On Reading Memoirs to Save My Sanity {+ some notes on Resistance}

Reading Memoirs to Save My Sanity

 

{FYI, the posts in this category, “A Possible Theory of Happiness,” started in August 2016, will have nothing to do with copywriting or web marketing advice. There’s lots of that kind of content in my archives and through my email list, which you can sign up for on the Free Resources page. Yes, I still offer copywriting and marketing services to creatives, which you can find out about on my Work with Me page.}

Lately I’ve been reading books at a fast and furious pace. Eleven in the last 6 weeks to be exact. It’s as if any day now, I expect the book police to come kick down the door and take my literary drug away, so I must read as much as I possibly can, while I can, feverishly, without stopping.

I’m not reading any of these books for the first time, though. Each of the eleven I’ve recently devoured are favorites I’ve read before, some of them multiple times.

These books are memoirs. Or mostly, anyway. I can’t get enough of them. My bookshelves are absolutely lousy with memoirs.

I love them. And for that I am not ashamed. Though some may dismiss memoir as a lesser literary form, or perhaps not literary at at all, I think they make for the best way to spend a few quality reading hours.

My recent reading list:

The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr

Lit, Mary Karr

Dry, Augusten Burroughs

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget, Sarah Hepola

Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life, Kim Severson

Growing Into Grace, Mastin Kipp

Paris Letters: One woman’s journey from the fast lane to a slow stroll in Paris, Janice MacLeod

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, Gretchen Rubin

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro

As I’ve been dealing with this sadness, anxiety and depression-lite, or whatever-the-heck-this-is that’s overtaken me in the last few weeks (months?), I find that reading about other people’s struggles makes me feel better, less alone, like I might actually be fairly “normal,” in the scheme of things.

Reading memoirs is the way I self-medicate.

And when I read about challenges so very much worse than my own, I think, “Well now, I don’t have it so bad.”

But therein lies the problem, see. Because sometimes when I read memoirs that describe circumstances that are objectively worse than mine, I actually think, “I’d trade my problems for yours.”

Though would I, really?

Envy

Interestingly, seven of the authors mentioned above were in the throes of alcohol and/or drug addiction at some point in their journey, which they write about eloquently in their books.

Would I rather have that to deal with?

No.

But I do envy many of these authors their close family and friend connections, their community of readers, their careers, their successes.

This envy is benign. It is not jealousy. I’m thrilled my favorite writers have been rewarded, that their contributions have been recognized, and that they have enjoyed financial and career success.

I think this envy is instructive. Envy can point you where you want to go, it can be a light on the path telling you what it is you most want, galvanizing you to pursue that thing.

I believe, as author Danielle LaPorte says, that “By observing our envy, we shine a light on our true desires,” and “Envy is often a call to action.”

Self-Medication, the Harmless Way

The other way I self-medicate is by binge-watching and/or listening to and/or reading interviews with my favorite authors.

This past Saturday, for example, I read at least a dozen interviews online with Elizabeth Gilbert, then watched 3 lengthy video interviews with her. Same with Ann Patchett. Ditto Cheryl Strayed. And David Sedaris.

I guess that explains how an entire Saturday can pass into the ether with nary a “productive” thing scratched off my to-do list for the day.

It occurs to me that thing I say I want to do, write and submit,  write and submit, write and submit, could easily be accomplished in the time I spend consuming other people’s work, and interviews in which other people talk about their work.

But it’s a balance, right? Because as a writer you must read, read, read, and read some more. And that is an assignment I eagerly embrace.

And reading about creatives in your field doing work you admire can help fuel your own dreams, and motivate and inspire you to take action.

That said, there’s a time to do your own work.

TO DO YOUR OWN WORK.

Resistance

The truth is, when it comes to doing my own work, I’ve been slogging through a terrible, almost debilitating, bout of resistance the last few . . . hmm, I want to say weeks, but honestly, it’s actually been months, maybe even longer.

Though Steven Pressfield’s work on resistance has saved me from labeling myself a complete loser due to this crappy state of affairs, some self-loathing remains.

Just yesterday I dipped back into his book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, to remind myself that fear and resistance can be viewed positively.

From page 40, Resistance and Fear:

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance. ~Steven Pressfield

Here, in a piece called “Resistance and Self-Loathing” from Pressfield’s blog, he makes the case that self-loathing is a good thing.

He says the mistake we make when we listen to the voice of self-loathing is that, “We misperceive a force that is universal and impersonal and instead see it as individual and personal. That voice in our heads is not us. It is Resistance.”

Then he shares the good news:

Now to the good news about self-loathing.

Self-loathing, we have said, is a form of Resistance. The apparition of Resistance is by definition a good sign, because Resistance never appears except when preceded by a Dream. By “dream” I mean a creative vision of something original and worthy that you or I might do or produce—a movie, a painting, a new business, a charitable venture, an act of personal or political integrity and generosity.

The dream arises in our psyche (even if we deny it, even if we fail to or refuse to recognize it) like a tree ascending into the sunshine. Simultaneously the dream’s shadow appears—i.e., Resistance—just as a physical tree casts a physical shadow.

That’s a law of nature.

Where there is a Dream, there is Resistance.

Thus: where we encounter Resistance, somewhere nearby is a Dream.

I take comfort in that: Where there is a Dream, there is Resistance.

And the way forward is to simply do the work. To behave like a professional rather than an amateur.

Because, as Pressfield says, “Aspiring artists defeated by Resistance share one trait. They all think like amateurs. They have not yet turned pro.”

And all those memoirs I so dearly love? They didn’t write themselves. They were the work of professionals, not amateurs.

Someone pulled up to the desk everyday and did the work. They wrote. Even when the work was difficult, the going tough, the enterprise challenging.

Even on days when the last thing the writer felt like doing was excavate part of their painful past to get it down on the page.

This morning when I woke at 6:30 a.m., I re-read almost the entirety of The War of Art before starting my work day. It’s what got me fired up to work on this blog post today — to actually finish it and publish it to the blog.

God willing, the same thing will happen tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the next, until the writing habit replaces the resistance habit.

If you’re a creative of any kind, whether a writer, a painter, a designer, a business-builder, or anyone with any kind of project you’re struggling to work on or to complete, I cannot recommend Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art highly enough.

Speed-read it some morning soon while you’re enjoying your morning beverage, and see if it doesn’t kick your buns to do the work you know you were meant to do.

If you want to keep up with this series of blog posts, A Possible Theory of Happiness, feel free to sign up forThe Note,” an occasional newsletter on topics not related to copywriting and marketing. I’ll send updates related to this series there.

 

The 30-Day Writing & Publishing Project, Day 6: All Procrastination is Fear

Once upon a semester when I was an undergraduate in college many years ago, I took a full load of classes, worked two part-time jobs – one at an architects’ office for a few hours every afternoon, the other as a waitress at a high-end restaurant Friday-Sunday nights – had a serious, committed relationship with a boyfriend that needed regular tending, and a kept up a very active social life full of friends and family visits and nights out with girlfriends.

It exhausts me just thinking about it now. Where did I get the energy? 

But that semester, the one full to the brim with activities and relationships and school work and paid work, and another semester very much like it later in my college career, I made the Dean’s List. When I had less going on in my life, I still did well in college, grade-wise, but, alas, no Dean’s List.

It took me a while to figure out that the more I had to do, the more I could do, and the better I could do it. 

As writers, we often feel like we need vast expanses of uninterrupted time to create our great work, or even that 500 word blog post that needs to get published by close of business today.

“If only I had all day to write,” we think, “how much I could get done.” Oh, for an entire day stretched out before us with no obligations to distract from the work at hand. Or for a series of days like that, even better. Oh, yes. It sounds positively dreamy.

I don’t know about you, but even when I do manage to get that blissfully uninterrupted day of writing space, I don’t always use it well.

Sometimes on these days, I find distractions.  Seek them out, I tell you. On purpose.

Here’s this thing I love doing above all else, this thing I want so badly to have more unfettered time to do, yet when the time to do it does present itself, I don’t always use it well.

It’s maddening.

And so I think back to those halcyon college days, days of knocking out research and socializing and studying and boyfriend time and 20 page papers on terrorism in literature (I am not making that up) without once uttering, “I don’t have enough time,” and I wonder how I can get that groove back. The groove in which I just suck it up and get.the.work.done, instead of frittering away time reading the latest articles on Huffington Post or Muck Rack Daily.

I recently listened to a podcast in which writer Elizabeth Gilbert was having a conversation with another writer about this topic. This writer, a mother of two young children, desperately wanted uninterrupted time to write, yet when she got it, she didn’t work on her book.

What Gilbert shared with her was this:

All procrastination is fear. Anything you do that stops you from doing the work that is gnawing at you, the work that wants to be made through you, the creative project that’s begging you to release it, the treasures that are hidden inside of you, anything you do that blocks that is fear. And it might look like fear very obviously or it might not – fear has a lot of shady disguises. Fear shows up as perfectionism, fear shows up as insecurity, fear shows up as guilt, fear shows up as procrastination. All of it is just something that you’re too scared to do.

Aha. So if this thing that prevents me from writing when I actually have time to write is fear, then the best way to deal with it – not overcome it, because I don’t know if that’s possible, but deal with it – is to sit down in front of the computer and write anyway, in spite of whatever shady disguise fear chooses to wear that day.

Just write, every day. Even if the writing is bad. Even if it’s nonsensical. Even if it never rises to the level of publishable or shareable.

That’s partly what I’m trying to accomplish with this 30-day project – I’m hoping that by making myself accountable to write & publish here daily, no matter what, I can learn to kick that procrastination, er, I mean fear, devil right where he lives.