I can’t believe I chose habits for today’s word. It was Bobby’s suggestion. I get it—it’s a time when we are being confronted with our habits, individual habits and collective habits. But I am not a very habitual person—my days are marked by inconsistency.
One of the blessings of our relationship is that Bobby has brought me structure-- If it weren’t for sharing my life with a very regimented person, would I eat at the same time every day or follow a set schedule at all? Hard to say. Have I learned anything from the past thirteen years of life with the son of a Marine Colonel?
Some people move in circles, I don’t mean time-wasting circles, but in circular motion—they progress in ellipses and curves, either eschewing or incapable of adhering to the straight line. Linear progress is anathema to them—or shall I say, to me?
When I first started writing for The Secret City, I couldn’t figure out how to just put words down in an orderly fashion—ideas came from everywhere and when I wanted to move in the direction of my target, I found I couldn’t go directly there. Imagine an arrow that moves wildly in its trajectory toward its target. I have learned over the years to accept that and let my writing loop and swirl.
Mine was not a family built on habits—the same circularity pervaded our home. Perhaps it was my own inner self, perceiving it that way—did I enter the world with that circular way of thinking, of moving?
We can learn habits, of course, but are some habits written in us when we get here? Part of our DNA? Remember The Bad Seed, that wonderful B movie from the 1950s? Patti McCormick plays, Rhoda, a bad little girl whose badness was in her from birth, inherited from a bad father. It’s just occurring to me that the word seed in the phrase bad seed, must mean semen.
I wonder if addiction is a response to feeling unmoored? We crave something to hold onto, don’t we? Habits can do that for us. Especially when it gets stormy. Last night in my newsletter I used the word ballast, I was writing that these daily writings have given my life ballast. Ballast is what is placed in the bottom of a boat to give it weight—ballast can be water that the boat holds—or lets go—as needed.
I like the idea that I could take on habits and let them go as needed. I’d make my bed regularly, plant bulbs every spring, go for daily walks—and when I had tired of these habits I’d release them and take up new ones as they appealed to me or as required by age.
This moment has revealed the truths of our society and our own lives—we can see how we live so clearly right now, can’t we? Like the water you see pictured these days, lake bottoms are visible, streams are sparkling.
When I looked up the word habit, I was reminded that habit is what they call the robes word by a religious person. Looking further I learned that habit originally meant the clothes you wear.
About ten years ago, while still living in New York City, I was visiting the Neue Museum, a beautiful small private museum dedicated primarily to German and Austrian art from before WW2. They were showing several paintings by Gustav Klimt, which had been stolen by the Nazis. After years of legal battles, the paintings had been returned to the family who owned them. One of the paintings was the extraordinary Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer, or Lady in Gold. From 1907, it had been commissioned by the subject’s husband.
On the landing outside of the gallery was a large photo of Klimt, standing on a narrow path outside his studio. On that bright sunny day, he held a paintbrush in his hand and wore a beautiful tunic made of heavy linen. If I recall correctly, the museum even had one of his tunics in a case, because he had many of them. I have been obsessed with this tunic ever since. I buy tunics when I see them in hopes that I will find it. I’ve gotten close. I think I need to just have one made. But can I tell you how many tunics I have in my closet right now? 12? 15 maybe? I do love a uniform, but it’s the symbolism of my self in search of habits that im thinking of now..
Here in my office, my desk is a perpetual mess. I’m looking right now at a loose collection of my father’s watches that my mother sends me in the mail, one at a time, after his death. I got one just the other day. These watches lay on my desk unused, unwound, inaccurate. What private actions are collected in them—how my dad spent his days, his worries, his triumphs, what small details of his life have been forgotten by time?
Habits are private things, intimacies—we keep them close, like amulets--even those of us who like to believe we don’t have any, which isn’t true, of course, we just have grown accustomed to seeing ourselves more wildly.