A note for you, if you’re having a bad day.
How do you get to work? And how does that affect your overall disposition?
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This year, I have a few really amazing commutes. It is such an exceptional joy that I think “a wonderful commute” is the thing I would wish for someone if I was a fairy godmother in an old fable who could bestow mystical gifts onto babies. One of the commutes is a nine-mile bike ride along the Chicago River. On that one, I listen to books. Since nine miles is a long way, I get through a lot of books.
The other is a train commute that I never used to take because I have always worked odd afternoon hours, and this is an express line that runs only during rush hour. Unlike my previous train line, this one runs above-ground all the way to The Loop, which I like because I sometimes get motion sickness, but the window helps. The ride from my house to my work on this train is exactly one hour, which is roughly the amount of time it takes to write this newsletter. And so every Wednesday, I wake up early and look forward to the time I’m spending now, writing on the train, looking at other people who are looking at their phones, and listening to the pleasant lull of the tracks below.
I get to take this ride four times a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays. And here I will tell you that I am a person who loves having a habit. (Would “Habit Slut” be a good t-shirt? No. Don’t worry. I know that it wouldn’t be.) Another word for “habit” is “intentional practice,” which is maybe nicer and less co-opted by the “Productivity Hack” set — but it’s longer, so let’s go with “habit” for today’s purposes.
Three things to know about habits:
It is necessary to understand that you may miss a day, or a week, or whatever amount of time you must miss, and still return to the habit. Do not be deterred by interruption. In fact, interruption can be a gift! It can let you go back to the feeling of being a beginner, which, indeed, we always are.
Therefore, it’s helpful to think of habits in the same way you think of your job. You will mostly get there regularly and on time, but occasionally you’ll need to call in, and that’s OK.
Habits like to have friends. By which I mean: coupling habits and other regular activities helps cement the habit. (I listen to my books when I ride my bike.) When you drink your coffee (which you would be doing anyway), you also write a postcard to a friend. (A Postcard Habit is a nice one, although it creates more things to do, so don’t let Postcard Habit overwhelm you.)
Because I have these one-hour train rides four times a week, I have had the opportunity to think about and choose carefully the habits I would like to marry each commute to. On Monday mornings, I spend the hour writing to and communicating with The Erins. (That’s what the small slew of paid subscribers to this newsletter are called, for reasons that are, for now, irrelevant.) On Wednesday mornings, I write to you. On Wednesday afternoons, I catch up on reading the news. (I may bring a magazine or a newspaper.) And Monday afternoons, I hand write in a notebook about the week that’s about to transpire.
Planning like this can seem like a double-edged sword, or a giving-in to The Man — the Tyranny of Calendaring that reigns over all capitalist systems of oppression. But I find that spending an hour writing about how I’d like the week to go — what I’d like to eat, whom I’d like to see, what I’d like to do in the morning and before bed — actually gives me some space to purposefully rebel. There is a “free hour” on Thursday, maybe. And in that hour, I will decide that I am going to do nothing. I am going to sit on the pink chair in the sunny upstairs room and look out the window while listening to soggy piano music that no one likes except for me. I will accomplish nothing! Nothing will be something! And in writing about it, I am more likely to arrive at that hour and greet my intended rebellion when Thursday comes and the week has weathered me.
So anyway, as I was doing this free-hand journaling on Monday, I let myself write down all the things I wanted to do, which is a kind of perverted task of excess, like scratching an itch that won’t solve any problems, but satisfies the craving to know about the possibilities. And as I was doing this, I realized that there were actually two categories to this list that I hadn’t considered before: things I wanted to do, and things I wanted to have done.
Things I wanted to do: write and research my book. Stretch. Chop vegetables and cook them. Paint a bird.
Things I wanted to have done: Make a doctor’s appointment. Grade papers. Pick up a prescription. Mail outstanding orders from my website.
Two things occurred to me:
I would like the balance of things I do each day to be heavier on the side “things I want to do.”
There are some tasks that rest somewhere in the middle, like “go for a run,” “plan a lesson,” and “wrap a gift.”
To point one: Since, as I told you last week, I believe you can do five things in one day, a good balance would be three things I want to do, and two things I want to have done. And to point two: A goal for myself might be to see what I can do to move tasks in the middle over to the side of “things I want to do.” That would only mean moving slowly enough to enjoy the thing as I was doing it. And this isn’t impossible.
So, my questions for you are: what are your habits? I loved this New York Times article where readers weighed in on their one thing they had to do every day. Do you have this kind of thing? And: what tasks are in the middle of want-to-do and want-to-have-done for you? Do you have thoughts about how to make them things you want to do?
Good luck out there, as the days get shorter (Northern Hemisphere), and the Sugar Holidays begin (everyone). This can be a challenging time of year. I wish for you a wonderful commute.
We enter into year two of T’s life, and a little inventory feels important. Her favorite foods are pizza and peanut butter. She also loves tofu and putting broccoli between her lip and her teeth. Her favorite thing that has ever existed is our blue velvet couch. She likes to pee standing up. She loves pulling the hair of our cat Norman because the hair comes right out, and she LOVES hairs. They are like strings. She LOVES strings. She can say and mean: hi, bye, mama, dada, cat, dog, out, up, WOW. She can stand for six seconds. She is not afraid of anything that I know about. Her teeth hurt her sometimes. She likes to clap, and she likes to go down the slide. She wants to eat markers. And no struggles this week to report, because it’s her birthday week, so let’s just let this rest at the inventory, shall we?
This Week In Sophie
I’m on an episode of The New Yorker Caption Contest podcast this week! You can listen to it here.
The “Five Things” post kind of blew my mind a little. I’ve kept pondering that idea ever since. I think you’re totally right.
Habits: Morning Pages, and reading a poem right after. I’m not consistent on anything else, but this happens every day. I’m currently working my way through a ginormous book of Adrienne Rich poems, it’s gonna take a long time to finish!
Oh my goodness.
*Tyranny of Calendaring*
That is the thing! That is the bane of my existence and yet also the thing I continuously try to honor/attend to.
Can Capitalism just NOT?