I know I want to get some of these thoughts out of my mind and into the world, but I’m not quite sure where to begin.
Before I can start exploring the big question at the core of all of this — which, by the way, is “what is the difference between discipline and specificity,” or perhaps “can you have specificity without discipline,” and you can already see that the way in which I phrase the question will affect the way in which I answer it, so I’m going to want to ensure the question itself is, shall we say, specific —
Where was I?
Before I can start exploring the question at the core of all of these thoughts, I feel like I ought to define my terms.
Especially the term “specificity,” which seems to be the key behind all of this.
(Unless it’s discipline.)
(Which means I should probably define “discipline,” too.)
This isn’t just an art question, by the way, and it isn’t just a creativity question — though it started out as a discussion of how to become better at the piano, and in this case I’ll go ahead and define “better” as “more specific,” because that’s what L and I really mean, when we talk about where we want to go with our music (and our writing, and our music-writing, and our chess games, and everything else).
Our piano room has a chalkboard wall, because the people who previously owned our home used the space as a kids’ playroom, and when L and I toured the house for the first time, our realtor (no, wait, Realtor) said “You can always paint over the chalkboard wall,” and L said “We can always paint over the chalkboard wall,” and I thought to myself we are never, ever painting over that chalkboard wall.
Right now the chalkboard wall has a bunch of notes and quotes and messages from friends scribbled on it, plus this one inspirational dictum that I squeezed into the corner months ago and have yet to erase:
Where we are now —
Technical precision —
Emotional specificity —
Where we want to be?
Sometimes, when L and I watch a movie or find a live production on Broadway HD or dig up a favorite musician on YouTube or read a book aloud to each other, we stop whatever it is we’re watching or listening to or reading just to say “look at how specific they’re being.”
You’re going to want an example.
Here’s one in the public domain:
Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them on their way. The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a Gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there. The cold became intense. In the main street, at the corner of the court, some labourers were repairing the gas-pipes, and had lighted a great fire in a brazier, round which a party of ragged men and boys were gathered: warming their hands and winking their eyes before the blaze in rapture. The water-plug being left in solitude, its overflowings sullenly congealed, and turned to misanthropic ice.
It goes on, but that’s where we stopped — after “misanthropic ice.”
What a remarkable choice of words, set at the end of a remarkable sentence. I mean, we literally stopped to remark on it.
So. Can anyone do that, for whatever discipline they’re currently pursuing?
Interestingly, I just used the word discipline in a different way than I used it when I asked the question about discipline and specificity, and I didn’t make the connection between discipline and discipline until just now.
(We’ll leave the other meaning of the word discipline — the punitive one — for later. But it will be incorporated into whatever answer I develop for whatever question I eventually address, since I’ve been thinking that one of the problems with the positive side of discipline is that we’re so caught up with the idea of discipline being a negative thing. Even within the context of living a disciplined life.)
But back to the question that comes before the big question:
Can a person be as specific with their own art — or with the way they live, or work, or love, it’s all part of the same question, you don’t have to be a capital-A Artist the way one is a capital-R Realtor — can we choose to be as specific and mindful and precise and emotionally communicative as —
Well, no, that’s not the right question.
We don’t need an “as,” even though it’s sometimes helpful to have someone whose art/work/life you admire as a benchmark.
But this isn’t a comparison game.
It’s more like can we choose to be specific and mindful and precise and emotionally communicative?
And what work is involved in making those specific choices (yes, I know, specific choices lead to specificity, I’ll go ahead and sign up for the Tautology Club now), and is the word that describes that work “discipline”?
That’s a good place to stop — by which I mean it’s a good place to start.