The word discipline is a loaded one for me. I realised earlier this week, while out walking the dog in the bush, that discipline is synonymous with punishment for me. Between discipline and punishment is coercion and fear. Not surprising, as an extremely sensitive and shy child, I was very very good and avoided getting into trouble. The model child. I didn’t like conflict. I hated yelling. I was undone by the perpetual state of terror of ‘wait til your father gets home’ on occasions where I found myself on the wrong side of right, thanks to a younger sister adept in lying and manipulating adults. And being hit demolished me – especially because my parents never hit in anger, so corporeal punishment came with a waiting period which was often more devastating than the actual physical act.
Not surprisingly any writing advice that talks about ‘discipline ’ immediately and permanently isolates me from any wisdom that it may contain, because the small girl in me hears discipline and makes a conscious choice not to invite in coercion, fear, shame or physical pain. Can’t say I blame her.
Discipline is a demand to follow; it is a training in obedience from an external source that demands capitulation and a forgoing of sovereignty. Discipline is an overt act of control, and for someone hell bent on choosing her own path, you know where I’m going to tell discipline to stick itself.
But if we look at the origins of the word discipline, to the Latin root discere, the heart of the word is ‘learn’. We discipline as a branch of knowledge in higher learning and in the case of disciple someone who follows (one could argue, from the heart) with the intent to learn from a mentor, leader or teacher.
So what of learning or following from your heart when it comes to the personal experience of parking your arse to put words down, if you’re someone who wants to flip discipline the bird?
For me, commitment is where the passion meets purpose meets practice meets productive output. Not discipline. Commitment asks me to make a conscious choice and stick to it. Yes, it sounds like discipline, but the locus is internal. The pay off is joy of achievement. The joy of collaboration. Or simply the joy of exploration.
I have always said that writing is my first and greatest love affair. I adore it. I am dedicated to it. I love it deeply. I am indebted to it. I’m committed to it. But like human love affairs, we fall in and out of favour. It requires work. Attention. Time. Energy. Prioritisation. And I am okay with that. I remember. I forget. There are better days, there are worse days. The sun rises and the sun sets. But like souls dancing a karmic pas de deux, we eventually find our way back to each other to begin again regardless of the hard time we fall on.
THE DAILY BREATH
In January, I made the unprecedented decision to commit to a yearly project that would see me produce a piece of cut-up poetry every day. In the past, I have kept away from anything with a ‘daily’ attached to it. ‘Daily’ screams of discipline and its handmaiden ‘routine’. I have recognised myself as a cyclic creative who produces best in wild bursts of original output, with (often long) fallow periods following. The idea of doing something every day has, until this year, felt like a slow death.
Then the idea for The Daily Breath landed and invited me in to learn new about my capacity for commitment, love, creativity, joy and putting myself first. The Daily Breath is a poem-a-day-for-a-year project that I put in motion, first and foremost for myself as a small precious dawn enclave. Each morning I get up, make a cup of tea and then set about building a poem for the day (it often includes making the postcard the poem goes on). The Daily Breath is kind of like a stretch goal from last year, where I collaboratively completed The Red Thread of Fate across 141 days, followed by another of 63 days of Beauty of Oracle.
The Mechanics of Commitment
I’ve learned quite a bit over the last 80 days about the mechanics of commitment:
- Only commit to what brings joy, inspiration and terrified-excitement to push beyond the comfort zone and release any assumptions about what it looks like or what is asks of you.
- Once committed, share with just enough people to create a support network and cheer squad to listen and hold space when things get rough.
- Ask others to commit alongside you by inviting the people who love your work as much as you do to enter into a fair exchange to engage with your work.
- Actually be committed. Do whatever it takes to make you turn up. Prioritise it. Make time and space. Follow through to the end by simply taking one step at a time.
- Be committed from a place of ease. Make it easy. Be organised. Don’t take it too seriously. Have fun. Surrender. And then surrender again.
- Celebrate the high points and learn from the rough patches. Ensure it is a growth experience from start to finish by being open the whole way to how it can act as a catalyst for transformation.
I have already experienced the crushing devastation of thinking I hate something I loved only a few weeks earlier, and the ecstatic rush of discovering I did still love it a few weeks later. I have cut up Angela Carter, Thoreau and Italo Calvino. I have hand-cut and made over 60 postcards. I’m about to complete the third chapter (month) and ready to crack the spine on a new book and shuffle a new set of postcards.
I may have made a commitment to a poem-a-day-for-a-year, but no two poems are the same and every day is a brand new adventure waiting for me because of this. The sun rises, and the sun sets and for the next 280 odd days, it’s very much the love and devotion aspect of ‘until death do us part’.
Poem One – In the Beginning
Analogue | Illustration: Scruffy the Tugboat | Source Text: Adam, One Morning, Italo Calvino
Poem Two – Memories of Walden
Analogue | Photo: Rus VanWestervelt | Source Text: Walden, Thoreau
Poem Three – Nights With Remedios
Digital | Artwork: Remedios Varo | Source Text: Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter
Poem Four – Doorways (1)
Analogue | Photo: Doors Calendar | Source Text: The World and Other Places, Jeanette Winterson