Wilderness = Metaphor

The psychic geography of a wilderness passage goes something like this:

Our dream/calling/true self is percolating inside us. We sense this on some unconscious level and it scares the crap out of us. We don’t want to face it. So we deny it, suppress it, push it deeper into the shadows.

But our dream/calling/true self will not be dismissed so easily. It finds a path to daylight, perhaps in the form of “acting out” in the psychiatric sense, i.e. bursting forth as a negative—an addiction, a breakup, a wild-and-crazy stunt that gets us ejected from our Ordinary World.

The Carina Nebula, from the James Webb space telescope

Here’s where the metaphor comes in.

The wilderness passage that we find ourselves on—for me it was blue-collar jobs in far-flung corners of the country—is a metaphor for our dream/calling/true self. It is that Self manifesting as a crypto- or shadow version of itself.

The drama-queen life we find ourselves living is a sublimated form of the drama we’d like to produce in the theater or dance or literature.

The addiction that consumes us is a shadow version of the passion we really should be putting into a new startup or a non-profit philanthropic venture or simply the love that we fear to expose to others or to accept from them.

Pick your affliction–sex, food, booze, drugs, abuse of self or others, depression, alienation, political extremism, physical or emotional violence. (Granted, such conditions can be truly clinical … I don’t mean to play psychiatrist here). But, to repeat, pick your Wilderness. If we examine it as a metaphor, we will find, hiding in plain sight, the authentic dream/calling/self that we have been so terrified to bring forth into material being.

A Wilderness Passage reaches its climax and culmination, as Odysseus’s did, with a “return home”—meaning a moment, brought about by our own exhaustion with our ordeal, when we can no longer remain in denial of the True Self that has been trying so hard to be born from the wreckage of our flight from it.

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

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NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

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31 Comments

  1. Joe Jansen on January 25, 2023 at 6:21 am

    Anybody been playing around with the artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT (chat.openai.com)?

    I asked it: Who is an artist that took self-destructive behaviors and turned that into art?”

    ChatGPT responded:

    “One artist that is known for using self-destructive behaviors as a source of inspiration for their art is Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the band Nirvana. Cobain struggled with drug addiction and depression throughout his life, and his lyrics often dealt with themes of alienation, pain, and despair. His death by suicide in 1994 at the age of 27 was a shock to many, but his music continues to be celebrated and influential to this day.”

    • Kate Stanton on January 25, 2023 at 9:46 am

      Lovely post, Joe!! Kurt’s cover of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Saved the World” (Bowie was also a drug addict) during MTV Unplugged (when MTV actually played music) guts me. Kurt’s posture is one of defeat over his guitar. It’s as if the spark of music is the only light left in him. The Catch 22 of depression is we hold on to what is familiar not realizing we can and deserve to be happy. Kurt let his wife abuse him, control him, descended into drugs–some souls I think are just so sensitive no matter what they do in this plane of existence it can bear “too much”. Michael Jackson was just as self-destructive with his personal choices. Demons stemming from a childhood of abuse. Resistance is truly ugly. In a world of duality, I know my shadow is large, but I hope the light on the other side is even brighter because of it. I am so f*cking sick of the wilderness. Knowledge and awareness is power–it’s no coincidence Steve’s post has a beautiful pic from JWST…this is a message from the universe for creators. Be brave.

      • Kate Stanton on January 25, 2023 at 9:54 am

        SOLD the world–typo.
        Sorry about that!! Maybe it was a Freudian slip as Bowie’s music did save my world 🙂

      • Joe on January 25, 2023 at 7:01 pm

        Kate, ALSO digging on what’s coming from JWST. Most recent (Jan 11), they confirm its first discovery of exoplanet. Earlier in December, it imaged “four ancient galaxies detected by the James Webb Space Telescope . . . are the oldest scientists have ever seen and nearly as old as the universe itself.” Think of it! They’re seeing these galaxies as they appeared 350 million years after the Big Bang. This light started its journey 13.4 billion years ago. We’re seeing 13.4B years into the past. A time machine.

        Talk about crossing a boundary threshold, right? Leaving the familiar behind and entering a wilderness. Exploring where there ARE NO MAPS. Holy crap. I look forward to these next years and seeing what kind of things we learn about reality (outer and inner).

    • Maureen Anderson on January 25, 2023 at 2:13 pm

      I haven’t, but I did enjoy the 60 Minutes piece on Rick Rubin. Thank you for that!

    • Jackie on January 25, 2023 at 4:35 pm

      Joe, I also enjoyed the Rick Rubin piece. Received his book today. Thanks.
      And Steve, I teetered between savoring Gov’t Cheese and ripping through it. It was a late night last evening. I haven’t seen 2:30 a.m. since my 32 year old was a baby. So worth it. Thanks, glad you took the chance and shared.

      • Maureen Anderson on January 25, 2023 at 6:35 pm

        That was my experience, too, Jackie! My husband laughed out loud in several places toward the end, which isn’t generally his style. I’m sending it to my daughter for her Valentine’s Day present.

      • Joe on January 25, 2023 at 7:21 pm

        Jackie and Maureen: The Rick Rubin story was good, ya?

        “You don’t want people to listen and think, ‘Oh, that’s a Rick Rubin record.'”
        “No. I want them to think, ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever heard,’ and not know why.”

        I think good editors do something like that with writers’ stories.

    • Tolis Alexopoulos on January 26, 2023 at 9:56 am

      Thank you for the beautiful thoughts and comments.

  2. LFlo on January 25, 2023 at 9:44 am

    Awesome and perfect timing to read this. i needed to hear this! Thank you!!!

  3. Walter on January 25, 2023 at 9:52 am

    And here I am, at 84 years, still wandering in the wilderness. I have always found paths, however, not the one leading out of the wilderness. Could it be that the journey, the different discoveries, have their own attraction? Or I have not been able to find the path I am looking for. Fear of exposure? Could be, however, I am not shy about the story.

    • Candace on January 26, 2023 at 6:10 am

      Walter. where do you want to go? You didn’t say if you have a clear destination. In my case, goal setting was huge. Just writing it down clearly. Seemed like events just took me there and I achieved surprising things. The Emotion Code provided noticeable help. Still, Steven’s insights are important here since there are other serious goals I “need” to achieve and my procrastination causes me anxiety. I don’t even think I have written down the goals clearly! … And achievement! That presents its own challenges!

  4. Peter Defty on January 25, 2023 at 10:25 am

    Nailed it Steve!

  5. Ward C Degler on January 25, 2023 at 10:32 am

    Steve,

    You just explained why it is so difficult for me to finish the final edits on my novel. Thankfully, my editor under
    stands and treats me with patience.

    Ward Degler

  6. Wanda Bowring on January 25, 2023 at 10:32 am

    It wasn’t my own moment that got me to stop my inevitable downward spiral. It was a clear moment of recognizing my husband’s pain. If I hadn’t seen his sadness so poignantly, I’d never have stopped. That’s how great the inability to save myself was. Learned passivity, denial, cowardice, call it what you like, left to my own devices, I would have kept on, hurting us all again and again.

  7. Gregory on January 25, 2023 at 11:04 am

    @Joe, I did try ChatGPT to test indirectly some of the concepts of the book I’m writing to see if she suggested any of the assertions I’m planning to make. I didn’t give anything directly away, and she didn’t come out with any of my assertions on her own. She got tired of my questions and told me I’d use my quota for the hour. Haven’t tried again since. 🙂

    About going home, I was thinking that’s where in my story that I’m welcomed home–where my (former) friends and colleagues who abandoned me say, “hey, I’m sorry for not supporting you”. But, now I’m thinking going home here just means me saying, “hey (mf-ers, under my breath), I’m back, and now I’m not afraid to tell my story of what actually happened to me”, when I went off in the wilderness. The climax of the story coming after the climax of coming from the wilderness. (Make sense?)

    • Joe on January 26, 2023 at 5:24 pm

      “She got tired of my questions.” Ha! S’funny, Gregory.

  8. Felipe on January 25, 2023 at 11:20 am

    Absolutely beautiful Steven, thank you for this. The second paragraph made my eyes sweat.

  9. Janine Williams on January 25, 2023 at 11:31 am

    Great stuff, Steve! I knew the book I was meant to write, way back when I was 18 ot 19,just starting Uni. It’s been a long journey through many forms of ‘me’ but finally I’m an author, with one book published. I’m halfway through my second book. The biggie, the important book, I’m still not quite ready to write, but its time is coming soon. Great to ‘come home’ to something significant. Te rerenga (New Zealand Maori language) means ‘the returning’. For me, it was the realization that time was running out.
    Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  10. Gerry Lantz on January 25, 2023 at 11:50 am

    Steve
    Could you talk a little bit more about “pick your Wilderness. If we examine it as a metaphor, we will find, hiding in plain sight, the authentic dream/calling/self….” Examine it as a metaphor–Which metaphor? How to choose the most productive metaphor? “Wilderness” and “Resistance” are large and powerful metaphors, but how do we identify a particularized metaphor that fits our own individual angst, e.g., procrastination, busy-ness, fear of success maybe, and dare I say it, laziness, too much tv, fear that my best days are behind me. I continue to be productive, insightful, and creative for my clients–is it that I just don’t sit down and write the next short story for me. I’m inviting group feedback here including “stop your whining and just do it.”

    • Jackie on January 25, 2023 at 2:21 pm

      Gerry,
      Group feedback challenge accepted. You forgot fear, a powerful motivator and non-motivator. Fear pushes us in every direction except the right one. Fear also stops us in our tracks. I try to recall childhood when fear manifested as monsters under the bed. The thought of monsters didn’t stop me from taking a peek, though. Be that fearless kid, stop whining, take a peek, and push forward!

    • Joe on January 25, 2023 at 7:48 pm

      “Is this a private fight, or can anyone join?”

      Gerry, I took “pick your wilderness” to mean something like this: any metaphor (or Joseph Campbell would say archetype) are stories or frameworks that help us understand our own human experience. We only need to choose one of those archetypes/metaphors and overlay it across our experience, which reveal truths or helps us see the patterns of our lives in a more universal context. I don’t think it’s a “particular metaphor is good to combat a particular angst (the “productivity” question you pose). I think the measure of a metaphor’s “productivity” is how clearly it illuminates a truth or helps us recognize a pattern or a structure, the landscape of our minds.

      Your other question: creative and free-flowing at work, but clenching up at the prospect of putting something of yourself on the page? Different facets of it get discussed here weekly. No tricks, no hacks, no shortcuts. I guess it’s boiled down to three words, acted upon in the face of fear and uncertainty: Read, sit, write.

  11. Scott Mann on January 25, 2023 at 2:20 pm

    Great comment Steve. My Wilderness seems to come at me from every direction these days. It also serves as a reliable metric when everything else is failing me that I’m on the right path. No wilderness…no STORY.

  12. Toni on January 25, 2023 at 3:20 pm

    it feels like a perpetual battle.
    the achievement of anything, even hard-earned anything(s) that require a part of me to die so that something else can live, seems to be short-lived and I am back in the saddle wrestling wilderness demons.
    Maybe I am not very clear on what I really, really want … ?

  13. Pat on January 25, 2023 at 7:00 pm

    Walter — There is so much that attracts or is it distracts? We learn either way if we are seeing.

  14. Aty on January 25, 2023 at 8:00 pm

    Thanks so much for showing hope…walking through the wilderness trail manifests it after all pretension is lost

  15. Tolis Alexopoulos on January 26, 2023 at 10:21 am

    Thank you very much Steve and all people here!

    Wilderness… so strange a thing, we think that we’re safe but we are not. We think that Wilderness is out of our land but it is not. We are only small lives (decades) within billions of years and shapes of life and evolution.

    Wilderness is not scary although it frightens us. It is not hard although we may be on our 80’s and still trapped within it.

    If I clear out all dynamics I can see only one simple truth: that we can either catapult our source (not soul, I’d prefer the other word) or let it crawl. And that can be done in a good way or in a bad way. And whenever it is done in a good way it leads towards Plato’s light out of the cave, while in a bad way it burries deeper in the black.

    Com’ on, cavemen and cavewomen! The darkness is not charming like the movies made us believe. It is statical and boring as hell. Boring not for our daily moods, boring for our very essence, the source.

    p.s. 2nd to 3rd month of my struggle against the last weapon of Resistance: full exploit of it’s powers against me. I feel it lying on the beach happy, drinking a mojito, wearing sunglasses and a colorful swimsuit because it forced me to stop. It lies next to a beautiful seashore with white sand and enjoys it’s victory with a sense of relaxation.

    It’s only blind side is that I keep on struggling against the shadows that it sent me in positive and energetic ways. Mr. Jim Rohn said, “Someone says: ‘Ah, I have this lousy job but I goof off, if I had a good job I’d really pour it on.’ But that’s not the philosophy.” Another hole on the ground of Resistance popped out too, but I won’t even whisper it – remember Marcus Aurelius talking about Rome at the Gladiator. And another.

    There is the Good Spirit of the chair too. It holds the chair ready for sitting all the time one doesn’t have the ability to sit on it. It is, using Kate’s word, f*cking steady and it will be next to the writer for their whole life.

    So strange a world, so fool a man.

  16. Harry Black on January 27, 2023 at 12:16 am

    Now, about the True Self:
    Does it exist -in potential- when we incarnate?
    Or is it something we manufacture as we go along in life?
    Perhaps it’s result of taking opportunities and making mistakes and trying to learn from them, and making adjustments to our aims as we learn from Reality
    I suppose the True Self can be usefully imagined to be a combo of these things.
    Must remind ourselves to be open to and to make unstinting efforts to overcome the delusions and defenses we create in earlier phases in our lives -in our attempts to survive and to thrive as we face our challenges and our opportunities.
    I find Mr Pressfield to be an excellent guide, excellent teacher in these matters.

  17. teempade04 on January 27, 2023 at 12:17 pm

    Thanks for the post and effort! Please keep sharing more such blog’s with us

  18. Bryan on January 29, 2023 at 10:55 am

    Steve — Just wanted to say that this was a very profound post for me, especially your line about how addictions can be a way to run from love. I have been doing a lot of thinking about that very subject lately and it was as if the muse dropped your newsletter into my box this past Wednesday with the precise message that I needed to hear. Thank you so much!

    I was also SO happy to come home from a business trip on Friday night and find my Govt Cheese box awaiting me. The card that you included with the book is profoundly inspirational — brought tears to my eyes in fact. Your picture of the red cat on the other side reminded me of an animal that changed my life too. You do such an incredible job of pulling these things together and impacting our hearts and souls — keep it coming!

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