I have given myself the challenge of blogging! Reading is the next-best thing to traveling, so I am going on a journey. In the past, fantasy/fiction/YA was my go-to source of reading pleasure. But, as I've gotten older, and found that I am almost entirely incapable of helping myself, I decided to start reading some self-help books. High school Kelsey would be judging me, believing that the only people who read self-help have just admitted defeat to themselves. But I’ve found that frame of mind no longer suits me. Sometimes, you just need a hype man. And, if you can't go out to see people because of a global pandemic, then maybe books could be that perfectly-timed drunk girl in the bathroom telling you you look beautiful and you can do anything you want. So, here we go.
2021 Book 1: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Let me begin with the setting in which I found myself at the start of this new endeavor. Not even a week into January and the "I'm wasting my youth doing nothing of substance" feeling was already overwhelming. So I got to thinking about the things I miss doing most: painting, reading, writing, traveling, adventure, faces without masks (though, I definitely do not oppose wearing them), going on dates with Ryan and friends, and so many more things. All these things have been missing, lacking, or happening more infrequently than I would like. These are the things that make up the identity I have always dreamed of and wanted for myself. With my list of yearnings in front of me, I remembered all the times I entertained the idea of a bookstagram. This seemed like an excellent way to get back into at least a few of my interests and, hopefully, on the way back to creating again.
I began rummaging around my library, which is an embarrassing number of plastic totes I have yet to unpack (don't judge me, we moved in October 2020, but full-time jobs, house projects, excessive stress, holidays, COVID, elections, and a minor sprain to my inspiration have prevented me from getting to them just yet), and there I found Big Magic. It was four days into January at this point, and 2021 was already looking rather bleak, so magic could be just what I need.
I cracked open the book and was hooked by the first chapter. I didn’t really go into it with any expectations and my parched creativity was really just looking for a tall, cool glass of musings, but Elizabeth Gilbert came riding in on the silver-lined torrent of a hurricane filled with encouragement and perspective for me. By the end of the book, I felt ready to begin again. Ready to create again. So I will.
Part 1 is about Courage, and thank goodness for that, because, if 2020 gave me anything, it was fear (and somewhat-crippling anxiety, but that is a story for another day). Gilbert used many real-life creator stories to illustrate these fears that many of us artists tend to face, and even allow to stop us from being artists. These stories painted a picture of harnessing that fear or, at the very least, walking alongside it. She reminds us that fear is necessary! And it is perfectly natural to feel fear when you begin to create again. It’s up to us to embrace it, understand that it's a natural part of the creative process, and then continue on. Apparently, she even has a speech ready for when inspiration hits and she must then make space in herself for that fear! (Glibert, page 25). But most importantly, she writes that we have this desire to create, and should not allow fear to stop us. I loved this bit:
“[Y]ou have treasures hidden within you--extraordinary treasures--and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.” (Gilbert, page 27).
This was where I was officially hooked. I reflected internally on my descent into stagnation. Fear kept me from doing anything! Since graduating college, I have been slowly regressing from barely finishing pieces to barely beginning, until finally I quit even starting! I was afraid the outcome wouldn't live up to the standards I had arbitrarily assigned to myself. (She even talks about these feelings I am addressing in the book, in the section Persistence, pages 153 to 179 really spoke to me.) Somehow, I had taken away my permission to try based on the possibility of the finished project not being perfect. That's insane. And this inability to do things was not limited to art and writing. Just in the last year, I have lost the ability to go out without Ryan for little things, hating getting gas on my own and waiting until the car is basically empty, stopping at the bank on my own, or anything that isn't work unless he is there to go with me. Even going to work alone is getting difficult.
Gilbert has given me hope, though. Fear incites change. I remember when change excited me. I'd decide that weekend I was going to have blue hair, or red, green, purple and orange, I loved change. I thrived on it. I could go to insta-worthy new coffee shops, alone, because I wanted to! I loved going places, seeing things, and experiencing things! All this change and inspiration just waiting for me to transmute it into something of my own. It was all stepping stones to creativity. I felt more inspired then, I wrote more, the urge to create was so much stronger because I welcomed various stimuli into my life! Gilbert has a unique view on creativity, most of this book she seems to see it as more of an entity outside herself, which totally makes sense to me. She even recommends dating/seducing your creativity! I loved this section:
“Let yourself fall in love with your creativity like that and see what happens."
Stop treating creativity like it’s a tired, old, unhappy marriage (a grind, a drag) and start regarding it with the fresh eyes of a passionate lover. Even if you only have fifteen minutes a day in a stairwell alone with your creativity, take it. Go hide in that stairwell and make out with your art!” (Gilbert, page 161).
This mentality, I think, is so helpful! And funny, but mostly helpful. For me, the creative process has been much like she describes it in the section Persistence in “The Tiger’s Tale” (Gilbert, Page 64). Gilbert speaks here about an American poet named Ruth Stone, with whom ideas, apparently, visited often. Stone had told Gilbert that ideas would come to her and she would have to race away for pen and paper to immediately get them down before they could disappear! Ideas, similarly, pop into my head at the most disconcerting times. Or the times when I can’t or don’t really want to make the effort to catch them. They come while I lie awake in bed at 3 in the morning. Or while Ryan is telling me something. When a certain song comes on. And in those moments of inspiration, Gilbert says we should grab hold. Write them down, draw them, paint them, however you can capture it. If creativity comes to visit, you drop everything and go for a ride.
It is so important to cultivate a good relationship with our creativity! If we always push it away, it will stop coming around. But all hope is not lost, we just have to rekindle the fire. We need to believe that creativity loves us just as much as we love it. And it doesn’t have to be an abusive relationship either! We don’t need to suffer for it. We should enjoy it! Her section Trust is so important. We have to trust that our creativity loves us, even if it doesn’t seem that way. Trust that we can always come back to it too. The trickster over martyr mentality is so good, even if you read nothing else, I think pages 221 to 223 are vital. Go, read them now.
This book has released me. It is a playful way to fall back in love with your art. And, I think it is an excellent way to remove some of the pressure we put on ourselves as artists. I know that I had allowed myself to feel that if I could not live off my art (which I definitely could not), then I was not a real artist. But we shouldn’t feel that way. That thinking stops you from creating. Just like the pressure to be perfect. Instead, find the joy in it. Get back to it. Court your creativity without strings attached. Let your curiosity take you places. If you get stuck, take a walk outside! Literally! Do something else, don’t wallow if you find you suddenly don’t have the heart to continue on. Taking a break, even if it feels like procrastination, can be just what you need to do. And after you have successfully distracted yourself, you may find that you are reinvigorated! Inspired again to create and pour your heart and soul back into it. Because when you do it for the love of it, people can tell. And this may be blurring genres a bit, but I figure it is like Kevin Costner stated in Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” (Kinsella). So go build your own worlds of dreams and ideas! And enjoy the hell out of it! We could all use a little more joy in our lives. And, finally, some words to live by:
“I firmly believe that we all need to find something that stops us from eating the couch.” (Gilbert, page 172).
My hope is that I never cease to be amazed.
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Riverhead Books, 2015.
Kinsella. Field of Dreams. Universal City, CA: Universal, 1989.