A Fork in the Road

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference. -From 'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost


Frost's poem depicts a traveler who comes to a fork in the road, seeing two lanes: one lane is well-trodden, known, and the traveerler is sure of the ease of the journey. The other path is wild, “wanting wear”, though to be sure, others have walked before, however irregularly. The traveler must choose. Ease, light, and the surety of a well-worn road; or the twisted and rough lane, beneath whose dappled shadows may lie something, weal or woe, heretofore unknown? It arises during the life of each person,when they are presented with a similar question: to seek the comfort of the predictable, or to search for something which lies beyond the Pale? Have you ever heard the phrase, “You can bank on it”? It is a phrase denoting the certainty of some things over other things. Banks are notoriously risk averse. There are few professions which provide as much surety of continued employment and fiscal security as working for a bank. Each day is largely the same; the same strong stone walls, the same customers coming in week after week to deposit their hard-won funds into the supposedly impervious (and hopefully insured) vaults of the bank. On the other hand, another age old adage is: “Money can't buy happiness”. I would make the minor addendum that “Money can't buy fulfillment. Happiness is fleeting: a good conversation over a good glass of wine brings happiness. Fulfillment is lasting: it is placing the final payment on a mortage, and owning the house after all those years. So then, what provides fulfillment? If you're reading this, the likely answer is your art, your craft, the work you do which extends outside of the bounds of the mundane and attempts to grapple with life's questions, or perhaps simply entertain, which is a noble pursuit in itself. Yet is not the pursuit of an art a desperate, heart-rending, maddening process? Isn't the gnawing fear of every parent that their child will grow up wanting to be 'an artist'? Do not anxiety, pain, and uncertainty plague the artist like the heads of Hydra surging in for the kill? How do we reconcile these things? How can we snatch our work from the uncertain jaws of the serpent, and make it something we can “bank on”? In Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, he discusses the notion of Resistance. It is an exellent, short read, one in which most of us will see ourselves staring back from with guilt in our expressions. In short, Mr. Pressfield describes Resistance (a proper noun, as though it had an agency of its own) as: “...the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction”, “[Resistance] arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within”, “The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” Pressfield is not a fan of Resistance. Pressfield goes further to describe Resistance as being experienced by everyone, and an impersonal threat. Like a plague, it does not care who you are, where you are from, your education, socio-economic status, religion, or lack thereof. It is the Enemy of All, and like the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, it “cannot be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with”. Resistance just wants to watch you burn. Most insidious of all: Resistance, like a devil, will always assume a pleasing form, and persuade you with all sorts of sweet-sounding seductions; it is that movie that you've been dying to see, the love interest that you've recently acquired, that one last drink. Anything to prevent youfrom moving one step closer to your goal of completing your work, and attaining at least a degree of true fulfillment. In listening to these reasons, you also imbibe its poison; Resistance is the reason that you cannot sleep at night, Resistance is the nervous bounce in your leg at the dinner table, your lack of focus when your friend is telling you about their breakup. And it all stems from an inability to focus on your work. Resistance is your lack of fulfillment. Mr. Pressfield speaks of an equal and opposing force termed by him as 'our better angels', but which I will here title Resilience, though I certainly make no claim to coining the term in the psychological sense. Resilience, I shall define by the Merriam-Webster definition: 1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress. 2: An ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. Stress. Misfortune. Change. Resilience is therefore our ability to withstand outward erosion and incursion by Resistance, which is an ever-lasting battle. The dawn breaks, the march is on, and come sunset we have either won or lost. But no matter what, we can be sure that the battle will once again start anew when the cock crows. Resilience is our capacity to pick ourselves up off the mat one more time, to finish that last rep of your workout, to write 'The End' in your latest story. It's the stuff of legend, without which the bad guy wins the day. It is not an easy thing to attain Resilience. There is something of the professional hitman about the endeavor. Resilience is steady under fire, steely-eyed, and at times, ruthless. Resilience sets aside the emotionality that often accompanies both the ecstacies of our art, and the eccentricities of our daily lives, and it drives the nail home. It cannot overly concern itself with what others think, and it will not allow distraction, no matter the depth of the relationship. It is to a large extent an alien mindset, anathema to the general workings of the world at large. Resilience unapologetically puts bodies in the ground. The number of smart, well-meaning and powerful people who have fallen prey to Resistance is countless. It is likely that they weren't even aware of it. In order to stave off the demons, they chose the well-trodden path, festooned with lights and a sure roadmap to happiness; and so, you have never heard of them. But it is only one who chooses the path less traveled by; the path obscured, which promises the traveler both nothing, and everything. The path that dares. Those who desire something more than is on offer, and dare to hope to attain fulfillment over fickle happiness, choose the path less traveled by. And that makes all the difference.