Big Magic

Elizabeth Gilbert’s excellent follow-up to her TED Talk on ‘elusive creative genius’.

Gilbert talks at length about a poet who lived a fairly elusive life and held a position at the University which she took after he departed. She held the man in high regard, and latched on to a statement he made to a student that impacted her:

“One afternoon, after his poetry class, Jack had taken her aside. He complimented her work, then asked what she wanted to do with her life. Hesitantly, she admitted that perhaps she wanted to be a writer. He smiled at the girl with infinite compassion and asked, ‘Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.’”

Asking ourselves if we have the courage to create may be one of the most important questions we ever ask. Gilbert recognizes this truth, and shares a story from her teenage years of overcoming fear:

“Around the age of fifteen, I somehow figured out that my fear had no variety to it, no depth, no substance, no texture. I noticed that my fear never changed, never delighted, never offered a surprise twist or an unexpected ending. My fear was a song with only one note—only one word, actually—and that word was ‘STOP!’ I also realized that my fear was boring because it was identical to everyone else’s fear. I figured out that everyone’s song of fear has exactly that same tedious lyric: ‘STOP, STOP, STOP, STOP!’”

Fear isn’t unique. It’s boring. It’s also not the only thing to overcome. Once we get over our anxieties, there are fresh anxieties waiting for us. If we allow ourselves to be creative beings, we then must recognize that creativity comes and go. Here’s how to live with that tension:

“If inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you, it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you. Don’t fall into a funk about the one that got away. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t rage at the gods above. All that is nothing but distraction, and the last thing you need is further distraction. Grieve if you must, but grieve efficiently. Better to just say good-bye to the lost idea with dignity and continue onward.”

Gilbert calls the art of allowing ideas to come to us ‘big magic’, and sees the concept of creation to be an important and unique part of our humanity. She challenges us to understand that we are all creative beings, born to make things:

“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers—these are our common ancestors.”

We create because we are built to. Nothing more, nothing less. Here’s an ethos to hold onto:

“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.”

Reminds me of: ‘The Artisan Soul’ by Erwin McManus.