My first victory of the day is getting out of bed.
The eternal battle. Steven Pressfield calls it Resistance, and that’s as good a name as any. The shadow force, the annihilator, the entity and energy that comes into being the moment you realize what your True Calling is. The second that passion emerges from the fiery engine of our hearts and souls, it calls into being its enemy. This is the dynamic balance of the universe; that passion is Creation, it is the power of god and the power of life, and so it has its spectre: Resistance.
It’s heartless and cold and impersonal. It doesn’t care about you; it just exists. And more than any other time in human history, it is fed and supercharged by the very structure of our culture and social organization. There is now an infinity of ways to distract yourself from Doing the Thing. Social media, youtube, TV, video games, texting, Tindr hook-ups, porno, a smorgasbord of high quality designer drugs, bad food, bad consciousness, employment, school.
Since I’m an educator, let me go ahead and riff on that last one. When I was in school, I was internally motivated to achieve and succeed, to get the A’s. Something within me would not settle for anything less. However, I was never under any delusion that the work had any real meaning or importance. Once I learned the true purpose of schooling was to make us into idiotic, obedient droids emotionally dependent on authority figures, all of the tedium, banality, and cruelty of school instantly made sense. But when I was there, I didn’t know any of that. I just knew the shit was a waste of my time.
And so I approached every assignment I ever got with one goal in mind: get this shit done as quickly as possible so I can get back to doing what I WANT TO DO. True, frequently what I “wanted” to do was watch TV and play video games. But I heard the cosmic call of passion and desire for the first time when I was 8 or 9 years old; that was when I knew I wanted to make comics. If I had a worksheet for a class with a backside that was blank, it was covered in drawings—super heroes, guns, doodles, cartoons, whatever. I finished the work as soon as possible and commenced to drawing.
Again, I knew the schoolwork was a waste of my time. By the end of middle school, I’d figured out the system pretty well. By high school I had mastered it, and so I developed a new way to get the dumb shit done more quickly—cheating. Copying answers out of the back of the book, or from other people. Trading homework from one class to someone else for their homework in another class, copying it by the stack, never once reading or taking in any of it. I learned just enough to get an A on the test, but even without that, the grading systems of school classrooms are generally designed to shuttle you through with a passing grade as long as you complete all the work. You could fail every test and get out of the average public school with a C or B average as long as you hand in all the assignments.
Victory over the machine. Defeat the soul-crushing time-waster. Piss on their standardized tests.
Back to now. Victory number one is getting out of bed in the morning, because I sure don’t want to. I’m warm, I’m safe, I’m comfortable. I’m entertained by dozing dreams, or by my own head chatter, which is generally far more interesting to me than any of the pap on television. I’ve got my best friend in the world cuddled up beside me, and he too would gladly stay in bed all day, perhaps getting up once in awhile to run around or visit the litterbox. He’s got a weak stomach so I feed him expensive artisinal cat food, which has an added bonus of making his coat super soft and luxurious. I could just stay in bed and pet him.
The Resistance is strong, the voice tempting and powerful. Stay in bed. All day.
But then the Thing will not Get Done. So I get up. Victory number one. I leave the house, victory number two. I make it to the meeting on time, I show up for class, I get up at ungodly hours to ride through tunnels on screaming metal carriages stuffed liked a cattle car full of mechanized zombies. I travel through the hated City, with all its noise and concrete, I walk into bland, depressing buildings where schooling indoctrination takes place, and I activate imaginations.
I get up. Nowhere I have to go today? Then I sit down at the computer and start typing. The voice of Resistance fades to background noise, because now all I can hear is the pounding of keys and the words stretching to get out of my head, the song of the muse. Victory.
For now. The enemy always returns, because the struggle is eternal. It will keep me from eating. It will advocate whiskey. It will find big and small ways to keep me from sitting down at that drawing board and scrawling out another page. I’m not the best at drawing; it takes me a long time to pencil even one page. Sometimes it’s agonizing. Mostly, it’s enjoyable. But the real joy comes when I see that world laid out on the page, panel by panel. The characters are living and moving and speaking. They are more real to me than the droids on the train, my relationship with them is more dear to me than most in the 3-D world. They demand their stories be told. They, like the seagull and the rat, want to live.
The first blessing of the day is to wake up; it means I’m alive. That means one more chance to get it right. One more chance to Do the Thing, one more chance to live the path that has been illuminated for me by god and truth and beauty. Write the proposal, fill out the contract, return the e-mail, shake the hands and kiss the babies. That stuff is even harder, because I hate it. What I love is on that page. What I love came from the tip of my pencil, but its source is beyond me. That source is infinite; it will never slow down, it will never dry up, it will never not be there. It awaits only the call.
So when that blessing comes and I wake up and I’m alive and the battle begins, there is only one question: will I give the call? Will I sit down and Do the Thing? Will I fight and win against Resistance, will I do my ancestors proud? That was four questions, but they’re all the same.
Pass me the coup stick. It looks like a pencil, or maybe a laptop.