The Third Something

080 / Hair!

Two very different approaches to facing your fears.

A self portrait in Polychromos pencil by Adam Westbrook

Exciting news: I will finally be getting a haircut on Tuesday! My first trim in ten months. As you can see, the quarantine curls are growing wild, refusing to be contained even by a panel border.

It’s a hassle to maintain but I love my long hair. I like the way the waves tumble around my face, how one strand will suddenly dance carefree in the breeze and how it refuses to follow orders.

There’s an energy and an elegance in my locks that I want in my life.

But it was not always so! For most of my youth I was ashamed of my hair. I couldn’t style it into any of the 90s or 00s fashions, so I just shaved it off, a crude No. 2 all over.

I couldn’t control the fire and so I resolved to put it out.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these were the years when I was least in touch with my creativity. The writing and drawing I loved to do as a kid didn’t fit the 90s and 00s fashions of how a teenage boy spends his time, and I stopped.

Two approaches to facing fears

Years later, when I was ready to explore my creativity again, I read a lot of self-help books (a lot) and looking back I can see a pattern, or at least a divide, in how people think about making art.

The first camp sees creativity as a struggle, a battle even - requiring discipline and persistence. There is a stoicism in the craft - but also something bellicose.

Consider how one author - Steven Pressfield - writes on overcoming the fears which hold us back:

The enemy of the artist is the small-time Ego, which begets Resistance, which is the dragon that guards the gold. That’s why an artist must be a warrior.The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.

Enemy. Dragon. Battle.

These quotes are lifted from a book literally called The War of Art. The message is clear: making art is a battle, may the best man win.

In fairness to Steven Pressfield (who mostly writes novels about war), The War of Art is still a really useful and inspiring book for creative folk. Pressfield argues this warrior mindset is about humility and modesty in the face of the challenge.

The second camp is altogether different.

Compare Pressfield’s approach to that of another novelist, Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic:

It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes too.If you can’t learn to travel comfortably alongside your fear, then you’ll never be able to go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting. I made a decision a long time ago that if I want creativity in my life - and I do - then I will have to make space for that fear too. I decided that I would need to build an expansive enough interior life that my fear and creativity could peacefully coexist, since it appeared that they would always be together…So I don’t try to kill off my fear. I don’t go to war against it. Instead I make all that space for it.

Relax. Coexist. Space.

I remember being taken aback by Elizabeth’s attitude when I first read it. Up until then I had been making war on my fears (and losing).

Is it a coincidence that Pressfield is a man and Gilbert a woman? I don’t think so.

That’s not to say each approach belongs to a gender. The dancer Twyla Tharp is keen on discipline and humility while the novelist Neil Gaiman writes eloquently about love and harmony.

And it’s not to say that one approach is better than the other.

But it’s led me to reflect on the relationship between creativity and femininity - at least in me.

A self portrait in Polychromos pencil by Adam Westbrook

Until another Sunday soon,

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