Some of the things mentioned in this episode include:
In her 1977 diary, Susan Sontag writes:
Starting tomorrow — if not today: I will get up every morning no later than eight. (Can break this rule once a week.) I will have lunch only with Roger [Straus]. (‘No, I don’t go out for lunch.’ Can break this rule once every two weeks.) I will write in the Notebook every day. (Model: Lichtenberg’s Waste Books.) I will tell people not to call in the morning, or not answer the phone. I will try to confine my reading to the evening. (I read too much — as an escape from writing.) I will answer letters once a week. (Friday? — I have to go to the hospital anyway.)
As summer looms with vast landscapes and possibilities of that elusive “free time,” this episode is devoted to making the most of it: we’re looking at Routines.
I wrote this episode as I usually do: while my other half is getting ready for her daily commute, I’m laying up in bed, laptop on my lap, coffee mug resting on the mug warmer on my bedside table, and IHeartRadio playing the Starfucker radio channel (don’t let the name dissuade you from checking them out; they’re phenomenal). One of the dogs, typically Chewie, inevitably lays on the bed next to me, shifting every few minutes to stay in the sunbeam that drifts across the comforter, while Menchi wakes and terrorizes Sofie. I spend a couple hours researching and writing, broken up by refilling my coffee, feeding the dogs, and wishing my partner a good day. This is a pretty standard morning regardless of whether a new episode of this little audio essay project is coming out. Get up, grab coffee, lay in bed with laptop, and read, write, grade, check email, prep for class, et cetera. This has become my routine. I did not intend for this to happen; it just did. It works for me.
There’s even an entire website devoted to sharing creative and productive people’s morning routines called, unsurprisingly, My Morning Routine .com. (And if you folks from the site are listening, I promise I’ll get mine in soon…. I’ve been sitting on it for quite some time.) I suggest checking it out. You’ll find folks like Lindsay Champion, a young adult author that wakes up at 5am to meditate and harness that pre-dawn creative energy to write before heading to her day job at a digital media company in New York. You’ll also find folks like L’Oreal Thompson Payton, a freelance writer, blogger, and Girl Scouts Director of External Affairs for Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, who vehemently avoids texts or emails first thing but focuses on a bit of meditation, maybe some journaling, and a Cup o’ Joe. Then there’s Ritu Marayan, Standford-based CEO of Zum, an app that supports care and transportation for families. Early on weekdays (say, 5:30 or 6am), she wakes (without an alarm clock) and takes in her view of the San Francisco bay, has breakfast with her children, and performs some Vipassana meditation, a mindfulness technique.
Are you seeing a pattern yet? There are hundreds of these kinds of routine narratives on the site and some striking simliarities between many of them: many involve two specific things: meditation/mindfulness/prayer, whatever you want to call it, and writing. I’ve talked about Morning Pages before and it’s no surprise that so many folks engage in something close to it, even if it’s not strictly adhering to the original format. Heck, Hemingway did it, more or less. Quote:
When I am working on a book or a story I write every morning as soon after first light as possible. There is no one to disturb you and it is cool or cold and you come to your work and warm as you write. You read what you have written and, as you always stop when you know what is going to happen next, you go on from there. You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. You have started at six in the morning, say, and may go on until noon or be through before that. When you stop you are as empty, and at the same time never empty but filling, as when you have made love to someone you love. Nothing can hurt you, nothing can happen, nothing means anything until the next day when you do it again. It is the wait until the next day that is hard to get through. A little while back, Mason Currey wrote a book called “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.” In it, he identified the self-identified daily routines of 161(!) artists, thinkers, and creatives. Everyone from Franz Kafka to Pablo Picasso to Charles Darwin. I highly recommend it just to see how, well, intense some self-imposed routines are. I mean, Kafka got creative from 11pm to 6am and only slept from 6-9 and again from 3pm to 7pm. Given the work he produced, it seems worth trying, you know? On the opposite side, Mary Flannery O’Connor wrote from 9am to noon and spent the rest of her days either sleeping or on leisure activities. Haruki Murakami wakes at 4am and runs 10 kilometers or swims 1500 meters each day. Stephen King starts around 8am with things set out exactly the same day to day and goes from there. To each their own, I suppose.
Lifehacker once wrote (and Profhacker, where I am a sometimes-but-not-lately-because-ugh-there’s-so-much-to-do writer) about the top ten ways to upgrade your routine, specifically your mornings. Want to hazard a guess at #1? Well, it’s, essentially, observing and identifying your quote “peak performance” times. But how do you do that? The Simple Dollar has the answer and it’s pretty obvious, really: data. Record everything. Change things from up time to time and be honest with yourself about how it impacts your day. Get up half an hour earlier for a week, do some meditation or writing, and see how that strikes you.
We in higher education have a fairly easy time of it more often than not, I think. I recognize that my routine is a rather privileged routine in that the only consistent expectations are self-imposed. Heck, I even devoted an entire episode to the wonders of working from home. I’m not suggesting these kinds of changes or hacks are applicable or even possible for everyone. Only that, if you find yourself struggling or feeling less productive or even less like yourself in the morning, whatever that may mean, give it a shot. Great things have small beginnings, after all.
Now, before I say, “See you next time,” I wanted to remind you that I have a newsletter! It goes out on off-weeks when these don’t. It’s called Read, Watch, Woof and in it I share a little piece of writing on an interesting topic (I promise), a video also on something interesting or funny (again, I promise), and a picture of one of our dogs, all of which are almost painfully cute (…I really do promise). There’s a sign-up link in the shownotes and also on my website, or you can just go to ryanstraight.com/newsletter. Another bit of info: The New Professor will be taking the summer off, meaning season three will begin in August. I know, I’m sorry, but it ain’t called “Summer Vacation” for nothin’! As you probably know I haven’t been doing any interviews or anything beyond these “audio essays” (I don’t really like to call it a podcast) but I’m planning on changing that for season 3 and having some folks on with me. So, if you’d be interested or know someone who would be, please let me know on Twitter at either my personal account, @ryanstraight, or on this account, @newprofcast. Alternatively, you can contact me via the website.
Thanks for listening! See you next time.