Back in 2008, along with millions of others, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. I had mixed feelings at the time–I admire anyone who wants to pursue the meaning of things–if only we all had the money to travel across the world in search of it. And, of course it had to end with her falling in love, the Hollywood/media portrayal that a complete life must include romantic love grated on me. I knew it was her memoir and she did indeed marry the man she met in Bali, but it wasn’t the message I wanted or needed. Of course I watched the movie version when it came out a few years later, because Julia Roberts. It’s was beautifully shot, but alas I left with a similarly empty sort of feeling. I joined the party of those critical towards Elizabeth Gilbert and was kind of smug about my opinion.
And then earlier this year, a friend sent me a link to a podcast where Elizabeth Gilbert interviewed Brene Brown, who I love. I kept listening because she also interviewed another hero, Cheryl Strayed. And Ann Patchett. Huh. This podcast series was related to her latest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, and I realized that was exactly the book I needed to read. I’ve been trying for a few years to get back into art, and hit a wall where all I would hear is the voice: you’re not really an artist. I’m the kind of person who is uncomfortable being bad at things, and I was not handling the learning curve well, even though I desperately wanted to get better. (This is where I must insert that I always hope any time I start to feel smug about anything, that the universe intercedes to remind me not to be an ass.)
I read Big Magic slowly on weekend mornings this winter, and I have to say I am so grateful for Elizabeth Gilbert (though I want to call her Liz now, like she’s one of my friends) and how she encourages people to take the leap and create–and how her own work philosophy stems from years of hard work and struggle, both before and after big successes. She has a few ideas that sound a little out there, but taken as a whole, it was an energizing read.
I purchased and completed a watercolor sketchbook and have 3 new, ongoing sketchbooks–and when I’m using them I no longer have the stress of “this needs to be perfect” but rather, I just enjoy the process. There have been a handful of other books and online classes that have helped the journey, (which I’ll write about when I’m feeling brave enough to post some art–ha), but a lot of what I’ve learned from those authors and artists along with this book has been to live with a curious, enchanted eye. I’ll leave you with some encouragement from the book:
“When I refer to “creative living”…I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear” (9).
“We need something that takes us so far our of ourselves that we forget to eat, forget to pee, forget to mow the lawn, forget to resent our enemies, forget to brood over our insecurities” (172).
“I think a lot of people quit pursuing creative lives because they’re scared of the word interesting. My favorite meditation teacher, Pema Chodron, 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, as soon as it gets painful, or boring, or agitating. They quit as soon as they see something in their minds that scares them or hurts them. So they miss the good part, the wild part, the transformative part–the part when you push past the difficulty and enter into soem raw new unexplored universe within yourself” (247).
“…without that source of wonder, I know that I am doomed. Without it, I will forever wander the world in a state of bottomless dissatisfaction” (251).
All this to say, I am thankful for this book and Elizabeth Gilbert’s take on the creative life, and a life well lived in general. While reading this, my book club happened to read her novel The Signature of All Things, which I loved–more on that one soon.