A Conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert

Best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love celebrates her newest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Theatre Jacksonville brings bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) to Jacksonville for the first time to headline the theatre’s annual benefit event as she celebrates her newest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. On this special evening, April 25th, Gilbert will be speaking onstage at The Florida Theatre, and in anticipation of her appearance, she generously made time to talk about her work and creativity. Here are excerpts from that conversation.

Sarah Boone: Thanks so much for chatting with me today. I thought we would kick this off with you telling us a little bit about what you mean by creative living and Big Magic.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Sure. My definition of creative living is very simple. It’s any life, whatsoever, where you make your decisions based more strongly on your curiosity than your fear. That is it, and it doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a painter or musician or a crafter or any of our more narrow ideas of what creativity means. It’s a way of being in the world that keeps you open and searching, ready to change and ready to attempt things. And when you live your life that way, you yourself become the work of art. We know this because we know people like that. People who, when you’re in their presence, you feel the artistry of the way they live. And it may or may not be that they produce anything that the world ever finds out about, or that they produce anything at all, other than just a way of being that is entirely their own. And when you live that way, what you end up making, literally making, just doesn’t become as important as the way it feels. That’s what I call Big Magic, and it’s the only thing worth doing as far as I’m concerned.

SB: The subtitle to your book is “Creative Living Beyond Fear” as opposed to without fear. That’s an important distinction for you isn’t it?

EG: Well, you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve had to correct interviewers; or even when I’m being introduced on stage, how much people want that title to be without fear. And I’m like … “Hey guys, I’m a writer and I choose words deliberately. I didn’t make a mistake when I did that. That’s what I wanted it to read, because I’m trying in many ways to bust this mythology in America around fear that I think is really destructive … which is this idea that you can live a life without it.”

I don’t think anyone I’ve ever admired has lived any kind of life without fear. I say this in the book, but I’ve met some people who I would describe as fearless, and they were sociopaths. They are people who live a life that puts both them and everyone around them in danger. They tend to be narcissistic maniacs, and they don’t live a life that I envy. The people I’m moved by and inspired by, and who I want to follow, are the people who live their lives beyond their fear. Alongside their fear. Next to their fear. Despite their fear. In direct response to their fear. In challenge to their fear. In creative dance with their fear. If I can see how somebody else does that, that will help me. And that’s what I always try to model to people as well. It is a scary prospect being human. And if you can sort of find a way to engage with that rather than to block it out, run from it or deny it … now I think you’re living creatively.

SB: In Big Magic you talk about growing up and how you were “an exceptionally freaked out child,” afraid of “an extensive list of completely benign things.” I think it’s really amazing that you’ve grown into an admirably adventurous woman. How did that happen?

EG: I got bored of myself. You know, I said this before: I’ve never seen any real life transformation that didn’t begin with the person questioned getting tired of their own bullshit. I wish there was a more gentle way to say that, but you know that. I know that. You’ve experienced it. You’ve seen other people get there. Whether it’s an addict who has finally had enough of being a chaos machine; whether it’s a coward who’s finally had enough of hiding in a hole; whether it’s a people pleaser who has finally had enough of pretending to be sweet and nice; whether it’s somebody who’s been pretending to believe something they just don’t believe anymore. Whatever the thing is, you don’t change until you get tired of yourself the way you are. I think getting bored of yourself is a very powerful motivator to change.

SB: Here at Theatre Jacksonville we strive to provide a positive,

Theatre Jacksonville

enriching and safe environment for people on their creative journeys. I love that you reject the idea of the tormented artist. Can you talk about that and why you think it’s so important?

EG: Yeah. Look, I want to preface it with I believe in suffering. I’m not a Pollyanna, and I have great respect and regard for real pain. And I certainly have respect and regard for artists who are able to transform their pain into beauty, which is something magnificent to behold when you’re in the presence of it. What I don’t have any respect for is the fetishization of pain. And I don’t have any respect for a teaching that has become endemic and I would say toxic and malignant in contemporary society. Very recently (historically speaking, coming out of German romanticism and this sort of love of anguish), we have decided for some reason that if you are not in active suffering torment when you are making your art, then you’re doing it wrong. If you’re not destroying your life and the life of everyone around you, then you’re doing it wrong. If you’re not living in such a way that you could become a biopic, then you’re doing something wrong. And, if you’re not probing darkness at every moment of your work, then you’re doing it wrong. And my feeling is … Sure, go ahead and probe your darkness. I have. Unveil your suffering. I have. But if that’s the only story that you are ever telling, then you’re only telling half of the human story.

Equally important to what it is to be a human being and equally real, are such things as joy and pleasure and delight and redemption and forgiveness and wonder and awe and amazement. These are all also part of the human experience. And fun! When did we take fun out of creativity? I really trust pleasure. I actually think that your destiny calls to you and sends you clues through delight and joy, and if you ignore that, you ignore it at your peril. I’d rather follow the bliss.

SB: And that’s not boring.

EG: No, it’s not boring and it also requires courage. You have to believe that you’re entitled to joy. That’s a hard enough step for a lot of people. And you have to believe that darkness is not the only authentic human emotion. It’s one of them, but it’s not the only one.

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By Sarah Boone

Author: Arbus

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