The Comfort of Routine
I forgot to brush my hair today.
I'm an otherwise convincingly ordinary version of myself from the outside, the me that shows up every day to work, fully clothed and functioning as a person. It's not a crisis, not having my hair brushed; but it's not something I've forgotten to do since art school.
I'm doing a great job pretending to be me today. A few times I've even forgotten I was not.
But then some strange small thing will remind me that I'm not really in this moment; or simply will remind me of things lost.
Other glimpses of eternity yawning around the seams: a book on quilting that someone checks out, featuring photos of hexagonal patches of coordinating floral printed fabrics. A conversation with a patron about "plarn" mats crocheted from plastic bags. A box of book donations that have that very specific kind of musk that only hardbound books from the 60's have, and that smell takes me right back to the sunroom that still held bunk beds from my dad and his brothers growing up, and their board games, and their Worldbook 1967 collection of matching spines and curious illustrations that smelled EXACTLY like that.
And I want to smile, and I want to cry, but mostly I want to go back, to visit those memories at the edges of my mind. Standing in line at the grill with grandpa in his "Kiss the Cook" apron, picking blueberries or collecting crab apples and putting them into little piles or trying to plant them, popping the little plastic bubble in the center of Trouble! the first edition with a pop-o-matic bubble dice that must have seemed like the best technological advance in gaming to the parents of four boys; the many episodes of a series I didn't realize at the time was a limited run.
You can go years without anything changing at all, it seems. Day after day playing out largely the same, small variances balancing each other so that an advance today is cancelled out next week, years of pushing leading you back, seemingly to where you started. Fall asleep. Wake up. Repeat.
And then something actually irreversible happens, usually something bad. Life feels like it plays out in what Matt Groening called "rubber band reality" ...until Ned's wife dies, the rubber band snaps, and you can't go back. There's before. And there's after.
And then the most overlookable, bland, monotonous, ordinary routine can feel urgent, necessary, and sort of a relief. In the face of grief, decisions are bewildering. But routine, muscle memory, one foot in front of the other can be a blessing. A thing you know how to do, a situation where, finally, you know what to do. A way to get from the moment you're in to the next one, where there's a small but steadily increasing chance things will be a little bit better.
So I was able to distract myself with the problem of my hair at least long enough to get immersed in designing a flyer for a few hours, which got me through to realizing I needed to wrap up this post, and so even while remembering I'm able to forget. Just put one foot in front of the next. You're almost there. Great job, next task.