Much To My Delight

Much To My Delight


Developing Self-Discipline

 

She was in the pool with one of my twin nephews while my foot dipped in and out of the water. I’d neglected to bring my bathing suit, and regretted it immediately. They looked really refreshed in there.

“What were the highlights of your summer?” My sweet sister-in-law asked, spinning a towheaded toddler around and around in the water. It looked like she was having one of hers right there.

I stumbled around that question for a minute, because while I checked off most of the boxes on my annual city-in-the-summer list, I didn’t do anything totally out of the ordinary. No travel, save for a brief, sweaty trip to Texas and nothing that would make SUMMER 2015 stick out in my mind as being particularly memorable.

(Wait, I take that back… seeing George Clinton and Parliament Funk on the beach was pretty bad-ass.) Plus…these views from a sunset cruise were awfully killer.

statue of liberty

night sky

This year, more than any other, has been about keeping my nose to the grindstone. This has been a year when work has definitely trumped play, where jumping right in has been replaced by patiently holding off. For me and Vin, this year has been all about saving. We pick up extra shifts when they’re available and turn down pricy events when offered. I have two main objectives this year–SAVE MONEY. FINISH ROUGH DRAFT–and anything that deters too significantly from that goal is usually something I graciously decline.

It’s called discipline, and I’m trying really hard to have more of it.

We watched Whiplash last week, a movie which hinges on the idea that discipline (and a bit of emotional torture) is the path to mastery; that if you really want to become great at something, you do it and you do it and you do it until your fingers bleed.

My discipline is far less severe and punishing, and I have done it for years. My discipline is waking up very early (today it was 5:30) and writing. My fingers have never bled, but they have definitely cramped so I feel as though I might be getting somewhere. I sit in my little backyard with my computer perched on a tiny rolling desk I purchased expressly for this purpose. I drink coffee–hot, never iced–and am almost always wearing something absolutely ridiculous–pajama pants, a mismatched tank top and usually one of my husband’s dirty button-downs he left out the night before. I am always wearing glasses–never contacts, not yet–and my hair is either very dirty or exceptionally clean with a towel coiled around it like a serpent. I type and type and type and then I lose myself and read with great concentration from the Book of Face, where my friends tell me all their secrets and post pictures of their children on the first day of school.

From there, my discipline is interrupted by one or two more refills of coffee, followed by subsequent trips to the bathroom, where it becomes aggressively necessary for me to scrub the toilet. I realize then that the sink looks a little grubby, so I scrub that too. Then I realize my mascara expired two years ago so I go on a bender throwing out old cosmetics. By this time, I have to pee again, and since the toilet is where all great ideas are born, I take this moment to appreciate the divine intervention my coffee inevitably provides each day as I write my great pages. I will leave this bathroom feeling fully inspired, my bladder temporarily free of interruption, my electric fingers ready to charge at that keyboard of mine. After washing my hands, of course.

And this, this is the discipline.

I am writing a book of essays, so I read books of essays rather compulsively, the same ones over and over by people I consider masters of the art–Didion, Daum, Crosley, and mostly Sedaris, because he is the freaking king of all kings. I read them now not for pleasure, but for education, checking for structure, pacing, dialogue and flow. I am not concerned about publishing anything; I am simply committing myself to finishing something. I make notes in the margins, flag certain passages with post-its (my dad calls them FLYTS for fucking little yellow things. He also calls capers “rat turds”, which would lead one to believe he dislikes them but nothing could be further from the truth.). Anyway, clearly I digress. The point is, my father has a special way of expressing himself, and I continue my pursuit of the same.

In Whiplash, the teacher instills in his students that the two most harmful words in the English language are “good job”. Subscribing to this notion, I’ve stopped patting myself on the back. I no longer look to my friends and readers for effusive praise and positive reinforcement. You won’t catch me winking in the mirror anytime soon.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have to get off the internet now. I need to go scrub my toilet and punch myself in the face.

 

 

*I was inspired to write about my creative process after reading a really funny post about how hard it is to blog on Avoiding Atrophy. Go check it out!

 

Jenn P.

30-something psychotherapist. Loves cooking, hosting parties, exploring new places. Texan by birth. New Yorker by choice. Likes to tell little stories. Pull up a chair; I'll tell you one.

  • http://writemeg.com/ Meg
    This book of essays has me more than intrigued. Someday, you know who will be pre-ordering immediately! :) Discipline is tough. The fact that you are focused on two big goals is great, and I commend you for pursuing them with such dedication! It’s hard to forgo things in the short term for long-term gains; it just doesn’t seem to be the way we’re wired. But you are doing it, and you are awesome. I have many excuses for why I haven’t been making much time for my writing lately. Exhaustion is probably No. 1. But now that the baby is sleeping (somewhat) through the night and I’m only half-zombie, I want to stop coming up with reasons why I can’t do things and instead choose to find ways I can. We’ll see how that goes!
    • http://muchtomydelight.com/ Jenn from much to my delight
      You’re the bomb, Meg. And by that, I mean the good kind.
  • http://www.farmgirlmiriam.ca/ Miriam
    Getting up early to write is the epitome of self-discipline for me. Is there anything harder?
    Your creative process made me laugh, because it’s very similar to mine. The Book of Face (love that expression!) is never more interesting than when I have writing to do. And yes, the house is never cleaner! Which I guess is a win.
    I am working on a book of essays as well, and it’s definitely an emotional process. I go from feeling awesome about it one day to completely loathing it the next, and always feel guilty about it when I don’t work on it (which is often). To finish it is the goal! And learning self-discipline is the first step.
    Thanks for this post, it made my day!
    • http://muchtomydelight.com/ Jenn from much to my delight
      Wow- your feelings about the writing process are so similar to mine! I do ever so much deleting. Hours of hem-hawing. I agree that it’s an emotional process too; I’m starting to remember things that sting a little bit, about the kind of person I am and the person I was when I was younger. It’s interesting for sure. I always enjoy reading what you write, so keep up the strong work!!
      • http://www.farmgirlmiriam.ca/ Miriam
        Thank you! Right back atcha, I LOVE your writing. I also wanted to mention a brilliant author who writes in essay-style: Have you read Jenny Lawson from The Bloggess? http://thebloggess.com/
        She wrote one bestseller, “Let’s pretend this never happened” that’s very much like David Sedaris’ work, only better. No, seriously! Her next book is coming out next week, called “Furiously happy”. She’s awesome! If you haven’t yet, read her. I promise, you won’t regret it.
        • http://muchtomydelight.com/ Jenn from much to my delight
          I love her too, but haven’t read her books. Now I will! I also started reading essays from Sara Barron. She is HILARIOUS and I’ve been embarrassing myself on the subway. She has two books of essays out as well. Thanks for the rec!
  • theimpoverishedpalate
    THIS. I have the great fortune of working from home on Fridays and it is far and away the most productive day of the week. Not only do I l conquer mountains of data entry and email that seem impossible on normal days due to pleasant workplace interruptions (calls, skype chats, random visits from colleagues) but I also manage to vacuum, mop, pledge every wood surface in the house, scour the bathroom, and refold the 200 t-shirts in my husband’s dresser drawers. Also coffee-induced toilet thinking is one of life’s greatest gifts.
    • http://muchtomydelight.com/ Jenn from much to my delight
      Wow! You DO squeeze a lot into that one day. I find that the less free time I have, the better because my mind enters “GET IT DONE THE CLOCK IS TICKING” mode. I would love to have one workday for writing– I used to have one weekday off, and I was super productive too. Unfortunately taking the day off means chipping away at my other goal to save $$. All in good time!
  • http://ninabadzin.com/ Nina Badzin
    Mine is also waking up early to write/blog/etc. I started that a year and a half ago and I have to say it has transformed my life. I always said, “I’m not a morning person.” The truth is, I stayed up too late so I really was NOT a morning person. But forcing myself up early has made me tired at a “normal” time. I feel so much better about getting my work done early so that after the kids are down I’m not shooing my husband away. It’s a much better balance from start to finish. Loved this post. (And found you via Lindsey!)
    • http://muchtomydelight.com/ Jenn from much to my delight
      Hi Nina! Oh how exciting that you’re here– I already follow you and found you through Lindsey:). I’ve always been a morning person, so the getting up part is not that hard. It’s staying bolted in the chair and actually doing the work that’s the real struggle!! Thanks for your comment, and for stopping by:).