Who R U?
Why do we write? Most of us, if we’re honest, probably can’t answer that question.
That’s not a bad thing.
What I mean is, the reasons that compel us as artists to do the work we do are often (if not always) so deep and so hidden that we’re kidding ourselves if we claim we can name them or understand them.
If you’re a writer, you’re compelled to write. Just like a dancer has “gotta dance” or a singer has to sing.
I believe in destiny. Each of us is unique, I believe, and every one of us was put here for a reason. That destiny lives inside us. It has been there from birth, and maybe (probably) before that. We can’t see it, we can’t touch it, we can’t measure it. But we can feel it.
It’s our daimon. Our genius. Our calling.
But what’s behind this compulsion? What produces it?
Is there some Supreme Consciousness somewhere? A Grand Plan? Has each of us been assigned a part in some mysterious (to us) cosmic design?
Is the human being compelled to understand herself, or at least to try?
Why are so many stories (if not all stories) about self-discovery and self-revelation?
The hero starts out blind to her truth and winds up awake to it, or at least to part of it. The ending may be happy, it may be tragic, it may be sadder-but-wiser. But one way or another, the process of living through the story reveals truth, uncovers character.
Who are we?
Who am I?
Who are you?
If you’re an artist, I believe, you find that out over time by the works you produce. What comes out of you tells you who you are and what your calling is.
I don’t know if it’s true for others but for me, the stuff I’ve written has always popped out as a surprise to me. I never anticipated any of it. There was no scheme or script, no five-year plan.
An idea seized me and I was compelled to write it. Almost always the subject matter was something I knew nothing about at the start and didn’t even know I cared about. In truth I didn’t care about it. Until I got into it. Then I became possessed by it.
I discovered, each time, not so much that I “knew” the subject but that I was powerfully predisposed toward it. I had an aptitude for understanding it. It felt natural. I felt at home.
Who sent these ideas to me?
Why was I so compatible with them?
Did some intelligence pick me to produce these specific works? What intelligence? Is it something inside me?
Are all forms of sentient life compelled to ask and answer, “Who am I? What is the meaning of my life?” Is that our overriding obsession, yours and mine, beyond even survival and procreation?
Or is that compulsion specific to artists?
Do you and I live more than one lifetime?
If it were possible to chart all our incarnations back-to-back, would the flow indicate some single dominating theme? Do Bob Dylan’s songs pick up, in some way, from his work or deeds in some previous appearance here on the planet?
Is he working toward something?
Is there a purpose?
We’re all conscious, I believe, of some force beneath the surface of things. A theme of a number of my fictional pieces, particularly those set in the ancient world, is the idea of Necessity.
Necessity, as I define it in these pieces, is the future. It is That Which Will Be. That Which Must Be.
The politician and the general serve the future in one way, the mother serves it in another. You and I as artists serve it too.
Do we know why?
Am I deluding myself to even entertain this notion?
Then why am I compelled—I mean really compelled—to write what I write? Why are you?
What force is propelling us?
In the end, I can’t say why I write. I don’t know. I know if I don’t write it (or at least try to), I’m miserable.
Who’s running the show here?
Am I at the mercy of my daimon?
Is that a bad thing or a good thing?
I don’t know.
What a fantastic Writing Wednesday. For those of us with a bent toward mysticism with a Christian flare, or use Source or Spirit if you prefer – the Christ says “You are in me and I am in you.” Later He asks “who do others say that I am?” and his reply to the group is then “who do you say that I am.”. So…. in essence he is saying “who do you say that you are?”
That is the question. It is deep, profound, and there are no final answers. Thanks Steve.
I like the word muse better than the word daimon (which I had to look up…) The writing imperative might become an uncomfortable pressure, true. For me, it’s a fascinating exploration, at least at this point. I love hearing you admit you don’t know why you write, Steve. That’s refreshing. Personally, I’m still pretty attached to my purpose, but that could pass, and I could find myself considering the daimon, too.
Something Shawn said in a recent podcast really resonated with me as to why I do this: “If you’re in it to tell an elegant story that can change somebody to make them not feel alone, then you’re going to get something out of it. Then you’re a real writer.” Does it come to me through the muse? Absolutely! I’m all in with that notion. As always, thanks!
When My Journey Into The Self began (unknown to me at the time) November 13, 1986 9:30 PM – 29 years ago just around the corner – I STILL keep saying to myself “who in the heck is in this body of mine?” I DON’T KNOW YOU!!!!. Words I have written – not even considering myself to be an author/writer – poems I wrote – not being a poet – paintings I have done – not being an artist. What I have come to learn along “the way” ABOUT “the SOUL” residing in my body in this lifetime is that I have a purpose. I have a job to do. I BELIEVE IN THE JOURNEY OF MY DREAMS – Do I have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within me? I sure HOPE so. As Emily Dickerson wrote in “a poem” – “Hope is this thing with feathers that perches on the Soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”
Too many questions for both my brain cells. I’ll answer them after I’m reincarnated.
Consider this, the Ninth Principal of the Kabbalah, which says “Obstacles are our opportunity to connect to the light”.
Although I am a landscape artist, rather than a writer, I find your books and essays to be very educational. I have learned a lot from things you have said, and from things your essays made me ponder.
I am an artist. I have always been an artist, I will always be an artist. I believe that art does not come from the artist, it passes through the artist. To that extent, an artist is a type of spiritual medium. Being an artist is not about talent, it is about having the need to communicate in a creative fashion.
Those that have this need (Obsession? Addiction?) are tasked by the universe with learning, developing, and perfecting the skills needed to fulfill their destiny. To not do so is an affront to the universe, and a waste of a blessing.
I am an artist. I have always been an artist, I will always be an artist. Over the course of my life I also spent 35 years as a Patrol Deputy with a large Sherrifs Department in the Midwest. My specialty was mental health crisis intervention and drug/alcohol addiction crisis intervention.
I have learned that Art is a conversation with the universe. In order for there to be a conversation you must contribute something, and more importantly, you must listen.
Thank you for sharing your thoughtful essays with us.
I like this little essay of yours, James — it, also, is a thoughtful one. Nice, quiet, flowing, very nice…
We recently learned that there are 300 billion planets that can potentially support life, a mind blowing concept that is almost beyond our ability to envision. This is our physical universe.
Although we cannot see it, the non-physical or spiritual universe is just as immense and nearly unexplored. Religion touches on it, and makes us wonder, gives us hope. The whole concept of being a writer, or an artist of any stripe, is clearly a foray into this amazing world.
Michaelanglo, Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Jesus, Bach, Mozart have revealed for us a glimpse of what is there. At our best, we only barely touch the surface. What an exciting prospect, to some day, perhaps, see the big picture!
“Rain don’t fall for the flowers, if it’s fallin’. Rain just falls.”
Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Zen Master. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhChSRx74wU).
What a great song! Thanks for the pointer.
This one struck me between the eyes.
One of your best ever.
(And you’ve established a very high bar)
Thanks for these gems, Steve.
You are my Yoda.
I am struck by how much Steve’s daimon is like the daemons in a Unix/Linux computer system.
(Daemon is another way to spell daimon.)
A daemon is a process without a user interface that runs quietly in the background, but springs to life to do the work when a more visible process needs it. Without the support of their daemons, many visible processes appear to be empty shells.
Marvin, I’ve always loved the daemon moniker of background *nix processes. I had to reflect on their presence for quite some time before I understood the genius of the Bell Labs designers when they created that system.
Wow, Marvin, never had heard of that. Great!
When I ask myself such questions I sometimes refer to a passage from one of my favorite authors, Norman Maclean:
“’You like to tell true stories, don’t you?’ he asked, and I answered, ‘Yes, I like to tell stories that are true.’
Then he asked, ‘After you have finished your true stories sometime, why don’t you make up a story and the people to go with it?
Only then will you understand what happened and why.'”
I have a theory (one of many) I think some of us got way too much attention for an early writing project from the people around us. When I was four or five I wrote a picture book and illustrated it and got so much attention from those around me, I think I decided writing was a source of approval, love and attention and was also fun. As we grow, the attention wanes but we keep it up, trying to squeeze out the early juice of approval.
Carole King writes in her autobiography “Natural Woman” that her singing delighted her parents when she was young and they gave her lots of praise for it. These were among her first memories. As she grew she noticed more praise and attention coming from various strangers and outsiders insomuch that she did it more often and pursued it in school. I think for some of us, those early experiences really whet our appetite for more and as we grow older we find deeper, more rewarding reasons to do it.
That’s a more psychological answer but I also sometimes wonder if a few of us just have to do it as a matter of contributing to the human story a la “The Alchemist” personal legend. That side does have a mystical component.
I’m pretty unhappy if I go more than one day without writing too.
It’s funny how we all artists are kinda the same. It all comes from the same source I guess. Same source that explores itself through various versions of it – us.
That’s what I wrote in my blog today:
“When I write, something flows through me. It’s magical. It’s like a dance. You never know what move comes next. It just does.
I’m always fascinated by how it happens.
You sit down to write or draw, or do something creative, and you never know what comes out of it, until it actually happens.”
Thank you Steven. It’s such a pleasure to read what you write. Always.
This is my first “Writing Wednesday” and I am delighted. Both by Mr. Pressfield text and our fellow writers’s comments.
Who am I? Just another guy fighting blank sheets of paper and trying to “save the (my) world”, one page at a time.
Best of luck to all of you!
My ROM dictionary adds the computer definition from the 1980’s. Back when Asimov was doing nonfiction, instead of the fiction I valued, he said he was doing nonfiction for an unknown length of time, because of his daemon.
I used to wonder if I would ever stop writing cold turkey, like the happy ever-single-day jogger who suddenly stopped, but no. I guess I’ve written enough to have my daemon at my back now.
That would explain why I’m so cheerful about doing less total writing, and less nonfiction these days as I am also doing a manuscript of publishable poetry. My daemon has its wisdom. No doubt when I finish my manuscript I will become obsessive about my nonfiction once again.
So refreshing and humble to hear you say that you don’t where your ideas come from, that they come to you or through you.
A zen master taught me and others that to “not know” is correct mind.
To pretend to know is of no help.
Keep Don’t Now mind. Just this – just like this.
This is a very fine piece. It explores Identity. It explores Destiny. It explores Calling. Faith. Higher Power.
I call it Karma. Hindus got their answers from their astrology or Jyotiṣa- Jyoti (Light)+ Īśa= Light of God.
The Ātmakāraka (AK) is King: it is the Soul.The inflection of the Soul shall have its way. If Mercury becomes the AK, one must write, communicate.If Jupiter, faith or intellectualism, law, judiciary. Sun- high spirituality, governance. And so on.
There is a metaphysics of potential and there is manifest life. One is a source pool and the other its precipitate. Another chart reveals innate skills, the Hand of God, destined events. This is the Navāmśa or the D-9.
Another chart called the Daśāmśa will trace all movements in the work,change in careers and professions, exactly what one does and why one does it. There are charts and charts in each horoscope till one comes to the D-60 or the Ṣaṣṭhyāmśa- it contains all the Karma from the past lives which is yet to be exhausted.
The knowledge is gentle and universal- it applies to everybody and everything. There is no scope for ‘delusion’. There are houses in the chart to gauge free-will from. Periodicities of the planets and of signs to see both the shifting emphasis of desire and will and simple fatedness and determinism.
We are all connected. We are all One despite our likes and dislikes and genius and follies. We are here for a reason- human birth does not come easy. So Steve, when you write of the Resistance, you are 100% correct. Resistance is punishment that we must surmount. It only wants us to Work ceaselessly, to realise that we have a precious gift here and to ensure that we are using it and giving what emerges from it. Then there is no Resistance. You are write again when you say It wants to kill you. If we do not do our work despite all that appears to stand in the way, then we are burdening the planet, and Resistance (Saturn) will kill us without a second thought.
Anyway, this is endless.
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