On Being: 610. [Unedited] Elizabeth Gilbert with Krista Tippett
Why You Should Be Listening…
Do you name yourself one of those people whose work is their identity? Or, do you find a way to keep it separate? Lately, I’ve been wondering if it is better to be the latter, but realistically I know I fall into the former. I want to make art that affects and changes things—and much of that is tied deeply into my own experience and who I am. The problem is, when the inspiration isn’t there or the achievement is lacking, that can make my whole self feel like a huge ass failure. I think back to when I was younger, when creating was a part of something simply fun. When my sister, cousin, and I would make up stories and perform them for our family or record them, later having a movie screening. Or maybe when I would write horror stories and draw strange pictures just for the hell of it. Yes, we wanted to impress our artist grandmother, but nothing was really depending on it. There was no real pressure to it. Part of me would like to go back to that.
But, the other part of me knows that isn’t how I want to move through the world. Ironically enough, when these feelings began to come up, I had realized that I wanted to jump into the unknown and bet on myself to create my own writing career, whatever and whichever way that led me. It’s part of what gets me talking about mental health on this blog, especially in conjunction with career life. So much of it is wrapped up together. Despite acknowledging this truth back then, I’m still figuring out how to navigate this whole creative pursuits, career, self-identity stuff in a way that is healthy. It’s also part of the reason why I love this week’s episode recommendation, where journalist Krista Tippett, host of the On Being podcast, interviews author Elizabeth Gilbert about life as a creative, the difference between curiosity and passion, and spirituality in artistic creation.
My friend Andrea, who is a beautiful collage artist, first introduced me to this podcast back when we were sitting down for tea one day at Maman, a french restaurant in New York City. We had been talking about podcasts, and I mentioned how I was looking for more hosted by women. Afterward, I listened to a few episodes from On Being, and the one with Elizabeth immediately struck me (though you may get a few more recs from it in the future). I first listened during that time when I was really trying to map out my whole work-life identity and had just proclaimed to my family that I was jumping into a completely unconventional path and was feeling both excited and fucking anxious. Right away, I was welcomed by Krista’s calm tone and attentive, thoughtful questions. She asks Elizabeth to speak on complex realities that creatives face, in which her responses address even bigger problems.
Truthfully, I was surprised by Elizabeth’s answers. I hadn’t expected to be that into the episode since I hadn’t thought much about Elizabeth Gilbert since reading Eat Pray Love in college. I remember enjoying the book but also that it didn’t live up to the hype. I was also skeptical later on because of some controversy that came up regarding the story. I would have loved to see how Krista guided the conversation through this controversy, but that was one part that did not come up. Still, I became quickly hooked to their exchange. She opens with her quirky family history and a discussion of vocation, followed by a calling out of the problematic nature of privilege and expectation in western society’s typical identification of “a creative.” She debunks of the idea that only certain people are creatives and that a particular lifestyle or relationship to art is conducive to success or enjoyment. This culture of a “real artist” is something I have always found problematic, and I found her articulation of it helpful.
What really makes the episode, though, is that these conversations do not just exist within the realm of creation. Elizabeth’s advice is applicable to us on the core level of humanity and is so important, especially with all of the issues threatening to alienate us from each other. She even finds a way to briefly allude to Harry Potter and Practical Magic, and if you know me at all, you know I’m a sucker for anything witchcraft. I think if I stay in touch with my creative magic, as they call it, and allow my art to exist within and outside of the scope of my career, I may just be able to figure all this shit out. And I hope it helps you figure out yours, too. I’ve linked to both the unedited and edited version of this episode. I’m partial to the unedited version, but if you prefer podcasts an hour and under, the key parts are covered in the edited version.
Quotes You’ll Want to Write Down