A Daily Practice

We are vacationing on 30A this week — a 24-mile stretch of highway along the Florida panhandle that starts just east of Destin. The first time we came down here, our daughter was two and we stayed at the same condo complex where we’re staying this week. She’s 15 now, almost 16. This has become our usual spot. We’ve stayed at other places along this beach, but we always come back here. I can see the gulf from where I’m sitting on our condo’s patio. Beside me is a mostly finished mug of chai tea, Leslie Jamison’s newest “Make It Scream, Make It Burn” and Anne Truitt’s “Daybook: The Journal of an Artist.”

Every morning since we’ve been here, I’ve awoken without an alarm before 7:00, made coffee and then walked down to the beach with my coffee, beach towel, journal and a banana in hand before anyone else in my crew is awake. Every morning, I have done my morning pages looking out at the gulf, keeping pace with the waves as I write. I take my time and let the morning settle in. By 8:00 am, I return to the condo for one more cup of coffee before a six mile walk. Then back to the beach, the pool and a mid-day nap. I have read three books, started blogging again after a year and half of not showing up here, and have kept my Twitter-scrolling-habit to a minimum. It has been six perfect days combined to make a perfect week. If vacation is about rest and rejuvenation, I have not let myself down.

It’s not just the relaxed pace that makes this place feel like the best kind of home to me, it is the automatic repetition my family and I create when we’re here. It’s a learned rhythm, it’s how we vacation. I am a fan of repetition in my day. I like structure. I forget how much it appeals to me until I’m back here and away from the busyness that is our life. It’s difficult to keep a routine in place for yourself when you have a career and two kids and a husband whose work hours don’t align with anyone else’s daily schedule.

During my walk this morning, I was listening to an interview with Jeannie Gaffigan — Jim Gaffigan’s wife and writing partner and producer of his shows. She has a memoir out about her recent diagnosis and subsequent recovery. After ignoring hearing loss in one of her ears, she finally had it checked out and discovered she had a life threatening brain tumor the size of a pear attached to her spinal cord. I haven’t read the book yet — “When Life Gives You Pears” — but her interview came through loud and clear. She was talking about how every minute of her day was scheduled, taxing kids, working, going from one task to another. She said when she first noticed the loss of hearing in one ear, she just didn’t have time to worry about it. She said she knows it sounded ridiculous admitting that out loud, but I get it. “I’ll deal with that later” is one of my regular mantras … and one I know I need to stop reciting.

So very often I fail to commit to my daily routine. Someone needs to be at school earlier than usual. A form that was due three days ago needs to be printed and completed (and always, the printer is out of paper). There’s a dentist appointment I forgot to enter into my Google calendar, or an email I forgot to answer. I can give you a million excuses for avoiding my daily routine — but the more I list the less water they hold. I let myself fall out of the repetition that soothes me. I create the chaos by not giving credence to the very actions that limit the chaos: starting my day with my morning pages, meditation, not looking at my phone before determining my daily intentions.

This week I am reminded how much happier I am when I give myself the time and space to start my day quietly, with my coffee, a banana and my writing journal. So simple, yet so easy to drop. Of course, I’m on vacation and at my most zen — it’s so cliche I should be painting it on drift wood to hang above a beach door somewhere next to a Gone Fishin’ sign and a pair of flip-flops. But, I’m also writing all this down — something I haven’t taken the time do in months, 17 months in fact. The trick will be to keep this cliche in full force when I don’t have the sound of the waves to urge me on … when I’m back home, back to work and back to school schedules and doctor appointments and over-stuffed email inboxes.

My mug of chai is empty now. The sun is setting a bit, but it’s still warm enough to get in the pool. My kids are patiently waiting for me to close my laptop and take them down for our final swim this week. I am happy. I feel refreshed. And I am writing again. A daily practice that I hope not to let drop off so easily this time around.

A side-note on the Jeannie Gaffigan: It’s not like I’m a die-hard Gaffigan fan, but I live on this earth and know who he is. Still it’s crazy to me that only after suffering a brain tumor, and writing a memoir about it, that I’m hearing about this woman: A mother of five, who has been creatively instrumental in Jim Gaffigan’s success as a top comic. The breadth of work she has accomplished is astonishing: creative partner, writing partner, author. And yet, only because she nearly died am I learning how big of role she has played in his career. Admittedly, I haven’t read his books (although I will be reading hers) and do not have a Google alert set up to follow Gaffigan, but I’ve enjoyed the interviews I have heard him do. Maybe he writes about her contributions in his memoirs — or maybe I’m just that much out of the loop. I just want to know more about women like Jeannie Gaffigan — the one’s who may not be in the spotlight, but make the spotlight possible, while juggling all the responsibilities that come with motherhood.

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