She started by talking about artists and how we have completely internalized and accepted that creativity and suffering are ultimately linked and artistry will ultimately lead to anguish. She went on to say that it would be better for everyone if we operated like creativity was something that just came through you instead of something that was a part of you. Like I somehow got the colour gene (for example) and you didn’t (not true). And she told this story to illustrate her point:
And then there were those times when the poem passed through her and she would almost miss it, she’d reach out for a pencil and then reach out with her other hand and catch the poem by it’s tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page and in these instances the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards from the last word to the first.
Elizabeth said “When I heard that I thought, that’s uncanny, that’s exactly what my creative process is like.” There are work and ideas that come through me, through a source that I honestly feel like I cannot identify. . . and how do you relate to that thing in a way so that you don’t lose your mind?”
She interviewed Tom Waits once and he talked about having the same experience. . . He hears this little fragment of melody in his head as he’s driving down the freeway, and he wants it and he longs for it but has no way to get it, as he does not have a pen or paper or a tape recorder to capture it in that moment.
And then he worries that he’ll lose it and be haunted forever by that song. But one time, instead of panicking, he did something completely novel, he looked up at the sky and said “Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? Do I look like I can write down a song right now, if you really want to exist come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you, otherwise go bother someone else, go bother Leonard Cohen.”
“Listen you thing, you and I both know that if this book isn’t brilliant that it won’t be entirely my fault, because you can see I am putting everything I have into this, and I don’t have any more than this, so if you want it to be better, then you have to show up and do your part of the deal and if you don’t do that, I will continue to write anyway because that’s my job, so I would just like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.”
The angst that creative people feel, the ‘How can I ever write anything better than this?, create anything to top the last thing, write a blog post better than this one?’ we worry ‘What will we do for the rest of our life?’ How do we reconcile that?
Maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so full of anguish, maybe if you never happened to believe in the first place that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came ‘from you’ but maybe if you 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 to somebody else. When you think about it this way it starts to change everything.
So don’t be afraid, don’t be daunted, just continue to show up and do your job. If your job is to dance, do your dance and if the world shows up and says its fabulous, great. And if it doesn’t, keep dancing. And ole to you to have the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up. Elizabeth Gilbert, Author of Eat, Pray, Love.
Basically I’ve re-created the best part of her talk (above) because I so loved both those stories, but what I really got about her talk is what she’s suggesting is that creativity is all around us, and some of us are simply more aware of it than others. We let it in so that we can use it. You know how they say creativity is like a muscle. The more you use your creative side the stronger it becomes.
People ask me all the time where my ideas for blog posts come from and it often happens like that for me as well. Except that it’s easier for me to write down a headline (than a song, or a chapter in a book) when it comes to me, because that triggers the post I’ll sit down and write later when I’m actually at my computer, instead of driving, barely awake in bed or any number of places.
When I’m doing a part of this creative life that I don’t like, and is totally unglamorous, (and truly there are only little bits of glamour in anything when it comes right down to it) like standing in the pouring rain, freezing cold, talking about curb appeal or hitting the 8th furniture store looking for that elusive sideboard or spending 1 1/2 hours changing light bulbs on brand new lamps that are killing the entire feel of the room because the ones they arrived with are totally wrong, I always remind myself to be grateful that I persevered because who knew my access to becoming an ‘Internationally known’ Colour Expert (which I have had on post-its on my desk for years) would be through 100,000 readers per month from a blog I started writing one weekend in the fall of 2008.
So, if you are reading this and are still looking for your creative sweet spot?
‘As the great poet Jack Gilbert said once to a young writer, when she asked him for advice about her own poems: “Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say YES.” (excerpt from E.G. Website)