“M Train” a Meditation on Life, Loss, Love

Patti Smith is a woman of many talents. She’s an accomplished performer, visual artist, and photographer, as well as a punk-rock icon and poet. With the publication of her exceptional memoir Just Kids in 2010, she added National Book Award winner to the list.

In Just Kids (which I liked so much I read it twice within a year) Smith chronicles her life from her blue-collar upbringing in New Jersey through her discovery of her love of music and poetry and art to her eventual move in the 1960s/early 1970s to New York City. There she lived for a time in the Chelsea Hotel surrounded by many of the same musicians, artists, and writers she worshiped. It’s a book that is imbued with a specific time and a specific place, so filled with perfect descriptions of life then that you feel as though you, too, were hanging out at the Chelsea, chatting up Bob Dylan at the bar.

Her newly released follow-up to it, M Train, feels different but somehow similar, permeated instead with Smith’s attachment to her memories and the things and people she’s admired and loved and lost. It’s not a straightforward “this happened and then that happened” memoir. It reads instead as a beautiful look into Smith’s own mind, into her ruminations about the past and her obsessions with certain books, authors, and even TV shows.

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We tag along with her as she travels in the past and in the present; a trip to Japan, a trip to French Guiana, a trip to Berlin, a trip to Mexico, among others. We’re beside her as she visits the graves of Sylvia Plath, Jean Genet, and Arthur Rimbaud, marking these moments with quiet gratitude and respect. We see her Manhattan apartment, filled with photos and talismans from her life, as well as her books and her cats. We sip coffee along with her each morning, notebook and pen in hand, at the small café across from her apartment. We discover, as she does, the beauty of Rockaway Beach, and the unexpected folly of purchasing a falling-down house mere weeks before Hurricane Sandy would strike. (The house, remarkably, was still standing after, though many around it were not.) We feel her pain, years later, after first her husband died and then her brother not long after.

At age 68, it feels like Smith’s taking stock, in a sense, holding on to memories through photos and objects, trying to regain what’s been lost and hold on to what hasn’t been (yet). I think that’s something we can all relate to and Smith gives us her beautiful words to savor as we melt into that melancholy.

“The War of Art” Can Help Bring About a Breakthrough

Maybe it’s an idea for a start-up that you keep talking yourself out of. Or a new line of business for your company that you believe would improve your fortunes tremendously, but would be something of a risk to pursue. Or it could be finally sticking with an exercise routine — no matter how painful it is at first — to ensure that you’re around to enjoy time with your family for years to come. Or perhaps you loved painting or writing when you were younger and you’d like to try it again but you keep quieting the part of you that bubbles up these ideas.

I bet most of us have something like this inside; some unanswered call that we think about when we’re trying to fall asleep at night, some nagging little voice that knows you could do more if only you were braver.

When you finally reach a point where the voice is shouting and you realize you only have so much time here to do the things you’d like to do, read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. The subtitle for this slim little book (just 165 pages) is “Break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles.” If you’re willing to take a hard look at yourself and be honest, this book can help you do just that.

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Pressfield is the author of lots of fiction and a few works of nonfiction (like this one). Perhaps the book of his you’re most likely to have heard of is The Legend of Bagger Vance, which became a movie. However, he’d been at it for years before he was actually paid for his writing and before anything was published, simply because he believed in doing the work. He had to do it. And if there’s something you feel called to do, too, no matter how big or how small, The War of Art can be just the kick you need.

Pressfield, a former Marine, comes across as your own private drill sergeant, calling you on all your excuses as to why you can’t do the thing you most want to do. Pressfield dubs the enemy capital-R “Resistance.” It shows up everywhere.

In his words, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” The more important to your life the thing you want to do is, the more Resistance you’ll feel. This book breaks down how to recognize it and battle it. When you’re ready to fight, read this first.

(Originally published here: http://msbusiness.com/2015/07/bookbiz-a-book-for-cultivating-your-inner-courage/)