4.3. Deny No Part Of You

In 1987, a college professor and mentor gave me a book written by Hugh Prather called Notes To Myself: My Struggle To Become A Person. In it, there was one particular verse that struck me immediately:

There is a part of me that wants to write,
A part that wants to theorize,
A part that wants to sculpt,
A part that wants to teach….
To force myself into a single role, to decide to be just one thing in life, would kill off large parts of me.

Kill off large parts of me? As a young man fresh out of college, I thought: Why in the world would anybody want to do that?

When I first read these words, I felt as if I had just been given license to be myself, and not who everybody else wanted me to be. Not seeing the irony in my ways, I kept that epiphany a secret for a long time. I felt that if I told anyone about all of these different “parts” of me, they would tell me how foolish I was being.

“It’s not the domestic model,” they would say, “so you’d be a fool to stray too far from the plan that you – and we – have had for you all along. Such distractions are unnecessary.”

Sometimes, I feel like those of us who were coming of age in the eighties were the last generation to feel tied to the rules and mores of the past. We were still too eager to honor and please others, and we felt tremendous guilt if we strayed.

But maybe it’s wrong of me to brush such a broad stroke. Perhaps it is just in my character to please, to resist the disappointment that I feared I would feel from others.

And, maybe, still fear.

Yeah. that’s probably all on me.

I remember my friend Ginny telling me about her father, who was quite the artist,  and how he had kept that part of him inside all his life because his wife would not allow him to live fully as that artist. Ginny said to me that the artist within him was too strong, and no matter what anybody did or said to suppress that artist, it was going to manifest in some way to leave his body. In this case, it was cancer. And it took his life — and his art — swiftly.

I mull over Ginny’s words often.

Earlier this week, in Jodi Cleghorn’s The Daily Breath, she writes:

When you stand in your authenticity and truth, you make space for others to do the same. Especially those closest to you.
What rebellion are you trying to enact?
Inner?
Outer?
Or that place between?

After I let those words sink in a bit, I realized that, ironically enough, one of the things that stands in the way of our authenticity is social media. I’m reminded of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and how so many of us keep wearing that face that we keep in the jar by the door. The only difference is we’re wearing those masks for the world to see.

Behind them lies the individual desperately seeking authenticity and truth – not to mention validation – in all the wrong places.

On days like this, when I am pondering the balance I strike between the artist and the domestic, I go back to Prather’s words and remember what it was like as that 22-year-old kid feeling liberated, but keeping it all a secret.

I’ve been balancing that irony all my life.

The path less trod for me has been an internal journey, and I know that I am speaking for so many others as well. I’m talking about people who are just like me who have lived a quiet, creative life, suppressing so much of who they really are, for the compromise of a safe, domestic life.

Is it too late to change any of that? Of course not. Do I have the courage to do it? That’s an entirely different story.

So I believe this to be more like the path more trod, because I think that many of the people reading this will identify with that struggle to become a person.

So what do we do? We carry on with the rules we have established for our lives; we don’t wallow in some melancholic waters of what we have not done (but honestly, how soothing is that!). We continue to fuel the parts of us that want to write, to theorize, to sculpt, to teach. We do what we are doing here at The JAR Writers’ Collective. We create portals for our creativity to flow more freely.

And we stand as best we can in authenticity: for ourselves and for others, as we continue along our paths more or less trod, but our paths nonetheless to call our own.

3.3 A Deeper Discipline

For those of us who hike, or garden, or take long bike rides, we are deeply aware that there are two types of hikers, gardeners, and cyclists.

The first type is in it for the destination, whether that be a summit 26 miles away, a synchronized garden that maximizes each hour of sunshine without taxing the soil too much from its neighboring plants, or the end of a century ride that takes you around some of this world’s greatest natural wonders.

These types have their head down and are focused on what awaits them at the end of the journey. They are immensely happy (and proud) of their accomplishment, as they should be. They talk about what they might do differently to shave off a few minutes, or maximize the oxygen for the snap peas. It’s all about destination, and they are proud of crossing that finish line, regardless of the form it might take.

The second type is in it for the journey. They meander through the woods, observing the different bird calls, the tracks on the trail, and the variations of vegetation to discern exactly what kind of wildlife are nibbling at its branches.

The gardener embraces the feel of the soil on his finger tips as he digs a hole for a new seedling. He might even talk to it, breathing a little security-blanket oxygen its way.

The cyclist knows she has until 8 p.m. to reach her destination, so she wanders through the small towns, talking to the locals about what makes their little communities so personable, so resistant to the buzz of the bigger cities around them.

In short, this second type savors every step of the journey, and when they finally reach their destination, they are rich in telling stories about what they experienced along the way. There is no talk of the next trip or what they could do differently. To them, they are too immersed in the now, holding on to the words they shared with once-strangers.

When it comes to writing and discipline, I’ve been a little of both, and not necessarily for the right reasons.

The first type of disciplined writers have deadlines; they are focused, and they “put butt in chair” when they are supposed to. They turn in their work with confidence that they wrote a good piece, but they equally allow a smile to linger, knowing they made their deadlines — their destination — on or ahead of schedule.

Head down, do the work, meet the deadline. All good.

The second type of disciplined writers, however, don’t really do any of the things the first type does, except make (most) of their deadlines (more on this a bit later). These creatives are highly disciplined, but they are also a little scary. Let me explain.

It takes great discipline as a writer, as a creative, to “let go” in the journey of writing or creating, where there is room to wander with the characters or the image to see where they (or it) will take you. You remain fully immersed, disciplined, and focused; getting to the destination, however, might take a little longer than anyone might have liked.

And to you, that’s just fine.

Being disciplined in our writing, our creating, does not necessarily have to have that “get the job done” mentality. There is great and wondrous discipline in staying immersed in your work, expending insurmountable amounts of energy with the characters, and seeing where they take you in the story.

Ultimately, it’s being mindful enough to strike that balance between the two.

I’ve done solo projects with each approach, and I’ve learned from these experiences that there is nothing black and white about discipline when you are creating.

When our heads are down, we’re missing the little nuances that lead us to greater discoveries; likewise, when we let go entirely to see where the characters take us, we often find ourselves too far away from where we began, and with little hope or direction of finding our way back on to the blazed path that leads us to our natural and eventual home.

Understanding the deeper significance of our discipline allows us to let go, play, but stay close to the trail that leads us to our story’s natural conclusion. We need to be aware of what type of discipline we use in our crafting, and when.

And, as important, we cannot allow one form to tell the other that it is the lazy way out, or the wrong approach, or the wrong time. It’s important to get to the end, but it’s equally important to be deeply mindful of the journey along the way.

SRAOC #7: Discipline

Small Rebellious Acts of Creativity (#SRAOC) is a weekly invitation to explore a word, or phrase, through whichever creative avenue, platform or modality the participant wishes. It is intended to be a philosophical or creative catalyst moreso than a straight up writing prompt.

This week’s prompt was: Discipline

JODI

Words, in and of themselves, are objective for the most part. It’s our experience of them which adds baggage and the word ‘discipline’ is a loaded one for me. The word discipline catapults me back into the powerlessness of being a child and a student. So when writing advice revolves around ‘the discipline of writing’ there is an immediate and visceral reaction in me to disregard everything that follows. I’m no longer the Very Good Girl I was until I turned 18, but the fear of confrontation and conflict remain. It’s taken me almost two decades to work out my own compass and to trust in knowing what is right for me.

     

ADAM

Adam is currently in Japan, immersing himself in the culture and filling the creative well. He will be back to join us in a few weeks. The spirit of discipline has not eluded him, however, as he continues to capture the beauty of Japan in words and images.

 

 

 

 

 

RUS

I think we are much harder on ourselves about discipline than we might imagine. As creatives, we are, in the most beautiful ways imaginable, chaotically disciplined in expressing ourselves. Whether it is in art, music, poetry, photography, or prose, we find ways to allow our energies to form into products that did not previously exist. It’s the nature of the creative beast, though, to think otherwise. We know what we are capable of creating, and there is never an end to our ideas or projects.

How many of us have notebooks filled with story ideas, sketches, or drafts kindled by the acorns of images and interactions scattered along the paths of our lives? We know the potential of what we could do, if given uninterrupted time and an existence purely of our doing. This is laughable, at the very least, and we do the best we can.

We do the best we can.

I am no different. I beat down the negative self-speak daily, the voices of the watcher reminding me of what I have not done. And if I stop, if I put my pen down even for a moment, those voices win.

Our discipline comes in our daily routines, our channels opened, our pens and brushes moving across the blank page or canvas, despite the exhaustion of domestic living, despite the encouraging voices to resign, despite the imbalance of ideas vs. products that nag on us when we are weakest.

The JAR Collective is the very embodiment of discipline, of getting shit done. We have hectic lives, but we are committed to keeping the channels open and sharing our expressions — many of them raw — with you every week. Perhaps it is in our collective nature that we suppress the watcher, the critic, the negativity that seeks us out.

For me, it is through the pen, through the lens, and through the collaboration. I am disciplined to show up every day and write, paint, draw, sing, dance, Exist.

I am disciplined to live fully. I am.

Words As . . . Oxygen

As an older writer, and as a teacher of students of various ages, I have the unique perspective of viewing life in the dreams whispered of the young in early spring, in the struggles of the middies in the summer sun, and in the regrets of the elders as autumn falls. One thread is common among all three: the desperate dream of returning to uninhibited innocence and an abundance of creativity — both seemingly, always a touch beyond the grasp.

The reasons, as you might imagine, are the usual suspects as captured by my college writing students: a lack of time and money, the demands of domesticity and jobs, and life-defined priorities.

Their stories began with vibrant images in early youth, where they embraced an exhilaration to create: write, paint, sing, dance, build, bake. But something happened around the age of 8 or 9. Their pure connection to creativity was interrupted by classrooms as darker spaces of evaluation, where test-taking judgments replaced the free-flow of creativity.

By the time students reach the end of their essays reflecting on their education, the writing is tired, even labored, as they lament the loss of the good old days and whimsical risks with the arts.

“Life just gets in the way,” one student wrote. “I hope to find myself in one of those arts and craft stores some day, pick out a sparkly purple journal like the one I used to have, and write every now and then. That would be nice.”

I witness the life draining out of their words. What started as a bubbly youthful enthusiasm filled with color and possibility morphs into — time and time again — a tired maturity hooked up to a dented half-empty tank of oxygen trying to supplement the breath of life that once came instinctively.

Why have we programmed our culture of educational nurturing and extension to debase  creativity as secondary to evaluation and data collection? The former does not need to be replaced by the latter; if we are to recognize and celebrate the power of creativity in the very young, why must we dismiss it in increasing measure as we grow up, demoting it to a sub-classification of “hobby” or something we do when time permits?

I think it’s time to change that classification; as we get older, we must embrace the essential role creativity plays in our lives as the vital oxygen we need to thrive, both domestically and professionally.

I am heartened by two of my former students who have proclaimed their love and devotion to creativity.

Lacey, who graduated in 2006, was on the verge of becoming one of those oxygen-supported creatives in high school, but she embraced the concept of the daybook — a daily journal — and felt the surge of energy every day when she put the pen to the paper to write.

“At the end of the year, I couldn’t stop,” said Lacey. “I can’t imagine not writing in my daybook anymore than I can imagine not breathing.”

Ruthie is another model for all of us. She graduated from high school in ’14, and just a few days ago, I happened upon her Etsy page for handmade pottery.

Ruthie? I couldn’t recall a single art class she had taken in high school. Her world was sports and graphic design; I had no idea how she had turned to spinning and creating beautiful mugs and bowls out of circuitous touches on wet clumps of clay.

I purchased one of her mugs and we reunited yesterday morning. As I drank a bold, black roast from the hand-crafted mug, she explained that the BFA program she was in at Salisbury University, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, encouraged her to break out of her major and broaden her creativity with other art forms.

She beamed. Creating pottery is a very spiritual experience for her, and she’s opening her own studio — in addition to getting married and moving. These are the very things that “get in the way” for most of us. Ruthie, however, breathes deeply the oxygen provided by her creative acts. She has discovered a spiritual relationship with art, and  is now helping others bring creativity into their lives as an essential component to being.

This idea of creativity, of clay, of words being our oxygen reminds us that we need to recognize the powers and benefits we are afforded when we create daily. I know that I, like Lacey, cannot imagine life without words any more than I can imagine life without oxygen.

Create. Breathe. Live. Thrive. Let creativity be a priority in your life, one that fuels your domestic and professional acts and responsibilities. We are all born creative; it is our charge to nurture it at all costs, across our entire lives.