By Steven Pressfield | Published: February 12, 2014
Consider James Rhodes, whose April 26, 2013 article in the Guardian UK I stole for last week’s post:
I didn’t play the piano for 10 years. A decade of slow death by greed working in the City, chasing something that never existed in the first place (security, self-worth, Don Draper albeit a few inches shorter and a few women fewer). And only when the pain of not doing it got greater than the imagined pain of doing it did I somehow find the balls to pursue what I really wanted and had been obsessed by since the age of seven—to be a concert pianist.
That’s Resistance. That’s the definition of Resistance. Mr. Rhodes at that point was mired in a shadow career. He was operating as an amateur. Suddenly some force seizes him. He turns pro:
Admittedly I went a little extreme—no income for five years, six hours a day of intense practice, monthly four-day long lessons with a brilliant and psychopathic teacher in Verona, a hunger for something that was so necessary it cost me my marriage, nine months in a mental hospital, most of my dignity and about 35lbs in weight. And the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is not perhaps the Disney ending I’d envisaged as I lay in bed aged 10 listening to Horowitz devouring Rachmaninov at Carnegie Hall.
I love Mr. Rhodes’ testament not just because he’s my kinda guy, because he’s nuts, because he laid it all on the line, etc. etc. But because his story—and yours and mine—proves there is a God.
Resistance is a universal phenomenon of the human psyche. Everyone experiences it. (Trust me, I know from the thousands of e-mails I’ve gotten on the subject.)
Resistance’s sole object is to prevent you and me from becoming concert pianists, writing bestselling novels, founding the follow-on to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity.
In other words, Resistance’s purpose is to prevent good from entering the world.
Resistance is the devil.
If there is a devil, there must be a God.
Was all that work at the piano worth it, Mr. Rhodes?
And yet. The indescribable reward of taking a bunch of ink on paper from the shelf at Chappell of Bond Street. Tubing it home, setting the score, pencil, coffee and ashtray on the piano and emerging a few days, weeks or months later able to perform something that some mad, genius, lunatic of a composer 300 years ago heard in his head while out of his mind with grief or love or syphilis. A piece of music that will always baffle the greatest minds in the world, that simply cannot be made sense of, that is still living and floating in the ether and will do so for yet more centuries to come. That is extraordinary. And I did that. I do it, to my continual astonishment, all the time.
James Rhodes beat the devil. There’s no other way to express it. Something kept him going, just like something kept Rachmaninov going, and something keeps you and me going.
The Muse? The superconscious?
What name would you put to it?
My life involves endless hours of repetitive and frustrating practising, lonely hotel rooms, dodgy pianos, aggressively bitchy reviews, isolation, confusing airline reward programmes, physiotherapy, stretches of nervous boredom (counting ceiling tiles backstage as the house slowly fills up) punctuated by short moments of extreme pressure (playing 120,000 notes from memory in the right order with the right fingers, the right sound, the right pedalling while chatting about the composers and pieces and knowing there are critics, recording devices, my mum, the ghosts of the past, all there watching), and perhaps most crushingly, the realisation that I will never, ever give the perfect recital. It can only ever, with luck, hard work and a hefty dose of self-forgiveness, be “good enough.”
That’s a pro. That’s a man who’s in the trenches, fighting the war every day. That is a man, an artist, whose inner and outer worlds are suffused with grace and beauty and honor and courage—and who by his music and his personal example pass those qualities on to you and me.
So please, critics, spare me the “God is dead” manifesto. Not even the guys who thought that shit up believed it. They were battling Resistance every day, and they were receiving inspiration from the goddess.
I refuse to believe that we humans are alone and bereft in a meaningless cosmos. If we were, there would be no such phenomenon as Resistance. What possible purpose could Resistance serve in a universe devoid of meaning?
Hell exists, yes. But heaven does too.
James Rhodes is my hero because he found himself between the two and he chose the loftier and the nobler.
I salute you, sir. May we all find the grace and strength to follow your example.