In yesterday’s post, I described the habit of following and leaving breadcrumbs as a practice I do “If the familiar bogeyman shows up, growling that there’s Nothing to offer.” Later in the day, it occurred to me that I had possibly misrepresented the regularity of the appearance of this character, as a sort of roving Bigfoot figure, of whom I have occasional sightings, whom I nobly fight off whenever he arrives.
In fact, there is nothing occasional about his appearance. In fact, I can’t remember a creative day without him. In truth, we live together. Always have and probably always will.
It occurred to me that I should give him some more space. Monsters like when you give them some room. They like to be acknowledged, which is why they growl and lope about breaking things. Given that I’ve already tried everything I can think of to get him to leave, from battle to poison, to attempting to lure him away with some distraction, I’ve decided to make peace with him. I’d rather live with a peaceful monster than an angry one desperate for attention. Besides, he's surprisingly endearing (in a so-funny-looking-he's-cute sort of way), all shaggy and one-note, always bumping into things and repeating himself.
“Nothing!” Is what he says, over and over. That’s his name, Nothing. It calls to mind a favorite childhood movie, The Neverending Story, in which a boy goes on a quest to save the known world from The Nothing that is devastating the land. That nothing was terrifying to me, mainly because it rang deeply true. As a child I sensed what I did not have words for at the time, but which was definitely present: a strong anti-life force at loose in the world. Steven Pressfield calls it The Resistance. I sometimes call it The Machine. It’s capacity to destroy comes from its ability to exist undetected.
This is why I decided to name my monsters. The umbrella title (Resistance, Machine, Evil, etc.) is useful, but the thing to understand about these forces is how they have minions going about doing their bidding for them. I want to name these, too.
So, back to Nothing. He’s big and shaggy, and he goes around shouting: Nothing! That’s nothing! or This is nothing! You’re nothing! This whole project, whatever it is, amounts to nothing!
As you can see, he’s a bit of a solipsist. Poor guy, he really can’t help himself. It’s all he knows.
Yes, I say to him, patting his matted fur. That’s right, this is Nothing. Would you like some milk?
I like Nothing! he insists, but he will take some milk. I put some out and he’s busy with that for a while, slurping away before he bangs the bowl to the floor, just to punctuate his previous statement. Which was: Nothing!
I even make concessions. I mean, he’s not entirely wrong. I actually don’t have any ideas, most days. So, if asked, “What ideas do you have this morning?” my honest answer is either something like, “I think I’ll fry my eggs instead of boil them today” or “I’ve got Nothing.”
Nothing would like me to submit at this point. But I can acknowledge that while I have no actual ideas most of the time, I am not in need of any, either. I’m here to show up and listen, and the world, as far as I can tell, is full of plenty to offer. All I need to do is look, listen, and describe.
And be patient. If I didn’t have patience going for me, Nothing would probably win every time. If the question of what to post today (or write later, or how to develop that story or solve the next problem) had to be answered before I began, I definitely wouldn’t be getting anything done. But, as it turns out, it doesn’t. Nothing is big and hairy, smelly and loud, and sometimes just eerily silent, brooding.
But Something is abundant and vast, full of more than I can possibly take in at any given time. So, I practice just being in it, dancing with it, and let Something take care of the rest. That’s all I can do. Perhaps those with endless ideas have other ways.
Maybe some people don’t live with all these monsters around them all the time. I can’t imagine what that’s like, but I can say that I don’t mind looking at these funny-looking guys. It’s quite a menagerie, really.
You take a monster like this Nothing and you talk to him, pet him and offer some milk, clean up his messes, and after a while you start to notice that actually, he’s more like Something, which would negate the whole supposed threat of his being.
But I won’t tell him that. Nothing’s got his job, and I have mine.
What’s that? He wants to know.
Oh, it’s Nothing!
Hmmmmph. He nods, very serious, spewing sulfurous smoke from his nostrils. Nothing!
And then I get back to it.
Follow-up: After hanging out with my guy Nothing today, something occurred to me. I think I will do a whole “Monster Mash” series of posts though maybe not necessarily back-to-back. I like the idea of returning to these characters. I think I can assemble quite a cast, over time. I picture something like The Muppets Take Manhattan, another favorite movie that I remember fondly from childhood.
Image: "monster" by Karli Watson on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 2.0 Generic license.