RESISTANCE AND BEING A STAR
Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work.
The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.
RESISTANCE AND ISOLATION
Sometimes we balk at embarking on an enterprise because we’re afraid of being alone. We feel comfortable with the tribe around us; it makes us nervous going off into the woods on our own.
Here’s the trick: We’re never alone. As soon as we step outside the campfire glow, our Muse lights on our shoulder like a butterfly. The act of courage calls forth infallibly that deeper part of ourselves that supports and sustains us.
Have you seen interviews with the young John Lennon or Bob Dylan, when the reporter tries to ask about their personal selves? The boys deflect these queries with withering sarcasm. Why? Because Lennon and Dylan know that the part of them that writes the songs is not “them,” not the personal self that is of such surpassing fascination to their boneheaded interrogators. Lennon and Dylan also know that the part of themselves that does the writing is too sacred, too precious, too fragile to be redacted into sound bites for the titillation of would-be idolators (who are themselves caught up in their own Resistance). So they put them on and blow them off.
It is a commonplace among artists and children at play that they’re not aware of time or solitude while they’re chasing their vision. The hours fly. The sculptress and the tree-climbing tyke both look up blinking when Mom calls, “Suppertime!”
RESISTANCE AND ISOLATION,
Friends sometimes ask, “Don’t you get lonely sitting by yourself all day?” At first it seemed odd to hear myself answer No. Then I realized that I was not alone; I was in the book; I was with the characters. I was with my Self.
Not only do I not feel alone with my characters; they are more vivid and interesting to me than the people in my real life. If you think about it, the case can’t be otherwise. In order for a book (or any project or enterprise) to hold our attention for the length of time it takes to unfold itself, it has to plug into some internal perplexity or passion that is of paramount importance to us. That problem becomes the theme of our work, even if we can’t at the start understand or articulate it. As the characters arise, each embodies infallibly an aspect of that dilemma, that perplexity. These characters might not be interesting to anyone else but they’re absolutely fascinating to us. They are us. Meaner, smarter, sexier versions of ourselves. It’s fun to be with them because they’re wrestling with the same issue that has its hooks into us. They’re our soul mates, our lovers, our best friends. Even the villains. Especially the villains.
Even in a book like this, which has no characters, I don’t feel alone because I’m imagining the reader, whom I conjure as an aspiring artist much like my own younger, less grizzled self, to whom I hope to impart a little starch and inspiration and prime, a little, with some hard-knocks wisdom and a few tricks of the trade.
RESISTANCE AND HEALING
Have you ever spent time in Santa Fe? There’s a subculture of “healing” there. The idea is that there’s something therapeutic in the atmosphere. A safe place to go and get yourself together. There are other places (Santa Barbara and Ojai, California, come to mind), usually populated by upper-middle-class people with more time and money than they know what to do with, in which a culture of healing also obtains. The concept in all these environments seems to be that one needs to complete his healing before he is ready to do his work.
This way of thinking (are you ahead of me?) is a form of Resistance.
What are we trying to heal, anyway? The athlete knows the day will never come when he wakes up pain-free. He has to play hurt.
Remember, the part of us that we imagine needs healing is not the part we create from; that part is far deeper and stronger. The part we create from can’t be touched by anything our parents did, or society did. That part is unsullied, uncorrupted; soundproof, waterproof, and bulletproof. In fact, the more troubles we’ve got, the better and richer that part becomes.
The part that needs healing is our personal life. Personal life has nothing to do with work. Besides, what better way of healing than to find our center of self-sovereignty? Isn’t that the whole point of healing?
I washed up in New York a couple of decades ago, making twenty bucks a night driving a cab and running away full- time from doing my work. One night, alone in my $110-a- month sublet, I hit bottom in terms of having diverted myself into so many phony channels so many times that I couldn’t rationalize it for one more evening. I dragged out my ancient Smith-Corona, dreading the experience as pointless, fruitless, meaningless, not to say the most painful exercise I could think of. For two hours I made myself sit there, torturing out some trash that I chucked immediately into the shitcan. That was enough. I put the machine away. I went back to the kitchen. In the sink sat ten days of dishes. For some reason I had enough excess energy that I decided to wash them. The warm water felt pretty good. The soap and sponge were doing their thing. A pile of clean plates began rising in the drying rack. To my amazement I realized I was whistling.
It hit me that I had turned a corner.
I was okay.
I would be okay from here on.
Do you understand? I hadn’t written anything good. It might be years before I would, if I ever did at all. That didn’t matter. What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against true healing. We all need it. But it has nothing to do with doing our work and it can be a colossal exercise in Resistance. Resistance loves “healing.” Resistance knows that the more psychic energy we expend dredging and re-dredging the tired, boring injustices of our personal lives, the less juice we have to do our work.
RESISTANCE AND SUPPORT
Have you ever been to a workshop? These boondoggles are colleges of Resistance. They ought to give out Ph.D.’s in Resistance. What better way of avoiding work than going to a workshop? But what I hate even worse is the word
Seeking support from friends and family is like
having your people gathered around at your deathbed. It’s nice, but when the ship sails, all they can do is stand on the dock waving goodbye.
Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work. In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.
My friend Carol had the following dream, at a time when her life felt like it was careening out of control:
She was a passenger on a bus. Bruce Springsteen was driving. Suddenly Springsteen pulled over, handed Carol the keys, and bolted. In the dream Carol was panicking. How could she drive this huge rolling Greyhound? By now all the
passengers were staring. Clearly no one else was gonna step forward and take charge. Carol took the wheel. To her amazement, she found she could handle it.
Later, analyzing the dream, she figured Bruce Springsteen was “The Boss.” The boss of her psyche. The bus was the vehicle of her life. The Boss was telling Carol it was time to take the wheel. More than that, the dream, by actually setting her down in the driver’s seat and letting her feel that she could control the vehicle on the road, was providing her with a simulator run, to prime her with the confidence that she could actually take command in her life.
A dream like that is real support. It’s a check you can cash when you sit down, alone, to do your work.
P.S. When your deeper Self delivers a dream like that, don’t talk about it. Don’t dilute its power. The dream is for you. It’s between you and your Muse. Shut up and use it.
The only exception is, you may share it with another comrade-in-arms, if sharing it will help or encourage that comrade in his or her own endeavors.
RESISTANCE AND RATIONALIZATION
Rationalization is Resistance’s right-hand man. Its job is to keep us from feeling the shame we would feel if we truly faced what cowards we are for not doing our work.
Don’t knock rationalization. Where would we be without it? I don’t know anyone who can get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They’re more important than sex.
Aw, come on! Nothing’s more important than sex.
Oh yeah? Have you ever gone a week without a rationalization?
—Jeff Goldblum and Tom Berenger,
in Lawrence Kasdan’s
The Big Chill
But rationalization has its own sidekick. It’s that part of our psyche that actually believes what rationalization tells us.
It’s one thing to lie to ourselves. It’s another thing to believe it.
Resistance is fear. But Resistance is too cunning to show itself naked in this form. Why? Because if Resistance lets us see clearly that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame at this. And shame may drive us to act in the face of fear.
Resistance doesn’t want us to do this. So it brings in Rationalization. Rationalization is Resistance’s spin doctor. It’s Resistance’s way of hiding the Big Stick behind its back. Instead of showing us our fear (which might shame us and impel us to do our work), Resistance presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for why we shouldn’t do our work.
What’s particularly insidious about the rationalizations that Resistance presents to us is that a lot of them are true. They’re legitimate. Our wife may really be in her eighth month of pregnancy; she may in truth need us at home. Our department may really be instituting a changeover that will eat up hours of our time. Indeed it may make sense to put off finishing our dissertation, at least till after the baby’s born.
What Resistance leaves out, of course, is that all
this means diddly. Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote
War and Peace
. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting.
RESISTANCE CAN BE BEATEN
If Resistance couldn’t be beaten, there would be no Fifth Symphony, no
Romeo and Juliet
, no Golden Gate Bridge. Defeating Resistance is like giving birth. It seems absolutely impossible until you remember that women have been pulling it off successfully, with support and without, for fifty million years.
It is one thing to study war
and another to live the warrior’s life.
—Telamon of Arcadia,
mercenary of the fifth century B.C.
PROFESSIONALS AND AMATEURS
Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.
The moment an artist turns pro is as epochal as the birth of his first child. With one stroke, everything changes. I can state absolutely that the term of my life can be divided into two parts: before turning pro, and after.
To be clear: When I say professional, I don’t mean doctors and lawyers, those of “the professions.” I mean the Professional as an ideal. The professional in contrast to the amateur. Consider the differences.
The amateur plays for fun. The professional plays for keeps.
To the amateur, the game is his avocation. To the pro it’s his vocation.
The amateur plays part-time, the professional full-time.
The amateur is a weekend warrior. The professional is there seven days a week.
comes from the Latin root meaning “to love.” The conventional interpretation is that the amateur pursues his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation.
The professional loves it so much he dedicates his life to it. He commits full-time.
That’s what I mean when I say turning pro.
Resistance hates it when we turn pro.
Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. “I write only when inspiration strikes,” he replied. “Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
That’s a pro.
In terms of Resistance, Maugham was saying, “I despise Resistance; I will not let it faze me; I will sit down and do my work.”
Maugham reckoned another, deeper truth: that by performing the mundane physical act of sitting down and starting to work, he set in motion a mysterious but infallible sequence of events that would produce inspiration, as surely as if the goddess had synchronized her watch with his.
He knew if he built it, she would come.