Monday, 30 January 2012


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.


Alex Mullarky said...

I'm so glad you got your Saturdays back in all their glory! In St Andrews there is only a Tesco Express in the centre of town and ALL the residents of the town go there, queuing all the way down an aisle... it's chaos. So a few weeks ago me and my housemate got up at 8am, got on a bus to Morrisons (outskirts of town) and waited outside for the shop to open. There were even a couple of people there waiting who knew each other. We got to wheel around the shop taking our time. It was bliss. Also, Tesco in the early hours of the morning is another option for an empty shop. We did our family Christmas shopping at midnight on the 22nd to avoid the rush. The aisles are full of crates being unpacked onto shelves but it's still awesome.

Anyway, I'm about to embark on a proper editing adventure, so I am going to go back over all your helpful posts! Teehee :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Alex: Public transport is the problem for me - the only bus service that my area has starts quite late and stops quite early. And I'm not willing to pay the insane taxi rates. So thank heavens for online shopping!

Emma Pass said...

Online shopping is a blessing. Seriously. I started doing it last year when we were without a car for a few weeks and I didn't want to have to lug shopping home on the bus. I reckon I've saved several *days* worth of stress, aching arms and hubby losing the will to live by now. I've also decided I can manage without ironing. Life is too short!

Rachel Balcombe said...

This post made me smile, I'm glad you feel happier. I don't have to go shopping regularly until at least September, and right now I feel so lucky! Advice at the end was really good too - my church have just asked me to do some leadership work and are refusing to take no for an answer despite the fact that I am not a leading kind of person. I was kind of freaking out about it until you made me realise that they can't make me! XD

Zoë Marriott said...

Emma: I agree about ironing too! If I buy something that turns out to need the iron, it goes to Oxfam, it's just that simple. Same for dry-cleaning!

Rachel: No, they can't. People often used to do that to me at my old job, and I find that while the temptation is to offer reasons and excuses and try to show people WHY you can't/don't want to do as they ask, that only leads to people arguing and coaxing until you want to scream. The best thing is just to give a firm 'No'. Because otherwise you're acting as if you owe them something, which means you're defending yourself and your right to choose your own activities - and that's not right.

Unknown said...

This is great advice. There are so many things that we do that have no real purpose other than habit, or a misplaced belief that it's what we should be doing. The hardest part is accepting that you don't have to do it. Like a lot of writing advice, hearing the advice is often not enough - you have to come to the realization for yourself.

Rebecca Lindsay said...

Haha, this made me laugh :) I share your pain of shopping. When I was growing up my weekly announcement was that I was going to wait in the car lol. Ironically, I am now working part-time in a supermarket :/ It is as painfull for the check-out people as it is for those shopping. It would be so much easier if all my customers ordered online lol.
I'm looking at my life, stop on my revision notes for my exams and think "Nah-it's not important!" I wish lol.

Zoë Marriott said...

L.Scribe: That's right. Ofte the change itself is kind of ridiculously easy to make - but actually getting to the place where you can admit that habit is not the same as necessity is much, much harder.

Rebecca: I can well believe it! I'm completely sure I couldn't do that job - but someone has to. Courage, mon brave!

Jenni said...

This is such a great post. I definitely need to have a look at what I'm doing, I'm sure there are a few things I could stop or change rather than just suffering straight through them.

Isabel said...

So true! That old routine does sound like a nightmare, maybe I'll do it your way when I'm older. :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Jenni: Thanks! Remember, suffering isn't good for the soul.

Isabel: Oh, by the time you're my age you'll probably have food replicators like on the Starship Enterprise, no worries :)

Isabel said...

Zoe: Goodness, I hope not!!

Anonymous said...

Cati here - remember me??
I'll fight you over Lord Peter - but did you find that the line in Attenbury where he uses the words "throw a wobbly" just don;t ring true, either for him or for the 1950s?

Housework routines? Pah - away with them!

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