Editor’s Note: I have had this languishing in a folder of documents for a while, mostly as written below. The Corona sure has thrown a wrench into the plans of the world, shaken up the routines. Even now, as I look at two weeks post going in to work, I feel myself settling into a routine but as I stand here writing, I am thankful for the years I spent pushing back…
Sometime BCV–Routine? Fuck; I love it but I hate it. It makes me feel comfortable and comfort makes me feel weak. I don’t like it when something has control over me. Shaking it up, doing things differently, not letting a habit guide me all allow me to exert a level of power and autonomy.
Sixteen years of life post university were spent bucking the system, sticking it to the man, and living a life (afforded by the privilege of manageable debt, no family obligations, and a reliable safety net) that allowed for constant adventure.
The irony is that I am sitting here writing this, with a cup of tea by my side, on a cool summer morning. I am feeling the edges of heartbreak and indecision that comes with existence. And these things could be as close to routine as I can get. I like sitting and writing. I like tea. I like the early morning. And heartbreak and indecision are not uncommon components of those times. So here I try to have my tea and drink it too.
There is another irony in there too and that is even as I resist and fight routine, that very resistance becomes routine.
Regardless, I still try to fight routine. I kick at it even though it is a double edge sword of sorts. Ostensibly it brings me comfort because it is predictable; with it, I do not have to think or work as hard. Still I feel a need to push back. I do not want to become an addict to something. Routine is why I fight my job. It brings me close to quitting. When things become commonplace, I fear a softness. I like drinking chai masala in the morning. But some mornings I don’t; I intentionally deny myself that pleasure. Denying myself things that I enjoy makes my will stronger. I think back to Nick whom I worked wilderness therapy with over 15 years ago: the spirit of self-denial was his thing. That still resonates strongly with me. It plays out differently now then when I was a full time field instructor. Self-denial came easy then; all of the creature comforts of the front-country were not present 25 weeks out of the year. Allowing myself to eat ice cream, or drink a beer, or spend money felt easier when I knew that I could count on it not being habitual; I would just return to the field and the habit would dissipate. In the field, the comforts of beds, external heat sources, forks, or ice cream slowly fall to the back of the mind as I engage in the immediacy of the things in front of me. There is no later, there is only here and now. And that keeps it real.
Pushing back against routine helps me not take things for granted. I appreciate the space created and the chai masala that much more because some days I do not have it.
Three different universities in four years then sixteen years as a full time field instructor, they all flipped the bird to the routine of the nine to five lifestyle. The life I lived was anything but routine. I was homeless, unrooted, and adventuring through life. Work was an adventure, even after more than a decade of the same things. Living as I was on the road, at NOLS facilities, and in various campgrounds throughout the American West, the closest I came was My Times; times I would take for myself to recharge, contemplate, and often, drink tea and watch the world go by. My highly privileged lifestyle let me gallivant around the world without much of a care. I was a wanderer. I was nomadic. I lived for the next adventure, the next NOLS course, the next expedition, the next desert sunset. In the process, it may have became routine to me, but still not so to others. I cherished that. I was different.
“The wander’s danger is to find comfort.” Reading Blue Highways’ memorable lines years ago, I thought I had found a kindred soul.
William Least Heat-Moon’s words struck a chord because I was a wanderer; I knew no other lifestyle. In retrospect though, comfort is what I had. I was comfortable in the lifestyle I was living. I was comfortable wandering. I see now, that the converse of his statement is true: the true danger of the wanderer lay in finding discomfort. Discomfort would mean that something needed to be examined, inspected, questioned. Discomfort is not inherently bad; it doesn’t mean that something has to change. Discomfort indicates a learning edge. It could indicate a transition or a challenge. Those things are more inherently good, unless I want to remain with the status quo.
I was a wanderer and in hindsight it was escapism. I wandered because it kept me from discomfort of the emotional kind: attachment, loss, heartbreak, lack of control, and the feelings associated with those concepts. The sleeping on the ground, the cold mornings outside, the wind, the rain, the hail, the blistering sun: those were physical discomforts that served to make me tough. And I wanted to become tough. I wandered because I didn’t want to face my issues or deal with my shit or naïvely, I didn’t recognize the concerns. So I became tough; it turns out when I run from things I don’t face them, I become hardened, tough, callused. I wanted to be self-reliant and have a high level of tolerance for adversity and uncertainty. Sitting here today, I can truthfully say it worked. The unintended consequences of that toughness play out today in classically masculine ways: stubbornness, lack of self-care, desire for independence coupled with a contradictory neediness for affection, competitiveness, etc. It turns out, when I don’t address things, I don’t heal, learn, and grow. When things do not heal properly they sometimes leave scar tissue that needs to be navigated years later and leave me tough in a way I didn’t intend.
The first real emotional discomfort I can discern came with the passing of my dad in 1996. Why the fuck would I want more of that? Loss equaled discomfort. Attachment was the path to sorrow (or so wrote some other hippy dippy author I read) and sorrow was bad. Moving, keeping relationships shallow and at arms length were the path to no attachment; it was easy enough for many years. It became what I knew and I was comfortable.
Somewhere along the line though, discomfort set in and I think I recognized it for what it was: an opportunity. It was probably a slow creep, fueled by age, a mid-life crisis, and no doubt, some sort of heartbreak. The moments themselves might be hard to identify. The growing discomfort is clearer over a time span. I needed something more. Or at least needed to try to find something different. I needed more regular discomfort and dissonance. I needed to learn and grow. My routine was no longer providing what it once had.
When I have routine I am more susceptible to disruption and discontent. Coming out of the field, all I really want to do is check my email and do life maintenance via the internet. That feels routine. The level of aggravation I get when the internet is not working is disproportional to anything I experience elsewhere. I see that aggravation as a result of entitlement. Routine leads to dependency and dependency does not strengthen my ability to adapt or tolerate adversity. Interacting with my mother reinforces those ideas. The grumpiness of a missed routine registers high on my radar. And the jackass that I am, pushes back against a seventy-five year old woman. Can’t I just let her have it? Can’t I just let her be in her comfort space?
Owning a house, sleeping in a bed, driving somewhere, they all make me feel like my whole life has become routine, commonplace. I reconcile these things in a variety of ways (see who I am). But I still can’t help but feel I have sold out as I try to do that reconciliation. The spirit of self-denial still holds a corner of my heart and of my mind.
It has been said control is an illusion. Regardless, while in this world there is so little that I can control, I would like to maintain the illusion of controlling myself: my actions, desires, thoughts. I will do things. I will not do things.
I push back on routine because it shows I can be in control.