Resistance – The Red Labbit

Resistance

This one has a lot of names and he can be a real jerk. For tonight we will call him Resistance. Have I written about The War of Art yet? No? It’s probably because this little asshole stopped me. In The War Of Art, Stephen Pressfield describes in detail the force that prevents us from doing the work we’re supposed to do, and oh man can I identify. Pressfield labels this negative power “Resistance” and spends the first third of his book cataloging the enemy’s traits and strategies, before he gets down to advising how to turn pro and do the work anyway. But we’re not talking about Pressfield in this piece, we’re talking about the manifestation of Resistance embodied in this red, cigarette smoking rabbit.

Resistance is the voice telling me I shouldn’t be writing this right now because it sucks. He pretty much thinks everything sucks. And he’s right just often enough to be convincing. But it’s easy to dismiss that voice, especially when the piece isn’t done and there’s time to make it better. Well, most days it’s possible to dismiss that voice. Sometimes he convinces me that what I’m working on sucks, everything else sucks, and I suck. Thankfully, those days are rare. But Resistance is at least as smart as Sherlock, and as creative as Paintboy, and he never seems to give up.

He’s got that worldly, grizzled look that demands respect. With his smoke and his stubble, he has the air of someone who has seen a lot and knows what he’s talking about. But he’s three inches tall, who’s he kidding? The posturing of ennui and cynicism is often a defense mechanism to keep from being open and feeling exposed. Still, he can present a convincing case that most things are not worth doing. “Writing about your weird projections on vinyl toys? Really?”

And when he can’t convince me that I’m not good enough or the task isn’t important enough, he changes tactics again. Sure, the work might be worth doing, but it doesn’t have to happen right now. Ah yes, procrastination, your friend and mine. Resistance loves making me procrastinate. Just one more episode of Archer, then I’ll write that essay. I’m probably going food shopping tomorrow and cook the rest of the week, so I can order in tonight. Why not add a slice of red velvet? I can play a few rounds of that sweet cyborg unicorn game on my phone, and then I’ll look for a better job. Resistance gets me distracted with some imaginary future while he seizes the present moment.

AssholeI’ve been trying to keep a balanced approach to this personality series, but I can’t see the bright side on this guy. Maybe he’s funny sometimes? But it’s the soul-sucking, bitter comedy of late Carlin, where’s there’s no redemption or compassion. Maybe working against him builds character or something? I don’t know. It’s getting late and wrestling this little demon has gotten me tired. Don’t let his cute looks and his demure stature lull you into a false sense of confidence, this guy means business. I fought him back enough to write tonight’s post, but he’ll be waiting for me when it’s time to write tomorrow’s.

 

I know I said I was done with Pressfield until a later essay, but he has a quote that perfectly summarizes Resistance:

“Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”

The Mystic ~ Dunny Personality

MysticThe Mystic is tricky for me to write about. I definitely have my spiritual side, but it is ill-defined. When I got to a point where I could approach the realm of spirit without the lens of the church blocking the view, I began to assemble an amalgam of beliefs for myself. Still, the language feels tainted, and I can’t put it all on those Monday night Catechism classes from long ago. I hesitate to use a word like “belief,” because I don’t really have any in the religious sense. I’ve already edited out “the divine” in favor of “the realm of spirit,” and even that has connotations I am not comfortable with. The writer in me recoils at all this dodgy language. We need new words, so I can say “God” or “faith” or “spiritual” and mean exactly what I want to mean. But this language is what we have, with all the baggage of the ages it brings with it, so here we go. I’m sure there will be dodging, but I’m going to talk about my spiritual side, without the safety net of quotation marks. The Sherlock in me is afraid of being perceived as a new-agey rube or an ignorant zealot, while Paintboy is afraid of upsetting and alienating some of my tiny audience by even approaching this topic. But the Mystic closes his eyes on the outside world and looks within.

I was raised Catholic but it didn’t take. The teachings of Jesus were powerful, and definitely shaped me at a young age. But the fickle, jealous and vengeful God, in addition to the growing catalog of inconsistencies a young, close-reading child could discover were enough to turn me off of religion. The Christianity I was seeing was too absolute, all one way or hell, and it didn’t even make sense. So I decided I was better off without it. I went through the motions for a while, but finally I had enough and I spent a long time purging it out of my system. It took years before I could seriously approach these matters again without rejecting everything automatically. But as I grew curious and began to explore the alternatives, I began to see the Mystic grow.

The one religious text that speaks to me the most is the Tao Te Ching. It opens with the line “The Way that can be told is not the eternal Way.” Lao Tzu starts starts off by telling us that anything you can say about the eternal is essentially untrue due to our limitations. What other religions begins with this admission of the ineffability of the subject? Of course, Lao Tzu goes on to tell of the Way and eff the ineffable, but the Way of Daoism was so refreshing to a young man wrestling with the contradictions of a personified God. The Dao is wide open and embraces everything. There is no reason to invent a devil to reconcile all the pieces that don’t fit into God. It’s the Grand Unified Theory of spirit.

Buddhism came quickly after. First the hard knock school of sit down and shut up Zen, to release the hold of Sherlock all day everyday. I forget where I saw it exactly, but I once read meditation likened to pulling the plug on a bath tub and letting the dirty water drain out. I don’t always reach that state of course, but once I had experienced it I kept coming back for more. I don’t know if the increased head space made more room for the emotional side of Paintboy, or if it was simply maturation away from the narcissism of being a teenager, but the friendlier strains of compassion and loving-kindness in Buddhism began to gain importance in my understanding. I still could use more of these virtues, and it is easy to forget how important it is to be compassionate to one’s self as well as to others. But baby steps, as Bill Murray once said.

I found Carl Jung at a key time in my life. Here was insight into the subconscious without the need to label everything as a disease of the mind or an obsession with Oedipus. Man made myth like he made music, art, architecture. This impulse to approach the great mystery wasn’t pressed onto us by some religious institution seeking to control. It was in us. We lived it, we ate it, and we dreamt it. We may be living in an age of staggering scientific achievement and technological wonders, but we are still the same inside as when we were painting stories on the walls of caves. And with Jung every story suddenly fit together as chapters in the one great story. The Sherlock side of me reveled in the esoteric knowledge of the inner workings of the mind. Paintboy appreciated the new vistas of imagination, and he loved the mandalas. And the Mystic smiled in recognition. He was an archetype after all.

Recently I came to Joseph Cambell. He hooked me early with his emphasis on the metaphorical nature of myth and religion. Again, this recognition of the impossibility of defining the limitless but accepting the human need for definition anyway. Campbell cracked the whole thing wide open, and gave me permission to embrace my patchwork of metaphors which spoke to me from within disparate and distinct systems. I glimpsed the Dao moving behind the infinity of Buddhas in the Tibetan mandalas as well as the saints in the stain glass of the Cathedrals. All of these opaque images became transparent to the light of the divine.

I set out to describe the side of me that the Mystic represents, but it seems I’ve described the evolution of influences that have shaped it instead. The spiritual side that can be rigorously described is not the true spiritual side, or something like that. When hard pressed in conversation, I will ultimately yield that I do believe in something. What that something is exactly is difficult to say. In part it is a problem of language. All of the words carry their complicated connotations but they also claim to denote the whole while they only act as a metaphor for a part of something that is ultimately a mystery. This can make my intellect and my emotions squirm, but the Mystic is at home with the mystery.

There is much more to discuss here, now that the hard work of broaching the subject has been done, but the Mystic counsels patience.  He speaks quietly, his voice is easily drowned out by the competing influences and impulses that make up daily life, but he is always there. And when I hear him, it is wise to listen.

Paintboy ~ Dunny Personality

Paintboy

It’s funny, Sherlock has had a name since the moment I got him, but this guy does not have a designation in my mind. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t really have a face to speak of, but I honestly believe he has gone nameless for so long because I don’t have enough respect for what he represents. Maybe it’s a she? It’s clear I have a blind spot here that needs addressing. Let’s agree to call it a he, and I will christen him Paintboy, so that we can move on to describing his attributes.

This is the creative side. The one who gets into the childlike flow state where judgment and criticism are withheld. That magic place where the line between work and play blurs and Paintboy gets absorbed in his task and is not afraid to make a mess in the process. Comfortable in the knowledge that paint will wash off, he is not afraid to make bold choices, be colorful and make a splash.

Paintboyis  is capable of getting lost in a project or game so thoroughly that he will be shocked when the streetlights come on and it’s time to go home for dinner. But he is just as likely to declare “I’m bored” and fidget in his seat while daydreaming about a hundred other things that are more fun than what he’s actually doing.  He is also the one who seeks the gold star. He craves approval from authority, assurance that what he’s doing is good and that he is special. He’s the one that comes up holding a draft saying “I made this,” and you politely hang it on the fridge even though it needs a few more revisions before it is fit to be read. The little guy just wants you to like him, is that so bad?

His heart is on his sleeve, or rather, on his face. It may seem he has a great poker face since he has no features, but his feelings are front and center for all to see. Often I think of this is as a weakness, but more and more I’m coming to view this as a strength. Expressing our emotions makes us vulnerable, and it takes courage to open up. A certain maturity is required to not care if others perceive us as naïve.

He also represents the pure potential of the blank page. He embodies this void that can be filled up and then wiped clean again. Maybe it is this association that makes me uncomfortable contemplating him. But my misgivings aside, Paintboy embraces this stark white emptiness that gives him the space to create. He appreciates the opportunity to begin something new and is always eager to start. He is not a toe-dipper, he dives in.

If Sherlock is about knowledge and control, then Paintboy is about trusting intuition and releasing control. Sherlock wants it all figured out before he begins while Paintboy figures it will all get sorted out in the process.

Sherlock ~ Dunny Personality

Sherlock

I call this guy Sherlock. He represents my intellectual side. He is concerned primarily with finding out the truth, and usually he is pretty damn good at it. He can sift fact from fiction, signal from noise, pertinent details from embellishments and flourishes. When he is on the case, he will not rest until he has answers. He will stay up late to put in hours of research, only stopping to sleep when the words on the screen begin to blur. You see, Sherlock has respect for the law of diminishing returns. In fact, he is a big fan of most laws: the law of cause and effect, the law of supply and demand, Newton’s laws of motion, (especially the first, though he keeps a sharp eye on the third,) Parkinson’s law, Godwin’s law, he’s even dabbled with the law of attraction. Then again, he’s never been above breaking the law if the situation calls for it: obtaining pirated media through black market channels, ingesting illicit substances to feed his hungry head, even the occasional bout of trespassing to satiate his curiosity.

This side of me likes to peel back the surface of things and see the gears moving underneath. He is a great explorer of attics and basements. He likes to listen to what his favorite musicians listened to, and read what his favorite writers read. He is a devourer of books on all subjects, and will judge a man by his bookshelf before he judges him by his face. He is a close reader, and will spy connections and resonances with his magnifying glass. Though on occasion, he will focus light a little too intensely and inadvertently burn what he is examining, and maybe himself in the process. Sometimes this combustion through scrutiny is not all that inadvertent.

He doesn’t go in for many of the gum shoe conventions. For instance: he only drinks infrequently, because he finds it dulls his abilities. He does conform, to a degree, to the ideal of the silent type. He believes you learn a lot more by listening than by speaking. He also possesses a cynical streak that prevents him from taking much interest in small talk. If he does get going on a topic though he can wax philosophical, though sometimes he merely drones professorially. He has been known to digress. He can braid the separate strands of a conversation together when he’s at his best, but he can also get tied up in knots, or pull a single thread until the whole thing comes undone. Understandably, he spends a lot of time alone.

Sherlock wants to have it all figured out. He is definitely of the look before you leap school. This is a guy who does his homework and the extra credit too, with a little independent study thrown in for good measure. But it is often impossible to have it all figured out before we act. There are times when a leap of faith is required. Sherlock understands this intellectually, of course, but he still doesn’t put it into practice as often as he should.

Destructive Distraction

It’s like chasing down an ice cream truck,
to find out  it’s a prison bus,
and then it starts to rain.