Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, as Nietzsche once said… and yet here I am coming back for a second round. Yes, it’s time for a re-match with the Rambling Roses (Rosa Multiflora) that are not so slowly but ever so surely taking over my parents’ property here in beautiful Nova Scotia.
The lesson I drew from my last encounter with these invasive giants was about physical work and the creative value to be gleaned from it. This time I’ve been pondering what might be learned from the plants themselves – and from the nature of the battle.
I think it’s not uncommon for people engaged in an epic struggle with a worthy opponent to develop a healthy, if perhaps somewhat grudging respect for their sworn enemy, and so it is with me now that I see how they’ve regrouped in the year since I clawed them back, dragging their enormous tendrils down from trees and turning them upside down.
In a word, they’re survivors. They have a spectacularly robust plan of attack, and a resilience that is truly inspiring, although of course equally frustrating. Nearly everywhere I cut them down to stumps, they have shot up six or eight new shoots. In addition, they’ve found dozens of new places to hide their sinewy tendrils – twisted around trees, concealed amongst grape vines, disguised as highbush blueberries.
resistance is futile
So I’ve renewed my assault, re-mounted my offensive. It’s become a bit obsessive at this point, which I realize, but there is something about the extreme physical challenge – tolerating the scratches and exhaustion, fighting through underbrush to find them out wherever they appear – that appeals to some deep internal sense of resolve within me.
But it’s become obvious to me that I can only delay their eventual victory. I may win the battle this year as I did last year, but they are in it for the long haul and they will win the war one day. There are too many of them in the valley now, we are surrounded on all sides and they will come in ever-increasing waves while I’m away, until they are simply too much for me, or I lose the ability to fight or the drive to conquer them. So it goes.
I can accept that. I have not set out to remove them permanently. That would be a futile goal. They will eventually triumph, and will rule this valley until some other, even hardier, even more insidious and voracious competitor comes along (or a parasite evolves to prey on them, as a result of their increased availability). Not this year, probably not next year, but someday.
No, I just want to slow them down, prevent them from choking out a few trees I happen to like, keep the meadows walkable for a few more years, make sure we can still see the North Mountain from a few points in the yard. I’m just buying a bit more time so my parents can stay in their beautiful country home a bit longer and a bit more comfortably. It’s a small thing, but it’s my contribution.
my point, and I do have one…
Now, try reading all of that again, but instead of invasive plants, picture in your mind, as the enemy in my little vendetta, the Resistance. You know, the endless excuses and delays and distractions we create and/or allow to come between us and our creative work. The term is borrowed from Steven Pressfield’s excellent book ‘The War Of Art’, which I reviewed here a couple of years ago. It’s a good word, and captures something essential about the psychology and the experience of doing creative work.
I know I’ve taken a contrary position before, preferring a more playful approach, but I have to admit that viewed through this lens there is something compelling about the ‘heroic battle’ metaphor when it comes to defending against the Resistance. There are times when you have to steel yourself, commit and resolve yourself to winning at all costs, enduring the cuts and bruises and extremes of exertion, the lack of sleep, the alienation.
It is a worthy opponent, the Resistance, and it’s as insidious and as flexible as these Hydras of the plant world I’m up against. If you cut off its head, three more will grow in its place. You can slow it down, you can chase it into hiding, but it will be back in another form, in a new place.
And eventually it will win. We will tire, we will run out of energy, our fire will go out.
But in the meantime? If we slow it down for a while, if we chop it down, we can give ourselves some time, some breathing room. And while the Resistance is down for the count, we can get our work done.
So that’s what I’m trying to do these days, and how I’m trying to view the Creative Conundrum. I’m giving up on trying to win the war. I’m going to respect my opponent, I’m going to win one battle at a time, and I’m going to try to get some work done in the spaces in between.