Monday, February 1, 2016

Book Report : Big Magic

One of my (many!) New Year's resolutions for 2016 is to read one book a month — which may not sound like a big goal or commitment to some but it is for this gal, who has had many unopened books languishing on her shelves, collecting dust, for years. 

For January, I just finished up the last 20 pages of "Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert and it was an enjoyable and inspirational read to say the least. I dogeared dozens of pages to return to when I need a boost of motivation. The book is chockfull of wisdom, delivered in Gilbert's trademark humor, about the joys and travails of creative living. Reading the book felt like sitting down with a good friend who gets you, a friend who truly understands the difficulties you are facing and listens patiently, but then, knowing all the greatness you are capable of, gives you a swift kick in the ass. (Followed up by a warm hug.) 

"Big Magic" is all about getting past the fear of living creatively, of making things, whatever that may be, and putting them out there for the world to see — and, inevitably, judge. Throughout the 273 pages, Gilbert stresses that your creative expression is important, but not that important, and should be taken seriously, but not too seriously. We have to accept these paradoxes and make space in our creative hearts and minds for fun. She teaches that inspiration is all around us, just waiting to work within us if we let it. And if you fail, well, that's OK. But don't give up; just move on and get back to work. Why? Because we love it and creativity loves us. The work may not always be successful, but it will always feed our souls.

Here are some of my favorite quotes, taken from those dogeared pages:

"The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels — that's creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place — that's what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one. The often surprising results of that hunt — that's what I call Big Magic." (p. 8)

"And you have treasures hidden within you — extraordinary treasures and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small." (p. 27)

"Work with all your heart, because — I promise you — if you show up for your work day after day after day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom." (p. 63)

On cultivating a healthy sense of entitlement to live a creative life: 
"Because often what keeps you from creative living is your self-absorption (your self-doubt, your self-disgust, your self-judgment, your crushing sense of self-protection.) The arrogance of belonging pulls you out of the darkest depths of self-hatred— not by saying 'I am the greatest!' but merely by saying 'I am here!'" (p. 93)

"Whether you think you're brilliant or you think you're a loser, just make whatever you need to make and toss it out there. Let other people pigeonhole you however they need to. ... But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else's blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work." (p. 120-121)

"... Learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person. If you want to be an artist of any sort, it seemed to me, then handling your frustration is a fundamental aspect of the work — perhaps the single most fundamental aspect of the work. Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process." (p. 149)

On laziness and perfectionism: 
"If you want to live a contented creative life, you do not want to cultivate either one of those traits, trust me. What you want is to cultivate quite the opposite: You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass. It starts by forgetting about perfect. ... Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes  but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work." (p. 166)

"It has taken me years to learn this, but it does seem to be the case that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind)." (p. 171)

On shaking off failure and finding inspiration again: 
"Any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion. So wave your arms around. Make something. Do something. Do anything. Call attention to yourself with some sort of creative action, and — most of all trust that if you make enough of a glorious commotion, eventually inspiration will find its way home to you again." (p. 254)

"Fierce trust asks you to stand strong within this truth: 'You are worthy, dear one, regardless of the outcome. You will keep making your work, regardless of the outcome. You will keep sharing your work, regardless of the outcome. You were born to create, regardless of the outcome. You will never lose trust in the creative process, even when you don't understand the outcome.'" (p. 258-259)

What books have you read lately? Any suggestions to add to my list for 2016? I have another inspirational read picked out for February: "When Breath Becomes Air," a powerful and undoubtedly emotional memoir by the late neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi. I purchased the book about two weeks ago while at a book reading led by Paul's wife Lucy (sister of Cup of Jo's Joanna Goddard) in Brooklyn, and so I already know I'll need to make sure tissues are within arm's reach while reading the #1 New York Times Bestseller.

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