I was going to write a bit more about The Maytrees, but yesterday I read a post by Alexander Chee in which he wrote about, in addition to many other wonderful things including the connection between novels and the news, his pre-writing rituals and the need to adapt. This post was timely. For the last few days I’ve been thinking about changing how I begin my day.
Let me interrupt this logical sequence to say I just now realized yet another possible reason why this post came back to me this morning as I was crossing the border between asleep and awake (as I was leaving my sleep–still playing these CDs constantly). One of the things the novel I finished a year ago (and that I have not sent to very many agents yet and that I keep telling myself I need to make time to do so) is about is the impact the news has on one woman.
Nabokov, in an interview for Playboy in 1964, wrote that in the winter, he would wake up to an Alpine chough (which I thought was a typo for church until I just googled it) alarm clock around seven and then that he would lie “in bed mentally revising and planning things.”
Dani Shapiro wrote, in one of the How We Spend Our Days posts, that as she gets her son off on his morning, she tries to “reserve just a bit of myself in that quiet, dreamy state of just-waking, so that once my family is out the door, I can turn to my work.”
For a little more than a year, my black, rectangular alarm clock has been waking me up at 6:30. I get right on the treadmill and watch Morning Joe for thirty minutes before getting my son off to school. This morning, I lay in bed for that thirty minutes and a thousand things entered my mind and they’re still coming. Maybe, as Chee wrote, “It is time for me to adapt again.”
Interesting. I feel like I always do my best writing when I give myself permission for a slow, quiet transition from sleep to awake. Maybe sitting at the kitchen table watching the sunrise with a cup of coffee or laying in bed snuggling with my toddler or sitting out on the deck reading a poem while eating fresh fruit. On days when i’ve woken and immediately dove into get-it-done mode with the treadmill and email and all the other media distractions, it is harder for me to connect with my creative side. Everyone is different, but sometimes just changing the routine can spark something new. Good luck.
Barb, nice to hear from you again and so excited for your news. Congratulations! What you’re saying makes sense. I ended up with this routine because I never wanted to tear myself away from writing to get to the treadmill. So I started getting that out of the way before I ever went downstairs. I seem to be ready for a change though.
I’m a big believer in mixing things up, and almost always, good writing comes of it. I have everything a writer could want — laptop, birdsong, and a room of my own. Yet sometimes I get truly stuck in this office, and it isn’t until I trek to the park, or sit by the river, or camp out at the coffee shop at Borders that my mind opens a bit. (I once wrote a terrific six pages while sitting in Les Schwab’s, waiting for my tires to be changed.)
These days the challenge is time — trying to find even half an hour in the midst of selling a house, buying a house, launching a novel. I told Steve the other day it might be October before I write another word — and that’s just crazy. So this morning I am closing my laptop and leaving it — along with my various “to-do” lists — on my desk, picking up a notepad and pencil, and camping out at the kitchen table to do nothing — nothing! — but write.
Your essay was just the nudge I needed to wrestle my sanity back. Thank you, Cindy, for this cleansing breath, and for the inspiration.
Renee, what a wonderful comment. Thank you. Sometimes we do just need to mix things up–get out of the box or the room or into one for that matter, change the rhythm somehow.
I couldn’t lie in bed without falling back to sleep, but I probably do myself a disservice by rising and walking immediately to the computer to check email and blogs. I think now might be a good time to start taking a cup of tea out to the patio to great the sunrise (until the sun starts rising before me.) Who knows what might come of that? Thank you for the idea.
Linda, yes, I think falling back to sleep would be a danger for me too, if not every day, enough days that Nabokov’s morning plan (!) is not going to be practical for me either. On Wednesday, I went downstairs and made a cup of tea and sat watching it get lighter and lighter outside. I like your idea of actually going outside too. I might try that next week.
My experience has been immediately getting task(s)you really don’t want to do out of the way first thing and then moving into those things you are looking forward to is more productive in the long run, but to each his/her own.
I agree. That’s what I’ve done for at least 25 years, and it has worked wonderfully. I just might mix it up a bit and see what happens.
Great post! I also like time with my thoughts in the morning before I write, but I multi-task this with exercise. I find the two together gets both my mind and body going in harmony. I swim laps or walk my dog. Maybe try the treadmill without TV?
Sorry to be so behind in replying to comments. Sarah, thanks for this idea, which might work. Although the TV is on to distract me from being on the treadmill… Maybe I should try walking outside. I like the idea of waking the mind and the body at the same time.
This is a lovely post, Cynthia. I think your idea of altering your morning routine is a good one too. If nothing else it will, at least for a while, be different and should produce different thoughts.
I recently began taking time in the afternoon when I get home from work. I can’t do it immediately–the cats are demanding dinner, I want to wash my face and teeth and change into something very comfortable–but once I do those things I take a book and go out to the comfy chair on my deck where I read and stare at the mountains and sky. Every workday I do this (weekends are more flexible), and it seems to provide a distinct island of peace and calm that stays with me. I think I am going to set my alarm 10-15 minutes earlier in the morning and do it then too.
Most of us feel tied to the Internet and e-mail. Checking them regularly (constantly?) becomes so routine that I think we often forget what we did with ourtime before them. Carving out these spaces returns that “time” to us. At least it does for me.
As for weekends, I tend to eat more of my meals at home outside. It’s not just lunch or dinner that is wonderful in an outdoor setting but breakfast too.
Lauren, nice to hear from you. I’ve been so busy I haven’t been to Bibliobuffet lately but look forward to catching up soon. Yes, I’m enjoying the morning change and it does seem to not be as jarring as the treadmill and the news. Sarah’s comment above yours made me think of getting outside rather than the treadmill and your comment seconds that suggestion as a wonderful way to start the day. Hope you are well.
In the last 3 days, I’ve been waking 30 minutes early to muse and write. It’s not much time, but enough to feel like a refreshing island of time before I dash-sprint into the thick of it morning school routine with the kids.
There is much to be said for adapting again, altering routines to create more mental space to create, think, be.
Terresa, sorry to be so long in replying. Just dropped my last packet of the semester in the FedEx box. I’m wondering how your morning thirty minutes is going. You’re right that it’s not a lot of time, but I’m finding that how I use that first thirty minutes of the day can make a difference.
PS: Did I tell you already that I got the One Story in the mail & loved it?? It was a great read. I’m already looking forward to the next issue. Thank you for the subscription!!!
And so glad you’re enjoying One Story!
Something about laying in bed doesn’t work for me. For some reason I end up depressed or frightened. I do, however, love having a leisurely breakfast with time to sip tea. I guess all that says something about me and my issues. I’m not sure what, but something.
Beautiful post, Cindy.
Well we certainly all have issues, Katherine, but that’s one of the things that makes writing and blogging and comments–and life–so much fun. Thanks for sharing yours : )
In reading all these comments–it’s good to “talk” with you again, Cynthia–it seems to me that the feeling of being rushed, of having a routine that is tied societal accomplishments, of feeling that expectations rule our lives is all wrong. Yet it dominates so many lives, doesn’t it? We know what it does to us. But what does it do for us?
It seems to me that it separates our lives from our selves. And altering the routine, as you and some of us are doing, Cynthia, is a way of re-grasping our “selves” back. I hope everyone here does it in the way that works for her. I have not yet set the alarm earlier; that is my failing. But I promise myself that today, when I go home, I will do that. I want that time.
Thanks, Lauren. Wonderful comment. Loved the idea of “re-grasping our ‘selves'” And this morning, instead of setting an alarm, I didn’t!