The minutiae of my preparations for breakfast are like a spell on which my mood, and consequently the course of the day, depends entirely. I confess it seems ridiculous to become distraught at the prospect of using a different spoon than usual; I propose, however, that it is not absurd. A priest, I expect, would not take kindly to being told, “Your aspergillum is in the dishwasher, but here, use this rusty watering can instead.” Why, then, should I accept the mucking up of my morning ritual with greater equanimity? You may answer that fixing breakfast is not at all like a Palm Sunday mass. I say that breakfast is very much like a religious rite, if you go about it correctly.
A morning ritual sets the tone for the whole day. If not the actual events of the day, at least my mood, and thus my ability to cope with said day. I create the day with my mind. If my mental weather has a Winter Storm Warning: dangerous road conditions ahead, the external weather will be similarly bleak. My routine goes as follows:
- Fill kettle, but don’t turn it on just yet.
- Put 2 generous tsps. of chai blend in the french press. Mine is missing its sieve, and thus is really nothing but a glorified carafe. Nevertheless I continue to use it, and simply pour the resulting mixture through another tea strainer filched from a tea bottle. The french press broke two months ago, but I’m still in denial.
- Turn on kettle.
- Wash and eat 1 stick of celery, never more than 6 ½ inches in length.
- Wash silver infant spoon – only that one will do because the metal of the bowl is so thin it makes me eat more slowly.
- Fill glass bowl with 1/2 cup plain, whole milk yogurt, preferably Strauss.
- Take kettle off stove. This must be timed exactly when the decibel level of the whistle is somewhere between that of a turtledove cooing softly to its beloved, and that of an ill-disciplined toddler who has been asked to go halfsies.
- Put a smidge of water in the french press, just enough to be able to swirl the tea leaves. An agitated tea leaf is more flavorful than a placid one. Then fill the press the rest of the way and put it in the tea cozy.
- Fill mug with hot water. The mug must be selected based on several criteria. If you’re in a bit of a rush, choose one with thinner walls. That way, it will hold heat long enough for you to enjoy your tea, and you won’t have to wash someone else’s thicker walled one for a morning of greater leisure – that would spoil the leisure. Furthermore, never buy or use a mug with a convex lip. They tend to be tempermental and snide.
- At last you may eat, timing out your bite to sip ratio so that you do not run out of tea before you run out of food. Scroll Facebook while you do this, to ease yourself into the pointless incomprehensibility of the day.
“But that’s lunacy, not liturgy!” You may cry. Let’s take a closer look.
The word “liturgy” comes from the Greek λειτουργία, literally, “the work of the people.” Perhaps your daily routine consists purely of swanning about turning water into wine, bestowing largesse, and single-handedly rescuing humanity from certain doom. If that is the case, I applaud you. But if you’re like me, your daily tasks are not the stuff of epic poetry. In fact you’d be lucky to get so much as a commemorative limerick. But that doesn’t mean your day-to-day is unworthy of fastidious attention.
The way we do things, even the smallest things, creates patterns of thought and action that affect the way we do everything. I like to think of my character as a music box, with every thought and action building up the pattern of those little bumpy things on the cylinder. The little metal plinkers are what happens to us, and the song produced is your life. So if you want to be an Eine Kleine Nachtmusik person, you have to make sure that every tiny thing you do conforms to that pattern, or your little bumps will fall in the wrong places and your music box will produce cacophony comparable to a choir of cats accompanied by tea bags being rythmically squished.
John Ruskin expressed a similar sentiment in The Seven Lamps of Architecture:
However mean or inconsiderable the act, there is something in the well doing of it, which has fellowship with the noblest forms of manly virtue; and the truth, decision, and temperance, which we reverently regard as honourable conditions of the spiritual being, have a representative or derivative influence over the works of the hand, the movements of the frame, and the action of the intellect.
In my experience, this is spot on. It’s also why I despise driving – it takes all of my personal failings and makes them imminently life-threatening. I can muddle along on foot being as diffident as I please, but put me in a car, and the moment I hesitate to honk is probably going to be the moment I get flattened by a semi. So, one might argue that the way one fixes breakfast is a matter of life and death – if you establish the wrong character pattern with your morning ritual, you may find yourself in the waffle iron of life.
So how does one go about establishing the right character patterns? Once again, it’s a matter of ritual. And what goes into a ritual? Symbology, presentation, and repetition. Each condition of your ritual must have symbolic significance, a premeditated reason for inclusion. And yes, wanting to make things unnecessarily elaborate is a perfectly valid reason for an addition to your ritual. It should be aesthetically pleasing – but this doesn’t mean it should look like a page out of Architectural Digest. The way things look affects one’s experience, but it’s highly personal – for instance, my aversion to mugs with convex lips. In Home Cooking, Laurie Colwin wrote,
…cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam.
Try to base your rituals on a mindset of perpetual cooking-for-oneself. If you feel that soup tastes best when you eat it from a chipped bowl, do so. It’s hardly more ridiculous than many modern or ecclesiastical customs.
Once you have established your rituals, you will begin to build up the bumps of character essential to being an Eine Kleine Nachtmusik person instead of a Pop! Goes the Weasel person. Unless you want to be a Pop! Goes the Weasel person. Then by all means, continue your erratic habits.
There is reason and ritual in the smallest of daily tasks, if you care to notice it. The way you perform little acts is the way you perform great ones, and any act can be noble. So let us brush our teeth with nobility, let us sharpen our pencils with the utmost virtue, let us make our beds in glorious fashion; if we do this, our lives will flow with the dulcet tones of a lyre. I hope.