Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Routine Gift

"It's wonderfully strange and nobody'd look for it, but having our backs against the wall, our bones cracking for the marrow to come out (if we can hold on, survive it, keep our heads screwed on, our hearts clean of resentment) can be decisive, impelling us down a road we'd hardly have dared imagine or chosen."

This is the best and only way to say that change is hard but good. (This was part of an email I received a couple of weeks ago. I'm not kidding. Who writes like this in an e-mail? Honestly, I think we should all start to craft our online messages like this. It's gorgeous.)

I have never been one who does well with change. Even though I crave it. Even though I long for adventure and love to explore. Even though I repeatedly shove myself outside my comfort zone like my internal compass knows the only way to cure stage fright is to stand in the spotlight. So here I am, blinded to the audience and sweating.

There's the big stuff of change that has happened and will happen and impels me down this road I do not yet recognize.

Then there's the little stuff of change. This is where I really freeze up. Instead of worrying about not having a clear path in life, love or work, I am totally thrown off by:

  • That when my battery died, I had to change the pre-set radio stations in my car
  • That I can't park in the lot at the gym anymore
  • That Starbucks remodeled and now all the tables are tall

I call this the science of M&Ms.

Even for people like me who actively resist traditional structure and feel suffocated by the idea of a regular schedule, humans need routines. I know this because I was a teacher. I know this because I still teach. And I know this because when I start to have all kinds of changes to my routine, I start buying lots of M&Ms.

M&Ms provide me with a lot of control over a practiced routine. I do not eat them like a normal person. I do not grasp a handful of random pieces and toss them into my mouth like a carefree monkey. (Although, are there monkeys who are full of worry and anxiety? Rocking back and forth in their corner of the zoo, hoping for a Xanax-laced banana?) Instead, I pull out a carefully measured palm-full. I place this mound in front of wherever I sit and I put the pieces in color order. Then I take them two at a time, but only within their color group, and I suck on them until they melt into a smooth, chocolate slide.

The order with which I construct my M&M path is determined by the meaning I place to each color. This was not entirely my own imagination here - I did this with my friend, J, back in elementary school. We decided it would go as follows:

Tan*: Boredom
Green: Envy
Orange: Hunger
Brown: Intelligence
Blue*: Adventure
Yellow: Happiness
Red: Love

*Tan was replaced with Blue after we made this up, so this I adjusted on my own.

This is the order. You eat the negative associations first and save the best for last. Why is love better than happiness? How are they not one and the same? I have no answers. This is just the way it is. This was also created back when I insisted I could taste the difference between the colors without looking. I did have an uncannily correct percentage. But also J and I watched Empire Records 194,000 times in one year and Gina claims to be able to do this too.

For J's birthday that year I bought her a VHS copy of Empire Records. Not that either of us needed it. I can still recite it by memory and I haven't seen it in years. But it was a routine. It was a piece of familiarity, of structure, of a path that we could stay on for about two hours.

I do not want to work in a cubicle. I do not want the same routine all day every day. The bones are cracking and the marrow will be decisive. But the little routines give us something to recognize of ourselves. This is why I save the red ones for last.

"It was perfect. Well, not exactly perfect." -- Lucas, Empire Records


  1. Kate, I will never again look at M&M's the same.