Sunday, January 1, 2012

Kiss? Essay? Essay? Kiss?

Okay. It is probably not a good sign that I sat down to work this first morning of the new year, opened my email to download a file I’d sent from my other computer, and could not resist clicking on “Best 2011 TV Kisses.” I don’t even watch TV, though I got the first season of “Glee” for Christmas last year, watched all the episodes in a couple of days, then rented and obsessively watched all other available season—and the “come-on” picture for the AOL teaser was of Blaine and Kurt. It was a great kiss. Still.

Maybe my first New Year’s resolution should be to start using my Mac e-mail, even though I find the address extremely annoying. Me, me, me. But which is better? An annoying e-mail address or the constant temptation to waste time on stupid shit like “Best 2011 TV Kisses?” Plus, according to my daughter Kate, having an AOL address pegs you as an old person, which of course I am, but, hey, why broadcast it?

Okay. Resolution One.

On the other hand, it seems like a lot of trouble. Can’t I just not click on that stuff? And stop checking my e-mail I hate to think how many times a day? Not to mention Facebook. The New York Times, the Huffington Post. Whatever.

Years ago, leafing through a fashion magazine in some waiting room, this jumped out at me: “Discipline is remembering what you want.”

No doubt, the context was losing weight, buffing up your body, creating your own style. But I was teaching creative writing to high school students at the time, constantly talking (them to death, they probably thought) about the importance of discipline, and I think that’s why the “you” in the sentence hit me so hard.

Especially when you’re a teenager, “discipline” is something parents, teachers, coaches—grown-ups—are constantly saying you need to have. Naturally, then, it feels like being disciplined is something you do to please them, if pleasing them is important to you. If the grown-ups in your life are controlling, not being disciplined is one way you can have some control over your own life. They can ground you, give you a bad grade, kick you off the team—but they can’t make you have the discipline you need to achieve the goals they’ve set for you.

Weirder, and even more destructive, you actually want what they want for you, but there’s no way you’re going to try to achieve it because trying feels like pleasing them and there’s no freaking way you’re going to do that.

I wrote the quote, underlining the “you,” in the journal of a kid I was pretty sure fell into that last category, based on what he wrote about his life. The next time I saw him, he said, “That quote totally blew me away. I wrote it on my bathroom mirror with my mom’s lipstick.”

Not that he immediately became a disciplined person. But it gave him a new way of thinking about what discipline was, which was a start.

In fact, we all carry the residue of the dreams and goals that people had for us when we were young and they get all tangled up in the dreams and goals we have for ourselves. It’s hard to unravel them, though once you understand they’re there you begin to recognize them in the nasty little voice in your head that directs you away from the work you want and need to do. You’re no good, you’re unworthy, you’ll never, ever succeed—so why bother?

You don’t have time. You have to clean the house, rake the leaves, clean the closet, take your sick neighbor a casserole.

The voice can be sugary sweet, too. You deserve a trip to the mall? How about a movie? A nap?

Whatever it's telling you, once you identify it as the residue of what others wanted you to be, you have to remember what you want every day, every hour, every minute to keep it at bay. (Not only New Year's Day)

It’s a constant balancing act.

“Best 2011 TV Kisses?”

Work on the essay you set aside this time to work on?

Seems easy, but it’s not.

For one thing, anyone deeply involved in the creative process knows that sometimes the best stuff comes from an unintended seque. Yielding to temptation can trigger a light bulb moment in your head.

For better or worse, I did get this whole blog post out of yielding to the temptation of TV kisses. And, writing, I found focus for some thoughts I’d been pondering. New ideas floated up—as they always do.

But what if I’d resisted the temptation and spent the better-part-of-an-hour I’ve just spent writing this on the essay I sat down to write?

Can't know. The time is gone.

Seriously, this stuff can drive you crazy.

Still, remembering what you want can be useful in those moments of temptation.

And the old cliché, “Just Do It.”

Just write.


Scott Atkinson said...

I was thinking about this this morning (when, once again, I did not get up before the girls and get some writing done, as has been happening lately) and was trying to put it into one coherent thought. "Discipline is remembering what you want." There it is. Bam. I'm writing it down somewhere.


Barbara Shoup said...

Try the mirror, with your wife's lipstick:-)