This week’s blog is a note on the elasticity and, unfortunate whorishness, of our emotional states.
Depending on what you choose to do with your life, if you do give yourself a goal and purpose, there are seminal texts you must read. If you’re a writer, you are expected to have read The Elements of Style. If you’re an economist, you are expected to have read The Wealth of Nations. But if you are someone who hopes to do anything at all, I make the claim that it is essential for you to read The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.
Pressfield describes in great detail the mechanisms by which we stop ourselves from achievement, and he lumps them into a single entity called Resistance. Feel like what you’re doing is pointless because it’s been done before? Feel like starting the work would be something better done tomorrow than today? Find yourself making excuses or easy-outs for actually putting your nose to the grindstone? These are Resistance.
And it is ubiquitous. Once you have learned what it is, you see it everywhere. Its presence is so enormous in our lives, that it is astounding how little we perceive it. But that too, is part of it. It disguises itself.
Anyway, this blog entry is not about The War of Art. What I am writing about here is our emotions.
Last week I sat down to do some writing. Some fiction writing. That, my friends, is a big deal for me. I quit writing under duress years ago and have been trying to get back to it for a long time. During that hiatus I read The War of Art, and let me tell you, I am loaded with Resistance. I think you are too–all of us in fact–but the point here is that I have a lot of stuff going on in my brain that stops me from doing the work of really writing.
To overcome that stuff by brute force can be daunting. Overcoming Resistance is a mindfuck. You have to work, you have to push, you have do what feels like hurting yourself. It’s the psychological equivalent of getting out of bed in the morning when you have had little sleep and want nothing more than to remain under the cozy covers. It is anathema. But necessary, if you are to do something with yourself and not sleep all day, or live a creatively absent life.
I sat down in front of a word processor and started to write a story, after years of “meaning to get to it”. Resistance flared up so deeply, I couldn’t help but marvel at its intensity.
Once I had stamped “bullshit” on every excuse and delay that came to mind, and declared in a clarion voice that I had no reason not to write, and actually marched to the place where I’d begin doing just that, Resistance clutched at its last resort: an all-out war of emotion.
There was no reason, no rhyme, no convenient truth and corollary excuse. I had set all that aside. So I was battered by unfocused, unattached emotion. The sense of being forced away from my work was stifling. I lost every single ounce of motivation. I wanted to put away the computer and never return to it. I was emotionally ready to quit writing for the rest of my life. There wasn’t even the vaguest flicker of desire to work.
The inspiration for the story was wiped away from me like rain off a windshield. I was dry, and so repulsed by the idea of writing that I even felt the blank screen like a physical assault on my senses. I’d have done anything–any other thing–to get away from it and do something else. Anything. Eat. Sleep. Chew on broken glass. Whatever.
But in my head I knew that I wanted to write, a purely academic thought. This is a trick I learned in therapy. I declared my desires before actually facing the prospect of making them into reality. And then clung to the statement when the desire left. I knew that I wanted to write but could not feel it yet. I knew that my mind was racing from the act, but that I had to wrangle it and force it to happen, or it simply never would.
So I did. I was as rusty as you could be, and lost. I could not feel the story at all; it was like speaking another language. But I put word after word, and kept going because I knew it was what I had to do.
After three hours I had a single page of copy. Exhausted and beaten, I quit and congratulated myself on winning the war of art for one day. After a couple days I returned to the text for a first revision, and found that though it was indeed rusty, I still managed to bring out the character of my narrative voice fairly well. I finished the story, and a revision of the finished draft is next on my list. Resistance has relaxed its deathgrip on my writing a bit, and is now busy helping me put off losing weight.
So I suppose I lied when I said that this entry was about emotional elasticity, as I’ve spent the length of it talking about the struggle to be creative. But the thing that got me there was the fact that my emotions, my honest, real feelings, aligned themselves with Resistance so completely and easily. Resistance was lying to me to stop me from working, and my emotional mind just hopped right onboard that train and took it all the way to the station.
Our emotional selves are curious things. Though this example was a particularly visible one to me, I also know that our feelings are constantly in this state of utter tractability. We are all emotionally fragile, and constantly at work to manage, conceal, and stifle the tumultuous output of our myriad profound emotions.
Well that’s it for the topic. I don’t have anything more to say about it, so here’s a picture of a cute puppy: