Sunday, March 4, 2018

Dailiness: Showing Up for Yourself

Dailiness: The fact or condition of happening or being done on a daily basis. 
Also: the quality of being ordinary, routine, or mundane; everyday character; 
reliable regularity. 

                                                                              (Oxford University Press Dictionaries Online).

            When I was nine years old, I scissored open two brown paper bags from the corner Acme. I flattened and ironed out the creases, taped them together and cut-off extra areas to form a rectangle.  Facing the word Acme toward the wall, I taped the paper to the wall next to the bed where grandmother and I slept.  Using her yardstick and a black marker that made my face burn with its smell, I drew a grid of 10 rows and 30 or so columns.  In the left row of lines, I listed all the things I wanted to do or achieve daily—nine-year old things such as Practice Piano, Wash Dishes, Feed Bookie, Iron Blouse, Polish Shoes, and Brush Teeth. At the top of the columns I wrote the date. With my weekly dollar, I went to the stationery store down the block to buy gold and silver; red, blue, and green foil stars.  This was in the days before self-stick, when the surfaces of the stars were raised, as if carved, and the backs were gummed for licking.  Whenever I completed one of my tasks, I gave myself a star—the color indicating whether I did it perfectly (gold), well (silver)…all the way down to green for decent.  At night, I loved seeing the neatly spaced stars sparkle with the lights of passing cars, the bright moon, or the dawning sun. I felt happy with myself, whether or not my mother came home at night, or my father kept my stepmother from hitting me.

            But the tasks on my list were adult requirements, and I tired of the growing blank boxes on my chart, the stars more like haphazard constellations, more silver than gold, and then more green than blue.  What started out as a creative act of self-care turned into another chore that made me feel trapped.

            Decades later, I opened a blank Microsoft document, formatted for seven columns for the days of a week and fifteen or so rows. Instead of listing items driven by other-directed requirements, such as work, meetings, laundry, I list things to help me keep focused on what I value—such as 20 minutes of home yoga, meditation, singing, writing three pages in my journal (which I call “Musings”).  It’s too easy to get lost in the undertow of Email, internet distractions, Netflix—so I include reading poetry as an item, cardio exercise, writing something new, revising something old. Instead of checking Pinterest or Snapchat, I check my check list.  And it’s not an incidental to-do list that changes daily (although I do write those in at the bottom of my list for the next day).  This is a deeper commitment.

Every day is a work of art—how we begin and end it shapes the between which is life, itself.  So I list a modest “Make bed” as the first item: I start my day on a note of clarity, accomplishment, investment in tonight’s sleep. Others might write “Pray” or “Run” or “Eat breakfast.”  I was always lonely as a child, so evenings were painful—it’s when I became addicted to television.  I make sure now to write reminders to myself of what’s healthier in the evenings—writing a daily list of gratitudes, reading more poetry or prose, cleaning around the house, phoning a friend—taking care of those teeth.

I use my week-at-a-glance lists to monitor my current devotions—as for example tracking weight.  I add, subtract, revise items according to how I trend.  My lists tell me if I’m keeping up with things that matter to me.  If not, I rethink and recast my whats, hows, and whens. My check marks are like gold stars, but I practice flexibility.  I play games with myself when needed: “10 out of 15 was great for today!” “Superstar day of 14 of 15!” After all, my li­­­sts are about shaping my day as I wish and acknowledging my progress-not-perfection.

What we do every day—the no-big deal twenty minutes of yoga, for example—is what will turn into the biggest deals in our lives. Anthony Trollope wrote for only an hour a day before his job as a postal surveyor on the railroad, yet he created dozens of novels, articles, plays.  Dailiness is what matters—for the Olympic gymnast who wakes up every morning at 4:00 AM to practice three hours before school; for the mother who tends her baby through diapers, fears, and joys; for the student who spends an hour before classes to work on her papers and revisions; for the writer to write every day. As Yogi Pattabhi Jois said, “Practice, and all is coming.”

At age nine, my lists started in exuberance but devolved into a trap.  Some mistake living by the whim of the moment, uprootedness with freedom. But, as Robert Frost said, “Freedom is moving easy in harness.” Now my weekly lists liberate me from distractions, keep me focused on how I want to grow, and offer me an overview of where I started, where I’m going. 

Have I been “reliably regular”? Have I showed up for what matters?

How might you shape and reward yourself in your dailiness?


  1. Hi Dr. Rich,

    I really loved reading the story about the brown paper bags and your check lists. The story opened my eyes more to who you truly are. Honestly, I assumed that you probably woke up one day and decided that you needed start "showing up" more and began organizing your time better, with your daily lists. It was fascinating to read about how you were almost born to make your time meaningful!
    Your story has inspired me to make my moments meaningful, to use my moments to make me a better "me," daily. With this, I also recognize that it is important to allow time for pleasures in my making-myself-better-everyday list. The time designated for simple pleasures, however, should be pleasures that enhance my being, such as my yoga class. I could practice 20minutes of yoga every morning and I will start tomorrow morning. This will be part of my new daily routine... It's official.

  2. Dear Amanda, Thank you for your kind and thoughtful response. I am so very glad that you are inspired to have what you have--your daily yoga. Pattabhi Jois said, "Practice and all is coming." I'm going to revise that into the post. Namaste

  3. The star reward molded into Susanna’s superstar students.

    You were formulating the matters and doesn’t matters of teaching from that moment that you created that list.

    It was probably when you realized ninety percent of it all is bullshit and refocused to clarity and art and ditched conformity.

    My emotional dissolving is my checklist. I dissolve the bad and then create into the world a lightness. It is my check and balance to make sure I’m happy so that I can make others happy!

    1. Tina, you think, and write, and live as a poet, activist, humanitarian. I am so grateful that we had time at Kean to study together, and that now we are forever friends. Thank you for your response, here, and for your loving attention.

  4. I love this! I was recently reminded that even the sun is mundane; it rises and sets every day, yet there is still glory in it. My habits should be the same, and I should not neglect creating daily. You’ve inspired me to add art back onto my lists. I’ve done better this year about regular journaling. I can plan time for colorful creating too!

    1. Laura! So happy to hear from you! Thank you for relaying the sun metaphor! Wow! The most obvious of-course. Do send images of your artiful explorations!!!

  5. Dr. Rich,

    For as long as I could remember, I have always had poor time management skills; without a doubt, this has affected me in ways more negative than positive. My sleeping schedule has been inconsistent, and it has played an impact on my health, all because I do not use my time as wisely as I could. I have always looked at people who do use their time more productively, and wondered “How on earth do they do that? How doesn't their time fly like mine does? There just aren’t enough hours in the day.” I am always convinced that I cannot be like one of those people.

    Lately though, I have been reevaluating how I spend my time, and I have realized that my time is not flying; but rather, I am allowing it to fly right past me. I look for things in my surroundings that help to serve as distractions. That is why oftentimes, I find myself spending, for example, an hour on an assignment that should have taken half of that time. That is also why I find myself getting five hours of sleep when I could have had eight.

    I have realized that I do not value my time enough and that I can be much more focused than I am now. I agree with Amanda in the sense that you are such an inspiration, Dr. Rich; not only do you teach full-time, but you are productive outside of the classroom, as you do your musings, complete your daily yoga, and even have time to star in plays!

    It is easy to get carried away with wanting to be perfect, but it is not about being perfect; instead, it is about taking small steps every day that would allow me to accomplish much more with my time. I aspire to have a deeper sense of commitment to the things in my life that have great meaning to me. In acknowledging this, I am likely to create some sort of routine, some “dailiness” to my life that helps me achieve the tasks I need to complete.

    Nada Amer

  6. Hi Dr. Rich,

    I always appreciate the honesty behind all of your posts, and the way you provide us with real life advice. I think it's great that at such a young age you were able to find comfort in taking control of your own life, which has also followed you through adulthood. I too thrive on being organized and making lists in order to help achieve my daily goals. As I got older I felt overwhelmed by my busy schedule and found solace in writing out a weekly schedule- highlighting daily and weekly goals. This currently hangs on my wall above my desk, and I find comfort knowing it is always there. I try not to be too hard on myself when all of my daily goals haven't been achieved, but I can attest to the satisfying feeling I get when I am able to check off even the simplest task of making my bed in the morning and taking time to stretch and practice yoga.

    Ever since I have adapted to a more organized lifestyle I stress less, and actually show up for the things I say I will.

    Thank you for teaching us so many things that most professors don't take the time to.

    -Jessica Jardonoff