More of a Skirmish. Fray Rejoined.

[2-minute read]

Easy title, tough challenge. Here we go.

I’m back.

There are endless things to write about, and an infinite number of slimy ways to wriggle away from keyboard, from pen, from the front lines. (Yes, I’ve been meditating on courage, and how life’s demands so often exceed personal supply. I can’t want that.) Courage. My word.¹ When I think of writers I heart the best – and it’s KV² I come back to ever and anon – it’s sometimes ‘how did they do that?’ (technically, commitment-wise) but mostly it’s ‘how did they do  that?’. That is, what allows or compels an artist to be so bloody BRAVE, or reckless, or whatever it takes to tell the whole truth?

¹ Courage: Gord Downie‘s word. (And Hugh McLennan’s.) Go, Gordon.
² That’s Kurt Vonnegut. Hi ho.

I’ve re-read The War of Art. I’ve had a big birthday. I’ve said ‘no’ to a major time commitment to an activity I love well beyond reason and balance. I’m summoning resolve. I plan to act like a professional. I’m ready to write again and more and still and daily. The title speaks of my renewal of effort as “more of a skirmish”, in the wider lens of the social insignificance of whatever I do, and because I lean hard into self-deprecation and other forms of egocentrism. But it’s big news in my little corner; this is my Olympics. This is struggle. Here is my war – one of ‘em, anyway. That will mean Way More Words from the Howdy Home Office, and some of them will appear here.

Hurray for here!

And if you’re a subscriber, bully for you, and thanks for reading. (And if you’re just stumbling into this, there’s a whole lot of earlier stuff on sport and men, culture and books, faith and fandom, learning and remembering, edges and ledges and the odd bit of ecstasy.)

Writing and Doom

That day’s Sinking Feeling Epiphany:

Every day is September.

(Can I still do this?)

The day after Labour Day — in Canada, it’s the first Monday of September — always loomed anxiously. For most of my adult life, it meant being back in a high school classroom, the Return of the Creature. From about the last week of August, the Creature Dreams would begin their annual limited engagement. (It’s an auspicious day, great things to teach or coach, but I can’t find my classroom/the gym, materials are a bizarro mess, and wait didn’t I have clothes on before? and this place looks vaguely familiar but why’s the ceiling getting so low and holy-cow-my-feet-are-stuck-in-what.) Teaching and coaching were performance arts, and so there was performance anxiety, more than 20 years of it, but mainly confined to the first Tuesday morning of the school year. I always got an adrenalizing dose of can I still do this? but I was unfailingly reassured about five minutes into period one: yeah, ‘course you can. You’re built for this. I am Creature. Hear me creach!

Maybe I’m just tired and lonely in this writing thing. In June, we were not only packing, finishing our teaching jobs, and preparing to leave China and our Chinese friends after five years, but I’d accepted a writing deadline: June 30.¹

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Better Read Than Never: THE WAR OF ART

[As with most of my “BRTN” reviews, a more concise version of this review will be published in an ex-patriate’s magazine in my Chinese city, Focus on DalianI can buy a pizza with my fee.]

I finished my third reading of a favourite guide – or was that four? – not long ago, and realized that I haven’t written about The War of Art much. (There are many scribblings and fluorescent highlightings in the pages of Steven Pressfield’s brief 2002 masterpiece on the struggle to be creative, and I have a seminar in mind, but this is my first sustained post, I think.) This is a book to be read and re-read, and is sometimes uncomfortably insistent on cutting through the crap and requiring a response from its reader. I hope you won’t avoid it on THAT account!

Pressfield might be best known for his first novel, The Legend of Bagger Vance (and the Will Smith movie that was based on it), but his main niche is historical fiction.

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Meditations on Livelihood

“What is the supreme virtue for a warrior?” Leonidas, the King of Sparta, was asked.

“Contempt for death,” he replied.

(A writer asked himself the same question about his own artistic struggle. His answer, in the manner of Leonidas, was this: “Contempt for failure.” Is this not the heart of all noble work?)

In the Hindu scripture known as the Bhagavad Gita (Song of God), Lord Krishna speaks to a companion about his work.

“You have a right to your labour,” he says, “but not to the fruits of your labour.” Holy detachment! And how can one work actively and yet remain at peace?

Krishna sings:
Give the act to me.
Purged of hope and ego,
Fix your attention on the soul.
Act and do for me

(And I am reminded of what Bahá’u’lláh, also from the Divine point of view, wrote over 4000 years later: “Ye are the trees of My garden; ye must give forth goodly and wondrous fruits….It is incumbent on every one of you to engage in…arts, trades and the like. We have made this – your occupation – identical with the worship of God, the True One.” Work as worship. Spirit first, even on the assembly line.)