It’s 6:30 in the morning, and dawn is streaming through the windows. I’ve just woken up. I turn over in bed, and lay on my back, blankets gathered close against the cold. I stare at the ceiling, without noticing it.
An unfamiliar ceiling is so universal that it has been overused enough to become a literary trope. We recognize it easily: Frodo Baggins wakes up in Rivendell looking at a strange ceiling, and doesn’t know where he is. Marty MacFly wakes up in his mother’s room, and thinks for a few seconds he is back in his own time. Harry Potter wakes up in the infirmary (repeatedly), and realizes he passed out again.
As a nomad, I often thought of these ceilings; each hotel room, each apartment, each living room’s slowly circling fan overhead was strange. This strangeness grows comforting. You wake up, and know you are on the road. You wake up, and know you have somewhere to sleep for the rest of the night. You wake up, and are reminded that you’re already living your dreams.
The opposite also occurs. This morning, I realized I was no longer looking for imperfections in the ceiling. I already knew them. I began to wonder: What does a familiar ceiling mean?
The easy answer is that you are grounded. Before, the ceiling was transient and could be traded for a new one at whim. You knew that you would cycle through an infinite amount of wooden patterns and tiles. Any imperfections could be laughed at, later. I remember seeing cockroaches on some ceilings in Indonesia, and not bothering to get out of bed to check if there were any others nearby. Why bother? I was leaving the next day. But if I know this room is where I will live for the indefinite future, my approach is different.
My roof right now has a leak. When there is a westward-slanted rain, water comes in through a crack in the roof, and seeps down through the wood to enter my room. It drips loudly on the metal plate at the bottom of my door to the staircase. The first time I heard it, it woke me up. The second time, I bolted out of bed to move my books off of the wall, knowing that the water would seep through the wallpaper and damage my things. I keep an eye on it, feel the wall with my fingers to make sure there is no dampness hidden in the wainscoting.
I never had to do that on the road. What would it matter if my books got wet? I would finish them and give them away the next week. My clothes were wet from tropical rain, anyway. They dried. If they smelled, I likely wouldn’t notice. If they smelled really bad, well, I would wash them at the next place. Things are — were — impermanent.
Now they aren’t. That seems clear enough to me. What isn’t clear is what that means for my daily life.
I read a lot about morning routines. The book Daily Rituals and Tim Ferriss made me rethink how I go through my day. I make my bed first thing every morning, and journal almost immediately after. I do this because I think it is important to start the day well. A day begun well generally stays that way.
But if my first thought every morning isn’t one of surprise and curiosity, if it isn’t spent wondering where I am - what will it be of? How do I predict and manage what it will be? On the road, I would depend on the feeling of waking up new. The excitement would carry me through the day. Now, I don’t have that sense of strangeness to greet me every morning.
How does this affect my day? What does familiarity provide for me?
I didn’t have any answers this morning to these questions. All I had was a soft pillow, a warm blanket, and the knowledge that I’d wake up to the same view tomorrow. For now, I’ll just keep looking.
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