Let It Come and Go - Enchantment

Big magic: creative living beyond fear - Elizabeth Gilbert 2015

Let It Come and Go

The most important thing to understand about eudaimonia, though—about that exhilarating encounter between a human being and divine creative inspiration—is that you cannot expect it to be there for you all the time.

It will come and go, and you must let it come and go.

I know this personally, because my genius—wherever it comes from—does not keep regular hours. My genius, for what he is worth, does not work on human time and he certainly doesn’t arrange his schedule around my convenience. Sometimes I suspect that my genius might be moonlighting on the side as somebody else’s genius—maybe even working for a bunch of different artists, like some kind of freelance creative contractor. Sometimes I grope around in the dark, desperately looking for magical creative stimulus, and all I come up with is something that feels like a damp washcloth.

And then suddenly—whoosh!—inspiration arrives, out of the clear blue sky.

And then—whoosh!—it is gone again.

I once took a nap on a commuter train, and while I was asleep, I dreamed an entire short story, absolutely intact. I awoke from my dream, grabbed a pen, and wrote down that story in one fevered burst of inspiration. This was the closest I’ve ever come to having a pure Ruth Stone moment. Some channel opened wide within me, and the words poured forth for page after page without any effort whatsoever.

When I finished writing that short story, I barely had to revise a word of it. It felt right just the way it was. It felt right, and it felt strange; it wasn’t even the kind of thing I would normally write about. Several reviewers later took note of how different that story was from the others in my collection. (One critic, tellingly, described it as “Yankee Magic Realism.”) It was a tale of enchantment, written under enchantment, and even a stranger could feel the fairy dust in it. I’ve never written anything like it before or since. I still think of that short story as the most superbly formed hidden jewel I’ve ever unburied in myself.

That was Big Magic at play, unmistakably.

But that was also twenty-two years ago, and it has never happened again. (And believe me, I’ve taken a lot of naps on a lot of trains in the meantime.) I’ve had moments of wondrous creative communion since then, but nothing so pure and exhilarating as that one wild encounter.

It came, and then it went.

What I’m saying is this: If my plan is to sit around waiting for another such unadulterated and impassioned creative visitation, I may be waiting for a very long time. So I don’t sit around waiting to write until my genius decides to pay me a visit. If anything, I have come to believe that my genius spends a lot of time waiting around for me—waiting to see if I’m truly serious about this line of work. I feel sometimes like my genius sits in the corner and watches me at my desk, day after day, week after week, month after month, just to be sure I really mean it, just to be sure I’m really giving this creative endeavor my wholehearted effort. When my genius is convinced that I’m not just messing around here, he may show up and offer assistance. Sometimes that assistance will not arrive until two years into a project. Sometimes that assistance will not last for more than ten minutes.

When that assistance does arrive—that sense of the moving sidewalk beneath my feet, the moving sidewalk beneath my words—I am delighted, and I go along for the ride. In such instances, I write like I am not quite myself. I lose track of time and space and self. While it’s happening, I thank the mystery for its help. And when it departs, I let the mystery go, and I keep on working diligently anyhow, hoping that someday my genius will reappear.

I work either way, you see—assisted or unassisted—because that is what you must do in order to live a fully creative life. I work steadily, and I always thank the process. Whether I am touched by grace or not, I thank creativity for allowing me to engage with it at all.

Because either way, it’s all kind of amazing—what we get to do, what we get to attempt, what we sometimes get to commune with.

Gratitude, always.

Always, gratitude.