Humour: Routine examination
What does a schedule mean in these unbounded, slow-moving times?Updated: May 24, 2020 01:26 IST
Time was when the clock was an ally, hurrying you on here, slowing you down there, like a caring coach. Now it’s that annoying thing on your phone screen, behaving like a temperamental teen: it’s never what you expect it to be and is cheeky to boot. In the long lists of lockdown tips (the second-worst scourge of our times), we regularly find advice on how to plan our days. But to those of us who have lived a relatively unstructured life so far, the challenge is, well, more challenging.
Popping the soap bubble
Even for the biggest proponent of free living, schedules inevitably creep into one’s day. There is usually a time of day for thinking and writing. Another for napping and idling. Yet another for going forth into the outside world, breaking bread, clinking glasses and sharing scandalous stories. Lockdown has taken all these independent activities and thrown them into an unforgiving blender. What comes out when you take off the lid is a sticky mess of cherished routines, pleasant escapes and the many unnameable bits of which regular days are constituted. What to do with this gloop? I’ve been trying to separate these glutinous ingredients and label them carefully, with the rigour of a chemistry student in love with her indifferent professor.
Here’s where the plot sickens: if you, like most of humanity, are isolating in company, your inner commands cannot be your master
This is what I’ve found. It’s great to start your day with some ritual, preferably functional. This could be dish-washing or machine-loading, bottle-filling or bookshelf dusting. Communing with scrubs and detergent first thing in the morning has a calming effect on me. But it doesn’t take long for the soap bubble to burst. What can be centering 14 days in a row can drive you to insanity on the 15th. It’s safe to conclude, the very reliability of routine makes it unsustainable.
So where’s the surprise in that? You might ask. Build breaks into the routine. All work and no play, etc. A-ha. Here’s where the plot sickens. If you, like most of humanity, are isolating in company, your inner commands cannot be your master. To cohabit with any degree of success, one has to quell that inner voice and stick to routines that work for everyone. You cannot not make the bed before noon and get away with it, for instance. Or give in to the impulse that postpones the cooking of lunch to dinner time.
This medley featuring psychology and sociology is playing on my mental stereo on loop, like a poorly-produced mash-up. “Don’t step out, for the greater good.” “But if I don’t step out, I’ll lose my mind.” “Don’t go out anyway.” And so on. I’m planning to give my inner voices some vocal training. Maybe even familiarise them with harmonies. Oooh – perhaps I can do a house concert on Insta Live, joining the scores of performers whose pixellating images serve as an apt metaphor for lockdown minds.
Routines are to a day what character is to an individual: you’re expected to stay within the boundaries. It would all be very well if living people operated like people in fiction. There the author imbues a character with traits and motives that work like a tag team. Monica Geller, for instance, would never allow her sink to overflow with dishes. She’s a stickler and so she must clean. But every so often in real life, every stickler has her messy moods, every planner slacks off and every routine wears itself out over time.
That’s when the Whatever Works philosophy shines like a neon sign over a Vegas casino. There’s merit in planning one’s day, and merit in upsetting the schedule. In meticulously ordering the hours and unthinkingly rearranging them. In respecting sequence and giving in to spontaneity. As if it weren’t enough to be the perfect employee, mother or artist, there is now the pressure of being the perfect employee, mother or artist in lockdown. Of neatly separating work from life, like flour through a sieve for that banana bread recipe. The good news is, there is no perfect lockdown recipe. We’re all winging it, and failing a lot of the time. The voices in my head are screaming themselves hoarse in agreement. I better find any arty backdrop for my upcoming online concert.
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From HT Brunch, May 24, 2020
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