"She was 25. Married. 2 children. Her husband was a contract labourer, working with the Government, laying roads. He laid the tar as the road roller flattened it. She sat along the corner of the road watching him while she sold cigarettes on the side to a bunch of IT engineers, taking a break. Just as she gave them their change and looked back, she saw her husband lying in a pool of blood. He was accidentally hit by a tractor along the way."
This is what Lakshmi amma told me when I asked her about her life. She continues to sell cigarettes in the same spot so that it's a reminder that she has to do what it takes to educate the sons and keep the family together.
I was a puzzled and hardly knew how to respond. Saying "I am sorry to hear that" would have not done justice to the amount of resilience that I just experienced in a flash in front of me. I smiled at her and I nodded. I looked at her in awe and admiration. I held her hand and thanked her immensely for making time to talk to me. She made me chai. And offered me a smoke. As I sat on that wooden bench holding a glass of chai, I thought about her RESILIENCE
- She knew she had to go on. She knew she would have to face the taboos of society being a single mother. She knew she had to go out everyday to earn food and find money to afford a decent quality of life for her children.
- She put all her faith into herself. She told me about how it made no sense for her to look outside for help, but turn within and find all the strength. She said that "one has all the strength to fight in every bone of their body"
- She made frugal plans. Life had to be very calculated that moment onwards. She managed her finances well. Every month she would set aside some money for a rainy day. She had given this money to a friend of hers who she believed would keep it safe. Her friend also helped her invest in a local community private finance scheme, so she was also able to earn some interest
- She found something to anchor herself into. Lakshmi akka secretly converted to christianity. She visited the church everyday and told me that she was able to find so much courage in herself after going to Church. It was her go to place. To feel energised before taking on the next day
As I work with women in Corporate India talking about Confidence and resilience, I never forget to tell them the Story of Lakshmi Akka. Of course one can say that her realities were different. Yet, I believe that we can draw from every story we hear
- Looking back at your journey, what have been some of your toughest moments? In those times what anchors have held you and given you strength?
- Who are the people in your closest trust circle?
- What is it that keeps you going and what do you look forward to every new day?
- When you look around in your life, where all do you find resilience?
I want to close with a poem from Jane Hirshfield
by Jane Hirshfield
More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, whose foam
returns over and over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another. A blind intelligence, true.
But out of such persistence arose turtles, rivers,
mitochondria, figs — all this resinous, unretractable earth.
Do leave your thoughts in the comment box and I'll be happy to begin a conversation about you.
This post is the second part of my reflections after reading Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Persistence: Keep at it, keep at it, keep at it
We persist most when we are serious about something. Gilbert encourages us to take vows with our creative lives. It’s a kind of commitment. While we’re at it, we cannot be sure that it will be a breeze. This is where Gilbert talks about the Shit Sandwich. We’ve all had to deal with the shit Sandwich now and then, the so called grunt and the so called rejections. It’s part of the process.
She urges creative practitioners to take up day jobs in order to support themselves financially to be ale to continue their creative line of work. It’s going to take us time to be able to make a living out of our creative lives. Gilbert herself admits she did not quit her job until she had written and published four books, many of which even won national awards.
Here’s where I tend to think about it differently. I’d say, yes get a day job, but try and get it in an allied field of your work. This I believe can stimulate your creative life far more than a completely unrelated job that could physically drain you out.
Time is a very significant contributor in this whole process of creative living. People generally tell me that the work will change with time, for the better. Gilbert also illustrates that the audience will change over time for the better. The same person, who did not connect with your work four years ago, might suddenly find a new way to look at your work and like it very much. So keeping at it is the only way to stay in the game.
Trust: You’re not in it alone
Do you love what you do?
Do you believe that what you do loves you back?
This mutual love and trust is what is going to keep one’s creative spirit alive. Sometimes when we’re stuck somewhere, when we feel like an idea is just not moving forward, we get this feeling that creativity is pissed off with us. We end up blaming our creative paths for how bad our lives are turning out.
Two years ago, I was devising a play as a collaboration with a Lithuanian artist. One week before the show, we had no idea where the show was headed. We had created all these bits and pieces of work, but we had no idea how it was all going to come together. We were nervous and also blamed the devising process for letting us down. However, we just kept at it and rehearsed the bits that we had put together. And as we were doing that, slowly a narrative emerged and before we knew, we were able to see patterns between the various sketches that we had put together. Though we blamed the process, we just kept at it till the end and that’s what finally helped us. We trusted it and it decided to reciprocate.
Gilbert then questions how seriously one should take themselves and their work. Like most creative practitioners, I’ve also been told that real art comes from a space of suffering. Gilbert urges us to embrace what she calls the Trickster energy vs. the Martyr energy. This is captured beautifully in these two lines
Martyr says: “the world can never be solved”
Trickster says: “Perhaps not… but it can be gamed”
Sometimes, I am also left with this feeling that I take my work too seriously. But here’s where I am going to try and embrace the trickster energy a bit to see how it shapes my work going forward. This also comes down to style, I guess. If my style is not funny, then can it be playful?
I also feel that creative practitioners tend to be a bit too possessive about their work so much so that a full stop being removed can change the very nature and intent of the piece. Gilbert asks us to think about this in the light of change vs. opportunity. And what you would pick!
I’ve had a lot of trouble changing, editing my theatre pieces. When you look at it with a delete button in hand, everything feels important. A performance of mine called Re:play was part of the Kala Ghoda Festival a few years ago. Owing to time restrictions, we had to keep the performance to under 60 minutes, when it was actually 75 minutes long. 15 minutes of edit seemed like a lot of getting rid of. But I had to let go. And I felt that at the end of it, it was not as bad as I imagined it to be. The audience response was very supportive and I also felt a great level of engagement with the performance that evening.
Divinity: It will go around and come around
When the work travels, it morphs, adapts, changes and when it comes back, you look at it and smile. For the core has remained unchanged, unshaken. It’s still yours in some way and every way.
Thanks Elizabeth Gilbert for sharing your life story and inspirations. Thank you for Big Magic.
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