Annual Theme Life

Discipline: Reflect on Improvement

Discipline requires me to reflect on my own need for improvement while maintaining my part in community.

Once in a great while, I think it might be nice to live in a vacuum. A space entirely void of matter. No sound. Nothing. Almost like being timeless. It seems so peaceful. Being in a vacuum seems like the ultimate in rest therapy. Especially this year.

The problem with vacuum living is that it is entirely void of matter. And everything that matters. It’s a suffocating, airless existence that wouldn’t be as restful as I would want it to be unless I get a whole lot better at stasis and lack of oxygen.

I joined Twitter back in 2011 and it was oxygen. Suddenly, I had access to people all over creation with all kinds of perspectives. I followed publishers and editors, agents and book bloggers. I followed writers and artists. The flow of information washed over me in welcome waves. People linked to all sorts of resources, most of which I’d never have happened upon myself. For lots of folks, finding community online probably happened way before 2011.

I was late to pretty much every aspect of computing and ye olde internets. I grew up in small town, rural Oklahoma. My family had no game system or PC before I left for college. School computers were only used for keyboarding class. As a college freshman in 1995, I had to learn how to use a floppy disk. Very often, I demagnetized them…simply by being myself. I had a cell phone and a laptop in 2001, used pretty much exclusively for phone calls and word processing. Fast forward to 2010, when my nephew fell ill. He turned 18, ran a five-minute-mile, and then had a blast crisis (leukemia) – all while at basic combat training away from home. That summer, I sent my first text message. Because I needed connection. And I wished I had sent them earlier and often. I also joined Facebook. But then, THEN I found Twitter.

Twitter felt like being expelled from the vacuum of my life and into a wider, brighter world. I learned so much by listening.

This year, much has been made of so-called toxic book Twitter. It’s not book Twitter or YA Twitter that is toxic but specific uses and users within all communities. I’ve been known to call social media antisocial a time or two. There, too, it’s a matter of use.

Recently, when I announced my 2018 theme, I took a vacation from Facebook and Twitter through the end of next year. Not because it’s toxic but because of my ambitious theme. The choice felt like both versions of the vacuum: quiet rest and cold void.

Thing is, regardless of the toxic people or uses of Twitter, I continued to learn through the day I left for vacation.

I need to improve. As a human, as an artist, as a writer. I need to learn more about differing perspectives. I need more and better tools to grow into the artist I want to become. I need to learn the business of writing. I need to improve as a conveyor of ideas. My voice, my message, my future livelihood – all depend on my improvement.

Living in Oklahoma with no resources for attending conferences, and now choosing to be away from social media, I wonder how best to maintain a sense of community. I can involve myself with local art and writing events, SCBWI meetings, and volunteer opportunities. I can seek out blogs and all that great information Twitter brought my way, and maybe even find things when I need them rather than in the out-of-sync stream of social media. I can entrench myself in the resources I know about, like SCBWI, SVS, and Manuscript Academy.

Unsurprisingly, my artistic life isn’t my only area rife with opportunities to improve. The discipline is essentially the same. Step 1: Reflect on areas for self-improvement. Step 2: Maintain a part in the community (including subcommunities).

If we all keep noticing our need to improve and reaching into our communities, the world will keep getting bigger and brighter and better. And maybe the pull of the vacuum will calm down and leave us to our breath.

Annual Theme Life

Discipline: Open Yourself to the Unknown

Did you know that ravel and unravel are both antonyms and synonyms of each other? Unravel is what happens to sweaters and plans and intentions. Ravel can also be that pulling apart, that undoing and complicating confusion. Both can mean a fray and a tangle. But they can mean it differently or similarly. The dictionary tells me that few people use ravel as an antonym to unravel these days, but I rather like it.

Discipline, in part, is opening yourself to the unknown without unraveling. But while raveling.

The unknown demands that you unwind and disentangle a part of yourself if you choose to engage. The discipline comes in knowing when the threads are coming apart or tangling in a destructive way (unraveling) and when in a productive way (raveling, antonym). Any amount of unraveling can create complications and entanglements. Sorting through those can mean a more beautiful sweater, plan, or intention.

If you’re so focused on never facing the unknown because you fear the unraveling, you might miss the very thing you were meant to become.

Folks who know me in real life, and maybe those in virtual life, might scoff at this one. I’m not exactly the go-to master of the unknown. In fact, I have lived most of my life avoiding it.

The unknown was a big part of why lawyering never felt like a good fit for me. I wanted to know everything before I presented it. Especially in front of people who could make decisions on the information. A strong lawyer must embrace the unknown a little bit. Prepare like you wouldn’t believe, but then – well, what do they say? No training survives the battlefield? It’s like that sometimes. The unknown is always lurking in the corner of the courtroom. Or, in my practice of corporate law, the unknown was forever noshing on the policies and procedures of the day.

Turns out, art is also about the unknown. Who knew? It’s about not knowing if your process will produce a viable product. Not knowing if anyone will receive it well. Not knowing if you can pay your bills. Ever. Not knowing. Like, anything. Oh, you think you know how to plot a book. And then you do. And you write it and you move on to the next book and what do you Google? How to plot a book.

Art is also about the known. About keeping yourself, and sometimes the world, raveled – woven from the frayed threads. It’s about getting up and doing the work and learning and doing more work. It’s about listening and doing better work. It’s about doing the work even though you have zero guarantees a single person will see it, will find value in it, will pay you for it. About knowing yourself well enough to look the unknown in the eye and decide to open into it.

Is there any aspect of living not like this? Or dying, for that matter.

For far too long, I didn’t know that. Rather than opening toward the unknown, I closed myself. I shut down, turned away, moved away so I couldn’t see it anymore. Maybe it’s depression, maybe it’s me – natural, learned, whatever.

The source of my avoidance doesn’t matter nearly as much as my conscious effort now to confront the unknown. To walk right up to the unknown and say, hi.

Now, here’s a thing: even if you and I have known each other for years, I will assume you don’t know who I am, and I will not likely approach you in public. So me walking up to the unknown is…awkward.

For a minute. Then I remember to open up. Sometimes for another minute, sometimes longer. The length of time I open myself directly correlates to how raveled I am. Because I cannot afford to unravel. Some unknowns – especially concerning family and health – threaten the ravel more than others and cannot be avoided because then unraveling is certain. Said otherwise, a diagnosis is an unknown that may do a fair bit of unraveling but avoiding it will do even more damage. That calculation of balance – opening and raveling and knowing when unraveling is necessary – that’s a discipline, too.

If you struggle with this discipline, as I do, remember the balance part. A set of scales somewhat within your control. Move a bit to one side then to the other and find balance. The other visualization I find useful is perspective. A frayed thread may seem dire or not such a big deal. Stepping back and seeing whether the fraying is on an item you value can be instructive. Likewise, when opening to the unknown and balancing the ravel and the unravel, step far enough back often enough to see what it is you’re creating. It can make all the difference.

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