I have a story for you.
Two days ago I received a gift, an early Christmas present, before I headed home for the holidays. It was a book called Big Magic, and it was written by Elizabeth Gilbert.
Now, for those of you who don’t know the history of my blog, it used to be called “Read, Play, Write—it’s like Eat, Pray, Love but less impressive.” There once was a nice explanatory page about the genesis of “Read, Play, Write,” but I accidentally deleted it nine months ago and couldn’t bring myself to rewrite it because I was afraid I would never capture it in quite the same way, so I didn’t try.
Today, blessed day, I FINALLY figured out how to recover what was lost, and I’d like to share it with you now. Here is the story of “Read, Play, Write.”
When I read Eat, Pray, Love (for the first time), I felt like Liz Gilbert was sitting me down saying, “Here is my book. The first two chapters are going to be like reading about your own life, and you’re going to fall under the misguided notion that we’re, like, the same person. Everything I write about beyond that—the eating, the praying, and the fortune-telling Balinese man—are going to inspire you and drive you to discover it for yourself.”
I started this blog while on a sabbatical from my graduate school program. I fled from school under the guise of escaping the New England winter, but really, it was to get over a broken heart. I returned to my home in New Mexico where I spent time reading, writing, and playing (mostly tennis). More than that, I made an effort to learn about myself and tried to become a better, stronger me. At the time, I never thought that I would follow Liz’s literal footsteps and travel the world, but a year later I was living in New Zealand, visiting Bali, and getting my palm read by the same Ketut Liyer in Eat, Pray, Love.
Now my hope is to keep traveling, to keep writing, and to keep searching for what Ketut promised me would be a very successful life.
Part of that, though, includes figuring out what I want to DO (and I think my parents would support this endeavor). What is my passion? How do I translate that into a career? And how can I use that career to help others?
This blog has followed the transformation of an early-twenty-something girl who was struggling through a thesis, running half-marathons, and playing an ungodly amount of tennis, into a late-twenty-something girl who’s uprooting her life, traipsing around the world, and still running from the same broken heart she had four years ago.
I guess the missing piece in my story is the final tier of Gilbert’s book. Perhaps I am writing her story after all.
Now, I’d like to point out that even though I wrote those words, this is the first time I’m seeing it in nearly a year. It’s like opening a time capsule and finding a letter to myself that I can begin to answer. And it makes the story I want to tell you today that much more relevant.
Six months ago, I visited a little island in the northeastern part of Greece called Thassos (you maaaay have heard me mention it*), and I can easily say that the experience ruined me.
*once or twice per day, and in every blog or article I’ve written since I returned
Perhaps the more polite way of phrasing it was that “it changed me,” but all experiences change us in some way; this was an inside-out, upside-down, what’s-happening-to-me kind of change. When I boarded the plane to come home, I felt as though the life-giving force inside of me rushed out in an effort to stay. My steps became increasingly heavy. I couldn’t cry. I could feel nothing but regret, regret for leaving before I was even gone. I came back to the United States in a fog, with nothing to look forward to. I didn’t even know if I could return to Greece because Thassos already existed as a memory, a jewel that was perfect, and the only thing happens when we try to recreate memories that are perfect is that we ruin them.
And so it was that Greece ruined me.
However, the moment I landed into Boston and turned my phone on, I saw an email from my magazine editor that contained information about a Fellowship for Rhode Island Writers. Basically, every three years this foundation gives away $25,000 to “emerging” writers in Rhode Island to allow them the time and energy to devote to their craft, and my editor thought I should apply.
Out of the darkness, light.
I didn’t sleep for a couple of weeks, trying to go to work and learn new choreography for the gym and creating a portfolio for this application, but I somehow got it all finished and submitted and was told I would hear back in January.
I’ll save you the suspense by saying I already heard back, and I didn’t get the Fellowship. Last week I received one of those heartless “we regret to inform you… a highly competitive award process… very talented applicants” blah blah blah emails, and after I cried in my cubicle for a while, I realized something.
(Actually, one of my friends pointed it out.)
Maybe just the act of applying for the Fellowship was enough. The questions I was forced to answer made me evaluate what I want in my life—what I would do if I had an extra $25,000 lying around—and there were two things:
1) Go back to Greece
But things are now complicated because, hey, I don’t have an extra $25,000 lying around. Was this the universe’s way of telling me I’m not meant to be a writer? That I’m not meant to go to Greece? That I’m not meant to be a writer who writes about Greece?
Then came Big Magic.
This 273-page hardback book was one that I nearly left behind because it seemed too cumbersome to travel with. I only had a vague idea what it was about from the person who’d gifted it to me, and honestly, it sounded a little self-helpy. Much like I resisted reading Eat, Pray, Love until my roommate insisted, “You REALLY need to read this. You’re going to like it,” I resisted Big Magic. I love Liz Gilbert, but I actually hadn’t read any of her new books for the same reason I feared going back to Greece: I had a perfect image of her writing that I wanted to preserve. I tried to re-read Eat, Pray, Love a couple of years ago and had to stop after “Pray.” I just wasn’t ready for her other books.
Anyhow, I read Big Magic yesterday from start to finish.
On each of my planes I read 100 pages. It was as if Liz Gilbert was sitting me down, saying, “Here is my book. You’re going to think it’s written for you, and it is. These are things you need to hear, right here and right now, about inspiration and fear, about being rejected and persevering. Remember: it’s not about the fame and recognition. You’re writing for you. You’re writing because it’s how you create. You’re writing because it’s fun.”
For goodness’ sake, her book opens with a story about Jack Gilbert, a brilliant, charismatic poet who disappeared for ten years at a time, reemerging to publish best-sellers, and then hiding again. And where was his first destination? Why, Greece, of course.
By the time I was half-way through the book, I knew this was going to be one of those moments that I mark in history as the day I made a decision. I had that “I’m at a crossroads” feeling, and Gilbert pushed me firmly in the direction I hesitantly wanted to go. I will make time to write. I will believe that there is a reason for my madness. I will remember to trust.
I asked for passion, and I found it. I asked for something to DO with my life, and I found it. Maybe writing will never be how I make my income, and maybe that will disappoint my parents and make my graduate degree nothing more than super fancy toilet paper, but should I ever doubt that it was worth it? Nope.
New Year’s is right around the corner and this year, my resolution is simply this:
“Do what you love, and do it often.”
Liz Gilbert, you found me yet again, and I thank you.
The best part? Today marks the 5th year anniversary of the day I created my blog. Coincidence? I think not.
I think that’s Big Magic.
6 thoughts on “An Encounter With Big Magic”
Thirty in Thassos.
Yes, David! You coming??
I believe in you! Do what you love! Education is not a piece of paper. Education teaches us all how to learn. Learning allows us to live and love with more meaning. Each day, moment, or experience is a turning of the pages of this blessing we call life! Live to love again and then love to live again!
Beautiful words, Mike! Thank you!
I want to read that book now even more!!
You would love it!!!