Staying Anchored and Marking Time

Published January 31, 2019 in Warp & Woof

Staying Anchored and Marking Time

The Meaning of Routines

William Sundwick

About two years ago, I wrote a post for Warp & Woof called “Celebrating Banality.” It was a defense of the banal, quotidian routines in life. They were contrasted with the relatively rare moments of exhilaration from new experiences that our culture tends to equate with creativity or a “meaningful” life.

I’m now two years older, seems like it might be time for an update. Much of my beloved banality has survived. I still eat the same breakfasts and lunches I did two years ago, sleep patterns remain the same, and watching TV late at night with my wife continues to be a hallowed tradition. I still play games by devising alternating patterns on a complexity continuum for executing my routines. I will always do my neighborhood walks in the same order (counterclockwise from my house) for the complete eight-day circuit of my eight different routes, then start over. Gym workouts include back strengthening on nautilus equipment for two of the four sessions each week, but not a third day – unless I anticipate play dates with grandchildren which require lifting and carrying them. Other contingency patterns work for other routines, depending on the number of choices available for any given task.

But there have also been some changes of routines. I am now off the Board of Deacons at my church (3-year terms), hence have fewer regular evening meetings to attend, and fewer joint projects with folks at church. A replacement for that, however, is that I have gone “all-in” with my Daytime Writers Group, making blogging nearly a full-time pursuit. And, the routines around grandfathering have also changed. Parents’ work schedules no longer require frequent afternoon babysitting. Although more independent now, Owen has a new baby sister!

Staying anchored via routines is what others expect of us. They’re our real world. Marking time is what we do when we “recharge” for the next new thing. But those new things often have obstacles in their path – at our age, old routines often die hard. As much as I love my neighborhood walks, losing one of the eight different routes recently due to park maintenance in Falls Church caused real discomfort when I had to reconfigure that route! It’s always easier if routines remain unchanged when you get old.

And, because I am generally slower to react to new stimuli, I may not even recognize when an old routine is no longer working for me. I spend too much time on Facebook. Social media surfing has grown rather than subsided over the past two years, and now consumes much of my day – despite warnings from many pundits about its addictive properties. It’s marking time, but not in a good way.

Physical mobility is even more important to me now than two years ago. My stretching exercises and weights at home, as well as my cardio-intensive gym workouts, have become more critical – at least in my mind. I’ve experienced no decline in mobility but am more afraid of it for the future. Exercise helps me stay anchored.

It’s also possible that the range of future possibilities is greater now than two years ago. At least, I now look forward to developments that were less clear then. Maintaining the status quo of a democratic society has become a greater challenge, seemingly more threatened than even two years ago. I anticipate seeing at least two grandchildren growing up (well, getting bigger). I want them to have as many of the fruits that I was privileged to share as I can provide. Two years ago, I was still enjoying the freedom from the social constraints of my pre-retirement work environment. Today I place social interconnection at the top of my list of desirable traits in society.

My writing for Warp & Woof, as well as micro-blogging in Facebook discussion groups, has taken the form of a meta-analysis of reality. More than any other activity in which I engage, it keeps me anchored. Each post marks time until the next one. And, I think I don’t really care if anybody reads my writing (I do get feedback from Facebook friends and discussion group members, as well as Daytime Writers). At least I’ve put it out there. Anybody can discover it. And, listening to podcasts while on my neighborhood walks helps me explore that meta-analysis for later use in my writing.

Establishing routines, whether writing, exercise, or social interaction, is like a toddler learning to walk. Place one foot in front of the other, while maintaining balance. With practice comes greater confidence. And as you get good at the routines, you can even learn how to fit other people into them. They can support your routines, rather than interfere with them.

What happens when you must stop a routine? If physical difficulty, or danger, requires a replacement for the old routine, then you unlearn the old behavior, as painful as that can be as we age. The replacement therapy may take the form of help from others in your life, or systematic re-education. Ultimately, you will ask yourself the question: why do I need to change?  The answer will likely be you are harming your health, or others are making new demands on you, or that you’re simply missing something in your life, even if you can’t quite identify it. If none of these apply, maybe you don’t need to change!

Will I have another update in reporting my routines? It may depend on other people in my life forcing change on me. Or, it may be because of something I see as a “decline” – I hope not! Change when you’re over 70, not to be taken lightly.

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