Pittsburgh’s literary community is a vibrant one. Besides being home to several MFA programs, there’s a creative and innovative undercurrent in this town that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced anywhere else.
Recently, I spent an entire Saturday with many of our region’s finest writers. They’re some of the most talented and accomplished people I’ve ever met and I’m honored to call several of them friends.
But this writing thing we share — it’s a crazy, crazy thing. I can’t think of many other pursuits that summon feelings of joy and inadequacy at the same time.
Elizabeth Gilbert has a few things to say about that in her new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I happened to be reading this that same weekend and it resonated with me (whether because of the workshop or because I needed to hear its message, I don’t know).
“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.
What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.
We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits.
We are terrified, and we are brave.
Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.
Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us.
Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise — you can make anything.”
Big Magic is part memoir, part writing manual, and part motivational kick in the ass.
“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, storytellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers — these are our common ancestors.
The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying. We are all the chosen few. We are all makers by design.” (pg. 89)”
You may be thinking that Big Magic is just another gimmicky book about creativity and following your passion, the likes of which you’ve probably read before. And you would be wrong. Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t advocating that we creative types go into the office tomorrow and quit our jobs or commit to waking up every morning at 3 a.m. to write The Best Novel Ever or build a wing onto our house for the studio of our dreams. If you are able to do those things, more power to you. That’s not reality for most of us, however. And if we’re looking to our creativity to solve those questions, we might be missing the point altogether.
“Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir — something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration.” (pg. 172)
I really enjoyed this book and Elizabeth Gilbert’s direct and down-to-earth approach to creativity was exactly what I needed at the time. Highly recommended.