Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses–and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s one of the best Ted Talks I’ve seen: funny, personal, moving, and applies universal illustrations to communicate her ideas.
She says she’s not like some artists she’s known, such as the poet Ruth Stone, who knew when she was being “visited” and if she didn’t run and get it down right then would be abandoned. Gilbert says she’s more like a mule. She has to get up at the same time every day and get down to business. But “mule” that she may be, she says,
“Even I have had work or ideas come through me from a source that I cannot identify. And what is that thing and how are we to relate to it in a way that we will not lose our minds?”
1. Have a safe distance between you and your creative work.
In the Greek and Roman cultures, for instance, they thought of a creative work coming out of an individual as not such a “human” thing. They attributed it to god-like characters, daemon and genius respectively, and that neither really have all that much to do with the person who created the work. Our perceptions of that changed around the Middle Ages when humans were thought to be the center of the universe. And what followed are 500 years of anxious and narcissistic artists.
2. Do your job because that’s all you can control.
Be stubborn. Keep showing up. Have a conversation with your internal “daemon-genius” thing. It’s not just one-sided. You do your creative work job, and tell your internal inspiration monitor to come to your aid if it’s going to do its part.
3. Come to terms with not owning your creative power.
When facing your fear that you may not be able to do it again, shift your focus. Maybe the most “extraordinary aspects of your being” don’t come from you, but are loaned to you to live through you from some “unimaginable source” for some “exquisite portion of your life.”