I often ask myself, "What is it that keeps my creative energies high?" My answers usually range from doing new things, taking holidays or eating a good meal or having an engaging conversation. After reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic, a lot of those ideas have been questioned. I've found myself folding the book and smiling knowingly, that I too am a victim of creative stops and blocks. In this article, I am going to share with you my reflections and moments of realisation as I read Big Magic (Article Part 1/2)
Courage: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?
In the opening section, Gilbert asks us if we have the courage to put ourselves out there, to put our work out there. Your work will be seen and it will be judged. Very often, I've found myself thinking about what others will think of my work. As a theatre maker, I certainly want people to like my work, but I've also been held back by the fear of someone not liking the work. If nothing, this has just chewed away more time and thought towards editing, polishing and sometimes completely modifying my own work.
I ask myself the things I am scared about. Sometimes it’s the audience, sometimes the media & critics and sometimes.. the list can be endless if I chose fear over courage. I tell myself that putting your work out there is like exposing your mind and body to a bunch of strangers who can see and experience you, your thought and your spirit. If you can dare to do that, you’re already in the game.
When I was in junior school, I used to be an athlete, competing in track and field events. Once, after running the qualifiers I came and told my mom that I don't think I will win the finals. Very casually she asked me why I thought so. "That girl who ran next to me has spiked shoes and I am running barefeet. I am scared." My mother smiled and said, "Dont worry about what's on your leg, think about what's inside" At that moment, it seemed like a one line super motivator. I smiled at my mom and went back and won that race. My mom had subconsciously removed my fear by telling me to look within rather than outside. Today, when I look back and think about this incident as I read Big Magic, I feel like I should be using this mantra in every bit of my work. To look within and find those treasures that are waiting to be unleashed. To not lose fear, but make enough space for it, so that it becomes a collaborator and you learn to work with it.
Enchantment: What is it that keeps you constantly enchanted about your creative living?
In this section, Gilbert pushes us to believe that the world is made up of plants, animals, bacteria, viruses and by ideas. This means that we could be breathing an idea every time we inhale. But we’re going to find it only if we let ourselves be enchanted by this creative living. She tells us the story of Ruth Stone, who would be able to sense an idea in the air and run to her house to grab a pen and a sheet of paper to write it down before its gone.
Well, when an idea flirts with you, flirt right back with it. Don’t try and use your judgement or your ego and reserve it for later. I’ve always believed that I am an ideas person and that I could churn them out one after the other. Once, I was telling someone that I have a set of very different ideas to make plays. My friend got interested and wanted to know more. As I started recounting those ideas to her, I felt like I was slowly improvising because I HAD ACTUALLY FORGOTTEN THOSE IDEAS. I had failed to make note of them and at that moment, it felt like my creative warehouse had just dumped me. Well, I dint really take good care of it, did I? Now, I document, document, document. Be it a story idea or a dream or anything, I jot it down in the nearest sheet of paper, because I am not letting them go J
Gilbert then talks about what it sometimes means to be weighed down by your own success. She asks why Harper Lee never wrote anything after To kill a mocking bird. Creativity is a muscle and one should keep it warmed up, through and through. When I don’t work on creating theatre for a while, I don’t really feel good about the break. I always feel like I am losing my theatrical eye and that’s a voice you don’t want to hear when you are in the rehearsal studio.
Permission: What are you waiting for?
We don’t need anyone to tell us to proceed or give us that green signal we’ve been waiting for. Sometimes, we realise, we’re the ones holding ourselves back. If we took great joy in the smallest of things we did, that’s already a sign of you living your creative life.
Gilbert urges us to look at authenticity over originality. Every idea you come up with could have been done before in some way or the other. But just that YOU are in it now, changes it, both for you and the audience. If we’re able to keep the authenticity and bring ourselves into the work, the work will be MAX authentic.
In my first week at drama school, we were asked to make a one minute theatrical presentation of ourselves. I wanted to make an impact, so I decided I would play with light and text to create my life story using the ray of light as a metaphor. I held a Par can in my hand and went in a slow circle talking to the people at whom the light was pointed. Somehow, at the end of it, though people came up to me and said they thought it was cool, I was not very convinced. While I was reflecting on my performance that evening, I realised that I was not being myself, but just being dramatic! Next week, we were asked to repeat the same exercise as part of another course and this time, at every moment of the piece I asked myself if I was being authentic. The performance ended up being a lot more personal and engaged much better with the audience as well.
To be continued in Part 2