Immersed in a 24/7 culture that expects everything to be ready and available, anytime, anywhere, I watch my assumptions.
See that with my own creative life, I can set an expectation that I am the engine behind the production line, pumping out countless goods. And they better be good. Manufactured to perfection. Ever-ready to be consumed and distributed. I am an artist and my job is to produce.
Or is it?
I watch these unrealistic expectations squeeze all life force from the creative process. Rid every bit of magic from the experience of shaping something from nothing. It’s a delicate dance, not one that will fit within the confines of automation, emerging on demand.
Yesterday I was privy to a fascinating discussion on this topic by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of the acclaimed book, “Eat, Pray, Love”, among others). In her talk she reconsiders the source from which our creative well springs (and she suggests that each of us can tap this – not just “artists”).
The entire 18 minute “TED Talk” is great (I’ve posted it below) but I was certainly struck by her sharing of the dancer who touches Grace, and then lands back down into a very certain humanness once again:
“…O.K. — centuries ago in the deserts of North Africa, people used to gather for these moonlight dances of sacred dance and music that would go on for hours and hours, until dawn. And they were always magnificent, because the dancers were professionals and they were terrific, right? But every once in a while, very rarely, something would happen, and one of these performers would actually become transcendent. And I know you know what I’m talking about, because I know you’ve all seen, at some point in your life, a performance like this. It was like time would stop, and the dancer would sort of step through some kind of portal and he wasn’t doing anything different than he had ever done, 1,000 nights before, but everything would align. And all of a sudden, he would no longer appear to be merely human. He would be lit from within, and lit from below and all lit up on fire with divinity.
And when this happened, back then, people knew it for what it was, you know, they called it by its name. They would put their hands together and they would start to chant, “Allah, Allah, Allah, God, God, God.” That’s God, you know. Curious historical footnote — when the Moors invaded southern Spain, they took this custom with them and the pronunciation changed over the centuries from “Allah, Allah, Allah,” to “Ole, ole, ole,” which you still hear in bullfights and in flamenco dances. In Spain, when a performer has done something impossible and magic, “Allah, ole, ole, Allah, magnificent, bravo,” incomprehensible, there it is — a glimpse of God. Which is great, because we need that.
But, the tricky bit comes the next morning, for the dancer himself, when he wakes up and discovers that it’s Tuesday at 11 a.m., and he’s no longer a glimpse of God. He’s just an aging mortal with really bad knees, and maybe he’s never going to ascend to that height again. And maybe nobody will ever chant God’s name again as he spins, and what is he then to do with the rest of his life? This is hard. This is one of the most painful reconciliations to make in a creative life. But maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so full of anguish if you never happened to believe, in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you. But maybe if you just believed that they were on loan to you from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life to be passed along when you’re finished, with somebody else. And, you know, if we think about it this way it starts to change everything.
This is how I’ve started to think, and this is certainly how I’ve been thinking in the last few months as I’ve been working on the book that will soon be published, as the dangerously, frighteningly over-anticipated follow up to my freakish success.
And what I have to, sort of keep telling myself when I get really psyched out about that, is, don’t be afraid. Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, for just one moment through your efforts, then “Ole!” And if not, do your dance anyhow. And “Ole!” to you, nonetheless. I believe this and I feel that we must teach it. “Ole!” to you, nonetheless, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.”
So, Ole! to you, for showing up to share in this journey – this following of the Thread here in these Archive posts. Some rare days, I may be graced by the Muse. Others, it is just an exercise in humble dedication to the process of showing up to the page.
May we all keep our appointment with this present moment. Open to our imaginations. Let go of expectations. Watch Grace unfurl, however fleeting. Celebrate the magic when it comes.