Monday, September 9, 2019

Debra Martens : Routine

Every few years, we move house (from student dives to rented houses in Nairobi and Delhi, to home ownership in Ottawa, to apartments in Vienna and London). In all of those moves, I managed to take over a room for myself, and gave it the grand name of office. Right now I am living in an apartment in East Jerusalem, with an office so sunny that I must lower the shutters every morning.

After years of moving, I can tell you one thing for certain: moving is disruptive to writing. Some lucky souls find that this disruption boosts their creativity. I find it silencing.

What holds me together, what enables me to keep pretending that I am a writer, is routine. Here, my routine is set not by school hours but by my dog. (Okay, I know about Pavlov and that I have trained the dog to stick to my schedule.) Almost every morning, as soon as I start cleaning up the breakfast dishes, our dog creeps off to my office and settles in.

She's fine for two hours, and then gets restless and gives me a nudge. This is a good thing, too – I also should move around a bit. Put in a laundry or make some tea and come back to my desk. But the dog doesn't settle the same way; she is awake, alert to external noises, and waiting for me to break for lunch.

A friend, after hearing awful news from Israel, asks me how I can possibly live here. I reply soberly that the shootings of teenage boys don't affect me physically. I reply that most of my days are spent in one room. Even when we lived in London, I did not take to writing in cafes, but spent those hours in the same dark room. Sometimes I wonder if reading Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own at an impressionable age had the effect of sentencing me for life to one room.

One of the best things about having a routine is randomly breaking it. For example, I welcome going AWOL when we have visitors who stay with us. I see the dog creeping into my office on the morning that I am driving visitors to Masada, and say, Look, how cute, and think briefly of my work. When our daughter visits, I abandon all thought of work. Then comes a day like today, when the apartment is silent, the dog is in position, and my brain seems to have gone for a wander. In this expat life, routines are as fragile as a flower blooming in stony ground, and breaking them has consequences.

Inhale and concentrate. The dog will be restless soon.

Debra Martens has published both short stories and literary essays in various journals and periodicals. “The End of Things” was a winner of the Postcard Story Prize in Grainin 2002. Her stories can also be found in anthologies, such as The Company We KeepLove’s ShadowCelebrating Canadian Women, and Baker’s Dozen. Originally from the Niagara area, she has been living outside of Canada for the past eight years, during which she created the literary website Canadian Writers Abroad.

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