Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Weekly Inspiration: The War of Art

A small white book has been making the rounds lately, starting with Dave, who passed it on to Sarah, who last week passed it on to yours truly.  The book is called The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, and it was written in 2002 by Steven Pressfield, who is known for his historical fiction and for writing The Legend of Bagger Vance.

To be honest, I didn't really want to read the book.  Sarah had been pestering me with quotes about "resistance" and how the fact that I didn't feel like working on my new novel meant it was probably the thing I most needed to be doing.  Personally, I didn't really feel like I had any issues with resistance.  I'm not a procrastinator; I'm disciplined; I write despite the fact that I have been thus far woefully unsuccessful.  Not reading the book, however, would have fed right into the resistance theory, and so I decided to give it a shot while riding the metro home from the movies last week.

The War of Art is broken up into three parts:
Book One: Resistance; Defining the Enemy
Book Two: Combating Resistance; Turning Pro
Book Three: Beyond Resistance; Higher Realm

While I still maintain that I'm not a total slave to resistance, I did enjoy the book (and it's a quick read - I got the book on a Thursday night and finished it Friday).  There were a few parts that really resonated with me, particularly Pressfield's analogy of the artist and the Marine under the heading "How to Be Miserable."
Pressfield writes:
Marines love to be miserable.  Marines derive a perverse satisfaction in having colder chow, crappier equipment, and higher casualty rates than any outfit of dogfaces, swab jockeys, or flyboys, all of whom they despise.  Why?  Because these candy-asses don't know how to be miserable.
The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not.  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 that 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.

I love that, partly because it reminds me of John (I asked him early on in our relationship why he'd joined the Marine Corps to become a fighter pilot instead of the Air Force or the Navy.  "Because," he answered, "the Marine Corps is more challenging."  That should have clued me in to John's love of misery right away.  Is it really surprising that he enjoys running 100 mile races?) and partly because it reminds me of me.
In my family, it seems like none of us take the easy route.  After I sent my manuscript to the author who tried to help me with my last book, and she passed it on personally to her agent, I really thought I had it made.  When the agent rejected it, I immediately started in on one of my (many) pity parties.  John, who tries to be sympathetic but really just plain sucks at it, said, "You knew this was never going to be easy."
"Why the heck not?!" I shouted.  "Why couldn't this be easy?  Why couldn't it have just worked out?"
John probably answered with something to the effect of: "Because things just don't happen that way for us."
At which point I probably told him where he could stick it and left the room in tears.  But the truth is, the misery is really part of the process.  If Sarah had just strode into Nat Geo wearing a name tag that said "That's DOCTOR Sarah to you" and immediately become an associate producer, I doubt she would appreciate where she's at now nearly as much as she does.  If John could just hop on a trail and run 100 miles without months and months of training, I doubt crossing the finish line would be nearly as thrilling.  And some day (I tell myself repeatedly, generally to no avail) I'll look back at all this and be grateful for the struggle.
As Pressfield says:
The professional endures adversity.  He lets the birdshit splash down on his slicker, remembering that it comes clean with a heavy-duty hosing.  He himself, his creative center, cannot be buried, even beneath a mountain of guano.  His core is bulletproof.  Nothing can touch it unless he lets it...The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut and not on the hole.  He reminds himself it's better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.

And on that note, it's time to drag myself back into the arena for another pummeling.  Just as soon as I work out and eat lunch.  And maybe do a little laundry and light dusting.  Isn't the second-to-last-ever episode of Oprah on today?
Resistance?  What resistance?


Shauna said...

Great post Mara. So true, no pain, no gain. Makes sense, the victory will be sweeter in the end knowing you survived the struggle.

Sarah said...

Good post, babe! I'm proud of you for reading a book that borderlines on "self-help." And even more proud that you got something useful out of it :) Right now I am resisting the urge to get back in bed - it's 6AM in Mongolia...Love you!!