Friday, February 5, 2016

Learning to Commute

             It’s a most unexpected discovery: commuting as an organizing principle of life.

               I’ve been at it for six weeks now. Two hours each way, four hours per day, getting from home in Hamilton to work in Toronto, and back again. I can still hardly believe that I agreed to this move, knowing that this commute would be a daily requirement, controlling factor and drain on my life. I worried over it, but since everything else about the move appealed to me, I trusted that I could at least tolerate it, if nothing more. And now I find that commuting has brought a level of order to my life that’s been lacking for a long time.

               It’s embarrassing to write, even shameful, but structure is something I’ve needed, but have avoided throughout my adulthood. My nature is to dodge the limitations of set schedules, time lines and due dates. It’s equal parts stubbornness, a warped sense of independence, and a tendency toward indulgence that hold sway. Consequently, I’m always struggling with the management of my life, always feeling there’s not enough time for all the things that are important to me. And unexpectedly, commuting has carved out a partial solution to all of this, and I find myself embracing it.

               I’ve done my share of commuting in the past and it’s always been a burdensome waste of time. Strap-hanging on buses and trains; jostling through crowds of strangers; dirty seats, no seats; not having the right change for the fare, and worst of all, turning a corner to see my bus pulling away - these are all reasons I’ve hated commuting. Even drive commuting is painful, however much it may seem an attractive alternative to strap-hanging. The relative absence of physical discomfort allows for the full impact of the boredom, the restlessness, the mind-numbing inanity of most radio, as one sits in slow-moving traffic as life ebbs slowly away.

               The main worry I had facing my current commute was having to conform to a schedule. I’m a late night person, and a late riser. I’m not very fond of clocks and alarms and, no, I’m not the most punctual person you’ll meet – and I’ve very much enjoyed the freedom of not having to be. A locked-in schedule does not appeal to me.

               However, from where I live in Hamilton, there are two direct, express trains to Toronto every morning, and the latest leaves the station promptly at 6:46. There are other options, but they all involve even longer commutes. 5:30 feels like an un-Godly time to arise in the morning (it’s practically the middle of the night!), but it makes my life work, so I’m making it work.

               But how does one go from a loose waking time, variable according to my next day’s schedule, how late I was up the night before, and how often I choose to hit my alarm’s snooze button – to an early commute schedule that has me dropping into my desk chair at an hour when I was previously lowering my feet to the cold bedroom floor? With surprising ease, it turns out.

I don’t really like admitting this truth, but it all seems to come down to having options taken from me. If I miss a train, it doesn’t cost me just a few minutes, as missing a bus or a traffic light did previously. It costs me at least half an hour, and that time is lost from the relaxing, evening end of my day. There is now an economy of minutes I must take seriously, to keep my life functioning…so I do.

Yet, I can’t get over how easy it’s been. Nor how much good has come out of it. I’m actually becoming more productive at work, as my days are more organized and predictable. I’m loving the feeling of arriving at and leaving the office with the first wave of colleagues instead of the last – makes me feel that I’m leading rather than lagging. And the added quiet, and the quality of light and air in the mornings, it’s all surprisingly refreshing and enlivening. I’m a bit shocked that I haven’t missed a train yet.

               But the greatest bonus has come in an area I had come to feel some despair about: my writing. The morning of my first commute, I whipped out my laptop the moment I was seated, and I wrote for the first forty-five minutes of the seventy-five minute trip. On the way home, I did the same. In no time at all, it became a habit, one I find myself positively looking forward to. In fact, one of the most satisfying moments of my every working day is when I get seated in the near-empty GO train, at the start of its run. The attendant comes over the speaker and announces the one to five minutes remaining before departure. The sky is still dark as I take off my coat, settle myself and turn on the laptop. By the time I tap in the date at the top of my opening page, the train has begun to move, and its slow, rocking motion nudges me along. Where will I begin today? With some idea newly formed in the night? Revising yesterday’s product? Attacking the novel chapter I’ve been revising for submission to my writing group?

               I’m writing with more regularity and consistency than I have in some years. It’s been six weeks now. Strange to say, the only days I haven’t gotten in at least an hour of writing have fallen on the weekends, when, despite all my intentions, a day can so easily fly by, the period of quiet focus that I imagined, never having come. I know this is nonsense, delusion…yet?

               I’m grateful. I’m re-energized. I’m optimistic again, that I can address my writing goals and see myself moving toward them in real time. The discipline of this commute seems to be spreading to other areas. I’m having a somewhat different feeling and approach to time, to the minutes and hours of the day, the weeks and months of the calendar. Never did I imagine that commuting could be so good.