Sorry guys and gals… this is a long one… make sure it’s a full pot of coffee, or if you’re in Australia… a full bottle. 😉
I read Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert last year and the following are my (edited for readability) journal entries as I progressed through the book. It was an interesting journey. Ms. Gilbert is THE reason I started blogging again. Obviously, I highly recommend her book. I hope she is an inspiration to you as well… Enjoy! 🙂
I admit a hesitation in following her (Gilbert’s) lead, as Eat, Pray, Love was for me a false cause argument. While a beautiful story, hers was not a realistic model for the world at large. Her search for happiness required a level of financial security that many never accomplish.
I mean, who could really cash in all their retirement money and travel around the globe searching for happiness and fulfillment? Who has that freedom? Certainly not me, and certainly not most of the people I know, grew up with, or are related to… It’s a bourgeois value driven practice.
The Petulant 15 Year Old…
There is a petulant, ornery teenager that lives in my head. She spends most of her time sulking, napping, re-watching old movies, or re-reading books. Always, she is morose and snide… and, although sometimes freaking hilariously witty and insightful, for the most part she’s just hanging out. Waiting. Waiting for something fun, for something interesting… and in lieu of that, something to bitch about.
Standing at the store reading the back of the Big Magic book, she snickered and said, “Why the hell would we read such sappy, psychobabble from that upper middle class bimbo that wouldn’t last an hour in our old neighborhood?”
I put the book back on the shelf.
I stepped away to peruse the rest of the books, but was drawn back.
I could feel the eye rolls and pshaws emanating from the 15-year-old’s retreating figure. I shoved her along and told her to find a quiet corner. This would be good for us.
Despite my discontent with Gilbert’s philosophy and social standing, I was driven by a reluctant appreciation of her story. I decided to see what she had to say about creativity.
As the old Buddhist story goes, I invited the demons in for tea.
Besides bourgeois propaganda and a motley assortment of other annoyances, creativity is probably the largest demon haunting my existence.
One of the first practices she suggests is to remember the last time you were truly happy. Her example is a friend who rediscovered ice skating – a childhood joy.
Bourgeois values aside, I mean who can really afford a skating coach, let alone a membership to a rink and the appropriate skating attire, it was a good story. Someone discovered their true passion in life, their innate joy incarnate, and they achieved it.
I asked myself, when was the last time I was truly happy?
Surely there was some point in my life that I felt pure joy like ice-skater lady. Admittedly, roller-skating is one of those things for me where I feel self-assured and confident and humble at the same time… but pure, unequivocal joy? I’m not sure that I am capable of pure joy…
Painting is a meditation for me, but joyful? No.
Writing is an outlet for me, but joyful? No, it is closer to the pain of pulling off a band-aid most days.
Roller-Skating makes me feel confident and young, yet at the same time humble and aware, but joyful? Not the weightless kind, but for fleeting moments, I feel happy.
Kayaking gave me a sense of confidence and connection with the natural world. Peaceful, yes. Joyful? Not the weightless kind.
Those few moments of joy were for the little times and more attenuated to awe than joy: Watching a sunset or a sunrise. Gazing at the Scottish countryside after a long hike. Watching my children grasp each new skill as they grew. Watching a chipmunk on my porch, guarding her babies as they played. Seeing other people happy, truly happy. Walking on the beach with friends.
These little tiny, brief snippets, gather together, and give me all the comfort I need. Because that one and only joy, that all-encompassing, material-driven pursuit that defines me… doesn’t exist.
I don’t disagree with Gilbert necessarily, on any one particular issue. But there is a perspective that profligates in current society that I cannot seem to fathom, let alone accept into my thinking processes. In addition, the logic is so dualistic and, what’s the word? Contradictory.
Okay, so we are merely vessels for creative imps that hijack our brain time and again to what purposes we cannot and do not wish to fathom. We accept these outside gifts with grace and humility.
Yet, when we write, when we create something, we are expected to do it for the mere personal enjoyment of it. Higher purpose is frowned upon and considered narcissistic, and the reader doesn’t want your help?
Maybe I am a fluke, but when I pick up a self-help book, or a fiction novel, or a non-fiction historical or medical book, I am looking for, I am seeking, assistance, help, vindication, empowerment… the list is unending.
I disagree that the reader isn’t looking for anything. What a load of crap.
I take issue with the fact that the perspective looking down upon the world wouldn’t last a day in my childhood. They would be balled up in a fetal position, muttering to themselves, and drooling.
I have found some saving graces in the logic. The kind regard for other creative types that seek out her assistance. The few points that do not interfere with my logical or socio-economic sensibilities are helpful.
But, there is a voice lacking in the current tide of opinion. And they cannot afford a computer, or an iPhone, or even the time to think about such frivolous pursuits as weightless joy. That’s saved for Friday night out with friends kicking back a few drinks after a long shift on their feet.
*sob* But, I don’t wanna be a writer!
I am three-quarters through the book and no epiphanies, no inspiration really… just the continued state of chaos and confusion in which me and my 15 year old alter-ego reside.
I am humbled by Gilbert’s dedication and reminded, yet again, that I NEVER WANTED TO BE A WRITER.
Sure, I wrote in my free time for fun, to complain, to entertain myself or friends, but I never took it very seriously. It was my teachers that were always hounding me to ‘write’. I even have an award from high school on the wall to prove it. I hung it up in my office this year, not because I think I actually am a writer, but because it feels good that someone thought I was something other than a sulky, goth-before-there-was-goth teenager with a bad attitude.
I never gave writing serious thought until I had a publishable work.
I just had this character buzzing around in my head since I was 13, and when I was in my 20’s began to research and build a story around them.
I had all my notes, all the scenes compiled and ordered. The only part I was never clear on was the ending. I had 3 in mind. But I had faith that once I started the final draft, it would happen the way it needed to happen and that would be that.
When I had a first draft and started on the second one, I began the process of presenting my story to the world… and I found myself increasingly bewildered and confused by the culture of The Writer. This was not the process that was taught to me in writing class after writing class… my own website? What the hell? I wasn’t expected to sell my story, I was expected to sell myself.
I began to feel an empathic affinity for writers like J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee. Who, in their right mind, would pimp themselves out to a pit of ravenous wolves so willingly?
But I didn’t have much time to ponder it.
9/11 happened. And it just so happened that all the research that I had just done was on the Middle East. Yes, another Crusader story, but I thought I had a twist to it no one had used before and more important, I wanted to see what my character would do.
I forgot about the culture of The Writer.
Writing faded to the background of the next few months and years… and the personal tragedy and fleeting joy that is life.
I got interested in politics.
I used my research to argue with people about who to go to war with and had to explain far too many times the difference between Sunni and Shi’ite – and what the real tenets of Islam were… I was thankful for the knowledge and the inspiration that led me to discover it, but I was exhausted, and my story floundered. A few years later, 2 movies popped up with similar stories to my own… I figured okay, it’s gone.
Fast forward 10 years and I had another idea, this one non-fiction. The story was based on my personal experiences dealing with my children and husband’s genetics-driven health problems. It didn’t begin as a story. It was just a journal, in Word Document form, that I would pull up and type as I found new research or after yet another fruitless doctor appointment.
I finished the draft over a year ago. Gathering my notes and research, I reviewed what I had written and started to plan and format. I got a membership with Writers Market online. I checked out and bought books on writing and publishing in order to learn the lingo. I began to search for a publisher or agent.
And I was again reminded of the culture of the Writer.
Be productive. Be relevant. Be great or get the hell out.
There are actually publishing houses with LONG lists of ‘do not send’ items.
I exhaustingly went through every single non-fiction publishing house and there was not one that fit my book’s subject matter.
Sure, there were the professional medical journals and compendiums, and even a few that published doctor’s memoirs and new medical hoo-ha stuff. (Who cares?)
Then there are the other non-fiction, how-to’s and historical or political venues.
Mine didn’t fit in either.
It was too personal for a professional medical journal (besides the fact that I don’t hold a medical certification, let alone a degree).
It was too informational and professional for the other non-fiction venues.
I thought about just doing a series of articles… and began formulating those as I searched the walls and billboards of Writers Market online.
No one wanted them, there was not even a place to send them. The articles were too long and too in depth. I found very few magazines online or print that would accept ‘new writers’ for more than 600 words. And the ones that allowed more, well, they were fiction.
What do you do when you can’t even FIND a venue to submit your work?
I found an agent and contacted them. The only one that was open to non-fiction and didn’t specify an exhausting list of ‘what not to send’. It’s been exactly a year.
And I have come to the sober conclusion, about 4 months ago, regarding 3 particular points:
- I am not a writer, I am someone who writes.
- I have to write, or I will go insane.
- I have to decide something. And soon.
Number 3 is failing immensely.
I am back in school and I like the idea of my new career direction. I never wanted to be a writer, after all. But I did always want to be a scientist, or a researcher, whatever it was – it always involved a Ph.D. by default. But the student loans terrify me almost to the point of a pseudo-catatonic state. If only you could see behind my eyes, you would understand.
Most days I struggle to stay focused. Being aware isn’t so much a choice as a permanent state of being. If I’m not aware, my cells may just decide in a final unified, quorum vote, to agree to break all of their covalent bonds and disintegrate into nothingness.
My canvas glares at me. One coat of watercolor and nothing for 6 months. It sits behind me as I type, definitely, silently, judging me.
Beside the easel and canvas, on my drawing table, are my overflowing piles of graphic novels and comic books that have replaced all my serious literature. I am tired and annoyed and I just want to stare at pictures not on the TV, while reading. After all, I have already exhausted the list of foreign films with subtitles on my Netflix queue.
The inane scribbles and scratches of my own ideas for similar novels and comics are strewn throughout the room.
What the hell do I want to do?
Part of me thinks that if I could just let go of writing… but I can’t even finish that sentence. Creativity clings to me as much as I cling to it. We are like castaways, or adrift on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. Hanging on to one another for dear life. The stories, surprisingly, haven’t left me, yet. Not really. We are the same person now. Forever intertwined.
I have put off conclusion number 3 on purpose by accident. Because I don’t WANT to have to choose. I can’t let go. I just wish I had more energy. And more faith.
Finished, checkmark, and done…
I finished reading Big Magic. And let me summarize it with my text to a good friend regarding my initial reaction:
“Phew. Done with Big Magic. She’s all yers if ya want. ;-)”
“…this is the first book, in years that I’ve read in less than a week.”
“Of course, it could be (like) being caught in an awkward conversation at a family reunion… The best hope is to hurry them along to the point so you can make it back to the food table.” “Jk”
I think an LOL may be in order.
Of all the creative souls I admire in my continuum, it is Terry Pratchett (God rest his witty soul).
I found a quote from him a few weeks ago:
“Sometimes it is better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness.”
How beautifully subtle, violent, and ironic. But that was Terry Pratchett. His genius was violently subtle and subtly ironic, and everything in between.
Elizabeth Gilbert can be repositioned out of my hierarchy of demons to that of mere mortal as, admittedly, the demonic aspect of her is more reflective of my own socio-economic biases than true disdain. And I think perhaps, even though many of the flowers of advice, motivation and scorn are redundant, contradictory and not relevant to my situation. I was able to leave with a small handful of some that may prove to be, at the most, therapeutic and at the least, will freshen the stagnant air around me.
The gaudiest of the flowers is the one that tricked me into writing again. This 2800 word essay is living proof. Dammit.
The smallest and dullest of them is the one that grudgingly makes me admit that I have no choice in the matter. Creativity chose and continues to choose me… for some inane ungodly reason. And in those rare moments when I am researching or planning, I actually do enjoy it.
The prettiest flower is the one that makes me realize that creativity is not relegated just to my writing. I am creative every single day of my life.
Gilbert is *gasp* right:
In my current existence, creativity is old hat, it is so much a part of my psyche that it is why I am such a good planner, organizer and egotistical, over-confident hard-ass given certain situations. I know I will figure out a way, somehow, and if I don’t, then I know that I will figure something else out.
If I were afraid of failing, I would never have argued with the doctors or searched for answers to the girls’ and my husband’s genetics dilemma. Creativity got me through. I could say that failure was not an option, but really, it wasn’t failure that was completely off the table… It was quitting. Quitting is what is NOT allowed in my continuum. Failure? That’s just something that happens in between figuring out the next part.
Creativity comes back to bite you now and again, but it has your best interests at heart. As Gilbert says at one point, [creativity doesn’t always give you what you want, but it always gives you what you need].
Terry Pratchett’s quote came at the right time, because the last blood test results and doctor appointment experience had just settled down into the creative soup of my psyche for a nap.
Time to get out the flamethrower.
RIP Mr. Pratchett. You are missed.