Joanne Palmer: Creatures of comforting habit
November 15, 2011
I like to think of myself as a creative person, open to new ideas and willing to try anything once. I'm the kind of person who abhors routine and likes to mix it up a bit and live life on the edge.
But the other morning, it dawned on me that my thinking was flawed. This epiphany came when I could not find my favorite coffee cup. It was not in the cupboard or dishwasher, nor was it on my desk or dining room table. I started to panic.
What if I couldn't find it?
My heart rate accelerated. I feared I would become an entry in the police blotter:
5:48 a.m. Officers were called to the home of a woman experiencing angina pains because of her inability to find her coffee cup. The coffee cup was located by the time officers arrived.
This coffee cup is handmade, a gift from a potter friend. It is the perfect shape and size, and it fits nicely in my hand. I probably have a dozen coffee cups, but I can drink only out of this one. If it's dirty, I will take it out of the dishwasher and wash it by hand.
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Thankfully, I found my blue and tan coffee cup (it was in the car!), and my blood pressure returned to normal.
After I had my coffee, I headed out to walk the dog. I noticed that I turned left, as usual, and walked the same two-mile loop I've been walking for the past two years. Hmm …
That night, the three of us sat down for dinner at our usual spots. My partner sits at the head of the table; my sweet, adorable son sits facing the kitchen (no doubt so he can keep track of the amount of food left); and I sit facing the window. Hmm …
I sleep on the left side of the bed. I park my car on the left side of the garage. I keep my things on the right side of the bathroom vanity.
Sigh. I am a creature of habit.
I don't think I'm alone.
If you go to church, you will notice that people have their "spots." Most people sit in the same pew, week after week, sermon after sermon. Some people like the back so they can make a quick getaway; some like the front for an unobstructed view. Because I'm tall, I have to have an aisle seat wherever I go. Especially on an airplane. There is nothing worse than having to crawl across two other people on the way to the bathroom.
My dog is a creature of habit. She sleeps in the exact same spots throughout the house. You will never find her stretched out in the sweet, adorable teenager's room. Or in the kitchen. Most of the time, she is in her crate on her fuzzy dog bed. But if there are high winds or rain, she heads for my closet. She wedges herself into such an impossibly small space that it almost is impossible to find her.
Habits, at least good ones, are comforting. Predictable patterns are soothing. But there are no surprises and no new perspectives, either. So I am going to try to do shift my routine just a little bit every day. For example, right now I am typing this column in green letters instead of my usual black. Tomorrow, I am going to drive a new way to the gym. And tonight at dinner, I am going to move to a different chair.
As for my coffee cup, well, that may have to wait.