Recently, a Bearded Friend of mine posted a video on my Facebook page of a speech given by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. Ms. Gilbert has some fascinating things to say about creativity and genius. I recommend watching when you have nineteen minutes to spare:

In summary, Ms. Gilbert is worried about the tremendous pressures placed on a productive “creator” (ie, a creative person who has produced something significant) by a humanistic society as well as personal hubris. Being responsible for something as singular and inspiring as a work of genius is… well… nice (I’d imagine). For about six months. Then (again, I’d imagine), the shiny, self-satisfied feeling that comes from this “spark” of genius starts to fade. Sure! Everyone is praising your work. You are a star! Only then comes the moment when you realize this praise comes with a catch – everyone is now eagerly waiting to see what you produce next. I’d imagine different sorts of creative types respond to this pressure differently. For some, it may be a sort of inspiration, or at the very least, motivation to produce something equally brilliant. For others, panic sets in, along with the onset of the appropriate equivalent of “writer’s block” for whichever field in which this person is producing work. Being a writer, I’m particularly attuned to the number of suicides among prolific creators in my field. It’s certainly unsettling to know that I (along with Ms. Gilbert) work in a field rife with predecessors who simply could not handle the responsibility of “being” a genius.

Obviously, if you listened to the lecture Ms. Gilbert gave above, you’d know the solution she suggests is that people in creative fields should not think of themselves as geniuses if they happen to create something others think of as a work of genius, but instead credit what amounts to be a person’s “muse.” She calls it “having” a genius (as opposed to “being” one), which may be entirely different from the concept of a muse, but I think the main point of her speech is that perhaps we (in creative fields) should relieve ourselves of the burden of genius (or, for that matter, not producing anything that might be considered a work of genius), and whether it’s a “daemon” as she put it, or a muse, it really doesn’t matter. The point is the same.

Only, my own personal hubris doesn’t really like the idea of this, just yet. Elizabeth Gilbert and I are in different creative stages in our lives… She’s produced something universally agreed to be masterful, whereas I can only claim that my Mother and Dear Friend think that I’ve created something masterful. I want my six months of shiny, self-satisfied joy before I give over the reigns to my Genius (who shall, from now on, be known as Rupert). Rupert can have the credit for the majority of what I hope is a long and fruitful career. But I want LizHarrell to have credit for the first success. I don’t know if Elizabeth Gilbert would agree that this is a healthy alternative to her way of thinking, but I guess one day there’s the possibility I’ll be in similar shoes to the pair she was wearing when she put that talk together – and I may have to give Rupert a shout-out in the acknowledgements after all.

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