Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (2015)

What is Creativity? It is the relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.

This latest work of nonfiction from Elizabeth Gilbert is less of a book and more of a manifesto, a call to arms, an urgent plea that we all make room in our lives for our creative spirits to thrive. Gilbert, of course, is famous for her book Eat, Pray, Love which seems to be equally loved and hated by audiences. I fall in with the readers who loved the book, her writing style, and the things she had to say — quite eloquently, I thought — about living life.

This new book is not a memoir, nor is it a self-help book, but rather is comes to us more as a motivational tome: you can do it, Gilbert is cheering, I believe that you have something magical inside you waiting to break through! In the introductions she writes, “the universe buries strange jewels deep within in us all to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels — that is creative living. And the often surprising results of that hunt — that is what I call Big Magic.”

Creative powers are at work inside all of us, Gilbert argues, we are all called to do or make something unique and beautiful. It is not a lack of inspiration or talent that stops so many of us but rather busyness or obstinance or fear getting in the way of listening to the call. What we might feel drawn to make or do is not narrowly defined either. The author in no way suggests that only “art” in the traditional sense, such writing or painting, should be pursued. Her expansive list of examples of art waiting to be created include: writing songs, making candles, shaping pottery, decorating a beautiful home, starting a nonprofit, choreographing dances, farming a piece of land, writing a sermon.

There are no check-lists in this book nor bulleted “to-do” suggestion boxes, only a series of inspirations that show us that magic — the ability to make something wholly of ourselves to present to the world — is already alive inside us. We are capable of creating if we only try. Never once is it suggested that you must discard your life, wiping it clean, to begin again as a “pure artist.” Quite the opposite is proposed: humbly attempt something new, find something that moves you and calls to you and actively pursue it. That is it, simply answer the call. An entirely new life is not required, but taking action — however small — is required: take the time to jot down a poem on a grocery list, finally plant a garden, take a class, prepare a gourmet meal, perfect you clog dancing, rediscover a beloved pastime long ago discarded.

As we pursue a life filled with more creativity and magic, we are never to feel tortured, never to feel beleaguered or doomed when our attempts fail. Instead Gilbert wants us to feel joyful that inspiration has paid us a visit and proud of our courageous attempts to do something we have not tried before. We made not receive accolades or celebrity, but we have reached for the bigger life and that is its own reward.

Personally, I felt I took a huge leap starting this blog. It represented the most writing I had done in years and it required that I do something that felt very intimate to me… sharing my thoughts about books I dearly love with a world that may not love them at all. I was fearful of many of the things Gilbert mentions in the book: that I had nothing original to say, that there were already many, many other blogs about books being written, and that my opinions about books were not learned or expert enough. I cannot tell you how glad I am that I ignored all of those concerns! Writing this blog is never a chore, it is a total joy. Now while reading I think even deeper about the meanings and messages of the books I love, getting more than ever from my beloved pastime. “Take your insecurities and fears and hold them upside down by their ankles and shake yourself free off all your cumbersome ideas about what you require and why you are not enough. You are already creatively legitimate by nature of your mere existence.”

The gorgeous book is like a hand being extended to us all. “You are already a creator, you do not need permission, you are perfectly capable right now of finding your own buried treasures” the author tells us. Gilbert is a kindly advisor urging us to make peace with our fears and accept that failure will not kill us. We must welcome and befriend the ideas that inspire us and to stay the course while we create something bigger with those ideas. “A creative life is a life that is amplified, bigger, happier, expanded, and interesting,” she tells us, “a life that is more strongly driven by curiosity than by fear.” There is never any need to operate from a notion of scarcity or give credence to the belief that there is not enough to go around, there are boundless works of art waiting to be born and everyone is an artist capable to gifting that art to the world. The question is not can you live a creative life, but rather “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden inside you?”


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