Discipline: The Thrill of Routine


Some people are self-motivators. They get up, look at their to-do lists, and actually do the things on them. These people can be very annoying. I know because I live with one.

 In the time it takes me to clear ten emails from my inbox, my husband Rick can water the garden, call his 94-year-old father (using his daily greeting, “There’s the man!”), do laps in the pool, clean the kitchen and straighten out three pestilent work issues. This is because he is organized.  

You would not know it to look at his room. It is absolutely overflowing with art projects, weird cultural artifacts (a Pepsi bottle in Russian, anyone?) and stuff that just amuses him. My daughter and I had to pressure him to get rid of the Barbies she had snapped the heads off of while she was little. He thought her show of strength was a sign of determination. I worried that his prominent display of them might mean he was secretly some sort of sociopath and that our story would end in one of those “the wife is the last to know” scenarios. But after thirty-eight years of marriage, it turns out that the only one who has a secret life is me and that consists of eating junk food alone in my car.

Apparently, besides occasionally differing views of what is edible, we also have different standards of décor – and productivity. My aesthetic – and apparently my work ethic – are minimalist. 

Once, when Rick’s mom came to visit us, their combined activity was dizzying. At 1am, she was ironing everything in the house. He was plastering up holes in the walls. I was lying on the couch. “Don’t you people ever rest?” I ask.

“You drive faster but Daddy gets me there earlier,” my daughter said when she was in middle school. “I think he defies the laws of physics.”

I defy my lists of chores.

This is why I benefit from routine, which is tough because I don’t even like eating the same meal twice – a challenge for a woman who eats a minimum of six meals a day.      

 I try to maintain what I call a 7/11 routine – up at 7, bedtime by 11. It usually works out to 12 to 6, which leaves me sleepy, grumpy and dopey – my mascots among the Seven Dwarfs. A typical morning finds me feeding my cat, Casady, practicing meditation and doing an “exercise” routine which consists of watching TV and grunting while I do less movement than Casady does during her routine stretch.  And then there is writing – or what one might call aimlessly browsing the internet. After a few ill-advised online purchases, the sharing of clever memes and a number of pointless arguments, I feel obligated to do something.  A writing instructor recently sent my memoir class a motivational article on maintaining a 150 word a day quota – that and practicing ten minutes of mindful walking.

 You know how some people’s motto is aim high? Yes, those are the people who got their lunches stolen in high school and are now Silicon Valley billionaires. My motto in high school was aim low, get high. But now that I am a respectable senior citizen with an expired Medical Marijuana card, the motto has just become aim low. Because then I can exceed my expectations. By the way, in the time it has taken me to write this, Rick has repainted all the baseboards, cleaned out the garage, picked up his books and mine at the library and vacuumed the entire house.


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