What Day is This? Must be Blurgmuffday.

After I retired at the end of 2018, one of the first things I noticed was apathy regarding which day of the week it was. That previously important knowledge was a construct needed because of work-life stuff, like when to go to work, how close was the weekend, when to take kids to activities, attend scheduled social engagements, dentist, doctors, etc. Basically, a lot of choreography rooted in a system relying on week days labeled to keep things straight.

During my subsequent year of RV roaming, this lack of which-day-is-it knowledge got worse (the Zennie in me says “got better”) as one day was much the same as any other. Campsite reservations or access to RV-related services were the primary reasons I needed a passing awareness whether tomorrow was a Monday or Friday. Other than that, any day could be called Blurgmuffday for all it mattered to me.

Now, in my stay-at-home life, day names are once again fairly useless. Which I don’t think is a bad thing. Some have taken to thinking we’re all living the Groundhog Day movie, where we’re in an endless loop, same day after same day.

What helps our mental and emotional survival in these dark times is to focus on being present minded in the now and embracing a one-day-at-a-time approach to living. Honestly, that’s the true extent of what each of us can control on what we can do and how we choose spend our time. Beyond that, we’d be constantly shifting from what we can control to struggling with only how we react to everything else. And in the rapidly changing landscape outside (look how things have rapidly changed and altered over the mere weeks we’ve been in stay-at-home mode), provide more reasons to toss your anchor out each day rather than sail in the someday-hopes of finding safe shore.

While I am planning out things for a week at a time, largely to block out activities to ensure progress, the focus is on my daily routine. I’m not dwelling on when this will be over, just on what I will do today (and in the evenings, planting a few mental seeds for the next day). I’m not giving any weight to what others say or predict we’ll be in or out of danger, when we’ll reach the other side of the slope, or when things will get back to normal. Just being here and now. (Hint: I don’t think things will ever be normal, as in, how they were before. And ideally, I don’t think they should be. A rare, wake-up-call event like this should be enough to compel humanity to fix our and the planet’s problems.)

So as I wake up each morning, I asked myself to focus on today, called “Day,” instead of…wait a sec. I have this…uh, Thursday? Yes, that’s right (I cheated: I had to look at the laptop calendar as I wrote this).

That’s all I can control, and that’s as far as I want to look ahead. At least for now.

Routine Behavior

Yesterday’s lesson in the Alive Time Stoic challenge was about creating a daily schedule and sticking to it. And through that effort, enable routine by committing your schedule to paper with defined times or blocks of when you’ll do what.

Like children who respond well to boundaries, we as adults can find comfort and solace from daily routines. For anyone chasing a creative endeavor, you innately know it’s all about consistency and chipping away daily at your practice. Scheduling daily time for writing, or sketching, or reading creates an expectation and anticipation for your mind to shift into focus on these activities.

“We are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act but a habit.” – Aristotle

I wrote in my March 29 post “Routine is the right-hand enemy of fear and anxiety….” A scheduled day keeps us distracted and helps avoid falling down that sticky, black-lined media rabbit hole, thus spinning your imagination to places you’d rather not go. When I find this happening, I quietly go in my mind through the three Zen foundation stones:

In this very moment, there is nothing to worry about.
In this very moment, nothing is lacking.
In this very moment, there is always something to be grateful for.

I believe the ability to embrace habits and routines is one fundamental reason introverts are likely to handle at-home isolation better than extroverts. We introverts find comfort in our solitude and intellectual pursuits, things we typically routinely did before becoming “official” shut-ins. Extroverts seem to relish more serendipity, being entertained unexpectedly, and the freedom of social interaction. To an introvert, too much of that becomes chaos and confusion. That’s why introverts, who’ve mastered an on/off switch to be an occasional extrovert, look forward to retreating to our trusted cocoons to recharge and reset.

In times like these, it’s likely valuable not just to state an intention of doing x, y, or z, but to schedule it. And by that I mean make an appointment. Spread your day’s tasks out in a planner and make specific time blocks. At day’s end, review and congratulate yourself on what you accomplished (but don’t beat yourself up about your misses), then plan what you’ll do tomorrow.

Scheduling activities will probably result in a lot getting done. And by the time we exit these abnormal days, making positive progress through routine habits will be your norm. Routine through scheduling should also add much needed order and clarity to your day, something that’s important and useful to us in these trying times.

Humor Helps

Sometimes, even in dark times, a little levity lifts the spirit. If you follow me on Facebook, then you may have seen at least some of these already. If not, then have a few giggles and a belly laugh or two. It can only help.

Time to Get Up and Do the Work

My home base for work, study, creation, meditation
No, I don’t have a job in an office away from home where I should be. And while I do have the shipping setup in the basement for my online stationery shop, I don’t mean that either.

The current stay-at-home mandate is not stopping me from going to work, because my work is to get up each day and go through my health-supporting routines, then go through the day pursuing creative efforts and mental stimulation. That’s my job in these dark times and it’s a seven-day-a-week gig.

Routine is the right-hand enemy of fear and anxiety, while the left-hand works on staying active through creative or mentally stimulation. Without this right-left defense, that foe (or obstacle) could easily render me incapable of doing much else beyond fretting and stewing.

My perspective on these odd times has slowly shifted to an appreciation of the opportunities during this new, highly restrictive phase of life. That may seem like either a crazy idea, or at least insensitive to other’s plights. I can only control how I react to my own plight, but I do empathize and understand others struggle daily.

How many of us have various projects, whether around the house, starting a journal, sketching, painting, or fill-in-the-blank we’ve wanted to get to for a long time? Now you have the time.

How many of us feel we haven’t engaged enough with family in a meaningful way because we’re too busy with other things? Now you have time for that also.

One way (some would say it’s the best way) to deal with an obstacle in life is to go through it, meaning adapt to it and creatively deal with it. Skirting around it does nothing but give it a chance to do its finest obstacleness later. Trying to run headfirst into it without a plan or thinking it’s fake news or hoax, is unfortunately the modus operandi of a certain ill-prepared political party. And we are witnessing that epic fail. By finding ways to defeat it through personal actions you control, by choosing to take advantage of what is available (in this argument that being ample time for x, y, or z), is how you can shift your thinking away from “it’s in my way and I give up,” or “It’s big and scary and I can’t do anything about it” and to seeing opportunities.

One quote found on that infrequent source of gems, Facebook, amplifies this change of thinking approach to what you can control:

“Do not change your behavior to avoid being infected. Instead, assume you are infected and change your behavior to avoid transmission.”

To spin it differently:

“Don’t focus on the unknown timeline of when we’ll be able to resume normality, but instead look within to make the best use of daily opportunities sheltered time provides.”

Trader Joe’s For The Win

Making decisions these days is about as quick as Monk’s playing medieval tic-tac-toe
In our new, weird-times world, we’ve thrown our old standards and habits out the window much like dirty, used-once-too-many-times dishwater. These new, daily behaviors will likely be with us for most of this year, if not into next year and beyond. But that’s not all bad: washing hands frequently isn’t a new idea. This should be something we learned as wee tots and part of our autonomic life skills. And limiting trips, excursions, and such has, at least in the last decade or two, been a wiser way to live to lessen our impact on the planet. Think of Covid-19 as a drill in preparation for the far worst crisis on the horizon, one where we’re steadily approaching the tipping point: global warming. No amount of hand washing will help us then.

But back to today and my story of venturing out, like some small forest burrow animal ever-concerned whether a predator lurks outside my refuge. Going solo on this food run, with my combined list in place and common sense whispering this will help limit exposure to only one of us in the household at a time, I head off to Trader Joe’s, my favorite grocery store.

Rewind back 10 days when a trip to the local Meijer was as close to an anxiety riddled outing as I’d ever want to have: a polar opposite to my Trader Joe’s experience today. The Meijer trip was an eye opener on many levels and happened the day after their public announcement (translation: vacuous marketing speak) of reducing hours and putting steps in place to protect workers and customers alike. Not only was there zero effort at limiting or distancing the herd inside, but employees were gloveless, an especially uncomfortably visual in the produce section. Combine those with Meijer customers who acted as though the crisis was behind us, with most making little effort on separation, and for a few, no effort at all to cover their hacking, coughing as they wandered the aisles. I felt like I was running a zombie gauntlet without a hand sanitizer amulet. When I finally got out to the car, I wanted to strip naked and cover myself with the hand sanitizer I keep there. But even in liberal Ann Arbor, there’s probably a law against that.

Clearly Trader Joe’s is a company committed more to safety and taking responsibility than protecting profits, evidenced by their well-thought out approach to crowd control.

I arrive before the announced 9-10 a.m. window where a separate line exists for us senior citizens, and the surprise bonus of employees throttling crowd control letting in three seniors for every one non-senior during that hour. Not only that, they had an employee (with gloves, as ALL Trader Joe’s employees had, whether stocking or cashiering) spray and wipe cart handles, seats, and basket top rims before incoming shoppers went in. Inside, all shoppers were patient and following social distancing guidelines.

I love to shop in a good grocery store I like to take my time and explore the not-so-obvious culinary delights available. It’s a rare trip to Trader Joe’s where the crowds allow such meandering, as there was today. In my throttled wave, there were probably 10 shoppers in the whole store. But I felt the need to hurry, not out of fear of Mr. CV-19, but out of courtesy to the 60+ people queued up outside waiting for us old farts to check out.

Good to know this process exists, since Trader Joe’s will be my store of choice in the months ahead for food runs since there I feel my risk probability is as low as possible these days in a public store. And yes, they even had toilet paper on the shelf, a rare sight these days.