The fact that I just referred to my chronic procrastination/perfectionism as “creative struggles” makes me want to X out of this window and stop being friends with myself.
I read somewhere that there are two kinds of anxiety (not including the misfiring-neurotransmitters kind; that's a post for another day). There’s the one that paralyzes you. The fear of what might be keeps you from even trying. I’ve told this story before, but when I was in second grade, my teacher had to have a chat with my mom. I was a well-behaved, smart kid, but there was a problem with my spelling tests.
They were all blank.
One showed a bit of hope—I’d written in a correctly-spelled word, but erased it. When my mom confronted me, I told her I wasn’t going to write down the word unless I was 100% sure I was spelling it right. The anxiety of being wrong, of embarrassing myself in print, paralyzed me even at age 7.
Stephen Pressman calls this Resistance. I’ve been reading his incredible book The War of Art as a sort of inspirational procrastination, and his words are getting under my skin. If you’ve ever struggled to do anything worthwhile, you’ve encountered Resistance, and you should read this book. Pressman writes, “If you believe in God (and I do) you must declare Resistance evil, for it prevents us from achieving the life God intended when He endowed each of us with our own unique genius.”
And then, skating on the edges of Godwin's Law, he offers this zinger:
You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. […] Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.
The other kind of anxiety is the one that propels you forward. It comes from the fear of what might not be. It comes from thinking in reverse, of imagining what your 85-year-old self will want to have accomplished.
I met with a writer last spring, who spent a good couple of hours destroying my confidence and scaring the living daylights out of me. “If there’s anything else you can do other than write,” he told me, “do that.” That’s the kind of anxiety the drives you—if I can’t do this I won’t survive.
These two anxieties have been duking it out in my exhausted brain for months. I scribble ideas for blogs, short stories, essays, and even books all over my planner. I’m terrified of forgetting a great idea, but I’m conquered by the fear of putting it on paper. This fear is the very thing that assures me of my calling. I have never had more free time on my hands, and I’ve never worked harder to not do what I must be called to do. Pressman writes,
We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others. Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.
Resistance is a new enemy every day. But as in every difficult effort, you’ve got to push through the pain. It gets harder before it gets easier, right?
And before I start to feel too anxious about this wilting conclusion, here’s a darling letter F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his 11-year-old daughter, on what not to worry about.
Photo taken by me, with an iPhone, outside a Vietnamese restaurant in Wichita, Kansas.