Issue #56: In Defense of 'Bookending' Your Days
A new routine for morning and evening.
Morning Person is a weekly newsletter packed with obsessively-curated recommendations and ideas—let’s get to it!
🎧 Princess Diana 5-Part Series on “You’re Wrong About:” It has come to my attention that I’m going through a bit of a royals phase this week (…aren’t we all?), which co-host Mike Hobbes legitimized when he said, “It’s just really nice to be listening to royal gossip from twenty-five years ago.” Same, Mike. While I recognize the gravity in that these are real lives and real people, I am also all too happy to escape into King Charles’s war on pens, Meghan’s feature from her Montecito estate and podcast (loved this episode), and Charles’s long-ago leaked sexy phone calls to Camilla, which is the exact hole this five-part series fills. Mike (who also co-hosts the fantastic podcast “Maintenance Phase”) and his co-host Sarah Marshall’s rapport is hilarious, as is the low-stakes drama. 10/10 recommend roping your friends into listening with you, although your group text will be taken over by it. (Another good Diana podcast is “When Diana Met…” if you’ve already listened to this one!).
📚 The Marriage Portrait by Maggie Farrell: It’s likely no surprise I’m recommending this book, after teasing it in last week’s fall preview and tearing through it this weekend. Very little is known about the real protagonist at the heart of the novel, Lucrezia, the daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, besides her death at sixteen—likely at the hands of her husband. But O’Farrell brings her to life (as she did Shakespeare’s only son in her bestselling novel Hamnet) as a rightfully terrified and precocious young woman in 1561.
🎥 ‘Do Revenge’ on Netflix: This new high school comedy combines the best popular girl tropes—it’s ‘Heathers’ meets ‘Mean Girls’ meets Blair Waldorf—with a ‘Strangers on a Train’ twist. Cool girl Drea (Camila Mendes) strikes up an agreement with an alternative brooder-type (Maya Hawke) to “do revenge” on the other’s enemy after Drea’s boyfriend releases an intimate video of her. The movie is packed with references to early-aughts movies, which is part of what makes it so fun to watch and smarter than most.
I have not, historically, been drawn to poetry. Poems, for one thing, can’t be read with the swift ease of a page-turner or listened to at 3x speed. They demand that you slow down and pay attention—and who has time for that? Yet while driving with a friend to Asheville last month, I found myself in a small bookstore’s poetry section. I likely would have ignored the shelf, if it hadn’t been directly next to the fiction. From “Poetry,” I pulled out a collection by one of the only names I recognized. Holding Mary Oliver’s Devotions, I felt self-conscious, as if the book signaled my complete ignorance of the genre beyond the most mainstream. My passing familiarity with Oliver’s work amounted to her famous line, “You do not have to be good.” Still, I opened the book to one of her first poems, and purchased it based on the title alone.
Once back on the highway, I read the poem that had caught my eye to my friend as she drove, “I don’t want to be demure or respectable. / I was that way, asleep, for years.” It spoke to Oliver’s hunger for life, the beauty that can emerge from quotidian events, the spirituality that can emerge from really paying attention to things. I loved every line.
On my first morning in the apartment, I got myself out of bed by telling myself to just go through my morning routine.
When I returned home from my trip, I began to feel lonely for the first time. I have never lived alone, so the experience of waking up and falling asleep by myself felt vacuous and depressing. On my first morning in the apartment, I got myself out of bed by telling myself to just go through my morning routine: I made myself coffee, went for a walk, and ate breakfast—all of which helped—then I noticed Oliver’s collection on my couch.
I sat down with my coffee to the same poem I had read in the car, but this time I studied it. I read it several times, Googling references I didn’t understand, like “The glimmer of gold Böhme saw on the kitchen pot.” I made notes until I filled the margins, then opened up my notebook and began journaling about it. As I did, connections clicked into place. Soon, the loneliness was replaced by a sense of creativity and inspiration. That evening, once I had finished dinner, I felt the loneliness begin to creep back in. I picked up the same poem, and began to write again. This time, I journaled less about the poem itself and more about my reflections from the day. Again, the loneliness melted away in her company.
The next morning, I picked another poem, “Whistling Swans.” The next day, “The World I Live In.” It’s been exactly two weeks—fourteen poems—and I’ve maintained the routine every morning and evening, even bringing the book with me to Reno and rereading lines from my favorites.
In a podcast interview, Elizabeth Gilbert shared that she journals every morning by writing a letter to “unconditional love.” Before she puts pen to paper, she puts herself in a mental state that allows a deeper level of self-reflection. She finds a quiet spot and reads something that transports her. She explains, “I read a couple lines of Walt [Whitman], and it’s like, ‘Thanks, Uncle Walt.’ And Rumi does that for me. Hafez does that for me, all of those. Mary Oliver does it for me. They left the door open behind them, out of their generosity. And you can slip in on their words and it changes something and you interiorly, and now you’re in divine space.”
I’m not sure how literally I believe in the existence of a divine space, as Gilbert does, but I’ve experienced the transformative impact of Oliver’s words. I can feel lonely or depressed or stressed, but as soon as I read one of her poems, I’m reminded of what matters. If nothing else, she provides a space to journal around.
The morning after my dog Toast’s first night in the apartment, which he spent whimpering before he adjusted to the new space, I read “Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night.” (Tell me you love me, he says. / Tell me again. / Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over / he gets to ask it. / I get to tell.) After a discussion with friends about our twenties, I read “Self-Portrait.” (though I’m not twenty/ and won’t be again but ah! seventy. And still / in love with life. And still/ full of beans.) In thinking about love and relationships, I’ve read Oliver’s poems about and accounts of her longtime partner Molly Malone Cook. After a long night of insomnia, I read “An Old Story.” (Sleep comes its little while./ Then I wake in the valley of midnight or three a.m.)
Every poem teaches me something and does, maybe most importantly, what I once resented poetry for: It forces me to slow down.
A new morning routine: Even when I wake up stressed-out by a long to-do list, or impossibly daunted by the week ahead, I make myself a cup of coffee, then set a timer and journal for thirty minutes. Afterwards, I go for a long walk, often without a podcast for the first mile so I can let myself digest what I wrote. Once home, I make myself breakfast, shower, and begin work around 9 am—whether on Morning Person, book edits, or school.
And in the evenings: Once the day is over, and I no longer have any responsibilities I can distract myself with, I make myself a cup of tea and sit down with the same poem. I often reread whatever I wrote that morning, then write for at least half an hour.
By bookending my routine with poetry and journaling, I’ve noticed some of the changes people reference with meditation (which I haven’t yet built enough patience for). If I feel dysregulated during the day, I recall lines from Oliver’s poem. I’ve memorized a few lines I can repeat like mantras: Joy is not to be made a crumb. You do not have to be good. I do know how to pay attention.
It isn’t always possible to take time to sit with a poem in the morning (especially if you have a commute or kids!). In that case, it may be easier to combine a walk or commute with a poetry podcast. Below are a few I’ve enjoyed:
The Slow Down: When I began listening to this podcast, it was hosted by Tracy K. Smith, and now by Ada Limón (so you know it’s the real deal). Out each weekday, it features a short introduction by Ada followed by the reading of a poem, often around five minutes total. A must-listen.
Poetry Unbound: A poetry podcast by “On Being,” guided by Pádraig Ó Tuama and out every Monday and Friday so you can bookend your weeks with it.
The Paris Review Podcast: Every episode of this podcast sounds like a poem, but they all also include a poem that is worth the episode in itself.
P.S. The Poetry Foundation allows you to browse for poems by search words and categories. I also really enjoy the weekly poems in New York Times Magazine, for the explanation of why they were selected, and this Instagram feed @poetryisnotaluxury, which takes its name from Audre Lorde.
I’m still new to poetry, so I would love to hear: Which poets do you love? Is there a collection of poetry you often pull from? I would love to begin reading more!
I wouldn’t call myself a huge Michelle Branch fan, but I found this interview—in light of her recent arrest, album release, and divorce—to be refreshingly open and honest. A brush for cleaning diamond rings and gems, precious (expensive) tableware, and cute fall sweaters. “The sound of gentrification is silence.” My friend Thao launched a newsletter called Wallflower Chats (go subscribe!). Just learned scrunchies (the hair accessory) were named after a pet poodle and originally pronounced “scoonchie.” Makes me sad: The radical surgery some men are undergoing to be a little taller. Somehow only just learned about the “Unofficial Bridgerton Musical,” which is hilarious—and Netflix’s unsurprisingly reaction to it.
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