Annotated Itinerary for an Ordinary Day

Annotated Itinerary for an Ordinary Day

by Chloe Williams

I. Intro
The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is close my eyes again and dream. I imagine a good day. What it might look like, what I might do. Who would be in the bathroom with me while I brush my teeth, what sort of writing would I achieve, and what would I want my tea to taste like? 

II. Thesis
I believe our everyday lives are often rich with beauty and deeply profound. If we removed the idea that the fleeting movements between one destination and another (the weekday into the weekend, or getting off work to going home) are banal and rather asked ourselves to look at the world with a certain wonder and appreciation, we might find joy. We might even be moved. 

III. Research
I have an honorary degree in taking my time. I have made a daily schedule for myself having first studied the people I admire. For example, Ursula K. Le Guin’s schedule:

A typed out schedule that says the following:
5:30 am: wake up andlie there and think.
6:15am: get up and eat breakfast (lots).
7:15am: get to work writing, writing, writing.
Noon: lunch.
1:00-3:00pm: reading, music.
3:00-5:00pm: correspondence, maybe housecleaning.
5:00-8:00pm: make dinner and eat it.
After 8:00pm: I tend to be very stupid and we won't talk about this.

Fran Lebowitz writes down her daily schedule in My Day: An Introduction of Sorts in which most of her day is spent going back to bed. “12:55pm I try to go back to sleep.” followed by, “1:20pm I go downstairs to get the mail. I get back into bed.” then, “3:40pm I consider getting out of bed.” Only for 2:05am to hit where she writes “I enter my apartment and prepare to work.” 

And in the end of my study of ordinary days, in which I tried to carve out my own routine, tried to find what felt good and true to who I was, I found not an artist I admired, but an old friend from childhood:

An illustration of a list that says:

A List of things to do today
Wake up [crossed out]
Eat Breakfast
Get Dressed
Go to Frog's House
Take walk with Frog
Eat lunch
Take nap
Play games with Frog
Eat Supper
Go To Sleep

Toad, of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad. An admirable to-do list which I often find myself emulating. 

Life is a long chain of ordinary days, if we’re ever so lucky. We could mourn this fact, we could say oh my God my life is predictable and I will never be interesting. Or, perhaps we could say how remarkable it is to have such consistency. I’ve made a career of sorts in noticing that mundane beauty, of appreciating what the world places in our palms each day over and over. Routine, predictable ordinary life is remarkable in its own way. I’ve also discovered, however, to enjoy an ordinary day you have to be aware it is happening. 

IV. Schedule 
This is my schedule, with instructions. Feel free to modify and mend, but I would recommend trying my way first before you branch out on your own schedule-making.

  1. Morning
    • Wake up/Day Dream (30-45 minutes)
      • Instructions: Think about the day ahead of you or a parallel life that is only slightly different. Answer this question: What would a good regular day look like? Why is it good? What do you find comforting about it? What’s something in that image you can achieve today? Then look around your room. Consider the quality of light from your window, the softness of your bed. Think about how nice it is to have the entire thing to yourself, or the joy of sharing it with someone you love. What things are in your room that you have forgotten to look at for a while? Books or art, knick-knacks or curtains.
    • Caffeine (30-60 minutes)
      • Instructions: Pick out your favorite mug and make your coffee the way you’re supposed to. Read the instructions on the back, Google the steps. You think you know how, but follow it like it’s a recipe you’re making for the first time.  
      • Rules: You cannot rush this. If your tea is to steep for five minutes you have to wait the entire five minutes. You must also stand, not sit, while you wait. Use the time to look at your kitchen, to remember this place and your things.
  2. Noon
    • Walk (60-180 minutes)
      • Instructions: Go somewhere you’ve been before, many times. A place preferably where there are people, and take a long walk through it. You think you know this place, but do you really? When was the last time you really saw it and made note of its quirks and community? What are you seeing that you haven’t noticed before? Go slowly, don’t think about the next block, think about the one you’re already on.
      • Rules: You cannot bring a bag and you cannot wear headphones. You are not in a movie, or in a sad music video, you’re in your real life. Listen to what that sounds like. Resist the urge to go into auto-pilot or let your eyes glaze over. 
  3. Night
    • Cook (60-90 mins)
      • Instructions: Pick out a favorite recipe. Go to the grocery store and consider each ingredient needed. Buy them fresh when you can. Don’t just pick up each item and move along, look at the options. Take a minute to be sure you get the right kind. Pick up flowers or wine for while you cook. Even ordinary days have simple pleasures. When it comes time to cook take stock of every step. Read, then reread the recipe and be purposeful with each move. Think less about the end result and more about the actions happening at that moment by your hands. That careful chopping of onions or mincing of garlic. The slow simmer of oil in a pan. 
    • Wrap up (30 mins)
      • Instructions: Wash and tidy up.
      • Rules: Tonight this is not a chore. You’re doing it to nourish your home and yourself. Try not to groan. This is an act that you will not grow from. Appreciate this small blessing of repeated mundanity. 

V. Late Policy
The nice thing about ordinary days is they come in pretty regular intervals. I don’t accept late assignments because there’s no due date. You can proceed with this assignment at your leisure, in pieces or as one whole day. Take your time, this is a slow way of life. That means something different for everyone.

VI. Final Notes and Reflections
I write about taking walks with my family or alone. I talk about the kindness of holding the door open for a stranger. I like to go to bed early and I like solitude. I used to crave wild stories of youth, those journeys writers go on so they have something to write about. I’m not cut out for it. 

But what do I do? Stop writing? Or do I think back. I think of that one morning, as spring became summer, when I woke up on my friend’s couch after a sleepover. I was 25. The window was open because the night before, spring had delivered a pearl of warmth. That morning it had dissolved to a cool idle spell. Outside a morning dove was cooing on the roof and the world was quiet. No one was awake, it was too early to be awake, but I felt intense joy. Many times have I woken to a silent world and a bird on my windowsill singing. Many times has the tip of my nose grown cold and the body beneath my blankets so achingly warm. And I might have just as easily gone back to sleep, but I waited a moment and took note of what was passing, began to write it down in my memory. The beauty of it, beautiful because I knew it would happen again, because it had already occurred and was steeping in memory. Beautiful too because I took the time to say hello, ordinary world, thank you for showing up again today. 

VII. Further Reading

  1. Books
    • The Book of Delights by Ross Gay
      • This book, to me, was a reminder of the bountiful material there is in our average day. That if we thought long enough, tried over and over again to find something delightful, the ordinary day will certainly deliver us something. 
    • Insomniac City by Bill Hayes
      • This is perhaps not an ordinary day, but it is a reminder that ordinary people, photographs, and daily diary entries are often very touching.
    • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
      • I think sometimes looking at the ordinary day requires childlike wonder. This is a kids book, but it also looks at the building blocks of life. Letters to words, numbers to equations, the very precise and different forms of silence that occur and how, if you listen, you can tell them all apart. 
    • Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi
      • This whole book is about people returning to an ordinary day to talk with someone they love. There are rules as to why, but I like it nonetheless!
  2. Poems
    • “Great Things Have Happened” by Alden Nowlan
      • Proof that “interesting” things are often not the great things we remember year after year.
    • “Belle Isle, 1949” by Philip Levine
      • Maybe stripping for a dip in the Detroit river isn’t exactly an ordinary day, but the intimacy of a swim is!
    • “The Orange” by Wendy Cope
      • This poem is beloved and it’s about something you can do right now, sharing your food with friends. 
    • “The Patience of Ordinary Things” By Pat Schneider
      • This poem made me think more about the everyday use of objects. How much there is in your regular life to consider will always surprise me.
  3. Videos
    • 10 hours of Mourning dove calls
      • This evokes a certain feeling in me. Childhood and that morning I was 25, and I think it’s something worth considering. The layers of meaning folding over and over again on each other each year. Few things do we get to enjoy with the certainty of return that does not leave that bittersweet somberness in its wake. It’s a reminder to appreciate without fearing loss.
A handwritten, shorthand version of the itinerary Chloe outlined above.