Hello and Happy Monday to all! I hope everyone had a productive weekend, or at least a peaceful one. Personally, I spent most of mine buried in Jill Paton Walsh's The Attenbury Emeralds wishing very much that I had my own Lord Peter Wimsey, collywobbles and all (and I know this sentence will be incomprehensible for a lot of my Dear Readers - never mind, the ones who get it will GET it).
But since there aren't many Donne-addicted aristocratic amateur private detectives wandering around my part of the world - or any part of the world, more's the pity - instead I thought I'd talk about a little revelation I had recently. Because the reason that I was able to enjoy my book so happily this weekend was mostly down to that.
For years, Dear Readers - since I left college at the age of seventeen, in fact, and got a job which kept me occupied from 8:45 to 5:15 Monday to Friday - I've had a routine. Saturday is my Day Off. A day off from everything, not just my salary-paying work, but also my writing. It's the one day of the week when I give myself permission to relax and stop worrying about clunky backstory, first versus third person perspectives and the role of foreshadowing. It's supposed to be my day of rest, since Sunday is my day of get-as-many-words-down-as-possible.
However, inevitably, since it WAS the one day I wasn't committed to do something else, Saturday was also the day I did all my chores. Including heading to the supermarket and loading up with a week's worth of groceries, pet food and household supplies.
Back when I *was* seventeen, this weekly shop was actually kind of fun for me. It was the first step I took to being an independent adult. Walking around the shop with my little list and my calculator and my trolley made me feel grown up and competent.
Unfortunately, this sensation didn't last for long. On a Saturday morning whatever shop you go to will be crammed full of other people, mostly families with over-tired, screaming/crying/whining children and stressed out parents who are way too busy to know or care if they just dislocated your knee with their trolley as they wrestled a chocolate bar out of their five year-old's hand. All the checkouts will have queues at least two trolleys long before you get there, no matter how early you get there, and all the checkout staff will be in a mild psychotic rage. The car park will be like a warzone, with the drivers apparently suffering from a strange form of PTSD which makes it impossible for them to notice other people exist, meaning pedestrians take their lives in their hands the moment their foot hits the tarmac. You go in there with a short shopping list and end up being trapped for a minimum of a couple of hours, and that's not counting the travel time. Basically, it sucks up the whole of Saturday morning.
For months, maybe years, I've been aware that I actively dreaded this weekly shop. If I woke up with a sore throat and a headache or maybe a bad stomach on a Saturday, and realised I shouldn't go out, I was glad to be ill just to avoid it. But I still kept on doing it week after week. Even after I went part-time in my office job. Even after I lost my office job. Even after I became a full-time writer. When every practical reason for it had dissolved, I still clung to that routine.
I could have chosen to go shopping on a different day or at a different time. Or if my hatred of grocery shopping had become so intense that this still made me cringe, I could simply have done the shopping online (as I had been forced to do before in cases of emergency) and have it delivered. But I didn't take steps to make this change. I told myself that other than walking my dog, some weeks going to the supermarket was the only time I got out of the house at all and without it I'd turn into a hermit. I told myself the delivery charge of between £3 and £5 was an unnecessary expense. I even told myself that shopping online was too fiddly.
And then one week I got up on a Saturday and just could not face that trek to the supermarket one more time. Couldn't do it. Wouldn't do it. It wasn't that I was ill, or too busy or anything like that. The dread was simply overwhelming. As a reasonably well-adjusted, generally rational adult, it was tough to come face to face with this sudden burst of irrational emotion. I mean, I'm used to being a flake when it comes to writing, but in the rest of my life I'm usually (more or less) sane. So what was going on here? Why did I refuse to get out of my jim-jams, put on some make-up, grab my carefully written shopping list and get out of the door like I'd been doing every Saturday of my life since I was seventeen?
And just like that, the question re-ordered itself in my head. Why SHOULD I get out of my jim-jams, put on make-up, grab my carefully written shopping list and go do something that I'd been doing every Saturday of my life since I was seventeen?
I hated doing this. I'd been forcing myself to do something I hated on a weekly basis for years, for no real reason other than habit.
So I got on the computer and ordered my shopping online, noting that due to the lack of impulse buying, my total bill actually came out a little less than normal, even with the delivery charge, and also that the whole process took about twenty minutes.
Then I spent my Saturday actually doing things I wanted to do instead of rushing to the shop in a fruitless attempt to get in before the crowds (never happened), rushing round in an attempt to get my shopping done quickly and efficiently (never happened), rushing home to try and stop anything from melting or going bad (mostly managed that one) and then collapsing in a heap feeling bruised and stressed out and strangely guilty because my day of rest was half over and I'd not managed to do anything I wanted to do and now probably wouldn't due to feel as if I'd been beaten by cudgels.
I watched a little TV, caught up with my writing group online, talked to a friend on the phone. I went out and had a leisurely lunch, then browsed in the bookshop. I had couple of lovely long walks with the dog. I even made time for some other chores which had been sitting ignored for longer than I cared to think about.
"I don't have to do it anymore," I thought to myself with a dawning sense of joy and relief. "I don't ever have to do it again!"
The sense of a weight lifting off my shoulders, was really extraordinary. You'd have thought I'd figured out a way to fix world hunger rather than simply deciding I was going the online shopping route.
But I think the fact that it was such a small, easily made change is what was so joyful about it.
In life - as in writing - there are always going to be horrible, boring, essential tasks that you can't get out of. But there are also dozens of little unpleasantnesses that you CAN get out of, if you just admit you want to. There's usually no real reason for suffering through this stuff except that you always have, and it's habit, and for some reason human beings cling to habit as if it were their only life-raft in the swirling sea of chaos. Even if it's not actually a life-wraft at all, but an anchor dragging them down to the bottom. They will cling and cling and cling and...oh dear, now they've drowned. But their cold dead fingers are STILL clamped around that anchor, because it's habit and even in death they don't know how to let go.
Small changes can make a huge difference. Taking the time to think things through honestly can make a huge difference. I now feel as if Saturday truly is a day of rest, and the freedom to do what I actually want on that day instead of what I think I should is like a wonderful, unexpected gift.
Dear Readers, have a look at your routines. Have a look at your writing. Those little things that make you cringe... do they really need to be there? Are you sure? Don't let yourself make up bull excuses but be truly frank with yourself and if you've got the option, try cutting that cringe out of your world. Try it just once and see how you feel.
It might transform your life.