastic snaps back into the familiar, the known, the routine.
As I age, I often find the return comforting. Until it reaches that point I reached in my email to my friend. When routine becomes a rut.
So where did the o, the i, the n, and the e go? Well, two of them joined the wail of “Not I!” while the others contributed to the gist of the problem: boredom.
The wrapping paper is off, the shine is gone, the newness has faded.
Or maybe the angle I view it all has not changed. And that takes some mental gymnastics in a well-oiled machine of a life. Picture Charlie Chaplin in the machine of “Modern Times” type of gymnastics. Some are physical, as well, but the mental exertion is by far the hardest.
I admit it: I haven’t mastered that kind of exercise quite yet, but I know the components. Quiet, gadget- and schedule-free time, and the willingness to reflect and then act on the reflection.
When I was a student teacher, a huge part of our lesson planning grades was a section in the standard outline called “Reflection.” It’s lovely thing to have, these musings, but I’ve sensed since then, when the PA Legislature requires yet another tweak to our lesson plans, that’s the one section that goes unread. I suspect because it’s the one that doesn’t fit into a compliance check-off list. So what works, what doesn’t, and what can be done or not done – those reflections I keep to myself. The “experts” ain’t really interested.
So, upon reflection, in this post, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are very few things in this world that are actually boring, if I take the time to lift my eyes above the rut sides and look around. Routines can work, but they need an extra dollop of Perspective and Elbow Grease (and no, Home Depot does NOT sell either) to keep going. Sometimes that means stepping outside, bending the routine, until bending becomes the routine and I’m back to boredom again. And I start all over again with my familiar routines and am glad to have them.
One last thought. Even shock and offense and violence can take that rutting route and bore me to tears if it happens enough. When any public figure garners the attention s/he didn’t get as a child and feels entitled to by saying and doing violence and insult, it gets boring. It’s “The Little Boy Who Cried Wolf” boring. And if s/he insists, “Well, I’m not boring,” I have to say:
“Well, yes, you are. And we’ve all had enough.”
Chances are, it won’t matter. Such whiny little people lack the capability to reflect and change. My only suggestion (which I take) is this: walk away.