by Nielsen Greiner
“We must work every day, whether we feel like it or not, otherwise when it comes time to get out of the way and listen to the work, we will not be able to heed it.” – Madeleine L’Engle
Procrastination. Excuses. Apathy. Passivity. Lack of time. No inspiration.
These are among the many reasons our creative pursuits and endeavors — born of lofty dreams and desires as our heads float in the clouds — never leave the runway; oh, if only being a dreamer was actually enough to take our scattered ideas and momentary bursts of inspiration, making something whole, concrete, and complete. But it’s the nitty gritty, the mundane, the commitment and discipline and perseverance and hard work, that separate those who only think and dream and never do, from those who embrace the tedium of consistency along with inevitable failure and the mostly rare internal or external “success” that accompanies creativity.
Last summer, in a personal effort to spur discipline and lay a foundation for inspiration, I began what I termed as “Wednesday writing night,” for which I set a weekly reminder in my calendar. Why? I scheduled a night for myself to write so I would be forced to sit down and just do it, even if only for a few minutes. The following was my first attempt.
June 28, 2017
I’m sitting on my back deck in comfortable jogging pants, layered up with a t-shirt and sweatshirt and fleece and beanie. It’s June 28 and still chilly in Big Sky, MT — one of the things I love about my home. If I lift my eyes just above the deck railing I can see rolling mountains covered with evergreen trees in the distance, part of the surrounding alpine terrain I can view my home at around 6,000 feet above sea level. I have instrumental music playing in the background (as usual for writing and reading), and there is the vague, subconscious sound of children playing, cars passing, the breeze blowing, and birds chirping. This is my first ever official “writing night.”
A few weeks ago I put a weekly reminder in my calendar for Mondays and Wednesdays — “music Mondays” and “writing Wednesdays.” It’s a little silly, maybe even elementary, but for me, it works. I was tired of wallowing in self pity and feeling sorry for myself that I wasn’t “pursuing my dreams.” I think and think and think and dream and dream and dream, but do little doing and take little action. So finally, I scheduled these two nights in my calendar as a weekly reminder.
Why? Otherwise, right now I’d honestly be reading a book instead, like I always do during weeknights over this past year and a half. And another day and week and month — possibly even a year — would pass by while I spend barely any time writing or playing music.
I’m done relying on inspiration and desire. They always come when I’m not in a place or setting where I can act upon it; when the time comes for me to do so, it has withered and I feel like doing something else.
So now I’m forcing myself to sit down, and just do it. Indeed, inspiration and creativity do follow discipline and commitment. It makes you feel so warm and fuzzy inside to think about “following your heart” and “pursuing your dreams” (those bullshit phrases, which are so cliché and often lead to nothing, or at least produce little results).
The unsexy words are: hard work, dedication, commitment, perseverance, patience, humility, surrender, and on and so on. I was tired of making excuses when I had none. I have lots of time, being single, not owning a home, and working 40 hours or less per week. There’s no one holding a gun to my head saying I can’t do what I want. I and only I am to blame for not following through; simply put, when I don’t pursue what I truly desire (often the hardest to pursue because we are so afraid to approach what holds so much value), I’m just being lazy, letting it all stop at the head and the heart, without picking up my pen or my guitar or sitting down at my keyboard. Sure, I take time here and there, but can go weeks without writing or playing music.
So, here’s a small step; it’s just one night a week, and I know it won’t even happen every week, maybe only half the time, but it’s a start. It’s something. So here I sit, writing whatever comes, and just for me. I don’t really care if anyone ever sees it or not. But I’m doing it, not just thinking or dreaming about it. Instead of waiting for inspiration to seize me, I’m going to seize it, and force it to give me something, anything.
Recently I was in Missoula, and while I was there I visited the University of Montana. I wanted to speak with some professors to see if I was interested in one of their graduate degree programs.
Afterward, I went to a hip coffee shop, ordered a pourover, put on my headphones, and began to ask myself some questions in writing; about my inability to commit, plant roots and pursue just some thing; about my tendency to remain the constant restless wanderer I’ve become over the years. Here’s what I wrote to myself.
I watch as the train passes by, through the old window.
Will my life pass by, just like this train?
I ask myself — am I willing to give myself completely and wholly to something, anything?
And I’m also afraid. To take a step (yes), but also to not take one. That I’ll spend my whole life waiting and wishing and dreaming.
But never doing.
Never reaching for what I love because I’m afraid of my reach not being far enough; or if it is, of letting it go when I finally reach it.
And I settle for what’s bearable, acceptable, because the risk is small and the cost little.
Always in the middle because I never choose a direction. I am the center around which a compass revolves.
I attempt to suppress arising dreams long forgotten.
Why? Because when I’m aware of their presence they demand something of me. As they scream for my attention, I can no longer ignore, no longer remain passive.
But my heart has a way of picking different dreams and directions on different days.
So does my course depend only upon which day I choose it? Can destiny boil down to a single day?
Direction comes not from owning a compass or knowing a map. It comes from knowing me, and being known by me. You don’t understand your wandering and there are no answers to your silent questions. So will you follow me in your blindness?
You could choose to drift for the rest of your days. Or you could set an anchor and trust me in your ceasing, your stillness.
It takes one step at a time to walk a mile; or a thousand.
The steps of days determine life’s destination.
The use of minutes determines the years’ outcome.
It is the culmination of dreary days and mundane, repetitious activity that produce the meaningful and worthwhile.
Dreams remain unborn if action is never taken. They become visible in the fruit of all our seemingly insignificant and unseen acts.
They are the roots of commitment, the watering of perseverance, and these dreams burst through the soil after years of toil.
Or we can only hope.
But sometimes even all our work and activity are not enough, and all we hoped for dies or remains ever buried.
Sometimes blood, sweat and tears are all we ever have to show for all our efforts.
But we may still sleep with the peace of having given our all, whether with success or failure.
Give yourself to some thing.
Instead of only wandering.