MISERY AND THE MARINES: INVALUABLE TO THE ARTIST
“The War of Art identifies the enemy that every one of us must face, outlines a battle plan to conquer this internal foe, then pinpoints just how to achieve the greatest success.”
By EJ WickesWhen I was in second grade I decided that I wanted to be an artist. I loved art. I wanted to do nothing but learn art and make art. By the time I got to high school I was smart enough to realize that the life of the artist is not always what you envision it to be. The romance of it all, the bohemian rebellious lifestyle and the illusion of having control over your own destiny is what attracted me. Plus, I just loved to draw and make art.
My high school friends pleaded with me not to join the Marines. They warned me that I would be processed into a programmable robotic killing machine. The Marines would destroy my soul; kill my artistic nature and ruin me for life. Much to the contrary the effect was quite the opposite. It introduced me to hardship, misery and self discipline, but the joke was on them. From an early age I was no stranger to misery and discipline.
You see I was raised with an iron fist and by the time I got to boot camp it was more like a Summer vacation. Sure, it was tough and about the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, but I still understood the method to their madness and the misery I had to go through to move on. Honestly, a year of two of mandatory military service out of high school would go a long way for the character of America. The military, Peace Corps; whatever.
I joined the Marines not to prepare myself for war, but to prepare for my life as an artist, i.e. Vincent van Gogh, Rothko and all the other happy endings. With some amusement I would tell myself, “If I can deal with this, I can deal with just about anything the world can throw at me as an artist, once I get out.” It wasn’t until a few years ago that a former Marine buddy of mine introduced me to a book written by Steven Pressfield; a former Marine himself. You might be surprised by how many of us are artists and poets; Warrior Poets all. Ironically in Steven Pressfield’s book was this page dedicated specifically to “Misery”:
HOW TO BE MISERABLE
“In my younger days dodging the draft, I somehow wound up in the Marine Corps. There’s a myth that Marine training turns baby-faced recruits into bloodthirsty killers. Trust me; the Marine Corps is not that efficient. What it does teach, however, is a lot more useful.
The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.
This is invaluable for an artist.
Marines love to be miserable. Marines derive a perverse satisfaction in having colder chow, crappier equipment, and higher casualty rates than any outfit of dogfaces, swab jockeys, or fly-boys, all of whom they despise. Why? Because these candy-asses don’t know how to be miserable.
The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt and humiliation.
The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.”
– Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle. New York: Rugged Land, LLC (2002).