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.