I was recently given the opportunity to see author Elizabeth Gilbert give a talk in the city of Denver. It was an unseasonably warm evening in early May and the front of the Paramount Theater was pacing and alive with anticipation. Many of us had read Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert’s 2007 bestseller-turned-movie. It was a novel that sold ten million copies and sparked a million responses, good and bad. But what gathered us together that particular evening was Gilbert’s newest output, Big Magic, a reflection on her personal experience with creativity.
I can’t summarize the book for you in a way that will do it true justice, but my one sentence rave review is this: it resparked me. I’ve always been a person who made space for creative endeavors. I dive into books for inspiration for my own writing. I listen to music that moves me enough to drive me toward the piano keys. I soak in colors and shapes to bring myself back to my original love of drawing. All these things and more made me certain, yes, I am a creative person because I participate in these things. I make stuff. I tune in.
"This is what we all must learn to do, for this is how maps get charted—by taking wrong turns that lead to surprising passageways that open into spectacularly unexpected new worlds." - Elizabeth GilbertTweet It!
But of course when it comes to the pace of life, there isn’t always ample time for the things that make you feel most like yourself. At least that is what I told myself when gaps of time would pass and I hadn’t picked up a pen or a paint brush and a thick layer of dust coated the chipping ivory keys. Other obligations would demand my attention and I would relent, letting those other parts of myself stay paused in midair until I had time to snatch them up again. During these times I would feel hollow, less engaged and sometimes even panicked at the time that would pass without my making space for feeling creatively inspired. These phases of life were dull, unmemorable. In this way, I treated my need for creativity as its own distinct feature of my existence, something entirely separate and extra from the rest of my more normal, responsible, adult life.
What I learned from turning the pages of Big Magic, however, was that I was looking at it all wrong. Creativity wasn’t meant to be a single strain among others. Creativity wasn’t supposed to be a hobby that would often conflict with “more important stuff” or be overtaken when duty called. It was meant to be the lens through which I viewed all parts of my life. Choosing creativity was what transformed an everyday experience into an adventure. Creativity could have a hand in all of it, if I allowed it to be so.
Well, that was news to me! I was so ingrained that creativity was a specific dedication to artistic endeavors that I couldn’t even picture it having a hand in my daily decisions, in the way I approach problems or interact with other people. I had reduced creativity to a rare moment that would come barreling towards me from a great distance and leave as soon as it came. Which, to be fair, was all it was capable of when I forced it into such a limited framework.
And while creativity can certainly make itself known to us in sudden, dramatic instances like these, it can also be more subtle, interwoven throughout the rest of us, the barely detectable hum beneath our every move. Suddenly, nothing was all that commonplace to me anymore. Everything had potential to be more than it was. And while some would view this revelation as daunting ("You mean I have to be creative every second, all the time, with everything?"), I choose to see it as a relief and an opportunity. Small seconds can balloon up and fill us with inspiration we would have otherwise overlooked. It's looking one inch to the left instead of straight ahead. Mundane moments can present solutions we couldn’t allow ourselves to see. It's asking internal questions instead of quitting. Conversations, interactions, passing people can all become more if we turn toward them, if we allow ourselves to pause long enough to find the connection. It's saying, "Tell me more," instead of simply nodding along.
It isn't about always making or seeing something with an immediate and obvious purpose. It's about engagement, simple awareness and appreciation of the here and now. So see what's here. Soak it all in. It might not be anything except what it is. Let that be enough.
Suddenly, everything holds a new potential to me now, thriving, reaching, awake with possibility. To me, that's something to look forward to. That's the discovery of what happens next.
To get your own copy of Big Magic, go here.
Helen Williams is a Colorado transplant who is passionate about cooking, writing and combining the two on her vegetarian and vegan food blog, green girl eats. She strives, every day, to be less sorry. When she's not in the kitchen, you can find her reading, loving the community at Holstee or trying to pet your dog.
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Every month we select at few writers to help us explore what it means to live a life of reflection and intention. Reach out to Helen, our editor at Helen.W@holstee.com to learn more