Don’t Die With All Your Music Inside You

Treat Thompson



Ratatouille, Pixar (2007)

Everyone’s an artist.

We all feel the urge to immortalize our lives by cementing our experiences in words, music, and pictures. But not everyone does it.

Ben Folds captures this perfectly.

As we speed past moments in a day, we want to give form to what we feel, what was obvious but got lost in the shuffle. We want to know that someone else noticed that shape we suspected was hovering just beyond our periphery.

And we want that shape, that flicker of shared life experience, captured in a bottle, playing up on a big screen, gracing our living room wall, or singing to us from a speaker. It reminds us where we have been, what we have felt, who we are, and why we are here.

We all see something blinking in the sky at some point, but it’s a damn lot of work to put it in the bottle. Maybe that’s why only some of us become artists. Because we’re obsessive enough, idealistic enough, disciplined enough, or childish enough to wade through whatever is necessary, dedicating life to the search for these elusive flickers, above all else.

Ben Folds, A Dream About Lightning Bugs

Steven Pressfield drills down on that struggle.

He says creativity is war—making art has to be fought for.

The enemy in this fight is resistance.

Are you a writer who doesn't write, a painter who doesn't paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

It’s the self talk that convinces us not to do what we care about.

When we try to sit down and take on the painful task of expressing ourselves, resistance suggests a million other things to do instead.

Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stick up man. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

We’ll feel it any time we want to pursue something meaningful.

Resistance only opposes in one direction—from a lower sphere to a higher sphere.

If you’re in Calcutta working with the mother teresa foundation and you're thinking of bolting to launch a career in telemarketing, resistance will give you a free pass. It only kicks in when we want to pursue a calling in the arts, launch a business, or evolve morally, ethically, or spiritually.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Pressfield explains what resistance does to an amateur artist.

He doesn't show up every day. He doesn't show up no matter what. He is not committed long term. The amateur has not mastered the technique of his art. He does not have a sense of humour about failure. You don't hear him bitching "This fucking trilogy is killing me!" Instead, he doesn't write it at all.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

That’s why artists need to learn how to be miserable.

Learning how to be miserable is invaluable for an artist. The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation. The artist must love being miserable and take pride in being more miserable than any other artist. Because this is war, and war is hell.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

When you embrace sitting down and being miserable with your art it starts to be fun.

Like doing a treacherous hike up a mountain for a beautiful view. Over time there won’t be much that can rip you away from it.

The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down everyday and trying. This is because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose. This is a secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don't.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

It comes down to just doing it.

Are you a born writer? Were you put on the earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action. Do it or don’t do it.

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

There’s art inside all of us waiting to come to life, if we never act on it, we rob the world of ourselves.

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.

Martha Graham, The Life and Work of Martha Graham

Oliver Holmes said “many people die with all their music in them.” Don’t be one of them.