This is not the usual magic that of which I blog.
This is spiritualism. As hard and fast as spiritualism gets.
I needed these books circa 1996-2003.
Not that I don’t need them now, but life instead has taught me these lessons instead of my having initially read of them.
Briefly: I was a writer long before I was anything else of much note. I wrote my first story about a tadpole who was afraid to become a frog in first grade. It also was my first year on the swim team but I was so much smaller than the other kids I felt like I would die before the end of races I lost (hm, I feel I revisit this as an adult with running. Once wasn’t enough?). I had some notable successes as a writer early on, especially after the summer before 8th grade where I wrote compulsively all summer, which I didn’t know then was the key to luring out the fickle muse. One of the best things I wrote as a kid came to me out of thin freakin air and I wrote it on napkins with a pencil because it was coming so fast. And then I created a standard of work for myself that I couldn’t readily repeat as I wanted. I was a kid and I was already well aware of the muse I couldn’t rely on.
So I focused on becoming a Psychologist. Plenty of gray area there to keep me interested but no fickle muse threatening to desert me and remind me I am a merely shell of my former self. And I largely abandoned writing for a very long time. I did some college writing classes but even then I was afraid of the teasing of the fickle muse.
I needed you, Elizabeth Gilbert:
Big Magic, The First Book You See in a Bookstore (Popsugar)
Even how this book came to be in my life was magic. I walked into the money pit that is our local independent bookseller after hanging out to see if they wanted me to testify in family court in the dead of winter for hours. And there it was. I didn’t buy it then, but I saw the colorful cover in the foyer, not even the actual shop. I wasn’t ready.
And I am not completely supportive of Gilbert taking the focus off her dying friend lately to be like oh I am in romantic love with you and I finally decided to tell you.
I needed this book more than The Artist’s Way. I liked The Artist’s Way, don’t get me wrong, and that was the first book I read about the spiritual aspects of creativity when I first chose to return to writing. Morning pages at the time were instrumental in helping me to process a disastrous relationship without which I would not have been ready to build a relationship with my husband, who I met four months later. But Big Magic had the message I needed of don’t be so rigid and so serious. The most important thing is to show up. And let go and let the powers that be. Enjoy and follow your curious and creative whims. Take it seriously but realize that it is a game. And absolutely don’t make your creativity responsible for your daily living.
I could be in a different place if I worked on writing when I could in the gaps of my schooling, but then I may have felt that writing was my true calling, not Psychology, which is also a calling for me. I love it. As with many writing advice books, it is a funny book, like Bird by Bird, although I felt that Bird by Bird more focused on the inevitable neuroticism that is comorbid with creativity. Even though Gilbert insists, and I agree, that creativity is largely a positive and uplifting force, it makes you crazy too, even after (perhaps especially after) it sprinkles on the largest of gifts, which to me would be a publishable piece. Like, don’t expect it to save you from yourself all the time. This was the advice I needed on how to think about and manage the requirements of keeping creativity alive in my life. As a young adult we want to know we are heading back to stability, as much fun as it was to be without some responsibilities. I saw writing as a way to prolong the instability of life and I did not want that. It was never meant to be that for me and maybe Gilbert would argue for anyone. I could have been more comfortable with my creativity for longer periods of time if this book had shown up sooner.
A final vignette: I got high praise from a writing professor in college and I ran home and called my Dad (the writer I got it from, the man who I watch show up to his poetry on a daily basis before he is out of bed in the morning) and my Mom picked up. My mom’s understanding of my creative pursuits has been spotty at times. And I said “Mom, am I majoring in the wrong thing? Should I do writing over Psychology?” and my mom said “You can’t become a Psychologist without school. Do Psychology now, become a writer later.” And I was like, ok. I felt that was my message to stay on my path (because at what, 19-20 years old you think you have one path that you are married to and if you wander off it your life will careen toward all sorts of unimaginable/unforeseen destruction where you will ultimately NOT BE OK…I did get some treatment to help with that, and I help kids transitioning to adulthood with that).
A more general thought of spiritualism (A Book Guaranteed to Bring You Joy, Popsugar):
The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
Choosing a book because you believe it will give you joy is enormous pressure for a book. I am sure Coelho didn’t lose any sleep about it, as this book, as it has nearly ten thousand reviews on Amazon with a 4.5 average rating. That rating is even after the people who were not destined to find joy in it let the Amazon world know of its “lack of redeeming literary qualities” and “quasi-religious mumbo-jumbo” and I have to stop reading these comments because they are annoying me. This is a fable, a basic text meant to teach. It is set in a different time with different values. You could apply the same criticism to Siddhartha, which is considered a classic.
I thought this book might be good because some high schools around here assign it, and I have had some kids with some real struggles tell me it made them feel good and it was important. And that is all the endorsement I need. Sharp literary criticism need not apply here.
My favorite message from this is that the universe conspires to give you your hearts desire. I mean, ‘hearts desire’ needs some real exploration to determine here, as many chemical processes/accidents in the brain can make us think that something is our hearts desire that could destroy us. I guess that would be our brain’s desire. But there are plenty of positive and society contributing hearts desires we can think of. I needed this as a kid too to know that once I was an adult I wouldn’t be so alone. I had this misconception that I see in kids now that adulthood will be more responsibility, but only equipped with the skill set, knowledge and perspective that I had as a teenage kid. A frightening prospect. So, knowing the universe might help me along to becoming a healer may have been comforting at times I was about to NOT BE OK. And the universe did help me, ‘hokey’ perspectives be damned. I literally walked into the research apprenticeship I needed to become a viable candidate for graduate school programs. Walked my butt in. My professors were like, don’t you have questions? Don’t you want to think it over? Nope, when do I show up?
I like feeling like the universe is there for me.
I want to hand these books out to all my creative teens.
Comments/likes/shares are always welcomed.