Keeping on Keeping On
If there is one thing that will garner criticism as time rolls along, it is your habits. You can be separated from good company based on your habits, those things you do over and over. Divorce lawyers must sometimes be agog. “It’s the way he clears his throat in the morning. It drives me crazy. I’ve been listening to that for sixty years now!”
Habits are by nature unconscious. Aristotle weighed in on this idea, claiming you could turn it all around, that goodness could be learned by consciously retreading the same virtuous actions over and again. It’s certainly one way of looking at it. People can wring their hands over habits, thinking their glass is half empty when in fact it is half full. Habits can be your undoing, but they can also be your salvation.
As human beings, one of the creature comforts in life are those things you repeatedly do. Each retread adds a personal history to action and makes it welcome and familiar. Habits are those patterns that people who live together both embrace and learn to work around. They establish a rhythm and a flavour to life. What you do without thinking is as revealing as what you do deliberately.
It’s what we all are, a collection of habits. Sometimes we disagree with other people and yet witnessing their habits fills in the cracks in life. It gives volume and resonance to things we might wonder about that we don’t pursue ourselves. I was thinking this over regarding a very old friend with whom I had been in contact recently. We come from the same stock. Large families, all boys. It’s an odd thing to tie you together because otherwise we are quite different. He is daring, the kind of person who will try anything. I am cautious, the kind of person who must be pushed. Together, we can be an interesting discussion. He has at times put a bit of salt on life in areas I have been too timid to pursue.
One of those areas is romance. My friend is like the proverbial character in a road trip movie, he’s up for everything and anything. Age has not changed him. He is still out there on the chase, sending pictures of his most recent love interest. He is in love with romance. It is still the thing that gets him into trouble, and if you are still getting into trouble, you are not dead yet.
Habits also get things done. There are those work habits that give cadence and metre to any function. I witness this when I see my wife cook, She is a creature of good habits. She tends to (in a whir) wash dishes as she cooks. There is never any stray spoon sitting on a counter when she is done. It looks like Martha Stewart’s kitchen once the production crew has wrapped filming. Food on the table and everything pristine and in order. All because of those good habits.
I am not like this. A lot of what I do can look like chaos in motion, and yet I have learned to have patience with my own habits. They are just another way of arriving at the finish line. I am not like my wife. If you tell me to wash my dishes en route, it will just mess me up. I am the guy with the messy logic, whose work area can look like chaos and yet I know where everything is and the chaos is welcome cover that lets me proceed on my own terms. It’s the way I get things done.
Comfort level is what it comes down to I think. You need to have those habits in your aresenal because they grease the wheels of necessary work. They give it your own spin and make you feel just a little more in control, to give a nod to process and make it somewhat your own.
What is true in life is that habits all arrive somewhere. Those who are not particularly talented, but who practise a habit of working nonetheless will make up for what is mediocre, by volume. Eventually those streams might become a rushing river. You might even get good at the thing you do over and over.
I remember when my mom was in the last years of her life. She had always been a whir of motion, way too busy. It was sometimes exhausting just to watch her. She had a coterie of go-to’s from baking, to sewing, things to get busy with when you were not busy. I always thought she took on too much, especially when it came to volunteering to do unsolicited work for people I considered to be cranks. My mom had a collection of them. They were the all-too-often recipients of her baking (an extra tray of buns that needed eating) et cetera.
In the last week of my Mom’s life, in between bouts of pneumonia, she cleaned and sewed, and baked. She had punctuated that downward spiral with the stuff she always did. One of the last things she did was make a pan of date squares. She did that, then died. We served those same date squares at the reception after her funeral. Some of those cranks came up, date square in hand, and teary eyed. “We sure loved your Mom. Man, that woman really knew how to work”.
So keep on, keeping on. You never know where it will take you. Habits sum up and punctuate who you are. I won’t say less is more, on this occasion. Sometimes more of the same is just the medicine that is needed. Sometimes you have to lean in and depend on all those habits. When they say “Go with what the good Lord gave you,” I think they are talking about habits. They may be the best thing about you, and at times, your salvation.