I can be a slow learner. A few weeks ago, I suddenly realized that I am in, at best, my last quarter or third of life. That is, if I’m very, very lucky and beat my terrible genetic odds. I’m 65. Neither of my parents made it to 70.
It was like a thunderbolt, this realization that time was dribbling out of the hourglass. I have more things to say and less time to say it in.
Don’t get me wrong. I am in good health. I feel great nearly every day. I walk my dogs. I write. I’m blessed to have a family I like and a new granddaughter to snuggle with. How great is that?
Most of us have two lives: The life we live and the unlived life within us. Between the two lies Resistance.
But these days and months are time limited. We have busy lives. If we harbor ambitions, it is easy to put them aside. It is all too easy to say, “I’ll do that another time.”
There is a terrific book on this issue called, “The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle,” by Steven Pressfield. It’s geared toward the creative arts, but really, the brilliance of this book is that the impediments he explores can be applied to nearly any situation that keeps us from GSD - my own, personal abbreviation for Getting Shit Done.
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To Pressfield, there is but one enemy of all writers, artists, weavers, runners, and anyone who has any personal ambition at all, whether it is to write the Great American Novel or simply lose 10 pounds. That enemy is Resistance, or anything that keeps us from doing what we feel would make us a better or more complete human being.
“Most of us have two lives,” he writes. “The life we live and the unlived life within us. Between the two lies Resistance.”
Resistance is the barrier that keeps us from achieving the life we want. It comes in the form of procrastination, in saying, “I’m too tired,” or ““Maybe tomorrow.” Self-doubt, rationalization, and, simply fear. Fear of trying. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of ridicule. It all adds up to Resistance, which keeps us from GSD.
I’ve been thinking about this because for about a year I’ve been finding it hard to get up at 5:30 a.m. Normally, this is no big deal. I am a classic lark - my circadian rhythm starts chirping before dawn.
It took me awhile to figure out what was going on. What subtle form of Resistance was suddenly tripping me up?
All through the pandemic and months afterward I got dressed in the pre-dawn dark and put in two hours of writing in my barn office before I returned to the house to put on coffee and start breakfast.
I used that time to write a memoir about growing up in Buffalo with a big, sometimes brawling Irish family, a wise-cracking mother, and alcoholic father, and a sister who was desperately ill with kidney disease. I started writing after I re-read my diaries from decades ago; I continued because it was a great way to keep sane during the shutdown. I didn’t stop until I had written about 108,000 words. Then I began editing. (It’s with an agent now…stay tuned.)
The early-to-rise schedule suited me just fine. I was downright smug about it.
But I didn’t realize that the act of writing wasn’t the only thing getting me up in the morning. I had company.
About 14 months ago, my sweet golden retriever Molly died. and I floundered so much in grief I felt like I was drowning. Suddenly, I found it hard to get up early. Because it was not just the writing that had awakened me. It was Molly: Her endless enthusiasm, her affection and companionship. Every morning she was up and at ‘em, wagging her tail, her bright eyes saying, “Come on, we’re wasting time!”
She made me glad we didn’t have close neighbors, because every single morning she would circle our pond, barking her head off, before trotting upstairs to my office. The Morning Bark never failed to amuse me and life is good when you begin every day with a belly laugh. That’s when I would give her a doggie treat, and start to write. Molly would curl up on the couch and watch me until she fell asleep.
Writing is a solitary act, but with Molly, I never felt alone.
Without her, suddenly it became easy to sleep in.
My grief had become Resistance.
Once I knew what was at the root of my impulse to hibernate in the morning instead of engaging in GSD, I felt better able to resist the Resistance. And I did. But it was still hard.
We have two golden retrievers now - my husband’s idea - and while neither one is my Molly, well, they are both really sweet dogs.
Yesterday, I sorted through a few precious toys of Molly’s that I had put away (if you must know, I kept them in my sock drawer). I picked out one, her favorite, a stuffed duck she used to brandish in triumph. I gave the duck to Bella and Zoey and they, delighted, immediately began to run around with it, play tug-of-war, and in general treat it like the toy it is.
It will soon be in tatters, I know. But that’s OK. Finally, I was ready to give Molly’s toy away. Molly would have liked that.
This morning, I got up at 5:30 and went to my barn office. For the first time in months, it was easy. With the help of Molly’s memory, I was able to overcome Resistance and start to write.
As Pressfield writes, “Never forget: This very moment we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”
I'm with Ron. Coffee first, every day, always. Then I'm better able to face the Resistance!
This is a piece that could have been written after observing me amble through another day of deferred achievement.