Some days you eat the bear. Some days, the bear eats you.
I’d love to know the originator of that one, wouldn’t you? I’m hoping there’s some great story at the root of it. Like back in some cave, Og is squatting around a fire and his buddy Oog comes shuffling back through the entryway, bloody and battered, one eye half shut, a snapped-off spear clutched in his hand. He’s in rough shape. And Og stands and walks over to him and gently, oh so gently, pats him on the shoulder and says, “It’s okay, buddy. Some days you eat the mammoth. Some days the mammoth eats you.”
Or something like that.
But I digress.
It’s a principle that’s worth remembering on the days when it seems like, regardless of the endeavor you’ve thrown yourself into, you can feel the bear getting closer and closer, maybe even see the whites of his eyes. This isn’t going to be one of those victory days. Not even close.
It’s a lot like Devil’s Tower, in a way.
Devil’s Tower? From Close Encounters of the Third Kind? 1977 Spielberg movie about Ordinary Guy Roy Neary’s persistent, obsessive drive to see beyond the ordinary and make contact with the originators of those weird, alien lights which circled his pickup one foggy night and made him believe in something beyond the world he knows.
Here’s a picture, for visual reference:
Neary’s world is rocked after he sees the lights, and he embarks on a quest to locate the source of the lights. Things get weird. He starts making sculptures out of mashed potatoes. All because he starts to see this weird shape in his head, with no idea what it is. He sketches it, refining and re-drawing, believing against reason that there’s a purpose to this Calling.
About halfway through the movie, Neary – who’s been inexplicably drawn to this weird rock formation – takes it one step further and throws himself headlong into sculpting it out of mud and sticks and wire in his living room. Yup, it gets weirder.
It looks a little like this:
His family thinks he’s cracking up, and even Neary can’t believe that there’s any purpose to this odd obsession. He’s as maddened by his own behavior in pursuit of his Calling as he is by the fact that he can’t chase it down. It’s not until, moments after he finishes this sculpture, he sees a news report about Devils Tower, a massive rock formation in Wyoming, that he knows:
It wasn’t all for nothing. There was a purpose to his passion. There was a reason for his calling.
I think that any sort of creative endeavor can easily fall into the Devil’s Tower Trap – thinking that all I’m doing is futile and pointless, as pointless as Roy Neary making living room rock sculptures and scaring his family.
I’ve been there. Maybe you have, too.
It goes something like this:
You’re caught by a Calling, a vision of something you’re supposed to do, or make. It captures your imagination, and in that moment, you see clearly the Thing You’re Supposed to Do. The clarity is necessary. It will fuel you. And at the time you first encounter it, it seems as real as the chair you’re sitting in or the grass under your feet. It exists in your imagination. Which is to say, it exists.
You vet the vision, testing it against the commitments you’ve made, the community you live in. And it all checks out. This was real. It was legitimate. You’re freed to chase down the vision you saw.
So you go for it. You start the business, write the story, make the move. You will yourself to take the first step, then the next, and the next, until you look back and can’t even see home behind you.
But it doesn’t last. The soil gets hard, the furrows don’t appear. And progress slows. Or, if progress doesn’t slow, you can bet that the voices in your head, the ones Steven Pressman calls the Resistance, grow louder and louder. And the thing they keep saying is, “What the heck do you think you’re playing at here? Do you actually think you’re making something anybody else is going to want to see? Give it up before your folly goes any further!”
And that’s where Devil’s Tower comes in.
It’s so easy, in those moments of Shouting Resistance, to lose sight of Devil’s Tower, to forget the calling that wooed you at the beginning, to believe and persevere in the belief so that it carries you straight on through the rough times until that moment when you actually behold Devil’s Tower, in all its majesty, and you know.
It wasn’t a lie. And I’m here to confirm that for you. Making things matters. So if – when – there’s doubt in the middle of the process, doubt that looms as large as a dining table sculpture working to convince you the effort was in vain, hear it. But don’t internalize it.
That dining room sculpture is an imposter. But the real thing is out there.
So if you find yourself in the middle of a real mess of a creative process, hold tight to the Calling which whispered to you back when you began. If it’s really true, then you can’t forget. Devil’s Tower is out there. It’s real, and if you keep on plugging away at your work, you’ll get there one day.
Hang on. Devil’s Tower is real. And it’s worth it.