The War of Art

Today I finally read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which had been recommended to me what seems like a long time ago. It showed up at the library last week, and I read through it today. It is not a long book, but I have a feeling that it may be an important one.

Towards the end, Pressfield asks the question, if you were the last person on earth, would you still write/paint/draw/play roller derby/create? If the answer is yes, then you are already doing this thing for yourself—you’ve claimed it for your own, and aren’t engaging in it for some external gratification. Basically, does this thing that you do sustain you?

I dig questions like this. It’s tougher than the usual question I ask: “what would you still do if you won the lottery?” It’s much tougher. I can’t think of a lonelier, more despairing scenario

than being the last person on earth. What would I do in the worse possible scenario I can imagine? Would I still write? Would I still skate?

Skating is an easier question to answer. Yes, in the event that I am the last person left alive on earth, the aliens will find me skating along the remains of the boardwalk next to the Pacific Ocean. I skate for many reasons: my team and my ego being two major factors, but even above my team and my competitiveness, I skate for me. I skate for the pleasure of it, and I’ll work for it because skating gives me back what I pour into it.

Writing is a more fraught question. Yes is the answer that comes slowly to me. Yes, because I would not know what else to do. Yes, because I would still have something to say even if I was the only one left to hear it.

The question now becomes, how do I live like I am the last person left on earth, so that I can write without thinking about making it on Oprah? That is a larger question than I can answer, a question so large that Pressfield doesn’t really address it. Just do it, seems to be his answer. I suppose it is a matter of practice and humility. I can manage the first, and cultivate the second.

Not that I have to justify what I write on my own blog, but I think that what Pressfield writes can be applied financially as well. What he calls Resistance I’ve thought of before as inertia: it is easier and less painful to give in to the urge to drive, to buy, to stay at a shitty job for the paycheck (or to consider taking a job for the paycheck alone) than it is to face the challenge of financial responsibility. I’ve been bad company the past few days because I’m bummed about the way this month looks on the spreadsheet that I made up.  Losing doesn’t mean you stop fighting. Would I stop playing my heart out on the track just because I knew we were going to lose the game? No. So should I give up on my financial aspirations because this month isn’t going to look as pretty on the spreadsheet (again, that I made up) as it did last month? No. As with art, as with derby, we keep chugging along in spite of or even perhaps because of failure.

2 comments

  1. I think resistance is also the voice that says you’re not good enough, or it will cost too much, or what will others think. I too like the question of whether you would do what you’re doing if you were the last person on earth, but I am not sure what my answer would be in certain areas.

    1. You’ve mentioned admiring a book, I think it’s Your Money or Your Life, but finding it difficult to put into practice. If it is difficult for you, it’s difficult for other people. And the methods and ideas you find will give the next person a leg up on digesting this material. Even your mess-ups will help the next person, not that any of us want to screw up for altruistic motives. In other fields they call it scientific exploration. Keep the charts going and I hope you will continue to share your insights.

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