I am writing this morning from the little “office” nook that I carved out of a tiny corner in the upstairs storage space in my in-laws’ home. To my left are the boxes storing Justin and my meager possessions- mostly books, family photos, and the street art we’ve collected on our travels together over the years. To my right is a small window that looks down on the front yard and road below. The last of the windblown autumn leaves are piled along the edges of the driveway and at the base of the gnarled apple tree that dominates the yard. As the sun peeks up over the trees in the distance, its bright morning rays set the crystalline frost on those leaves sparkling like a sea of facet-cut gems. My coffee steams invitingly and I pull the blanket draped over my lap up snug to ward off the morning chill in the room.
This modest little workspace is one of the gifts of this time here in New Hampshire. The quiet space to concentrate and focus, the ability to leave my projects up on my screen and out on my “desk” (really, a sweet little drop-leafed table I found buried in the garage) so that I can pick them up quickly when I return in the morning, the luxury of my enormous desktop screen which makes editing images significantly more efficient. And, most significantly, it allows for a routine to form around my workdays, my creative process.
Routine is one of those words that seems to so often make us cringe. We picture drudgery and mind-numbing predictability and an unrelenting sameness that leaves one day undifferentiated from all of the rest. And, of course, routines can feel that way if we don’t balance them with movement and challenge and spontaneity. But they also have the ability to lend rhythm to our days, to allow our energy to be focused on the work that is most meaningful to us rather than problem-solving the basic logistics surrounding that work. I think often about an article I read years ago about why President Obama wore the same basic suit each day, how meaningful productivity stems from systemization that minimizes what is known as decision fatigue, the exhaustion that results from making too many decisions (this is why a day at the mall is so taxing…it’s not the walking, it’s the overwhelming number of micro-decisions made over the course of the day, from which kiosks/stores/advertisements to pay attention to, to which color/size/fit/etc to purchase). I notice this in my day-to-day life and also on a broader, seasonal level. It’s not only the longer days jam-packed with activity that leave me feeling a bit wrung-out by the end of the summer, it’s also that summer, almost by definition, resists routines of all sorts. Which is liberating and exciting and fills us up in so many ways- I find my creative fodder in those months that seem to be a constant whirlwind of spontaneity and adventure. But when the first signs of fall show themselves, I always feel a certain relief at the prospect of rest and rhythm, and I begin to anticipate taking that creative fodder gathered over those sun-drenched days and processing it, molding it into something more polished, more connective.
In our final few weeks in Reno, the crisp nights and mornings made it clear that our long summer days were wrapping up. Snow began returning to the mountain tops and the edges of the leaves on the elms in our little RV park were beginning to turn more golden than green. As we drove toward Idaho and Wyoming and Montana, it seemed that we jumped seasons on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Sunlit grasses gave way to mountain valleys filled with aspen trees the color of turmeric and then to enormous evergreens whose limbs bowed under the weight of heavy snow. As we moved once again into the valleys, back again were saffron trees and honeyed meadows, only to wake to frozen windows and the blanket of quiet that accompanies gentle snowfall. It was a bit surreal to move so quickly back and forth between fall and winter each day, and then even more so as we left the west behind us to be greeted by the unseasonable warmth of New England’s very extended late summer.
I have known for a long time that I am a paradox, that who I am is made of seemingly contradictory halves. I have struggled over my life to figure out how to exist between those halves, often swinging all the way to one extreme until the other half was so emaciated and malnourished that I was forced to abandon where I was and swing all the way to the other extreme until the reverse happened and back I went. As I’ve grown older and learned a few lessons in the hardest ways possible, I’ve come to see how this wild swinging to extremes simply doesn’t work, and, maybe more importantly, that it’s simply not necessary. We are surrounded by cycles- day to night and back again, summer to fall to winter to spring, the planting to the harvest to the field that lies fallow. Why do we insist that we are the only exception to these cycles?
We have spent the last 10 months in an “endless summer” of sorts. We left snowy Maine in January and meandered south to settle for a few months into the balmy spring of south Texas before dipping into summer’s heat along the southwestern deserts and then returning to the spring of the high Sierra. We spent our summer there among those golden hills and craggy mountains, the long days and seemingly endless string of sunshine and bluebird skies. We moved and lived in a state of spontaneity and non-routine, filling our pockets to bursting with raw experiences and creative fuel.
And now, as I look out this little window at the shimmer of frost on the faded leaves, as I cup my hands around this steaming mug and gather myself at this makeshift desk, it is clear that winter has arrived and I can embrace this rhythm, this routine. Just as my summer was sprinkled with small routines and quiet moments, my winter will be sprinkled with unexpected adventures and spontaneous bursts- very few things in life are all-or-nothing as it turns out. But this cycle is important, this coming of winter and its routines, the space it creates to take those raw experiences out of my bursting pockets and look at them carefully, to process and appreciate them fully so that I can see all the ways they add shine to my life, to take all that creative fuel and set it alight to become a warming fire fully realized. By embracing these cycles, I feed my extremes more equally and so allow them to work cooperatively, strengthening one another in ways I never imagined.
We always know that winter is coming (for who can resist a Game of Thrones reference when it presents itself so obviously), but it can be easy to forget what can happen when we allow ourselves to come to winter, to its rest and routines, to its call for quiet and inner listening, to its challenges of cold and stillness. What happens when we step forward and into the cycle instead of resisting it? Let’s find out, let’s come to winter this year and just see where it takes us.