Practice Makes Perfect

New Year’s is a time to make resolutions, or, for me, to set intentions. It is a time of new beginnings and of endless possibilities. Most of these have to do with accomplishing a goal, like writing a book (my goal for 2015!), or losing weight, or finding love, or getting a degree.  And many have to do with adopting good habits. Which begs the question, why are good habits so hard to have and to hold onto?  For me, it's a function of being able (or not) to design and maintain routines and practices. Some people enjoy routine and the control it brings. Others prefer spontaneity, adventure and serendipity (otherwise known as surprises). I’m a spontaneous kind of gal, as you may have guessed, and I have a majorly rebellious streak when it comes to routine and persistent practices. I hate doing what is expected of me.  Even when the expectations are generated by none other than yours truly.

This dichotomy between routine and spontaneity was illustrated in the latest Dragon Kin book, Light My Fire.  G.A. Aiken is a master of characterization, and even minor characters are well drawn.  Light My Fire introduces two relatively minor (so far) characters, Brother Magnus and Talan, the half-human, half-dragon Prince of the Southlands. When the book begins, Magnus is slogging through the mind-numbing, soul-sucking routine of being a cloistered monk in a remote monastery. Boh-ring! And then he spies his friend, Talan, who has been a fellow monk for years, slipping out the side door of the monastery. When Talan tells Magnus that he's leaving, never to return, and invites Magnus to join him in his adventures, Magnus hesitates only a moment and then he's all in. Magnus can't wait to get the hell out of Dodge and embrace the exhilaration of uncharted waters. Made me think about how much I like to shake it up and shake it off, despite my antipathy for Ms. Swift.

So, what can we make of these disparate, though related thoughts?  Plenty, that's for sure.  Routine is boring. Doing the same thing day after day, year after year is difficult, if not impossible. It's monotonous and makes me, like Magnus, run screaming from the room. I totally get it. In fact, when I was in my early twenties, I left a boyfriend almost exclusively because I knew my life with him would be filled with the drudgery of routine and horrors of habit and that my life would be one, seemingly-endless recurring loop till the day I died—Tuesday lunch with the ladies, Friday bridge or Mah Jong, yearly vacations to the same exact places, monthly dinners with the same exact friends, season tickets every season. You can see why I ran screaming from that relationship?  

Well, maybe you can't.  I’m told that there are some folks who actually like it when life is the same day in and day out.  Grocery shopping on Saturdays, house cleaning on Sundays, hamburgers on Tuesdays and family game night on Thursdays. Okie dokey—whatever floats your boat is fine with me. Because for some, a life of secure predictability sounds like heaven. But not for me and Magnus and Talan.

So, here I was, feeling pretty righteous in my preferences and the company I was keeping (Talan is a prince, after all), when I was brought up short by a priestly sermon, no less.  I was at church (not a place you’ll often find me, as I’m not a Christian, but I was with my in-laws who appreciate that I attend), when I heard the preacher talking about rituals leading us to God.  He talked about how tiring it is to be persistent and to do the same things again and again.  The priest made a virtue of monotony and talked about needing strength to not get tired and give up.  He suggested that persistence in the face of sameness is celestial. He had a point.

It takes strength to do whatever it is that we don’t do naturally or comfortably.  If you’re like me and find elation in the unexpected, then routine is challenging. If you prefer the serenity of the mundane, then flexibility is the more demanding task for you. But no matter how much one craves certainty, everyone likes a break in the tedium, a departure from the daily grind.  And that is exactly when we need to remember our resolutions, or intentions. Because good intentions require a commitment to repetition, and a willingness to endure tedium.  All worthwhile practices, like exercise, or journaling, or learning a musical instrument or a new language demand putting in the hours.  I believe it was 10,000 hours to achieve mastery.  10,000—that’s a big number. Way too big for me to contemplate doing more than one at a time.

So, I’ll learn a little from Brother Magnus and Prince Talan and a bit more from the priest’s sermon. I’ll set my New Year’s intentions and hope I can persist in my practices to the point where I see some results for my labors. I’ll stare at that blank page day after day, hoping some words will magically appear in the white space and become my book.  I am reminded of the oft-quoted phrase that writing is more about hard work than inspiration. Personally, I wish the Muse would show up, possess me and be done with it. In the meantime, I’ll try to tame my inner Talan and tolerate the tedium.  Because practice makes perfect. Or something like that.