You ever have that day that feels like it already happened? Like it’s just the same as another day that you already had and the sameness of it strikes you in the face, and makes you stop and think “Holy shit, I did this already. All of this already”. And no matter what you do or what happens it still feels the same as some day you already had. You ever have that day?
Who the fuck am I kidding, of course you have. That’s kind of how it works. Life becomes routine. We fall in to an ordered habit of events that repeat on a yearly, monthly, weekly, or daily basis. You put the garbage out on Wednesdays, you go to this thing on Mondays, Fish Fry on Fridays(I put this in for people that do this shit, I’m allergic). You find a system to plan out your days, weeks, months, and eventually years. You pay your taxes at this time, you do your vacations at this time, you go here on this day for this thing every year for this reason, yada yada yada and so on and so forth.
And this is okay. Routine isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We must have a need for this order since we always seem to gravitate towards it in our lives. It makes life manageable, especially if you have anxiety or some other affliction. That’s me by the way. I have a touch of the anxiety which is probably not news to the people that know me. It used to be a lot worse with panic attacks a couple times a week and at its height a couple of times daily. It’s cool though because I learned to self-medicate with alcohol and cigarettes. Just kidding, it wasn’t cool. But it is how I coped as so many others do.
I look back on my history with anxiety and with routines, and I can see that they were related in two ways. First my anxiety was often brought on by lack of routines. I’ve talked a little about my Mom and how… unconventional she was. She was not at all a creature of habit. You never knew what my Mom would do from day-to-day. She had big ideas and always gave in to impulses to act on them. This could be a positive like when she formed summer care groups for school kids to keep them busy and provided them free of charge to the community. She would generally come up with this idea hours before the last day of school. There was also a positive to the spontaneity of how she exposed us to things. She just went for it full force at all times. If it was something she wanted us to see or learn then BAM! We were in the car and on the way to it. I remember in high school I had a BIG interest to get into the theater. I wanted to act, direct, and be a part of it. My Mom loved it and wanted to fully encourage it. She did anything she could to encourage and support it. One time she saw in some publication that a touring company was performing Sunset Boulevarde in Minneapolis. Wanting to indulge my blossoming love of the theater, she threw us in the car and drove to Minneapolis to take in a show. This was a cool way to break the routine and live on impulses. I liked when she did stuff like this and part of the fun was the fact that I knew this wasn’t normal. This was against the natural order of how things were supposed to go. No planning, just doing, just living. For a 15 year-old kid it was wonderful.
But my Mom’s ditching routine wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. This impulsivity and lack of a regular order of things had a dark side. My Mom didn’t have a routine for the normal stuff that needs to be done regularly to keep the wheels of life turning. Laundry was only ever done as an emergency. She was always washing the clothes we needed to wear when we needed to be wearing them. Meal planning or prep never existed so we were always eating something last minute that usually had been purchased shortly before cooking. Or of course there was always take out. Annual check-ups? Not so much. She didn’t have us do preventative care which may have led to some of the health scares my siblings and I have experienced now as adults. And those impulsive trips at the last minute haven’t died down. At this point in my adult life I generally have about 6 hours advanced notice before my Mother comes to visit. Coincidentally she lives 6 hours away. You do the fucking math on that one.
Picking me up from things also didn’t fall into a routine. I remember very clearly waiting long after dark for her to pick me up from school, play practices, and eventually work. I remember when I was 14 I had a job dishwashing at this restaurant about 2 miles from our house. My shift ended at I think 9 o’clock. I got done and waited for her in the parking lot… for almost 2 hours. I called from the payphone, but there was no answer. After waiting long enough I gave up and trudged home. Now I grew up in a town with one claim to fame: the most strip clubs per capita in the United States. It’s fondly referred to as the Lower Block by locals. Well wouldn’t you know it, but the Lower Block was smack dab in the path between my job and my house. So there I was 14, walking through a block of strip clubs at 11pm on a Friday night. It sounds cool I guess, but it really wasn’t at the time. I finally got home to find her hard at work sanding the kitchen cupboards. She had one of her impulses to paint the kitchen and had gotten to work on it and forgotten to pick me up. She felt awful… but that wasn’t the last time she fell out of the routine for picking me up.
I gotta take a second and address something. This doesn’t paint the best picture of my Mother. Makes her seem negligent. And that is not at all true. My Mother loved us and did her best to take care of us. She made sure we had a home and we were fed and clothed. We knew she loved us and was there for us in many ways. She just didn’t keep to a schedule or a routine or any order. She didn’t and doesn’t function like that. I don’t believe that she meant it to be harmful, not at all. Was it really that terrible? In the realm of awful shit a parent can do to a kid, I think I got off pretty easy.
Well… there was some residual damage. I have an incurable phobia of being late for things. The thought of not being on time strikes terror in me. Wait, that’s not right. I’m not afraid of not being on time. I’m afraid of not being early. I nearly always go out of my way to be early to things by 15, 20, hell sometimes 30 minutes. I have no fingernails mostly because of this habit but also just general anxiety. I know that fashionably late is a thing and I understand it as a concept. But I can only function if the time that we are to arrive that is considered fashionable is our scheduled time. So if there’s something scheduled for 7pm and my group or I want to arrive fashionably late, we need to schedule this fashionable time at say 8pm and the group needs to be okay with us arriving by 7:45pm at the latest or I am gonna go ape shit. By ape shit I of course mean I will be irritated and fidgeting uncontrollably, not actually going into a rage tantrum. I don’t voice this issue because of course I know it’s nuts and don’t want to bother people with it. Instead I suppress it as much as possible allowing for the fear of lateness to thrash around in my brain instead of my outside. As far as afflictions go I think I got off pretty lucky. That said I inflict this need to be early on friends and family, causing me to be irritable and frustrated with situations where we are not running on schedule or even worse, we actually are late. It’s also made me a stickler as a boss for punctuality. Frankly unless my employees show up at least 5 minutes early, I am irritated with them and consider them tardy. This is of course unreasonable and I have abstained from writing any of them up for it but still, would it fucking kill them to get to work early? I mean honestly. Anyways, my Mom was wonderful. I do love her. I forgive her for her lack of routine and thank her for instilling me with a need for punctuality and routine adherence.
Now if my Mom was bad at routines, my Dad was down right fucking awful with them. He just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t stick to a routine or a regular schedule. It just was missing from his DNA. That or he outright refused and actively fought it. This is why he couldn’t keep a job growing up. Let Jim be a lesson for you folks that if you don’t make a routine to show up for work, your employer won’t make it a routine to pay you or keep you around. He couldn’t even make staying in one place a routine. He was always wanting to pack up and move. At first it was every couple of years but eventually it became every couple of months. Marriage also proved to be too much of a routine, explaining why he’s been married at least 2 times(not sure of the grand total, he and I aren’t close). Even his kids became a routine he couldn’t keep as his visits became more and more infrequent to the point that I’m not sure when the last time any of my siblings saw him regularly at all. I live my life pretty adamantly committed that I will not be like him, cause I hate him. I do and I am comfortable with that hate. People tell you can’t hang on to hate for a person. I disagree. Hate for a person can be okay if it means something. For me, that hate motivates me to be better than him. To be a better husband, a better parent, and just a better person than he ever was or would be willing to be.
Okay so looking at my background, I can see that my first relationship with routines was anxiety and fear over a lack of them. I need them to keep me normal and functioning on some level, cause without them I freak out. I think everyone is like that on some level, that’s why we all have them. And that’s good, right? It’s okay to want a regular schedule that keeps you grounded, centered, and focused. It lets you plan to prioritize what is most important to you and shove the other less important things to the back burner to deal with during your extra time(if you happen to find yourself with any).
Now I said that I have decided I have 2 relationships with routines. My second? An irrational fear of routine and sameness. Wait? Didn’t I just say that I like and need routines and habits? So how can I be afraid of them? Well that’s the irrational part. There is no real reason I should hate or fear routines or habits. They’re good for me. They help with my anxiety, make me a better parent, husband, and person while also keeping me away from the cigarettes and booze I used to need to keep myself steady. So why the fuck would I be afraid of them? My best guess is that it’s probably because of fiction. TV, movies, books, and music have all preached to me for years to fear routine. They told me that regular is boring, and boring is death. All the good stories revolve around someone breaking from their routines and sameness. It’s a basic story:
- Protagonist has a life and a routine.
- Protagonist realizes they are bored and tired of the routine.
- Protagonist decides to break free of the routine.
- Adventure ensues.
- Protagonist comes out in a different life and place for good or bad.
That’s the standard story. Edward Norton’s Narrator wanted out of his routine in Fight Club. Enter Tyler Durden. The unnamed Narrator becomes a new person with a new world and outlook on life. John Candy’s character in Summer Rental is burnt out with his routine so he packs up and takes the family to Florida. Change of venue, change of routine, and now John Candy is a sailing master. Happened to Martin Short in Captain Ron too. What is it about comedy actor as dads and fucking boats? I’m not getting on a fucking boat. No way. That’s where pirates are and despite what Jack Sparrow taught us, those were bad dudes. They might not be stuck in a routine but they do steal, murder, and rape a lot which I am not interested in doing in the least. Fuck those pirates.
Fiction has taught me I should fear and hate routine. That I should bust out of it and the sameness of it. That as soon as days seem to bleed together and I experience deja vu one too many times I should freak out and either jump on a boat, start making soap while being punched in the face by other routine-breaking dudes, or engaging in some other type of crazy action that breaks my routine and leaves me in a new place. That’s what my favorite writers and filmmakers have taught me. That’s what a kid raised by comics, TV, movies, and music has learned is the way he is supposed to be. I’m supposed to hate routines and sameness. I’m supposed to fear it.
But… I don’t. I don’t fucking hate routines. It doesn’t bum me out like I thought it would. In fact routine seems to be the thing that keeps the anxiety and depression at bay. I need it or I sort of break down and can’t cope. So what the fuck? Is routine bad or is routine good?
Here’s what I’ve come to accept: I need routine, but I get a choice on what my routine is going to be. I can’t escape routine and sameness, it’s a part of life and I need it to keep myself balanced. Let me give you an example of the necessity of routine to me. This last Monday I had a vacation day. I didn’t go to work. My wife did and my kids went to daycare. So it was just me at home for an entire day, a complete break from the routine I know and work within. Here’s what happened: I immediately made a to do list for the day. It’s how I normally function when I go to work. A lot of my job is just making lists for my team and myself. My list was 10 items that I thought “Yep, this will keep me busy and make for a productive day”. You know what happened? I finished the fucking thing by 9:30am. I did my run, I enrolled in grad school, I cleaned the house, I did laundry, etc. etc. And then I was out of things to do. I had no more list to pound out. And I had no idea what the fuck to do about it. So ya know what I did? Work. I called a guy at the area office about a thing that was coming up and ended up volunteering to make some calls to help him and his assistant with an upcoming meeting. I added items to my list and then felt better. I went after these new tasks with tenacity because work is part of the routine and it alleviated my anxiety about what I should do with my day.
But then… but then the items were done. There was nothing else to do and it was only 10:45am. Now fucking what??? Free time during the day isn’t part of the routine. What do I do with it? I’ve become kind of a stress eater so to deal with the stress of having nothing to do, I ate. I had a sandwich and a bowl of Captain Crunch. And some chips. And another iced coffee. I am lucky there was no ice cream in the house cause I would have eaten that shit right quick. But the eating didn’t help, it just filled time. At 11:15am I had exhausted what I felt were all options for my day… at least options that I could see. I’m sure there were things I could have done but none came to mind. I wasn’t in a panic, but I was anxious and uncomfortable. Clan + No Routine = ???
I ended up watching Seinfeld the rest of the day. It was the only thing I could think of that seemed like something I could do. And this weird thing happened… watching those classic episodes of hilarity and nothing… relaxed me. I had forgotten about this. Binging episodes of shows I have watched before always has a relaxing effect on me. And this is probably the first time I’ve done it with no one at home in maybe… 6 months? Like I said, I live in routine at nearly every moment.
I survived my day with no routine and it wasn’t terrible. I guess I kind of liked it. But I know I can’t do it every day. I need routine, my family needs routine, and ultimately the whole world needs routine. It isn’t a curse. But sometimes it can be. Sometimes the sameness can be too much and you need a Tyler Durden to blow it all up and start fresh. I guess what it comes down to is you need to choose your routine. You need to choose your sameness. If the one you’re in isn’t working for you, make a new one.
I don’t hate my routine, but I do see that there is some opportunity for improvement. As much as I need a routine of sameness to keep me centered, I could probably stand for a little shake-up and adventure. I have a couple of items on the horizon to do just that. I announced previously that I am running for School Board. This will no doubt shake-up the routine as it’s something I’ve never done before. And I mentioned enrolling in grad school, that’ll probably fuck some shit up in a good way. There’s one more item I’m working on that I’m not ready to announce just yet. But believe me when I say that it’s me doing my best to pick the routine I want to be in, not just the one I have.
At the end of the day don’t be sad that your day seemed like one you’ve already had. That happens and it’s okay. But ask yourself, was it a day you want to do again? If yes, awesome. If not… it’s time to fuck some shit up.