Thrill Versus Routine

I think of myself as an interesting fellow. And since I am a little on the introverted side and not a champion of exploring the feelings of others, I am capable of living out this personally-held perception with a degree of confidence. I once considered myself adventurous, seeking thrill in doing the unusual or attempting the unlikely. Yet inwardly I long for the comfort of routine and the well-traveled paths.

Brian Wilson & Al Jardine. Austin, May 2017.

Of course, I have moments of revelation when I realize I’m more prone to the routine. I simply want others to see me with their thrill-spectacles on.

For example, I occasionally throw into a conversation that I am a drummer and once played with a touring group — even recorded with them. That, my friends, is pretty thrilling stuff. When pressed, though, I have to admit that the last time I performed was over three decades ago. The more truthful statement is that I was a drummer.

Last weekend, our son, Justin, hosted us at a Brian Wilson concert. The Beach Boys were the foundation of my popular music experience in grade school and junior high. Although only Brian and Al Jardine were on stage from the original group, the evening was a nostalgic and emotion-driven experience. All the words to the songs were on my lips. I could still anticipate each drum and percussion beat. And I remembered the time, prior to puberty, that I could sing the high parts, sans falsetto.

I felt the thrill and the desire to go back to music. But by the end of the concert, I knew that wasn’t a possibility. You see, I had abandoned my routine thirty years ago. The routine of listening to old music and new music, the routine of deconstructing rhythm patterns in my head, the routine of taking sticks in hand and building the new patterns and muscle memory that enable simply striking to be molded into music.

Routines can, of course, be reinstituted. But other routines must be pushed aside. At some point in life, we have to measure the thrill against the cost of routine. To experience the thrill on a regular basis — and to survive — demands routine to be a necessary element.

Too often, we look upon our routine as a burden. When in truth, the regularly pursued actions cannot only lead to a thrilling experience but can, in and of themselves, become a source of exhilaration. Simple things, even mundane things, can bring great pleasure and fulfillment.

And routines sometimes seem like luxuries. Several years ago, I was facing the challenge of rewriting a reference book. Out of the twelve chapters, nine were my responsibility. It was not a matter of updating, but one of reimagining and creating. I made a deal with my editor and publisher, to rewrite three chapters a year for three years. In earlier days, I would have taken a week or two of vacation annually and accomplished the task through binge-writing. Instead, I established a routine of researching and writing an hour a day, five to six days a week. My routine was a blessing as I sat at my computer from 7:30 to 8:30 each morning and the book took form. Not only did I complete that writing assignment, I found time to write other things regularly. The routine of writing was not only a discipline, it was a thrill. By honing my writing and thinking skills, I was able to accomplish my goal.

Writing, like drumming, has fallen out of my routine. It happens sporadically. Like drumming, my skills have diminished. Yet, the thrill remains and inspires because I now recognize that it is born from and lives inside the routine.

Perhaps I’ll write more. And, in private moments, perhaps I’ll drum to old tunes.

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