I woke up early this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. I found myself doing something I too often do. I call it Playing The Tapes. My anxious mind is like a cassette tape player. I have a collection of well worn tapes. When I come up against a problem, when life seems overwhelming, I insert a tape and let it play. Then I pop in another one. Some of the tapes are dreams, some are plans or schemes, what if scenarios - some leading to resurrection, some leading to doom. Virtually none of the tapes contain any new material. Just recycled ideas, plans, hopes and fears. Perhaps gussied up in some way, or with the playlist altered for the present occasion. Here are some popular titles:
See Me/See My Talent – sort of a Bluesy ballad of self-pity, a chronicle of my wait for discovery. Sometimes has an upbeat end where someone recognizes how truly gifted I really am.
Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town - Someone will want to rescue me. How do I reach out to them? A rich uncle, a benevolent friend, someone who will surely be sympathetic to my plight and want to swoop in and save me with cash in hand.
My Boss Is/Was A Jerk – Lots of true facts on this tape. Plenty of heavy metal numbers on it. Loud, angry, aggressive.
I Gotta Get Outta This Place – Close to some sort of rap. Lots of repetitive themes and schemes about how I might improve my lot.
I Can Start Tomorrow – A second album by the group that made I Gotta Get Outta This Place, The Procrastinators.
I’m not psychotic. There is basis in fact in these tapes. Part of the “fun” of playing them is marshalling the facts to support the title. The crazy part comes in thinking that playing them repeatedly is actually going to solve something. Playing these popular titles over and over does nothing to make me feel any better. In fact, they often make me feel worse, robbing me of sleep. Then I play As Soon As I’m Rested, a promise to start soon on the way to a better future.
My tapes are what the writer Steven Pressfield calls, The Resistance, in his book the WAR of ART. The Resistance is the enemy that holds us in place. What I’m trying to learn, trying to understand, is that when I feel paralyzed with fear, tapes blaring, that this is a good sign. As Pressfield writes: “Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.”
In his biography, The Duke of Deception, Geoffrey Wolff writes about being a teenage boy with a stammer, sitting in a public speaking class, waiting to be called upon. His turn finally arrives and he plows his way through a speech he has committed to memory. By the end of the experience he concludes he has learned something important, “Doing it is never as bad as not doing it”. I’ve often used Wolff as a model for my students. Sometimes it pays to listen to what we teach. To practice what we preach. For me that means, shut off the tapes, get out of bed, and force myself to write or to work at solving the problem that’s made me so fearful. A hard lesson to learn.