Thursday, November 6, 2014

Force of habit

Habit 1He paid attention to what he did when he traveled, on the lookout for those first repetitions that would create the pattern of that particular place and moment in his life.  He knew that habits begin to form at that very first repetition.

And so often the first time one did things they were contingent, accidental, and not necessarily good things on which to base a set of habits.

-- Robinson, 2312

What habits have I adopted, consciously, unconsciously, settling into a new place, expat among unfamiliar people, language, culture?  It’s a funny little question to ponder.

On vacation, I find a particular place to eat where the food is good and the people are nice, so the next night, I’m back. Repetition.  The third, I’m looking forward to it, recommending it to friends.  Habit?

In the late afternoon, I push back from my computer, switching Skype to Away and disabling Messenger.  Gym clothes in the bag, I drive cross-community to the Leisure Centre and take an hour’s break, reading or watching television while pumping away on the bike.   I come home separated from my work, ready for the evening cook and connecting with people.  Scheduled?  Or habit?

Habit 3We build our lives around repetitive patterns and expected actions.  Some I create fresh in the places that I live, among people that I care about.  Others, I carry in from previous lives, unpacked and adapted to my new circumstances.. 

My conscious habits are true pleasures.  Developing a sense for art and skill for cooking has outlived the people who encouraged it in me.  Days spent walking cliffs and beaches, biking Dutch hills, photographing faces and towns, are rediscovered joys. 

Some habits, coastal sailing and life-drawing with charcoals, are temporarily aspirational, set aside in crowded days; interest in cultivating gardens or making music have become vestigial, unlikely to ever return.

Taken as a whole, they make meaningful and defining interests and traditions, familiar and personal.  They define me even more than they structure my day.

Habit 2Of course there is no such thing as a true repetition of anything;  Heraclitus and his un-twice-steppable river and so on.  The pattern of the day might be the same, but the individual events fulfilling the pattern were always a little bit different.

Thus, there is both habit and surprise, constructed as a little work of art.

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