Discipline? What am I supposed to do with that?
Captain’s Log, Star Date: “Holy crap, you’re trying to become a writer at 53.”
In an attempt to bring everything I’ve ever experienced to the tip of my pen at the blank page, or my fingers as they do the Cuban Slide across the keyboard, I’m often overwhelmed by seeming metric tons of stuff that want another moment in the sun, because they were once important. Scotty calls up from the Engine Room; “We cahn’t sustaiine this, Cap’n.” Bones calls from the infirmary; “Dammit Jim, I’m just a simple country doctor!” And the ship remains in dock once again.
During my long government career, everything was about discipline. In the Marines we did things one way, the right way. Free thought and expressions made you an outcast and everyone knew and agreed with the reasons why. As an agent in the Department of Justice, those principles largely remained. All the while I was required to write reports. Facts, precise and detailed. My job was to report them in as detailed a manner as possible. It was in this major aspect of my young career being, that I learned truth and fact are not always the same thing and what you think you wrote, in plain English, was gibberish to an equally English speaking superior.
At the beginning of my career in the Marines, I can distinctly remember many occasions where after working the graveyard shift as an MP, dragging my tired tookus to bed at sunrise, only to be woken by a day-shifter, sent to my room for an insidious purpose. “Gunny want to see you in his office.” I remember more than once, peering into his gaudy “I Love Me” cave, with his certificates, flags and medals ad-nausea affixed to the walls and hear: “You ended this sentence with a preposition, or you didn’t capitalize this word” as he smiled the sickening expression that made it clear that he owned me and protest was futile. The report could have been for a cat in a tree, or a flat tire on a patrol car, it didn’t matter. That particular brand of narcissistic masochism knows no restraint.
But, in the onward and upward Esprit-de-Corps that had also been built into me, those agonizing, “I want to kill you” happenings soon helped me achieve a level literary professionalism and editing prowess of hyper-attention to detail, that was abnormal to young men such as myself. Because any prospect of uninterrupted sleep, which was paramount, rested solely on my own shoulders. My platoon mates and I soon began the regular practice of proof-reading each others reports beginning at about four a.m. passing them around with cups of coffee, because bad writing and grammar, was epidemic and I wasn’t it’s only potential target. But a sort of payoff for having endured and learned manifested later on, some twenty five years later, when I wrote charging documents to a federal court that could put a man in prison for a long time. The judge didn’t have to wonder if my agency had lowered it’s hiring standards, even though I helped many colleagues over their poor writing skills. Sure they were college grads, but they were never disciplined in the corrective manner I had been.
I know discipline.
That’s all behind me now, but it’s also etched in my DNA. And trying to set it all aside to write freely and creatively, rather than perfectly, is nearly like trying to un-break the colt or the mustang you’ve finally gotten to respond to a saddle, bridle and reigns, after much bruising to both of you.
So is the necessity to unlearn valuable things? Or is it to keep learning new ways to master those things? That’s a hobby horse that I thought I stopped riding long ago.