Jul 16, 201411:15 AM
Bon Vivant

Exploring finery, fun and the good life with New Orleans Bride editor Melanie Warner Spencer

Morning rituals: The best part of waking up

Injecting rituals into your morning routine can keep you grounded, provide clarity and ready you for the day.

As much as I’ve tried to fight it, I’m a morning person. Alert and chipper, my eyes pop open as the sun illuminates the sky each day. Which is good because it renders less annoying the habit of our cat Cleo to dutifully position herself morning after morning beside my head at a cunningly strategic eardrum angle and proceed to release that exceedingly loud and incessant bellow most familiar to cat owners. Like me, the cat is a creature of habit. Together, we tromp into the living room and she watches me open the blinds. Then, usually to the tune of Cleo’s multifarious mews, we proceed into the kitchen wherein I give her a cat treat (now you know why she’s so keen on getting me out of bed) and cue up the percolator full of Community Coffee 5 Star Hotel Blend. But this is only the beginning of my morning ritual. 
 
It has evolved somewhat, but for the most part, each day while having — whenever possible in a favorite mug — coffee either on our porch, in the living room on the sofa or at the writing table, I hand write three pages in a notebook. Devotees of Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way books will of course recognize this as Morning Pages, which is stream of consciousness or free writing to help clear the mind, especially for creative endeavors, such as writing. On the weekends, I’ll pipe in some Baroque music or something similarly serene, but quietude is my preference. On my best days, I’ll throw in a meditation session or a little yoga. Next, I get cleaned up and ready for the day. By the time I’m done, Mark is up and we have a cup of coffee together, before I head to the Renaissance Publishing offices or to meetings. It’s this simple start to each day that keeps me grounded, gives me clarity and readies me for whatever comes my way. 
 
On days or weeks when I begin to feel a bit off, it’s usually because I’ve abandoned my Morning Pages. This happened recently and, having experienced it in the past, I knew the cure — get back into my routine, pronto. Having reached the final pages of the notebook I was currently using provided the perfect excuse for a lunchtime Artist Date to Scriptura for a shiny, new Moleskine notebook. The pull to scroll through Facebook and Instagram over coffee is no match for a fresh Moleskine and my favorite dipping pen and ink from Papier Plume in the French Quarter (additional writing accessories on my wish list to be acquired from Papier Plume on subsequent Artists Dates are additional nibs, a lovely inkwell and dipping pen holder, an ink blotter and a Leonardt nib storage tin). 
 
Years ago, while daydreaming about an item on my travel wish list — a return to Mt. Vernon, which I visited on a high school trip — I learned that George Washington also had a solid morning ritual. According to the Mt. Vernon website, “Each morning, he rose between 4 and 5 a.m. and went to the study, using the private staircase that led down from the bedchamber. According to the recollections of his step-grandson George Washington (Washy) Parke Custis, he lit his own fire and dressed himself. Washington used the quiet time to write letters or review reports until breakfast at 7 a.m., after which he usually rode out to his farms.” Additional insights into Washington’s habits and beliefs can be found in the delightful, posthumously published book, “George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour.” This little volume lives in my library and I find myself turning to it again and again for inspiration. Published in 1994, the book offers pointers on everything from dressing and eating in public to respect for self and others. Washington is thought to have based his “rules” on a set by circa-1595 French Jesuits (published an English book in 1640), which he copied out by hand as a young, aspiring Gentleman. 
  
This led me to check in on the morning rituals of my favorite Founding Father, printer, postmaster, inventor, scientist, statesman and author, Benjamin Franklin. In his Autobiography, Franklin outlined his plan for moral perfection. Cleanliness, Moderation, Temperance and so on were tackled one-by-one on a weekly basis, in an effort to transform each virtue into a habit. It was much consolation to me to learn that Franklin never quite mastered every virtue on his list. If a prolific and talented genius the likes of Franklin couldn’t achieve moral perfection, I could be a bit easier on myself. Phew! His morning ritual, according to a letter he penned, involved sitting naked — which he called “air bathing” — and writing or reading for about an hour. This is detailed in the 2013 book, “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work,” by Mason Currey
 
In the book, Currey examines the rituals of myriad famous folks, including author Franz Kafka, naturalist and geologist Charles Darwin and jazz trumpeter, singer and noted New Orleanian Louis Armstrong. It seems Armstrong openly smoked “gage” as he called it, otherwise known as marijuana. He would spark up, write letters and listen to music. 
 
No offense to Satchmo — who as a young, budding trumpet player back in my home state of Kentucky, I held up as the preeminent horn-wielding god (and still do)  — but I believe I’ll stick with coffee. 
 
My ritual — the cup of Joe; the favorite writing tools; the three page rule — is perfect for me, because I can keep it whether at home or when traveling, it’s easy to hit the reset button when I stray from the course, these activities ease me into the day in a way that feels special and comfortable and most importantly, it helps me feel centered and ultimately more productive. Bringing me, rather verbosely (as usual) to the point: Find a morning ritual that works for you. 
 
Decide on the things you’d like to add to your morning routine (Prayer or meditation? A morning walk? Franklin’s air bath?), incorporate it into what you already do (Shower, drink tea, walk the dog, etc.) and then figure out how long it’ll take to do all of it. The next morning (or whatever time it is you typically wake up), rise and shine accordingly, rinse and repeat. I recommend incorporating something that feels comforting or luxurious. This can be as simple as sipping from a favorite or special mug, listening to music by a certain musician you adore or gazing out your window at the view for a few minutes as you wake up. Experiment and tinker until you find a morning ritual that helps you feel pampered, energized and ready to tackle the day ahead of you.    
 
Finally, don’t pick an activity just because you think it’s what you are supposed to do. This is a part of the day for you and only you. Maybe what you really want to do is dance around the living room in nothing but the souvenir grass skirt you brought back from an especially fun trip to Hawaii. I bet good old Franklin would approve of that one. Aloha! 
 
Do you have a morning ritual you can’t live without? Share it in the comments. 
 
 

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Bon Vivant

Exploring finery, fun and the good life with New Orleans Bride editor Melanie Warner Spencer

about

Melanie Warner Spencer is a native Kentuckian, but says she got to New Orleans as fast as she could. For more than 12 years, Melanie has covered lifestyle, design and entertainment at various publications, serving as the design columnist at The Austin American-Statesman, a senior staff reporter at the Houston Chronicle and most recently as the editor-in-chief of Houston Brides magazine. Her work also has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post and Reuters in the United States and across the globe. In her spare time, Melanie is an award-winning fine art photographer and has been honored by the Texas Press Association for her editorial photography. Cooking and eating fabulous food and taking road trips with her spouse of 15 years, fellow writer and filmmaker Mark Patrick Spencer however, is at the top of her list of favorite pastimes. You can reach her at melanie@myneworleans.com.

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