The notebook in which I drafted this post has two items several pages back, on each side of a sheet. One is the full quotation from Bernard Malamud that I excerpted in my previous post on Routines. It’s worth sharing, with thanks again to author Mason Currey, for this last post in the trilogy on this topic:
There’s no one way—there’s too much drivel about this subject. You’re who you are…You write by sitting down and writing. There’s no particular time or place—you suit yourself, your nature. How one works, assuming he’s disciplined, doesn’t matter. If he or she is not disciplined, no sympathetic magic will help. The trick is to make time—not steal it—and produce…Eventually everyone learns his or her own best way. The real mystery to crack is you.
On the back of that sheet is a single, spontaneous observation that pleases me weeks later: “When, exactly, did I do all this writing?” Despite being mindful about positive habits, I’m as perplexed as when I wrote it.
Do you agree there’s discipline and there’s discipline? I refuse to bow my head in shame next week when I have 60 research papers to grade. Some people Must work the same way at their Art every day, and many people do, but some CPT lives require lots of negotiation. I refuse to use the label “undisciplined” instead of “human.” Maybe some days next week I will edit two lines, or write one sentence, or Contemplate my Art. The right thing for me is to be as steadfast as it is actually possible to be, and that takes enough honesty and discipline right there. If I write two words one day and hundreds the same day a week later, I’m both Writing and accepting a Universe I don’t control.
I’m focused on the distinction Malamud notes between making time and stealing it. CPTs don’t steal time from other things to Do Art? I do. Rather, I thought I did until I realized, for real, that priorities can be shifted. By me. The stamp that says “Important” fits my hand, and no one else will pick it up if I don’t. Do we Treat our art as if it’s as Important as we say it is? Everyone breathe. I don’t always, although that importance is as clear as the sky to me. But it’s fairly illegible to a lot of the culture that assigns value in the world out there. It can be hard to take action, every day or ever. There are patterns in life that steer us, people and things needing us, there are temptations, and there is fatigue. And even joy.
We can read about Good Habits for business, happiness, art, yoga, relationships. But no amount of advice reduces the sharpness of Malamud’s word “crack.” Crack. Sustained effort on a walnut? The sudden violence of thunder or a dropped mug of coffee? We have to figure that verb out. And then…be responsible for what happens. Yeah. Whether that’s a smooth wheel or a daily grind for a CPT, crack=change. Cracks open and reshape. Of course I won’t leave out Leonard Cohen! What do you take me for?
Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.
Perhaps the crack is already there, and we just have to let go and acknowledge we already know How. And just…
I’ve always had a relationship with my Art, but I’ll be more honest than I’m comfortable being; this is the first time in my life that I’ve Had to Write. Trying to do it every day as a practice has made me need to do it every day, even when I don’t do it. I know: Duh. In some ways, I feel I’ve lost my time management skills because everything on my schedule has to fit differently now. It often feels a little strange and vaguely bad when I write, as if I shoplifted. It was only a small item, but I stole something. Make time, make time, make time…How? Renounce. Admit what is less important. Admit it has to be. Struggle with that. Struggle with your familiar, kindly, awful habits. Get the right job that supports you and your Art. Or not. Make peace with all that while you make time. Then make brilliant Art. So easy, isn’t it?
If you’re also trying to figure out a changing CPT life, here’s the best advice a lot of different folks have given me:
Commit, really, but in the real world. The first time you don’t “do art for one hour every single day” in your full CPT life, you will have failed. Who needs that? Let yourself, they told me, learn what is possible, and then Show the hell Up for That. The habit will take over, for better or worse, sooner than you think. You’ll want to. You’ll need to. Cracks can be beautiful, but they are not pretty.
Don’t always do it alone. Whether you need accountability, feedback, support, or spirit food, get some from other people. Move into a café table with a friend. Take a class. Share a ritual. Hold hands by the edge: cracks can be deep.
And now…back to Twyla Tharp. Last time! For now. Tharp gets up early every day for a long work-out; she’s a dancer, and that’s part of her Work and her Art. But it’s not her Ritual. Here is where she woke me up. Her Ritual is to rise, put on work-out clothes, go to the street, and get a taxi to the gym. Just that. As she writes, “…the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go, I have completed the ritual.” So I listened to her, and I no longer walk for an hour many mornings. I just get up at 5:15, drink water, drink coffee, listen to NPR, and put on my walking gear and shoes. Then it is already happening, and the walk takes no effort at all. To my surprise. If I don’t do these things, it’s not happening. Okay. I no longer try to meditate; I just sit in my space on my cushion, set a timer, and ring a bell. And I don’t write. I just go to my chair in the morning and open a notebook and pick up a pen. That’s all I make myself do. But apparently, that’s exactly when I did all that writing.
What is true for You?