How to use your teeth properly


Let’s talk teeth.

Recently, I shared my latest experience with the I Ching. The result advised me to bite through the obstacles in my path.

(The I Ching is an ancient system which helps you see a situation in a new way. Check it out. Every time I do it gives me something meaningful.)

Biting: ‘to use the teeth to cut into something’. It’s not a removal of an obstacle or a dismantling or an unpicking but a visceral biting.

It has an aggression and fierceness to it, but also a requirement to judge correctly and avoid broken teeth. The I Ching described it as the combination of “hardness and excitement with clarity and gentleness”. To bite, you exert pressure – but just the right amount of pressure.

I have not, historically and like many others, been very good at working out that right amount of pressure to exert – particularly on myself.

When I started freelancing I was so indoctrinated into the 9-5 world that I still kept timesheets (in 15 minute slots, no less) for the first three months. Voluntarily. That was too much biting.

Or I would spend all day in bed, watching TV, telling myself I needed to do The Thing when I was ‘in the right mood’, forgetting I could encourage my mood by starting The Thing. Too little biting.

So I am still getting to know the strength of my teeth and how to exert the right level of pressure.

Right now, the particular context I want to (need to) do that in is my creative practice.

I want to make more art, perform more poetry, publish more documents, dedicate more of myself and my life to creative work.

There are obstacles in my way. Fear and shame – of failure, of success, of visibility, of all the things I wrote about last week. That creative work is hard; it simultaneously exhausts and replenishes me. It is arduous and long and fiddly.

I am not, right now, biting through these obstacles. I am just … not doing things.

It is so easy to do anything else other than the thing you deeply want to do, which will speak to your soul, which will make you alive. So easy to distract oneself. Sometimes, it’s okay to avoid The Thing and say “Oh, damn! An obstacle. Back to bed!” because maybe right then you can’t tackle biting through.


To keep doing that?
To keep avoiding your true Thing?
To take your teeth out?

Not okay.

Teeth are fierce. They’re dead sexy. They’re sharp and made of something weird and you show them when you feel a strong emotion – doesn’t matter whether it’s joy or anger. Teeth are what animals have, what animals use to tear up food, not what kind pleasant genteel humans have. We have forks and knives! And napkins!

For all those reasons and more we can be afraid of baring our teeth and biting down and through. It is an instinctive and bestial movement, and we can be frightened of our own instincts and wildness.

Yet you need your teeth, and you need them sharp and ready. Some obstaclescannot be deconstructed and explained and taken apart piece by piece. They need to be snapped in half like a biscuit and crushed up into rubble.

For all the feral-ness of teeth, biting down requires discipline. Applying the rightamount of pressure to shear through something requires discipline. It requires self-knowledge, and the discipline to stick to that knowledge.

So, I am committing myself to biting down. I am committing myself to discipline.

Some of the ways I will be biting down are:

  • Writing something creative every day, ideally working on poetry
  • Moving my collection of photos and poems from Paris forward, step by step
  • Performing as often as possible

And, most importantly: giving myself the time to do the creative work. Carving out that bastard like a blade through soft cheese, like my teeth through those obstacles.

It’s not an intense schedule of activity, but neither is it kicking back and doing nowt.

It is exerting the right pressure
With my teeth
To snap those obstacles in two
And walk my creative path.

Your teeth, your discipline, your right-amount-of-pressure are for you to use. What are you going to crunch up today?


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