Sometimes, you come across something that completely changes you, the way you see the world and the part you play in that world. This happened to me the other day, when I stumbled across “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2009 TED talk.
I’ve seen TED talk videos here and there over the years. Normally, they scroll across my Facebook. I’d watch that particular video and move on with my day. Earlier this week, while watching a video on the TED website for a class, I suddenly had the thought, “I wonder if they have writers and authors speaking on these videos?”
(In other words, I was procrastinating school work.)
So, I signed up for an account, continued browsing and I landed on a talk featuring Gilbert. Nineteen minutes and twenty-four seconds later, my entire view of what it meant to be a writer and an artist changed. I should mention, I haven’t read “Eat, Pray, Love” yet. Of course, I’ve heard of it. I didn’t know when I started that video, she was its author. As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I have been behind on my reading game for many years, so I have a lot of catching up to do.
In her talk, Gilbert talked about the shift from artists having a “genius”, as believed by the Romans, to being the “genius”. She touches on the perception that all artists are tortured souls, suffering for their art and how that perception has led to the idea that we should be afraid for the well-being of anyone who considers pursuing a career in the creative arts.
I’ve battled this notion most of my life. This idea that following a journey as a creative writer should be something to fear. Until recently, that fear held me back. I kept letting the years slip by, afraid to try because I was fearful I wasn’t good enough to “make it”. That I wasn’t tortured enough to be a “true artist”. But the reality is, I never aspired to be the tortured artist. I aspired to simply write. It’s the only time in my life I don’t feel like I should be doing something else. It’s the only time in my life I feel right. If through what I write, I am one day thought of as an artist – that, in some way, my writing touches someone to the point they view it as art – then that would be very cool. But in the meantime, I just really want to make a living writing. And that’s okay, too.
The reality is, there are no guarantees when you decide to follow a career path, that you will be successful in that career. There are no guarantees you will make it rich or that you will be heralded as the top person in your field. Yet, for some reason, which Gilbert attributes to the reputation creatives have earned over the years, people considering a career in the Arts are met with skepticism, instead of support. And I happen to agree with her views on the subject.
Which brings me back to Gilbert’s discussion about the definition of genius in classical Roman times, which is defined as an attendant spirit of a person or place. I’ve always called it moments of inspiration or “chasing the writer high”. I’ve experienced those moments, where you are lost in what you’re writing and it just flows out of you onto the page. Then you look down and you have all these words written and you’re really not sure where they came from. It sounds kooky to my non-creative friends and family. I get that, but it does happen.
The problem is, it doesn’t happen all the time. Most days, when I sit down at the computer or with my notebook in hand, I am putting those words out painfully one-by-one and usually cursing my inner inspiration, or muse, or “genius” for not giving me a little hand. But I learned a long time ago not to wait around for it to happen if I want to get anything written.
Except, when I was writing the news, it wasn’t all coming from me. I was writing about a real event or real person so the words came easier. Now, writing creatively, I still found myself questioning whether I had “what it takes” to do this because those moments of inspiration didn’t come with any more consistency than they did when I was creatively writing as a hobby. It’s been on my mind a lot over the past weeks.
To stumble across Gilbert’s talk, not knowing who she was, yet needing to hear exactly what she said – well, I’m going to take that as a little shot from my inspiration and do exactly what Gilbert suggested. Just show up. Do my job. Write. Let the, whatever happens, happen.
And now I have a book to read.
And more importantly for me right now, more books to write.
Also, watch her talk below.