Location: Daylesford, Australia
Every morning, without fail (unless stymied by a particularly brutal hangover), my partner wakes, gets up from bed (after I ask for a cuddle; sometimes Jackie has time, sometimes not), and makes a bowl of porridge with sultanas and milk, timing the Aeropress perfectly so that their coffee is ready at exactly at the same time. Jackie sits and eats quietly, with purpose, reading the news or listening to a podcast, their breakfast filling the house with warmth and steam like a bath.
My grandfather, too, had an almost monk-like ritualism to his breakfasts, making a bowl of cornflakes with milk, toasting a piece of bread, sitting it on a rack on the windowsill until it was tepid as the breeze outside. Then applying butter and jam, all the way to the edges. Sitting with his breakfast and his tea in the kitchen.
My routine, if you can call it that, tends more to the erratic. I wake up starving and claw my way to the kitchen, sticky-eyed, find a fragment of chocolate to gnaw on from the cupboard, and then chastise myself for not eating properly. I might then make a bowl of cereal, take it back to bed to slop down before it gets soggy, drip soy milk down my pyjama top. Then, up again to make a coffee, back to bed, then up for another coffee, and to the study, where I can finally start the day. If I haven’t already worked myself up enough to the point of not being able to manage writing at all.
I am fascinated by those who are buoyed by routine. Morning people who float out of the bed, hovering and chirping like hummingbirds to drink the day’s nectar. It’s perhaps part of that familiar anxiety I feel about more or less everything: why do other people find things so easy that I find so difficult? Why can’t I be like everyone else? Or: does everyone not find it really really hard to pry themselves up from bed in the morning?
During lockdown I try to ease myself into a more structured existence: wake up, get up, have a shower, get dressed, make myself breakfast (low-sugar muesli, a dollop of coconut yoghurt, berries, a drizzle of oat milk; coffee with oat milk heated in the microwave). More often than not, though, I get stuck on the first hurdle, end up looking at my phone for an hour, scrolling briskly and superficially, before I desperately need to pee, then to eat, then because I’m not dressed, I end up curling back under the covers. Sometimes, though, it works: I am a figure skater, gliding from trick to trick, a gibbon gliding from branch to branch. Effortless. Alive. Before the next day when I crash back to earth.
I wake up starving and claw my way to the kitchen, sticky-eyed, find a fragment of chocolate to gnaw on from the cupboard, and then chastise myself for not eating properly.
Psychologists love routine. They roll in it like pigs in shit. Countless online articles tell you to build how to build a positive morning routine: sunlight (what if the thought of going outside, even opening the curtains makes you want to vomit), hydration (easy enough, and easy enough to rail against with coffee), breakfast (sure, chocolate, coffee to drip down my shirt), writing a gratitude list (if the thought doesn’t make you want to roll your eyes so far back into your head they never re-emerge), writing a to-do list (if the thought doesn’t make you break out in a cold sweat), exercise (if that doesn’t make you immediately hyperventilate about everything you need to do).
Day one: Get up. Try to get to the shower. Spend two hours supine, playing Animal Restaurant, a mobile game I’m using to replace my online shopping habit—something pointless and not based on outcomes that trigger my dopamine receptors (or whatever chemical it is that makes me feel good when I buy a three-hundred-dollar dress; I’m no doctor). It’s a game which encourages you to watch ads in order to speed your progress through a series of improvements to your restaurant which shift as you reach them like extremely flexible goal posts. I watch an ad for Headspace, an app that sells people mindfulness for the low low price of US$5.38 a month. This makes me feel even worse about myself.
Day two: get up, eat breakfast in bed. Lie in bed with the curtains closed till eleven.
Day three: get up, shower. Dress. Eat breakfast. Have a panic attack; back to bed.
Day one million billion trillion: rinse, repeat.
Lockdown has been helpful in that it has made me more aware of my habits, or my lack of them, or the negativity associated with them. Sometimes it can take the quiet of not leaving the house to realise that the house is not in order. The house is an island drifting further and further out to sea. The house is crumbling into the earth.
Do I even want to rearrange the bricks and mortar into a more appealing aspect? Pull out the broken boards like teeth until it fits a far-off ideal of what a house should be? Put on big Blunnies, get my hair bleached and straightened and glossed, orange coat my skin in a spray-tan, get cast in a new series of The Block, where we demolish and remake people like me? I’m not so sure. Maybe I just want to yank it all down. Lie down among the shards.