After nearly three weeks in Turkey, I'm back home and back on the Quest, which is not the same thing as being back on the wagon, but I'm working on it. I was actually more "on the wagon"--organized, tidy, orderly, and together--on our trip, even though we packed and unpacked a total of 12 times in 17 days (six hotel rooms in 4 different cities). The constant packing and unpacking could have been a recipe for disaster or at least frustration, but by and large it went smoothly, with a minimum of angst or drama. In fact, each time I packed things up, it got easier instead of harder. As the trip progressed, we established certain what-goes-where standards--dirty laundry in the front pockets, for instance--and were better able to arrange things with the benefit of trial-by-error knowledge: dark and long-sleeved clothing were relegated to the bottom of the luggage while their light-colored and light-weight counterparts got priority placement near the top, and the contents of purses, day-packs, and camera bags settled into a predictable short-list of essential items. Routine is the word that comes to mind when thinking of the order that was quickly established and nearly effortlessly maintained. And yet "routine" is exactly what often bogs me down on any number of projects, whether creative or organizational.
How can a single concept--in this case, the idea of "routine"-- be a comfort and an aid in some circumstances, yet disagreeably restrictive in others? Maybe the problem isn't with "routine" per se, but with the particular "routine" at hand.
The helpful routines we developed on our trip shared a number of attributes; perhaps the most important is that they were simple and pertinent to our goals. They helped streamline and focus the process. They had a point.
In contrast, once back home, I saw how cumbersome many previously-established domestic routines now seemed, how pointless or needlessly elaborate. I'd rather toss freshly-laundered clothes in a pile to be ironed, for instance, than just fold them and put them away, quite as if a gigantic pile of (progressively more) wrinkly clothes was better than minimally wrinkled clothes neatly folded, stacked, and put away.
One of the unsettling things about vacations is that they disrupt routines, which, paradoxically, is what also makes them so refreshing and valuable. There have been many years we haven't been able to go on a real trip, but it's possible to get some of the greatest benefits of a vacation without going anywhere. The key is to switch things around a bit. Get up early if you usually sleep in on the weekends, or give yourself a little bit of peace by retiring later than usual. Re-think what and why you do the things you do and consider if there aren't options to streamline, to simplify, to cut things down--or even out. Ask for help. Try somebody else's way. Do things in a different order. Give yourself a break, even if it's only for a few minutes to collect your thoughts or scribble down some ideas. Vacations are nice, but they are time-limited. Trying something new or forging a positive change--however small--has the potential to produce results that long outlive the season at hand.
*This weekend, I plan on establishing a Flickr account to post more pix of our vacation, for those who are interested.