Today in one of my writing classes, we watched a TED Talks segment featuring the author of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert. Her session was called “Your elusive creative genius”. If you consider yourself a creator or a writer of any sort, definitely check out this video. It’s worth sparing 20 minutes. 🙂
Gilbert, a very engaging and inspiring speaker, begins her speech by introducing the stalemate she’s experiencing in her career as a writer. She is looking back in time for ways to inspire her to keep writing, even though her greatest novel may be behind her. A scary thought is how many creative minds have been destroyed, sometimes “by their own hand” just in this century.
Ancient Greeks and Romans believed in a magical or divine being the Greeks called a “daemon” and Romans called a “genius” that would bring creativity and inspiration to people. Creativity wasn’t thought as coming from an individual or humans in general. A genius wasn’t considered something to describe a human, but it was a spirit itself that would guide humans to be creative in art. These “beings” also shielded the author or artist from uncomfortable views from the public (she mentions narcissism or just a failure) by blaming part of these reactions and the content as the “genius’.” A terrible work could not be blamed solely on the artist or writer himself.
This point of view changed with the coming of the Renaissance, when humans and the individual became prevalent in thought. Humans were “at the center of the universe.” It was then believed that “creativity came completely from the self.” So instead of having a genius, the artist was the genius. Gilbert thinks this is “an error.” It is too big a responsibility for one human being to own. To say that this one artist holds all the creativity that exists is unthinkable. She believes that “the pressure of that has been killing off our artists.”
In an interview with the poet Ruth Stone, Gilbert discovers Stone’s mind-blowing explanation of her creative process. Stone explains her inspiration for poetry as “a thunderous train of air” that she could hear and feel flying toward her from far off in the fields where she grew up. She would run from the poem until she reached her home, finding paper and a pencil to write it down as it collided with her body. If she couldn’t catch it, it would find its way to another wandering poet. Sometimes she felt she could grab the poem by its tail, just at the last second, and bring it back to her. This story is so fascinating to me. I’ve never thought of creativity being brought to me by some thing, some being that could see past my human imagination. I always thought inspiration came from around me in people, nature, and words. Perhaps this idea of a divine being “living in the walls” is the true source of my creativity. This theory is highly debatable, but what an interesting thought. If there are spirits who visit us, why shouldn’t they bring us wisdom and inspiration?
Gilbert asks, “What is that thing?” That thing that brings us such random but fantastic ideas as if they appear from the air, inspiration that is sent to us beyond explanation. She, taking after a musician, has talked to her randomly-appearing creative impulse before. The creative being, she realized, did not have to be some parasitic genie inside, but “this peculiar, wondrous, bizarre collaboration” to which we can work together with, not just be pushed around by. Basically, she is saying that this “being” may not appear at “the most opportune time” and should come back later when you’re ready. She’s spoken to a space in the room in her time of doubt, just experimentally, and told the thing that she is doing her part in writing this book, but “it isn’t entirely my fault”, and “if you want it to be better, you should show up and do your part of the deal.” This comment was pretty funny to me; I enjoyed the way she tried to convince the air to bring her some inspiration.
Lastly, she explains why she has started believing in the being. It’s hard to stomach that all of the greatness we will ever achieve is inside us. It is much easier to think that our great creative impulses are loaned to us by a genius for a portion of our life, who will move on to someone else when we are finished. Her main point she expresses to us is to keep writing, keep creating our art because that is our portion of the work. That creative being will come and give its two cents to grant us a moment of greatness.
Is there really a divine, spiritual being swaddled in ribbons of creativity? Are they assigned to us to give us inspiration when our wells have run dry? Should we relax and just do our jobs under the impression that if we have a great muse we might create greatness? Comments and opinions are welcome. What an intriguing thought, that not all of my creativity is bottled inside me. “Olé to you, nonetheless.”