I recently had my son watch Dune – the David Lynch version 1 – as an object lesson. No, not a lesson about how to walk across sand dunes (lest you be eaten by a huge frickin’ worm which Kiddo has dubbed “AWESOME”), but about what it means to be human.
I’m not species-centric when I say “human”. I agree with the Bene Gesserit premise that it’s very possible to have people (homo sapiens sapiens) who aren’t human. Likewise, I’m pretty sure that there’s at least some examples of pan troglodytes, or whales, or even dogs, that are human. And while I tend to lean more towards the Replicant-detecting empathy-side of defining humans 2, discipline and abstraction of future rewards is pretty high up there too.
Especially when there’s a whining boy who won’t do his homework. 3
This Sunday past, I didn’t have a lot of discipline. Sure, I had reasons – I’d slept poorly the night before, I tend to get distractable when the weather’s changing, and so on – but the sheer fact of it is that I simply didn’t accomplish the things I meant to. Largely, it was an ass-in-chair problem. Sometimes, I simply can’t work well at home – but my productivity soars when I’m at university, or the coffee shop, or the library, or even just sitting in my van at a park. And that reminded me of a panel at one of the cons I attended this summer – I really don’t remember which at this point.
A newbie author – perhaps even still in the “wannabe” category – asked how we dealt with the distractions. The interwebs, games, and so on. I remember another panelist’s answer:
“If you don’t have the discipline to ignore those things, then you’re not really a writer.”
Something tells me that the panelist would’ve been right there with the Bene Gesserit, a gom jabbar on thier finger. The same something that saw the newbie questioner’s face fall, and the sudden self-doubt washing in.
The thing is, it’s not about how long you can keep your hand in the box. Oh, yes, self-discipline and empathy are both vital characteristics toward being human. But a human – a smart human – plans ahead to avoid having to endure the box at all. Sure, it’s great to have the willpower to avoid drinking – but no matter how much willpower an alcoholic’s got, visiting a liquor store is still a bad idea. It’s great to have the willpower to quit smoking, but hanging out in the smoking areas afterward is just kind of dumb.
So you identify your weaknesses. I frequent spots where the wifi is spotty or non-existent, eliminating the temptation when I need to focus. I use editors like Q10 and crossplatform jDarkroom when I need to just write. I set timers, avoid games, video, and web browsing when I’ve got a deadline coming up. I use headphones and fast music.
All those techniques reinforce my discipline. A simplistic, even animal way of looking at them is to call them “crutches”. A human way of looking at them is to call them “tools”.
There is no shame in tools. They allow us to achieve so many things we would not have been able to achieve without them.
And perhaps, one day, we will no longer need our weirding module.
1 Because the atmosphere of the work is better, IMHO. Avoid the extended version if at all possible – the added voiceovers might explain more, but they really cut into the mood. It effectively (for example) eliminated all of Irulan’s lines… and that opening voiceover is one of my favorite memories of the work.
2 Yes, Blade Runner is next for him.
3 Is there a better excuse than opposition to homework to expose Kiddo to classic sci-fi?
And yes, it’s been done in LEGO: