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{Mon 2 February 2009}   Seeking the ideal daily routine
Seeking the ideal daily routine

Sue Thomas posted this question under Talking Points in our Creative Nonfiction module today:
I came across this very interesting website http://dailyroutines.typepad.com/ which prompted me to ask – what is your daily routine? Do you have one? Do you wish you had? What works for you?

I found this website fascinating. One thing that struck me particularly was how few writers write for more than three or four hours a day. Another was how many of them write in the morning. I am also a morning person. Sometimes, I jump out of bed with a huge sense of urgency at 3, 4, 5 or 6 and head straight to my computer. If I do start writing then and if nothing else actively demands my attention (I am very good at procrastinating about things that should be done but aren’t actually shouting at me), then I can write or design projects easily until 11 or 12 am.

Usually, though, I have a much more disciplined routine which results in far less writing! This is because I’m married. Because I currently work and study from home and my husband has to travel to work, all the housework and catering falls to me. His necessary routine dictates mine. We rise at 7 (if I’m not already up) and I must have a cooked breakfast on the table by 8am at the latest so that he can be at work by 9. I usually fit in some housework and about 45 minutes of exercise between 7 and 9 as well. I am much more regular about exercise if I do it in the morning. If I miss, sometimes I can persuade myself to get on the stepper in front of the TV in the evening, but I have to talk to myself sternly to make myself do this!

From 9 I’m back at the computer and work through until 12 or 12.30, when I break for lunch for an hour (in which time I’ll do some laundry and possibly get onto the stepper in front of the TV if I missed it in the morning). Then at 13:00 or 13:30 back to the computer until 6.30 pm. I often have a concentration slump somewhere between 2 and 4pm, so I might read online news, answer emails, browse websites or even watch TV then. At 6.30 I start preparing dinner to serve at 7pm (I don’t do fancy cooking!). By 8pm I’ll finish clearing up, laying the breakfast table and preparing my husband’s work lunch for the following day. Then it’s time for any collaboration with him on online projects or domestic issues, or if we don’t have anything pressing, we’ll both return to our computers until 10pm (well, we always say 10pm, but inevitably end up only getting into bed by 11 or later because he’s a night owl).

I deal with household admin and finances – property, banking, insurance, investment issues, etc. for at least an hour a day. Most of this is online or call centre work which I dislike intensely, and some letter-writing, and it usually goes better if I do it in the morning, but I often leave it until late in the afternoon.

Unfortunately, I don’t function well on less than 8 hours’ sleep, or if I get to bed any later than 11pm. I would so love to be one who could manage on 6 hours!

Sometimes, when I’m deeply engaged in a project or piece of writing, none of the above applies. I’ve been known to spend 12 to 18 hours solid at my computer, only drinking or eating when my other half realizes that I’m shrivelling up and brings me something.

So, that’s my reality, which doesn’t really work for me. One possible improved schedule would be:

06:00 Yoga, self-care, planning
07:00 Light breakfast; read
07.30 Write, study
11:00 Online chores
12:00 Lunch (main meal); read or walk
13:00 Write, study, work
17:00 Housework, dinner prep with music
18:00 Walk or read
19:00 Light dinner and clearing up with music
20:00 Read, play games, collaborate, dance, singing, drawing or music practice
09:00 Prep for sleep
09:30 Read in bed
10:15 Sleep

Seems so simple…. why is it so hard to make this happen regularly?

One answer: Csikszentmihalyi talks of the “activation energy” needed to transition into activities that produce flow, and of the dangers of the lure of passive activities like TV that require very little activation energy. TV is a big problem for me because it’s easier than all the other things. If I could, I would throw it out, but hubby won’t hear of it. Although, recently, I’m glad to report, I’ve been so interested in what I’m learning and doing on the course that I’ve been watching a lot less.

I’d be happy to hear what routines others have or have tried in the past, and especially what motivates you to stick to them.

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After a month of rain and stormy weather, our King Lear reading took place on the first sunny weekend of the summer. However, with the images of grey skies and floodwaters still strong in our minds, it wasn’t difficult to feel the intensity of Shakespeare’s insistent “Storm continues” repeated so often in the stage directions. Poor Lear is adrift in an awful storm of his own making. Despite their loyalty to him, the Fool and Kent repeatedly assert that he is the author of his own misfortune, for giving up his crown too early and for disinheriting the one daughter who truly loved him and on whom he might have counted when the others betrayed him.

Many hold this to be the Bard’s greatest play, but not always for the same reasons, or perhaps because there are so many possible reasons. As usual, we enjoyed the different perspectives that arose in our group’s discussion. Are Lear’s irrational pronouncements and acts born purely out of wilful folly or monstrous ego, or does his great age suggest the possibility of dementia, something he senses is happening and knows he cannot control? If a king of forty wants to give up his throne in order to “shake all cares and business from our age”, we might well accuse him of laziness, of simply wanting an easy life with the trappings but not the responsibilities of authority. But when the king is eighty (in a world when many people did not live past fifty), and has exercised authority throughout a long life, is the same charge fair? In this latter case, might one not see his attempt to transfer power peacefully during his lifetime as a brave and responsible act, fouled only by the dementia itself when he repudiates Cordelia? Goneril’s and Regan’s references to earlier irrational acts before the play opens lend themselves to this interpretation, as do Lear’s own expressed fear of going mad and his alternating periods of apparent lunacy and lucidity.

Of course he also represents humankind at large, buffeted by the storms of life. We know this because our sympathy for him grows as he rails alone against the storm, even if it is his own fault that he’s there at all. Is Shakespeare suggesting that most of our stormy experiences arise because of our own stubborn refusal to see clearly and to act rightly? Or does the theme of “nothing”, also repeated often, suggest a lurking nihilism, the idea that all our intentions and efforts may be meaningless, subject to the random attacks of nature, no matter whether we act responsibly or not? Cordelia acts according to her conscience throughout, but ends up just as dead as Lear and the traitors. Is Shakespeare evoking an absurd universe, long before Waiting for Godot? This is one possibility raised by the really enjoyable essay “Speak What We Feel: An Introduction to King Lear” by Ian Johnston at http://www.mala.bc.ca/~Johnstoi/eng366/lectures/lear.htm. This essay also raises several other questions, such as the ‘normality’ of evil and the value of individual acts of goodness, like that of the unnamed Servant who challenges and kills Cornwall. There is a wealth of other Lear material online as well — just search on “King Lear”.

After such a stimulating reading and discussion, we are very much looking forward to seeing the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of King Lear with Ian McKellen in the title role at the New London Theatre in November. Join us if you can! Note that booking for this production is currently only available to RSC Members. Public booking opens on 7th September 2007. RSC Membership costs £15 and is well worth it, as tickets for most productions over the past two years have sold out very quickly.

The next reading, probably in August, will be The Merchant of Venice.



Still on the topics of gender discrimination and of hypocrisy, the following articles in the Mail&Guardian today caught my eye:

Sex Bias and Hypocrisy by Lucy Ward begins with the following paragraph:

Teenage girls and young women in the United Kingdom overwhelmingly believe they face a future of discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere, with half worrying that their careers will suffer if they have children, according to a survey by the Girl Guides.

It goes on to say that while the majority of them believe that women can do anything they want to do, and that 94% expect to go back to work after having children, most of them also believe that they already and in the future face discrimination issues due to their gender.

In the same section, I came across an article by Sarah Churchwell (whose surname is doubtless considered ironic by members of the church, given her views) titled Who needs kids anyway? I think the title is slightly misleading, because it gives the impression that she thinks of kids as a burden and wouldn’t want any herself, whereas the article reveals that she is open to the possibility but is making the point that motherhood is a possible role, not the entire definition of a woman. The article starts like this:

Last week brought yet another report in the United Kingdom yelping about women “waiting too long” to have babies. I enjoyed this one, particularly as it was about graduate women born in 1970, of whom 40% have had children. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m one of the other 60%. The report had a clear message: get impregnated now or you shall rue the day. Oh, please. Can we get a few things straight?

She goes on to make four points with which I heartily agree:

  1. Raising children in the wrong partnership is painful and destructive for all concerned and when a suitable partnership isn’t available during the childbearing years then remaining childfree is far preferable.
  2. “… wanting children is not a foregone conclusion just because I am a woman.”
  3. “… not having children is not necessarily a selfish decision.”
  4. “… having children is not necessarily a selfless decision.”

For me, the most compelling reason is the last one. I am really irked by the hypocrisy of those who have had children for a huge complex of psychological reasons including the desire to live out an improved version of their own lives through their children, the need to feel empowered by controlling beings less powerful than themselves, the desire to achieve status in communities that value the number and/or achievements of one’s children, the need not to be considered inadequate by communities who believe that a woman is not fulfilled unless she is a mother, the hope that children will provide some kind of insurance against loneliness and poverty in old age, or even simply because it never occurred to them not to have children, and who then in retrospect justify the difficulties that they’ve faced in childbearing and childrearing by saying that they did it for love, or because they are “unselfish” in comparison with those who have chosen not to have children.

Of course, I understand the need to create meaning and a sense of purpose in order to sustain oneself through the struggles that having children entails, and I do believe that some people who start out selfish may become less so through the experience of having children, but it’s simply not true that the majority of women start out with the altruistic thought, “What can I give to the world? Oh, I know, I’ll have a baby.” Most people do it for themselves, or due to cultural pressure (which, in a way, is still for themselves).

I’m not suggesting, by the way, that this isn’t a good reason for doing it, as it’s perfectly human. Just be honest. It’s no more or less selfish than the choice not to do so. And both choices may or may not have positive consequences for the world. One could be the mother of a serial killer. The other might be Mother Theresa.



There’s a wonderful article in The Guardian today where Robert Fisk explores the Bard’s evocations of the feelings and actions of men in battle situations and shows how relevant and accurate they are to our wars today. Oh, to see so clearly and write poetry that penetrates and grips and lasts and keeps on speaking!

See http://news.independent.co.uk/world/fisk/article2403298.ece



{Sun 25 March 2007}   The Priesthood of the Soul
I have just found in an old backup file some essays of mine on subjects close to my heart, which I had feared were lost. They were created in WordPerfect in 1992 and 1993 on my first computer – a 7.5kg whopper of a laptop which I abandoned in about 1997, I think. I have no idea whether these thoughts and approaches would be considered to have any validity now in any current education programme, but part of me doesn’t care. I just want to affirm and reconnect with my experience of “flow” at the time and also to reconsider now these influences which I know have formed and informed my approach to poetry.

As I read through them, and read the markers’ comments again, I am amazed both at the intensity with which my mind was working at the time, and at my concurrent inability then to absorb either the praise or the criticism that the markers gave. My relative maturity now enables me to see how much care was taken by the markers in their thoughtful comments and I am embarrassed to realise how little I valued them then. My driving need for approbation and reinforcement prevented me from realising that people were offering me exactly these simply by taking my writing seriously enough to offer me thoughtful feedback.

I have no record of the mark I received for this one, but the lecturer actually wrote a five-page response to this twelve-page essay which begins as follows:

The Priesthood of the Soul: The relationship between Imagination and Reason in Keats.

The Romantic obsession with the apparent dichotomy between Passion and Reason is given a new twist in Keats’s unique theology:

Call the world … “The vale of Soul-making”…. There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions — but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself…. Spirit-creation … is effected by three grand materials acting the one upon the other for a series of years — These three Materials are the Intelligence — the human heart (as distinguished from intelligence or Mind) and the World or Elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming the Soul… As various as the Lives of Men are — so various become their souls (Letter 123, 335-6).i

That Keats favours a chemical metaphor for the processes of both poetry and human experience indicates how much his rational and his imaginative faculties complement each other. In The Chemistry of the Poetic Process, Stuart M. Sperry minutely demonstrates how much Keats borrows from his scientific reading to develop his poetic philosophy.ii He shows that Keats sees poetry as a process whereby the material world’s beauties and travails are absorbed via the senses and distilled, through an inner contemplative-experiential mechanism called ‘intensity’, into an essence of thought. Such thought, however, cannot be equated with rational conclusions arrived at through logic. Sensation acted upon by the imagination (the agent of intensity) produces a fresh complex of sense-stimulating beauties which open up new avenues for exploration. For the reader, the poem then forms an acutely tuned part of his material world and invites him to a similar experience of intensification and distillation of thought. In consequence, the reader’s appreciation may differ from the poet’s. Keats’s own capacity for existing in uncertainty allows his readers to fashion their own souls as they choose. In one letter he asserts that poetry can lead man into contemplation and through it to an active awareness (by which he means sensitivity to potential pathways rather than any single, absolute conviction) which could transform humanity (48, 103-4). This is how the poet functions as priest of the soul in ‘the vale of Soulmaking’.

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