Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Habit Forming

This post may ramble a bit--more so even than usual--because I'm trying to knit together a number of thoughts that have occurred to me over the last few days. Earlier this year I posted about ways to get by under the current regime in Washington and its (as promised) ensuing idiocy. The idea was to cultivate habits that might help one survive the almost overwhelming deluge of anti-intellectual diatribe issuing from the White House and Congress. I focused on several centers of effort (eat real food, get real exercise, make stuff, write more, read even more; see Sunrise, Sunset from 19 January), all of which I fully intended (and still do) to establish as habits. This intent has since led to ruminations on the word habit itself, and all it entails--including words like inhabit, habitat, habitable, and the like. There's probably no better word to describe my basic materialistic view of life, because it comes from the Latin habeo: to have, hold. Bundled in this one little word is a universe of ideas encompassing carrying, wearing, possessing, holding, wealth, inhabiting, ruling, conversing, using, managing, keeping oneself, and disposition. Thus, it also contains within it many of the basic themes considered on The Farm. And so, as often happens, my simple curiosity about the nature of habits has led my back to my usual philosophical playground: economics in the form of home-keeping.

Due to my diminishing ability to remember stuff consistently, I have been thinking lately of seeking a technological solution: something to help me perform the tasks I mean to do but don't necessarily remember to get done. As many of you already know, my relationship with technology is ambivalent at best, and although I've succumbed to many aspects of digital culture (computers, smart phones, and the internet), I have avoided many social media outlets even as I embrace others. I eschew the more egregious offenders, but find others useful--such as Blogger, which has enabled me these past ten years to get thoughts into the universe, whether anybody's interested or not. It took me many years to adopt my iPhone, and now it's become part of my life. Too much, in fact, because when I decided to use a movement tracker to help keep me from becoming a total blob, I found myself practically welded to the device. I quite literally could go nowhere without my phone if I wanted to keep track of my activity level. This entails always wearing pants or jackets with pockets. Given my rather limited wardrobe, I found myself needing to stuff the phone into my knickers or brassiere if my trousers were missing something to carry it in; retrieving it in the checkout line at Whole Foods caused double-takes all around.  The solution became obvious, but involved another technological concession: either a fitness tracker or a smart watch.

In the end I opted for the Apple Watch because it so easily wedded itself to my phone, iPad, and computer. The Beloved Spouse and I headed for the Buy More last weekend and got a deal on an out-of-box Series One in basic black. I haven't worn a watch in years, and used to prefer the face on the back of my wrist so I wasn't constantly looking at the time. This one has to be worn on top, but it only activates when I tell it to. It does nudge me to get off my keester and move around every now and then, and I have told it to prompt me to breathe several times a day (other than reflexively). Now, as if by magic, my intention to get real exercise is well on its way to becoming a well-established habit. In addition, my phone doesn't have to follow me around and I don't always have to have pockets, even though I prefer them to purses and such.

When I was looking up habeo in my Cassells Latin Dictionary, I anticipated only a handful of the definitions attached. The notions of wearing, carrying, managing hadn't really occurred to me, and yet here they are, all bound up with this new habit of walking around purposefully, noting my range of activity, and nudging myself toward better health. Coincidentally enough, the Beloved Spouse informs me that some of our Continental philosophy colleagues are thinking and writing about the relationships among habit, habitation, and Heideggerian "dwelling." Of this I was unaware, but will certainly pay more attention to in future.

Some habits have evolved more naturally over the length of my retirement, and require little technological assistance. I find myself getting into the garden on most clear mornings, to drink my coffee, read, write a little, hang out with my animal companions, and enjoy the natural wonders that reveal themselves when one isn't consumed with time tables and administrative obligations. I have, for example, spent an afternoon watching a Black Swallowtail butterfly flirting with my dill and fennel plants, and later discovered that she'd laid an egg (and then several others), which then hatched into a quickly-evolving larval form (all of the photos below are of the same wee beastie).

Alas, this little critter and its later siblings have all disappeared, perhaps victims of a wasp-like creature I noticed hanging about the fronds after they were all gone. Nevertheless, it's quite wonderful to be able to observe all this, even if it's a bit "nature red in tooth and claw."

The ability to grow at least some of my own food has finally become a reality, as the habit of daily tending to the garden has made timely planting and appropriate husbandry possible. The tomatoes and butternut squashes are on their way to edibility, peppers are almost ripe, lettuces and even a couple of radishes (which need re-seeding) have made their way into salads. The pods of Anasazi beans are bulging, but I need to let them be a bit longer. The bush beans I planted on the previous compost bin site (which I moved over and re-started after I harvested the compost) have already borne fruit, even though the spot doesn't get much sun. New projects include beginning a h├╝gelkultur on the north side of the house to take advantage of the sun next spring, and trying to tame the herb garden enough so that everything has room to grow--not just mints and garlic chives. [Edit 05.18: just this morning the Daily Poop included an article on Bokashi composting--prompting me to restart mine. I have two bins and used to alternate them, and will reinstate the practice anon.]

The rest of the sanity-saving habits list doesn't really need electronic enhancement, and I'm actually using pencil and paper for some of the writing. I've collected a massive number of notebooks over the years (many are abandoned sketchbooks from former students, who turned in a couple of completed pages and then gave up), so I'm assigning separate tasks to some of them, and they accompany me into the garden, or are housed on the table next to my reading chair in the living room. I need one upstairs, too, next to the bed, for remembering stuff that occurs to me during occasional bouts of sleeplessness. As I sort through accumulated "collections" of materials from my past, I often find old notebooks used for similar purposes, indicating that this is a long-established habit that's simply being resumed after a hiatus.

Thus, this ramble comes to an end. My little digital watch has just told me that it's time to get up and move around, so I think I'll go out and look for caterpillars. After having exceeded all of my goals yesterday, I'll need to mow the front lawn in order to keep up the good work. But that's also a habit worth cultivating.

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