Routines: good or bad? It depends.

My favorite daily routine since I retired begins a few minutes after waking up. I eat breakfast, make a pot of tea, and settle into my reading chair with the Chicago Tribune. Lizzy, my cat, usually climbs into my lap. The next hour, give or take, is splendid.

The routine was disrupted a week ago Thursday when the paper didn’t arrive. Then it happened again the following day. And the next Monday. And again last Thursday.

Of course I reported the missed deliveries, and as they continued, complained to a live person. My civility decreased with each missed paper. The customer service person suggested reading the online digital edition while the problem was being investigated. Yes, I could do that, I replied, but I want to be sitting in my reading chair with a printed newspaper in my hands, as I do every morning.

The problem seems to have been corrected — knock on wood — but it has me thinking about routines. If I was so attached to my early-morning newspaper-reading routine that a change shook me up, adjectives like inflexible and unadaptable come to mind. 

Yet some routines have to be good. Exercise, for instance. Who would argue that going to the gym at 7 every morning is a bad habit? Keeping regular bedtimes is good for our biological rhythms. Your mother’s getting a phone call from you at the same time every day or week ensures you won’t forget to call her.

It’s said that developing routines around maintenance activities can free our brainpower for more creative reflection. I don’t remember that following a fixed morning routine when I was still working resulted in great thoughts, but showering, eating, feeding the cat, dressing, and making the bed in the same order every workday ensured that I got to work on time.

It sounds counterintuitive, but creative work itself can benefit from routinization. If you think you might like to write or paint or whatever “someday,” the elusive someday may never arrive. Alexander Trollope, whom my book group just finished reading, produced 47 novels by sticking to a three-hours-a-day writing schedule. (Ironically, critics who believed that creativity doesn’t adhere to a schedule labeled Trollope a mechanical hack.)

Routines can be helpful, but if every day were to follow the same pattern from waking to sleeping, we’d be more like automatons than human beings. The line between a routine and a rut is narrow indeed. When we’re not on autopilot, we might pay more attention and can see things in a new way. Boredom and monotony are held at bay. Our brains maintain “neuroplasticity,” the experts say.

The Tribune is outside my door again when I wake up. I’m not willing to say that a habit that gives me pleasure is bad. But my agitation over an unsought change has made me think I might need a shake-up or two. I could walk downtown on a street other than Michigan or Wabash. I could substitute some new recipes, even some unfamiliar foods, for my usual staples. I could read some different news sites. I could add new asanas to my yoga sessions.

It might be best to try one change at a time. Things that aren’t routine can fall between the cracks.

*****

BARBARA’S DEATH ON CALL THE MIDWIFE

Surely fans of Call the Midwife were as devastated as I was by Barbara’s death from septicemia in last night’s episode. Charlotte Ritchie, who played the nurse midwife, decided that it was time to leave the public television series. Can’t writers think of another solution than killing off the character?

It is hard to think of how a character’s disappearance can be explained when the character is married, as Barbara was to the Rev. Tom Hereward.

Death happens; should television avoid reality?

Plausibility can make the death easier to take. On Downton Abbey, Sybil’s death from postpartum eclampsia was believable. Her father’s disastrous insistence on relying on the advice of a titled physician, instead of taking Sybil to a hospital, was in character. In contrast, Matthew’s death in an auto accident after visiting his wife and newborn son was a improbable blow in a finale to the same season in which Sybil died.

I appreciate when writers create follow-up plots that deal with the repercussions of a loss. While the spouses and Matthew’s mother grieved in Downton Abbey, I felt that the rest of the family seemed to forget that a daughter and a son-in-law were missing. Life went on as before.

We’ll see what happens to the grieving Tom and Nonnatus House on Call the Midwife.

*****

ANTI-TRUMP QUOTATIONS: 11TH IN AN ONGOING SERIES

“From a personnel perspective, we’ve never quite seen the assemblage of crooks, just outright weirdos, wife beaters, drunk drivers, complete and total incompetents that’s been assembled.”

— Republican strategist Steve Schmidt

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  • Thank you for wise observations. In a writers' group, I once blurted out on paper that adhering to my routine was "carpeting my rut." I happen to like carpeted ruts! Curiously, I've had delivery troubles with the Tribune, too -- and I much prefer being surprised by adjacent stories on paper to searching for everything on the computer.

  • Carpeted ruts -- that's funny. Thanks for writing.

  • Who can forget Archie finding Edith's slipper under the bed after Edith's death in All in the Family?

  • Edith's death is one that I would put in the plausibility category.

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