Auld Lang Syne

Friday, March 16, 2018

365/365, a discipline

Today my chat with you is about discipline. No, not the "go to your room until you can tell me why you did that" kind of discipline. I'm referring to the kind where you set up a challenge for yourself to accomplish a task that will create a habit, bust you out of a locked door (artistically), or set yourself on a course to completion of a project. My project was to be 365/365.

For me, the discipline came sneaking in where I had not expected it. November is typically a writing month challenge. You've seen them: NaNoWriMo etc. November National Writing Month. I've taken a stab at these every couple years, to no good end. You see, I am easily distracted. Very easily. I'd write for a couple days and then remember a particular project and shift to that, or I'd start writing and the watercolors would call my name and I'd go paint. I realized a long time ago that I am scattery and random in my artistic practice. Ever hear that one needs to work 10,000 hours to be good at something? Yeah. But do those hours have to be in any kind of a time frame? How about spread out over 50 years? UGH. I am sure that is not the way it is supposed to go.

I want to be a great poet. Not just a good enough poet. Not even a very good poet. I want to leave something on this planet that might survive my mortality. Big goal, yes? Achievable? Maybe or maybe not. But isn't it about the journey rather than the destination?

My dear husband once said to me only a handful of poets ever really make it big. I won't go into how mad that made me other than to say that I was thinking why can't I be in that handful? NOTE: we worked out later why that statement hurt and why he ought to NEVER say such a limiting thing to me again. Love the guy. He is very supportive. I probably got overly sensitive when he said it. Happens.  But one good thing came from that incident as it haunted me like a crazy relative with an axe. I became more determined. I wanted to keep going.

In October of 2012, with the NaNoWriMo challenge on the horizon, I decided to go for it. But, as I am a fairly stubborn person, I wanted to do it my own way. So I set out to create my own prompts. I wrote a month's worth and put them into a file on my computer. I had difficulty writing just 30 prompts. I like to write them for the workshops I offer, a kind of nerdy hobby you might say. So for giggles I wrote a few more, then several more. I had over 60 more before the tv show I was watching had ended.  I knew I'd have use for the "leftovers" later. I began my writing project precisely on November 1, 2012.  A poem a day for 30 days.  Oh, and I decided not to veer off course by changing the prompts I had already devised. No matter what. Stay the course exactly as it was plotted. This was to change ever so slightly, but more on that later.

Once November was winding down, me chugging right along with a poem (draft of course) every day, it occurred to me that I might not be done yet. Maybe I would write into December, finish up the year. Good. Had prompts I could use. At the end of December, the 30th to be exact, I recalled that the writing the final poem of December fit nicely in with another discipline I have done for 18 years: write the final poem of the year on New Year's Eve and the first poem of the next year on New Year's Day (another story for another blog post).  I was already going to write one on January 1st. What the hell; why not just keep going. Do the thing for a whole year. Thus my 365/365 discipline was underway.

Discipline of any kind requires a certain amount of stamina. It means one has to keep going in all kinds of emotional weather. There is no day off for going to the beach or even for being down with a bad cold. One must be self-pushing. Oh dear. Could I? Would I?

I said yes.

Thus was my year-long discipline born. Yikes.

I decided to fine-tune. I wanted the prompts to speak to me as if freshly baked. I did not want to be aware of what the prompts were before I got to them. So, time had to be spent putting together a year of prompts. Cue me sitting in front of the tv, watching favorite shows as I created prompts. Multi-tasker is what I am. After all, I raised a flock of kids.  I divided the prompts into months, then weeks. I numbered them within each week, Days 1-7.  I created a folder and filled it, ready to keep going. It didn't take long however for me to decide to veer a bit from the never change a prompt no matter what plan. December 2012 bought an event that shook me right to the core of myself as a human being, as a mother, as a poet. Evil walked into a school in Connecticut and took the lives of children and teachers and staff. Evil walked right in and did that. I don't remember what my original prompt was for that day. I just know it was too much to write about something else. My poem, Lessons From First Grade, was the poem I wrote instead.

Lessons From First Grade

In the front row, a boy fidgeting 
with the buttons on his shirt. 
His mother lets him do them on his own
because it’s what mothers do
for their first grader sons. He hears
a sound and looks up to see a shadow:
Is it his dad coming home early? His
cousin bringing cookies for the party?
A loud noise. All the buttons 
pop off his shirt as he falls to the floor.
— and no time to call for his mother.

— for the children of Newtown, CT

I broke my promise to myself for these broken children. How could I not?

One thing we learn from undertaking such a discipline as this one, is that we poets, writers, artists of all kinds have the rare opportunity to stop and look carefully at the world, then render it in ways that help others see what we are seeing. We hold up a mirror and ask the world to look, to see what we see.

After the Newtown poem was written, I could hardly go on. Once I became aware that there was going to be no reckoning on behalf of these children in terms of changes to our laws, to our mechanisms of protecting the most vulnerable among us, I became sadder and more deeply afraid for what we might become as a world.

I was not ready to continue writing. But I had to.

The only other time during the year's discipline that I veered from the plan came in spring of 2013, four months after Newtown. A pair of crazy men decided to create death and havoc at the running of the  Boston Marathon. Evil walked the route of the marathon and turned a beautiful day of sunshine into a rain of metal, killing and maiming runners and spectators. This was not supposed to happen, but Evil knows no bounds. Of course the day's prompt had to be replaced. I had to do something. Mirror, world: how do you look as you gaze into it?


Birds of spring swoop in low and land.
Runners gasping, sucking for breath
don’t think they’re in a race with death,
know nothing of the evil plan
of someone on this festive day.
Boston town, where patriots stood
their ground for freedom’s cause of good,
bloodied, cleft by terror’s sway.

Birds of prey, of metal pieces,
spew death and mayhem in the crowd
as two sharp blasts report out loud.
Helpers run straight into the fracus.
They give quick aid to everyone,
risking all to aid the dying,
staunching wounds, comforting crying
kids looking for their dads or moms.

Guardian angels overhead
watch with woe o’er the grisly scene.
With haloed heads bent low, they keen
a dirge for all the newly dead.
Heaven opens reluctant gates
to welcome those newly arrived.
Those whose bodies did not survive
an act of terror and of hate.

As darkness falls to darkest night
the city birds forget their flight
but perch the tops of wrecked remains,
a cordoned street of blood and brains
spilled out in such a gruesome deed,
its evil such an awful breed
which glories in its brutal ways

on such a happy peaceful day.

Once more, Evil had to be called out. What kind of discipline can we find to change things?

The next day, I resumed writing to the proscribed prompts with a gusto. I seem to have gained strength from weakness. I finished the project on October 31, 2013.  I was not even tired.

After the disciplined writing was at an end, I wondered what would become of these prompts and their resulting poems. Each month, week, day had taught me something about writing, about myself as a poet, and about the world around me. I had to share. But I needed time and distance from the poems to gain perspective. So, printed out and put into file folders (as well as in folders on my computer), they sat.  Occasionally I'd dig out a folder and read a bit.

I knew the poems were not quite finished, needed editing and revising. A few months ago, I got busy with them again, folder by folder, week by week, day by day. I began putting the prompts together into a manuscript, along with comments and sample poems. Maybe someone else would like to have the prompts, and a little insight from my discipline.  Just maybe this was worth publishing.  I decided to go for it. I decided that there also needs to be somewhere for people to read ALL the poems I had written in that year of discipline. 365 prompts and 365 poems. BIG book.

Perhaps there is another way. What about two books, companions to one anther, to be sold separately in case the reader only wants one or the other. Still, what publisher would want to take on such a project?
Time will tell. At this point, I have completed both. I have a cover and a title. Not sure if I am going to send it out or if I will publish as an eBook. At any rate, here is the cover.

The art work is my own, done in the late 80s. It is a digital drawing, Bird Heart.

Enough from me for today. I need to do laundry and call about getting my revised web site hosted. April is coming and it needs to be ready to roll out then. No time like the present. After all, I am a disciplined person, right?

Tomorrow? hmmmm

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