I’ve always been more successful with the discipline of doing than the discipline of restraint.
If the challenge is to write every day, prepare for a marathon, climb a mountain, or learn difficult music, then I can do it. I can work up to the challenge, bit by bit, day by day. It’s a matter of showing up at the page, doing up my laces, putting on my boots, or tuning up my cello. It’s mostly a matter of doing, doing, and more doing.
But if the challenge is to give up chocolate, spend less money, avoid caffeine and alcohol, or shun sugar, then I’m sunk almost as soon as I begin. I may be able to reduce the frequency of various indulgences, but if I approach the project from a standpoint of restraint, or denial, then the Eve in me wants the forbidden fruit even more desperately. If it’s a matter of not doing, well, I might point out that I have a cat called Pandora for good reason and that one of Blackbeard’s wives was called Melisande (she escaped).
Over time, the discipline of doing has taught me a lot. I’ve learned that I can trust myself. That small steps add up, like pennies in a jam jar. That by doing, I find I’m capable of much more than I ever thought possible when I stood next to Cynicism, Doubt, and Fear at the beginning of the journey. That even though I don’t know what I’ll find as I go, eventually I will arrive at the last page, the finish line, the summit, the concert hall. And in the end, I’ll have the experience of making my way there, a treasure that can never be lost and cannot be gathered by any other means. That’s how I count my riches.
The discipline of doing has given me a way to honour big promises, both to myself and to others. I’ve made some big promises: I will run this race, I will make a life with you, I will tell these stories. These promises are castles in the air. We build their foundations with the brick and mortar of the everyday. And I’ve learned to have faith that as long as I’m taking the small steps, then I’m doing what I need to honour the big promises. The only way anything big ever gets done is by small increments.
These small increments take time. It takes such time and care to get the right words in the right places, to find the choreography of a piece of music and let it sink into my ears and fingers, to understand an idea well enough to explain it, to consider another person’s point of view. And training for a big run takes a lot of time. Especially if you run as slowly as I do.
I’ve learned, as well, to become more careful about the promises I make. To keep promises worth making requires the discipline of doing. And the discipline of doing is fed by time. Time is my most precious resource.
What does this mean for my writing dreams? For 2012, my writing promise was to post something weekly on my blog. I did that about eighty percent of the time. I consider that a success. But now I’m thinking of something different. There are still stories rattling in my head, stories that won’t leave me alone, that need paperspace. This is the promise I’m willing to make to those stories: I will write them down, I will do my best to understand what it is they are trying to say, and then I will release them to find the eyes and ears they are meant for. I suppose it’s a little like the promises I make to my children: I will feed you, nurture you, do my best to help you figure out who you are and who you want to be, and share you with the world. Just like I’ve made time and space for my children, I’m making time and space for this writing.
With the discipline of doing, and faith in small steps, eventually I’ll get to something I’m proud of.