Saturday, March 6, 2010

Elizabeth Gilbert on Nurturing Creativity

Okay, let me start by saying that I am not a writer. Hopefully over time I will get better at this and be able to get my point across without sounding like a total idiot. But for now, just stick with me. Cool?


I saw this TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert a few months ago and I just loved her views on creativity. I'm happy to now have a place to share why it was such and important talk and how I think it helped me shape my own views on creativity.

I decided to learn a little bit more about Elizabeth Gilbert after seeing this. Before, all I knew was that she wrote this book called Eat, Pray, Love that everyone was talking about (I still haven't read the book but it is now on my list of books to read.). So I did a little research to see who she was. She has written a number of books (The Last American Man; Stern Men; Pilgrims; Eat, Pray, Love and, most recently, Committed. She has also written for GQ and Spin magazine. Probably the most surprising thing I learned when reading about her work was that she wrote an article for GQ magazine that would later become the movie Coyote Ugly! I just didn't see that coming. The article is called The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon.

She gave a talk at the TED conference in 2009 about creativity and it really changed my perspective. I have always loved the idea of crafting and creating new things but I let my fear of failure get in the way of trying new projects. As I sat watching this talk I slowly came to realize that it doesn't matter if everything you do isn't the best thing ever. Sometimes it's just not going to be good. It's okay as long as you do what you feel you should do. As long as you have passion crafting, writing, painting, singing...whatever it is...then you should do it. Who knows what will come of it? Maybe nothing. Or maybe something spectacular. You never know until you try.  If you feel strongly about it, then at least give it a try and see what happens.
Ms. Gilbert touched on all of this in her talk. She spoke about being so passionate about your craft that you are crippled by fear that it will not be successful. She talked about telling people she wanted to be a write and being asked questions like

Aren't you afraid you're never going to have any success? Aren't you afraid the humiliation of rejection will kill you? Aren't you afraid that you're going to work your whole life at this craft and nothing's going to come of it and you're going to die on a scrap heap of broken dreams with your mouth filled with bitter ash of failure?
Her answer? YES!!! I mean, if you put it that why then why would anybody ever try anything new?
I have to, sort of find some way to have a safe distance between me, as I am writing, and my natural anxiety about what the reaction to that writing is going to be.
Oh! We just have to do our creative work and not worry about the reaction. Just do it and enjoy it and not care what anybody else thinks. Easy peasy, right? Not so much. But it's a good goal to have and something I am trying to figure out with this blog.  I feel a need to try creative things and if I just make myself put it out there for all to see - failures and all - hopefully I will get to a point where I can enjoy what I am doing and not care about the outcome.

She goes on to talk about how other cultures viewed crativity. Instead of giving the credit to one individual person, ancient cultures acknowledged that a divine power was always involved in great creative accomplishments. The Greeks called this divine attendant a daemon. The Romans called it a genius. The point was that it took all the credit away from us as human beings and acknowedged that we did not create anything on our own. They had a little divine help.

I think that allowing somebody, one mere person to believe that he or she is like, the vessel you know, like the font and the essance and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human psyche. It's like asking somebody to swallow the sun. It just completely wraps and distors egos, and it creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance.

I'm just going to quote the end of her speech now because I couldn't put it any better. It's really long but I think it's important for anyone who wants to live a creative life to hear.

Centuries ago in the deserts of North Africa, people used to gather for these moonlight dances or sacred dance and music that would go on for hours and hours, until dawn. And they were always magnificent, because thee dancers were professionals and they were terrific, right? But every once in a while, very rarely, something would happen, and one of these performers would actually become transcendant...It was like time would stop, and the dancer would sort of step through some kind of portal and he wasn't doing anything different than he had ever done, 1,000 nights before, but everything would align. And all of a sudden, he would no longer appear to be merely human. He would be lit from within, and lit from below and all lit up on fire with divinity.

And when this happened, back then, people knew it for what itwas, you know, they called it by its name. They would put their hands together and they would start to chant, "Allah, Allah, Allah, God, God, God." That's God, you know...

But, the tricky bit comes the next morning, for the dancer himself, when he wakes up and discovers that it's Tuesday 11 a.m., and he's not longer a glimpse of God. He's just an aging mortal with really bad knees, and maybe he's never going to ascend to that height again. And maybe nobody will ever chant God's name again as he spins, and what is he then to do with the rest of his life? This is hard. This is one of the most painful reconciliations to make in a creative life. But maybe it doesn't have to be quite so full of anguish if you never happened to believe, in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you. But maybe just believed that they were on loan to you from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life to be passed along when you're finished, with somebody else.

I have found that since I changed my thinking from me creating things to God creating things through me it always comes out better. Even if it's just a little craft project that I am trying.  It's pretty great.  I'm not saying it always works. Sometimes I get stuck in the "me, me, me" zone but when I snap out of it and give it back to God then it always seems to come out better.

Elizabeth Gilbert explained that the term Allah translated into spanish is olé. This is my new favorite thing to say when I have finished a project. Even if it's not very good. I still showed up for my part and let God do the rest.

I hope that anyone who reads this can take this idea and apply it to their creative life as well.  I guarantee you will enjoy it so much more. 

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