Sunday, January 8, 2012

Discipline

Before you stopped to think about the matter in specific terms, there was no specific position on writing every day.  This was in part because you wrote every day from the lovely sense of the urgency to get a particular thing down.  Not to belabor the metaphor beyond comfort, but neither did you have a stated policy about peeing.  You peed when you felt you had to, which is pretty much the same as saying you peed when you felt like it for the reductionism reason that when you felt like it, you had to.

In some ways muddying up the process, you had a chum who practiced his musical instrument every day.  He was not free for such play as the two of you indulged or the added social contacts you might have found until he’d put in his hours. You were not by any means thinking him the most intellectually curious among your friends.  You came to associate his lack of curiosity with his need to practice.  This was not only an erroneous calculus, making that association put in place another misapprehension you’d have to spend considerable time removing.  Nor did it help when you saw your friend in future years no longer tied to the instrument he was practicing when you met him, yet able to be competent with piano, organ, and stringed instruments, even to the point of transposing keys.  So much for practicing right there.

You were still not articulating your own policy about practice because you more or less wrote something every day.  On the days you did not write or practice, you were more or less confident that there would be something tomorrow.  No additional rationale or explanation.  Thus it became all right not to practice if you didn’t feel like it.  Thus the number of days in which you did not feel like it increased.  By this time the process of puberty had caught up with you, giving you additional reasons to not feel like writing because you were distracted by any number of urges, real and imagined, all of which would have made some fodder for the writing process.

It is no longer your belief that not writing every day is acceptable, nor is it all right not to feel much like reading, either.  Early on in this regime, the ruling force was discipline.  For reasons relating to some traumatic childhood events of which you were neither a participant nor a victim, you’d been aware of individuals you knew of being sent to military schools for discipline, and you’d become aware that an uncle who at one time was a favorite of yours had been sent to a military school, again for discipline, the most specific charges you could glean being that he was having too much fun.

Youthful associations are often that tenuous.  When you became interested in distance running or swimming, you equated the need for discipline with giving priority to practicing something you enjoyed.  At one point, when you were competing in as many as three twenty-kilometer races a month, you actually equated your training discipline with being helpful in your writing process.

Discipline remains irrational with you; there are areas where you are disciplined by habit.  There are areas where it is still all right not to be disciplined because those things have not yet spoken to you in the loud voice of pleasure and fun yet.

There are things that threaten to reproach you if you do not do them with regularity.  This is the way you like it with writing and reading, two things that in their individual and collective ways remove many boundaries from your life, imparting instead the exhilarating sense of limitless possibilities.

Days ago, when your head felt filled with bubble wrap because of a cold that had come aboard as illegal squatters, it was possible not to feel like writing or reading, but with that feeling came the sense of giving into the stuffed chaos of the cold.  Also blinking through the fog was the notion that writing and reading, particularly if you started making connections, would take you beyond stuffed and for moments at least, back to limitless possibilities.

The major thrust of the process—any process—is to do what you do, whether you grow with it or not. You do it because it feels good to do so and you are invested with feeling as good as you can about any number of things, beginning with yourself.

Dylan Thomas, a poet widely held to need discipline, wrote:

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

Once again, the poets get it right.


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