Routine is a ground to stand on, a wall to retreat to; we cannot draw on our boots without bracing ourselves against it. ~ Henry David Thoreau
It’s now after 4:00 and my iPhone sits on the counter beside me. I‘m waiting for responses to several e-mails and phone calls, hoping to douse Friday afternoon embers before they spark into weekend fires. IT malfunctions prevent me from accessing the database I need to fix problems flinging themselves at my inbox. The frustration winds into knots that cramp my shoulders and throb in the base of my neck. The tension headache pulses just behind my eyes. This was to be my time to write, to reconnect with my manuscript. Instead I’ll pound some random thoughts into submission and force them to coalesce into a blog post.
I’ve been thinking about the fine line between routine and rut. I’ve been thinking about it a great deal since returning from Ireland. Because I seemed to have escaped the latter, yet I now struggle to regain the former.
I’m pretty taken with my routines. I guard them jealously. These are the small bits of my day I can control while the rest of life swirls heedlessly around me. The precious hours between 4 and 7 a.m. when I write, run, contort my limbs into camels and plows; that hour before bedtime when I settle in with the book of the moment; the Saturdays when miles of pavement pour forth in front of me and I race to the finish, knowing a quiet day of writing is the only other item on my to-do list.
I started my manuscript in early July and quickly settled into a productive pattern: writing every morning before and most evenings after work, all day Saturday after my long run, a few hours on Sunday in between errands and cooking. I planned my writing around Brendan’s interminable work days, making the most of the little time we have together.
The beauty of a long holiday is the chance to step out of the well-trodden path that threatens to harden into a rut. Yet, one of the things I love most about travelling is the creation of a little world that only you and your travel companion inhabit – a world of private rituals and routines that shape your adventure and later, your memories.
Simplicity defined our Kerry Way routine. And in this simplicity we found our bliss. I would rise while the B&B was yet asleep and make a cup of dreadful coffee from the Nescafe instant packets tucked into the tea service tray in our room, then creep barefoot to the guest parlour to write. To write until I could smell bacon frying, to write until I could hear the dog barking, to write until footfalls overhead told me other guests were waking. Brendan would collect me and we padded with feet still sore from the previous day’s miles to the dining room, our stomachs whimpering with hunger, forced to wait until the civilized hour of 8:30 to be fed.
After a breakfast of – wait for it – muesli with whole milk, soda bread slathered with butter and orange marmalade, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toast (for her); scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage with toast (for him); a full pot of coffee, black, our work began. And what a job it was: to hike 12-20 miles along the Kerry Way to the next bed and breakfast, to a hot shower, a dinner of fish and chips or lamb stew and pints of Guinness and Bulmers, to reruns of American shows we’ve never seen, to that day’s Irish Times and one or two pages of our vacation reads, and at last, to our pillows where hours of fresh air and hard walking led to instant, sweet, deep sleep. Rinse. Repeat. 180 miles. Eleven days on the trail, five more mucking about Co. Galway.
I showed up at the page every morning. Routine maintained. But the thoughts I thought I would have during those long hours on the trail – of my characters, their plot still in a tangle – I had not. I thought, in fact, of little else but my next footfall, for deep bogs, rocky climbs, meadows strewn with gorse marked our way. I thought of the hot shower and cool pint that awaited a few hours and many miles away.
In other words, I broke out of my rut of living days, months, years into the future, and explored the precious path of Being in the Moment. I let go. It almost hurts to look back at the photos Brendan and I took of each other along the way, for the peace and happiness we found is writ large in our eyes and limbs. There was nothing more on our minds at those moments than the quiet joy of being where we were, doing what we loved most, with the only other person we could imagine sharing the moment.
But one cannot spend the rest of one’s life on holiday. Unless one is Sir Richard Branson.
So, it’s back to the grind. Or not.
I wish I could have picked up where I left off, stepped right back into that productive pattern, that familiar routine. But life has gone a bit pear-shaped since our return. Our work schedules have yet to right themselves. Frustration distracts me. The diminishing light and cooling temperatures mean no more late afternoon writing sessions on the patio, my back warmed by the summer sun. I still have so many hand-written pages to transcribe into Scrivener that I’m producing little new material. I feel scattered and disconnected, as if an essential part of myself is missing. Left in the west of Ireland, on the side of a hill made of granite and covered in gorse.
Just yesterday, three weeks after our return, I felt a spark. I gave my brain free rein as I transferred early morning scribbles from September 16 into my computer manuscript. I stopped playing secretary to my notebook and returned to being a writer.
Which was my plan for this afternoon. Until I looked at that cursed e-mail inbox.
While I wait for my phone to ring, I may as well peruse our vacation photos. To see what peace looks like. Join me, won’t you?