4.2 Sand People Ride In Single File To Hide Their Numbers

Part One – Literary Allusion

Robert Frost was a tricksy bastard.

The road not taken? The path less travelled by? More like trolling generations of poetry students and Instagram influencers.

There were always two paths.

There was always at least A path.

It just so happened he happened to take the one with more leaves on it.

Others have been there before you.

Someone has always been there ahead of you.

And that’s ok.

I’m definitely ok with that.

You don’t have to hack your way through uncharted territory because there wasn’t a way there before. There’s probably a really good reason why the path doesn’t go that way. The path of least resistance is a good starting point as a writer. Why make it harder for yourself?

I walked a writer’s path starting out with brief sentences and paragraphs. It was where I wanted to learn how to craft something. I spent a year writing flash fiction and getting feedback via a writers’ website. I wrote blog posts, worked collaboratively on projects, before feeling comfortable to write alongside someone and work on a novel. Still feel like the novel is beyond me whereas a novella is more in line with where my writing sits. A novel could be further down the path.

If I lay out my current projects on the table, what path would I take? Can I come back to something or will it be left behind?

Part Two – Personal Anecdote

There is a creek down the street from where I grew up, and where my parents still live, and I spent many hours down by the water either by myself or with my younger brother and our dog.

A dirt track ran beside the creek and we would often follow it until we could go no further. Then we climbed down the rock faces and kept boulder-hopping down the creek.

No phones. No recourse should we get injured. Mum said she wasn’t worried unless the dog came home alone.

I had the freedom to walk the same path over and over and over again: through summer heat keeping an eye out for snakes (this is Australia, after all), winter coldness, and during and after rainfall when the trickle of a waterfall turned into a brown rush.

It was my querencia of solace and familiarity. This was my happy place as a solitary explorer. I could walk the path over and over, knowing where I was at each turn and curve even, as storms and nature put obstacles in the path or branches hung lower. There was always a path visible, even when it was overgrown and almost forgotten about.

I used a setting from one area of the creek in a short story, The Cicada Clock, first published in Tincture Journal.

I took my daughters down there recently, and it was the first time I’d been down there in perhaps fifteen years, maybe even twenty years. We walked the path, at times hidden by long grass or fallen trees, and explored together. For me it was revisiting a space I inhabited so much as a child and teenager, and a chance to introduce my girls to a location meaningful to me. I lead and they followed. Or one of them would go ahead to see what was around the corner or over the rise or behind the tree.

We shared the path.

We may never return there.

Part Three – Comic Juxtaposition

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed
he was walking along the beach with the LORD.

Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene he noticed two sets of
footprints in the sand: one belonging
to him, and the other to the LORD.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.

He noticed that many times along the path of
his life there was only one set of footprints.

He also noticed that it happened at the very
lowest and saddest times in his life.

This really bothered him and he
questioned the LORD about it:

“LORD, you said that once I decided to follow
you, you’d walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most
troublesome times in my life,
there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why when
I needed you most you would leave me.”

The LORD replied:“Sand people always ride single-file, to hide their numbers.”

Part Four – Personal Application

Standing on the shoulders of giants involves learning how to climb their backs; to scramble up the terrain of their legs, back and shoulders, and clamber around their head to get a good seated position. Only then can you see further.

I’m not a leader, an innovator, an intrepid explorer; so many others have been there before me. Instead, I will follow. I’ll be following you on social media, making notes of your wisdom and insights. I’ll ask questions on occasions; watch your mistakes and know I’ll probably make them myself. I’ll be the one tagging along, just a little behind and looking over your shoulder (when I’m not perched on it), to work out how it’s done.

And while we’re travelling along the path, whether it’s a dirt track, a paved footpath, a broad highway, there is always a place to leave graffiti. Footpaths, overpasses, highways, tunnels.

But on my path, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to say, “Yes.”

Yes, to making the decision to write.

Yes, to writing pieces of flash fiction.

Yes, to writing a blog.

I said “Yes” to opportunities.

Yes, to writing a blog for a writers’ website.

Yes, to contributing to thematic anthologies.

Yes, to the idea of an epistolary novel.

Yes, to another collaborative novel.

Yes, to a writing cooperative.

Yes, to trying something a little different through our writers’ collective.

Not all opportunities are correct. Sometimes it is important to say, “No” or to let a project be relegated to the rubbish.

Every writer’s path is different. The best we can do is leave notes along the way to say, “This is how I, or we, did it. It’s up to you to work out your path.”

Choose how you pave, forge, or ignore the path.

And give a knowing wink to Robert Frost as you cross paths.

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.

3.2 A Celebration of Discipline

I suck at discipline.

Yet I’ve managed to co-write a novel, complete the first draft of a novella and keep writing small bits and pieces because I love to play with language.

I suck at discipline.

Yet I’ve managed to play in a covers band for the last few years putting in practice behind the drum kit whenever I can manage.

I suck at discipline.

Yet I’ve managed to get up at 5:20 three mornings a week for two and a half years to go to CrossFit for the betterment of my physical and mental health.

I suck at discipline.

Yet I love routine and mundane rituals; left leg before the right. Always. First pants, then shoes (thank you Gary Larson’s The Far Side for the life advice).

And I hate that I suck at discipline because I could be further advanced in my writing practice, in my drum skills, my reading habits, and in my fitness.

The title for this post comes from a non-fiction text I return to occasionally when the need for a sense of discipline arises. Ironically, I have never finished reading the book. It is “A Celebration of Discipline” by Richard Foster, and it is focused on Christian religious practices e.g prayer and fasting. It is not a book you walk into lightly. The book hints at a monastic sense of discipline and a fervent sense of denial of self. Not a dismissal of worldly pleasures but an awareness and understanding of humanity’s place within the context of creation.

I see discipline in a monastic manner. That is, a sense of devotion and commitment (and here I agree with Jodi) to developing the sense of self and how it is connected with, and through, our creative endeavours. It is ritual and repetition, mundane and sacred, practice and practise.

Reading drumming magazines and blogs I saw how the elite managed their time to practise up to 8 hours a day, 7 days a week to achieve their goal. Similar sacrifices could be applied to athletes, business people, anyone who has a goal to achieve their vision.

And if that works for them, fantastic. It doesn’t work for me. There are situations and circumstances, despite my privilege, which means I cannot give over the same amount of time.

I want to have that (almost) monastic approach to discipline because I want to see just what I can create if I am committed to the cause.

A DIFFERENT APPROACH?

Therefore it’s time to rethink how I approach discipline.

I want to be dedicated and committed to my creative practice, and it is an goal I strive for but realistically it’s not going to happen. Rather than a methodical, daily practice borne out of routine and perfunctory ritual (which it still can be if I want it to), I can approach it as a cyclical momentum. To look at each month, week and day on the calendar and ask, “What can I achieve? This month? This week? This day?

I know this month is no good for me because I’m moving house. I know other months in the year will be difficult to maintain a daily discipline due to the marking workload I will have (I teach high school English). Therefore my practice of discipline will look different if I approach it from a cyclical perspective.

How long should it take to write a novel? Or a short story? Or a poem?

Depends on who you ask. My answer: As long as it takes.

It might take me two years to write that poem. Or three years to write that short story. Or I can punch out that novella in four months. It takes as long as it does for a variety of reasons, dependent on circumstance and situation but if I maintain the discipline to be aware of what I am working towards then I will complete what I have started.

I have noticed that writers are not sharing their word counts like they used to do on social media:
“I wrote 5,000 words today.”
“Tough day. Only managed 3,700 words.”
“WOW! Exceeded expectations by writing 1,500 words!”

Transparency of practice is not necessarily an indicator of discipline. As Jodi said last week, it is the commitment to putting your bum into the seat to make it happen on a regular basis which is an act of discipline regardless of the outcome. It’s not just word count that is an act of discipline but research, reading, re-reading, making notes, brainstorming, character sketches, plot summaries or synopses.

And it’s not necessarily about sharing that with the world. Create in secret if you want. Tell the world if that’s your preference to want a cheer squad. We all deserve a round of applause now and then.

The act of discipline can be monthly or weekly challenges, daily word counts, pages read, sentences written. They are marker points along the way. What about your longer term goals. KPIs. Specific? Measurable? Achievable? Relevant and Realistic? Time framed?

Each creative person’s method of discipline is different and your practice may not be successful for someone else. Elements of it might be. Time to try it out and see if it works.

APPRENTICESHIP AND MENTORSHIP

Another aspect to discipline I believe is important is apprenticeship. While I may not have the disciplined focus I want, I can be apprenticed to another who is further in the journey ahead of me, or someone who will walk beside me. I still have much to learn. I can apprentice myself to another to understand the parameters and work within the boundaries before I colour outside the lines. Apprenticeship is to learn from a master.

Mentorship is another method of developing discipline. Accountability is key. With the JAR Writers Collective I have found two like minded individuals who can assist me in my creative journey. I won’t always agree with their perspective or point of view on a topic, nor will they always align with me. What I do have is a support network to help me through when I doubt my creativity, can’t seem to produce words, or cheer me on when projects are going well.

WRAPPING IT UP

I want to make conscious decisions about the texts I aim to create. I need to be disciplined in maintaining that focus. I will apprentice myself to masters to learn. I will engage mentors to check on me. I will think of progress in cycles and not be upset when it doesn’t go well or expected.

And I will still suck at discipline. And I’m ok with that because I will consider myself a work in progress.

SRAOC #6 Grace And Gratitude

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: Grace and Gratitude

ADAM

The idea of grace and gratitude has always been a fundamental aspect of character for me. It is a spiritual discipline, one easy to start but difficult to master and be consistent with. The tendency to fall into complaining mode is strong. To focus on what we can be thankful for is too easy to dismiss.

It is a contemplative spirit that seeks understanding and strength beyond itself.

Music that encapsulates this for me is from solo bass performer Steve Lawson. His 2004 album, Grace and Gratitude, is a spiritual refuge for me musically and aesthetically. He samples and loops his bass guitar in sonic landscapes and has been a constant companion when I am writing.

This is my favourite track from the album, Despite My Worst Intentions. Have a listen. The whole album is an aural hug and meditative journey.

Below is a live recording so you can see how he does it from one of his house concerts. I wish I could attend one if I lived in England.

This is the title track from the album, recorded for Bass Player magazine. It is a beautiful piece of music.

RUS

Sometimes, the lessons of grace and gratitude come at the least expected moments.

Earlier this week, I found myself in a situation where I needed to have a tough conversation with about seven of my students. Due to some sloppy editing, we had published some material online that was never meant to be shared with a larger audience. It wasn’t anything that put another person in jeopardy; it was just information that we cut from the article for the purposes of developing and refining the angle. It was sloppy, and none of us liked the message it gave to our readers.

After I had shared my concerns, I asked the students, one by one, if they had anything to add. Beyond a few mumbled apologies, there was nothing anybody wanted to say.

Until we reached Natalie.

Now, Natalie is our copy editor, and a darn good one. She’s quiet, but confident. Her contributions to the team have been largely made with a red marking pen.

When it was Natalie’s turn to speak, she let us have it. She reminded us that we had lost our desire to have “fun” while still working to the best of our abilities. In a matter of seconds, she had turned a shaming into an inspiring moment about what our team is all about, and what has brought us together this entire year.

Since then, our team has had a more positive energy, and our production has markedly improved. All thanks to Natalie and her graceful words of optimism and inspiration.

The next day, the editors and I made her a card to express our gratitude. What goes around comes around, and we put our creative talents to work to recognize just how thankful we were (and are) for her speaking up and showing us the way back to enjoying our work.

So here’s to you, Natalie, and all of you who have the courage to speak up. we are grateful for your words…and you!

JODI

Serendipity found me on Monday morning. Grace is not a word I come across a lot when making cut-up poetry, but there it was, the day after pulling the prompt. Gratitude  often arrives most powerfully in the small moments of life.