Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat. Pray, Love fame) is a life line for Creatives. I had had this book on my reading list for a long time, and I finally was able to finish it! This is only the second book that I have finished reading since my graduation from my Master’s program… It is apparently taking me a while to get back into the concept of reading for fun. This book, however, was more than just a book for me to read and then shelve. There was some meat to this piece of literature, which is part of the reason why it took me so ling to finish. It is a manual for those who are called to be creative and it really changed my outlook on my understanding of what it means to “be creative” and how a creative lives a creative life. I want to take a moment to discuss a few of the quotes and concepts that have stuck in my brain.
Gilbert themes her book around the idea that creativity is a concept of “Big Magic”, meaning that it’s not something that can be fully understood, and often acts in mysterious ways that we can and can’t control. It is a paradox, one that many people spend their whole lives trying to solve. Being creative mens living in this world of simultaneous extremes, and if we are not careful, this uncertainty can lead us away from creative living, as fear of uncertainty backs us into corners. Creativity works in mysterious ways, and we have to embrace the concept of the “magic” in order for it to work. Faith, trust, and a little pixie dust, if you will.
“Argue for your limitations, and you get to keep them”
This one hit me like a brick to the face. I never realized how many hours in the day I spend arguing with myself and others about why I can’t do something. As a younger creative, I think I spend a lot of time standing in my own way. I don’t know enough, I’m not experienced enough, I’m not, I’m not. I’m not. But what if I spent my time trying to fight through and overcome my limitations and find ways around them instead of fighting for why I can’t? “Fear is boring” is another phrase that Gilbert uses and one that I have adopted as a personal mantra. Fear IS boring. It holds us back, and keeps us in our mundane boxes that we inflict upon ourselves. And if we fight kicking and screaming to get out of these boxes, people will leave us there and we will never feel the need to leave. Don’t box yourself inside your limitations, and don’t let fear make your life boring.
“Live a decorated life”
We spend a great deal of time on this Earth in boring situations, in boring places, and life is too short for boring. Why wouldn’t we want to add our touch to the parts of life that we can effect? I never understood why I was attracted to the arts, in particular music, design, and lettering, in the way that I was until I heard the concept of a decorated life. I don’t want the spaces that I inhabit to be boring. If I can decorate the places and spaces that I frequent, then they are no longer boring. I can leave my mark and the world will be a better place because of it, because someone cared to decorate.
My favorite concept that Gilbert discusses is the relationship between creativity and curiosity. The idea that creativity is more about the pursuit of knowledge and pursuing inquisitiveness than just pure passion and mystery is much more encouraging. When you base your life and understanding of who you are as being a “creative”, it is mildly terrifying to think that you do not have control. But Gilbert asserts that we DO have control. You just have to be in control of your ability to lose control and pursue those pieces of ideas that get stuck in your head. “I don’t know yet exactly what I am, but I’m curious enough to go find out.”
Finally, “You do not need anyone’s permission to live a creative life.”
Building upon my earlier discussion about standing in my own way and being insistent on telling others that I can’t, this point also resonated with me in that I don’t need approval for my creative pursuits. I don’t want to sound like my family and friends have never been supportive in my creativity, they actually are very supportive, but I am terrified about unleashing my creativity upon others that I am less familiar with. If the greater world doesn’t think I’m a good creative, then I must suck, right? Every mom has put her kids’ artwork on the fridge, so the validity of family approval loses it’s importance after awhile.
Like many creatively minded people, I stumble and I struggle, and I get discouraged in my creative pursuits. While reading Big Magic, I found myself frequently saying “me too”. It was nice to feel that there is another (much more accomplished) creative out there who has struggled with the same things that I deal with on a regular basis. The wisdom that Elizabeth Gilbert has imparted to others who struggle with their concept of creativity is encouragement to help us face down our fears, uncertainties, and desires for approval. Creative living means simply to keep moving despite all of this and recognize it is our job to accomplish what we need to do to fulfill our creative duty.
I hope you found these thoughts to be encouraging to you as well, and I hope that you also take a minute to read this book. If you’ve already read it, let me know in the comments below!
Til next time,