Writer

Big Magic

When Andi and I first met about doing the web series, she gave me some recommended reading, “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Kevin’s reaction was, “You mean that Eat Pray Love lady?” and Andi replied that it was an interesting exploration of creativity.

My book hookup husband managed to snag me a copy with his bookstore discount, and I had a copy in my hands the very next day. Now I would like to call myself an avid reader, but I don’t think the kid who wasted all of her library time on Garfield comics in school can stake that claim. I love reading, but my overactive imagination makes it hard to consume literature at a rapid rate. So, I always have a giant stack of books waiting for me, and sometimes the order of the neglected books that might get read next gets shifted when something more pressing comes my way. This book bumped a few out of the way (sorry, Shakespeare).

Let’s start by making it clear that I had low expectations. The book looks like it’s for girls (SO MUCH PINK ON THE COVER), and all that I knew about Elizabeth Gilbert was that Eat Pray Love was autobiographical and that people found her to be annoying. But, I trusted and valued Andi’s opinion, and once I got going, I was pleasantly surprised that it was an engaging, easy read. It was also a nice little punch of encouragement.

The book is an autobiographical telling of Gilbert’s own experience with living a creative lifestyle. She covers a lot of themes, but the biggest takeaway for me was her description of her interaction with ideas. Basically, to her, all ideas are little ghosties floating around the cosmos waiting to find a person to bind to. The idea ghosties aren’t interested in people who aren’t willing to help make them become a reality, so if you aren’t open to an idea, they will pass you by. And, if you start out being open to the idea ghostie, but fizzle out, the ghostie moves along to find someone else in the universe who will work harder.

By the way, she doesn’t call the ideas ghosties, that’s my own added visualization of the concept. And I think it’s cute.

Anyway, there are big advantages to this frame of mind. One is that you are allowed to think of the idea as a third party, so when you are facing success, you can stay humble (“I was just doing justice to the idea”), and when you are facing failure, you can stay sane (“This ghostie is being shitty and I am mad at it, but not at me”). It can be a driving force to keep you going, giving you a ghostie that needs nurturing. And who would want to let down an adorable idea ghostie?

The other thing that comes in handy is that Gilbert is a woman, and an honest one. She is open and honest about her own self-doubt, her own tendencies to beat herself up when failing, her past considerations that she was never going to make it. Now granted, she can talk about these things openly now because she did make it. This book wouldn’t be interesting or possible had she not had some sort of prior success. Also, she is a writer, which is an art form that is indeed very difficult to break through in, but the bravery it takes to keep writing and doing something solely by yourself is different from the bravery it takes to be a leader in a collaborative creative project. I am not belittling her bravery at all, but just mentioning that it is different than the challenge I’m currently facing, and her experiences couldn’t speak well to that (nor should they).

I just finished the last chapter today, and one of her parting words of encouragement included some language about how you will feel silly or embarrassed or scared along the way, and to not let that get in the way of your willing to feel silly or embarrassed or scared and do your work.

“Never apologize for it, never explain it away, never be ashamed of it. You did your best with what you knew, and you worked with what you had, in the time you were given. You were invited, and you showed up, and you simply can’t do more than that.”

Tears welled up when I read the line about doing the best with what you know. That’s been a mantra that has been coming back to me over and over again the past few years. It crosses my mind when I make a mistake or feel pangs of regret about choices I’ve made along the way. Feelings I’ve hurt. Failings I’ve had. Animal friends I’ve let down. And it’s always to the tune of Leonard Bernstein’s “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide, a moving and amazing piece of music. And it gives a bit of comfort when I take a step back and realize my mistakes haven’t been malicious, I’ve tried to do my best, even when I’ve ended up looking foolish.

You’ve been a fool and so have I
But come and be my wife
And let us try before we die
To make some sense of life
We’re neither pure nor wise nor good
We’ll do the best we know
We’ll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow
And make our garden grow

I thought the world was sugar cake
For so our master said
But now I’ll teach my hands to bake
Our loaf of daily bread
We’re neither pure nor wise nor good
We’ll do the best we know
We’ll build house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow
And make our garden grow

Let dreamers dream what worlds they please
Those edens can’t be found
The sweetest flowers
The fairest trees
Are grown in solid ground
We’re neither pure nor wise nor good
We’ll do the best we know
We’ll build our house and chop our wood
And make our garden grow
And make our garden grow

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