Watching the tide roll away

6 09 2009

I am the most undisciplined person in the world. The world! The universe! The MULTIVERSE!

Okay, maybe not the multiverse. Maybe just in my apartment.

Where I live alone.

(The cats? They’re cats! They do want they want.)

Lack of discipline differs from laziness—tho’ I am, of course, also prone to laziness—in that the problem is located in the lack, not in the effort. Properly harnessed, I can work like the dickens.

Left to roam free, however, and I simply wander, nose about the field, and am apt to lie down for good, long, nap.

As an occasional phenomenon, this is not only not a problem, but even a delight. As a regular occurrence, however, it doesn’t refresh, but enervates.

Low-key folk may welcome enervation, but I am not a member of that particular tribe. It’s not—exactly—that I’m high-strung, but I am restless, ambitious, and voracious. I need to do.

I’ll avoid the whole doing-vs-being discussion (for now), noting simply the fulcrum for  balance may be set differently for me than it is for others: I need a fair amount of doing to make sense of my being.

Unfortunately, I’m shit about doing unless forced. The mere need, in other words, is insufficient motive.

Fortunately, I can respond to the flimsiest of force, especially if that force makes a kind of sense. A self-made list is indeed flimsy, but it also makes sense: Here are the things I want to accomplish. It sets out in physical form tasks I set for myself, makes it separate from me, and gives me a means of satisfaction when tasks are completed, i.e., I get to cross them off the list.

I don’t know why it’s satisfying, and I don’t care. It makes sense because it works for me, even if the underlying reasons for why it works remain murky. I don’t need endless epistemological iteration of the appeal of list-making and crossing-off, I need something to get my ass in gear.

‘Working model’ or ‘beta-version’ or ‘jury-rigged’ or ‘throwing spaghetti at the wall’—whatever. It’s a means, not an end.

Now, not everything is on the list. I don’t need to put things like ‘brush teeth’ or ‘clean litter box’ or ‘eat’—these are sufficiently habitual and/or vital that they carry their own force. (And besides, I’m not that pathetic.) Nor do I need to remind myself to read for my courses, print out notes, or grade: the requirements of teaching keep me in line. Ditto with wage-work generally.

And I don’t need any (well, not usually) prompts to keep in touch with friends. Pleasure has its own rewards.

The only kind of work for which I need no external constraints is writing. When I want to write, I do, and once I start writing, I almost always want to continue writing. I think this is partly due to knowing that I’m pretty good at writing, partly that it’s not hard for me, and largely because I write to find out what happens, i.e., I’m curious, and that’s enough to drive me on.

This is also why I don’t sketch out what I’m going to do in advance. As I paused in writing this post, I was thinking about writing my dissertation, and how different writing that was from writing my novels. Yeah, duh, but there’s something central to both types of writing: not knowing how it ends. In fact, I had a hell of a time writing my dissertation as long as I thought I knew all that I would think about the argument. I had to tell myself that I did not, in fact, know how the dissertation would ‘end’, that I had to let it play itself out. It was only then that I was actually able to sit my ass down and write the thing.

So writing I can do because writing is something I can do.

Pitching and selling what I write? That’s on the list.

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