|Your elusive creative genius | Elizabeth Gilbert|
The following article is derived from the accompanying video. It is provided as an additional resource for your reading convenience.
Best Selling author, Elizabeth Gilbert tells her Ted Talk audience that “We writers, and creative people across all genres,it seems, have this reputation for being enormously mentally unstable. All you have to do is look at the very grim death count in the 20th century alone, of really magnificent creative minds who died young and often at their own hands. Even the ones who didn’t literally commit suicide seem to be really undone by their gifts.”
Gilbert mentions that Norman Mailer, in his last interview just before he died said, “Every one of my books has killed me a little more.”
She states that “This is an extraordinary statement to make about your life’s work. But we don’t even blink when we hear somebody say this, because we’ve heard that kind of stuff for so long and somehow we’ve completely internalized and accepted collectively this notion that creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked and that artistry, in the end, will always ultimately lead to anguish.”
Next Gilbert talks about her encounter with the extraordinary but elderly American poet Ruth Stone (Born: June 8, 1915, Died: November 19, 2011), who had been a poet her entire life.
Stone told Elizabeth that when she was growing up in rural Virginia,she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. She said it was like a thunderous train of air. It would come barreling down at her over the landscape. She felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.”
Stone would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.”
Elizabeth Gilbert goes on to say: “Ruth Stone told me there were times she was running to the house and she’s looking for the paper and the poem passes through her, and she grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her, and then she said, it was like she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail, and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first.”
“It seems to me that upon a lot of reflection, that the way that I have to work now, in order to continue writing, is that I have to create some sort of protective psychological construct. I have to sort of find some way to have a safe distance between me, as I am writing, and my very natural anxiety about what the reaction to that writing is going to be, from now on. As I’ve been looking, over the last year, for models for how to do that, I’ve been sort of looking across time, and I’ve been trying to find other societies to see if they might have had better and saner ideas than we have about how to help creative people sort of manage the inherent emotional risks of creativity.”
Gilbert then shares with her audience, “What I have to sort of keep telling myself when I get really psyched out is don’t be afraid. Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, for just one moment through your efforts, then “Olé!” And if not, do your dance anyhow. And “Olé!” to you, nonetheless. I believe this and I feel that we must teach it.”Olé!” to you, nonetheless, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.”
Elizabeth Gilbert is an American author, essayist, short story writer, biographer and novelist. She is best known for her 2006 New York Times Bestseller “Eat, Pray, Love” which was also made into a movie by the same name in 2010. Her article in GQ magazine in 1997, “The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon”, is a memoir of Gilbert’s experience as a bartender at the very first Coyote Ugly Table Dancing Bar located in the East Village section of New York City. It was the basis for the 2000 feature film Coyote Ugly.