Put Up


The 1960s


Exalting Towers


Kickin' Cousins


Keep It Moving

Preface & Reader Response

Routine is the rhythm of one's life. One can't dance without it.




by Jerry Murley

Routine is beautiful. We often forget that until everything is busted. That is not to say that petty obsession is a good thing. Affectionately reproduced pattern is one thing, grinding control of details is another. We still chuckle to recall how my father-in-law took the same lunch to work at the telephone company for forty years. He didn't miss a beat and was no less happy for it. Routine gets and keeps us in rhythm; it rights the imbalances that come from turbulence in life. Its rupture notifies us in no uncertain terms that things are awry.

Routine can mask corruption. We both mock and cherish the fifties because, in part, we think most of the inhabitants of that era were locked in ignorant routine while social ills festered beneath the surface. Routine might provide cover for ills, but it does not cause them. My goal is to use the wisdom of routine to overcome corruption. The return to routine serves as both a means to purge corruption and a sign that illness has been cast away. Going through the motions of routine helps me achieve that end.

* * *

After a particularly swift and nasty gastrointestinal virus, followed by four days trying to re-balance nutrition and re-hydrate my system, I was afflicted with periodic heart flutter. The top of the heart was beating erratically, while the bottom beat rapidly trying to stay steady. As a consequence blood and fluids would not circulate at near the rate needed to meet bodily requirements. One of my symptoms was a galloping heart beat that could almost bounce me out of bed; another was a steady gasping for air for the first thirty minutes of each day or when making the bed or when walking 20 feet at a regular pace. To complicate matters, the heart didn't seem to behave that way all day long. By 11 a.m., I could take a four-mile walk with only a little difficulty breathing, and the flutter and racing heart beat soon thereafter settled into quieter harmony – as if the rhythm of the walk had synchronized the chambers of the heart and anchored the functions of the body to a simple, integrated routine. Computer programming or playing with graphics or commuting to work – all had a similar effect, focusing the mind on something other than the terror of breathlessness and the inconvenience – and seeming unfairness – of illness.

I have always been a stickler for routine, a proponent of familiar pattern. It is comforting reliability amid the sticks and stone, the muddy splashes and fake drama of a determinedly deviant and disruptive world. My mother – a revisionist biographer she may well be – claims that when I was in junior high school, she once rearranged the furniture in our home only to return to the house later and find furnishings restored to their old arrangement. She says that I did it, but doesn't say whether she accepted the restoration as improvement or countered it. She also says that from an early age, I was an organizer, always putting my toys in order. This steady attention to "proper" relationship obviously was not a prevalent family trait, but at least it was accepted as having a usefulness in the social division of labor of our household.

Yet on other levels, I have grown to tolerate and even thrive on high degrees of ambiguity in areas that have practical, professional, and psychological advantage. In my mind, the two characteristics go hand in hand: the risk-taking inventor and synthesizer needs the secure base of routine upon which and with which to build. Even those around me who eschew routine in outspoken new-age principle, because it is bland or old fashion or deadening, are as predictable in their outlandish behavior as I am in my morning walk, my evening shower, and my beer and almonds before dinner.

Once I have detected the pattern, the order, in a spell of discomfort – once it has become routine – I no longer fear ill health as much but rather brace myself for the bad spots, knowing better hours should be ahead and I can do something about it. I target actions that I can take that might make a difference. Hardly ever do I just wait for relief. But learning the difference between what I can and can't affect is no easy task.

Having long thought photography excelled when it captured the unusual, I have come to see the snapshot of routine as the essence of the art. The essentials of routine are harder to grasp, because though we see them often, we do not take notice of them, because, well, they are just routine – ordinary. Routine is denigrated in a culture fixed on the fleeting glories of novelty, though that novelty is more often than not contrived in association with the novel archetypes which were once routine in preceding generations.

After going on blood thinner for a week and determining that I had no clots as a result of my wild heart, I had my atrial flutter micro-Tasered back into rhythm (a cardioversion) at the hospital outpatient clinic on a Friday morning. I could not detect an immediate effect, except a measurable decline in heart rate from around 150 to 97 bpm. I remained short of breath during exertion, due I supposed to the residual fluid in my body that had built up over a three-week period of wild heart. The fluid I could address on a incremental daily basis; the heart was on its own.

Why the heart had forgotten its rhythm is unknown. The medical people seemed to jump at the hypothesis that the intense gastrointestinal virus and dehydration, the abandon of routine by my body, created a vicious cycle of heart inefficiency, fluid buildup, poor digestion, declining physical mobility, so on and so on, round and round. So even though the heart flutter was gone, full body routine could not be instantly attained. The fluid had to go, but in a measured, steady pace. Four in the morning seemed to be the time that the fluids that had gone to the legs during the day, and the fluids remaining from the night's attempted digestion, did their best to pull the heart back to distress. With slight application of a diuretic and careful persistence in my walk, all was recovered within five days.

Distress is easier when routine has been abandoned. Routine is the rhythm of one's life. One can't dance without it. But routine is different for us all. Where it might be readily apparent what my routine is – in part because I am so faithful to it and keep it simple – the routine of others may not be so apparent to the casual observer. Flying back and forth across country every week or two is not my idea of routine, but it might very well be the stable pattern of others. Daily quality time with Facebook is not my idea of routine. Eating hot peppers at every meal may sit well with some hardy adventurers, but I like the occasional dab of the hot stuff and even like under-seasoned experiences.

I assume that one of the most appealing aspects of gardening and living in a farming community for me is the cycle of nature and adherence to a code of conduct regarding nature. Cooperating with nature for produce is not as easy as it seemed to be before the climate got a wild heart and lost its routine. But we still try, because seasonal cultivation is essential to our concept of routine and purpose.

I am a bit cynical about rituals that seem to have dominant commercial, political, and religiously intolerant overtones. Rituals that are pure form without heart, common sense, or individuality are social conventions to be avoided and kept at arm's length from one's sense of the real and important. Still, rituals that sincerely and personally honor nature and the achievements of others are the very pulse of our society. Hollow rituals and symbols are the opposite: the most corrosive revolutionary elements of our culture. That's right, the kid who jettisons convention for a new path might be more conservative of vital balance than the one that blindly and unhappily does what everyone expects to be done in terms of the veneer, the garb, of social life. On the other hand, the most influential and pleasant folks I know are radically conventional: so thoroughly adopting of received wisdom and ways that their lives are spectacular examples of individual strength, invention, and exuberance.

We come to our own routine. If our routine is not our own, it has no creative energy. It might sustain us but with little merit. The routine that grows is the routine that its owner cannot fully comprehend or master. It is a mystery as plain as the passing of the hours. Yet it calms a wild heart and keeps it steady.

Whether it's chemotherapy, surgery, a bad cold, or a wild heart, I have to focus on restoring balance by re-establishing routine. I can lie for hours trying to maintain a deep-breathing pattern and listening to the beat of my own heart. Oddly, these are highly creative times as well. Breakfast; the walk; the wash up; the drive to work; the regular tasks at work; the lunch of carrots, sandwich and apple; the drive home; the stretching and weight exercises; the shower; the beer and nuts; the dinner; the movie; and bedtime at ten – these are not pathetic limitations but anchors to reality as much as are the sun, trees, birds, water, and wind. When a whole family knows its routine, each member knows what to expect and becomes more adaptable to the other in things that matter. With these self-imposed restrictions come an incredible stability, confidence, and fervor of creativity, caring and humor. Day by day, step by step, we get and keep the juices flowing again. Thus a wild heart is soothed by a simple familiar song. Thus a playful heart pauses its frolic and synchronizes with its better half.


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