Monday, January 05, 2009

Creatures of Habit

Every morning my cat wakes me up in that very special way that cat's have. She begins by standing, stretching, then carefully walking all over my body. If this receives no response, she tickles my face with her whiskers, that failing, she will go scratch the rug, a sure-fire way to get me out of bed to keep her from destroying it. We go downstairs where she will circle, show her leg, rub against my legs, in other words, plea in no uncertain terms that she must eat or starve. A guy named Pavlov figured out why all this takes place a long time ago and since we're all familiar with his theory, most of us, I won't bore you with the details.

Now, right up there with Pavlov's star in the sky, I have placed Twyla Tharp. She has hit the same nail on the head, but at a different angle and it has gone straight to my heart. She has written a wonderful book called, "The Creative Habit". I haven't read the whole thing yet, so I can't comment on all of it right now, but what has had a major impact on my day is her concept of ritual. Well, it's not really her concept, because it has been going on for centuries, but her application of it is so clear that it can't be ignored. I won't rewrite her book for her, but I want to tell you how it's affected me.

Since reading her book, I began getting up at 6 am, feeding the cat (no need for an alarm when you have a cat) and doing yoga. Then, I have breakfast in front of the computer, do the rest of my morning preparations and go for a walk for an hour. When I get back I make a big cup of chicory and oat milk (my substitute for coffee) and face the canvas. This is my new ritual. I'd say I've been doing it for about two weeks now. Previously, I got ready in various ways without examining my "ritual". Some days it worked, some days it didn't.

This works. Not only does it work, but I've discovered something important this morning since I've changed my ritual. I slept in an hour extra, or tried to, anyway I lost an hour. I'm not doing yoga this morning because I have yoga class this evening and yesterday I changed it too; I didn't take my morning walk and went to the store instead. What I have noticed is this...it is unsettling. I woke up this morning needing that stretch and I'm not getting it. Something seems amiss. I have to think about what I'm going to do next. I feel out of sorts. I did this last week too, missing my yoga in the morning and it took me all day to get some sort of creative flow. (I hope that's not the case today.) What I'm saying is that I've developed a habit. Just like the cat. If she doesn't get her morning meal, she thinks she might starve. Her stomach tells her that too. Just like me trying to sleep in, my body woke up at 6, ready for it's morning stretch to start the day.

This is all probably not new to those of you who have a routine. All the more so since most of you have a job to go to in the morning. For me, it is a surprise. I've always seen myself as someone who has shirked the "routine". I've never made myself consistently do it because I thought I couldn't stick to it. Now I see if you don't set up a routine, you will inevitably make one. Why? Because we are "creatures of habit". For the first time I understand that phrase. Habit, routine, ritual brings comfort, stability, and room to breathe because if the routine is there then other stuff can happen without too much crisis, like when the cat throws up or my knitting goes awry, that's O.K., because I've had my routine (cup of coffee, morning run, hour of the morning news, shower, whatever works for you).

I spent 7 years going back and forth from France to the States every three months, only to discover that I craved stability, staying put. And now, at (almost) 44 I've discovered the blessing, the freedom, of routine. Who knew? This same routine is getting me in the studio every day. I feel like Twyla Tharp handed me a key to a new door but the key seems very familiar. Over the years I've had routines to get to work, but never looked at them this closely. Never said, "O.K., this is what works for me and I'm going to use it as a formula to get work done". That has all changed, I am now a creature of habit.

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