Habit, Routine + Ritual.

Routine and Ritual

“We are what we repeatedly do. Success is not an action but a habit.” ~ Aristotle

Whenever autumn rolls around, I find myself drawn back into that back-to-school mode. Since I am long out of school, it’s a time of year when I turn inward and really look at how I am spending my time. By then, I’m coming off a summer of loose routines, fun and spontaneous adventures and I’m ready to dive back into a structure that feeds my creativity.

This year I’ve been thinking about the differences between habit, routine and ritual. Habits—good and bad—are those things we do automatically without too much thought: brushing our teeth, taking a shower, a walk after dinner. Routines are a set of habits that lend structure to your day. So a set of habits such scraping your tongue, drinking a glass of warm water with lemon, gentle yoga and meditation become a morning routine. Nighttime routine might consist of a cup of tea, turning off all electronics, setting the alarm, reading a book before going to sleep. I think of routines as safety nets to our days.

“You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” ~ John Maxwell

I knew I had to change something about my morning routine. My habit was to eat breakfast while watching a show on Hulu that I had missed the night before. But that became a slippery slope and before I knew it a whole morning could be wasted in front of the TV and on my phone. So, my one change was to eat breakfast at my desk. I make some toast, fruit and tea, go into my writing room, close the door, light a candle, read an inspiring writing book while eating my toast then write my morning pages while sipping my tea. Then I set a timer for 30 minutes and work on my novel. I’ve started doing a freewrite based on a card drawn from “The Observation Deck” then I move onto my draft and start knitting together what I have, cutting what doesn’t work, asking myself question. I keep a writer’s notebook specifically for this project where I keep my freewrites, notes, questions, timelines. After the timer goes off I’ll go do some small household task like wash the dishes or put in or fold a load of laundry then set the timer again.

“If you want your day to be organized, develop a routine. If you want your day to be meaningful, create rituals.” 

This one small tweak of a habit—moving where I ate my breakfast—cracked open my morning routine and helped me create a ritual that sustains my creative process. Lighting the candle, reading an inspiring book, drawing a card from the “Soulful Woman Guidance Deck” all weave together to create a ritual to nurture my creativity. When I start my day immersed in the creative process, it sets the tone for my day, it adds meaning to my life.

Advertisements

The Power of Art to Stay Awake.

I’ve been watching “The Handmaid’s Tale” on Hulu with equal parts fascination, fear and fury.

For those who don’t know the premise, it is based on the 1985 dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood. The former United States is now The Republic of Gilead. After extreme environmental devastation has left many women barren and men sterile, the new order steps in, sorting women into categories: young fertile women become Handmaids, some become Martha’s or maids, some are Aunts who are in charge of grooming the Handmaids for their new duties, while the rest are sent to work in the toxic camps where death is imminent. Cheery, so far, yes?

Handmaids are placed with a commander and his barren wife. Most of the commanders are sterile but that fact is no longer allowed in this society. (Dismissing of facts, sound familiar?) Only women are blamed for not being able to procreate. Their duty is to produce a child for the couple through The Ceremony which I find myself cringing through as I watch it.

One of the most disturbing aspects are the flashbacks which also greatly disturbed my 23-year-old daughter. In our current climate, setting the flashbacks in our time just makes the scenario seem not only possible but, at times, chillingly inevitable. Through the flashbacks we learn how women’s right were methodically stripped: firing them for their jobs, freezing their bank accounts so that only a husband or father could manage their money.

These are extreme actions that may, on the surface, feel completely unrealistic. We like to tell ourselves that would never happen here. But it already is. It comes down to how we value women and as a society we aren’t valued as much as men. We literally make less money for the same job just because are women. We are at the crux of a constant fight for control over our own bodies. We may be heading back to a time where our gender is considered a pre-existing condition and be charged more for our health insurance.

Beyond the issues of gender, another chilling scene was a brief flashback where men dressed in black with guns were throwing books and art into a fire. Why go after art? It is straight out of the dictator’s handbook. Go after the artists who use their voices to speak truth to power. Artists hold up a mirror to society—the good, the bad and the ugly. Once we see ourselves, we can’t unseen it. Therefore, it behooves a regime to not allow it to be seen or heard in the first place.

I’ve been watching as many artists struggle to find their voice in this new era of government where rights are threatened on an almost daily basis. Before the election, writer Julianna Baggott started a site inviting people to dedicate their no-Trump vote, sharing their stories about why they were not voting for him.

More than 600 American writers, including Stephen King, Dave Eggers, and Cheryl Strayed, penned an open letter against Trump.

Michael Moore reveals that he has been on a “creative tear” since last summer when he saw the inevitable train wreck coming at us. He encourages the use of satire and humor because it has been shown to get under the President’s extremely thin skin. What is a weakness in him becomes a strength for the resistance.

Many visual artists are turning to their work in this era of Trump to motivate action and educate the public on issues they are passionate about. As always, art is in the eyes of the beholder and there are consequences of expressing your views in such a public forum. For example, Ilma Gore’s painting of a nude Trump sporting a micropenis is currently on display at the Maddox gallery in London. She has been threatened not only by his lawyers but has received thousands of death and rape threats after posting the image online where it was shared over 260,000 times.

I find myself turning more to my writing than ever before. It soothes my anxiety, it helps me make sense of the chaos and it helps me discern what I think and how I feel within the chaos. Working on my novel five days week is often the one time of the day when I can block out the news and lose myself in another world. But I also find myself writing more political content in my journal, on social media and on my blog. I considered whether that would offend potential readers of my work and chose to use my voice. It is a gift I have and to not use it seems wrong. My audience is not huge but I have had people tell me over and over again how much they appreciate my words so I will keep sending them out into the world.

Ultimately, this election has been about waking up. Waking up to reality, to political action, to making myself heard whether through marches, town halls, calling and faxing my representatives or writing. Artists are awake to reality and they wake the rest of us up which is critical in these times.

I will leave you with the most chilling words from “The Handmaid’s Tale” so far:

Now I’m awake to the world. I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen. When they slaughtered Congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Consitution, we didn’t wake up then, either. Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.

~ Offred

Let’s stay awake.

 

A Book I Love. #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I feature a book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

41DTOzISUVL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

“Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott became my writing bible for a while. Her simple advice, her passion, her authentic, messy real self appealed to me on a deep level. She wasn’t afraid to admit to the hard parts of writing. She didn’t pretend that she sat down easily everyday as the words just flowed from her fingertips from some muse on high. In fact, the only muse she endorsed was the work. Showing up was the muse. To this day, I still use her advice: one-inch picture frame to write the next scene, shitty first drafts to write the thing at all and taking it all one word at a time.

Today.

img_3963

Today, I changed my profile picture on social media to a black square, symbolizing my grief.

Today, I went to yoga, allowing myself to be both grounded and lifted up by my practice and yoga community.

Today, I chose to not watch the inauguration.

Today, I wrote over 700 more words on my novel. Each day, I show up and add more words and they begin to add up to something substantial. They add up to scenes, to pages, to characters, to stories, eventually to a full novel.

In the days and years ahead of us, showing up each day to what is happening in our communities, states and country will be critical. Each action, no matter how small, adds up to something substantial.

Make that call to your representative voicing your concern about healthcare or education or the environment or whatever cause is dear to your heart.

Join a local political action group.

Write an Op-Ed.

Reach out to somebody in your community who feels afraid, disenfranchised.

Take radical care of yourself.

Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.

Today, as I grieve at what we’ve lost and are afraid of losing I am also looking at what we have gained.

We have gained an awakening.

People are waking up from complacency.

Waking up to the sobering responsibilities of being a citizen of the great country.

I see people waking up to support each other.

To lift each other up.

To standing up to bullies, misogyny, racism, xenophobia.

Standing up for progress.

Tomorrow I will join many of you as I attend a local progressive rally in my very conservative town before heading to our state capitol for the Sister March.

There will be excitement.

There will be passion.

There will be pussyhats and signs and lots and lots of energy.

But that is only the very first step in a very long journey.

So, yes, today a black square is representing my mourning.

Tomorrow, it will be replaced by my original picture with the words, “When sleeping women wake, mountains move.”

img_3517

Today, I mourn. Tomorrow I take the first of many, many steps to move mountains.

I hope you’ll join me.