Book: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Bookhad Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
“He became a poet the way other men become monks: as a devotional practice, as an act of love, and as a lifelong commitment to the search for grace and transcendence.”
Liz Gilbert (as she calls herself on Facebook) tells us a story about a woman named Winifred. At the age of 90, Winifred was an acknowledged expert in the history of Mesopotamia. She had traveled to the Middle East, learned the cuneiform script, and was sought out for answers on Mesopotamia. Winifred was also some sort of a bohemian legend with her red hair, drapes of beads around her neck, and friends from all walks of life, including Liz herself. Winifred started studying the history of ancient Mesopotamia at the age of 80 and reportedly “it changed her life”. Do you want to know Winifred? Be her friend? I know I do.
Big Magic is full of such stories and as its title suggests, it is about “Creative Living Beyond Fear”. Note the part “Beyond Fear”. I would say that’s what this book is pretty much about. It’s about living a life full of courage. Of course, since Liz is a writer, the focus of this book and much of its lessons come from the realm of writing. Divided into five parts – Courage, Enchantment, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity – Big Magic traces the highs and lows of the creative life all of it while offering stories of creative people, permission slips, anecdote, metaphor, and even plain down-to-the-ground advice on how to write irrespective of anything.
Liz starts off the book with a story about one of the greatest poets to have lived – Jack Gilbert. She tells us about the life Jack Gilbert lived. Nothing about his poems or how fantastic they are, but the constituents of day-to-day living. How he didn’t seek out to be published, lived in harmony with nature, wrote poems because he wanted to, and increased the breadth of his existence. That Jack Gilbert’s life is something all artists aspire to will come as no surprise to you. But the fact that he was determined enough to live it makes one’s heart swell with immense joy. This is what Liz Gilbert’s book is trying to say all along.
She’s spoken about her friend who wanted to go figure skating, so she did. Her father who wanted to grow Christmas trees and raise goats, so he did. Her mother who wanted to bake their bread and sew their clothes, so she did. Winifred who wanted to study about ancient Mesopotamia, so she did. You see what Liz is up to here? She’s not just talking to writers and telling them how to overcome fear and allow inspiration to work with them, she’s asking all of us to advance in the direction of the life we want to live, no matter where we may be.
Of course, some of her ideas are a little wonky, and I personally like wonky. She talks about inspiration as a being that is waiting to work with us and by harboring fear, we tend to drive it off. When we do, it goes looking for another human to work with. And so on and so forth. She proposes that inspiration is constantly seeking us humans and wants to be manifested. By being cowardly and meek, we’re not allowing the birth of inspiration “through us” so it scoots off to someone else. This is her explanation of how some people get to live lives others don’t. They’re just brave enough to be disappointed and work with their own feelings of inadequacy or doubt, and allow inspiration to become their muse.
There’s also practical advice on whether one should get a college degree in creative writing or not. Whether one should leave their day job or not. Whether one should beat oneself up or not. (The answer is no, in case you’re wondering.) However, what Liz does in this book is that she over-simplifies some of the most complex human emotions and circumstances. Though I completely admire her as she opens her arms and embraces us with our weirdly messed up selves, I cannot help but notice that she’s far too optimistic than one can stomach. I want to believe in everything she says because she’s just so wonderful with her words. And I think it’s necessary for someone to tell all the writers (and everyone else, of course) that we have the necessary permission to lead the lives we want to and not be a jackass about it to ourselves or others. However, some parts of the book found me smiling like a skeptic at her all-inclusive writing. I’ve made a mental note to believe.
I’ve read Big Magic once entirely and then, I’ve read it on and off. The writing itself never ceases to make me want to keep turning the page. Her words fall off the page and into my mind with delicate ease. It’s not only a heart-warming and optimistic read but full of stories about people who have dared to stand up and say, “This is how I will fill my life with endless beauty,” and guess what? They did.
“Be the weirdo who dares to enjoy.”