Discipline + Flow =?

And how was my weekend? I hear you cry. It was… disappointing. I’d hoped to do lots of cycling but thanks to the weather and an energy dip I only managed about 3 miles. And yesterday I forced myself (and OH) to get out into the garden and tackle the weeds which are rapidly becoming unfeasible, after which I was too tired to cycle and anyway it rained for the rest of the day. I do find this weather depressing.

The thing that bugs me about gardening is that the longer you leave it the harder it gets. But also, the more you do, the more you see that needs doing. I find this very depressing as well. Nevertheless, the garden is now somewhat tamed and I can forget about it for a week or two before it starts bugging me again.

I think the garden I grew up with probably has an effect on my attitude. The vicarage garden was half an acre divided into wilderness on one side (appropriately biblical) and lawn on the other. The lawn was massive and took most of a day to mow, besides being lumpy and bumpy (I once borrowed the roller from the cricket ground next door and we heaved it up and down; it made not a blind bit of difference). But the wilderness was the worst place. There was a no-go area in the middle with a concrete air-raid shelter and the rest was just weeds from hedge to glass-topped wall. From this area our mother tried despairingly to raise veg, with unremitting effort and some success – so I think my idea of gardening has always been of unremitting effort; not enjoyable in the least. I find the rewards do not match the work. I’m aware there are people in the world who enjoy gardening and I keep hoping it will rub off on me but so far it hasn’t really. So this year we’re limited to OH’s efforts which so far are potatoes in tyres (more or less foolproof) and some dying tomato plants. Well, at least I managed to make some compost successfully; that’s something. But I must say I do feel a failure at gardening.

Anyway, that’s not what I was going to write about today. My topic for today is the perennial tussle for the artist between inspiration and self-discipline. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could just sit down and be overtaken by a wonderful flow of inspiration whenever you wanted? Wouldn’t it be great if ideas came just at the most convenient moment? If you didn’t have to get to your desk every day and work at it, wouldn’t that be amazing? But it doesn’t happen, so you have to develop discipline, and these two have to be kept in constant balance. Inspiration without discipline can leave you feeling unbalanced and chaotic with loads of unfinished projects: discipline without flow is sterile and joyless. It’s a difficult juggling act; you can show up at your desk by nine am and stay there all day, but if the muse don’t show up you won’t produce anything worthwhile. Then again sometimes, if you start off writing any old nonsense sometimes you can get into the flow that way. But I’ve learned the hard way that discipline is necessary; if you live your life waiting for inspiration to strike – sure, it may strike, but you won’t know what to do with it when it does. For years my output consisted of random phrases and ideas because I didn’t have what Alan Bennett calls ‘the habit of art‘. I like that phrase because as every artist knows, art is first and foremost a habit, one which you have to cultivate.

So I guess that’s my kind of gardening…

Kirk out