Exploring Big Magic and What It Is to Live a Creative Life.
It happens from time to time that we come across a book that completely shatters and reconstructs our world view. For me that book was Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. I can’t remember where I first heard about the book. Perhaps it was on The Lively Show podcast? But before long I had downloaded it on Audible and devoured it.
It was in our final days of living in California and whilst I packed up our life all over again Gilbert’s words washed over me. Bathing my creative soul and encouraging a rebirth. One listen wasn’t enough though. Gilbert’s magical narration accompanied us as we drove across California, past avocado trees and wind turbines and out into the desert. It started to lay the foundations for a new way of thinking as we set out on another new season of life.
For the longest time I have been a creative person. As a child I was forever working on little creative projects in the secret space of my room. Stealing dish sponges and cutting them up into dolls with my mum’s fabric scissors (sorry mum). Turning tissue boxes into dioramas of fish tanks. Building fairy houses in the garden, stringing beads for bracelets.
Gilbert says in her book that there is a point in childhood where the gifted are separated out from the rest; “Ah, lovely adolescence—when the “talented” are officially shunted off from the herd, thus putting the total burden of society’s creative dreams on the thin shoulders of a few select souls, while condemning everyone else to live a more commonplace, inspiration-free existence!”. When we are defined as being creative or not. It felt in childhood that the marker of creativity was being able to draw well. And I certainly could not draw well. I was still separated out though, not for my art but for my words.
For the longest time I felt that the only way I could express my creativity was through writing. That was to be my designated path. Any endeavour that involved paint or fabric or any other art material was to be faced with scepticism. I loved making things, my soul reveled in it. But I had not been selected as artistic and as such any physically creative endeavour should be played down, debased by my own criticism or not shown to the world at all.
I longed for the permission to be artistic. Slowly with the advent of social media I started showing some of the things I had made. I hoped that someone out there, someone with authority, would ordain me as creatively talented. I was trapped in the academic obsession for a peer review. I needed the gold stars and perhaps a certificate.
Then I listened to Big Magic. And it was profound. The world was torn asunder and made anew. Gilbert called me out on that singular excuse I constantly fell back on. Permission. “You do not need a permission slip from the principal’s office to live a creative life. Or if you do worry that you need a permission slip—THERE, I just gave it to you.”. My ego found new battles to fight of course and tried to hide that desire for permission in other ways. I needed a formal education in something creative or I needed to be shown in an exhibition to really be an artist. Or even that my favourite medium, textiles, were not truly of the art world.
Every argument I presented against creativity though Gilbert had soundly addressed. She challenged my perceptions of what it was to be an artist and presented a model far healthier than that of the tortured creative, the starving artist. She challenged my expectations that I had to be able to live off my creativity for it to be of value. She opened my eyes to the concept of a universe full of ideas just waiting to collaborate with us, to create something of beauty and splendour.
So often now, when I hear that voice of doubt creeping in I listen to Big Magic, or flip open the physical copy I bought, and it always seems to reveal a distilled piece of wisdom that I needed to hear. It’s almost as if Elizabeth Gilbert has created some sort of no-nonsense oracle for the creatively minded to consort.
It’s not always smooth sailing in the construction of a new mindset. I realised recently that in the pursuit of becoming more “creative” through physically making things I had neglected my innate creative expression through words. I was shocked to realise that I had stopped writing stories, stopped writing poetry since high school. That I had stopped writing essays since university. That in the past few years I had almost stopped journaling except for in my darkest moments. Stopped journaling! That near constant companion of my whole life had been slipping away unnoticed.
So only a few weeks ago I picked up a pen. I found a notebook full of textiles research. I tried my hand at writing poetry. It was clunky, ugly and more than a little trite. But it felt natural to be holding a pen again. A coming home of sorts. As Gilbert says in Big Magic “I can always steady my life once more by returning to my soul. I ask it, "And what is it that you want, dear one?” That connection to the inner self, to soul, to source energy, is one I was always able to tap into through writing. Gilbert says her soul replies “More wonder, please.”. I think mines response would have to be “More writing, please.”.
Big Magic truly is a life changing book for anyone who is a creative soul (hint: that’s everyone), but more so perhaps if you find yourself constantly at battle with that urge to create. Whatever form your creativity takes, be it words, making, physical movement or whatever it is that makes your soul come alive, Big Magic offers a chance to reconnect with that creativity. The book encourages you to examine your pre-existing convictions around creativity and question where these thoughts and fears have come from. Mostly though this book is a source of encouragement and of empowerment, it will propel you into taking action with creativity. And if like me, you were craving that permission slip to live a creative life, well, it will provide you with that too.