Self-help books often bug me, which is why I was pleased to find that this was not a self-help book, at least not in the traditional sense. Dan Millman’s opus certainly can be used to help create changes in the life of the reader; what he offers in the book is often advice worth listening to - and at the very least it has the potential to help the reader think about things in a different way. But that’s not the solid core of what the book is.
Way of the Peaceful Warrior is a beautiful melding of factual events from Millman’s life, bold dialogs stripped and remolded from their (often ancient) roots, and made palatable for the modern generation, and a heavy helping of pure fiction (some possibly inspired by sixties counter-culture drug usage). In the end what emerges is a spiritual dialogue created in the same vein as Plato’s work in philosophy - adding some irony to the the main guru’s name in the book. Millman offers here not logic puzzles, but zen ‘anti-puzzles’, as well as a number of parables and occasionally even outright instruction.
Most of us have wanted, at some point in our lives, the Socrates-figure to enter our life and force us to reorder ourselves, and in this book Dan Millman stuffs a lifetime of lessons into a character who is perfect for the job, allowing his fictional counterpart and the reader, both, to experience the leadership of someone who knows more than we do, and believes in us enough to help us find our way.
There are some things in this book that I didn’t totally appreciate or enjoy - especially toward the end, we find Millman entering into more traditional dialog, featuring references of “God”, or using a dues ex machina to erase his character's’ memory - and thereby suggesting what I assume is his real-world experience of feeling like he, the real Dan Millman, had met his wife-to-be long before they actually encountered one another. Sweet, but somewhat shoddy writing, and unfair to the characters (I have something more specific to say about this, which I’ll get to in a moment). His portrayal of his younger self too is (to cash in on that annoying anger-culture word) ‘problematic’, at least for me. Remembering that this story is set in the sixties, when a vastly different set of cultural norms were in effect, helps me understand it better, but I still find myself personally at odds with how the central character views the world. Which is maybe the point too, who knows. As the fictional Dan explores his path, I definitely walked with him on the whole, but more than once found his voice difficult to identify with and instead found myself clinging solely to the parts where Socrates was at the center of the action.
*As a side-note, I watched the movie when I was about halfway through the book, and while I enjoyed it well enough, I can safely say that it is no masterpiece. In a way, neither is the book, but the material in the book offers up the sort of imagery that deserves a competent director. I would love to see the David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick version of ‘Peaceful Warrior’. If I ever get to the big leagues with film someday, I may come back and take the crack at this work that I feel it deserves..... ;)
Sliding back for just a moment though, what I really dislike about the scene [Spoilers ahead] where Socrates erases the memory of Dan and Joy, is that it was done completely for Dan’s benefit, and seems to be totally unfair to Joy. She hadn’t asked for that to happen, and had no say in it. Dan had made the decision to follow through with whatever Socrates threw his way, but we never get to see Joy given the same choice. It’s a minor quibble in some respects I suppose, but I dearly dislike the idea of anyone having their freedom of choice overruled in such a fashion. It reminds me too much of the modern discussions about roofies and rape. Not to say that this was the intention - I believe I briefly suggested above what I thought the author’s intent with that element was, and I could certainly be accused to reading too deeply into this one small part of the book - but I’d rather be accused of that than of being oblivious.
Still, once I get done with my main quibbles, I have to say - I found this book fascinating. An easy read for sure - it slide through my eyes and into my brain, and even just reading it sparingly I rolled through the chapters like a hot knife through butter. I feel that this is a book that deserves a second read-through however, in order to really catch the subtleties of the messages Dan is working into the narrative. Some of them are blatant, but even then, it might pay to take another look.
I personally liked how the Socrates character took a number of zen koans, and other traditional material, and altered them slightly so as to better fit the modern mindset. I think that people switch off a little when they’re introduced to certain messages, unless the message has been formatted for easy transfer, and that’s basically what Dan seems to have done with this whole book. Taken a lot of old ideas, and placed them within a medium that allows for easy transference (the aspect of this being based on a true story, his life story to be exact, is one such method. People love ‘true stories’).
Personally I think one of the best pieces of the book was the focus that Socrates made on pushing Dan to be more aware of himself. Of his surroundings. Of his friends, the food he ate, his goals in life, and the things he read or heard. This advanced focus on awareness is the first step to real critical thinking, and I also think is simply one of the most important lessons one can learn in life (and one that is unfortunately not often freely available to people, or stressed as important when it is).
Another point that’s grown on me since I finished reading the book, is that there was no absolute resolution. Obviously, as I’ve said before, this was not a classical narrative work, so a traditional ending wasn’t something I exactly expected (truth to be told, I wasn’t sure what to expect at the end of the book). [Minor Movie Spoiler ahead] Unlike in the film, the book does not provide an absolute resolution. Actually it’s unfair of me to suggest that the film does this, because it does leave things at a very open-ended juncture, but it also misses one of the most important parts (I think) of the book. That Dan Millman had to spend literally a dozen years before he came to his first major breakthrough in his training with Socrates, and in the book I was able to feel the frustration, loss, and pain of the ups and downs of life.
I find that all too often in our modern media there is an abnormal emphasis on getting to the end of things, finding fulfillment, reaching perfection, having a sense of completion… etc. etc. etc. These things only exist within a certain type of artificial narrative, life isn’t like that - and yet we’ve become so inundated with the idea that it is; we’re so constantly bombarded with the message that there’s a ‘quick fix’ that will lead us to ‘fulfillment’, that I think it’s become a bit of a social disease. In the book we’re given a sense of advancement - fulfillment of a sort, yes (after all, Dan Millman ended up being very successful at what he does, and there is surely some fulfillment in a life well lived like that), but it takes place under a much broader umbrella than we’re used to. It’s not a “whoops, the story is over, everyone lived happily ever after”. It’s more of a “whoops, life is strange and it’s more about being aware and comfortable with the ups and downs than it is reaching a plateau of fulfillment’.
Anyway, there is probably going to be more stuff I want to say about the book, and I might… but for now I’ll leave it there. Maybe in the future, once I’ve had a chance to go back and read it over again (or parts of it at least), I’ll be able to organize my thoughts on it better. For now I’ll simply close by saying that this was definitely a book I needed to read, and it just happened to arrive at the perfect point in my life for it to do some good. One book alone isn’t the answer, but in this one I think is the potential to guide your feet toward the road.
The following is in response to this article.
First, I'm generally with Patton Oswalt in saying that all comedy is good. In fact, I love it when a comedian is blatantly racist or misogynistic, because then I know who he really is. If someone stays in the shadows it's harder to see them for what they really are - in Adam Sandler's case of course this has never really been an issue: he's always been a piece of shit.
You don't think comedy needs to walk a line in terms of who it attacks or what it represents though? Hmm. I'd say that the line was described pretty damn perfectly here by a Navajo named Alison Young who was working on this film. "I didn't want to cry but the feeling just came over me. This is supposed to be a comedy that makes you laugh. A film like this should not make someone feel this way."
Here's a clip from a piece Patton Oswalt wrote on a subject very close to this - rape jokes:
"See if any of these sound familiar:
There’s no “evidence” of a “rape culture” in this country. I’ve never wanted to rape anyone, so why am I being lumped in as the enemy? If these bloggers and feminists make “rape jokes” taboo, or “rape” as a subject off-limits no matter what the approach, then it’ll just lead to more censorship.
They sure sound familiar to me because I, at various points, was saying them. Either out loud, or to myself, or to other comedian and non-comedian friends when we would argue about this. I had my viewpoint, and it was based on solid experience, and it…was…fucking…wrong.
Let’s go backwards through those bullshit conclusions, shall we? First off: no one is trying to make rape, as a subject, off-limits. No one is talking about censorship. In this past week of re-reading the blogs, going through the comment threads, and re-scrolling the Twitter arguments, I haven’t once found a single statement, feminist or otherwise, saying that rape shouldn’t be joked under any circumstance, regardless of context. Not one example of this.
In fact, every viewpoint I’ve read on this, especially from feminists, is simply asking to kick upward, to think twice about who is the target of the punchline, and make sure it isn’t the victim."
That's exactly what Adam Sandler and his ilk do - they make the victim the butt of the joke. They're not in it to try and illuminate anything more than their own vapid egos and restrictive little viewpoints. I think "dark side" humor can be a really good, positive thing. It can be a way to deal with things that happen in our world which are otherwise too massive in scale, or simply too troubling, to touch otherwise. They can be a way to level the playing field and allow everyone to gain a glimpse into the dark world they've been afraid to look at - because again, if something is blocked off from sight you don't know where it's going or what it's doing, and you can't arrange any defense against it. I've never made a rape joke, because on several fronts that's too close to parts of my personal reality, especially in several women I've known and cared about. But I've made jokes about death and murder - including mass murder. Made jokes about animal cruelty. Appreciated jokes about racism even - because sometimes you just have to find a way to comprehend and deal with the fact that racism really does exist, and it has damaged and utterly destroyed not just individual lives and families, but entire ways of life and entire continents of people. So you don't think that this discussion is "worth having"? You think that the only point of comedy is "to be funny"? Well I've got news for you. Words hold incredible power, and laughter holds even more power, and what a comedian chooses to do with those tools says a whole hell of a lot about the comedian - and a whole hell of a lot more about the people who are laughing. Keeping in mind that there's a difference between "HAHA stupid indian's name is BEAVER" and that nervous laughter that comes from facing the uncomfortable truth that some people will say anything if they think they can get away with it, simply because they really believe what they're saying. A rape joke can be made to combat the suffocating darkness of the issue, or to spur on conversation, and that's fine. But it can also be made by a comedian for an audience that honestly see's nothing at all wrong with it, and will violently defend what they see as their right to see rape as normal. If this discussion is too damn confusing for you, maybe you should take a moment and think about just who you want to be, and who you are, way deep down inside.
“At this time there are too many people afraid for their jobs, there are too many people buying cars, TV sets, homes, educations on credit. Credit and the eight hour day are great friends of the Establishment. If you must buy things, pay cash, and only buy things of value – no trinkets, no gimmicks. Everything you own must be able to fit inside one suitcase; then your mind might be free.”
— Charles Bukowski
My life has been smoothed over, slicked down with oil. This is what I’m thinking, absorbed in the tan muddy patches that are sprinkled all around my ankles, placed there as I awkwardly hop to avoid the larger puddles of muck.
While hiking back along one of the local wilderness trails this morning I was struck by the realization of how difficult it’s become to enjoy things. I don’t remember it being this hard when I was a little kid. Back then there were no experiences not worth having, and life seemed to be this eternal entity which defied description. It was not something other than myself; other than the moment in which it was experienced - it simply was. And now, the adult me is having difficulty distinguishing anything from anything else - it all still seems to be... but I am somehow not a part of that whole process. I feel excluded, diminished in some way.
As an artist, I so desperately want to be creative that I often feel like I am driving something of the creativity away. Fear has made me as soft as it’s made me hard, so that reconciliation with life and my seat of experiences seems impossible. And I find myself wondering if anyone else feels this way. Is this a constant among artists in general, or does it take the elastic quality of depression and mood swings to bring a personality to the edge of the cliff of apathy. Not apathy - I do care about things; I experience feelings and desires and drives - yet I also experience a profound disconnection from existence and the world. What am I? Who am I? Where am I going? If I knew these things would my life be complete? Probably not.
The sole constant for creating art appears to be, well, creating art. It seems that way to me, at any rate. The desire to create art is in itself an artistic process, even when the product of that process is all that anyone can ever truly see. The artist can make art about the process of making art, or even the desire to produce art - before the process comes alive - and yet these things are merely reflections of something else, something experienced solely within the individual; the solitary mind.
I find myself worrying a lot about being an artist.
Who is this silly person trying to create something?
What alarming egotism!
And I am obnoxiously egotistical, even as I am pervasively self-dissatisfied, and bitten by daily tremors of self-pity and over-analyzation. But I also want to make good art. I want to make art that other people will see and enjoy; learn from and explore. I want to make art worthy of art. I want to make art that makes me feel like me; brings me to the lip of life and lets me clearly see that it’s okay to jump. But what does that actually mean? Do I want it to be worthy of some critical ideal? Should my art be judged by a panel of my betters and/or peers? Perhaps good art is only good when nobody at first recognizes that it is good aside from the artist, who must diligently punish himself with the daily struggle to prove that his work means something. If that’s the case I can only hope that soon enough I find a degree of pleasure in my work that places me in that category. Then again, perhaps pleasure has nothing to do with it at all. Perhaps art is something you work at tirelessly not because it feels right, but rather because you’ve got nothing else to do to fill the void. Perhaps it is all of the above, and something else entirely depending on the day, the weather, the cycle of the moon, and how well breakfast happens to be sitting.
The only constant when it comes to art, it seems to me, is the desire to create it. If the desire remains, than the desiree is an artist, and the discussion can be at rest. I have to believe this, otherwise it doesn’t seem like there’s much point to anything at all. So for all I’m worth I’ll keep trying, and hoping, and secretly believing. And maybe I’ll even learn the daily motivation to work my fingers to the bone, even when - especially when - I feel nothing for anything at all.
I’ve been reading Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking lately, and it’s really been helping me evolve beyond the bonds of fear - fear that my work isn’t good enough, or that people simply won’t care about it; or that by even asking people to look at and maybe pay for it, I am somehow putting the wrong foot forward.
So here goes.
My chapbook of poetry was published in October, and since then I’ve sold several copies - a few to people I didn’t know, or didn’t know at the time. I’ve reached complete strangers with my work, and that feels really great.
I priced my chapbook purposefully as low as I could and still keep all the possible Amazon selling options open. I also included the gift of a free, DRM-less e-copy of my chapbook with the purchase of a hard copy. I did this because I know that people have limited funds, and spending twenty dollars on an unknown poets first chapbook just seemed unfair - besides, I don’t want to make a lot of money off of this, I just want people to read it.
You can help.
If you haven’t yet, feel free to check out the Amazon page for my book. You get to read the first poem for free as a sample! If you can chuck some money at a copy, do it! Let me know that you bought it by tweeting or blogging a picture of it to me and I’ll send you my personal thanks! Live near me and I’ll sign it for you! And if you can’t afford a copy, or simply don’t want to buy one, that’s okay too - just go ahead and share the link to it, or the link to my website.
If you do end up buying a copy feel free to share it with your friends, your writer’s group, your parents, your classroom. All I ask is that you continue to share it with people you know, and that you leave an honest opinion on its Amazon page.
I appreciate you all so much, and on the flip-side, if you have a project you’ve been hoping to spread the word on, tell me about it on Tumblr, Twitter, or email, and I’ll help you spread the message! Together we can keep making good art; great art, and inspiring others like us to do the same.
~Odin Hartshorn Halvorson
I'm only 1.5k away from my goal of 20k words for this weekend! Managing to stay ahead of the game this time around, and some really great plot development is already occurring, leaving me very happy and excited.
Because things are going so well I thought I'd leave a little advice here too, for anyone struggling to meet today's 15k wordcount goal.
Firstly, this is a tough month for many of us. School can start to seem overwhelming, as projects and papers pile up and final leer at us from the stormy peaks of December. Work stalks us even in our sleep, as a new week surges towards us with every passing minute. Commitments to friends and family fall by the wayside, leaving us starved for attention and drained. Tackling 50k (or more) words during November is a gauntlet of mythic proportions that only those of us actually attempting it can hope to understand.
But there are some tricks to making it through to the end. The shiny golden finish line isn't that far off, really - you can make it if you try, and when you do, you'll feel lifted to the clouds by the bouncy of your pride in your victory.
I'll assume there will be plenty of fanfare and pie once I become a massively successful poet and author - which should be any day now, now that my first book of poetry has been published! It's available worldwide, in both print and Kindle format, for a reasonable price (the Kindle is free if you buy the paper copy,) and I'm feeling pretty psyched about it.
Now I'm no fool - there is little chance that a chapbook off poetry will make any grand waves, but on my purely personal part, this is a pretty damn big deal. I have brought into being a creation of my own design - and that is exceedingly exciting. With this done I think the Universe might just open up for me a little more - and perhaps my creativity will feel freer to expand. It's no accident that I pushed for a publishing date just before 2014's National Novel Writing Month.
It's occurred to me that finishing things, especially creative things, has always been difficult for me - and for quite a few other people as well. There is a certain anxiety attached to the creation and release of your work - even in this day and age of social networking. It's important to explore that anxiety though, I think, and to constantly remind yourself that you need to do this for you - and that once it's done it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks, because you have created something that you needed to create, for the health of your own mind and soul.
Anyway, regardless of all that, I would be overjoyed to see my book sell - so if you would like a copy, please purchase it from the Amazon Create Space store: https://www.createspace.com/4996329
You all rock my socks,
Public project updates, author information, and the like. For more of Odin's thoughts, follow him on Twitter.