I started re-reading Steven Pressfield’s War Of Art on a whim, after cycling through a bunch of other reads– Guns Germs and Steel, Mental Floss’s History of the World, Gary Taube’s Why We Get Fat, and a few attempts at fiction and autobiographies that strangely just weren’t doing it for me. And then I got back to the War of Art and thinking about The Resistance. I find it to be an incredibly rich and powerful idea. It’s almost a little bit too seductive, too convenient– it makes the claim that practically all of the ills and frustrations and anxieties of modern life can be boiled down to the fact that we’re probably avoiding the work that we know deep down we really want to do.
For me, a huge part of that is these word vomits. I want to finish this project and then I want to move on to doing other projects, and I can’t even in good conscience disrupt this project in order to move on to others first because I had made a very simple promise to myself that I really have to keep. That is, that I simply have to sit down and get this thing done, and then I’ll be a new man afterwards, a different person. I’d have done the penance for my sins. It’s oversimplistic, but it’s a placebo that I think is really going to work for me. Of course, decades from now I’ll probably look back and think that that was rather silly, but that will be with the benefit of hindsight. I have felt this hindsight already in action on several occasions– it’s easy to say certain things once you’ve already survived the event. Teenage angst and frustration and lovesickness and world-weariness and naive idealism are all very real things. They’re easy to laugh about when you’re an adult, but that doesn’t change the fact that they were significant at the time you were going through them. Babies cry because the minor discomforts they experience are legitimately the worst thing that’s ever happened to them in their entire lives, after a nice comfortable stay in Hotel Womb.
One of the ideas that stuck out for me on my latest re-read was the idea that the Resistance is so reliable and consistent as a force of nature that we can actually navigate by it. That is, it will always try to stop us from doing the thing that we most want or need to do. So if we’re not sure what to do in any given instance, simply examine the landscape and see what we feel least comfortable doing right now, despite us recognizing that it needs doing. And then do that. I have been a little lackadaisical with my vomits lately, compared to the month of July when I was doing one almost every single day. I was feeling pretty alright with the break, because it legitimately felt like I needed the break. But over the past few days I’ve started to feel that sort of edgy irritibility creeping back into my body, and that’s a sign that I need to start writing again. So here I am, writing. Fighting the Resistance. And these are the little fights, these are the simpler fights. The bigger resistance in this case is actually the work that I need to do for… work. That I am always constantly afraid of, at least slightly. Constantly a little uncomfortable. Or maybe a little bored. But you see, that’s the whole point. That’s how Resistance works, that’s how it conspires to keep you exactly where you are.
Another thing that resonated with me on my re-read was just a meditation on self-government. He who will not govern himself will be governed. And I find myself thinking, what’s the present state of my self-governance? I’m more in charge of myself now than I was a year or two years ago, but I still allow myself to be controlled by my circumstances. I still depend on my environment and my peers to determine my behavior.
Why? Fear of responsibility. Fear of being absolutely, truly in charge of my own destiny. Loads of people say they want it, but a large percentage of them say it because they want to say that they want it. It’s identity performance. Actual self-determination is utterly terrifying. It’s you facing up against the abyss, you being entirely responsible for your own validation, for everything that happens. Every bit of misery, every bit of pain, every bit of frustration, it’s all on you. That’s hard to swallow for a lot of people, and it’s definitely been hard to swallow for me. So it’s tempting to play the victim. And it’s not so bad if you play the victim on social media or in conversations with friends so that people pat your back and go there, there– but again, that’s just people doing what they’re wired to do. To make you feel better. Not to actually fix situations. Heaven knows they’re struggling enough with trying to fix their owns, or live with it. No, no, no, no, no. The only way out is to take responsibility.
And it’s painful and scary but it’s the only way. Once you’ve seen it you can’t unsee it. I can’t spend my life as Benjamin, the tired old donkey who witnessed the world around him going to hell and chose to just quietly, passively sit aside and say that it’s not his problem, until he ultimately lost his closest friend to the boilers. I mean… I’m overdramatizing, as I often do, but the point is. The Resistance is real. The Resistance destroys lives. Lots of people accept that as a part of life. Death is a part of life, but Resistance doesn’t have to be, if we choose to fight it.
Going back to fear… how do you get over fear? You never quite do. You just put yourself in the scary situation. You face it head on and decide that fuck it, living in fear is worse than confronting it. And in the moment of confrontation you find that it wasn’t nearly as bad as you thought it was. And this is a hell of a trip, the few times in my life that I have actually done it. It’s exhilarating. It’s adrenaline without the life-risking. Just doing things that you’ve never done before, putting yourself in situations that you’ve never put yourself before. Facing up against the Resistance.
Get back up.