The Artist’s Journey, #18
There’s a guy named Tim Grahl. A real guy. A really good guy. He has a site called booklaunch.com, which is one of the best, if not the best, instructional site for writers at all levels who want to get their stuff out there in the most effective and high-exposure way. I’m a subscriber. The site is great. But Tim didn’t want to just help writers. He wanted to be a writer. He wanted to tell stories. He phoned Shawn and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: “If you’ll work with me as an editor and help me write my novel, I’ll help you organize your site, storygrid.com, and your blog and your marketing.” Shawn said yes. He said hell yes.
Why am I telling you this? Because now all of us (not just Shawn) have a resource in Tim and in www.booklaunch.com that can make a real difference in our evolution as professionals and as marketers of our own material. More on this next week. For now … back to the serialization of The Artist’s Journey. We’re past three-quarters of the way through. Pub date: about a month away.
86. DO WE HAVE A PERSONAL IDENTITY?
Buddhists don’t think so.
The concept of the individual personality (and thus a voice that you and I could call “ours”) is in Buddhist thought an illusion.
True mind, the Buddha taught, is empty. Clear as glass. Pellucid as the air through which sunlight passes.
A Samurai warrior, guided by this Buddhist precept, does not prepare for battle by rehearsing mentally, by planning, or by filling his mind with schemes and intentions.
Instead he empties his mind.
His belief is that this “no-mind” knows more than his conscious ego-mind and will respond perfectly every time in the moment.
I believe this too.
This is the voice you and I are seeking as artists.
The voice of no-voice.
87. THE VOICE SERVES THE WORK
Consider the roles Meryl Streep has played.
Each voice is unmistakably “hers.” Yet she has had to find each one—Karen Silkwood in Silkwood or Karen Blixen in Out of Africa or Francesca in The Bridges of Madison County—individually.
Where does she find it?
Within the imagined reality of the subject.
The first time I wrote in my “real” voice was in The War of Art. But that voice wasn’t really “me.” It was a “me” set at the service of the material.
Consider the popular story (true, I hope) that Johnny Depp found the voice of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean by imagining himself playing the role as if he were Keith Richards. That voice is clearly not the universal Johnny Depp voice. In fact his voice changes radically from Edward Scissorhands to Gilbert Grape to Whitey Bulger. To create the illusion for the audience that the material demands, the artist seeks and employs a different voice each time.
And yet each voice is his own. Each one is a facet of himself.
88. THE SURPRISE OF FINDING OUR VOICE
I have a recurring dream.
A good dream.
In the dream I’m in my house (or some place that I recognize as my house even though technically it doesn’t look exactly like my actual house) when I realize that I’m occupying a room that I had never realized was part of the edifice. An additional room. An expanded room.
Sometimes it’s an entire floor. I’ll be standing there, looking at crystal chandeliers and rows of pool tables extending for half a block, with music playing and people partying, and I’ll think to myself, “Wow, I had no idea this part of the house even existed. How could I have missed it all this time?”
That house is my psyche. The new rooms are parts of me I have never, till I dreamt them, been aware of.
We find our voice that same way. Project by project. Subject by subject. Observing in happy amazement as a new “us” pops out each time.
89. THE SURPRISE OF FINDING OUR SUBJECT
I wonder if Stephen King knew when he was a kid that horror, the supernatural, and speculative fiction would be his metier.
I can testify for myself that I had no clue whatsoever that I would be writing about the things I wound up writing about.
It’s as though some Cosmic Assignment Desk, with access to our test scores and aptitude charts (that we ourselves have never seen) is suddenly calling us forward and with absolute authority handing us our orders packet.
The artist’s journey is nothing if not full of surprises.
90. WHAT THESE SURPRISES MEAN
The artist on her journey opens the pipeline to the unconscious, the Muse, the superconscious.
With this, every prior assumption flies out the window—who our parents told us we were, what our teachers imagined we’d become, even what we ourselves believe we are or will turn out to be.
The Muse tells us who we really are and what our subject really is.
No wonder these feel like surprises. They are voices that we never knew we had, rooms and wings in our house that we never knew existed.
When we say the artist’s journey is a process of self-discovery, this is what we mean.