Big Magic

The tag-line of Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert is ‘Creative living beyond fear.’ Anyone who has ever listened to Liz Gilbert talk will know this is pretty much what she’s about. It is a book that implores the reader to get out of their own way. It’s where a lot of us are.

It’s a place I’m in ninety percent of the time.

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Symptoms

  • Constantly comparing yourself to others.
  • Avoiding starting projects because of fear.
  • Spending long afternoons convincing yourself that you have nothing to contribute.

Sound familiar? Yes? Don’t feel bad.  Lots of people brought this book. There are a few of us around.

Big Magic is medicine for all the above complaints. It offers a way to work through your fears to become the person and creator you want to be.

Big Magic Lessons:

There is room for everyone

For many of us, the second thought after an idea is usually along the lines of I bet someone already did this. The truth is, yeah, someone probably already did. We’ve been on this planet a few million years and we’ve been telling stories the whole time. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to contribute. Yes, someone has told the story before, but you haven’t. That’s the crucial part.

If you feel the need for evidence of this fact please turn to the genre of fairytale retellings.  Are there a million of them? Yes. Have we, the blogger community, read most of that million? Yes. Would be read more? Winter just happened, didn’t it?

Misery isn’t a prerequisite for creativity

You don’t have to suffer to make art. In fact, Liz Gilbert is a big proponent of something she calls stubborn gladness. Part of this is living with the knowledge that whatever is bad for you, is also most likely, bad for your art.

I have never brought into the idea of the suffering artist. There are few things I find more annoying than when people make jokes about how their stable, happy upbringings were so detrimental to their art that they created drama to compensate.

Another aspect of stubborn gladness is resilience. It’s the choice to remain true to yourself through rejections, setbacks and failures. It’s approaching each new obstacle with a smile.

Perfection isn’t a ‘thing’

Gilbert advocates for deeply disciplined half ass-ery. This means that we should create constantly, but with the mindset that all projects have an ending. Odds are, that ending isn’t going to be perfect. There are going to be sentences, characters and chapter endings that no matter what you do just don’t quite work. But at some point you just have to throw up your hands and admit that you’re finished. Sometimes, as Gilbert says ‘done is better than good.’

Fear is always with you… and that’s actually fine

Fear is a part of creativity. Gilbert talks about how whether you like it or not, it’s going to come with on whatever creative journey you decide to take. Her argument is that if you spend the whole time fighting it, chances are you’re never even going to leave the starting line. Instead of striking out into the unknown you’ll be left sitting at the bottom of your staircase surrounded by suitcases, so busy arguing with an imaginary demon that you didn’t even notice your life passing by.

So take the pressure off.

Let fear in. Just don’t let it take control. Acknowledge it, but also remember that it’s no use to you on this journey – the demon couldn’t read a map if it’s life depended on it. If you make fear your companion and partner in your creative endeavours, it can’t hurt you anymore.

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Feminist TBR

For anyone who hasn’t noticed, lately I have got even more obsessed with women’s writing, specifically, women writing about feminist issues. I put this renewed obsession down to Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour podcast and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists. It also relates to a minor incident a few weeks ago, when I was walking home by myself, late-ish at night and a random guy decided to shove his drunk friend into me, for, as far as I can tell no reason other than to frighten me. This is far from the worst creeperie I’ve experienced, but it has me angrier than usual. I suppose it’s because in an ideal world I should be to complete a less than ten minute walk from a concert venue to a youth hostel alone without incident.

I feel like reading books about feminism is a healthy way to channel the frustration.

Summaries all from Goodreads.

Men Explain Things To Me – Rebecca Solnit

41edjJkb2DL__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_‘In her comic, scathing essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” Rebecca Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works, airing some of her own hilariously awful encounters…This book features that now-classic essay with six perfect complements, including an examination of the great feminist writer Virginia Woolf ’s embrace of mystery, of not knowing, of doubt and ambiguity, a highly original inquiry into marriage equality, and a terrifying survey of the scope of contemporary violence against women.’

You Don’t Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Out and Finding Feminism – Alida Nugent

24611657‘Alida Nugent’s first book, Don’t Worry It Gets Worse, received terrific reviews, and her self-deprecating “everygirl” approach continues to win the Internet-savvy writer and blogger new fans. Now, she takes on one of today’s hottest cultural topics: feminism.

Nugent is a proud feminist—and she’s not afraid to say it. From the “scarlet F” thrust upon you if you declare yourself a feminist at a party to how to handle judgmental store clerks when you buy Plan B, You Don’t Have to Like Me skewers a range of cultural issues, and confirms Nugent as a star on the rise.’

 

The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats and Ex-Countries – Jessa Crispin

9780226278452‘When Jessa Crispin was thirty, she burned her settled Chicago life to the ground and took off for Berlin with a pair of suitcases and no plan beyond leaving. Half a decade later, she’s still on the road, in search not so much of a home as of understanding, a way of being in the world that demands neither constant struggle nor complete surrender.’

I heard about this book on Stuff Mom Never Told You. I really recommend listening to the episode. Jessa is a fascinating lady.

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More – Janet Mock

janet-mock-book-cover.jpg‘In 2011, Marie Claire magazine published a profile of Janet Mock in which she stepped forward for the first time as a trans woman. Those twenty-three hundred words were life-altering for the People.com editor, turning her into an influential and outspoken public figure and a desperately needed voice for an often voiceless community. In these pages, she offers a bold and inspiring perspective on being young, multicultural, economically challenged, and transgender in America.’ 

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

51KOK64918L__SY344_BO1,204,203,200_‘As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.

Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.’

My Life on the Road – Gloria Steinem

9780679456209‘Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality.’

Amazing review by Ann Friedman here.

My Life in Books, part 2

Cupcakes and Kalashnikovs: 100 Years of the Best Journalism by Women edited by Eleanor Mills with Kira Cochrane

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In my last couple years of high school, I was taught by a bunch of feminists. It is no coincidence that it was around this time that I actually started to engage with my classes. After a school career largely spent staring out of the window, consumed by fantasies concerning Jess from Gilmore Girls (don’t even talk to me about Dean or Logan. I’m serious.), this was a big deal.

I was sixteen and I had a vague notion that feminism existed – I had a friend who talked about masturbation and men being the worst a lot (yeah, I think those things were connected, too) – but I didn’t really see what it had to do with me.

Then I took a sociology class in which my teacher taught us everything through a feminist lense, and I started studying this book, along with some Sylvia Plath poetry, during my English lessons. I quickly realised that what I was learning appealed to my single parent upbringing (it turned out my personal was kind of political!) and the vague notion of not-rightness that had developed in my belly ever since men I didn’t know had started shouting things at me in the street. I staunchly declared myself A Feminist. I have been learning exactly what that means ever since.

In this book, I learned about suffragettes, about women experiencing racism, war and rape. I read about being the sort of lady who sometimes takes clothes back out of the laundry basket because, over time they’ve become the better option.

Daphne Du Maurier discusses the challenges of letter writing during wartime. Her article, published September, 1940 is about what you can possibly write to your husband, son, brother or lover off experiencing the escalating horrors of the Second World War. Conversely, in a piece published in 2005 by Christina Lamb, I read of how the day after she got out of hospital after giving birth to her son, she went to have tea with General Augustus Pinochet during his house arrest. She’s a war correspondent.

I read about the drastic changes in women’s experiences, but also how they haven’t changed at all. Maddy Begtel’s ‘Forty – when the Baby was Born’ article, for example, despite being from 1930, feels contemporary in its approach.

The writing in this book is glorious. Whenever I read it my determination to be better is reignited.

The year after I studied this book, I read How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran in which she defines feminism using the following two questions:

a) Do you have a vagina? And

b) Do you want to be in charge of it?

To say I was sold was a drastic understatement.

First and Then

Devon Tennyson doesn’t know what she wants from life. Apart from her best friend Cas to fall in love with her. And for her annoying cousin, Foster, recently sent by his ‘troubled’ mother to live in her house, to leave her alone.

But neither of those things seem to be happening. Instead she has to take gym class with Foster, and deal with his budding friendship with the attractive but socially inadequate jock, Ezra.

Meanwhile Cas is off falling in love with Lindsey, the nicest girl in the world.

IMG_0287.JPGIf First and Then, by Emma Mills had come out when I was seventeen, I would have lost my freaking mind. It achieves the perfect balance between romance and good old Life Lessons. If Sarah Dessen and John Green had a baby, it would be called Emma Mills. I want to open a worm-hole and throw this book back six years to my seventeen-year-old self.

(aside: Oh dear god I can’t believe I was seventeen six years ago.)

(I just paused writing this review to text this realisation to like five people.)

‘My college essay was entitled “School Lunches, TS High and Me,” and it was every bit as terrible as you’d expect.’

So goes the opening line of First and Then. Devon is sitting with a teacher going over her lacklustre college applications. She was going for the ‘witty’ essay, but it didn’t work out so well, mainly because she was writing it during the commercial breaks of the previous night’s television. Devon doesn’t care all that much. But, I should add, she is completely charming in her apathy.

You read a lot of driven YA heroines. There are a lot of girls saving universes or falling hopelessly in love with a guy that they just have to have, but there aren’t all that many that aren’t especially bothered by it all. Devon hasn’t figured out what she’s passionate about in life yet. She’s smart, funny and confident, but she lacks anywhere to channel that energy. She’s applying to a college because she liked the picture on the front of the brochure. Even though she’s been into him forever, she doesn’t actually believe that her relationship with Cas will ever develop into something more. Devon is a witty retort followed by a shrug, and I loved that about her.

I really empathised with Devon, because when I was at school, I didn’t care much either. Honestly, I was ninety-percent of the way through before it started to feel like it mattered. What Emma Mills does really well is to explore how insular the high school world is, and how it can be hard to really care about the future when the present is the only sort of life that you know. It’s hard to imagine a new place and different people, when this place and these people have been the everyday reality for-literally-ever.

I was talking about this not caring thing with my mum a couple days ago and she said that she’d gathered that from my school reports. I always thought my reports were amazing, so I was like how?

Mum: they were fine, just a little… indifferent.

That was a revelation. Both that my reports weren’t as good as I had always thought and that I was so apathetic that I didn’t even notice.

Anyway, back to Devon. I absolutely loved the parts of the book dedicated to her evolving relationship with Foster. He’s come to live with them after circumstances with his mum had become so bad there was no other option. He never talks about it. Devon doesn’t know how to talk about it either. Her family has been stable her whole life – the biggest upheaval being Foster’s arrival – so she doesn’t know how to relate to anything that’s happened to him. And yet they manage it, in the occasionally aggressive, frequently misguided way that siblings do. The writing of Foster is beautifully subtle. I could probably count on one hand the amount of times he directly addresses his history in the book. Mills deftly navigates it, and without going into too much detail leaves us with the impression of his pain. Mostly she just lets him get on with being the weird and wonderful human that he is.

Devon’s growing dedication to Foster was my favourite part of the book. The moments are fleeting, but, you could draw a map across First and Then detailing the journey Foster takes from being Devon’s cousin to her brother. All Devon’s character development is like this. There is no flash of understanding after which all is revealed to her. Instead, you get small insights into the person that she could be. Like during her trip to her college of choice. The example of what life after high school could look like lights a fire under her that carries her through the rest of the book. She even rewrites the essay without the TV on. It’s not complete yet, but the vague outline of what she wants floats to the top of the pool of options and expectations.

And the romance… No spoilers, but a certain boy in this book may have renewed my faith in the broody types.

Just read it.