I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment—not entirely human in its origins. ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
I promised in last week’s post that I would review Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (affiliate link). It was released three days after I saw Liz speak at the Omega Women’s Leadership Center’s Women and Power: Being Bold retreat.
Instead of a blow-by-blow of the book (which is amazing and thought-provoking and a must-read for anyone in need of creative inspiration or a kick in the pants to live life more fully), let me give you a real-life example that I feel proves the truth of Liz’s theory that enchantment is all around us if we open ourselves up to receiving it.
As background, you need to know that I spent several weeks before the retreat obsessing about how I might meet Liz in person. With roughly 400 people attending the event, I knew my chances were slim. I might have a quick opportunity to shake her hand, but I wanted just a couple of minutes to tell her that she had inspired me to fully embrace my creative side, the culmination of which is my upcoming book, Blooming into Mindfulness.
Think I’m exaggerating about my obsession? Here are just a few excerpts from my journal in the days leading up to the Omega Institute event:
September 6, 2015: “Hoping Margaret Roach (accomplished author, former Martha Stewart Omnimedia executive, and provider of wise advice on my book journey) can give me some guidance about how best to connect with Liz Gilbert and other thought leaders.”
In our phone conversation the next day, Margaret had this excellent a suggestion: “If you have the chance to meet her–and be prepared, you’ll need to stand in line for sure–put something beautiful in her hands, like a box of your greeting cards.”
September 14, 2015: “Need to prepare for the upcoming retreat at Omega. Leaving on Friday. Should really research all the speakers. Especially hoping to have a few minutes with Elizabeth Gilbert. What an amazing leader she is. I really do want to be her when I grow up.”
September 17, 2015: “Soooo excited for this weekend’s Women in Power retreat at Omega. Even if I don’t get to meet Elizabeth Gilbert there will be so many other awesome women to connect with. Sent a note to Elizabeth Lesser (Omega co-founder, author, speaker) just to say hello in advance and thank her for her work. Maybe weird? I don’t know.”
Once I was actually at Omega, though, I knew immediately that the weekend would be much bigger than the potential of meeting Liz Gilbert. But I had my greeting cards in my bag just in case.
Liz’s keynote speech was scheduled for Saturday morning. I headed out from my tent cabin to get breakfast in the dining hall beforehand. As I waited in line for the buffet, I looked around the large room wondering where I should sit. I had decided to come alone to the retreat intentionally, to force my introverted self to meet people. My plate of food now in hand, my eyes fell on a friendly-looking woman sitting alone at one of the 100 or so eight-person round tables.
I asked if I could join her. “Of course!” she replied. “I’m Laurah.”
“I’m Martha,” I said, not sure if I should sit right next to her or leave a space or two. I decided to leave two spaces just in case a friend was joining her.
As I took my seat, I said, “Is anyone else sitting here?”
“Um…only Liz Gilbert.”
I stared at Laurah in disbelief, tingles making their way from the tips of my toes to the top of my head.
“You’re kidding,” I said.
“I know, right?” she said, a beautiful smile spreading across her face. She was just as astonished as I. Laurah had overheard Liz ask someone where the dining hall was and offered to show her the way.
Now, I want to reiterate here—I did not choose the table because I knew Liz Gilbert would be there. It was Laurah who attracted me there, so she now has permanent BMFE (Best Magic Friend Ever) status.
And sure enough, a minute later Liz Gilbert sat down in the chair next to Laurah. I was hyperventilating by this point. My friends and family will tell you that I’m not a person prone to hyperventilate in the midst of famous people. I got to shake Bill Clinton’s hand once, one of the most charismatic people on the planet no matter what your politics are. That handshake was nothing compared to meeting Liz Gilbert.
“Would it be OK if I moved and sat right next to you?” I said to her.
“If you didn’t, that would just be weird,” Liz said.
I slid over to the chair on her left. In bumbling fashion, I told her about how I had been consumed the past few weeks with wondering how I might approach her respectfully if I got the chance.
“Well it seems you’ve conjured me up!” she said. That’s exactly what it felt like.
“And guess what?” I replied. “I’m even prepared!”
Hands shaking, I opened my bag and pulled out a box of my garden photography greeting cards. As I placed the box in Liz’s hands, I felt totally engulfed in the enchantment that Liz talks about in Big Magic.
It was as if the universe was rewarding me for following Liz’s advice to embrace my creative identity—first through my writing, and more recently through my photography, despite my lifelong fear of doing so.
The irony is, in her talk about an hour or so after our magical encounter, Liz cautioned the audience about the dangers of meeting our heroes in person. She intentionally did not make an effort to meet her literary idol Jack Gilbert out of fear of being disappointed. The opposite was true for me.
Liz’s gracious handling of my slobbering adoration only served to raise even higher the pedestal upon which I keep her. And I’ll never forget what she told Laurah and me during our intimate breakfast together:
“I never ask people what they do. I always ask what excites them. You always get a better answer that way.” Another Liz Gilbert lesson that I’ve already started to implement.
And since this is technically supposed to be a “book review,” I’ll leave you with just a few quotes from Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear that resonated with me:
- You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life.
- You want to write a book? Make a song? Direct a movie? Decorate pottery? Learn a dance? Explore a new land? You want to draw a penis on your wall? Do it. Who cares? It’s your birthright as a human being, so do it with a cheerful heart. (This one spoke to me directly, since a friend of my son’s did, indeed, spray paint a picture of a penis on my front lawn several years ago. I forgive him now.)
- I want to live the most vividly decorated temporary life that I can. I don’t just mean physically; I mean emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually.
- If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers.
- The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying.
- Instead of taking out loans to go to a school for the arts, maybe try to push yourself deeper into the world, to explore more bravely. Or go more deeply and bravely inward. Take an honest inventory of the education you already have—the years you have lived, the trials you have endured, the skills you have learned along the way. (I debated for years whether to go back to school for my MFA, but took Liz’s advice here instead.)
- Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.
I could go on and on, but you’ll be better off reading the whole book yourself.
More Big Magic:
I’m writing this blog post on an airplane, on my way to watch my son’s soccer game in Chicago. The woman sitting next to me is reading The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. “I’m SO enjoying this book!” she tells me. “Have you read it?”
“It’s one of my all-time favorites,” I said, feeling that tingly thing again since I had already set myself the task of writing this piece on the flight.
“Have you read anything else by the author?” she asked. I pulled out my copy of Big Magic, then showed her the photos of my magic friends.
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