Book blurb: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

I would like "Book Blurbs" to be a monthly feature here. I'm calling them 'Blurbs' instead of 'Reviews' because - well, I'm not a critic. I'm a reader so these blurbs will be more about my personal experience of the book than they will be about my critical view of the book.

I just had a flash of a cartoon image: imagine a gaggle of critics armed with pitchforks and shovels chasing an artist down the street shouting, "Wait! We hate you! Pay attention to us!"  

That's not what this is about.

On-wards to The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. Truth? I bought this book long before I found the guts to read it. I actually dreaded reading it. Why? I was afraid of it. The day I finally decided to read the book, before I cracked the spine, I wrote this in my journal:

"I've resisted reading The War of Art for years because I've been afraid of being unmasked. Afraid it will make me cry and feel awful about myself. That I'll be sad - that I'll have this big finger pointed at me saying, 'You suck! You'll never be who you want to be.'"

Yeah. I go there. The irony is - that voice saying, "You suck." is the voice Steven Pressfield calls Resistance. It's that voice living inside our heads that we need to face down, battle with, and declare victory over. Every. Damn. Day.

How is victory declared? We show up and write, cover the white canvas with paint, read the book we're afraid to read, go to the audition, take the class.

So Pressfield is right and I'm wrong. The War of Art didn't point the finger at me, it pointed the finger at that nasty critical voice inside my head that wants to keep me stuck, cozy, safe, and numb inside my comfort zone. ("Have another glass of wine, Kirsten.") 

Dear "You suck" Voice: 
We're breaking up. It's not me. It's you. 
All the best,

But I can't break up with my own head! I wake up the next morning and the voice pretends to be on my side, "Stay in bed. It's cozy. You're tired. You can start tomorrow."

So Steven Pressfield nailed it. I still have a negative reaction to the whole war thing. If you're sick of war, raise your hand. Yeah. After reading for a few days, I wrote this: 

"Why so dramatic? War - everything is war. Well, yeah, there's a lot of death of art and creativity. So many things never started because we're on lock down under curfew - afraid to leave the house. I hate war. I keep looking for that one who can create the peace in this world - if one person lights a candle - and the next and the next. It's beautiful - but there has to be night. Lighting your candle is spending time engaged with your genius - then sharing it, is lighting the candle the person next to you is holding."

 So I get all disgusted and stressed out about the war metaphor then this:

Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.

This second, we can sit down and do our work.
— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art, p. 22

Oh, God, yes please!

Other favorite moments:

p. 32 As artists and professionals it is our obligation to enact our own internal revolution,...
p. 36 The humanist believes that called upon to co-create the world with God.
p. 37 ...that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery.

I totally lack that self-mastery thing most of the time. I've been finding it very strange that lately I seem to have the will to do the things I've lacked the will to do for years. I mean, YEARS. So did I just prove his point again?

I'm at battle with this book! I don't want to like it, but I like it. Thinking about freedom. I always think great swathes of time will bring me the freedom I crave. But, those great swathes of time have never appeared. The gift I've been waiting for has never landed in my lap. The little girl in me screams, "Not fair!" I think again, Steven Pressfield is calling me out on my own b.s. 

Then, more war. And marines! Let's not leave them out.

The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.
This is invaluable for the artist.
Marines love to be miserable. Marines derive a perverse satisfaction in having colder chow, crappier equipment, and higher casualty rates than any outfit of dogfaces, swab jockeys, or flyboys, all of whom they despise. Why? Because those candy-asses don’t know how to be miserable.
The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.
The artist must be like that Marine.
— Steven Pressfied, The War of Art, p. 68

Nope. Sorry. I think you're talking about you not me. That may be your experience - I mean, I know it was/is because you said so. But it's not mine. I completely reject the Marine/Artist comparison. BTW - my dad, was a flyboy. He was a pilot. A Major in the Air Force - and, believe me, the dude's no candy-ass.

I'm in love/hate with this book. And I've decided this book is a man's book. Resistance, yes. He's got me there. I'm grateful that he's named the monster. But my Resistance is very different. I'm no Marine. Women artists have been assigned to a different kind of battle with a Resistance who wears very different disguises. Is my love/hate with this book as simple as, "I'm a girl. You're a boy. Boys have cooties. I wanna play house and you wanna play war. Yuck." I'm stuck in stereotypes, generalizations, and very very very old programming. My operating system was formed in the 60's and 70's. And too much testosterone gets my dander up.

Could I, perhaps, in spite of that gut reaction, understand? Yeah, I get it. But, let's move on from the war stuff already!

Hello! Look at the title of the book!

Then, he goes and does this:

A pro views her work as craft, not art.
She understands that all creative endeavor is holy, but she doesn’t dwell on it.
— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art, p. 78

And I can hear myself repeating these mantras over and over: Do the doing. Let go of what it may turn into. "Show up and shine." Trial and error and try again. Be in the moment of action. Commit to the action.

And then he writes my favorite part of the book. The part about the Angels. Please, send in the Angels. 

I could read pages 122 - 124, The Magic of Making a Start, every day because it makes my soul sing, "Yes!" And on page 136 begins The Ego and The Self - again, yes! Thank you.

And, finally, The Artist's Life

Do it or don’t do it.
It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.
Give us what you’ve got.
— Steven Pressfield, The War of Art, p. 165

Conclusion? I'm thinking about the time I agreed to watch Band of Brothers with my husband. We watched the entire series over a couple of weeks. I can't say I enjoyed it, but I was moved - no, that's not the right word - but I don't have a better one. It more than touched me. It hurt me. These young men. (Now, old men witnessing their own story.) They jumped out of a plane into the darkness! The only light they saw was gunfire - the light of explosions. Other planes crashing around them and killing the men they were joking with on the tarmac mere hours ago. They jumped, and they were lost, and they fought terrifying battles with the enemy - with their own commanders, they killed other men, they froze to death in fox holes, their friends were blown to bits right next to them, and they were the first Americans to witness the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. The camps - after everything they experienced up to that point, they were stunned by the horror of the camps - because they were - in spite of the hell of war - they were still innocent enough to be horrified by what they saw. And in a moment of righteous justice, in the second to the last episode, they looted the friggin' Eagle's Nest.

I know I'll watch it again. It's that good. There are moments I'll look forward to seeing again. And others, I'll dread. But the experience is worth the pain. It's art. It's the truth. It's horrible and beautiful.

Like this book, even though it's non-fiction, it's art. There are still bits I refuse to like, and there are bits I adore. It serves it purpose. It rattled my comfort zones and called me to my purpose. And reminded me, I'm never in this alone. It's that good.

So, yeah. Read it. Expect to be pissed off at times. Expect to be inspired. And, ultimately, challenged to act. After you've read it from beginning to end, it's a great one for keeping on the shelf so you can take it down from time to time, flip to a random page, read a bit, get the inspiration or the kick in the pants you need, and get back to your work - the work that only you can do.