Turning Points In The Lives Of Creative People

From the time I was a little boy watching mystery movies I’ve waited for the first clue. From that point on the solution is just a matter of time. All fates are sealed with that clue.  I will watch movies over and over, waiting for that definitive clue. And then I’m thrilled.  In the same way, I can’t think of any time in my life I haven’t been intrigued by those events in peoples’ lives that started them on the course that would define them as human beings—the Turning Points in their lives. The first clue.

Why were they this and then became that? What happened?  I would like to know. That’s true now of artists whose lives fascinate me—writers, painters, sculptors, actors, ballet dancers, composers, musicians. Was it a lucky break or a bad break? A triumph or a failure?  An illness? A significant man or woman?  A teacher? A lover? A walk on a beach?  A birth, a death?

If you and I were ever to meet–how nice that would be–I’d ask you about yours. I think you would tell me that after the Turning Point you knew right turning-arrowaway you’d never be the same. You were facing in a new direction. Winds picked up and caught your sails and you set out to sea. You were on a quest and were experiencing the pouring-out of floods of creative thoughts. You’re confident that your quest is still leading to something though you might not be aware yet just where it will take you. You will have to see.

American Nobel Prize dramatist EUGENE O’NEILL’S Turning Point was a life-threatening illness. The son of a rich and famous actor, he quit college after a year, worked as a deck hand on ocean-going ships, drank heavily in various ports, and dissipated his life.

Then he experienced his Turning Point: “I just drifted along till I was twenty-four and then I got a jolt and sat up and took notice. Retribution overtook me and I went down with T.B. It gave me time to think about myself and what I was doing—or, better, wasn’t doing. I got busy writing one act plays…If I hadn’t had an attack of tuberculosis, if I hadn’t been forced to look at myself, while I was in the sanitorium, harder than I had ever done before I might not have become a playwright.” He would, he said, “Become an artist or nothing.” From that point on, his life was centered on, focused on, and organized around writing plays.

Writer RAYMOND CHANDLER’S Turning Point was getting fired from a high-paying executive job. For many years he drifted from job to job. He started in silhouette-144967_640business as an accountant and rose to the ranks of the director of eight oil corporations. He was called by some the best businessman in America. He drank so heavily that he started going off on his own on binges without telling anyone for weeks at a time and eventually was fired– the worst crisis of his life.

But while driving along California’s Pacific coast to a cabin where he planned to figure out what to do now, he stopped at a gas station and picked up reading material: copies of Black Mask, a magazine of hard-boiled detective stories. Reading them, he decided that he could write stories as good as those, and that’s what he did, starting a  writing career at age 44 that saw him establish himself as probably the greatest writer in that genre.

Self-taught VINCENT VAN GOGH’S Turning Point was reading a particular book. Before deciding to devote himself to art he wrote to his brother Theo: “I quite well remember that when you spoke at the time of my becoming a painter, I thought it was very impractical and would not hear of it. What made me cease vincent-van-gogh-self-portrait-1887to doubt was my reading a clear book on perspective, Cassagne’s Guide to the ABC of Drawing and a week later I drew the interior of a kitchen with a stove, chair, table and window, in their place and on their legs, while before it had seemed to me witchcraft or pure chance to get depth and the right perspective in drawing. If you had only drawn one thing right, you would feel an irresistible longing to draw a thousand other things.”

Many creative people have Turning Points in childhood. They fall in love with some activity. Children who know what they are in love with and are pretty boy-paintingsure what they will be when they grow up are likely to be creative as adults.

At the age of eight Nobel writer SAUL BELLOW was hospitalized for half a year in the children’s ward. With boys and girls dying all around him he decided that his own survival was a near miracle; that he was “privileged” and that there was some form “of bookkeeping going on.”

He did his own mental bookkeeping and decided he “owed something to some entity for the privilege of surviving.” He believed he had “better make it worth the while of whoever it was that authorized all this.” In his twenties he turned to writing and went on to achieve all the highest literary awards. Until he died he thought it possible that he had “gotten away with something but that it had been by permission of some high authority.”

Short story specialist/poet RAYMOND CARVER’S Turning Point was meeting a teacher– being taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop by John Gardner and pen-27043_640being affected profoundly. Carver said that whatever Gardner had to say “went right into my blood stream and changed the way I looked at things…He took my stories more seriously… I was completely unprepared for the kind of criticism I received from him.”

Gardner taught Carver to be tough on himself, showing what is best about all good teachers. Through them you learn to adopt an objective critical attitude toward your work.  You learn “taste.” At that point Carver and his wife Maryann shared the goal of Raymond not selling out his writing and not have him get involved in any career but writing. Not to forget that he was put on earth to be a great writer and for no other reason.

MARY CASSATT’S Turning Point midway in her paining career was the result mary-cassatt-89730_6401of a sequence of Turning Points: living in Paris, mingling with the French Impressionists, especially Edgar Degas, and becoming an Impressionist herself. But the single most important turning point for Cassatt was finding her true subject: mothers with their children.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY’s Turning Point was deciding a college education wasn’t for him and landing a job as a journalist on the Kansas City Star.  Over the years the “Stars” editors had complied a book of 110 rules designed to force reporters to ernest-hemingway-401493_640use simple, plain, direct, cliché-free English, and those rules were strictly enforced. Hemingway’s writing style that revolutionized the way writing is done across the globe, was based on those very rules. He later called them, “the best rules I ever learned about writing.” He showed the first cable he ever wrote to fellow writer Lincoln Steffens and said, “Steffens, look at this cable: no fat, no adjectives, no adverbs…It’s a new language.”

Novelist THOMAS WOLFE’S Turning Point was submitting his first novel to Maxwell Perkins and Perkins becoming his editor. Perkins was the most acclaimed book editor of the twentieth century and thus far in the twenty-first. During the 1920s and 30s his Scribner’s writers included the greatest and most gifted working with one editor in the history of American publishing. They included, in addition to his protégé Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ring Lardner. Wolfe’s association with Perkins is the most celebrated author/editor relationship in American literature.

Wolfe was stupendously talented. But his main problems were his uncontrollable, obsessive verbosity and a chronic inability to cut that resulted in unedited manuscripts of fantastic lengths, three or four times longer than a publishable book could possibly be.

Those problems in turn were caused by Wolfe’s difficulty making any kind of vintage-typewriterindependent decisions. He didn’t know where or what to cut. He would stare for hours at the manuscript before eliminating a few sentences when his agreement with Perkins was that he would strike out tens of thousands–a hundred thousand—words. He would start by rereading the manuscript section by section, trying to find things that were unnecessary and could be omitted. But he was totally blind to them. He never in his entire career had a concept of a publishable book.

The day before Christmas, 1929 Wolfe wrote to Perkins: “One year ago I had little hope for my work, and I did not know you…. You are now mixed with my book in such a way that I can never separate the two of you. I can no longer think clearly of the time I wrote it, but rather of the time when you first talked to me about it, and when you worked upon it….You have done what I had ceased to believe that one person could do for another–you have created liberty and hope for me.” Wolfe wrote a note to Perkins: “In all my life, until I met you, I never had a friend.”

I doubt there’s ever been a great creator who after a Turning Point didn’t have a powerful sense of single-mindedness and an ability to persevere, face difficulties, and concentrate on reaching goals while resisting distractions.

And rarely, if ever, wandering off on tangents. High-powered focused attention is a result of Turning Points–the ability of the creator to be absorbed, caught up in, and wholly involved in his/her creative existence.

Do you remember your Turning Point?  Just look up from the screen now and reflect on when the first clue appeared in the mystery you call your life and you turned from this direction to that.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Ross Lockridge: Artistic Success Became Tragedy

As a boy I had heard the story of the short, strange life of a novelist from my part of the country who wrote one book, and then he died. When I was old enough I read it, and it was a long and wonderful, beautifully-written book. tree-246194_640And I remember the movie they made from it, and the wistful music and the tall golden tree at the end when everything turned out well. I have the feeling now that a little time should be taken to remember him.

His goal since his Midwest American childhood was to write a great successful novel. Why shouldn’t he? If ever there was “a charmed life” it belonged to Ross Lockridge, Jr.  He was immensely talented, handsome, confident, reliable, competitive, rarely drank and never smoked, married to his pretty hometown sweetheart, father of four, brilliant, a success at everything he ever attempted– sports, academics, girls—highest GPA in Indiana University history—for six years a relentless worker on the novel that consumed and obsessed and tormented him and on which he staked his claim to greatness—Raintree County.

He believed in his critically-admired and widely-praised book and single-mindedly devoted himself to writing it and to its promotion. He worked with no other purpose, compelled by a force that made everything but the book unimportant, nothing else mattering—twenty or thirty pages a day flying from his typewriter–a rich man now after years of financial worries, scrounging, budgeting, and sacrificing. Yet shortly after Raintree had catapulted him into fame and money, and was the biggest success in the literary world, seeing his book become not just a hit, but the number one best seller in the United States, he committed suicide.

He left the new house his royalties had bought him, telling his wife he was going to mail the letters he was holding in his hand and might stop over at his book-with-treefather’s house to listen to a basketball game on the radio. He seemed to be in a good mood and had seemed cheerful all day. He was now mentally ill and had to admit that. He had sought treatment though his family didn’t want to admit he was sick. Recently, his wife had found him opening and closing the kitchen cabinets and asked him what he was doing. He said, “I’m looking for a way out.” His many treatments of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy—“shock treatment”) had failed.

He went into the garage, locked the doors behind him, started the engine of his new car and ran a vacuum cleaner hose from the tail pipe into the car’s ventilation system. He lay down in the back seat and was found by his family hours later. He was thirty-three.

There is never a single theme, event, or explanation that comes out of a man or woman’s life. But no one who knows anything about how easy it is to be trapped in a pursuit of achievement that’s gotten out of control, especially in the arts, can fail to hear the echoes of similar voices equally successful and equally in despair—Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway’s suicide and one of the twentieth century’s most influential poets Sylvia Plath’s suicide, and Pulitzer Prize winning beautiful, sexy poet, doomed Anne Sexton’s.

Success not only did not bring Lockridge happiness, it brought pain and depression. Everything in his life he’d reflected in his book and now the book branches-625907_640was done and he had nothing creative left. He tried, but he couldn’t write anymore. He felt he had made too many compromises to his publisher and the movie studio, had given in too often when he shouldn’t have, and had sold his soul and was paying for it.

Anyone who’s been touched by fame’s and wealth’s pursuit recognizes the symptoms of Lockridge’s ambition gone awry: sadness, the sense of being cheated and exploited, resentments, anger, hostility, and then the misery of miseries: his inability to create. The fulfillment that gives a healthy artist’s life, its main meaning was no more. All his joy was gone. Success was too difficult for Ross to bear.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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Filed under Ernest Hemingway, Life History Study, Literature, Raintree County, Ross Lockridge, Writers

Art and Memory

“A man’s work is nothing but the slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened “(Albert Camus).

I

I’m now well, but for years I wasn’t. I lay in bed day and night in an upstairs room in a silent house alone but for my son’s cat Monty beside me to my left cat-114629_640and my dog Jack to my right: my beloved companions. I watched no TV, listened to no radio, read no newspapers, and heard no music.

From that bed I could see out the bedroom windows the crowns of a grove of tall, flourishing trees.  I watched on the trees the seasons change, the leaves brilliant, blinding green in spring, crimson and gold in autumn, brittle and curled when they came to rest on my window sill. Some winters there was more snow there on the branches of those trees than other winters.

Unable to write anymore or to read the books I loved or live a physical life. I decided I would not waste time wondering why what had happened to me had winter-1153669_640happened.  I would have to stay alert and live a life of the mind, and I set a project for myself. I would reconstruct my life to date through my memory. From that bed I would flee into solitude and journey backwards in time.

We set the dead aside as though we have no need of them. But I wanted to pluck out of the long ago the people who had populated my world when I was growing up. I had lived among them and knew their gestures. I had heard them speak so many times, and wondered greatly about them. But I didn’t know who they really were, didn’t know what their days and nights had been like. I realized that if I wanted to be with them, though most had died, I would have to discover them in myself where they all still lived.

I was growing older. My children were gone now—my daughters Stephanie and Alice and my sons Evan and Eli. Their laughter no longer brightened the house. I didn’t know what would become of me. But I wanted to see things as they were before forgetfulness mounted and memories faded and were lost or my life ended and the memories I had assembled ended with me.

I longed to walk through the house where I had grown up and to look out on the street and see the wealth of familiar things that were before me every day days-and-nights-pic_copyin my youth, no sights as dear to me as what I saw from the kingdom of my porch. I wanted to hold my father’s hand again and look into his kind eyes. I wanted to revel in everything–the hum of voices, the smells of night air, those early-evening hawks floating above my house and tucking their wings in to their bodies and diving like falling kites, the taste of my mother’s dinner in my mouth, the sight of her trying on a new hat, and of my younger sister Sharon—my pal–who died so young as a little girl coming up the stairs in her favorite beige coat with a fur collar as I remembered her.

I decided I would try to remember accurately and when I was able to write again, if ever, I wouldn’t lie about what I had discovered because in writing or painting—or acting–one should never lie.  Russian Anton Chekhov said, “Art has this great specification: it simply does not tolerate falsehood.”

And so hour after hour, again and again in my search for truth I burrowed back into myself and evoked the days and nights of my childhood. I notebook-86792_640remembered as well as I could what I had experienced myself and what had been told to me. When there in that room  I came upon something that didn’t make sense to me, and I couldn’t explain, or didn’t remember clearly, or couldn’t possibly know, I relied on my imagination.

My father’s brother died tragically and violently, and my great uncle was a war hero under enemy fire–a rescuer of wounded men–and too, died tragically. I thought about them so many times—of the stories of them I’d been told–and decided that what I’d been told must be incomplete. So I inferred what their real stories were that I hadn’t been told. I concluded that my uncle, that troubled and most charming man we all loved, must have let himself be murdered.

Loneliness, solitude, and isolation are at the core of a creator’s life as they are of a sick person’s life. I learned to adjust to them because I had no choice. I became an expert on despair and pain during that period—despair that is beyond despair, pain beyond pain.

II

At first my remembering was over in a few minutes and was very general and unclear. Memories were there in my mind and then slipped away. I might be distracted by a sound: a storm wind blowing wildly through my trees, or a siren. But then I slowed down and focused intently and remembered in finer and finer detail.  At first I might remember being six and feeling again that tingle of anticipation—of joy– I always felt in my boy’s strong body–my arms, handsmy legs, my fingers–and climbing flights of thickly carpeted stairs with my family—my father in front of me, my brother John behind–and entering an apartment. Then I would remember a hallway; then in a glass case that was taller than a man my Aunt Sarah’s menagerie of little colored glass animals, a rearing white unicorn, a red deer. Then the smell of turkey. It was a holiday. We were all happy.

Detail is the secret of remembering, I discovered–details and details of details, a multiplicity of details, as it is the secret of all the arts when they are done beautifully, a preciseness of vision. That was an important revelation. “Thus the greatest poets are those with memories so great that they extend beyond their strongest experiences to their minutest observations of people and things” (English poet Stephen Spender).

III

My life, like yours, has been carried away by passing days. But time doesn’t disappear absolutely, gone forever, but remains inside—every image and horizon-768759_640impression once experienced is waiting patiently to be retrieved—“those thousands of things which all of us have seen for just a flash…which seem to be of no consequence…which live in our minds and hearts forever” (American novelist Thomas Wolfe).

Over and over, hour after hour, day after day I was moving in closer, backing up and rethinking until I was satisfied and could say, “Yes, yes, that is how it was when I was a boy. I’ve gotten it right.” I did that carefully. I had all the time in the world because I didn’t know if I’d ever be well and wasn’t in a hurry.  I didn’t know if I’d have what it takes to transform memories into meaningful images and words, into art. But I was growing more confident now that one day I would.

Night would be falling before I heard footsteps on the stairs and a door opened and I could answer the question I’d waited so eagerly for all day: “Hello, dear, what did you remember today?”

Time passed and I was well again. Then I left that room.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Filed under Artistic Integrity, Artists, Growing Up Stories, Memory, Personal Stories, Writers

Joys Of A Workaholic Writer Wasting Time

I’ve been trumpeting to anyone within ear shot that workaholic artistic people frog-1339897_640with their powerful and constant and sometimes obsessive need to work at their craft so they might improve and be more successful are the hardest working and most productive individuals on this planet.

That’s all true, but today my plan is to not produce a thing.

Today I will explore the joys of wasting time.

When I was a business consultant giving presentations to executives I’d say “Ladies and gentlemen I have utmost respect for your capacity for work, and I know you think you’re a hard worker. But you should spend a day with a ballerina. Then you’ll see what it means to work hard.” I’d ask, “For example, how many of you feel so strongly about reaching excellence that you’d practice till your poor muscles screamed and your feet bled?”

But I’m going to waste time all day. I’ll just see what happens.

A number of studies comparing novices with experts in most fields support the idea that because of their great knowledge and skill, experts are able to accomplish with almost no effort what non-experts can accomplish only with difficulty or can’t accomplish at all. That’s just common sense, isn’t it?

But common sense or not, that’s not true of artistic work. In fact, the opposite is true. Expert artists of all sorts—you very well may be one–work harder, not less hard than non-experts.  So:

THE BETTER SCULPTOR, PAINTER, NOVELIST, ACTOR, OR POET WORKS HARDER.

But I’ve taken this Wednesday in August off and I’m not thinking of anything like that because rarity of rarities I don’t feel a bit like working and have frog-914522_640decided to play hooky. I’m playing over again and again Simply Red singing the exciting “Fairground” and I feel terrific.  I’m writing this and don’t have the faintest idea where I’m going with it, and that feels great. I feel free, as if I’m in a forest as the Zen people say sitting quietly under a tree, doing nothing, while the roses grow by themselves.

At the moment it’s 2:10 p.m. In a few hours my wife Diana will be coming home and we’ll go out to eat. But first I want to finish this, wherever it’s taking me.

My “Let’s accomplish absolutely nothing today” rebellious mood began this morning when I woke up in yesterday’s street clothes on the couch at five according to the TV I’d left on all night. I just lay there and thought of my goals for the day, the way I start every day—take a look at the long email an editor sent and write a response thanking him, and continue finishing up my book I’ve designed for those whom I call “Stage Three Creators” who are not Stage One or Stage Two creators.

(If you’re curious, according to me:

Stage I creators don’t know the first thing about their craft, but don’t know they don’t know

Stage II creators realize they don’t know the first thing about their craft. So they try to learn as much as they can about their craft

Stage III creators realize there’s a lot more to know about their craft than anyone told them)

But I could tell my goal-setting mind and my I’m-all-set-to- work-let’s-get-the-show-on-the-road mind weren’t synchronized today. So my normal write-read-study daily schedule was tossed out the window and I thought, “For today at least, good riddance.  I think I’ll just putter around the house without feeling guilty.”

I can’t be away from written words for more than a few hours. So I went downstairs to my bookcases and tried to find something that would make me

booksfeel I’d gotten something out of the day even if I didn’t write a word. I passed up Chekhov, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway’s Death in The Afternoon, which I’d never read, and Flannery O’Connor whom I’ve never read, and John Cheever’s collected stories and Raymond Carver’s Cathedral, and so forth.

And there packed in among all my so-many books I saw that little paperback my father had bought me that early autumn afternoon he’d taken my older brother John and me for a commercial boat ride on Lake Michigan when I was eight or nine, I think—The Great Short Stories of Robert Louis Stevenson. Ten brilliant tales by the best-loved storyteller of all time, the book says. Dad had taken us to a book store in Chicago’s downtown (which we Chicagoans call The Loop) before the boat ride and told us completely by surprise that we could each pick out any book we wanted and he would give it to us. We weren’t rich. What a luxury for me to have my own book.

It was the first book I’d ever owned, that I’d taken my time going through the store and picked out myself. I can remember as though it is happening now looking over the racks for the right book—will it be this one or that one? I looked at the book’s price this morning—35 cents—and at the copyright date—so long ago. The pages are brown and the paper is brittle. The cover is bent but not torn. Through the years I’ve taken good care of it. Wherever I’ve moved, whatever heaven or hell I was going through, it’s come along. How could I possibly be without it?

What pleasure it gives me to see that little book again and to hold it in my hands. It meant so much to me that day. During the boat ride (the boat was named The Blue Dog) I remember that I could hardly take my eyes off the book though it was a lovely day, the sunlight reflected so brightly off the towering buildings along Chicago’s luscious skyline, the surface of the lake blue-gray and green. But it was my book, the first book that I alone had picked out and now could read as many times as I wanted and could keep.

It’s back to work tomorrow for me, but now I’m thinking I don’t know if my father giving me that book was in any way instrumental in setting me off in the direction of a writer’s life. But here I am thoroughly, completely, and irrevocably a writer. And I’ve never since childhood wanted to be anything but.

Writer's Block

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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Filed under Artists, Goals and Purposes, Personal Stories, Wasting Time, Work Production, Workaholic, Writers

Creative People’s Goals

I’d been talking to a novelist and asked her what she was up to. She said, “In the next three years I want to accomplish five things. First I will …Then … And also …” Was I impressed. She was clear and confident about her goals and I was shocked because many writers, like many artists, dancers, actors, composers, and other creative people don’t give their goals enough thought. So much so that I can just hear them thinking right now, “Oh, this post is going to be about goals—that kind of stuff. So I’ll read something else.” Big mistake.

In the business world goals are talked about all the time. Everyone who works in an organization has goals. But many creators have an aversion to goals that Set Goalsmystifies me. And they invent phony-baloney excuses for not pursuing them such as: “Creative people don’t need goals; they’re too spontaneous,” “I don’t see the value,” “I’ve never been able to stick to goals,” “I don’t have time for that,” and so on.

But the creator’s ever-active, never-resting mind—your mind, my mind–is confused when it doesn’t know what to do—when it doesn’t have clear, specific, empowering goals. (Be sure the goals are specific; general goals are meaningless.) The last thing a creative person needs is a muddled brain. So the mind’s greatest burden is to decide very clearly what must be done. When you discover what you must accomplish—today, in a year, in five–uncertainties disappear and you become productive. And productivity—the production of fine works one after another for the whole length of a successful career—is the main goal of creative people. Productivity is what all their routines and rituals are aimed at.

Many creative people don’t realize that usually the best in a field is also the most prolific. Except those who produce very little, but everything they do produce is perfect and hasn’t a single flaw.

Think Hard

Think hard about your creative goals because the more thought and the more intense the thought you give to shaping, reshaping, and fleshing them out, the  clearer and more specific they’ll become and the more strongly you’ll be committed to achieving them. That’s not just my opinion. It’s an indisputable fact.

The more intense you are about reaching your goals, and the more you talk about them with family, friends, and other creators and teachers and mentors the more likely you are to overcome obstacles and persevere and reach them. Simply stating a goal to another person–saying as that novelist said to me, “Here is what I’m going to accomplish”–increases the likelihood that you’ll accomplish it.

Then you feel a sudden zest, a tingle. Your imagination catches fire.  You’re Be optimisticfilled with optimism. Then you’re confident, and bear in mind that in every field on earth without exception–especially in the arts–more people fail because they lack confidence than fail because they lack talent.

It is confidence and not talent that’s the secret of most successful people’s success. Confident creators are rarer than talented creators. I take for granted that you’re talented. You wouldn’t have gone into acting, writing, painting, etc. in the first place if you weren’t talented. But if you have faith in yourself you’ll reach higher levels of success than other creators of equal talent who lack that faith in themselves. Think about that. Read that sentence again. You must never for more than five minutes lose confidence. Whenever you feel your confidence seeping away say, “Hey, enough of that.”

When your goals are highly charged  and you’re committed to them heart and soul, there’s hardly an obstacle that you can’t overcome—big obstacles, small obstacles, old obstacles, and new obstacles—no obstacle out in the world, and no obstacle in you. Then you have both tremendous power and clear direction.

Run Through the Tape

The majority of artists and writers, like the majority of all other people, relax when the completion of a task or the achievement of a goal—even the goal of happiness–is within reach. Is it laziness or weariness or over-confidence or burnout or because the pressure is off? There are theories, but no one has been able to adequately explain why. Many athletes relax in the vicinity of victory, and entire armies do too. And many individuals, athletes, armies, writers and other artists just plain give up and quit.

Particularly when a long time is necessary to achieve a goal, you may become exhausted and disheartened. It’s only then, when you feel you’ve given everything that should reasonably be asked of a person and can’t go any further, yet continue bravely on nevertheless, that you show your true worth.

The best-trained track men and women don’t run to the tape, they run through it. They race to an imaginary finish line a few feet farther than the actual one. Run through the tapeIt’s that imaginary line they are racing to reach. There’s a tendency in many people not only to relax when they’re approaching their goals, but also when they’ve reached them. I know a man who had been trying to get a book published for years without success, but lost all ambition once he was told it was to be published.

We have to learn to pour it on and run through the tape and pursue our goals with unwavering, powerful commitment, striving much harder, not less hard, the closer we get to reaching them. Tell yourself, “Run through the tape. Run through the tape.”  When your friend Kate or Jack or Milly or Bill is easing up tell them, “Run through the tape. That’s the only way you’ll succeed.”

Stick like Glue

Stick to your creator’s goals like glue. Never let a gap open between you and them. Many people fail to reach their potential because they let too much distance open up. Or they let too much time elapse and lose momentum. Or they lose focus, frittering their days and years away as if they have an unlimited supply of them.

Whatever creative success is for you, attach yourself to it. Where it goes, you go. Always be gaining ground on your goals, your dreams. Never fall back. Never get so caught up in the B.S. of daily life that you forget all that your craft means to you. The creator’s life is the best life—you know that. If you’ve gotten sidetracked, straighten up and set out again with determination and courage. Fear nothing.  If you need to make changes, make them, sacrificing this, sacrificing that—they were mere impediments. Constantly remind yourself of your goals. Then stick to them like superglue.

© 2016 David J. Rogers

Parts of this post are based on material from my book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life.

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Serendipity in a Creator’s Life

My journey on the life path of the writer (you may be on a creator’s life path too)–studying writers and the writer’s life, and writing and reading a great Road with the-sun-470317_640deal of my time, setting writing as a high priority in my life; thinking of it all the time; sacrificing for it—was shaped by serendipitous experiences which are probably not very different from yours.

In the third grade when I was seven, the teacher, Miss Gross, stood at the front of the room and read to the class my theme–I’d described playing football. I’d said when I was tackled “I fell to the ground like a blob of jelly coming out of a jar.” Miss Gross said to the class. “David has used poetic language. He’s written what’s called a simile.” That single little event—her saying that and showing admiration for those few words,  and making me feel that it was somehow worth commenting on—immediately sparked something in me, let something  break free in me.

David youngRunning home down the street after school feeling wonderful and liberated—when I was young I was almost always running–I decided I would become a writer if there were such people and make similes as often as I wanted all the rest of my life. Miss Gross then encouraged me and worked with me and nurtured me. She arranged for my stories and poems to be published in newspapers and magazines. She asked me to apply myself and work hard at the writer’s craft. I was awarded first prize in a regional essay contest.

What if there hadn’t been a generous, giving Miss Gross in my life? What if she hadn’t been that kind of extraordinary teacher who holds students in highest regard and inspires them to aim high? What if she hadn’t cared enough to help me?

At about the age of nine I happened to be playing in front of the TV instead of playing tag outside with my brother and sisters when an old black and white English movie came on.  I knew nothing about acting, but there was one actor Laurence Olivieron the screen who I could see was doing something remarkable. He was just different, unlike any of the other actors, though I couldn’t say how. But I could see that something right there on the screen. What he was doing, how he was acting, the impression he was making made me feel a sensation which I now know was awe. I realized I was watching some exceptional thing I had never seen in movies before, in my life before. I pointed to him and asked my mother who that was. She was a movie buff. She knew. “That’s Laurence Olivier. He’s the greatest actor in the world.” Even so young I had recognized supreme mastery, the highest attainment of an art.

I decided that I wanted one day to be able to affect people the way his performance had affected me—he had made me gasp. And I thought the best way to do that was to write things so beautiful that people would gasp too. A major event for me in college involved another teacher, Dr. Hunt, a well-known visiting professor of creative writing who one day read to the class a piece I’d written. (The assignment was to describe a person by describing a piece of clothing they were wearing, and I wrote “My Father’s Corduroy Jacket,” the best writing I’d done to date.)  When she finished reading, she said, “A teacher waits her entire career for a student who can write like this.”  She had me visit her in her office and helped get my work in a prestigious literary journal. So there was my second encouraging Miss Gross who happened to be on the faculty for one semester—the same semester it fit my schedule to take her class.

To create beauty—to write beautiful poems and stories—I decided depended on how moving the subject was and also the beauty it was expressed with, and Writing near a treeI placed a great deal of emphasis on the imagery in the writing.  In college I’d read Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur,” and was greatly impressed with its beautiful language. I never forgot Hopkins and years later (before Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble) I had the urge to read a book studying his imagery so that it might affect my imagery. Wherever I traveled—and I did extensively, big cities, small towns–I visited new and used bookstores and in every bookstore I browsed for such a book, but never found it.

Once I was to give a speech in Rock Island, Illinois. It’s a small city in the western part of the state that I had never visited before. I discovered that the hotel I was to stay in had just been built and had opened its doors only a few trash-25081_640days before. It had hosted a conference for fire fighters. The attendees had left just the day before. The event at which I was to speak came next. I arrived at midnight and was given the only available room. I laid my bags on the bed, and then noticed something in the trash basket. Apparently it had been left by one of the firefighters and the maid had overlooked it when she cleaned the room.  There it was: a full-length book on the imagery of Gerard Manley Hopkins—another serendipitous event, the only available room, a fire fighter who liked Hopkins too, and a maid who’d forgotten about a trash basket.

Years later I’d been writing and researching fifteen or sixteen hours a day for many months to meet a book deadline, neglecting my wife, neglecting my children, concerned only with putting enough words on a page to satisfy me—words, words, words, words, words–an abstract existence. Everything, every experience that would go into the book had to be translated into language.

That night I’d had it; I couldn’t work another minute, stoic though I am; could not pull from my agonized brain another word. I quietly so as not to wake anyone left my home at about 3:00 a.m. and walked the Chicago streets trying to decide if I wanted to continue leading a grueling, neglectful life like that or follow a more conventional life, committing myself to “a regular 9-5 job.” It was a cool, pleasant night—very dark—with a soft, filmy mist in the air. Should I continue a writer’s difficult life?  Should I just finish this book and give it all up?

Then I noticed ahead of me something on the sidewalk precisely in the middle of a pool of bright white light cast by a street lamp, as though it had somehow Spotlightbeen known that I would find my way to that little street, and that object—whatever it was–had been placed there as though in a spotlight very carefully for me and me alone to see. I went to it and bent down and picked it up. It was a book—of all things a book–not a glove someone had dropped, or a scarf, but a new, thick hard-cover book. You see: I could not get away from the written word. I took this as a serendipitous sign that like it or not a writer’s life—imperfect, isolated, and much too demanding–was my identity and that it was futile for me to think writing would ever not be at the center of my existence.

It was a waste of time to imagine that I could ever get away from a life that had been shaped by Miss Gross, Laurence Olivier, Dr. Hunt, a literary fire fighter and forgetful maid, and the lesson of that book left for me in the pool of white light late at night on a Chicago street.

I’m sure you’ve had similar serendipitous experiences steering you straight to the craft you love and will always love–your writing, painting, acting, dancing, singing. And if you have the time I’d love to hear about them.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Filed under Becoming an Artist, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Goals and Purposes, Personal Destiny, Personal Stories, Self-Direction, Serendipity, The Writer's Path, Writers

Awakened to a Waiting Destiny

Throughout all my grade school and high school years the only things I could think of that distinguished me in any way at all from my classmates was my David youngability to write a decent composition and to run faster than all but  one other boy my age in the city of Chicago. I realized those abilities weren’t in the grand scope of life all that earth-shaking. In most other areas I was about average or a little above or a little below. I was shyer than most and much less inclined to study than most. My report cards usually said, “Needs to apply himself.”

Yet I remember that one day in the fourth grade as I was standing in line the thought came to me forcefully and abruptly that something quite possibly extraordinary was up ahead for me in my life. I was stunned. After all, I wasn’t much to speak of. So why was I being singled out like that?  But BOOM, there it was, a secret promise life was making to me–a pact was being made, a deal struck, a bargain arranged between an eight year old and the life he would later lead, a waiting destiny. I knew I should keep the experience to myself and not divulge it to any living person lest they think I was crazy, or a braggart, or most reprehensible of all, that I’d gotten too big for my britches.

I managed to keep this strange experience to myself for more than thirty years, never telling a soul, but never forgetting it. By accident it popped out of my mouth one night while I was speaking to a large audience. I’d been excited. I’d been in a groove. My spoken words had gotten ahead of my thoughts. As soon as it registered on me that I’d just divulged my secret experience I felt embarrassed. I was a professional, but I’d gotten off the topic and I wasn’t supposed to do that. Who was I to think that what had happened to me would be of interest to 6,000 strangers? I wasn’t that important.

But all around the auditorium—to my left, to my right, in front of me–I could see people smiling and nodding. Some had tears in their eyes. While describing people-545549_640my hidden childhood revelation I’d been describing theirs too! The cat they too had been holding in secret was finally out of the bag, and they were relieved to find they weren’t alone. We talked into the night, men and women, some young, some older, some confident, some timid telling their story as I’d told mine, often for the first time.  We were good friends now.  We had a lot in common. What a night.

Since that day I’ve often described my premonition to audiences large and small to see if anything similar had ever happened to any of them. So many people confess to having had that same sudden and overwhelming sensation of being selected for something specific that’s going to happen and will benefit them and perhaps many other people too in important ways. I’ve always suspected that for every person in the audiences who has the courage to raise a hand and admit to having had the identical experience, there are others who have reservations about appearing too big for their britches or divulging such secrets.

So what I realize now is that at some point in many lives there’s an experience foreshadowing a destiny that’s waiting and calling for us. We’d been selected highway-498304_640for a particularly exceptional undertaking and are being told about it—given hints and notifications that life is holding fruition in reserve, and that something worthwhile and wonderful in the swift flow of time is in store for us. It is not wishful thinking. It is not a fantasy or an empty dream, not mystical, not otherworldly, but a fact as real and as solid as any other fact. A hard and fast promise of what at last we really will become.

However modest and self-effacing you are I think you have the feeling that you are special and that you’re supposed to enjoy a life that’s also special. You know with no doubts whatsoever that you’re intended to lead a life that has meaning and to do significant things. You realize that you must hold steady to that goal, undeviating, even if you haven’t achieved it yet and don’t know exactly what it is, or when it will appear, even if from time to time you’re afraid you’ll never achieve it.  When this awareness of a waiting destiny strikes you it’s an intimation of things that surely will come.

Even as a boy I knew that.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Filed under Expectations, Goals and Purposes, Personal Destiny, Personal Stories

The Perfect Creative Personality

The Perfect Creator Is Bold

What have you been working for these years and developing your talents for if not to set your creative potential free? And you will not do that without being bolder.

I know a painter. The best teacher she ever had gave her the best advice she ever received. He looked at her as she painted and said, “You’re being too careful. Make bolder strokes.” He went away. She followed his advice. The teacher came back and studied her work. He raised his voice and said, “Bolder.” Later he came back again and said, even louder, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?” It’s worthwhile to say to ourselves from time to time in our creative lives, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?”

The argument easily can be made that boldness in and of itself is what brings success in life. It’s a quality of excellence, of greatness, in every discipline, paint-33883_1280every field, especially in the arts where courage isn’t a luxury but a necessity. The great creative personalities couldn’t have attained success had they not taken bold risks. Even becoming creative at all carries risks. Creating seriously isn’t a typical life. Most careers are much less risky.

For almost all people—creative men and women among them–the problem isn’t being too audacious, but not being audacious enough. Boldness is the power to let go of the familiar and the secure. It isn’t something you save for when your life and your creativity are going well. It’s precisely when things are going badly that you should be boldest. When things look grim and you’re most discouraged, increase your determination and go forward boldly. Boldness brings a new intensity and sets you apart. When the situation is unclear but the outcome is important, be bold.

I’m interested in the samurai way of life and wrote a book about it. I find in it many analogies to creative peoples’ lives. In kendo—samurai swordsmanship—there’s a move that requires the swordsman to pass very close under the arms fighter-155746_150of his opponent. It’s not a difficult move, but taking the chance of coming so close to the opponent frightens the swordsman. It’s only the fear of taking the risk that prevents victory. But accepting the fear and edging in close anyway can bring easy victory. The great swordsman is bold and knows that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foe’s blade. Your greatest future success in your creative life may lie close to the blade.

 

The Perfect Creator Is Sincere and Has Integrity

The true center of our experience with any kind of creation is the sense that someone with a mind, a personality, and a range of experiences is trying to communicate with us. That sense accounts—if it’s favorable–for much of the pleasure we get from the work or performance.  What a creative person is water-lilly-1227948_640intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally radiates in the work and can’t be hidden. Herman Melville said, “No man can read a fine author, and relish him to his very bones, while he reads, without subsequently“ forming “some ideal image of the man and his mind. And if you look…you’ll find the author has furnished you with his own picture.”

The  most loved creator is the one who’s able to develop a relationship with the audience that goes beyond liking and beyond friendship to intimacy, and that comes from above all else the sincerity we find in the work or the performance. Sincerity is what I sense all through the works of Pulitzer Prize winning author James Agee. Anyone who can write so beautifully and so sensitively, honestly, and intensely must be trying to pass on to me something that he cares deeply about.  (See especially Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.) The sincere, intimate creator invites us in to her inner life and says “Here I am.” The sincere creative man or woman is trying hard to convey something directly to me as well as he or she is able. And I respond.

Good creators have integrity. They are whole and authentic. When we have integrity we guarantee we aren’t faking, or deceiving, or compromising. It’s futile to think we can hide ourselves from the audience for very long or fool them into believing we’re something we’re not. The person we are—with our history and our points of view and perspectives and opinions–comes through clearly.

A creative person’s authentic voice isn’t achieved by adding something, but by the opposite process—by subtracting what’s pretentious or phony. Every creative person is different from every other. There are no duplicates. But whatever he is like, we’re trying to locate him, understand, and admire him.

 

The Perfect Creator Is Fearless

All athletes, business executives, adventurers–and cab drivers, accountants, homemakers—and all creative people of any kind know that the single emotion that most often holds them back is fear. Hardly a single day goes by without most people being afraid of something.

Every early morning I go to my work room upstairs and settle down to write. I’ve been writing so long and have produced so many words that generating work-space-232985_640text is second nature to me—easy, effortless, without strain. Yet, there is another emotion that is there with me some days, and certain days it’s powerful and tries to keep me from work. On those days I pause, fold my hands in my lap, gaze at the screen and ask myself, “What are you feeling now? Why are you hesitating?” And I answer, “What I’m feeling right now is fear.”

Author Joan Didion wrote, “I don’t want to go in there at all. It’s low dread every morning.. I keep saying ‘in there’ as if it is some kind of chamber, a different atmosphere. It is, in a way. There’s almost a psychic wall. The air changes. I mean you don’t want to go through that door.”

I ask myself, “What am I afraid of?”

Bear in mind that I’ve had many successes in writing. I’ve proven myself. Also, I am no coward who’s easily intimidated. I once rescued a woman from a would-be rapist–chased him, caught him, fought with him, wrestled him to the ground, and held him till the police came. I was heroic. Yet, when I sit at the computer to do the thing I do better than I do anything else, sometimes I’m scared.

Each time I visited a painter friend I saw the same unfinished painting on the easel. Nothing about it changed month after month. Not a single new brush stroke touched the canvas. Then she moved away and I didn’t see her for a number of years.  When we got together again I asked, “Whatever happened to that green pastel that was on your easel so long?”

She said, “I never finished it.”

I said, “You were afraid.”

She said, “I was terrified of it.”

The goal is to be fearless when facing your creative responsibilities and tasks and obstacles, as many creative people are. Or to learn to be unafraid, or being afraid, to face up to fears and conquer them. There are creative people who are totally fearless. They don’t experience any fear whatsoever, the way some soldiers are fearless—and happiest–when under fire in combat.  Such creative people have a high threshold of fear, just as some people have a high threshold of pain.

janet self protrait3

Janet Weight Reed, self-portrait http://janetweightreed.co.uk/

There are creative people who experience fear and are stopped by it. They may be superb creatively but that doesn’t matter. They’re at fear’s mercy. When you’re stopped by fear, you have only the slightest chance of being successful. That’s why the top is such an exclusive place—because fear stops so many people from reaching it. Thousands upon thousands of wonderfully talented creative people fall by the way and simply quit–hundreds or thousands every day– because fear paralyzes them and they aren’t able to recover. There’s no premium on gifted creators. Gifted creators with indefatigable courage are a rarer breed.

Then there are other creative people who feel afraid but conquer their fear by nevertheless doing what must be done. They feel as afraid as anyone else, but they react differently. They have a lower threshold of fear than the fearless person. But they don’t permit their fear to stop them. You look at them and you can hardly believe your eyes. You know they’re afraid, and yet are unstoppable. They know that the best way to conquer fear is to do what you fear to do no matter how afraid you are. And that you can do.

sea-gull-939474_640In Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the old man Santiago is in his skiff out on the sea when a small bird lands on the boat to rest. The old man talks to it, saying that the bird can stay for a while but then must fly away, taking his chances like every other bird And so must we creative people take our chances, afraid or unafraid.

 

Paintings by Janet Weight Reed, one of my favorite artists and bloggers, are featured in this post. When I told her I was writing a post on boldness, fearlessness and sincerity and would like to use a piece of her artwork, she sent me three paintings, saying:

If ever a painting of mine symbolises boldness and fearlessness, it is the attached (large oil on canvas) self-portrait.   It was painted in 1989 during one of the biggest turning points in my life and career.     I keep the painting with me as a reminder of what it is to persevere through seemingly impossible obstacles.

The hummingbird  (watercolour) also symbolises for me the same traits.     They have been significant in my paintings, large and small over the past 35 years, symbolising the ‘unseen magic’ of our world….a source to be tapped into during times of great duress.

When I observe the life of cats (small and large) – I see the same traits…..

Loving all Janet’s work, it was very difficult for me to choose one of the paintings, so I have included all three she sent me.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Be a Quiet Hero

“When something rotten like this happens you have no choice. You start to be really alive, or you start to die. That’s all” (James Agee).

Miche Watkins 1

“Should I Stay or Should I Go” by Miche Watkins http://www.michewatkins.com/

Has there ever been a person in all of history who hasn’t suffered?  A thing always alternates with its opposite. On the one hand we fall in love. On the other hand at some time our hearts are broken. Maybe more than once. There’s a time to be born and a time to die, a time to be healthy and a time to be sick. A time to succeed, a time to fail. A time to win and a time to lose. Joy comes into your life, and then sorrow arrives, at times with what seems an unbearable weight.

Then we must remake ourselves as heroes. Most of us have neglected the necessity of heroism in our daily lives. We think of heroism as an attribute solely of soldiers, adventurers, mountaineers, first responders, and the like–people who perform great dramatic deeds. Heroes take dark and dangerous journeys. They transform themselves into something that matters and makes a difference by overcoming trials and ordeals.

We have our own journeys and trials, and our own deeds to perform, which, though small, still have a tinge of greatness about them. We can be heroes every day, even with regard to small things, and being heroic in small everyday things, we can prepare ourselves for being heroic when misfortunes and disappointments strike. We forget almost everyone else, but the quiet heroes we’ve known in our lives are the people we will never forget.

Recently I attended a wheelchair basketball game. The players in wheelchairs passed the ball, took shots, got back on defense, scored, and worked hard. And wheelchairs-79604_640they laughed and the spectators cheered for them. When they collided and their chair was knocked over they righted it and settled back into the game. They were disabled and would never walk again. But they loved playing basketball and refused to stop playing just because of their disability. They were heroes. They never gave in. Some limitations we will never be able to change. But we can still refuse to be stopped by them, can still overcome them. The path to our major life purposes and fulfillment almost never lies in a straight line.

Many experts and music lovers consider Beethoven the greatest composer. He became aware that he was losing what he called his “noblest faculty,” his hearing, at the age of twenty-eight. Eventually he was completely deaf. He wrote, “I have avoided almost all social gatherings because it is impossible for me to say to people: I am deaf.” His battle with himself in facing up to the loss of that sense that should have been more acute in a composer than in others, and conquering it by continuing to live and work in spite of it is to be heard in the power and grandeur of the music he wrote, but could not hear.

At times living in a world without sound he was driven to despair and thoughts of suicide. But his commitment to his music kept him alive: “I would have ended my life. It was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me beethoven-1296374_640impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was in me.” That was his greatest triumph. When with all his strength and courage he had been reduced to despair and his deafness had cut him off from other people and driven him to terrible loneliness, he reached a turning point. He accepted deafness as a necessary condition of his life, and continued working in a frenzy in spite of it. He didn’t surrender to his suffering, but found in it the power to endure. “I am resolved, “he wrote, “to rise superior to every obstacle…I will take fate by the throat; it shall not wholly overcome me. Oh, it is so beautiful to live.” And the music this hero of the arts produced while totally deaf and suffering was magnificent.

Often the difference between a person who overcomes great obstacles and one who doesn’t isn’t that one is more intelligent than the other, or more gifted, or physically stronger–those things don’t matter very much to the everyday hero. But the one who has a powerful inner strength that is like a burning flame that nothing will ever be able to extinguish.  Even the meek can become heroes. There are situations every day that the timid and downtrodden rise up to meet.

You pass heroes every day on the street without realizing it. You glance at them, but don’t really see them. Who knows what they’re going through right walking-69708_640then as you look at them or how brave they’re being? You’re in a meeting and someone stands up and firmly says what everyone present knows is true but lacks the gumption to say. There is a hero. Whenever you face up to what you would rather hide from or ignore, you’re a quiet, unheralded hero. Homemakers are heroes at times, and at times workers are heroes, and a little child who is afraid of going to school but goes anyway is a hero. To face the truth about ourselves, to own up to our imperfections, takes a quiet and unobtrusive heroism. To lead our lives in an ethical way we must be heroes.

There come certain critical moments in your life when you’re at a crossroad: to be courageous or to be cowardly.  The moment of courage is the moment you plunge straight ahead with dignity and strength in spite of fears, ordeals, and adversities. At that point you transform your ordeal into a new power. Courage is what we do about our fears.

There’s no more important word in your language and mine than courage. You need courage even to love. The English word “courage” is from the Latin cor and the French word coeur“ heart.”  Courage is a thing of the heart.  It means never surrendering, never giving in, never giving up whether you’re in a hospital bed, or facing a devastating problem, or are discouraged. Whenever misfortune knocks you down, you get up. Your mind tells you that after failing three or four times you’d better give up. But your heart tells you that you must get up one more time. You know you will because your heart tells you that you will. You are knocked down seven times, so of course you get up eight.  It’s easy to keep going when nothing stands in your way. But when nothing stands in your way the prize at the end is usually nothing much to speak of.

We have to achieve our destiny whatever our circumstances. We all know at least one person who despite failed health or despite other misfortunes left his/her mark more decisively than others suffering under virtually no hardships and in perfect health.  The chief characteristic of Beethoven’s attitude toward life, and of courageous people today, is the learning that some suffering can’t be avoided. And in the realization of the heroism of continuing bravely on and reaching their purposes in spite of every obstacle.

We should let go of fear and self-pity and maintain the confidence that most things will turn out well after all. No matter what, we have to do the best we can, never losing faith in ourselves and the belief that life is more on our side than against us. In this life as it really is and not as we wish it were, something must always be left to chance.

But we have to go on go on living as well as we can, have to function in any case. If we can’t plow our way through hardships, limitations, and setbacks, we tree-240802_640can find ways to go around them and reach our purposes by other routes. We should save ourselves the unnecessary pain that comes from wishing unchangeable things to be any different than they are. There are at least a dozen things you regret and bemoan you did in your life, and many things that have happened to you that you wish hadn’t. But you can’t change them now and you have to go on living fruitfully with zest nevertheless.

When you’re brave you grow in stature. You’re a remarkable human being. You’re someone to take note of. Someone to admire. All people who stand up to misfortune unflinchingly are heroes. The misfortune has come uninvited and is unwanted. We would rather not confront it. But there it is, large as life or larger than life, and if we’re everyday heroes we face up to it. Everyday heroism requires an indestructible faith that if you stay psychologically and spiritually strong and have determination and persistence that can’t be exhausted, you will come out whole on the other side of this misfortune, stronger than you were before misfortune struck.

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Filed under Blocks to Action, Conquering Blocks, Courage, Heroes, Inner Skills, Overcoming Misfortune

Overcome Your Inner Blocks

“How easy it is to obliterate and wipe away every thought which is troublesome or unsuitable, and immediately to be in complete tranquility” (Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius).

I’m best known for my book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life. In it I point out that the majority of our problems are not caused by anything outside us out there in the world as most people seem to believe, but by our own inner psychological blocks that it’s our lifelong job to overcome.

When painters are painting and writers are writing and actors acting—inventors inventing, sprinters sprinting–their mood almost always improves painting-1380016_640however poorly they were feeling before they started and whatever inner blocks they were facing. Why is that?  Because whatever they were thinking before, however dismal, however anxious or troubled, now they’re thinking, “At this moment I am doing what I love. I’m at my best.” And their mood brightens and blocks disappear from their mind. This example illustrates what happens to you and me many times every day.

  1. Something happens to you–a situation.
  2. You feel something about it–an emotion.

But something is missing. Something happens between the situation and the emotion. What is it? YOU THINK. You form an opinion of the situation.

So it really works like this:

  1. There’s a situation.
  2. You think, forming an opinion of the situation.
  3. You feel an emotion.

Emotions don’t just happen willy-nilly and they aren’t caused by situations. They’re caused by your reactions to situations, by your opinion of situations. One person jumps at the opportunity to write an important essay, enjoys writing, is very good at writing, and is thrilled about it. Another dreads it and is afraid she won’t do a good job. Objectively the situation– writing an essay– is the same for both. But their opinions are very different. And because they are, the emotions they feel are very different. One is confident and happy. But the other is up against an inner psychological block.  For him the situation is fraught with danger:

The situation: writing an important essay.

His opinion: “I’m afraid I’ll do a bad job.”

His opinion results in blocks: self-doubt and the fear of failing.

The transition from situation to emotion is a quick leap. It occurs instantaneously. There doesn’t seem to be any middle stage at all. But if you could replay your thoughts and slow them down, you’d find them interpreting the situation, resulting in an emotion. When Wally is cut off in traffic he gets very angry and pounds the steering wheel. But his wife sitting next to him doesn’t get mad at all. You look at her and it’s as if absolutely nothing has happened. They are both in the same car that has been cut off, but he thinks, “That bastard. Who does he think he is?” and she thinks, “He’s probably in a hurry to get home and see his family.” Wally’s mad and has lost his composure. His heart rate is soaring. His wife is settled and calm.

Almost invariably whenever the same thing happens again we think the same things about it. That’s how we create the same inner blocks again and again. We get stuck in emotional ruts because our thoughts are in a rut. We’re in the habit of interpreting the situation the same way, so much so that we think we have to feel that way when in reality we don’t.

The insight that emotions are not in what happens to us but in our opinions is the basis of cognitive psychology. But there’s nothing new about the idea. It appeared in the third century B.C. in the Buddhist Dhammapada: All you are is the result of what you’ve thought. And it was the cornerstone of Stoic philosophy of classical Greece of 2,500 years ago.

There were two great Stoic philosophers, Marcus Aurelius, an emperor, and Epictetus, a slave. Epictetus wrote, “Men are disturbed not by things that happen, but by their opinions of the things that happen.” In his Meditations Aurelius wrote, “It is in our power to refrain from any opinion about things and not to be disturbed in our souls; for things in themselves have no natural power to force our judgments;” and “Today I have got out of all trouble, or rather I have cast out all trouble, for it is not outside, but within, in my opinions,” and, “Consider that everything is opinion, and opinion is in your power.” Philosopher/ theologian Martin Buber wrote, “Whatever one thinks, therein one is, one’s soul is wholly and utterly in what one thinks.”

What you think is both a source of inner psychological blocks and a way of pensive-female-580611_640conquering them. We are sometimes victims and sometimes beneficiaries of our thoughts. They can be our jailers or our liberators. You have the ability to completely change the contents of your mind.

It’s one short step from “I feel what I think” to, “Since what I think determines how I feel, I can change how I feel by changing what I think.” When you consciously change what you think in order to change what you feel, you aren’t denying reality as it is–you’ve still been cut off in traffic, or you still have an essay to write. No, you simply reinterpret reality. You make the choice to evaluate it differently than you normally do so that you feel differently than you normally do.

The only way to drive out an undesirable thought is by substituting a powerful desirable thought. By thinking differently, you can replace self-doubt and discouragement with self-confidence, fear with courage, boredom with interest, pessimism with optimism. You’re able to rid yourself of the thoughts that are creating inner blocks and substitute opposite thoughts that conquer them.

You can manufacture emotions at will. If you want to see how easy it is to create an emotion like fear, some time when you’re not afraid repeat fear-producing thoughts–“What if something terrible happens to me,” “What if I die,” or “What if my book is rejected by the publisher” or “He seemed cold; maybe he’s stopped loving me,” or “What if I’m never able to solve this problem?” Now dispel them by thinking courage-producing thoughts: “There’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of. I can deal with this” and keep repeating such thoughts.

Create Your Happiness by What You Choose to Think

What is happiness but a state of mind?  It doesn’t lie in situations. Situations are evaluated differently by different people. Parties make some people happy, but other people hate them. Some people find happiness working hard at their goals. But others don’t. Surely happiness isn’t in things, not even in great achievements. We can be accomplished and famous, and rich, beautiful, and gifted—and very unhappy. Or we can go about our everyday lives not particularly famous, not rich, nor beautiful, nor especially gifted, and find happiness every day.

That happiness can be cultivated by deliberately controlling what we think strikes some people as incredible. But not only can it be done; it’s one of the girl-358770_640only ways it can be. When you think happily your senses sharpen. You see, smell, taste, and hear better. And your memory improves. When we think happily and optimistically we are happy. We’re at liberty to choose to think happily any time we want, and whatever is happening outside us, at times in spite of what’s happening outside us. That’s what happy people do

A Crucial Strategy

  1. List the three inner blocks that trouble you most.
  2. Write out your thoughts that create the blocks. People who are trying to create something original are often discouraged. For the discouragement block you might write down–“I’ve tried so many times, and every time I couldn’t make it and I feel miserable about it. I’d be better off if I just stopped trying. I’m giving up.”
  3. Choose how you would like to feel, such as happy instead of unhappy, bold rather than cowardly; absorbed instead of bored, confident and not shy, etc. Write it down in sentence form.
  4. Write out more useful thoughts you will choose to think to defeat the blocks and create emotions you want: “When I face a problem, instead of thinking, ‘I’ll never be able to solve this,’ I’ll think, ‘I’m not going to let it get the better of me. I’ll just find a way to solve the problem that I haven’t thought of before.” Discouraged? Think, “I’ve found that no matter what it is, there is hardly anything I cannot do if I apply myself.” Afraid of failing? Write, “There’s no way I can’t succeed.”
  5. Rehearse using the thoughts you’ve written until they’re second nature. Say to yourself, “Whenever I’m running up against X block I’ll think…” Then practice thinking it.
  6. When the block appears think what you’ve written and create the emotions you want. The block will appear. But you’ll be prepared. You’ll think what you’ve written out and rehearsed.
  7. Be consistent. Make certain you think in the way you want every time the inner block appears. Selecting what you will think in order to conquer your blocks is one of the easiest things in the world NOT to do.

runner-802912_640It takes discipline to train yourself to run a marathon. It takes discipline to paint expertly or write expertly or act expertly. It takes discipline to train yourself to think a new way. What you need if you are to conquer a deeply entrenched inner block is the repetition of new thoughts. Mastery of anything takes repetition upon repetition upon repetition. If you do something a hundred times you should be good at it. Do it a thousand times and you’ll be better.

Four Reminders

  1. Remember that you have to change your opinions if you are to overcome inner blocks. You can always change your mind; can always change your opinions. And doing that, can always change your life.
  2. Think differently. If you’re accustomed to thinking in a way that creates inner blocks, develop new opposite thought habits. Inner blocks originate in your mind. They’re caused by thinking incorrectly. To conquer a self-doubt block repeat the thought, “I can do this thing. I will do it. I can do this thing. I will do it, “and take action. There’s a stubborn block standing in your way. To defeat it think over and over, “The best way out is always through.” Adversity strikes. Instead of letting it stop you, change your opinion. Think, “It’s only a temporary setback. I can overcome it if I keep moving forward in spite of it. Be strong.”
  3. Clarify what you really mean. Instead of blaming yourself with, “I didn’t get the commission for the painting. I’m a failure,” think, “What I really mean is that I wish I’d gotten the commission. But in no way does that make me a failure.” You’re giving a speech. You stumble over your words. Instead of, “I’m a lousy speaker” and losing confidence, stop yourself and say, “No, I’m not saying I’m a bad speaker or that I could never be a great speaker. All I’m saying is I’m human and like any human might do, I made a mistake. Big deal.”
  4. Be a fish. When your mind drifts back to your old blocks-producing ways of thinking, be a fish. Swish your tail, flick your fins, and change directions.

fish-582695_640

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

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Filed under Artists, Conquering Blocks, Inner Skills, Moods, Self-Confidence