Book Club: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, Persistence

Join us for a discussion of part 4 of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling book, Big Magic: ‘Persistence’

Something I’ve begun to notice about this book: it’s author, Elizabeth Gilbert, will make a potentially polarizing statement — nearly the entire ‘Permission’ chapter, for instance, and in this one, ‘Persistence’: “creative fields make for crap careers” — a statement or opinion that could make steam come out of your ears if you let it, before following it up with a perfectly charming and reasonable story or antidote that once again draws the reader back in. ‘Elk Talk’, for instance. The polarizing statements make sense, early on in Big Magic, Gilbert makes sure to point out that really this book is written for her. If we can glean something from it, great, if not, no biggie. This is what I keep having to remind myself when I’m tempted to put it down all together. Reading this book is sort of like listening to an incredibly smart, incredibly creative, incredibly drunk person at a party. Sometimes it’s like, “Yes! What genius! How have I not realized this about my own creative power before?” And sometimes you just want to walk away, insulted by the veiled insult just hurled your way.

‘Persistence’ contained a lot I could relate to, especially the portion devoted to perfection. As a young art student, I was a terrible painter. I loved it sometimes, but it wasn’t my strong suit, and the barriers I set up for myself almost guaranteed failure. The biggest barrier of them all was perfection. In order for me to paint, the stars had to practically be aligned, the planets in perfect sync. I needed a clean space, the right music, the right clothes (I had a jumpsuit especially designated for oil painting nights), and most of all — no roommates in sight. This was a recipe for disaster. First of all, I lived with 7 people. For there to be a night with no one around would have meant the apocalypse was upon us. It just wasn’t going to happen. I made my way through the required painting classes, but really never allowed myself the freedom to explore what I was capable of. Years later, I’ve learned to release my grip on perfection, but it’s still something I struggle with in my creative life. In reading ‘Persistence’ — and really the entirety of Big Magic — the larger message, to me, is just do it. Deal with the hangups, accept disappointment, and if you don’t have one already — develop a thick skin (I can tell you, art school helps with this last one. One of it’s many virtues).

However, I’m apt to disagree with the author’s opinion that creative careers are “crap careers” (way harsh, Gilbert. Way harsh.) Yes, I will tell you — from experience — that there are aspects that really are crap. But I’m fairly certain that any career or vocation contains it’s own crap. It’s not always going to be brilliant, but if you want a career in the arts or some other creative road then go for it. Yes, the whole “get a job doing what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” saying is a crock, but if you get a job doing what you love, it’ll at least soften the blow of having to get up each morning and depart for work. Of course, I also think that sometimes you have to just deal with the circumstances and work whatever job you can get, and it’s here that I believe Gilbert’s advice is spot on. I love reading about her various jobs, from working on a ranch to working at a diner. There are lessons to be learned everywhere, and if you allow those lessons to inform your work, you might just be stronger because of it.

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+ What did you think of ‘Persistence’? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments!

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  1. i am an architect, a calligrapher, and pretty recently became a yoga teacher. I began teaching and when the end of the month came and i realized I had been paid for doing what I love the most was one of the most eye/heart opening experiences of my life. In that moment it finally made sense the “get a job doing what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” (I never believed it to be truth). So I dare to say it exists! its just a matter of time and never stop searching. :)

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