Saturday, January 03, 2009


Every day has its routine. How much do our routines change over time?

I now live in my fourth apartment or house since I left Oxford. I am in my fifth job during that same time period, which now spans 31 years. We have had two kids born into those homes; one has already left and lived in five places of her own. My own daily routine has been defined by those factors – the time schedules, the locations and distance from work, the schedules of everyone else in the house, the events and activities in which we all participate.

I know what my daily routine is today. But I wish I could reconstruct what it was like ten years ago, or 20, or thirty.

Sometimes I mark the passage of time by how many times I have made the bed. These days, I groan when I bend over to pick up the pillows off the floor and arrange them appropriately at the bedstead. I get irritated if I have to stoop over multiple times because I have dropped one, or because a couple of the decorative pillows made their way underneath the bed on the other side.

I don’t remember thinking this way twenty years ago. Pam was commuting to teach about 25 miles away, and was out of the house long before me. I would get our daughter ready for elementary school. I remember doing her hair every morning, and how inadequate I felt at doing pigtails or braids. We were usually in a rush. Even now her elementary school pictures make me cringe because I see the poor results of my hairdressing.

But what was the morning sequence then? What time did I get up in the morning? What time did I shut the door behind me and head to work? I’m sure it had its own repeated choreography that covered the bathroom, bedroom, kitchen, and out the door – getting dressed, making the bed, pushing the kid along, getting breakfast, checking the backpack one more time.

This is life, the regular dance and pace of it all. We assume the script, the steps, the daily timetable. But we shouldn’t belittle it. We are the sum of our actions, whether large or small, whether they make the front page of the business or entertainment sections or just result in a hug from a little girl before she gets on the bus.

This was triggered by a story I heard on NPR earlier this week. A college student and his professor did a year-long project in which a small group of people took a picture every night at 7:15PM and loaded it to a website. The time was chosen deliberately; it was generally after dinner, but before people got settled into their evening routine. The result is a collection of pictures of people in their routine, creating their daily lives – a picture journal that covers one year. Taken as individual items, each picture could be rather mundane; taken as a collection, it is a fascinating record.

The kind of camera I wish I had in my head twenty years ago.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Dave,
I really liked this post. "This is life, the regular dance and pace of it all." What a perfect line.
Mason has induced some mind-numbing monotony into life, but it is funny, the monotony is only from a distance. Kind of like looking at the rocking mountians driving in from the plains. At that distance, in the haze they always seem like a single entity. They are mountains, a collective. Something to see, to drive through and to conquer. Yet as you get closer, as you get within them, their beauty is in the details. A single mountain pass taken the right way could take days.
A life with children seems very similar. Yes, Mason wakes up, generally after I have left. I see him for dinner, he gets a bath, a book and bed. Its all very repetitive, and holds very little surprise. Until like a mountain pass you enter the moment. A different smile, a newly learned hand gesture or contagious giggling laughter for which he is so proud, all add up into the details of moments within my life. From the inside there is nothing repetitive.
Yes, I guess moments can be front page section material for whatever reason, but it really is the pace of it all, the mountain valleys that matter; the hug from a daughter regardless of her hair.
I loved this post. I prompted some great thoughts.
Also, you mark time by the making of the bed. That made me wonder how i deliniate time now that it is such a blur. I think I mark the passage of time by the Saturdays I spend sipping coffee in my chair and watching Mr. Ross work his magic on PBS.
Thanks for always making me think. I hope to see you soon.