Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Boundary Between Discipline and Sloth

Are there certain things you do religiously, with intention and regularity? My husband for example goes to the gym three times every week. Never fails. And that doesn’t include his regular thirty-mile bike ride to and from our studio. 

I must confess to lacking that level of physical discipline, although his discipline has helped to encourage me in my habits. If nothing else, it guilts me into working out on a more regular schedule. Disciplines of the mind are more my forte. For a number of years, I have tracked my reading and blog writing. And how do you track? On the most fundamental level we count. We set that number against a goal. For many years my goal was five books and four blogs a month.   To be disciplined you often have to be a bit of a number counter. How else do you know you’ve achieved your goals?

I have always feared losing the structure of a disciplined life. When I left my work life, I was especially concerned that with no regular routine I would settle into laziness and sloth. I’m not quite sure where that comes from, but it does cause me to overcompensate a bit.

Now I’ve learned a few things over time. One is that we each have areas where discipline comes naturally and areas where it doesn’t. Disciplines of the mind or of the body are just one division. We can appear to be extremely disciplined in one area while not at all in another. Most of us are not disciplined in all spheres. It is just too much to take on, so we decide what matters most to us or comes more easily.

 I also have learned that we have to really define our objective carefully, so our measurement is meaningful.  Numbers are productivity driven and that doesn’t work for everything. For example, anything creative has its own process. It doesn’t necessarily happen on our schedule. The goal is more one of showing up and taking the first step and then the second. I may start painting and then paint over it and begin again. That counts as discipline, but in a way that respects process. If my focus was on making my living from selling my work, then a number goal might be appropriate, and I might also be doing a different kind of artwork.

I’ve also learned that sometimes we can choose to abandon a discipline when the discipline itself runs counter to the meaning of the effort. For example, as I neared the end of the year and was a few books shy of my target, I found myself rejecting those eight-hundred-page books. The discipline had begun to detract from the joy of reading. And sometimes external factors get in the path of discipline. Certainly, this past year my constant need to be informed of political matters has redirected my reading energy and affected my ability to remain focused on story, except for the story unfolding within our Capital.

This is the year I’ve decided to let go of some of my discipline, to abandon my reading goals and to write when I feel like writing. Laziness and sloth, here I come.

Maybe when our political world settles down, I’ll settle back into my rhythm of reading. In the meantime, I’ll catch up on some of those extremely long books. I’m not going to disappear from the blogosphere but may be writing this blog with less frequency. I began the year with a burst of enthusiasm and signed up for a number of writing classes at our local writing center. I want to begin roughing out a book idea and thought that might help move me forward. I have no shortage of writing to do, albeit for a different purpose. So, I hope you will continue to join me on this journey as I test the boundaries between discipline and sloth.

 photocredit- meneya at morguefile

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Runway of Time

I woke this morning to an open calendar. No outside commitments, meetings or obligations, a full day to fill as I wish. I scroll up and down just to make sure I haven’t missed anything. A blessedly blank page. I wallow in the unexpected luxury of a runway of time.

Now that doesn’t mean I don’t have plenty to fill it with, just that no one else gets to fill it for me. Next stop, my to do list. There I find several tasks that truly demand a runway of time. This is not just an hour or two gap in my schedule. A runway of time allows me the time necessary to settle into an idea,  to work on a painting in a way that requires contemplation before I can even begin, to write in the meandering way that writing often requires or to take on a time consuming video project with transcription and editing. It allows time for process and thought, not merely squeezing in one more thing in that eternal quest for productivity that I am so prone to.

These are the type of projects that fall to the bottom of my list where they languish if no deadline forces my attention. Video projects in particular, form the bottom layer in my archaeological dig of to dos. And so I decide to tackle the backlog that has sat there for years. 

So what composes this layer? Mostly old women. I don’t mean that metaphorically. I have several interviews with women in their 90s and older who I wanted to record while I still could. They include the then 101 year old grandmother of a family member. Her recent death at 106 forced my attention back to the partial transcript I had left abandoned.  Apparently you have to die to get my attention. I also do the website on the former Jewish community of the Polish town from which my grandfather came. I document family histories of people from that community. I have several interviews with Holocaust survivors from there, all needing transcription and editing. One who recently passed away knew my family in Poland and with this fresh commitment  I am eager to revisit that recording. My friend Dora, in her 90s, also from my ancestral town, reminds me that we have some recordings to do and we don’t have forever.  

The software has changed since my last stint of editing and I have to relearn how to work with it. It is slow back and forth work with occasional gems to reward me. One recording takes me back in time, placing me in dialogue once again with my interviewee, but with five years of perspective on aging. Now I am approaching an age milestone myself and it makes me reflect on how someone views aging when they have blown through all those milestones. My 101 year old interviewee talked of the party her friends threw her at 99. “I don’t think they thought I would make it to 100,” she laughed. “Well you showed them,” I had replied. And then some, I think now.

I think about the questions I sometimes ask elders in interviews, the meaty ones. What were the challenges you faced? What gives your life meaning? Perhaps it’s too early for me to know my final answers. More challenges, more meaning yet to come.  I discuss those questions with my friend Dora. Dora has often told me that you have to find younger friends as your age group shrinks. I’m one of them for her. I know her well enough to anticipate her answers to these questions. We talk about how life is such a surprise, how we are a surprise.  So many unexpected things can happen and isn’t that wonderful? We are both optimists. I am well aware that I am in a sweet spot of life, a time of discovery and meaning. Past youth and middle age, but not yet “old.” “Old” is always someone else.

I begin to notice the increasing ratio of grey heads in our yoga classes, just an occasional tattooed woman in her twenties to remind us of true flexibility. The ratio increases for classes during the work day.  I think back to my yoga classes when I was that young woman, minus the tattoos and flexibility. I remember visiting my aunts in Florida not so many years ago and them admiring my slim waist. Now I know they were mourning their own once youthful figures as I too notice younger and slimmer forms. I slip between ages, suddenly seeing with clarity what I viewed with a myopic gaze when young. Every age comes with its benefits and detriments. There is some freedom in no longer focusing so much energy on appearance, now I care more about function than form. I glance at my husband on the adjoining yoga mat, a trim and handsome graying man. I don’t think of him as “old” either, part of my bubble of people of like age to whom I grant immunity in my perception of aging.

 Now I am free to focus on the things that matter to me and let life unspool in often unexpected ways. There is a growing awareness that life is finite, reinforced when parents die, then the occasional high school classmate. That one time sense of immunity has been pierced. My personal runway of time is shrinking and infinitely precious.