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?
In the last installment of HeartWood, I wrote about some of the ways I've been filling my unexpected free time during the weeks of social distancing and Stay Home - Stay Safe. In this installment, I'm giving other folks a chance to share what they've been doing. And what a variety of things they've come up with!
Check them out!
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.