I Know Magic When I See It

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I’ve been shouting from rooftops recently. My voice is a little hoarse and my neighbors are a little deaf from the persistent refrain, “Have you read ‘Big Magic’ yet? Go out and buy this book NOW. No, I mean RIGHT now!”

If you are in the creative world at all, whether teacher, student or “want-to be,” you should have this book on your shelf. Preferably literally, as this one is better in hand and in hard copy to be underlined and dog-eared.

Ms. Gilbert’s approach to creativity had me hooked with her first TED talk where she explains the origin of the word “genius” which actually came from the word “genii” – a guiding spirit of a person or “tutelary deity.” Back in good ol’ Rome they thought that artists worked along with a genii or muse. We artists shared the work with our spirit/muse compadres. It was only later in the 18th century that genius acquired it’s “modern” definition of “a person who is exceptionally intelligent or creative” resulting in all inspiration and creative responsibility landing firmly on the artists’ shoulders. Personally, I’m with the Romans on this one.

Ms. Gilbert personifies her emotions and concepts which is one of my favorite parts about her writings. In “Big Magic” she speaks of Fear as a difficult but inevitable companion. One who must always ride in the back seat of the car.  She says to Fear, “Dude, you are not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”  I love that idea. Instead of shouting Fear down or denying its existence, she gracefully accepts that it’s along for the ride. Creativity is a long process and we need to all get along during that journey. (Plus, you can actually work with Fear to create some really cool stuff….ah, the topic for another blog.)

Ideas are tackled next, and again Gilbert personifies their existence as they glide from person to person hoping to find a co-conspirator. Someone willing to write, paint, sculpt them into existence. This chapter is particularly fascinating to me as I have had similar experiences with the comings and goings of ideas. I’m in love with her concept of them.

The chapter on Persistence is spot-on, but as with most of the book, there are surprises. She brilliantly describes not only the artistic need for persistence but also the necessity of the “letting go of perfection.” I can’t give away too much here, but I want to start a DeeplyDisciplinedHA club. Message me when you’ve read the book and you want to join.

One of the greatest gifts of this book is the lightheartedness; the refusal to make creativity a long suffering ordeal. There is no doubt that the process can be difficult, frustrating, and often lonely, but, she writes, “I certainly refuse to deliberately seek out suffering in the name of artistic authenticity. ”  - Amen to that!!

“Big Magic” is a gift to us all. Buy it. Read it. Now. So I can get down off this rooftop, have a hot toddy and get my voice back.

In addition to her many books, Elizabeth Gilbert has two TED Talks on creativity as well as podcasts called “Magic Lessons” available for free on iTunes (I don’t know how to link that), and a wonderful talk on “The Curiosity Driven Life.” You can also follow her on Facebook where she posts daily.


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