Campbell’s Perfect Direction

Not long after moving in with her, my wife introduced me to Joseph Campbell’s divinely inspired three-word directive: Follow your bliss. This seemed like very good advice, and I was at a point in my life where I was in need of good advice. Hadn’t I followed my bliss and found myself living with this lovely woman? And shouldn’t this simple formula apply to all of life, not merely romantic love?

With a command this short, however, it is important you consider every word. At that time, I was mostly interested in the last. This is, I suppose, because I viewed bliss as essentially stationary, a kind of post-coital rest delivered you after much pleasurable labor. In this way, one arrives at bliss and then, maybe, falls asleep.

But Campbell did not advise us to “find bliss and stay perfectly still lest it flit away”; no, we were to follow our bliss. As if I hadn’t done just that. As if I hadn’t driven 1,500 miles so I could knock on her door. No matter. You hear what you are ready to hear, and one out of three words was all I was ready to hear that day.

It was only recently that I really heard that first word. It was only recently that I understood that first word was equally as important as the last. Like it or not, humans are forever in motion, even if we spend our lives in bed, because our thoughts alone contain as much energy and direction as a cocked arrow. And so the question posed with our every waking breath is: Where?

Thus Campbell’s perfect direction. It can seem a risky thing, I know. Bliss is nice, but there are mouths to feed and perhaps a reputation to protect. What if this bliss of mine leads me somewhere I don’t want to be? What if my bliss is to sit on the couch and eat Cheetos? This question makes no sense even in the asking, and yet we persist in asking it all the same.

Such is the perverse distrust of our logical mind. You cannot, after all, follow your bliss unless it is present. You cannot follow your bliss unless you already have it, or there would be nothing to follow. Bliss, then, is freedom – freedom from the thought that you require anything more than what you already have.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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Line Up Your Horses

Imagine you are driving a cart pulled by a pair of powerful horses. This is an unusual cart, as the horses are not bound by a single constraint; rather, each can go in whatever direction he chooses. You are a kind driver and do not employ a whip because these are very smart horses. You need only say where you want to go, and these horses will take you there.

You are on a very long journey, so you must bring in fresh horses from time to time. Sometimes this creates a problem. Sometimes one of the new horses does not want to go where you tell him to go. Sometimes he thinks the city is too far or the road there too treacherous, or the city itself does not even exist – it’s a myth fools like you drive horses to for no good reason. As I said, these horses are smart, sometimes too smart.

And so what happens when one horse wants to go one way and another horse wants to go the other? One of the three things. One of the horses “wins,” dragging the other horse – and you – where it is headed, either toward where you want to go or away from it. Or neither horse wins, it is a stalemate, and you remain stuck in the road between laboring but unmoving beasts.

Most people have horses going in different directions. Usually, the stronger horse is the one headed where you, the driver, wish to go because your greatest desire will always be stronger than your greatest fear. But even a weak horse slows your progress. If all horses are pointed in the same direction, the ride is smooth and swift.

If the going is rough or very slow, it is usually because you have competing horses. Every time you think, “We will never sell this book in a foreign market,” or, “Agents always reject me,” you are pulling against the horse of your truest desire. The roads, of course, don’t actually exist – the path the horses must follow is within your imagination alone. If you don’t show them the road, they will never see it.

I know it seems sometimes as if you must think of all the possible roads, that you must create contingency plans in case you somehow end up on the road to failure. Except no one ends up on any road. Every road is chosen. You have the right to only think about where you want to go. It is, in fact, the most responsible choice possible. To call thinking about failure responsible is like calling a sailor who drills holes in the bottom of his boat to calculate how long it will take him to sink thorough.

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Direction

As I write this, I look at the calendar and see that winter has officially begun. No great surprise to anyone living in the snowbound Northeast, I’m sure. Here in Seattle, the dome of clouds closed a few weeks ago, and the sun is in hibernation.

Nature itself doesn’t care one wit for calendars, of course. I’ve shoveled snow in April and had a picnic with my wife on Valentine’s Day. We do our best to predict, but in the end we must work with what we’ve got. Jules Asner says her husband director Steven Soderbergh believes there is the movie you envision, and then the movie you end up with, and the two are never the same. Your happiness as an artist depends on your acceptance of this fact.

But who is to say the book or movie we envision is really the book or movie we want? The book we envisioned was merely an idea before the reality of work began. In the reality of work, The girl does not fall in love with your protagonist and the murderer is a pacifist. Such is the stuff of a writer’s headache, but all these troubles never amount to more than trying to write against what you actually want.

If you listen carefully, you will always be guided toward what you want. What you want is never one story, or one place, or one idea.  What you want is everywhere all the time. If you listen carefully you can pull from the noise of the world the strains of the melody you have been seeking and so you follow it along. But that song is always playing, every moment, every day, everywhere, in winter and summer, in snow and sun. What you want is never a destination; it is only a direction you can face from anywhere you are standing.

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