To learn new habits is everything, for it is to reach the substance of life. Life is but a tissue of habits.–Henri Frederic Amiel
For the past five days we enjoyed visiting family that we’ve not seen in years. Normal routine has been out the window. The days have been filled with abundant cooking and rich eating around the table, splashing in the pool, getting to know each other again with the stories of our lives and, too, the modern activities of shopping and computers. At one point five of us were clustered at the same table, four at laptop computers and one crocheting. There was a lot of, “Look at this,” sharing going on.
This morning everyone is gone, the house starkly quiet. Upon first awakening, I cast about for the correct day of the week, as well as exactly who I am. My own life seems to have disappeared with the unusual whirl of visiting. It is habit that leads me back to my life.
For years my routine has been to arise early and enjoy stillness before the world awakens. I brush my teeth without thinking, then sink cross-legged into my soft salmon-colored chair that is surrounded by all my precious books and a solitary half hour or more of reading, prayer, and meditation. Directly after, I get a cup of black tea and feed the cat. On writing days, I carry the tea to the computer and start in. Today is a writing day, and I am here. I arrived by habit.
Now, as I look at my habits, I see clearly those habits that build my life, and those that tear down. So often I come to the computer to write on a project and get diverted by email and Twitter and shopping. I tell myself I’m warming up, but sometimes I warm up so long there is little time left for actual writing. It is, of course, the habit of procrastination.
We think of habits as actions, but actions come directly from our habitual attitudes. Attitudes of fear, second-guessing and self-doubt has stolen many a writing hour.
The great playwright Lillian Hellman once wrote: “Things start as hopes and end up as habits.” I think about how once upon a time, I habitually carried a notebook around to jot down ideas—all manner of ideas not only for writing but for living. It also used to be a habit, in my most prolific writing years, to read while eating lunch or sitting beside my husband while he watched television. Both of these actions came from the hope to build my writing life—the voracious hope, however unrecognized, to fashion my entire life.
Today I’m willing to take up this habitual hopeful attitude of mind. I’m off to find my notebook where I misplaced it five days ago.
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The winner of last weeks giveaway book, Lost Highways, is Ann Harris. Thanks to all who kindly left comments!