People tell me I'm a disciplined person. “Are you on drugs?” is my usual response. I feel like the least disciplined person in the world. I’ve broken every resolution and promise I’ve made to myself again and again. I succumb to every temptation. I'm constantly trying to trick myself into following a routine, sticking to a plan, practicing discipline. Today, I'm thinking about discipline through the lens of a new author, Jon F. Merz, and an exciting new series featuring Lawson, the Vampire Fixer. I finished the first book, called, appropriately, The Fixer, and am enjoying the second, The Invoker, with no discipline at all—ravenously devouring page after page. Lawson is an exceptional character. The cover of the book has a quote calling Lawson "Jason Bourne with fangs." I think he's more like John Rain or Jack Reacher—with an affinity for O neg, or "juice," as Lawson calls it. These books are the love child of international espionage and urban fantasy, Three Days of the Condor with a supernatural twist. What's not to love?
Not a damned thing. And I'm gulping it down like a vampire gorging at an open blood bar. Lawson is a badass. He's been through Fixer training – reminiscent of the CIA's famous Farm— and practices martial arts as a survival mechanism, which has worked for him so far. Lawson subscribes to a code, similar to the samurais' bushido; he believes he is upholding vampire law and maintaining the critical “Balance” so that humans never discover the monsters who walk amongst them. And the glue that holds the world together for Lawson is strict adherence to a very disciplined way of life. As one of his instructors taught him, "Give into the littlest desire and the rest of your discipline will come crumbling down all around you." His teacher would have been proud.
Lawson is disciplined. For him, a clean and orderly home is indicative of a clean and orderly work life. Sloppiness in one area reflects disorderliness in others. Someone who leaves dirty dishes in his sink probably won't stop to pick up shell casings at a murder scene. Similarly, smoking cigarettes at a stakeout is a good indicator of someone who might forget to check a victim's socks for hidden weapons and end up at the business end of something pointy. Lawson is the antithesis of chaotic; he is the essence of self-control. Something to aspire to, I guess.
I struggle with discipline, as I mentioned above. I think of it as a punishment, which is incorrect; the word is derived from the root, "to teach." Discipline is what we do to learn and to grow. I've heard God described as, "Good Orderly Discipline." I've always liked that idea. Discipline builds muscles—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Discipline and practice go together. We practice discipline. Our practices are disciplines. Working out every day. Abstaining from junk food or alcohol. Reading before bed. Meditating first thing in the morning. Daily yoga. The list goes on. We practice discipline and we learn.
One thing I've learned about discipline is that all is always better than some. It's easier to eat no gluten than some, to drink nothing rather than a little, to meditate daily instead of sometimes. This seems counterintuitive, but it's the stuff 12-step programs are built on. Most of the time, backsliding, even a little, leads to full-on wallowing shortly thereafter. "Just this once," becomes "What the fuck?" so quickly it makes my head spin.
Maybe I'm the only one who has this problem. Maybe most people are capable of smoking a cigarette only once or twice a month when they go out for drinks. All I know is that in my reality, one drag would lead straight back to my pack-a-day habit. I haven't had even a puff of tobacco for more than 25 years and I will never risk it, because a break in this discipline could be fatal.
For Lawson, and for me, being disciplined is very black and white. One is or one isn't. There is very little grey in this situation. Grey is the color of failure. Grey is the antithesis of discipline. Grey is rationalization, justification and excuses, excuses, excuses. I'm the queen of extenuating circumstances. I wish I weren't.
So, while it's always nice to receive a compliment, please don't tell me I'm disciplined. 'Cause I'm not. If I were, I'd write every day, day in and day out. I'd work out in the mornings and meditate twice a day. I'd forgo gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine and alcohol. I'd modulate my tone of voice and never raise it. I'd stop spontaneous utterances—the ones that cause my feet to fly upwards to land in my mouth. I'd learn a language, perfect my downward facing dog, and do more service.
But I've got a long way to go, and quite a bit of wallowing to clean up along the way. In the interim, I will continue to read about those with discipline to spare, like Lawson the vampire, and see what I can learn through the practice of reading, which is, of course, my favorite discipline of all.