“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.
On good recommendation, I read a story of wonderful suspense this week. The American naturalist John Muir recounts an Alaskan adventure with an unlikely companion, a little black mutt named Stickeen. At one point, they venture far onto a glacier in driving snow, and are faced with a huge crevasse they must navigate to return safely to camp. How they fare I’ll leave you to discover, but know that this predicament, though not always as dire, can be universal – the turning point of our life, and teach us much about ourselves.
I find myself sometimes in a similar place with my writing: encountering a chasm I have no idea how to traverse. I stare at it, walk the length of it looking for a bridge, even attempt to jump across, when I’m feeling brave enough. What I’ve found is that having companions on the journey keeps me from giving up, because even though our drive for survival is instinctually powerful, when there’s another being by my side the drive becomes exponential. In these circumstances, I am empowered by a greater responsibility, and gratefully hitch myself to my imagination on one side and to my companions on the other, and then get a running start…
In writing class today, I was asked by another student where my creative discipline comes from, for I write just about every day. Different days yield different answers, and today I reference some of those treasured souls who inspire me, the ones I do not personally know:
- Julia Cameron, an author who taught me to write Morning Pages, three lengths of (mostly) drivel & (occasionally) gems every single day, and the lifelong habit that it forges.
- A. A. Milne, who created the Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore characters, each who exist inside me and show true simplicity, equanimity, curiosity, joy and acceptance.
- Henry David Thoreau, who had the courage to meet himself alone in the woods and advise us to “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined,” which is inscribed on a bracelet my mother gifted me many years ago.
- Ani Difranco, a folksinger who circumnavigated corporate structure by starting her own record company at age 18, and who expresses herself with stunning integrity, intelligence and lyricism.
- Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian sculptor who taught me to see the essence of objects and ideas through his distilled, elegant forms.
These are all people who persevered over crevasses and chasms, I am sure, to let loose their voice, their vision, their life’s purpose. I am never without them, nor many other creative souls who listened to the knowing deep inside and shared their gifts with the world. It is not enough that one recognize the inner voice; we must liberate it, nurture it, guide it. We must relentlessly practice it. Discipline is crucial, as is the community we cultivate in order to support it. Ultimately, we do not operate alone.
On a different day, I might answer that my discipline comes from considering the alternative – having to go get a job. At this point in my journey, I will do anything to avoid punching a clock, having a boss, or submitting myself to someone else’s vision or rulebook. For me to live authentically, I must listen closely and follow the rhythm of my own drum(heart)beat. There’s magic there, and freedom and joy and – yes – commitment, struggle, even gaping holes in the glacier. But to be alive is to discover oneself, and that is the most exciting adventure of all. Won’t you accompany me?