In recent months, we’ve all had to adapt in ways we never expected: new ways of shopping, socializing, working, entertaining ourselves (jigsaw puzzles, anyone?). With Ray and me both retired, the changes weren’t as drastic for us as for many people. While there have been challenges, our adjustment has been relatively smooth, for which I’m grateful.
But this home-centered span of time has also shown me how un-adaptable I am in other parts of my life and how I’ve been holding onto expectations that don’t square with reality.
Take my activity patterns, for example. For most of my life, I was an early riser. During my working years, both as an employee and as a freelancer, I usually got up at 5 a.m. and started work at 7:30 or 8:00. For a while after I retired I continued waking up and getting out of bed by 5:00 or 6:00, whether I wanted to or not. I seemed to be hard-wired to get up and get going early.
In the past year or so, though, I’ve started sleeping till 7:00, 7:30, and sometimes even later. I feel like I need the sleep, like my body demands it, especially if I’ve done something intensely physical the day before, like a long hike or hours of outdoor work.
Yet every time I get up later than 6:00, I scold myself for being such a slug, and I still try to keep to a routine that’s based on getting up earlier: meditating and doing yoga before breakfast, then making and eating breakfast, doing some reading over breakfast, cleaning up my dishes and myself, getting dressed, making the bed, doing whatever else needs doing, like taking out the mail, and still being ready to start the day’s main activities (writing and book promotion in the morning; chores, errands, and recreation in the afternoon) by 8:30 or so.
So every day starts with this ridiculous and totally unnecessary tension about keeping to a ridiculous and totally unrealistic schedule.
I’ve experimented with various alternatives—putting off yoga until later in the day, meditating before bed instead of first thing in the morning, streamlining this or that.
But I’m starting to see the problem isn’t with the routines themselves, it’s with my attitude toward them. So what if some mornings I get a late start and only have time to write for half an hour instead of an hour or two? Maybe I’ll make up for it another day. And if not, so what? Yes, I feel better on days when I write and I feel off-kilter when I don’t—writing is my happy pill, after all. And yes, I get great satisfaction from seeing the word count and page count increase by the day. But if the world comes to an end, I doubt it will be because I wrote 100 words today instead of 1,000.
My reality has shifted, and it’s high time to adapt to the new one instead of clinging to the old one. The truth is, I’ll probably never again routinely get up at 5:00. So why not try to see my sleeping-later habit for what it is—a response to a physical need, not a sign of sloth--and just enjoy the luxury of being able to structure my days around it.
Which brings me to another realization about reality. Structure is something else I sometimes feel conflicted about. As I wrote in a 2016 blog post, we all have our own tolerance levels for chaos and structure, and finding the right balance between them is crucial for creativity.
As I’ve been examining how to adjust my usual routines to my unpredictable sleep patterns, I’ve questioned whether I still need a routine at all. After all, I’m retired. Most of the things on my to-do list are want-to-dos, not have-to-dos. Why not just do what I feel like when I feel like it?
I’ve thought a lot about that lately, and I’ve come to this conclusion: There may be a time to ditch my routines, but this isn’t it. Experts say having consistent daily and weekly routines gives us a sense of certainty in these uncertain times. The trick is to make your days consistent, with enough variety to keep boredom at bay.
Sounds like exactly what I’m aiming for as I try to adapt to new realities. I’ll let you know how that works out.
Have you adapted in any surprising ways over the past months? Have you discovered aspects of your life you can let go of and others you still need to hold onto?
6/17/2020 08:09:42 am
Another great post, Nan! "Blessed are the flexible, for they will not be bent out of shape." And on we go....
6/17/2020 08:33:56 am
Thanks, Diane. I was just thinking about you the other day, when I went back and re-read the creativity and chaos post and was reminded that you had contributed to it.
6/17/2020 09:10:48 am
thanks for this, Nan, being a late night, late morning girl, with out much of a plan for each day, which I have been trying to overcome for a number of years now, I recognize that I do better with a "to do" list. I don't make the list up regularly tho. Yesterday I just did not want to get out of bed, didn't read or listen to book, just dozed on and off, then I got up and sat in the sun and read a book. then because I needed to do something. I got a ladder, climbed up on the flat roof and filled a large bag with the dead vegetation, washed the roof line areas. & carefully climbed down. Earlier in the day I did not think I would get anything accomplished. & I have a list around here somewhere
6/17/2020 12:06:18 pm
Don't you love that dozing off-and-on thing? I think that's one reason I've been sleeping later, just to revel in that feeling. It sounds like you're accomplishing plenty, and also finding a good balance -- with or without a list.
6/18/2020 05:06:02 am
Great post on how you are adapting. I need some consistency in my day also The mandatory time frame is all about meals. Probably because my hubby eats at 12 and dinner at 5:30 pm, no matter what! I like to write after lunch. The rest of the day is up for grabs. But as you can see, there is a framework to work with every day.
6/19/2020 01:28:28 pm
Sounds like a system that works for you. And given your productivity I see evidence that it does!
6/18/2020 06:36:35 am
I've always admired morning people and I'm convinced they accomplish more in life. Unfortunately, I am not one of them. I am hard-wired to get up late and stay up late. It's almost impossible for me to fall asleep before midnight. This led to some severe sleep deprivation when I was working and had to wake up by 6 a.m. I don't think we can change these things about ourselves; we just have to learn how to make them work for us. Good for you for listening to your body and getting more rest!
6/19/2020 01:31:25 pm
The work schedule must've been a real challenge for you! I remember being a little shocked when I found out the start time at the News Service. I'd forgotten to ask about that little detail when I accepted the job. I was used to being at my home office desk early, but not used to having to figure in a commute!
6/18/2020 08:46:04 pm
Thank goodness I have a pup that’s as laid back and adaptable as I am. We just go with the flow since it’s just the two of us. We do walk every morning and evening, and we eat twice a day. That’s as structured as we get. I write or paint when it moves me. Eat when I’m hungry, market my books when I think of it, and have been known to sway in a direction on a whim.
6/19/2020 01:32:27 pm
That sounds idyllic, Susan. (And good to hear from you, by the way! I was just thinking about you this morning and wondering how you're doing.)
6/20/2020 02:44:57 pm
Nan, once again I can feel into this post. I’m like you, having a hard time relaxing and not beIng “productive” all day long. I’ve begun to relax more with the pandemic. It feels so good to stay in bed to meditate, create my to-do list, and then get up. I’m enjoying the slower pace even though I’ve been retired for 16 years. I’m finally letting go of the pressure of having ‘completed’ a certain amount of tasks! Learning new skills every day! Thanks for your reflective post.
6/21/2020 08:43:53 am
That's so good to hear, Sue. I think this pandemic is teaching us all things about ourselves we might not have come to realize if we hadn't been forced to stay home and slow down.
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Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.