Changing Up the Routine: Acknowledging the Inevitable Tsunami
Sitting in a Starbucks in River Forest, Illinois and I look around for a moment at the various apes in the room. It is a multicultural spread this afternoon: a few black people, a few brown people, an unsurprising majority of pink folks are in attendance.
There are 22 patrons sitting. Seventeen laptops or iPads are open and being furiously fueled by the Google Starbucks WiFi. It seems that the majority are doing work as I type this. I wonder first what the kind of work being done looks like. Emails, for certain. Spreadsheets? Sure. I wonder second, to what end?
We Homo sapiens are hardwired to seek out security. We like stability and comfort and abundance. The solidity of regular employment, the money in the bank, the health insurance we may never need but feel is completely necessary, a home with heat and internet, a sense of permanence and belonging. We’re willing all too often to give up the autonomy of independence to get this feeling.
The baristas serving us all coffee and pre-packaged muffins could be out creating things, singing, fucking, staring out into the gray December sky and wondering the same thoughts as philosophers and poets. Instead, they rely on the cemented concepts of a schedule in which they can fit within and dollars that will come to them for the sacrifice of time and dignity. Dollars which they will exchange for the relief of an apartment to shelter their scripts, their paintings, their journals, their instruments of artistic voice from the chaos of nature. That, and the dull, anemic thrill of streaming television to lull them into a dead-ish stupor until they have to rouse themselves, put on pants and serve up some more java to the hordes of laptop bearers.
We fight to become bridled and led through our days with a routine. That routine makes us feel like we’re accomplishing something or perhaps just fills the time so we can ignore the feeling that none of this is actually good enough.
It takes 33 pounds of pressure and five minutes to strangle the life out of a grown human. It takes far less to strangle their aspirations of meaning and even less to simply boot-grind the breath out of their dreams for more than trading life for money for security.
Like you, I find myself sucked into the treadmill of the workforce mentality. Anxieties about finances, seeking for work that pays enough to buy another day of finger-hanging off the cliff of survival. I’ve been willing to trade my time for money too many times in my half century and will likely do so again. It’s just the way of the world.
It’s also the way of the world to wait until you build that balsa-wood home on the beaches of Miami, get nice and comfy, hell, get entitled to that comfort, and then blast into shards in one night. The world promises us nothing. Not justice, not equity, not safety. If there is a promissory note that we are handed at birth it is written on one side “Chaos” and on the other “Loss.”
And so we allow the routine. Until the routine becomes... routine. Then a restlessness, a wanderlust, a primal dissatisfaction sets in. We grow despondent, depressed. We spend too much of our time doing nothing like the kid to my right in the Starbucks apron playing some sort of game on his iPhone and the woman to my left texting someone so much that a phone call would be far more efficient.
Ordinarily I don’t notice this. Ordinarily, I’m stuck in my own routine of finding trades of my time for cash to survive in the capitalist model. Fortunately, this is not a time in my life when I’m moored to the day-to-day grind quite as aggressively. My routine has been completely disrupted because I’m jumping off a cliff with Las Vegas as a destination. Right now my job is to move. The work that is filling my day is rife with packing up belongings I’ve amassed over 30 years, the combined effluvia of a four-year marriage, moving that stuff to a storage facility where it will sit until the movers pick it up and drive 30 hours to the Mojave Desert this Spring.
The new routine (based on immediate tasks and a disregard for a set schedule) has been bracketed with working out in the many unfamiliar gyms on the Chicago Athletic Club circuit at random times, sleeping in a new temporary crash pad, finding times for cat naps as well as writing, creating podcasts and planning to bring Literate Ape to the West.
It is this disruption of the tried and true that opens up the pores of the mind and allows me some perspective on the permanence of things (and the lack of it.) I find that when one gets into the weeds of routine, finding small (and, in this case for me, big) ways to disrupt it gives the brain a chance to refocus.
What becomes apparent to me in these moments is that, in many ways, our existence on the planet is rather pointless. The grind of survival in a society that devalues humanity in so many ways can suddenly feel like a futile exercise. At these moments, I get to choose: embrace the nihilism of a cynical resignation or grab hold of the reality that it is just this exercise that builds a life. As I recall my 50-odd years, the things that stick are the moments of joy and wonder. While relatively small in the Grand Scheme, it is these moments and the people in them that matter, not the futility of Chaos and Loss.
Chaos makes those windows into Security matter. Loss is the reason for thoroughly swimming in those times of Abundance. Acknowledgement that nothing is permanent, that it is folly to cling to stability on a planet hurtling through space, spinning natural disasters, fires, floods, diseases and a host of other elements that represent little else but our inevitable demise is a cleansing scorch on the soul. Optimism and idealism in the face of this acknowledgement is both foolish and heroic.
I prefer to be the heroic fool, the Don Quixote tilting at windmills and seeking a better day in the face of all indicators that tomorrow will just be more of the same.