When I was about half way through reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, I realized that I wanted to remember the important parts of this book. The book called out to me: Pay close attention! So I started at the beginning again and took notes this time, consciously gathering the gold nuggets.
Liz introduces us to Jack Gilbert (no relation to her), a poet who just happened to have taught at the same University a few years before she landed there taking over his teaching position. She quotes him: “We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world” (p. 6). Jack encouraged his students to be brave and to bring forth their innate treasures. The “ruthless furnace” of the world; that expression really stuck with me. The world is churning, moving at a relentless pace, burning, flooding, and we are just such tiny cogs in the monster wheel of life. We can easily get crushed by the ruthlessness of this wheel, go up unnoticed in this furnace. That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it!?
So why don’t we all follow our creative urges and bring forth what’s inside of us?
Because of fear, that’s why. Liz lists all the possible fears – fear of not having talent, being rejected, criticized, being compared to others, of not being good enough. She mentioned that this was a bottomless list and that she had felt all of these fears intimately.
“We all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun” (p. 13).
Fear kills our creative urges. She suggests that, instead of fighting the fear, we allow it and creativity to co-exist. Because we can’t allow the fear to hold us back: “…the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small” (p. 27).
She talks about the need for us to acknowledge what we are: I am a writer, I am a dancer, I am a singer. No such thing as I am trying to be a writer!
She counters the fear of not being original enough, the fear that whatever we have to express has already been done: “…once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours” ( p. 97).
She asks that we don’t do what we are driven to do to save the world. Instead, “….[make] your art in order to save yourself, or to relieve yourself of some great psychic burden, rather than to save or relieve us” (p. 99). That is a relief, isn’t it – do this for me, with all my heart, honoring the need that drives me. If it is helpful to others as well, all the better. It is highly likely that others will relate and understand – after all, any human emotion or experience has already been experienced many times over, right?
She addresses the paradox of art being both meaningless and meaningful. After all, art is not necessary for our physical survival. What is necessary is air, water, food, and shelter. The rest is the frosting on the cake. And, yet, our soul can shrivel up if we can’t do our art, so art becomes a meaningful motivator and activity in our life. Creative expression allows us to escape the routines and boredom of our regular life, lifts us into a transcendent space.
Liz talks about separating the soul’s need from the ego needs. The ego wants successful outcomes – money, fame, adoration, praise. But by allowing the ego to direct our creative impulse, we are stifling it, putting parameters on it that it cannot possibly fit into, even killing it. We must create for the sake of creation rather than the hope of becoming famous and making a lot of money.
What this book did for me: it freed me from wondering what will happen to my writings, my photographs, my ideas. It released me from the need to somehow make it amount to something important, something successful. It handed me back the sheer pleasure of self-expression. What does it matter how many blog followers I have by the end of the year, or how many blog posts I publish? The bread and butter of my creative expression is the freedom to play, to allow my spirit to dance and flow, to connect with like-minded souls, and to marvel in the Beauty of it all.
Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert!