Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert – A 27-min Summary

big magic

“Big Magic is a celebration of a creative life…Gilbert’s love of creativity is infectious, and there’s a lot of great advice in this sunny book…Gilbert doesn’t just call for aspiring artists to speak their truth, however daffy that may appear to others; she is showing them how.”
—Washington Post

“In [Gilbert’s] first foray into full-on self-help [she] shares intimate glimpses into the life of a world-famous creative, complete with bouts of paralyzing fear and frustration, in an attempt to coax the rest of us into walking through the world just a little bit braver.”
—Elle

“Elizabeth Gilbert is my new spirit animal… I have profoundly changed my approach to creating since I read this book.”
—Huffington Post

Book details:

Publisher: Riverhead Books (September 22, 2015)
Publication Date: September 22, 2015
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Genre: Self-Help, Creativity, Personal Growth, Motivational, Personal Success

Author

Elizabeth M. Gilbert (born July 18, 1969) is an American author, essayist, short story writer, biographer, novelist and memoirist. She is best known for her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, which as of December 2010 has spent 199 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list, and was also made into a film by the same name in 2010.

Writer Elizabeth Gilbert on her new book “Big Magic” – q on cbc

Also check out this great TED talk: Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity

TOC

  1. Courage
  2. Enchantment
  3. Permission
  4. Persistence
  5. Trust
  6. Divinity

Summary

Quotes, pictures, comments

Part 1: Courage

courage

Creative Living, Defined

So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?
I say this with all confidence, because I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure.

 

The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them… The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living… The often surprising results of that hunt—that’s what I call Big Magic.

An Amplified Existence

 

[Talking about her friend Susan who took up figure skating when she was 40 years old:]

figure skating
This is NOT Susan…

She loved it even more than ever, perhaps, because now, as an adult, she finally had the perspective to appreciate the value of her own joy. Skating made her feel alive and ageless.

Please note that my friend did not quit her job, did not sell her home, did not sever all her relationships and move to Toronto to study seventy hours a week with an exacting Olympic-level skating coach.

I can guarantee you this: A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.

Scary, Scary, Scary

Because creative living is a path for the brave. We all know this. And we all know that when courage dies, creativity dies with it. We all know that fear is a desolated boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hos sun. This is common knowledge.

 

Defining Your Weakness

Growing up Elizabeth was afraid of many things, not only the usual stuff (the dark, strangers, etc), but also snow, babysitters, cars, playgrounds, … BUT she had a strong mother pushing her, not accepting fear to limit her.

Please understand that the only reason I can speak so authoritatively about fear is that I know it so intimately.

Fear Is Boring

elizabeth-gilbert-your-fear-boring-2s8g

The Fear You Need and the Fear You Don’t Need

Creativity is a path for the brave, yes, but it is not a path for the fearless, and it’s important to recognize the distinction.
Bravery means doing something scary. Fearlessness means not even understanding what the word scary means.

..the only truly fearless people I’ve ever met were straight-up sociopaths and a few exceptionally reckless three-year-olds—and those aren’t good role models for anyone.

The truth is, you need your fear..

Trust me, your fear will always show up—especially when you’re trying to be inventive or innovative.

The Road Trip

Here’s how I’ve learned to deal with my fear: I made a decision a long time ago that if I want creativity in my life—and I do—then I will have to make space for fear, too.

In fact, it seems to me that my fear and my creativity are basically conjoined twins—as evidenced by the fact that creativity cannot take a single step forward without fear marching right alongside it.

So I don’t try to kill off my fear… Instead I make space for it.

It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too.

..Then we head off together – me and creativity and fear – side by side by side forever, advancing once more into the terrifying but marvelous terrain of unknown outcome.

Why It’s Worth It

because if you can’t learn to travel comfortably alongside your fear, then you’ll never be able to go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting.

Fear-creativity

 

Part 2: Enchantment

enchantment
Let’s talk about Magic..

An Idea Arrives

..but it happens enough (and is consistent enough with symptoms reported by people all over the world, all throughout history) that I believe I can confidently call it by its name: inspiration. This is what it feels like when an idea comes to you.

How Ideas Work

Because the truth is, I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment—not entirely human in its origins.

I am aware this is not an especially modern way or rational way of seeing things. It is decidedly unscientific.

I believe the creative process is both magical and magic.

I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria’s and viruses, but also by ideas.  Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separated from us, but capable of interacting with us – albeit strangely.

..ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners.

liz_gilbert_quote1

What Happens When You Say No

..then you’re off the hook. The idea will eventually go away and – congratulations – you don’t need to bother creating anything.

I have many times been approached by ideas that I know are not right for me, and I’ve politely said to them: “I’m honored by your visitation, but I’m not your girl.

..whatever your response, though, do be sympathetic to the poor idea. Remember: All it wants is to be realized. It’s trying its best.

Mostly, people say no.. then again, someday you just might say yes.

What Happens When You Say Yes

..it’s showtime.

Now your job becomes both simple and difficult. Yo have officially entered into a contract with inspiration, and you must try to see it through..

In contemporary Western civilization, the most common creative contract still seems to be one of suffering… a contract that says: I shall destroy myself and everyone around me in an effort to bring forth my inspiration..

You can do it this way..But I’m not sure this route is especially productive, or that it will bring you or your loved ones  enduring satisfaction and peace.

..maybe there’s a different way to approach it? May I suggest one?

charles_bukowski_quote_2

A Different Way

Rage-another-way

A different way is to cooperate fully, humbly, and joyfully with inspiration.. this is how I believe most people approached creativity for most of history, before we decided to get all La Boheme about it.

You can clear out whatever obstacles are preventing you from living your most creative life, with the simple understanding that whatever is bad for you is probably also bad for your work.

You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.

You can believe that you are neither a slave to inspiration nor its master, but something far more interesting—its partner—and that the two of you are working together toward something intriguing and worthwhile.

An Idea Grows

Story about a project (book) she started “Evelyn of the Amazon”

An Idea Gets Sidetracked

The project was put away due to personal challenges…

An Idea Goes Away

She was unable to start the project again.. “The Idea had left the building”..

elvis leaves

The idea had grown tired of waiting, and it had left me.

..because this is the other side of the contract with creativity: If inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you, it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you.

Wizardry

The idea was magically transferred (with a kiss) to another person (Ann Patchett)

WTF?

In fact, we think it was exchanged in the kiss. And that, my friends, is Big Magic.

A Little Perspective

..I chose to regard this event as having been a terrific little miracle.

Ownership

I believe that inspiration will always try it’s best to work with you – but if you are not ready or available, it may indeed choose to leave you and to search for a different human collaborator.

In the years since I published Eat Pray Love, I cannot tell you (it is literally beyond my ability to count) how many people have accused me in anger of having written their book.

I found an unattended idea lying around, and I ran away with it.

eat pray love
Multiple Discovery

About how multiple discoveries appears roughly at the same time in science, business, love, etc.. Inspiration working several channels at the same time..

Such is the bizarre, unearthly contract of creative living. There is no theft; there is no ownership; there is no tragedy; there is no problem. There is no time or space where inspiration comes from – and also no competition, no ego, no limitation. There is only the stubbornness of the idea itself, refusing to stop searching until it has found an equally stubborn collaborator.

The Tigers Tail

ruth stone running to catch a poem

Ruth Stone & the creative process.

As [Stone] was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barrelling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming…cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, “run like hell” to the house as she would be chased by this poem.

The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would “continue on across the landscape looking for another poet”.

And then there were these times, there were moments where she would almost miss it. She is running to the house and is looking for the paper and the poem passes through her. She grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her and she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. In those instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact, but backwards, from the last word to the first.

That, My friends, is some freaky, old-timey, voodoo-style Big Magic, right there. I believe in it, though.

Hard Labor vs. Fairy Dust

Most of my writing life consists of nothing more than unglamorous, disciplined labor.

..but sometimes it is fairy dust. .. like being guided by an external force..

In ancient Greek, the word for human happiness is eudaimonia, which basically means “well-daemoned” – that is, nicely taken care off by some external divine creative spirit guide.

(Modern commentators, perhaps uncomfortable with this sense of divine mystery, simply call it “flow” or “being in the zone.”)

But the Greeks and the Romans both believed in the idea of an external daemon of creativity – a sort of house elf, if you will, who lived within the walls of your home and who sometimes aided you in your labor.

The Romans had a specific term for that helpful house elf. They called it your genius—your guardian deity, the conduit of your inspiration. Which is to say, the Romans didn’t believe that an exceptionally gifted person was a genius; they believed that an exceptionally gifted person had a genius.

The idea of an external genius helps to keep the artist’s ego in check, distancing him somewhat from the burden of taking either full credit or full blame for the outcome of his work.

Either way, the vulnerable human ego is protected. Protected from the corrupting influence of praise. Protected from the corrosive effects of shame.

socrates_and_his_daemon

 

Pinned Beneath the Boulder

I think society did a great disservice to artists when we started saying that certain people were geniuses, instead of saying they had geniuses. That happened around the Renaissance, with the rise of a more rational and human-centered view of life.

Consider Harper Lee, for instance, who wrote nothing for decades after the phenomenonal success of To Kill a Mockingbird. In 1962, when Lee was asked how she felt about the possibility of ever writing another book, she replied, “I’m scared.” She also said, “When you’re at the top, there’s only one way to go.”

To_Kill_a_Mockingbird

Most dangerously of all, such thinking assumes that if you cannot win, then you must not continue to play.

(Harper Lee, Ralph Ellison, F. Scott Fitzgerald)…. And any other creator, famous or obscure, who ever vanished beneath the shadow of their own real or imagined reputation. I wish  somebody had told them all to go fill up a bunch of pages with blah-blah-blah and just publish it, for heaven’s sake, and ignore the outcome.

Let It Come and Go

The most important thing to understand about eudaimonia, though – about that exhilarating encounter between a human being and divine creative inspiration – is that you cannot expect it to be there for you all the time. It will come and go …

I once took a nap on a commuter train, and while I was asleep, I dreamed an entire short story, absolutely intact. I awoke from my dream, grabbed a pen, and wrote down that story in one fevered burst of inspiration. ..closest I ever came to a pure Ruth Stone Moment..

…I still think of that short story as the most superbly formed hidden jewel I’ve ever unburied in myself.
That was Big Magic at play .. But that was also twenty-two years ago, and it has never happened again.

I work either way, you see – assisted or unassisted – because that is what you must do in order to live a fully creative life. .. Whether I’m touched by grace or not, I thank creativity for allowing me to engage with it at all.

genius_is_one-41550

Bob Dylan (my greatest hero) has always claimed to have written many of his greatest songs very quickly: I wrote ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ in 10 minutes, just put words to an old spiritual … 

Here is a quote from Leonard Cohen about talking to Bob Dylan:

“He said, ‘I like this song you wrote called Hallelujah.’ In fact, he started doing it in concert. He said, ‘How long did that take you to write?’ And I said, ‘Oh, the best part of two years.’ He said, ‘Two years?’ Kinda shocked. And then we started talking about a song of his called I And I from Infidels. I said, ‘How long did you take to write that.’ He said, ‘Ohh, 15 minutes.’ I almost fell off my chair. Bob just laughed.”
~Leonard Cohen

 

A Dazzled Heart

All I know for certain is that this is how I want to spend my life – collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration that I can neither see, nor prove, nor command, nor understand.
It’s a strange line of work, admittedly.
I cannot think of a better way to pass my days.

Part 3: Permission

permission granted

 

He [her father] didn’t quit his day job to follow his dream; he just folded his dream into his everyday life. .. when my father grew curious about things, he pursued them.

I didn’t have a term for it back then, but I can see now that he was practicing something called creative living. I liked it.

I think it was my parents’ example of quietly impudent self-assertion that gave me the idea that I could be a writer, or at least that I could go out there and try.

(Anyhow, the golden rule in my family is this: If you’re supporting yourself financially and you’re not bothering anyone else, then you’re free to do whatever you want with your life.)

Your Permission Slip

TIYP-desc

You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life.

Human beings have been creative beings for a really long time—long enough and consistently enough that it appears to be a totally natural impulse.

The earliest evidence of recognizable human art is forty thousand years old. The earliest evidence of human agriculture, by contrast, is only ten thousand years old. Which means that somewhere in our collective evolutionary story, we decided it was way more important to make attractive, superfluous items than it was to learn how to regularly feed ourselves.

cave paintings

We make things because we like making things.

Are you considering becoming a creative person? Too late, you already are one.

We are all the chosen few. We are all makers by design.

Now go make something.

Decorate Yourself

My urge to write … comes from a place of Hey,why not? Because it’s [life] all just temporary.

Entitlement

Entitlement-Internet

The poet David Whyte calls this sense of creative entitlement “the arrogance of belonging,” and claims that it is an absolutely vital privilege to cultivate if you wish to interact more vividly with life.

The arrogance of belonging .. is a divine force that will actually take you out of yourself and allow you to engage more fully with life.

The arrogance of belonging pulls you out of the darkest depths of self-hatred—not by saying “I am the greatest!” but merely by saying “I am here!”

[ignore the nasty voice telling you] .. “Who the hell do you think you are, trying to be creative? You suck, you’re stupid, you have no talent, and you serve no purpose. Get back in your hole.”

Defending yourself as a creative person begins by defining yourself.

Originality vs. Authenticity

graphic,quotes,quote-d3bcfe8c6b41b52ce9bd8f795adce4c5_h

Most things have already been done – but they have not yet been done by you.

“We have learned nothing in twelve thousand years.”
~Pablo Picasso (when seeing the ancient cave paintings at Lascaux)

Anyhow, the older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity.

.. Share whatever you are driven to share.

If it’s authentic enough, believe me – it will feel original.

Motives

richard branson

 

Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words; it also doesn’t have to be important.

I would prefer that you made your art in order to save yourself, or to relieve yourself of some great psychic burden, rather than to save or relieve us.

I once wrote a book in order to save myself. .. All I was trying to do with that book was figure myself out. [Eat Pray Love]

Merely by pursuing what you love, you may inadvertently end up helping us plenty.
… Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart. The rest of it will take care of itself.

Schooling

art school

I never got an advanced degree in writing. I don’t have an advanced degree in anything, actually.

while I do think it’s important for dentists to be officially credentialed by the state (and airline pilots, and lawyers, and manicurists, for that matter), I am not convinced that we need officially credentialed novelists.

History seems to agree with me on this point. Twelve North American writers have won the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1901: Not one of them had an MFA. Four of them never even got past high school.

I worry that what students of the arts are often seeking in higher education is nothing more than proof of their own legitimacy—proof that they are for real as creative people, because their degree says so.

You must be willing to take risks if you want to live a creative existence.

But if you’re going to gamble, know that you are gambling. Never roll the dice without being aware that you are holding a pair of dice in your hands. And make certain that you can actually cover your bets (both emotionally and financially).

But the arts are not a profession, in the manner of regular professions. There is no job security in creativity, and there never will be.

Try This Instead

mindful

So take your insecurities and your fears and hold them upside down by their ankles and shake yourself free of all your cumbersome ideas about what you require (and how much you need to pay) in order to become creatively legitimate.

Because I’m telling you that you are already creatively legitimate, by nature of your mere existence here among us.

Your Teachers

great teacher

Do you want to study under the great teachers? Is that it? Well, you can find them anywhere. They live on the shelves of your library; they live on the walls of museums; they live in recordings made decades ago.

Your teachers don’t even need to be alive to educate you masterfully.

Most of all, there is this truth: No matter how great your teachers may be, and no matter how esteemed your academy’s reputation, eventually you will have to do the work by yourself.

The Fat Kids

About how Elizabeth Gilbert got her “education”. Working different “day-jobs”, traveling, joining a wanna-be-writers-club for support, taking notes everywhere & all the time.

Werner Herzog Chimes In

“Quit your complaining. -it’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the worlds obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you must, but stop whining and get back to work.”
~Werner Herzog (to a filmmaker friend of Elizabeth Gilbert)

A Trick

magic trick

So, yeah—here’s a trick: Stop complaining.

There are so many good reasons to stop complaining if you want to live a more creative life.

..most important, you’re scaring away inspiration. Every time you express a complaint about how difficult and tiresome it is to be creative, inspiration takes another step away from you, offended.

by saying that you delight in your work, you will draw inspiration near.

Pigeonholing

Pigeonholing

 

Sure, we can all make some kind of art, but only a few of us can be great, right?” I don’t know. Honestly, you guys, I don’t even really care.

On one hand, I’ve known brilliant people who created absolutely nothing from their talents. On the other hand, there are people whom I once arrogantly dismissed who later staggered me with the gravity and beauty of their work.

Lastly, remember what W. C. Fields had to say on this point: “It ain’t what they call you; it’s what you answer to.” Actually, don’t even bother answering. Just keep doing your thing.

Fun House Mirrors

my deep and lifelong conviction that the results of my work don’t have much to do with me.

I can only be in charge of producing the work itself.

We were just a Band

john lennon just a band

..some of my most transcendent moments have been during episodes of inspiration, or when I’m experiencing the magnificent creations of others. And, yes, I absolutely do believe that our artistic instincts have divine and magical origins, but that doesn’t mean we have to take it all so seriously, because – in the final analysis – I still perceive that human artistic expression is blessedly, refreshingly nonessential.

Radiation Canaries

Pure creativity is something better than a necessity; it’s a gift. It’s the frosting. Our creativity is a wild and unexpected bonus from the universe.

High Stakes vs. Low Stakes

writing-in-the-disciplines-10-638

In the safe world in which you and I most likely live, the stakes of our creative expression are low. Almost comically low.

There’s probably never going to be any such thing in your life or mine as “an arts emergency.”

Tom Waits Chimes In

tom-waits-songwriting-quote

Years ago, I interviewed the musician Tom Waits for a profile in GQ magazine. I’ve spoken about this interview before and I will probably speak about it forever, because I’ve never met anyone who was so articulate and wise about creative living.

He told me, “I realized that, as a songwriter, the only thing I really do is make jewelry for the inside of other people’s minds.” Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination. That’s all it is.”

That realization, Waits said, seemed to open things up for him. Songwriting became less painful after that.

So relax a bit, is what I’m saying. Please try to relax

The Central Paradox

In conclusion, then, art is absolutely meaningless. It is, however, also deeply meaningful.

That’s a paradox, of course, but we’re all adults here, and I think we can handle it. I think we can all hold two mutually contradictory ideas at the same time without our heads exploding

“My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically), and it also must not matter at all (if I am to live sanely).”

 

Part 4: Persistence

persistence

Taking Vows

I simply vowed to the universe that I would write forever, regardless of the result. I promised that I would try to be brave about it, and grateful, and as uncomplaining as I could possibly be.

I also promised that I would newer ask writing to take care of me financially, but that I would always take care of it – meaning that I would always support us both.

Learning

I have broken many promises in my life (including a marriage vow), but I have never broken that promise.

On bad days, when I felt no inspiration at all, I would set the kitchen timer for thirty minutes and make myself sit there and scribble something, anything.

I had never asked writing to be easy; I had only asked writing to be interesting. And it was always interesting to me.

slowly … I learned how to write…

A Caveat

It’s NEVER too late [too begin writing]

.. your education isn’t over when they say it’s over; your education is over when you say it’s over.

You can start whenever you decide to start.

The Empty Bucket

At such [uninspired] times, I could almost hear creativity talking to me while i spun off into fear and doubt. Stay with me, it would say. Come back to me. Trust Me.
I decided to trust it.

The Shit Sandwich

shit sandwich

But I remember thinking that learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person.
If you want to be an artist of any sort, it seemed to me, then handling your frustration is a fundamental aspect of the work— perhaps the single most fundamental aspect of the work.

Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process.

the secret to finding your purpose in life is to answer this question in total honesty: “What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?”

As [Mark] Manson writes with profound wisdom: “Everything sucks, some of the time.” You just have to decide what sort of suckage you’re willing to deal with.

So the question is not so much “What are you passionate about?” The question is “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?”

Your Day Job

dont-quit-your-day-job-quote-1

 

The whole time I was practicing to be a writer, I always had a day job. Even after I got published, I didn’t quit my day job, just to be on the safe side.

I held on to those other sources of income for so long because I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life.

I knew better than to ask this of my writing, because over the years, I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills.

Look, if you can manage to live comfortably off your inspiration forever, that’s fantastic. That’s everyone’s dream, right? But don’t let that dream turn into a nightmare.

This is a world, not a womb. You can look after yourself in this world while looking after your creativity at the same time—just as people have done for ages.
What’s more, there is a profound sense of honor to be found in looking after yourself, and that honor will resonate powerfully in your work; it will make your work stronger.

Paint Your Ox

handprint_ox_head

Most individuals have never had enough time, and they’ve never had enough resources, and they’ve never had enough support or patronage or reward . . . and yet still they persist in creating.

Which does not mean that creative living is always easy; it merely means that creative living is always possible.

I do not know of any creative soul who does not dream of calm, cool, grass-growing days in which to work without interruption. Somehow, though, nobody ever seems to achieve it. Or if they do achieve it (through a grant, for instance, or a friend’s generosity, or an artist’s residency), that idyll is just temporary—and then life will inevitably rush back in.

Have An Affair

Couples at cafe table, woman's foot touching man's ankle, low section

Let yourself fall in love with your creativity like that and see what happens.

Even if you have only fifteen minutes a day in a stairwell alone with your creativity, take it.

Sneak off and have an affair with your most creative self. Lie to everyone about where you’re actually going on your lunch break. Pretend you’re traveling on a business trip when secretly you’re retreating in order to paint, or to write poetry, or to draw up the plans for your future organic mushroom farm.

Tristram Shandy Chimes In

I might even put on perfume, for God’s sake. I don’t even put on perfume to go out to dinner, but I will put on perfume in an attempt to seduce creativity back to my side.

I always try to remind myself that I am having an affair with my creativity ..

Seduce the Big Magic and it will always come back to you

Fear in High Heels

IMG_2528

 

But in order to stay in the game, you must let go of your fantasy of perfection.

Robert Stone once joked that he possessed the two worst qualities imaginable in a writer: He was lazy, and he was a perfectionist.

robert stone

What you want is to cultivate quite the opposite: You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass.

We don’t have time for perfect. In any event, perfection is unachievable: It’s a myth and a trap and a hamster wheel that will run you to death.

Rebecca Solnit puts it well: “So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.”

Rebecca-Solnit-zoom

I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified.

Marcus Aurelius Chimes In

Marcus_Aurelius_Metropolitan_Museum

I’ve long been inspired by the private diaries of the second-century Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.
[Haven’t we all…]

But if your calling is to make things, then you still have to make things in order to live out your highest creative potential—and also in order to remain sane.

Possessing a creative mind, after all, is something like having a border collie for a pet: It needs to work, or else it will cause you an outrageous amount of trouble. Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do, and you might not like the job it invents (eating the couch, digging a hole through the living room floor, biting the mailman, etc.). It has taken me years to learn this, but it does seem to be the case that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).

An abiding stereotype of creativity is that it turns people crazy. I disagree: Not expressing creativity turns people crazy.

And if greatness should ever accidentally stumble upon you, let it catch you hard at work. Hard at work, and sane.

Nobody’s Thinking About You

pte-no-one-cares

 

“We all spend our twenties and thirties trying so hard to be perfect, because we’re so worried about what people will think of us. Then we get into our forties and fifties, and we finally start to be free, because we decide that we don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you won’t be completely free until you reach your sixties and seventies, when you finally realize this liberating truth—nobody was ever thinking about you, anyhow.”
[quote from – powerful woman in hr seventies]

Create whatever you want to create—and let it be stupendously imperfect, because it’s exceedingly likely that nobody will even notice. And that’s awesome.

Done Is Better Than Good

Done-is-Better-Than-Perfect

 

my mother always used to say: “Done is better than good.”

Because the truth of the matter is, most people don’t finish things!

In Praise of Crooked Houses

crooked house

A whole bunch of people had some opinions about my novel for a short while, and then everyone moved on, because people are busy and they have their own lives to think about.

Success

success

 

Not everybody makes it to a place of comfortable success in the arts. Most people don’t.

In normal life, if you’re good at something and you work hard at it, you will likely succeed. In creative endeavors, maybe not.

I knew that conventional success would depend upon three factors—talent, luck, and discipline—and I knew that two of those three things would never be under my control. Genetic randomness had already determined how much talent I’d been allotted, and destiny’s randomness would account for my share of luck. The only piece I had any control over was my discipline. Recognizing that, it seemed like the best plan would be to work my ass off.

Career vs. Vocation

 

Trust me, if you want to complain, you’ll always find plenty to complain about, even when fortune appears to be shining her favor upon you.

Elk Talk

[Story about a short-story being rejected by a Magazine, than later being praised & published by the same magazine]

 

The Beautiful Beast

19-02-2016 15-40-35

 

I saw it as proof that you must never surrender, that no doesn’t always mean no, and that miraculous turns of fate can happen to those who persist in showing up.

 

 

Part 5: Trust

trust

Does It Love You?

Ancient people felt that they were being rewarded by Mother Nature or punished by her, at least they were engaged in a constant conversation with her.

Or, to put it more simply: Nature provides the seed; man provides the garden; each is grateful for the other’s help.

Worst Girlfriend Ever

[asking aspiring young writers]:

“Do you love writing?” I ask. Of course they do. Duh. Then I ask: “Do you believe that writing loves you in return?” They look at me like I should be institutionalized.

.. In many cases, these young writers claim that writing flat-out hates them.

Addicted to Suffering

Norman Mailer claimed that every one of his books had killed him a little more.

norman mailer

Oscar Wilde called the artistic existence “One long, lovely suicide”

Suffice it to say that the modern language of creativity—from its youngest aspirants up to its acknowledged masters—is steeped in pain, desolation, and dysfunction. Numberless artists toil away in total emotional and physical solitude—disassociated not only from other humans, but also from the source of creativity itself.
Worse, their relationship with their work is often emotionally violent. You want to make something? You are told to open up a vein and bleed.
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A Cautionary Tale

..to suggest nobody ever made valuable art unless they were in active emotional distress is not only untrue, it’s also kind of sick.

Yeah. Heaven forbid anyone should enjoy their chosen vocation.
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The Teaching of Pain

Trusting in nothing but suffering is a dangerous path.

Raymond_Carver

Raymond Carver: “Any artist who is an alcoholic is an artist despite their alcoholism, not because of it.”

Our Better Angels

I do not deny the reality of suffering—not yours, not mine, not humanity’s in general. It is simply that I refuse to fetishize it.

I don´t buy it. I believe you can live a creative life and still make an effort to be a basically decent person.

When my personal devils take over, I can feel my creative angels retreating. They watch my struggle from a safe distance, but they worry. Also, they grow impatient. It’s almost as if they’re saying, “Lady, please—hold it together! We’ve got so much more work to do!”

Love over suffering, always.

wendell berry

Wendell Berry: “To attribute to the muse a special fondness for pain is to come too close desiring and cultivating pain”

Adam Phillips: “If the art legitimates cruelty, I think the art is not worth having”

Choose What to Trust

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 06.38.38

Do you honestly believe that creativity went through all the trouble of breaking into your consciousness only because it wanted to kill you?

Is it possible, then, that creativity is not fucking with us at all, but that we have been fucking with it?

Stubborn Gladness

All I can tell you for certain is that my entire life has been shaped by an early decision to reject the cult of artistic martyrdom, and instead to place my trust in the crazy notion that my work loves me as much as I love it

My ultimate choice, then, is to always approach my work from a place of stubborn gladness.

Inspiration is always trying to work with me. So I sit there and I work, too. That’s the deal. I trust it; it trusts me.
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Choose Your Delusion

What I’m saying is this: If you’re going to live your life based on delusions (and you are, because we all do), then why not at least select a delusion that is helpful?
..

The work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.

The Martyr vs. the Trickster
Trickster Trust
A Good Trickster Move
Lighten Up

What you produce is not necessarily always sacred, I realized, just because you think it’s sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.

It Ain´t Your Baby

Guys, please don’t mistake your creative work for a human child, okay?

This kind of thinking will only lead you to deep psychic pain.

Your creative work is not your baby; if anything, you are its baby.

Be careful of your dignity … It is no always your friend.

Passion vs. Curiosity

albert einstein passion

I don’t believe in telling people, “All you need to do is to follow your passion, and everything will be fine.” I think this can be an unhelpful and even cruel suggestion at times.

I´m generally a pretty passionate person myself, but not every single day. Sometimes I have no idea where my passion has gone off to. I don´t always feel actively inspired, nor do I feel certain about what to do next.
But I don’t sit around waiting for passion to strike me. I keep working steadily, because I believe it is our privilege as humans to keep making things for as long as we live, and because I enjoy making things.

Most of all, I keep working because I trust that creativity is always trying to find me, even when I have lost sight of it.
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Devotion to Inquisitiveness

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 07.22.55

I believe that curiosity is the secret. Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living. Curiosity is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end.

Furthermore, curiosity is accessible to everyone.

In fact, curiosity only ever asks one simple question: “Is there anything you’re interested in?”

You might spend your whole life following your curiosity and have absolutely nothing to show for it at the end—except one thing. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you passed your entire existence in devotion to the noble human virtue of inquisitiveness. And that should be more than enough for anyone to say that they lived a rich and splendid life.
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The Scavenger Hunt

[The story about how the book “The Signature of All Things” came to be]

gilbert signature of all things

That´s Interesting

The creators who most inspire me, then, are not necessarily the most passionate, but the most curious.

Curiosity is what keeps you working steadily, while hotter emotions may come and go.

My favorite meditation teacher, Pema Chödrön, once said that the biggest problem she sees with people’s meditation practice is that they quit just when things are starting to get interesting.

.. Which is to say, they quit as soon as things aren´t easy anymore..

Whatever it is you are pursuing, whatever it is you are seeking, whatever it is you are creating, be careful not to quit too soon.

rob bell

Rob Bell warns: “Don´t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform you”

Hungry Ghosts

scroll-hungry-ghosts-12thC-in-collection-of-Kyoto-Natl-Museum

You will fail.
It sucks, and I hate to say it, but it´s true.

That’s because, by this point in my life, I have come to understand what part of me is suffering when I fail: It’s just my ego. It’s that simple.

[You´re ego is essential to who you are.. etc..]

But do not let your ego totally run the show, or it will shut down the show.
Your ego is a wonderful servant, but it’s a terrible master – because the only thing your ego ever wants is reward, reward, and more reward.And since there´s never enough reward to satisfy, your ego will always be disappointed.

An “unmanaged” ego is what the Buddhists call “a hungry ghost


My saving grace is this, though: I know that I am not only an ego; I am also a soul. And I know that my soul doesn’t care a whit about reward or failure.
..my soul desires only one thing: wonder.

So whenever that brittle voice of dissatisfaction emerges within me, I can say, “Ah, my ego! There you are, old friend!”
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Do Something Else

keep-calm-and-then-do-something-else

Remember that you´re nothing but a beginner – even if you´ve been working on you´re craft for fifty years. .. so let it go. Forget about the last project, and go searching with an open heart for the next one.

Whatever you do, try not to dwell too long on your failures. You don’t need to conduct autopsies on your disasters

..stay busy… find something to do – anything, even a different sort of creative work altogether – just to take your mind off your anxiety and pressure.

Einstein called this tactic “combinatory play”—the act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another. This is why he would often play the violin when he was having difficulty solving a mathematical puzzle; after a few hours of sonatas, he could usually find the answer he needed.

In other words: If you can’t do what you long to do, go do something else.
Make something. Do something. Do anything.

Paint Your Bicycle

[Lovely story about the Australian poet Clive James]

Clive James: typical mix of wit and Aussie exuberance.

And so it came to pass that one of the most important writers of his generation spent several weeks sitting in his driveway, painting thousands and thousands of tiny stars on the bicycles of every child in the area.

By doing something else—and by doing it with all his heart—he had tricked his way out of the hell of inertia and straight back into the Big Magic.
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Fierce Trust

The final – and sometimes most difficult – act of creative trust is to put your work out there into the world once you have completed it.

Fierce trust demands that you put forth the work anyhow, because fierce trust knows that the outcome does not matter. The outcome cannot matter.

What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?

What do you love even more than your own ego?

Walk Proudly

[Don´t turn around, walk proudly & do NOT miss the Party! Even if you dressed badly…]

Adult-Lobster-Costume

Part 6: Divinity

[Story from Bali about the “sacred” dance]

Bali dance
Bali dance

In Conclusion

Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.

Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.
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