At the beginning of the movie "Misery", based on the Stephen King novel (which I have not read), the writer Paul Sheldon, played by James Caan, finishes a novel. He has a cigarette, a wooden match, a bottle of champagne and one glass. It's his ritual to celebrate finishing.
My Ginger Bear buddy has a ritual. He wants water from my hand from the bathroom sink each morning. First I must pet him, rub him, scratch him. His purr builds like Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Peer Gynt as he walks around rubbing and marking. After some time of that, he jumps up onto the counter and the drinking commences.
He started this habit after a car took his companion, Pogo, in 2006. I'm not sure how the loss and ritual are connected. Lady and Quinn, too, have their rituals. Lady demands to be petted in the kitchen on the throw rug. Why there? Does it remind her of some fabulous kittenhood experience? I can only guess. Quinn, too, has his moments but he's a freer spirit. All that's required is my lap.
I have habits that can be ritual. Some embarass me. The brewing of the coffee. The walking to the writing. Reading the news while eating my breakfast. Watching television to fall asleep at night. Turn on the television and a "Seinfeld", "King of Queens" or "Red Dwarf" and I'll be asleep in seconds. Read or watch a movie and I'll probably be up for a while. When I truly want to sleep because of some circumstance, I close my eyes and imagine myself in a dark cold, grave. I am alone and it's snowing. It works very well.
My understanding of ritual is that they're mostly supposed to be symbolic. I can relate to that. Each of my habits have symbolic aspects. Ending the day, beginning the day, preparing to work, each of these rituals transport me to another frame of mind. I wonder if that's how my Ginger Bear came to embrace his ritual, to leave his grief and move on?
Most important of my rituals is the walking and writing. It's also alone time, virtually the only alone time of my current life, the only time when I'm not on call, obligated or beseeched for something except when I sleep. It's the one I have the hardest time giving up. You can clearly see the symbolism here. I'm walking away from everything else. I'm walking into my life as a writer.
Making coffee is a ritual whenever I'm starting a work project. I'll also often use it for starting projects around the house. The hands are busy but the mind is freed. I'll use the time and practiced motions to think about when I'm going to do, planning and visualizing the steps. Again, the symbolism is quite clear, I'm going to work now.
When I'm typing a story or novel, I like to sweep my hands over the keyboard when I first begin, with only my finger tips touching, not my thumbs. Why? I don't know. It was birthed in a time and place that escapes memory. I imagine I can feel the words and characters rising through the keys. I sweep the right hand across first, right to left and back, feeling the keys, hearing them lightly click and rattle, then the left hand, left to right and back, and then both, from the top, uppermost points, to the middle. I then raise my hands and stretch my fingers, as though I'm about to attack a piano in concert and I'm waiting to strike the first note, and crack my thumbs. Next I lower my fingers and put them in the standard typing configuration on a a QWERTY keyboard. Begin. See the symbolism? Yes, me, too, but I didn't see it until I wrote this. Once upon a time, I probably made a conscious decision of what I was doing. Now it's a ritual.
I have no ritual for finishing a novel. I don't want to force anything. Rituals should be natural. Besides, they've been done but not finished until this last one. Actually, in thought, there is a ritual. I print it out and stack the pages on my desk, squaring off the edges. Then I lightly touch the top page, making it real, connecting with the thought, I wrote a book. It's not until now, as I thought about it, that I can look back and realize I did that with every novel I wrote, and I do that my short stories, too.
I had a ritual but I didn't realize. Is it possible for a ritual to be subconscious?
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com