Updated: Feb 10, 2021
I am inclined to believe in the supernatural, the unusual, the divine. From early obsessions with mermaids and fairies, to later fascinations with déjà vu and intuition, to recent preoccupations with spirits and healing crystals, I’ve always sought etheral answers to my questions for the universe. It’s for this reason that I cling to Elizabeth Gilbert’s guidance like scripture.
I first heard Gilbert speak during my senior year of high school in an honors creative writing class, where we watched her TedTalk about the elusive creative genius on the classroom projector. It was an odd speech about a peculiar topic: an external source of creativity. I came to understand that Gilbert, like many ancient peoples and a number of historians, views creativity quite unscientifically. She chooses to view it as a force of magic, a mystical energy which appoints artists. She chooses to view artists as vessels for Creativity, as opposable thumbs which transcribe the whisperings of the universe. She chooses to view ideas not as fleeting thoughts, but as a species unto themselves, with will and worth and the capacity to make decisions. She believes that artists are tasked with collaborating with Ideas in order to bring them to the light of the observable world. She believes that Ideas seek a second life only artists can make for them in the hosts of novels, songs, paintings, poems, and films. When ignored for too long, she says, they move onto the next candidate.
This is a theory most people would negate due to apparent absurdity, but through her speech and in her associated book, Big Magic, Gilbert provides real folklore about her and her colleagues’ unbelievable and inexplicable experiences collaborating with Ideas and Creativity. She tells of a friend who began a novel identical to one she had abandoned just days prior. She tells of a short story that struck her in a dream and she quickly copied that never required revision. She tells of a poet who heard poems rolling over fields and ran to collect and transcribe them, sometimes nearly missing one, but catching it by its end and therefore writing it backwards. She tells modern stories that resemble ancient myths because the concept itself is an adaptation of Greek and Roman beliefs in external creativity, or “geniuses.” Some may call the notion insane, but in reality, it’s designed to keep the artist sane. Too much pressure is placed on the outcome of an artistic venture and on the ego of an artist. This pressure provides a template for tortured artists, who fall apart and fail before they’ve even tried. The personification of Ideas and Creativity protects the ego from self-deprecation as well as vanity. This, in turn, protects art and provides ideal emotional and physical conditions for it to exist tangibly.
I’ve spent my life electing to engage in creativity and opening my mind to impossible possibilities. I spend my time crafting worlds of my own while occupying the one I call home. I find an ignited peace from arranging words and phrases in sentences and clauses that tell real and imagined stories. I believe in the elusive creative genius with Elizabeth Gilbert, because I, too, have experienced the unexpected greatness that comes from the unpredictable collaboration of artist and Genius. I’ve heard Ideas whisper to me at midnight, I’ve filled notepads with the tasks they’ve bestowed upon me. I’ve written some of my best work between the hours of 4 and 6 am because my Creativity is undoubtedly an insomniac. Even in my youngest years, I’ve seen the magic of harmonious collaboration with Ideas and Creativity. It’s Inspiration— a blissful high. Your fingertips buzz, goosebumps rise on your neck. Your mind races exactly fast enough to push onward and exactly slow enough to keep up. Lines and scenes and arcs arrange themselves. It feels comparable to the clarifying euphoria of the first day I wore contact lenses: the attainment of peripheral 20/20 vision.
I’ve come to name my Genius: Bartholomew. I picture him gnome-like and elvish, crouched beside me at my desk whenever he cares to join me at work. If I don’t feel him nearby, don’t sense the Inspiration he brings, I imagine he’s on what he feels is a well-deserved vacation. I joke to my writer-friends that he’s off surfing in the Caymans. I sometimes fall victim to analogizing his absence with my lack of motivation, lack of effort, lack of progress, lack of ideas, lack of creativity, lack of inspiration. But I finally understand that it takes practice to summon Bartholomew. It takes time to hold up my end of our deal. Inspiration may be fleeting, but our art doesn’t have to be.
In this the year 2021, I am pledging to remain committed to Ideas and appreciative of Creativity. I am pledging to capitalize on Inspiration. I am pledging to believe in Bartholomew, not because he exists, but because the construct in which he exists protects me from my ego’s fearful demands for greatness. My passion cannot be fully free to create if I am too afraid of failing to allow myself to succeed. My art cannot thrive if it is not nourished with practice and faith. I cannot take pride in my work if I insist on being proud.
So, I will leave the door open, keep my pen in hand, hold my worries and insecurities at bay. I will invite Bartholomew in, and together we will actualize the Ideas that enter into our space with grateful responsibility.