Thursday, July 26, 2018

Get out of the house

I once read that Twyla Tharp, the American dancer and choreographer, has a routine that involves getting up at 5.30am, putting on her workout clothes - "my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat." and walking outside to hail a taxi. Once in, she tells the driver to take her to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st Street and First Avenue, where she exercises. "The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym." She wrote, "The ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual."

I've found the idea of daily routines appealing in the past, but never really taken starting one seriously. There always seemed to be too much variation across the days. When I worked in advertising I, a breakfast fiend, went through a stage of taking two boiled eggs into work and spreading them onto toast which I ate at the desk. Was that a routine? I had a hunch that being interested in other people's routines was just another way to put off just starting the work. It tapped into my fear, the fear I still have, that I will never sit down to do the work I wish to do, that I'll realise one day that I didn't work hard enough at it. Why worry about how Picasso or whoever spent their mornings when you could just...start, I thought, not starting. Perfecting a routine, I thought, was maybe left to people who read Brain Pickings.

I liked the sound of Twyla Tharp's routine, though. 'That sounds decadent!' I thought, at first. A taxi everyday! Wow, you'd save a lot of money if you just walked. But I liked that she was affording herself that one thing, those few dollars, to get to where she needed to be.

A couple of weeks ago I was having a rough few days. I missed my friends and I was acutely feeling the loneliness that can come from sitting inside and writing all day. Or, in my case, sitting inside and feeling very down and unsure of my career path. Being here in Clermont-Ferrand, which is relatively cheap is fine, but I wasn't sure I could make the writing I want to do, and the income I need to survive comfortably match up in another city like say, London. (This isn't going to be a post about how I answered that question. I don't know that I will ever answer that question.)

After a few days of sitting inside feeling hopeless and self-loathing, I decided I would walk up to Parc Montjuzet, the big park that hangs onto the hillside overlooking the city, first thing in the morning. Henry leaves for work at 7.45am, so I figured my routine would be walking out of the door at the same time. Like Twyla Tharp. No shower, just out of bed and through the front door. The park offered me the chance to move, but it also offered dogwalkers, and I knew I wanted dogwalkers. The community of responsive Park People, who are up early, no matter where you live. I wanted to say something to a stranger that didn't involve an uncomfortable exchange while I fumbled with French, like I do at the market or the cafe, or honestly most places I go. A short, cheery 'Bonjour!' was enough for me. It was would also be evidence that people, other than the person I live with, could see me.

So now I am a Parc Montjuzet walker. I have my own loop. Every morning I see the older woman in cycling shorts, who marches ahead of her four dogs and looks strong. She looks like many other dogwalkers from many other parks. Which I like. I see the Pointer owner who wears a baseball cap and who always looks like he isn't going to say hello until the last minute. 'Bonjour!' The park is 450m up, and sweat runs down to my elbows as I climb. I'm not terribly fit and I enjoy the novelty of this. I wear the same ribbed halterneck and the same navy cotton trousers every morning, so the people I pass probably think, 'There's the new halterneck lady.'

Sometimes I can't sit on my designated bench because intense jets of water have been set up to hydrate the surrounding lavender. I stand on the path and watch the entire circular course of these rotating water sprays, ttttssss tttttssss tttttssss, and wait for my chance to run through without getting wet. It might actually be nice to get wet and not care, but I have my phone in my pocket, so the momentary spontaneity would be outweighed by caring very much indeed. It would be nice to care less.

This morning I sat on my dry, unscathed bench and met the man who sets up the water sprays! I rarely see the groundspeople at Montjuzet and maybe it brought some comfort because my stepdad also works in a big garden. He dragged the yellow hose snaking it carefully around the plants and the path. He said something and I must have showed that classic Look of Fear than falls onto my face whenever somebody says something I don't understand. But we started speaking. I was very slow with incredibly rudimentary French but inside I was very excited. I was talking in French! I was pulling verbs out of my head, endings be damned. It wasn't quite "Je m'appelle Jeanne et j'ai un lapin" but it was pretty close as far as GSCE French goes. He nodded along and waited patiently for me to find the right words and actually replied, which means that I made some sense. I'll be honest, I walked home feeling incredibly elated, and liberated rather than embarrassed of my shite French! When I took an intensive week long Italian class in London last year I was the youngest by about 30 years and one day I burst into tears when the teacher was Loud and Persistent when I didn't understand her. I appreciated this stranger, for not dousing my bench in water this morning, and also for listening. It's funny, and humbling, to be in a situation where my grasp on spoken language is so lacking when it's how I make a living. I think I've wasted a lot of time being scared or just... inconspicuously getting tears in my eyes, when I'm embarrassed of seeming like an idiot in situations that are humbling. I wonder what that's all about. Either way, I'm chipping away at it.