Book Reviews

Elizabeth Gilbert

Riverhead Books

 

 

If you choose to enter into a contract of creative suffering, you should try to identify yourself as much as possible with the stereotype of the Tormented Artist. You will find no shortage of role models. To honor their example, follow these fundamental rules: Drink as much as you possibly can; sabotage all your relationships…jealously compete against your peers; begrudge anybody else's victories; proclaim yourself cursed (not blessed) by your talents; attach your sense of self-worth to external rewards; be arrogant when you are successful and self-pitying when you fail; honor darkness above light; die young; blame creativity for having killed you.

from  Big Magic

 

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the hugely popular Eat, Pray, Love, has written a book about creativity. Instead of some reasoned treatise, this is more a jumble of ideas and anecdotes, kind of like sitting down with a chatty, entertaining friend over a glass of wine and talking about living a creative life.

Part memoir, part self help primer, part pep talk, it offers tips, tricks and examples for cultivating the right attitude to be creative. This is certainly not limited to just the arts, but also gardening, cooking, sewing, parenting, all the many ways one can live creatively. She writes: “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.”

Employing the same confessional style and self-effacing humor she displayed in Eat, Pray, Love, (“I once wrote a book that accidentally became a giant best seller.”), Gilbert shares her own experiences of creativity—“that exhilarating encounter between a human being and divine creative inspiration”—or what she calls “the magical.”

For her, fear is the main obstacle to living a creative life, and she offers a litany of fears that keep us from expressing our own creativity: fear that we don’t have what it takes, fear of looking foolish, fear of being thought pretentious, fear of failure, fear of success, etc.—it’s quite a list.

In the face of these fears, she offers a commonsensical perspective to our creative endeavors, reminding us that in the grand cosmic scheme of things, the novel we are writing probably doesn’t rank up there with the extinction of the dinosaurs. But, hey, the extinction of the dinosaurs 60 million years ago doesn’t rank very highly in the grand cosmic scheme of things either where we’re talking billions of years.

Suddenly feel insignificant? She suggests we should also feel liberated: The unfolding of the universe is not dependent upon us. So, she reasons, why not be creative? “What else are you going to do with your time here on earth—not make things? Not do interesting stuff? Not follow your love and your curiosity?”

She keeps the reader focused on what’s really important in exploring and expressing one’s individual creativity. (Hint: It’s not about appearing on Oprah.) “What is sacred,” she writes, “is the time that you spend working on a project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.”

 

 

 

 


This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (February 15-March 14, 2016.) Reprinted with permission.