After our family opened Christmas presents last month, I put all the gifts on a high table to keep them away from our terrier, who sometimes gets into things he shouldn’t.
Gathering everything from the floor felt like preparing for a flood, which Christmas sometimes resembles. The holidays often strike me as a mad, merry disaster — the scrambled schedules, the disrupted sleep, the quiet, creeping sense of exhaustion as we brace for a few outsized moments at the close of the year.
All of that has receded now like an outgoing tide, carrying the tinsel back to the closet, the lights into the shed, the dry and brittle tree to a curb where it rests as solemnly as driftwood on a deserted beach.
What we’re left with now is January, one of our blandest months, the calendar’s equivalent of a sensible shoe. But this quieter time has its own consolations, including the hope that with the holidays gone, life can resume some familiar pattern, the hours ordered once again as they were back in autumn, before Thanksgiving nudged us onto the merry-go-round of Yuletide.
In this lull, I’ve been thinking a good bit about routine — the frame where we hang a day as we build a week to construct a month, linking a dozen of them to create a year. The subject came to mind after a writing project required me to read “In My Mind’s Eye,” a new collection of diary entries from Jan Morris, a British writer who lives in Wales.
At 92, Morris isn’t as healthy or strong as she used to be. But she remains incredibly productive, and a big reason for her success, one gathers, is that she’s a creature of habit, following a regular schedule that sharpens her sense of purpose.
As I told readers in a review of “In My Mind’s Eye” for The Wall Street Journal, Morris seems “inclined to see daily ritual not as a limit but a liberation. With so much of her day defined by practice and precedent, Morris can let her mind float freely.”
That idea figures into “Daily Rituals: Women at Work,” an upcoming book by Mason Currey about how routines have helped figures as varied as Eudora Welty and Eleanor Roosevelt thrive. “The work teaches you about the work ahead, and that teaches you what’s ahead, and so on,” Welty, a great Southern writer, said about sticking to a work regimen. “That’s the reason you don’t want to drop the thread of it. It’s a lovely way to be.”
Although Currey’s new book focuses on women, he’s written broadly for years about how habits can shape everyone. He quotes Virginia Woolf, who observed that habits “gradually change the face of one’s life as time changes one’s physical face.”
The hope, near the dawn of a new year, is that those habits will change us for the better.