The Art of War
“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.
I’ve been trying, since the beginning of the year and the slow return from the holiday malaise, to stay off the grid. For too long I’ve been focused on marketing and promotion and the rallying of troops for The Cause of making a difference in the arts and culture community. I’ve written blogs and commented on blogs and entreated loyal readers to tell their friends about my book and approached newspapers from here to NYC to post reviews about my book. I’ve started a writers collective with a bunch of other great writers and tried to cultivate a community of writers and readers working together to change things from the ground up. In short, I’ve been completely neglecting what really matters when one is a writer: the actual writing. Whenever this has become in an issue in the past, I’ve always reverted back to the tried and true, which has always had its nascence (for me anyway) with the inspiring book THE WAR OF ART by Steven Pressfield (author of the novel THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE).
Without turning this into a school lesson (I like to think of it as more of an inspirational diatribe), I’ll try to sum up the gist of Pressfield’s argument by quoting a few passages directly from his book. The main theme is that any creative endeavor we embark upon is immediately beset by what he terms “Resistance” [his capitalization]. Resistance, according to Pressfield, is anything that stands in the way of us achieving our goals, dreams and deepest desires. Most commonly, Resistance does not originate from an outside force, but rather from forces inside each and every one of us. “Resistance is the enemy within.”
What does Resistance hate most? “Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance. The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” But it goes deeper than that. Resistance is much more far-reaching in its insidiousness. And it directly relates to what I’ve been screaming at you guys for the past five months now.
We are surrounded by noise at all times, so caught up in our culture that we have lost sight of what truly matters, not only in our personal lives but in our creative inner lives as well. This loss of perspective is so ingrained in us and our culture that we don’t even recognize it. Pressfield again:
As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution, a private insurrection inside our own skulls. In this uprising we free ourselves from the tyranny of consumer culture. We overthrow the programming of advertising, movies, video games, magazines, TV, and MTV by which we have been hypnotized from the cradle. We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.
So what I have I come away with this last go-round with my well-worn, egregiously underlined copy of THE WAR OF ART?
Thankfulness: “Be happy. You’re where you wanted to be, aren’t you? So you’re taking a few blows. That’s the price for being in the arena and not on the sidelines. Stop complaining and be grateful…it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be in the stands or out in the parking lot.”
Perseverance: “The professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out after each individual work.”
Bravery: “[The professional] doesn’t wait for inspiration, he acts in the anticipation of its apparition”¦he knows that once he gets out into the action, his fear will recede and he’ll be okay.”
Madness (quoting Socrates): “If a man comes to the door of poetry untouched by the madness of the Muses, believing that technique alone will make him a good poet, he and his sane compositions never reach perfection, but are utterly eclipsed by the performances of the inspired madman.”
Resolve: “The felony that calls down soul-destruction: the employment of the sacred for profane means. Prostitution. Selling out.”
Comfort: “Angel midwives congregate around us; they assist as we give birth to ourselves, to that person we were born to be, to the one whose destiny was encoded in our soul, our daimon, our genius. Are these angels? Are they muses? Is this the Unconscious? The Self? Whatever it is, it’s smarter than we are. A lot smarter. It doesn’t need us to tell it what to do. It goes to work all by itself. It seems to want to work. It seems to enjoy it. This is why artists are modest. They know they’re not doing the work; they’re just taking dictation.”
For all of us, this is a battle, every day. Every one of us who has ever picked up a pen or a paintbrush or tried to start a business or thought about taking a leap of faith in favor of finally finding that perfect job knows what I’m talking about. To do something extraordinary is the Hard Road. But we have each other along the way. Remember, before Hitler became the most infamous in a long century of insane tyrants, he wanted to be a painter. As Pressfield points out, “It was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.” If this doesn’t speak to the importance of our camaraderie and brotherhood, our strength in numbers, then nothing will.
We must be willing to face down these fears, these demons, these distractions that keep us from the work at hand if we are ever going to live up to our true potential. We have to be fucking militant about this shit.
“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt and humiliation. The artist must be like a Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.”
More next time.
Frank Daniels is the author of the acclaimed novel FUTUREPROOF. He can usually be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Myspace at www.myspace.com/nfrankdaniels. But probably not any time soon as he’s working on his next book and ignoring (for the most part) any and all distractions (not that anyone trying to contact him is a distraction, but it’s just”¦he has to get some shit done for now or he’s going to go off the deep end).