On Ritual

I see a lot of potential in the morning. When I am awake, I try to be. Living with someone who isn’t quite as into mornings as I am, I’m starting to understand that not everyone feels the same way about it as I do. That time between waking and working is my most productive for a number of reasons, the least of which is the quiet. When I started my new job, I began waking an hour earlier to solidify some new habits in my day to day. I get up and out of bed, take too long a shower, check Reddit to see if the president has been impeached while I was sleeping, groom myself, brush my teeth, get dressed, and then I walk to the subway, careful to lock the door behind me so that no one breaks into my apartment while my girl sleeps. This is her fear, but I respect her enough to trust it.

Using public transportation gives me a closer look at people in this early stage of the day. It is a time of silence for most. The occasional cell phone or lack of self-awareness will break the quiet, splintering the illusion that we are all collectively still asleep. Sometimes the trains make emergency stops in the tunnels for one reason or another. Perhaps someone is on the tracks again. It happens sometimes. One person will start to freak out a little. In my experience, this is usually an overweight woman, who says ‘Lord’ a lot. Just an observation; it’s happened three times to me now.

When the trip goes off without a hitch, I arrive at 34th street with my supplies for the day: a good pen with plenty of ink, several notebooks, and my computer. I make my way to Friedman’s for coffee, which is a new habit. The waiters are starting to recognize me now—by face not name just yet. This is fine, because they are always cordial and not in the way waiters have to be cordial. They flash genuine grins and say things like ‘welcome back, man’. I like it a lot. It’s probably because for an hour or so, my time feels like it has some meaning. We’re all together. They’re doing a job for someone that’s grateful to receive it, and I think they’re a little grateful, too.

I don’t think any of them want to be waiting tables that early in the morning, but they have to in order to support themselves in this city of high expense and exorbitant costs. A.J. says hello and asks me how I’m doing this morning. He wants to be a writer. He writes reviews because that’s what pays, but he’d rather write plays. He’s already written a few. One about “dog parties”—a party for instagram famous dogs—and one about his friend’s suicide. It’s a one man show, he says. Instead of answering his question, I ask him how he’s doing. I don’t know why. That’s just how it came out. He tells me he’s doing well but that he needs another cup of coffee. I say something like that makes two of us. He smiles. I smile. It feels good. He pours me some coffee. I’m waiting for the day I walk in and someone says black coffee, right? That’s right. Thank you so much. I mean it.

I sit down at the counter in the same place I always sit. It’s beginning to feel like ritual, and I need ritual in my life. I don’t know why. The seat at the end of the counter is part of the ceremony. If I’m not there, where am I? Once I ordered an omelet, which they made with onions and mustard. It tasted like the cheeseburgers you can get at Country Boys Hamburgers back home. If it wasn’t $20 I would get it every morning, but unfortunately the food is a little expensive. The coffee is reasonable though, and I don’t mind paying a little extra in tips for the good service.

Stacking my notebooks on the table, first I check my calendar to prepare myself for the oncoming day, making sure nothing sneaks up on me. I have an hour before I have to be anywhere, and if something were to come up, I’d have a little bit of cushion. Exercise has become a regular part of my day as well, and when I’m looking at my schedule I start to wonder if I should exchange this time for a run instead of a writing session. Nah. This is good.

Pen to paper, I get some journaling in to warm me up before I go to town on whatever fiction I’m working on. I’m a terrible fiction writer. I’ve just now started to admit it to myself. I have no direction. As much as I want to be William Faulkner/John Steinbeck, I’m beginning to think it might not happen. My characters always end up sitting at some coffee shop—sometimes in Brooklyn, other times Nashville—writing things down and mulling things over. Fuck. Not again. Start over with something else. Two guys sitting in a diner talking things out. That’s the same thing, you dumbass, except now there’s two of you. Goddamit.

I’m running into a lot of creative blocks lately. My voice has been caked up for days, and I can’t seem to find new lines for songs. Everything sounds the same, and I’m frustrated. But these mornings remind me that it’s work. I have to be my own midwife, giving birth to whatever it is that has to be pushed out. That’s a stupid and romantic way to think about it, but an important part of that process is just showing up. Some days are fruitful and others are stoppered. Some days I question whether or not any of it matters and quit so that I can make more time to play Grand Theft Auto.

I don’t have any answers, but it helps to reflect on the questions that tend to crop up. Maybe my rituals will become part of someone else’s. It’s funny to think of yourself in a supporting role, but for everyone else, that’s exactly the part you play. Often my advice to myself is to try to pay attention as much as possible, because running on autopilot is time wasted. We’ve had all eternity before we were born and we’ll have all eternity after we’re dead to be unconscious of this world.

The top of the hour approaches, and I look down at my watch. 10 ’til 9. I ask for the bill, and A.J. goes and gets it. Another guy behind the counter asks if I want my coffee to go and then asks if I’d like for him to go ahead and top off the to-go cup. I tell him I do and he does it. Here you go. Thanks, man. I usually write something about how good the service was on the receipt. Maybe no one reads that. It’d be okay if no one did. I feel like I’m giving them something back, a little gift for later in addition to the tip.

Gathering my things, I set the notebooks in my tote one at a time, slipping the pen in my breast pocket for when I arrive at my desk upstairs. The morning ritual is over, but it’s fine because I’ll get to do it again tomorrow. I’ve managed to start the day off slow, and I’m almost always in a good mood when I walk out the door to go to work. There’s something about that kind of thing, the repetition of procedural step-taking. The day might end differently than it did the day before. I might have plans with a friend or a television show to catch up on with Marisa after dinner. But the fact that I’ve begun each day with intention helps me set the pace for the rest of it. It gives me time to decide what kind of person I’m going to be. These are the things I’m going to do every day. This is an appointment I must keep.


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