Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Just Discovered I Will Never Be a Genius

Last year, I watched an online video of Elizabeth Gilbert on this wonderfully refreshing site. The American novelist and widely successful author of Eat, Love, Pray spoke about the disturbing observation that creativity and suffering are inherently linked. This is probably a fact everyone is familiar with. For centuries, artists – from actors to writers to painters to musicians - have fallen prey to depression and often died young because of it.

Gilbert says that this is due to the enormous pressure creative people have on their shoulders to perform, to delight their audiences, to move mountains maybe, to keep going a step ahead and better their previous works of art. Something that they might never be able to do, and which therefore leads them spiralling down to the depths of despair and is ultimately their undoing.

The author said that to protect herself from going down a similar path she looked at how ancient civilizations had dealt with creativity. This led her to a theory that she believes in strongly. The theory, in brief, is that creative people are not geniuses, but each of them have had a genius. She likens it to having a house elf (or a genie) who appears magically to complete all the housework. She believes that the reason a creative person can create those rare marvellously magical works of art is because of the presence of a divine spirit who decides to send a message through the artist.

The fantastic work, therefore, is not the human being’s at all; rather he or she is just the vehicle for the work to reach the world. So if he or she is never able to match that quality of work again, it isn’t his or her fault – the spirit had moved on to another artist.

When I saw the video last year, I was a struggling freelance content writer (I still am, mind you) who wasn’t giving as much thought to creativity as I was to paying the monthly bills. All I thought was, ‘hey! that makes sense’ and equated it with something that I believed in – that everything we have is on loan to us from God; it can be taken away from us at any point. I don’t think I gave it much thought after that.

Cut to today. I am still a struggling freelance content writer but I’m not as worried about paying bills so I’m using my few hours of daily joblessness (“It’s the financial year end,” my clients tell me, “bear with us.”) to indulge in my long standing fantasy of becoming a story writer. A few days ago I wrote my first short story. Yes, first ever (not counting the one I wrote for this blog). I’ve never had the nerve to do it before since I never thought myself capable of it.

Anyway, I wrote. And I surprised myself. For a first attempt I think it’s pretty good. And a few other people who read it said they love it (my husband actually got goose bumps reading it last night). But when I read the story today I still feel I am incapable of story writing. I have no idea how that story formed in my head and how I could make it so interesting to my readers.

Which made me think of Gilbert’s suddenly-everything-falls-into-place theory. I’m NOT saying my story is so wonderfully brilliant or that I am the next bestselling author to look out for. Nor am I saying I am suddenly being visited by God’s little helpers. What I am saying is I completely believe that without the presence of a divine something I would not be capable of writing a single word, let alone writing a whole story, and one that a few people find interesting at that. This makes complete sense to me. Keeps the pressure off the artists and keeps them sane.

So twenty or thirty years down the road, I’m not sure if I’m going to be a hugely successful author or not, but I do know I will be always be a writer, a sane one who is not contemplating suicide. I won't get all depressed when people say "Sumira who?" and I’ll have God to thank for keeping me sane. Oh yes, and Gilbert and her theory too.

P.S.: Don't forget to watch the video and tell me what you think of her theory. Best Blogger Tips

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  1. Oh my God, that video. It's so so close to my heart. Have posted it several times on FB apart from harassing people to watch! It's so true, isn't it?

    And yes. Keep on writing. Because *that* is what you do and ole to you! :))

  2. Leaving responsibility to GOD or geniuses - I'm thrilled at this POV. Sure to keep stress off.

    And hope the geniuses keep visiting you. :)

    Will check out the video.

  3. @Visitor: Oh you should soooo watch this video. Was meaning to send it to you, coincidentally. Simply brilliant. And funny!

  4. I like your thoughts - divinity, like religion, is a matter of one's own faith. I know that one day you will be famous. You have passion and creative, both elements of success. Sometimes, the climb is just longer, but along the way you'll experience things that make you a better person, a better writer. You're a pretty good one now :-)

  5. @ Visitor: Do let us know what you think of the video. Judy and I will be waiting.

    @ KM: Yes, divinity is a matter of faith. I was curious to know your thoughts on this. So watch the video when you get the chance.

    I am so grateful for your encouragement. You are one of the reasons I am attempting this whole story writing thingy. :)

  6. The video site is asking me to download the latest flash player. I will get around to watching it later though. I promise! :)

    Your views about artists being a channel is interesting.
    I have always felt that sometimes, when we are alone with ourselves, we hear our thoughts, with greater clarity, and some of those thoughts, when penned, have more depth than others. And manages to touch more people when they in turn read those words.

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  8. hey same pinch :) for the last para
    " i know i always will b a writer, a sane one not contemplating suicide"

    if not anything, a writer, like that :)

  9. Hey Sumi.. we share a passion for writing as well as a name (a lot of people call me Sumi)! How cool is that! :D

    I love your poetry, by the way. I think it takes a certain frame of mind and sofistication to create that kind of magic with words. Your work is the kind that I can read again and again. I wish you had not changed the name of your blog though... your poems really feel like little wind chimes to me.