Sunday, November 18, 2012

Habit as an Article of Faith

I am very much a creature of habit.  
During the week, I'm up at 4:30 AM.  I write a page in my journal by hand.  I work on whatever writing project I've scheduled for myself after that.  I don't stop until I get at least two pages done, or a 1,000 words, or until I absolutely have to stop in order to get ready for work on time, whichever comes last.  
I always pack a green or spinach salad with my lunch, along with some frozen vegetables to heat up in the microwave in the lunchroom.  
Friday night I watch my two favorite shows on TV, The Big Bang Theory and Elementary, online.  
Every other payday I order pizza to pick-up on the way home.  
Every Sunday I do laundry.  
People say that change is good, but I don't think they really mean it.  I think most people would like certain things to go on forever, if only because they don't like changing the habits they've gotten into.  
I learned that myself after I was promoted at work.  I found myself working longer hours.  I had to get in earlier on certain days, which mean skipping my writing sessions.  I had to work later into the evening, which meant skipping the gym.  
I used to be in the habit of going to the gym every day of the week except Friday.  I had a routine that lasted an hour.  One half hour on the weight machines followed by a half hour of cardio.  These days, I'm lucky if I get a half hour of cardio in every other day.  And even when I do have time for what was my normal routine I don't feel up to it.  My new routine has become my new habit.  The inertia has already set it.  
This week, I was listening to an interview on the radio.  It was of an Israeli soldier who was a member of a group of ex-soldiers called "Breaking the Silence."  These soldiers are of the shared opinion that the manner in which the Israeli government handles the occupied territories, including the manner in which the soldiers are taught to behave while dealing with the populace, is helping to perpetuate the cycle of violence.  The soldiers feel they have to project an aura of having power over the populace because these people hate them.  The projection of this aura causes the Palestinian populace to resent and hate the Israeli soldiers.  The wheel turns.  The situation becomes habitual.  
You really learn how important your habits are to you when you travel and stay in someone else's home for a few days.  Even if they are family, the longer you've lived on your own, the more difficult it is to feel normal anyplace but at home.  One of the first things I do when I go to visit my parents, as I am this week for Thanksgiving, is go to the store and get some of the things my habits tell me I need to have.  Bagged greens and spinach for salad.  Whole grain bread.  Nonfat yogurt.  One of the coolest moments this visit was when I saw, in the frozen foods section of the local Walmart, my favorite veggie burgers.  Here!  In Arkansas!  Where across the aisle they proudly serve a thousand different varieties of processed meat.  They had never had them before.  I bought a pack.  I will eat them all by the time I leave for home.  I will be that much more comfortable because of them, even if they don't have the low-fat mayonnaise I usually put on the bun.  
One of my favorite moments in writing a story is the scene where the hero's resolve is tested.  There's a story creation program that I've used called Dramatica Pro that refers to moment as whether or not the character will Change or Remain Steadfast.  I like to think of it as the moment when the character will Remain Faithful or Take a Leap of Faith.  
It's the moment when the character has to decide to keep the habits of the past, or set them aside to try things a new way.  
One of the easiest examples I can think of is from the original Star Wars movie.  It's the scene when Luke is flying down the armored canyon of the Death Star.  We all know the scene, right?  Darth Vader is right behind him.  He's trying to get a lock on the exhaust port.  He's planning on using the same skills he developed flying back on Tatooine, when he'd tag womp rats in his T-16.  Just then, he hears the voice of Obi-wan Kenobi.  
"Use the Force, Luke."  
Or, in other words...
"It's time to start a new habit of doing things, Luke."  
Luke has a choice of Remaining Faithful to the ways he has been taught, or to take a Leap of Faith and try it in a new and untried way.  
Moments like this in stories are more strongly linked to the theme of the story, rather than the actual objective.  If Luke ignores Ghost Obi-wan and uses his inherent skill to launch his proton torpedos into the exhaust port and destroy the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance will still win the battle, but may end up losing the war.  Think of the confrontations between Luke and Darth Vader in the subsequent movies if Luke ISN'T a True Believer in The Force.  
One of the things I've notice in my own stories after encountering this Leap of Faith/Remain Faithful moment was that I very often write about characters that have to take leaps of faith.  The old ways of doing things are not working.  It's time to try something different.  The irony in this is that, in my personal life, I tend to be a Keep the Faith type of person.  If I've been treated unfairly at work, I don't change my work habits.  I lower my head and keep doing my best.  I tell myself that how I work is not a reflection of how I get treated.  It comes from someplace else.  
Other people might get a new job.  I do my job just as well, even better, to show the world what I think of as the truth. 
Is this telling me something about myself as a writer?  As a person?  Does knowing this about myself mean I should do something about it?  
I don't have an answer to that yet.  There are times when you need to Keep the Faith, such as when I started waking up earlier each day in order to make sure I got my writing in after my promotion.  There are times when you have to try something different, such as coming up with a way to get my exercise schedule back to what it was before the promotion screwed it up.  
It all depends on the habits you want to keep. 


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