The kids are off to school, and the morning shifts into a dull quiet. It’s time to do what I have to do – time for a routine. Getting back into it is difficult when there’s little definition to my constant scrambling for work, but it’s important. The research trip to Miami is long over with now, and I’m back alone in the cold silence of my Saint Paul routine.
Humans, as a species, are hard-wired to enjoy a certain level of routine. Our period as hunter-gatherers, following the herds and picking off a few berries here and there for snacks, is sometimes hard to imagine. Our brains work best when a task becomes effortless through repetition, digested from the intellectual part of our personality into the intuitive. This is what makes division of labor an important concept, and it’s what made us more productive as we settled down to become farmers and city dwellers. Dull routine is the cornerstone of civilization.
The problem with a major economic downturn like we have, Depression or not, is that many of us wind up in survival mode. People have to have work wherever they can find it. We need money to survive in this civilization, but to get money you may find yourself acting more as a hunter-gatherer, striking where you can. Speaking for myself, I know I’d be a lot more productive and useful if I could have a single, steady gig that become a routine. But that’s often a luxury when you’re in survival mode.
Routine isn’t always a great thing, of course. Humans also get bored, as if our ancient survival skills still need a certain level of cultivation from time to time. The comfort that comes from that boredom also leads us to keep doing what we have been doing long after it’s a particularly productive thing to do – which I think is the root cause of economic cycles. But in general, we crave having a stable base to draw from as we move through our life.
Creativity also benefits from routine, albeit strangely. I’m a big fan of Felix Mendelssohn, whose 200th birthday just past us; he was a man who traveled Europe and got inspiration from the places he visited, writing great works in quick romantic flourishes. I think of him often because while there’s no doubt that inspiration often comes outside of routine, writing a little bit every day is the best way to stay in practice and to get things out. The practice of the art requires the intuitive approach that routine brings, even if that seems a bit dull. Mendelssohn not only had the money to travel, you see, he had the income to return home and do nothing but polish his symphonic sketches in a daily routine of rather hard, straightforward work.
My own routine is scattered these days, generally doing nothing but looking for work. It’s not at all conducive to creating art – if anything it’s the opposite of Mendelssohn’s approach. I’ve been lacking the adventure and the ability to focus, both of which are essential in the creation of fully realized art of any kind. I need to work on this.
These are not times for good art despite the fact that the human drama of scratching for a living is invigorating and inspiring. When we turn the corner and get past the initial shock, however, I expect a kind of routine to develop. It’ll be good. That kind of slow, daily grind is something we as a standing upright chimp absolutely love, at least most of the time. We built this thing called “civilization” on it, too. The sooner we can get all this talent back to a productive routine, the better. The dull quiet of an empty morning is something we can fill with our enthusiasm for life, if given a chance.