It’s been a while – in fact if I’m honest this year has been rather lacking. I haven’t written much even though I started the year with the goal of writing a blog post each month – life took over. And it didn’t inspire.
Then as luck would have it last month a friend of mine invited me at the very last minute to a talk by Elizabeth Gilbert - she of “Eat Pray Love” fame at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM). The event was organised by Greenlight Bookstore and although I had no idea at the time what to expect, the words BAM and Greenlight Bookstore were enough to convince me. And as it so happened, this was exactly what I needed - a rather unexpected intervention in my struggle to find my inner creativity.
The event, entitled Unbound was in the format of a hilarious conversation between Elizabeth Gilbert and the brilliant playwright Sarah Jones about Gilbert’s new book, a non-fiction, unapologetically self-help tome entitled Big Magic- Creative Living Beyond Fear. As I sat in the audience with my girlfriend who is a writer working on her second novel, I felt completely refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to embrace my art. Elizabeth Gilbert is funny and honest and self-deprecating in a way that was completely energizing. She recognises that she has critics, many of them; some that she acknowledges would even try and help her gain the credibility of a serious writer that she lacks, according to them. She jokes about the NPR-types who insist that when she talks about the characters involved in her writing process, one of whom is “Fear’, they attempt to throw her a lifeline by suggesting that she is simply using metaphors to describe her creative process. To which she responds emphatically that these are not metaphors but real aspects of who she is as a writer. She is a breath of fresh air in a world of New York Times-quoting, self-appointed critiques that pride themselves on finding fault with other people’s art rather than creating their own. As I laughed deeply at some of the comments she made, I couldn’t help but think back to another writer, one whose work I adore, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie who once said that her novel, Americanah was her “Fuck You!” book – in other words when she wrote it, she decided that she could care less what people think or say, or the labels they decide to attach to her work. How invigorating that must feel! Like Chimamanda, I loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s honesty. It takes a certain maturity and self-assuredness to say to hell with the naysayers and I think for so many of us who dream of a more creative life, of taking our creativity to the next level, the opinions of others represent the hurdles we face and often struggle to overcome.
In response to an audience member who asked how could she tell whether she was good enough to do the creative thing she loved – what if infact she was just mediocre at lots of things, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about being the type of creative person who has focused on one thing with a dogged determination and gotten better at it over time. This acknowledgment, though obvious to some, goes against the usual rhetoric of the natural born artist – we have become more accustomed to the accounts of knowing that you have something special from an early age. So much so that when some of us don't feel that way, we conclude that it must be because we have no God-given talent and content ourselves with a life of banality. Ms. Gilbert doesn’t claim to be born with this talent, instead she says that she knew writing was what she wanted to do from an early age and decided to stick with it. She concedes that she was probably not that good to begin with but knows with absolute certainty that she has gotten better with time and practice. In her honest and open accounts, both during the conversation and in this book, she encourages her readers/audience to accept their flaws and still embrace their art. She makes a distinction between our ego – the thing that drives us to want more and more “likes” on social media and our soul – the thing that makes us do something even if no one else in the world reads, buys, listens to it, just because it makes us happy. Yes she resorts to catchphrases at times to get her point across but just because I don’t subscribe to the notion of “Big Magic” doesn’t mean I don’t agree with her message. In a similar way, I couldn’t stand the catchphrase “Lean In” – for Godsake’s it should be lean forward….you lean forward not in – but that did not stop me from relating to so much of what Sheryl Sandberg had to say.
And now back to me and my writing. I love writing and I love reading and this is what I want to do in my free time more than anything else. I love reading what I’ve written and what other people have written. At the moment I’m reading Edwidge Danticat’s “Untwine” as well as Jojo Moyes “After you” and Tanehisi Coates “Between the world and me” because each one, in its own way, feeds my hunger for beautiful words and incredible stories. So thanks to Ms. Gilbert I am reading again and writing and who knows what the future holds. I am not setting myself any goals but I hope you’ll be able to read me more often than you have this year and I hope that I’ll inspire you to do whatever makes you happy…..even if you do it for an audience of one!