Chop wood, carry water

I haven’t been sleeping well lately — I woke up at 4 this morning, got up at 5 after failing to fall back into sleep. So I got up, and did my morning thing on autopilot.

Go to the bathroom. Wash hands and face. Go to kitchen. Start water boiling. While I’m waiting, feed the cat. Wash the coffee press. Grind coffee beans. Wash two cups. Add milk to one. Pour boiling water over coffee. Stand, waiting, two minutes. Think about the day to come. Pour coffee into cups. Carry the one with milk to the bedroom for my wife. Carry the one without to my office. Sit. Turn on the computer. Write something…”chop wood, carry water.”

I’m thinking this is ritual. It’s a pattern that provides a solid foundation to my day, and as a bonus, it gets things done. It might not be a grand accomplishment, but it carries me forward day by day, and makes sure I get out of bed with a plan and a series of little actions, and sets a pattern for doing. Just doing.

Ritual can be a good thing.

I can also see where it’s a danger, when it changes into a pattern of not doing, when it becomes a rut that carries one to nowhere. I’m not concerned that making coffee and feeding the cat is a path to uselessness, but I can imagine a ritual of distraction and pointlessness that can consume day after day, so I also have to be prepared to break the rituals and take pleasure in change.

Chop wood, find a new spider, carry water, teach, make the coffee, write something you didn’t write before.


  1. hillaryrettig says

    “I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” – Somerset Maugham

  2. hillaryrettig says

    OK one more:

    “Live your life regular and orderly like a bourgeoise so that you may be wild and original in your art.” – Flaubert

  3. blf says

    Or the mildly deranged penguin: “Eat cheese. A moment without cheese is like the end of the world, but boring, with less cheese, and an excess of walruses.”

  4. numerobis says

    You carry water for coffee-makers?

    I guess that’s better than carrying water for nazis.

  5. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    tangentially I will relate the disruption I experienced when my injury forced me to retire. The loss of daily ritual discombobulated my sense of self. Took quite some time to settle into a different routine than my previous one. Not a better one, only different, and just as acceptable as the one I was forced to abandon.

    I think our psychology finds comfort in ritual. The issue is degree of ritual. Essentially, the poison is the dosage, too much ritual can be poison while some ritual can be beneficial.
    <disclaimer> not a psychologist. </disclaimer >
    thank you

  6. nomdeplume says

    Hmm, PZ young fellow, when you get older, you’ll find it is – go to bathroom, forget to wash face, turn kettle on without filling it, put toast in toaster and forget about it until smoke rises, put coffee beans unground into pot, try to feed burnt toast to cat, forget computer password, give up and go back to bed. Or is that just me…

  7. chigau (違う) says


    turn kettle on without filling it

    This is why I have an electric kettle with automatic shut-off.

  8. Rich Woods says

    my morning thing on autopilot

    Shower, shit, shave, put kettle on, drink tea. Only after that do I wake up.