The Artist’s Journey, #22
Today is the final installment of The Artist’s Journey. Thanks again to everyone who stayed with us from the start. The book officially goes on sale today in all three formats—audiobook (read by me), eBook, and paperback. You can get the paperback from Amazon or other online booksellers. The ebook and audio are on sale now (in bundled version as well) at www.blackirishbooks.com. As I said a few episodes ago, the publication book is a bit different from this serialized version. Shawn came in and made it better.
P.S. Are we crazy to serialize this book for free and then put it up for sale for money? Probably. In any event, to catch up on any missed chapters (for free), click here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8. Part 9. Part 10.Part 11. Part 12. Part 13. Part 14. Part 15. Part 16.Part 17. Part 18. Part 19. Part 20. Part 21.
103. WHO YOU ARE IS WHAT YOU WRITE
The artist discovers herself by the work she produces.
Who are you?
Dance and find out.
Sing and find out.
Write and find out.
Between 1995 and 2015 I wrote fourteen books, most about the ancient world, many centered in one form or another upon warfare. Why these subjects? I have no idea.
Where did this stuff come from? I knew nothing of it before I started. I had no idea I was even interested in it. Yet once I began, I couldn’t stop.
Writing, like life itself, [Henry Miller again] is a voyage of discovery. The adventure is a metaphysical one: it is a way of approaching life indirectly, of acquiring a total rather than a partial view of the universe. The writer lives between the upper and lower worlds: he takes the path in order eventually to become that path himself …
From the very beginning almost I was deeply aware that there is no goal. I never hope to embrace the whole, but merely to give in each separate fragment, each work, the feeling of the whole as I go on, because I am digging deeper and deeper into life, digging deeper and deeper into past and future. With the endless burrowing a certitude develops which is greater than faith or belief. I become more and more indifferent to my fate, as writer, and more and more certain of my destiny as a man.
There is a dimension of reality above (or below) the material dimension we live in.
If you’re an artist, the search for that dimension is your life.
104. “THE BENIGN, PROTECTING POWER OF DESTINY”
Do you believe we’re not alone on our journey? Do you subscribe to the notion, as I do, that help appears from sources we can neither name nor explain?
Here’s Joseph Campbell from The Hero With A Thousand Faces:
For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the [hero’s] journey is with a protective figure … who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny. The fantasy is a reassurance—promise that the peace of Paradise … is not to be lost; that it supports the present and stands in the future as well as in the past … [that] protective power is always and ever present within or just behind the unfamiliar features of the world. One has only to know and trust, and the ageless guardians will appear. Having responded to his own call, and continuing to follow courageously as the consequences unfold, the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side. Mother Nature herself supports the mighty task. And in so far as the hero’s act coincides with that for which his society is ready, he seems to ride on the great rhythm of the historical process.
In other words, the artist and the hero are working individually and collectively on a “mighty task” supported by Nature and protected by forces, not only of the unconscious, but of the real world, in real time.
105. HOW I WORK
Before I sit down at the keyboard each day, I stand and say a prayer to the Muse. I say it out loud, in absolute earnest.
Why do I do that?
Because when I enter my office, I cross the threshold into a different dimension, a sacred dimension. I’m not being fatuous or facetious when I say this.
I have no idea what I will write that day. I have an intention. I have an object. But I don’t know what will appear from one sentence to the next.
I need help. I need the participation and the aid of forces from that different plane of reality. I don’t know what to name these forces so I call them “the Muse.” It’s a concept that’s congenial to me. I like it. I can relate to it.
Maybe that realm is the unconscious, the superconscious. Maybe, as Jung suggests, that part of the psyche lies adjacent to the “Divine Ground,” in other words to some higher realm of consciousness, of being, in which, I hope and assume, death does not hold sway, nor time or space, and no individual is separated emotionally or spiritually from any other. In this dimension, I’d like to believe, the future already exists. It is known or can be known.
Can any of this be true?
I don’t know.
But I act (in fact I live my life every day) as if it were.
To me it is true.
This is the world I live in.
So I invoke the Muse. I subordinate myself to the goddess. I seek her aid. I place myself before her in the posture of a soldier, a servant, a supplicant.
When I sit down to work, I draw the bowstring the same way Eugen Herrigel did and, like him, my object is to let the string release itself without my conscious participation.
It took me thirty years to learn how to do this. That time, or the greater part of it, was my artist’s journey, an adventure that continues to this day.
And you know what? It works.
I have said many times that the Muse is the only female to whom I have always been faithful. This is true.
And she has always been true to me.
106. THE ARTIST’S JOURNEY IS THE HERO’S JOURNEY OF THE HUMAN RACE
You may wonder as you sit in your cubicle designing a gundown scene for Call of Duty Black Ops IV if you’re really advancing the cause of humanity.
Your artist’s journey is unique to you. You alone are on your path. Your job is only to follow it and be true to it.
Who knows what heights it may eventually bear you to?
You’re an artist. Your journey—however humble, however fraught, however beset with thorns and thistles—is part of a noble, cosmic cause. It is not meaningless. It is not in vain.
It is a portion of a grand adventure.
The artist’s journey is the hero’s journey of the human race.
107. THE GREAT ADVENTURE
What is “the benign, protecting power of destiny,” if indeed there is such a thing?
I think it’s the evolutionary pull of all humankind, which seeks, like the hero, to return to the start of its journey—in other words, the great-circle trajectory of the race arcing home to Eden.
If mankind is indeed on a collective hero’s journey, then Creation itself is on our side.
The Ego is the enemy.
Resistance is the force that it uses against us.
These foes are mighty indeed. But opposed to them always, and equal if not greater, is this great-circle “destiny,” to use Joseph Campbell’s word. That is the wind at our backs.
Therefore be of good cheer, brothers and sisters.
A powerful destiny lies coiled inside you. This force is neither a dumb, robotic tape or some dusty hieroglyph left from millions of years ago, but an active, dynamic, intelligent presence—-endlessly creative, ever-mutating, responsive-in-the-moment—supporting and guiding you as you evolve and advance.
Nor does this force operate only inside your mind. It is not solely cerebral or abstract, nor is it bound by the limits of your consciousness or your physical body.
It operates in real time and in the real world. It is connected to forces unconstrained by time and space, by reason or by nature’s laws. It is capable of summoning allies and assistance and of concentrating them on your behalf and in your cause. These forces are not only of the imagination—ideas, insights, wisdom, breakthroughs in your life and work—but also practical and material apparitions like friends and allies, connections, places to stay, money.
Flesh-and-blood individuals will enter your life at precisely the time and place you need them. These persons will play the role of archetypes—mentors and lovers, boon companions, even animal spirits, tricksters—as will corresponding foes and antagonists, tempters and temptresses, enemies, shape-shifters.
The hero’s journey and the artist’s journey are real. They come with the promise of change, of passion, of fulfillment and of self-actualization, and they come with the curse of Eden—”henceforth shalt thou eat thy bread in the sweat of thy face”—which mandates unrelenting toil and labor. The struggle never ends. It never gets easier.
This is what you were born for.
Nature has built you for this.
The artist is a role ordained by Creation. Even if you know nothing of this mandate, or refuse to believe it, or have forgotten it entirely, even if you flat-out reject it, this living force remains vital and irresistible inside you. You cannot run from it. You cannot stand against it. It is more alive inside you than your own blood and more impossible to resist than the urge to survive or to procreate or to find love.
A great adventure awaits you.
Ready or not, you are called.