Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On Markers, Anchors, and Routines

[Musing alert. The following entry will probably make no difference to your life.]

My annual car inspection seemed to come up very quickly this year. It’s a marker for me, signifying the passage of time. There are others. Some are odious, like my mammogram or my three times a year dental cleaning visits (I hate all the scraping and high, whiny machines that strip of tartar and stains). Some are potentially pleasurable, like birthdays. Some are sad, like the anniversaries of the deaths of family members.

In contrast, anchors are like comfort food. Anchors are recurring positive events, activities, TV or radio programs, or routines that help to center me. I look forward to them. Without them, something seems missing. For many years, “A Prairie Home Companion” was an anchor for me. Then one day, Garrison Keillior went off the air, and I felt quite bereft. Fortunately, he returned, though perhaps having been abandoned once, I was more reluctant to allow the show to resume its anchor status. When an anchor disappears, some major readjustment is necessary.

Holidays often serve as anchors. Christmas with my family in London used to be an anchor. I lost that anchor when my family members passed away. In contrast, Thanksgiving was never an anchor holiday. My husband and I rarely do the same thing twice.

And then there are routines. Whereas an anchor might play out differently from occasion to occasion, routines rely on a fixed set of activities and may occur with more regularity—like the morning cup of coffee with the sports section—but they may be infrequent as well. Most of us take some pleasure in our routines. On my first day of that trip to London, I had a routine. Arrive early in the morning, be picked up by my sister and brother-in-law, have a small breakfast upon arrival (usually toast and a soft boiled egg), a couple of hours’ nap, a little lunch, and then a visit to my mum and dad for tea and cake.

For many people, their annual vacations to the same spot serve as anchors. I am about to leave for my yearly anchor trip—my pilgrimage, as I call it, to the Jersey Shore with my long-time friend, whom I only see once a year. For a few days each summer but one since 1995, we have occupied the house of a friend while he is away. It’s a simple ranch house in a suburban bayside community, but it feels like home. We have watched it morph from its original 70s decor of gold shag carpet and dark paneled walls to a brighter, cleaner look with new appliances and central air conditioning. Though relatively brief, the trip serves a major source of recharging for both of us. During this time, we also have our routines--our daily walks on the bike path, our trip to Mazzeo’s to buy local produce for our healthy eating intentions, our check-in at Talbots sale, our visit to the local gallery, our final breakfast on the deck of a little cafĂ©. In its way, the trip is a marker.

I suppose it’s possible that one can become too dependent on one’s anchors and not venture out of one’s comfort zone. But for me, it’s the anchors that make the adventuresome turns possible, like writing. Writing is not an anchor activity, and although it is something I do regularly, neither is it a routine. It requires some gearing up. But once inside the zone, I can go for hours. And then how nice it is at the end of it all to shut off the computer and delve into the bedtime routine.

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