“When I refer to ‘creative living,’ I am…talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” I reread these words today in the opening chapters of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and realized how much they have shaped my last six months.
I first read that quote last fall, having picked up the book a few weeks earlier. As she broadened the scope of what it means to live a creative life in her definition, I underlined it emphatically and murmured a fervent “Mmm!” That idea had been forming, not yet fully processed or put into words, but resonating deep within me- the thought that creativity is more synonymous with being human than something limited to the realm of “arts and crafts.” But it was empowering to see these thoughts in print by someone I had been growing to admire.
I first was inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert while reading her book Eat, Pray, Love when I was living in Brazil. I was borrowing the book, so I couldn’t emphatically underline, but I can remember on more than one occasion wanting to, forcing these beautiful paragraphs on my unsuspecting roommates, reading portions aloud while we were on the beach. I was moved by her brave candor and raw moments woven into witty storytelling. Fast forward five or so years. In a recent kick of podcast listening, I came across RobCast, and in one episode, Rob Bell was interviewing Elizabeth in his home in L.A. I was enthralled, listening as she conversationally shared these insights into creative living, wise, deeply and practically helpful, resonant. And plus, she had this deep belly laugh so infectious that it made me grin, just listening in my car! She struck me as a woman who had done the work to know herself deeply, a woman who was confident to speak her truth boldly and equally comfortable with her humanness and limitations. A woman who was pursuing this creative life with all of her being, in all its messiness and glory. And any encounter with such a woman marks you.
I found myself quoting her, bringing her up in conversations, of course buying her new book and even rereading her other ones. I squealed with delight when I discovered that she had her very own podcast, devouring the twelve episodes in a week. (While others are binge-watching House of Cards, you can find me, binge-listening to Magic Lessons.) A friend told me that Elizabeth Gilbert was my “patron saint.” (Along with another wise, deeply insightful woman, the lovely Brenè Brown…but I don’t have the space here to describe her impact on my life well… another post for another time.) I guffawed at this comment, but nodded my head. Liz Gilbert, a saint? I didn’t know if “holy” would be an adjective Liz would use to describe herself, but this woman most certainly is wholly- wholly committed to living in collaboration with inspiration, wholly invested in the process of being fully herself, wholly passionate about helping others to find the courage to say yes to the hidden treasures that lay hidden within. Yeah, I thought, she has become like a patron saint to me over the course of the last few months—not in the sense that I am idolizing her, or making W.W.L.D bracelets. But I am deeply grateful for what she has sparked within me, and the things she has shared in her books and interviews and podcast have guided me to decisions that will greatly impact my life.
One concept that has shifted the way I think in day to day life is the way she interacts with her fear. When creativity is involved, fear is a part of the process. Well any attempt at living an abundant life (again, creativity, choosing to pursue that which ignites your soul, same thing) will mean risk and vulnerability and the almost certain possibility of failure and heartbreak. To step out in creativity is not to be fearless, but to step into the process of acknowledging fear, and interacting with it—personifying it even. Rather than trying to fight it or even run from it, Liz talks to Fear, thanking it for the ways it has attempted to protect her, the times it has legitimately saved her life. After listening closely to what Fear has to say about any risky or creative endeavor (usually something along the lines of Who do you think you are? You aren’t fill-in-the-blank enough. What if x,y, or z happens? You’ll never be able to do that, or if you do, it won’t turn out well. Better just go climb into a hole and stay there) she calmly, patiently, lovingly responds. “Dearest Fear, I acknowledge that you are along for the ride, but you don’t get to call the shots. I appreciate that you are trying to protect me, but I’m not going to die here, I’m just trying to write a blog post/make an Easter meal for my family/attempt a new art form. The stakes aren’t as high as you’re making them out to be. I promise.”
So, Liz, if you are reading this, first of all, thank you. Your vibrant, belly-laughing, brave presence has blessed me deeply, both on the page and in spoken word. I wish I could take you out to lunch and talk about Creativity and Fear and dream about where our curiosity will take us next. I want to share with you how excited I am about the ways I am learning to also be more curious about my fear, to see what lies behind that knee jerk response of flight or fight. You’ve helped me to learn to be curious and “risk delight.” Patron Saint, kindred spirit, fellow brave soul looking for Big Magic, Liz Gilbert, I like you a whole lot.
And dear reader, are you interested in taking some Magic Lessons? Because I think you should.