I read a line the other day, in The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, where one of the main characters has just had his memory reset to zero and then discovered his journal. He read over all the observations he’d made, all the things he’d noticed before his memory reset, and at the very end of the pages discovered his own signature at the bottom.
Unk was the hero who had written the letter.
Unk had written the letter to himself before having his memory cleaned out. It was literature in its finest sense, since it made Unk courageous, watchful, and secretly free. It made him his own hero in trying times.
love. love love love.
And I love that the literature that set his heart on fire was his own work. It was his own list of observations. Nothing groundbreaking, nothing crazy, nothing he could ever share with the world. It was his own remembering, his own way to remind him of himself.
So, if you’re not keeping a journal, keep a journal. The stuff you write will seem stupid maybe, or unimportant, but I promise you that it’ll turn into literature that makes you courageous, watchful, and secretly free.
If you need some other books that will make you courageous, watchful, and secretly free, here are some books that will get you on your way.
Fortunately for all of us, this is not an exhaustive list. In fact, this is the list of books I read all the way through once and now just pick it up and flip to a random page, trusting that I’ll find the page I need.
This book is a collection of essays, one page apiece, that will give you a kick in the pants with a side of inspiration whenever you find yourself creatively blocked. Pressfield regards resistance as an enemy with many faces: procrastination, fear, negative self-talk, anxiety, self-sabotage, drugs, sex, shopping, gossip, etc.
Resistance aims to derail you from pursuing, “any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower.”
It’s broken into three parts: “Resistance: Defining the Enemy,” “Combating Resistance: Turning Pro,” and “Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm.”
Read it through once and it’s helpful because you start to see all the ways Resistance is showing up for you, even those times when you think it’s your logical self trying to handle your real life.
The next few times you read it through, your only real option will be to laugh at yourself and mentally congratulate your Resistance for being so damn wily and creative. Game respects game.
After a while, though, you’ll be better at discerning the ulterior motives of Resistance, and you can just pick this book up and flip around for a reminder of what you need to do to Resistance.
I don’t want to give you the idea that you’ll never have Resistance, because you always will. There’s always a voice that wants to keep you in the known, and if it’s not coming from your brain, it might come from outside of you. Or vice versa. But it’s always helpful to have an advocate for your Work and your obligation to bring it forth, and that’s this book.
This book is so teeny, and so sweet, and it makes you want to be specific about what you’re feeling. Am I experiencing Worry or Anxiety? Loneliness or Longing? Faith or Contentment? Sensuality or Pleasure? Excitement or Whimsy?
The basic premise is that Gendler personifies qualities and emotions you’re well familiar with.
Sometimes all the Qualities seem to talk at once, and I don’t know who to listen to first. Certainty comes into the room and stands in the doorway and gives me a good long look until I hear the silence again.
Protection has live in many kinds of houses. Always the walls are decorated with rugs and blankets from around the world. She has studied ancient architecture and the habits of butterflies and spiders. When the caterpillar is dying and the new butterfly is yet to be born, it constructs a chrysalis. We also have this need. However, many of us are too proud or have forgotten how to go inside. Protection has learned from the butterflies how to make a chrysalis for the changing human heart.
Defeat sits in his chair staring at the grey doves on the porch. He holds his hand underneath his heart, fingers curled tightly into themselves, glued together in a paralyzed rage. He is unwilling to go forward and unable to let go.
Sensuality has exquisite skin and she appreciates it in others as well. There are other people whose skin is soft and clear and healthy but something about Sensuality’s skin announces that she is alive. When the sun bursts forth in May, Sensuality likes to take off her shirt and feel the sweet warmth of the sun’s rays brush across her shoulder. This is not intended as a provocative gesture but other people are, as usual, upset. Sensuality does not understand why everyone else is so disturbed by her. As a young girl, she was often scolded for going barefoot.
I love this book because it’s helpful to be reminded that there are no bad emotions, that what you’re feeling is usually justified, even if it’s part of a pattern you no longer need.
Sometimes the objectivity that comes from personifying different emotions is helpful when you’re trying to separate yourself from some sort of spiral, or if you’re looking to cultivate a new relationship with a certain quality.
How would you seduce Sensuality? How would you make Pleasure feel at home? How could you sooth Depression?
If you don’t like poetry, it’s because you haven’t found the right poet. I promise, your poet is out there. And when you find some, you’ll keep those books around just so you can flip through and realize/remember/discover what you’re feeling, how what you’re feeling is both universal to humanity and unique to your experience.
I have a couple of books I like. Here are some suggestions to get you going:
Shakespeare in Love: The Love Poems of William Shakespeare – It’s a kitschy anthology capitalizing on the movie, and it’s wonderful. The perfect start.
Collected Poems: Edna St. Vincent Millay – this is one powerful woman. I love her work.
My candle burns at both ends;It will not last the night;But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—It gives a lovely light!
The House of Belonging: David Whyte – David Whyte is a new poet for me; I just read him for the first time at the beginning of 2015, when a friend shared this facebook post. To quote Bill Plotkin, “David Whyte’s eloquent work is unmatched in providing a contemporary voice to the desires of the human soul.”
Chasers of the Light: Tyler Knott Gregson – I actually don’t have this book; I didn’t realize Gregson had any books out. I’ve just been following him on social media. His poems are short, to the point, all the better for taking you by surprise and changing your heart.
Warsan Shire – She also has a book, but I didn’t like it as much as the stuff I’ve found online. My very favorite of all is this one:
first thought after seeing your smile
by warsan shire.come with every wound
and every woman you’ve ever loved
every lie you’ve ever told
and whatever it is that keeps you up at nightevery mouth you’ve punched in
all the blood you’ve ever tasted
come with every enemy you’ve ever made
and all the family you’ve ever buried
and every dirty thing you’ve ever done
every drink thats burnt your throat
and every morning you’ve woken
with nothing and no one
come with all your loss
your regrets, sins
come with all the gold in your mouth
and that voice like needle hitting record
come with your kind eyes and weeping knuckles
come with all the blue ink
come with your shame
come with your swollen heart
i’ve never seen anything more beautiful than you
So these are 3 books you should keep on your nightstand, or desk, or prominently displayed in your color-coded bookshelf for easy access. Every time you open these books, you’ll find something of value, and maybe exactly what you were looking for.
What books do that for you? I’d love to read them.