Resistence is fertile

I wanted to read this book when Angela Deutschman  wrote in a recent newsletter: “For a long time I’ve been wondering about a strange phenomenon that I regularly spot in myself and clients: that of being especially resistant to the very activity that will bring about our highest state of joy / purpose / service. And I’m not talking about just being mildly resistant but magnificently – impressively – able to concoct clever and justifiable reasons not to ever do it, or ever do it seriously anyway.  If this sounds like you, then I encourage you to read the two books that are turning this around for me: The War of Art and Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield. If you are getting tired of your own procrastination and excuses about why not to paint / write / start an NGO / create a new app / adopt a baby / start exercising then this will frame your resistance in a dramatic, though very useful, context.”

Mindful of my own quirks of resistance – endless procrastination is one – I ordered the War of Art immediately and when it arrived, collected it promptly. Knowing we were about to go away for a week’s holiday where all that would be required of me was to laze about, I planned to take it with me and was very much looking forward to reading it.  When it came time to pack however, the book was nowhere to be found. I searched everywhere. And I mean everywhere.   Eventually, after searching in all the obvious places,  I looked in the laundry basket, the rubbish bin and feeling incredibly irritated and foolish, even the fridge. In vain. I left without it in the end. Now if that isn’t a “magnificently impressive”  act of resistance, I don’t know what is. All week I secretly fretted over this book, knowing I had brought it into the house only for it to mysteriously vanish.

On returning home, I found it quite quickly. It was – predictably – in the linen cupboard. The memory of picking up the book at the same time as picking up some towels to put away en route came back to me with perfect clarity.  Once it was in my hands again, I read it in one sitting, lest I manage to lose it again.

Resistance, as Pressfield says so eloquently in highly readable short shots of distilled wisdom – is invisible, insidious, infallible and never sleeps. “Most of us” he writes  “have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance…You think Resistance isn’t real? Resistance will bury you. You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At 18, he took his inheritance and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever see one his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”

The truth of Pressfield’s insights hits you like a punch in the guts you didn’t see coming – it hurts and you aren’t able to dodge it. But it only hurts because you’ve let yourself go soft in the middle, molly-coddling yourself by not facing a far greater pain – that of not showing up in your own life.  It is exactly as Pressfield points out;  of the 11 potential activities he lists which elicit greatest resistance one of them is  “any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.”

Perhaps most liberating was how the book got me to see things differently.   I’ve always seen Self-Doubt as an enemy, that nagging herald of self-sabotage who sidles in at your lowest point softly jeering “Are you really an artist? Do you really think you can pull off this new business venture?”   Instead, Pressfield reframes Self-doubt completely, calling it an ally.  Self-doubt, he says “ can serve as an indicator of aspiration.  It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

I’ve found my own resistance is strongest when it comes to doing anything compelled by the heart.  I know immediately when my heart is at work because it is then my mind steps in with its most powerful weapon: Irrefutable Logic. Logic as an opponent to the way of the heart is so cunning because you’re duped into trying to outwit it using the laws of its own language. But you can’t argue for the heart with language of the mind.  There is only one way out; through “senseless and true action”.  Logic has no power here.  So I sit here strumming my guitar working on a song even though logic tells me in step-by-step detail the pointlessness of my efforts. I allow love to find its way through, in circumstances that logic tells me are beyond redemption. I let go the thing that logic says is the best I’ll ever have and ask for more.

Pressfield is funny, pithy and annoyingly impervious to any rationalised exceptions you might try to apply to your own situation.  Rationalisation being of course, Resistance’s “right hand man and spin doctor”. Resistance is always coming up with new and ingenious ways to block your creative path, it’s abundantly fertile in its ability to change the scenery  daily so you’re always having to master a new landscape.  But it’s also at the point of greatest uncertainty that creativity thrives – out of the unknown comes something new.

I thought I was well on my way to digging myself out from under Resistance through my own efforts;  but this book reminds me I need help and have been receiving it all along in so many different ways.  We all need regular bursts of encouragement especially in our macho culture of being oh so swiss-army-knife self-sufficient.  The War of Art  has the warm bracing presence of someone offering you a steady hand whilst at the same time handing you the shovel to do the work for yourself.  In other words, a true friend.

That Justin Bieber Moment

WARNING: If you’re a Justin Bieber fan this may not be what you’re looking for. 

My daughter told me this: “Mum, Justin Bieber walked onto stage and the audience went mad. They clapped, screamed jumped up and down and just loved him for a whole 5 minutes. He just stood there…. and then he moved his hand to his heart and the crowd went completely wild.”

I thought about this man standing there absorbing these waves of love and adoration coming his way from thousands of people. What it must feel like to get such a huge response from so many at once. The instant gratification of it.  Of course I have no way of ever knowing what he really feels, but I figured it must be very strange, overwhelming, wonderful, surely humbling. And not at all easy.

Which pretty much sums up how I felt when I got freshly pressed. For one thing, I’ve been blogging for exactly 6 weeks. I’m brand new at this and I’m still working my way around the technology. I had just 10 followers, 7 of whom were good friends. My very first one was before I had even written a thing – to feel that person’s belief in me was a powerful and heartwarming thing and still is.

Then I have to confess that when I received the very nice email telling me about being freshly pressed, I had to google it. I didn’t even know what that meant. Now I do.

It felt like I’d gotten up out of bed, stumbled out of the bedroom still befuddled with sleep and walked right onto a stage into the glare of very bright lights with a whole bunch of people cheering me as I appeared. I wasn’t dressed for this.  My inbox bulged with likes, comments and follows. I hardly knew what to do with it all. But that’s life, hey.  It comes to get you ready or not.

Which brings me to you.

I’ve been blown away by your sheer generosity of spirit. For taking the time to read and comment. For the feelings and thoughts you have shared even though we don’t know each other.   For your acknowledgement, congratulations and your recognition.  What moves me  is the growing web of inter-connectedness between kindred souls. I have absolutely no idea where this blog is going, but it feels good to have you alongside on the journey. When you consider there are over 68 million wordpress sites out there, with over 361 million people viewing 48,5 million new posts a month, it’s a wonder we connected. Then again, it’s not surprising that we did.

So this has been an interesting moment for me. But I’m also mindful that it was only a moment, and it has passed. As one lovely new connection put it, one can be in this blogging world in a way that’s not always possible IRL (In Real Life). And it works the other way round too.   As I was busy being completely absorbed in responding to comments and reading other blogs, nothing could have illustrated that point more succinctly than these words:

“Mum, what’s for dinner?”

It’s way late, I haven’t prepared a thing and oh my god but it’s hard to live in two worlds.

Dark Summoning Beast vs Malevolent Nuzzler

The Battle You Won’t Win

 Yu-gi-oh! is a trading card game based on a Japanese TV series in which two players duel with each other according to a hugely complex set of elaborate rules. Children also swap cards or do  brisk business after school selling and buying individual cards.

When my son was 11, he fell in love with Yugioh. After school, I’d find him in a group with other small boys huddled over a table like eager gamblers, shuffling cards and muttering furtively about the right leg and arm of Exodia The Forbidden One.  Words like Ritual Monsters, Graveyards, Tribute Dolls and Trap cards were also part of this new schoolboy vocabulary: it all had a rather sinister ring to it.  Glancing at the cards, I saw the surface flash of glamour but didn’t find any of it appealing.  Grotesque and gothic, the images seemed unholy fusions of myth, machinery and monstrosities with a good bit of the occult thrown in.  What else to make of cards called Premature Burial ,  Dark Magician of Chaos,  Call of the Haunted and Tribe-infecting Virus?   And when you discover that the whole point of the game is to annihilate each other’s “life points” it seems obvious. These kids are trucking with the devil, right?

In my efforts to slow down my son’s ardour, I would casually dismiss Yugioh as a phase he would grow out of. I took to calling it  Yuckioh and Uglioh  – which only made Yugioh’s voodoo more potent.  Months passed. My son’s persistent devotion did not. He chipped away at me until my resistance caved in to that oldest and most mundane of ploys: the torture of relentless repetition.

I gave in; but not without a last token attempt to retrieve my credibility as a parental force to be reckoned with. There would be one condition.  And then I found myself in Wizards Book store, spending a whole heap of money (with a goodly contribution from my son’s carefully saved pocket money) on a Dragon Structure Pack.  Did I say a heap of money?  Make that two heaps.  The girl-child was with us and quite reasonably expected to get something out of this spree too.

Her choice was a magical crystal-encrusted fairy book all written in difficult-to-read old fashioned handwriting in brown ink. Full of mystery and sparkly bits, it was a treasure trove of tiny folded letters, secret pockets, teeny envelopes, one even containing a substance called  Invisible Fairy Lust.  I choked inwardly as an unexpected vision of uncensored Fairy Lust on the wing appeared without warning in my head. Good Grief! Is nothing sacred anymore?  On closer inspection it resolved itself into Invisible Fairy Dust (hence my fractious whinge about the handwriting). But by now you will have gotten the point. These entertaining toys for children nowadays are complex, elaborate beyond belief, expensive.

Sure, there were crazes when I was at school. We had yo-yo’s. Dingbats. Knockers.  But they went up and down, to and fro, backwards and forwards and made satisfyingly disruptive loud  noises that annoyed adults. You got the hang of it after trying it out once or twice. It was obvious. They did not turn your brain inside out trying to understand them.

You see, the condition I made was a foolish promise. I  would buy my son Yugioh cards on condition that I would figure out how this game works and play it with him because on the face of it, the whole thing was incomprehensible to me.  I wanted to understand what my boy was going to be spending his energy and attention on. I was totally confident that once I had a pack of cards and rule-book in my hands, my superior intellect and years of problem-solving abilities honed in corporate management would be sufficient to work it all out. Little – how easily we are tripped up by our own ignorant vanity  – did I know.

Googling Yugioh sites for help that night, I came across smug pronouncements like “Even if you are a rocket scientist or brain surgeon, you will still need the help of a 10 year old to explain the rules to you.” Hah! No kidding, people!  As another exasperated parent vented; the rules are designed to be totally impenetrable to grown-ups. Adult-proof.

Which is why I’m now asking you for help. So please – tell me what this means:

When this card is successfully Normal Summoned, Flip Summoned or Special Summoned, put one spell counter on a face-up card on the field that you can put a spell counter on. If this card is destroyed in battle, you can select 1 level 2 or lower spellcaster-type monster from your deck and special summon it to the field in face-down defense position.

Got it? Right.

You see.

And don’t even get me started on the addictively acquisitive nature of these games. This was a big deal for my son. He was truly thrilled and thankful to get these cards after lobbying for them for so long. This did not, however prevent him from settling down to examine his treasures once home and immediately announcing with urgent disappointment: “Ah no, mum, I’m missing a Mutant Mindmaster and a Polymerization card!”

Hellloooo? Gratitude? This was beyond built-in obsolescence. This was built-in dissatisfaction and a perpetual craving for more.

In the car afterwards driving home from this momentous purchase, my daughter caught my eye from the back in the rear view mirror.  She was looking at me sceptically. “You know mommy, you don’t actually look like a person who suits buying Yugioh cards for her child.”

Well there’s her first lesson in how appearances can be deceptive. I mean, could she ever be more wrong?

And what have I started?


song: the way to lindisfarne

Uncertain of the future we make our way to Lindisfarne
Where the sea conceals the road and the way becomes a mystery
pilgrims on a journey we have come to find our history
in our dereliction, in the ruins of all our wrongs
paying homage to our losses, the reason we have come

Will you meet me on the island, the island Lindisfarne
You will find me in the ruins where the arches frame the sky
laying bare the naked skeleton  of what could not survive
It’s there among the fallen, we‘ll undress what we’ve become
retrieving all we should’ve saved, and all we left undone

If you meet me on the island, the island Lindisfarne
We could start at the beginning as if we still had time
as if we could recover what was never yours or mine
You’ll undo all your longing and I’ll empty myself of you
Then we’ll return to lives unshadowed by the love we chose to lose

And once we’ve left the island, when we’re far from Lindisfarne
we’ll pretend this was a dream and that we always knew
you’ll never have me in this lifetime and I must burn each thought of you
it’s just the last thing I remember, where the sea draws over stone
There were still two travellers waiting for the sea to free the road

They are the ghosts of our surrender to another history
and they will take the road not taken, the road we couldn’t see.

acknowledgements:  Robert Frost & dear friends MG and CG who took me there