She always walks by in the morning, and she’s always well put together. Invariably, when I ask her to come on up and have a cup of coffee, she always says no, she’s already had a cup, and she’s going to check on the hens. In her small bag, she carries a dozen eggs and a few heads of lettuce, the kind that crunch when you bite into them and remind me of my mother’s garden. It’s likely she always passes by at the same time; I don’t know for sure because if I am working from home I lose track of time. But her routine seems free, guided only by her. Perhaps she listens to the rhythm of the days, of the country and of the animals (like so many women of her generation) and she navigates her life with this rhythm as her compass.
When I am working from home, I eat when hungry, write when I have something to get out of my head, play when I have to study and improvise when I get stuck. My routine comes from the sense of doing what I want when I want. Even though it’s only a feeling, I think I follow my own rhythm, and I am the master of my own time. But once I leave my own mini-world, things change. In my profession, hours mark the rhythm, they are imperious and change often: and then I become the servant of others’ time, and I begin to question everything.
When my wise septuagenarians speak about their past before immigration, they always tell me about their routines with a beautiful mix of grief and joy: they had the incredibly harsh routine of the day, but in a certain way, they were masters of their own time and they worked for themselves. Those of us who live in the industry, those of us who can enjoy both a strict routine and a lack of routine, we know that neither of those extremes grants us complete happiness. It is only the sense of being able to navigate between them that makes us free to listen to the rhythm of our own time and recover its properties.