Monday, October 26, 2009

Question of the Week: Who is YOUR worst enemy?

A wise possum once said, "We have met the enemy and he is us." (Pogo, by Walt Kelly, 1970)

What do doors have to do with enemies? Do they protect? They can be locked, they can be propped open, they can swing back and forth with no recoil. Are they barriers? Often. From what? Ourselves.

I'm talking again about the metaphorical door. In this case, the gateway or barrier to your dreams, to my dreams. Some may recall this post from October 16, where I copied a Facebook exchange opening with this question:

Carolyn Burns Bass

Carolyn Burns Bass Now that I have a door on my studio, dare I close it?
October 13 at 10:39am

Here’s what one friend replied:

Sharon Kae Reamer
Sharon Kae Reamer
Are you asking for permission? The answer is YES.

This is what my sister replied:

Robin Richardson
Robin Richardson
I double-dog-dare YOU!!!

My door is closed as I write this post. With a busy day ahead, I knew I needed the solitude from my DH in order to accomplish my goals. Before I closed the door, I let him know he was loved, that he could interrupt if necessary, and that he’d see me again today. (One of his fears is that I will disappear behind the closed door.)

A cup of coffee sits next to my computer, my dogs are curled in their places (Tank, always near my feet; Buck curled on the sofa). The window blinds are open, giving me a peek at the street outside. We had Santa Ana winds yesterday and the lawn is scattered with the debris from other people’s lives.

The debris of other people’s lives. Even as I typed that line, I realized this is what we writers crave. It’s the stuff of story. Sometimes fictionists base their tales on the debris of real people’s lives, but most of the time we draw from our imagination. Something we see takes root in our mind, it takes root and grows, and if tended, flourishes on a written page.

My mind is an unkempt garden of untended stories. That’s the truth. Story ideas have blown into my mind, rooted and dried up for lack of care. Left behind is a wretched tangle of aging stumps and shrubs choked by brittle vines. I let this happen by neglect.

Neglect happens in a writer’s life when they allow things to get in the way of their success. Every writer dreams of being published, of having his/her stories read and appreciated by the public. Success seems so far off—a place outside the door that they can glimpse out the window. Success, I’ve learned, isn’t an ultimate goal, but a process in achieving a dream. A dream must be broken down into goals. Achievable, realistic goals. For the beginning writer, or like me, the jaded writer, success is finishing something you’ve started.

In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield talks about the enemy of creativity. He calls it Resistance with a capital R. Resistance is a shapeshifter. It morphs into that thing that is most likely to detour your journey. Some of the most pernicious shapes of Resistance I’ve encountered include the following:

FAMILY. I allowed my children’s lives to distract me from finishing many writing ideas that rooted in my mind. I was a doting mom, but not a smothering one. I read to my kids, wrote stories about them in scrapbooks, went to concerts and sporting events, piano lessons, orthodontist appointments, all things I used to keep me from making a ritual for my own self-improvement through creative expression.

INSPIRATION may be the most fickle of the Resistances. Writing happens by sitting down and doing it, not by waiting for some metaphysical feeling to overwhelm and channel golden words through your fingers. I’ve experienced the discovery, the thrill, the passion that occurs when I’m in a productive writing zone and for years I thought it came before I sat down to write, as if the feeling of the zone was inspiration itself. Many wasted years later I realized the feeling of the zone comes from doing it. It’s like a surfer waiting for the sensation of the ride to happen while they sit on the sand watching the waves.

MONEY. Lack of it or excess of it. Lack of it often forces one into professions that suck out the creativity, while excess of it can numb the imagination. I’ve been hungry enough to hustle words for pay, but not so hungry that I’ve tended the most nutritious ideas that rooted in my brain. One of my friends has three autistic daughters and still manages to write an impressive blog and website for Autism, in addition to a memoir and a novel. (Kudos to Kim Stagliano.)

ROOM. Not having a place to write is another shape of Resistance. Virginia Woolf in her essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” claimed it took a room of one’s own (and money) to write fiction seriously. I had a room, but no door on my room, thereby giving me another excuse for Resistance to defeat me. See this post from October 15.

WORK. Professions other than fulltime writer are another face of Resistance. When one is busy making bread for the family, it’s hard to tend the garden of creativity. Although my DH provides well for our family, my workaholic nature has drawn me into a business that is enjoyable enough that I’m not pining to quit, yet demanding enough time that I can’t devote myself to fulltime writing.

The list goes on. Sharon’s response to my query about closing my door pushed a button that revealed the Generalissimo of Resistance in my life: Permission. All of the excuses named above are minor troops in the war against my art. I can give my excuses names, like those listed above, but it all boils down to this: I am my own worst enemy. The writers I know who have been published, who continue to be published, don’t let the above list of enemies trample through their creative garden. Like Pressfield says in The War of Art, the professional sits down to write. Every day. It’s a ritual. It’s a practice. It’s becomes a way of life.

Reflecting back on the words of Pogo the wise, I’ve met the enemy, and she is me. I could go on about reasons why I don’t give myself permission to succeed. I have enough self-sludge to fill a tanker. I took Robin’s dare; gave myself permission to close the door. I wrote this. Now I’m moving on to another writing project near to the center of my purpose. More about that another time.

Who is YOUR worst enemy?


Anonymous said...

Great piece! Interesting prespective.
I was however left with one question since we were not introduced to the verbage of the "DH" prior to the DH being used. What is a DH?
Being that I used to work for a professional baseball team, a DH is interpreted as something most women would not want to have, a Designated Hitter! Knowing your "Husby" is better than that, I have to assume it is Doting Husband. Then too, you know what they say about assuming...
Or could it be, Dave Hunk or Damn Handsome, Dear Hombre or... What?! Please lighten my loaded little pea brain and spill the beans, so to speak. Thanks.

Carolyn Burns Bass said...

Dear Anonymous~ Your comment left me in stitches. Designated Hitter, indeed. That's not the hip, textspeak I was using, however. DH is Darling Husband, aka Dear Husband. I think he resembles the term Damn Handsome and he'd definitely come if called "Dave Hunk."

Elizabeth Letts said...

Great post Carolyn. I finally decided that both my living room sofa and Grand Central Station were not naturally conducive to writing.

I got doors with locks. We'll see how it goes.