Books

Read it!: Big Magic

I’m trying to get my writing mojo back, and a part of that process for me involves getting caught up on my reading. Simultaneously, I figure it can’t hurt to share what I pick up along the way.

Last winter I bought a ton of books, but didn’t have time to read them. Fortunately, in 2019, the tables turned.

Every now and then, I’m going to share with you my insights into the good, bad, and the ugly side of my reading material. And so, whether you’ve read it or not… This time around I’m covering Elizabeth Gilbert’s last book.

I know I’m late to get on the Elizabeth Gilbert love train. Last year my therapist loaned me her copy of Eat, Pray, Love. (I haven’t finished it, but I need to return it.) Prior to that, though, I first laid my eyes on Elizabeth via one of her TED Talks.

I thought she had a refreshing take on life and creativity, and when Big Magic was released, the hype was hard to ignore. The subtitle alone was enough to grab my attention: Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Ohhhhhhh boy, I thought. I NEED this book. Although I think of myself as a creative person, I’ve let fear and procrastination keep me from creating anything substantial for years. (When I think of all the time since I first graduated that I could have spent writing a book, it’s a damn shame.)

As I approached Big Magic I was curious about Elizabeth’s approach. Within the first few pages, I found it incredibly easy to root for her premise. Regardless of your area of creative interest–whether you’re pursuing the arts, or your drug of choice involves math or science, when you create–when you MAKE something–you are taking a risk and daring to demonstrate your willingness to approach The Unknown. Putting yourself out there is scary. To dare to extend yourself is a powerful thing.

Ultimately, Big Magic is a prolonged pep-talk. Divided into SIX sections, and at 272 pages, the book’s length combined with its tone made it a quick, comfortable read. Throughout her book’s pages, Elizabeth encourages readers to boldly greet their creativity, embrace, and enjoy it.

She also includes a few curious concepts. For instance, consider The Shit Sandwich. Whether you’re pursuing your dream full-time or dealing with a day job, in the segment entitled, “Persistence”, Elizabeth asks the ultimate question: “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?”

When I first read those words, I smiled both inside and out. I could truly relate. As my last full-time position came to a close, I found myself questioning everything. Among other things, I actually remember thinking to myself, “None of this is worth it.”

As the book went on, I found myself supporting just about everything Elizabeth has to say. But there was one exception: In the segment entitled “PERMISSION”, I found her usesing some that really bothered me. Actually, it was beyond bothersome: I found it offensive.

When it comes to making things, Elizabeth says, “…in the end, it really doesn’t matter that much. Because in the end, it’s just creativity.” I was on high alert after reading that. And that statement wasn’t the only anti-creativity bomb that she dropped.

Now, to a certain degree, I get it. There are times when people can take their creativity too seriously. As a result of their delusions, creatives can become overly stressed. And a part of me realizes that Elizabeth was probably trying to get certain folks not to worry too much and just enjoy the creative process. That said, regarding making music, Elizabeth wrote that, “Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination. That’s all it is.”

And when I read those words, I nearly threw her book away.

Not only have there have been studies, but there are books that exist about the power of music and the effect that it can have on human beings. Regardless of which resources you choose, the authors’ statements are backed by science.

Plus there’s the fact that I’ve always taken music personally.

As a child, my mother sang in church. I remember very little about going to rehearsals with her. But one thing I could never forget is that I used to cry when she sang.

Music moved me that deeply.

That level of emotion stirred in my spirit again recently when I was watching a pianist on Instagram–of all places–playing Mozart. (Shoutout to Chloe Flower, Cardi B’s pianist.)

I’ll spare you from more ranting, but in a nutshell, when people say that art doesn’t matter, it makes my blood boil. And even when I’m not that angry, it makes me struggle to take them seriously.

Fortunately, after her comments on how unimportant art is, Elizabeth returned to her regular self. She discussed a few other relevant points, including the horrible myth that people buy into which states that artists can only create in the face of personal tragedy.

In general I felt comforted by Elizabeth’s words. These days, in spite of opportunities to shine brighter, creatives can be plagued with the temptation to doubt their own authenticity. Yet among other things, she reminds us, “…you are already creatively legitimate, by virtue of your existence among us.”

Overall, Big Magic offers readers lot of common-sense advice in a refreshing package. I enjoyed how Elizabeth framed various aspects of creativity. For instance, at one point she discussed the idea that one’s craft has to be formally studied in order to succeed professionally.

If you’re a writer, you know the drill. Supposedly, in order to be a writer, you need an MFA, or you MUST go to journalism school. Yet in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Would I read Big Magic again? If I have time to, maybe.

Would I recommend this book?

Eh…As I said before, It’s a quick, comfortable read. I like Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s seems like the type of person I’d go to lunch with. I like what she has to say about art and inspiration. Big Magic is light, warm, and mentally provocative.

Yet again, I can’t forget about the passages in “Permission” where she said art was useless. That section threw me off so much that I actually caught myself wondering about the kind of debates Elizabeth might have had with her editor.

Eventually, Ms. Gilbert encouraged her readers to “relax”. That’s very well and good, but I feel like she could have made her point without using statements that seemed to be so needlessly opposed to the book’s main objective. There are ways to tell people that they shouldn’t take themselves too seriously that don’t involve insulting their calling.

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Books, education station

Books: See Me After Class

Well, guys. I still want to work in education.

I’ll tell you about that another time. Long story short–yesterday I had one hell of an epiphany about my career. Last night I went and shopped my basement for teaching books. Thank God I didn’t burn them like I’d once planned. I found most of them. Among the pile, I was happy to see one in particular: See Me After Class by Roxanna Elden.

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This was the first authentic book on teaching that I’d ever read. The teaching-book landscape can be tough. Some volumes can seem polished to the point of stiffness. And don’t get me wrong. Those sort of books have their place.

Yet that’s not the only thing that new teachers need. When you’re in or out of the classroom and you feel like you’re losing your mind, you need a voice that can offer you perspective. You need someone who knows that classroom management issues don’t correct themselves as magically as they do in the movies.

I have a ton of other books, like Teaching to Transgress and When Kids Can’t Read. But I think Ms. Elden’s book is going to be the first one that I re-read as I get my mind back on track. Her work covers a variety of scenarios–dealing with colleagues, your “teacher” personality, marking assignments, etc. And of course, there are the myths. Have any of you teachers out there heard the phrase “don’t smile ’til Christmas”? (If you don’t work in education, you should know that some people advise teachers not to smile until before their first major holiday. No doubt, this is supposed to show students that we are serious professionals.)

Man.

If I followed that rule, my face would fall off.

See Me After Class offers readers a realistic look at teaching. I recommend it to anyone who’s new to the profession.

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Books, losing my religion

Books: Brazen

brazen-cover-sept-12-2016I remember when I first read Brazen. After an evening out, my copy was at home waiting for me. Earlier, I’d gone to Paris Lectures–an event where I’d shared some of my dreams in front of a hometown crowd. Since then, I’ve paid close attention to my struggle to keep my aspirations alive.

Overall, Brazen focuses on the impact that self-doubt can have on us as we pursue our goals. It takes faith to beat a doubtful spirit: Our passions are a gift. We need to cultivate them.

In Brazen, the author explores the connection between our dreams and the ways that we view and receive God in our lives.

This book may not be for everyone. Fundamentalists probably won’t like the author’s easygoing tone, or the fact that she mentions yoga. They may even hate that her book is interactive, complete with exercises involving a Brazen Board (the author’s version of a vision board) at the end of each chapter.

While reading Brazen, I frequently stopped to underline passages. I enjoyed scrawling page numbers at the back of the book, knowing that I would look at them later on. The author offers her readers many rare gems. For instance: One of Brazen’s chapters contains a good, solid word about clutter and self-care. I’d never thought about those two issues related quite in the way the author explained them. Quite honestly, those pages alone would have made Brazen worth its price if I hadn’t gotten my copy for free.

As far as I’m concerned, Brazen’s author did her job. In this life, you need to be Brazen and honest about what you want. The best way to do that is by being your most authentic, God-given self.

Disclosure: Brazen has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

 

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