Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Creative Process; The Gift of Creativity

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the best-selling memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia. One of my book groups chose to read this book last year and I did enjoy it. It was a memoir about a woman trying to find balance in her life. She found it by, first, living in extremes. First she traveled to Italy and lived there for three months exploring pleasure (especially the pleasure of eating and drinking but also the pleasure of learning a new language and meeting new people). Then she moved on to India where she went to the opposite extreme and lived in an Ashram. Finally she went to Bali and tried to balance pleasure and devotion.

Elizabeth Gilbert was just at the 2009 TED conference and gave a talk on some of the things she's thinking about these days - mostly the idea of genius. But she is not thinking about genius as we usually conceive of it in this day and age. She is thinking of genius the way the ancients conceived of it - the kernel of creativity within us.

Lewis Hyde discussed this in his book The Gift. It was an important but small part of this book. Here is my description of Hyde's discussion:

Hyde spends time talking about the the ancient concept of the idios daemon, which the Romans referred to as each man's genius, a completely different concept than what we refer to as genius today. This was a man's personal spirit and to labor in the service of your personal spirit was an accepted part of the ancient world. On his birthday a man would receive gifts but would also sacrifice to his own genius so that when he died he could become a familiar household spirit and not a restless ghost who preys on the living.

"The genius or daemon comes to us at birth. It carries with it the fullness of our undeveloped powers. These it offers to us as we grow, and we choose whether or not to accept, which means we choose whether or not to labor in its service. For, again, the genius has need of us. As with the elves, the spirit which brings us our gifts finds its eventual freedom only through our sacrifice, and those who do not reciprocate the gifts of their genius will leave it in bondage when they die."

According to Hyde it is the sense of gratitude that causes a man to labor to bring forth the gift provided by his genius.'

I found Elizabeth Gilbert's perspective on genius interesting because she talks about it not only as a source of undeveloped powers but also as a source of anxiety for the artist, particularly the writer. And her conclusion is that a writer must stop worrying about genius, must think of it as being outside of herself and must think of it as a Gift to be enjoyed when it is there. I specifically liked that she counseled writers to address the invisible genius. So, for instance, when she was in the worst moments of writing her book and was sure it would be The Worst Book Ever - she addressed the invisible genius and basically said, "Look, if this is going to work you are going to have to do your part. But whether you do it or not I'm going to continue writing- because that's my job. Let the record show that I showed up for my part of the job."

Here it is: