26 April 2013

ritual de lo habitual.

Sometimes I can't escape the feeling that we spend the lion's share of our lives just trying to keep the dust from collecting on our bodies. We waste so much time absorbed in the routine maintenance of our minds and bodies that if we were cars we would have been sold as scrap metal long ago. Does our Honda Civic need seven hours off everyday to lie in a dormant state so as to recharge its battery? And even the most remorseless gas guzzler on the road doesn't generally need to be fed two or three meals of unleaded gasoline each and every day.

Like millions of other people the world over, I subscribe to the nauseatingly populist sentiment of hating mornings. Of course one of the reasons is that sleep is so deliciously narcotic that it's hard to go straight. But another compelling reason is that I loathe the rituals that weekday mornings entail. When I have to perform the same mundane tasks—like tooth brushing, shaving, showering—in an identical fashion everyday, I feel as though I am crammed into a very small cage. I hate to say that it's torturous—because in light of terrorist explosions and industrial accidents this seems, at the very least, insensitive—but I cannot deny silently screaming inside my sleepy-eyed body every morning as I (again) fumble through three bottles of pills for my daily doses or stand in front of the same dreary business casual wardrobe trying to decide which uniform of accountancy is the least objectionable. 

In some cases, ritual is comforting. I do recognize this. If you meet up with friends at a favorite watering hole every Friday or look forward to the Sunday crossword with a coffee and a bagel in the same booth at the diner ever week, there's an obvious appeal. But these are rituals that we create with leisure or enjoyment in mind. Meanwhile, flossing one's teeth may provide one with the moralistic satisfaction of a job well done in the service of good dental health, but the process itself is neither interesting nor personally enriching. (There's inevitably going to be some contrarian out there who claims to find the performative act of flossing exhilarating in every respect. You know the type... the borderline sociopath who insists that only boring people get bored. To such a person, I offer my sincere congratulations on his or her enviable feat of transcendence. If one is exhilarated by running waxy strands of  nylon through one's teeth, I can only wonder what an orgasm has in store.)

Morning rituals seem to make inordinate demands on my time while offering little in recompense. They are the roof replacements of self-maintenance. Let me explain... If you are trying to sell your house, there are a number of things that an average home buyer will come to the bargaining table expecting from your house—not as an exceptional feature, but as a fundamental prerequisite of houseness; a few examples are a functioning furnace and a structurally sound foundation and a non-leaky roof. If your roof happens to leak and you replace it before you put your house on the market, you will not impress buyers, who will then joyously exclaim, 'Wow! This roof doesn't leak!' It's what they already take for granted. They may be impressed by your hardwood floors or granite countertops, but they are unlikely to be excited by an absence of metal buckets strategically placed around the living room collecting rainwater. 

The same is true of morning rituals for the most part. It is expected that a reasonably civilized person will have brushed teeth and clean hair and so on. These tasks do not make a person more attractive or appealing than the baseline of what is already expected of him. Now, if some extraordinary morning ritual which—if performed religiously—made me so incredibly hunky and irresistible to the opposite sex that they flung their vaginas at me when I left the house like that insect-like creature that suctions to John Hurt's face in Alien, then maybe I'd feel more motivated and enlivened by the procedure. 

But as it stands, these rituals merely equate to keeping the dust off one's body. They reinstate the default. But that isn't even true either. After we reach a certain age (which, sadly, I've already passed), an incremental deterioration overtakes the human body, so that even the optimum of today is a shade more inferior than the optimum of the prior day. This certainly adds to the demoralizing effect of the ritual... This shaving that I do today reveals a face that is likely less attractive than the face I shaved one year ago. Which leads to the nihilistic question: Why even shave the face or brush the teeth or wash the armpits? Why fritter away all this time on maintaining a machine destined for the scrapheap? 

Rituals don't usually ask why though. The momentum of habit is a reason unto itself. It prods our bodies forward in this march of life, while our minds growl behind the bars of their cages.


  1. I find the performative act of flossing exhilarating. Orgasmic, I suppose you could say.


    Nice to have your blog back!

    1. If anyone would find flossing orgasmic, I'd expect it to be you, Morais.


  2. Beautiful, beautiful. Especially the last paragraph.

  3. P.S. The guy in the shower looks exactly like my apartment manager minus 200 pounds.

  4. I think you've disallowed comments on the previous blog entry, but I've read that one about three times now. Thank you for posting it; it's fucking powerful.

    1. Thanks so much. That one still (kind of) embarrasses me, but I vow not to cave in to the inner voices and take it down.