I just got through The War of Art by Steven Pressfield last week.
My library had it on CD, which meant that my laundry finally got folded.
Pressfield starts out by defining resistance by its action and power, tying it to our main difficulty in writing (okay, he actually is very careful to keep the talk about ART and whatever one’s contribution to the world is. But for me, that’s writing).
Problem #1: Getting Started
He has a whole series of specific examples of delays to beginning the work, but especially because of my experience with depression, and the upcoming launch of Wyn Magazine, I was intrigued by Pressfield’s comments about (and waiting for) healing as a tool of Resistance, to prevent the beginning of a Great Work.
According to Pressfield there are whole communities of people investing such effort and resources into getting well that they aren’t doing much else.
In his book he says some people feel they need to be healthy before they can do, or make their art.
I have felt this way in a vague sense, thinking that what I wanted to say would have more legitimacy or authority if I’d passed some point of competency, but the idea of doing nothing until that point is a straightjacket of terror.
Why ‘terror’? (That is a rather melodramatic word, but it’s the best I have just now.)
Because without my art I am locked in the long white corridors or darkened rooms of myself. There is no escape. And that is terrifying.
Writing is the walking.
One foot in front of the other to travel these endless hallways, and slow familiarity teaches what direction could be more useful, and I eventually see a door, and my momentum feeds itself until I slam into that crashbar and break into the open air.
I’ve had encounters with others, or their words, who feel that they cannot produce art without the brokenness inside them. Elyn Saks, in her Ted Talk quoted poet Rainer Maria Rilke who said, “Don’t chase my devils away, because my angels may flee too.”
I have wobbled on both sides of that line, and the perspective I find most-comforting is what Pressfield expresses in his book. He insists that healing is not a prerequisite, because the part that needs healing is completely separate from the part that is creating.
The experience of brokenness can make the creating part of you more useful, but somehow, in this one-way economy, that brokenness can only add depth to what already is.
I like this model, this container of words, because it suggests that the reasoning of second quote—about needing to keep the demons around—is misplaced.
What it makes me think of instead is a quote about taking responsibility– You need to claim the events of your life to make you your own. Florida Scott-Maxwell, a writer and psychologist said,
“When you truly possess all that you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.”
There is a school of thought that tries to undermine reality.
I’ve never really understood why—maybe because its proponents don’t like reality?
They proceed in the childish vein of gathering allies to prove their truth through force of numbers when they have no better argument.
When we own our reality—what we know because we have lived it—there is a fierceness. You see the person denying it is really calling you a liar, and there is feeling that your sacred honor is at stake.
It makes me think of this Walt Whitman poem that starts out,
I am the poet of reality. I say that earth is not an echo, nor man and apparition, but all things seen are real.
He goes on in the poem to point out it is the things we can see and touch that give witness to the realness of things we can’t—the intangibles: faith, hope, love. Things that add deep meaning to our lives.
If we cannot accept our tangible experience as real, how can we accept anything else?
And what if we’re wrong?
Well, what if we are wrong? It won’t be the last time, or the first. Plenty of people have made their mistakes on us, and that’s certainly not a reason to say things aren’t real– We have to live somehow, and maybe the best we can do is to learn from what really has happened.
Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life.
There is a commonality to our brokenness.
This isn’t to diminish it, or say it’s not worth mentioning, or healing—this is to say it is an experience that doesn’t need to be crippling or render you mute while you wait to overcome it.
I’ve always liked the image of journeyers along a winding road. I do not get the most help from people miles ahead of me. I get the most help from someone I know is just a bit in front.
They go around the bend, but I can still hear the shout of what to look out for, or a reassurance that it is safe. I gather more encouragement from that than from the guidebook written by the expert who passed that way 50 years ago.
The shape of the road may be the same, the map still valid, but the cartographer won’t know if there’s a mountain lion there today.
And that is why writing through the pain, “playing hurt” has such value: even though it’s about me, even though I’m figuring out me, somehow I’m making that map for the person coming just a stone’s throw after me. It’s my experience of the road, but I am not the only one to walk it.
If she can see me wounded, but still walking, that could show her it’s possible. Which will let her show the people watching her.