Going Outside of Ourselves for Genius; Who is the Muse?

Gilbert sharing some interesting view on creat...
Gilbert sharing some interesting views on creativity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I’m listening to my muse;” or after being complimented for a stroke of genius in her work, a poet has sometimes been known to say something like this, “It just came to me from somewhere; the poem almost wrote itself.”  Are these ideas contradictory to the spirit of this modern age of enlightenment we find ourselves in? Surely we don’t really believe in muses any longer, or mystical creatures who whisper in our ears? There are no scholars claiming to channel the word of God onto parchment, or chisel it into rocks. Well, some may well be but we recognize them as mentally unstable. We have gotten beyond all that, haven’t we? Maybe we have, but should we?

Now hold on a moment before my atheist friends leap to their feet, let me clarify. I am not making a case for god or the supernatural here, but I am saying that as far as creative work goes, there is a lot of mystery still about how we become inspired. Where do these ideas come from that were not there when we first sat down to write? Is it being in touch with something greater than ourselves, or is it the right brain secretly telling the left brain what to do?

I bring that up as a possibility, not just to prevent alienating the scientists among us, but because a comment on the TED video I am about to show you pointed me toward another presentation that I will show you after. This first presentation though is from a lady I have quite frankly tried to avoid. She leaves messages, and sends me texts but I have yet to return her calls.

But seriously, I have worked with great effort to avoid having anything to do with the book that has been on the New York Times Best Seller list for something like 90 weeks. I avoided the movie about the memoir, called Eat, Pray, Love because to me it sounded like a maudlin Chicken Soup for the soul sort of chick flick that I was far too intellectual to fall for. If I cannot slam myself for my own arrogance, friends, how can I make excuses for slamming others? And really, I need something to back me up for some poetry talks coming up here on the Dad Poet, so I might as well be self-abasing now.

I wanted nothing to do with anything that sounded like the pretty decorative font wall stencils being hung on the walls of rural homes all across the world, any more than I wanted the decor of white geese with country blue bows around their neck ever entering my home again (apologies to my former wife). But then tonight whilst researching another topic altogether, I came across this video by author Elizabeth Gilbert. I was enchanted, and now having seen the trailer, and knowing she is played by Julia Roberts, I succumb. I now want to see the movie. Maybe you’ve already seen this, and the movie. The book came out in 2006, the 19 minute video in 2008, and the movie with Julia Roberts in 2010.

I am not sure that I come to the exact same conclusions, but there is something about how I follow a poem to see where it goes, or if I try to get outside of myself, the poem goes better. . . there is something of that in what she says, and I think it’s worth listening to, however you chose to interpret it. I have tried to avoid being mystical myself, but maybe that left brain right brain thing can help. I’ll put the link to that entirely different (or is it) video after this one.

And next time, we will talk to my old hero Professor William Stafford to see what his thoughts on writing have in common with the modern journalist Elizabeth Gilbert. It might surprise you. TED won’t embed so click here for Elizabeth Gilbert’s chat

And now click here for a thought that might help bridge the gap between the scientist and the mystic (Hopefully tomorrow I can tie this all together).

20 Comments Add yours

  1. I don’t have time to watch the video now but I hope to come back.

    I saw the film. It was enjoyable but forgettable.


    1. sonofwalt says:

      Haha, Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate it. It was more the concepts in her 19 minute talk that intrigued me.


    2. sonofwalt says:

      A little pissed off that TED videos don’t seem to embed properly in WordPress, even though I followed the helpful advice on the help forums. Sigh.


  2. Moonie says:

    Nice to find your site
    listened to about 10 minutes of Elizabeth Gilbert. Interesting but I do not agree with her. I have lived in and around the art community my entire life. I believe true artistic expression comes from a deep rather than superficial core of the human being. Saying that I believe it is intense emotion / feeling that inspired the greats to do what they have done. Gilbert may be a best seller does that line her up in the category of classical greats like Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Dickens?


    1. sonofwalt says:

      Oh, I don’t disagree with you, which is why I want you to watch the lady in the second video. I think there is a reason why it seems to come from “out there,” and also there is some good in stepping back from our own selves a bit. . . it’s the arrogance as well as the burden of taking full credit for the beauty we produce. . . doesn’t mean you have to call that other thing god.

      Wow, I don’t usually abuse ellipses like that! 🙂 Pleased to meet you, Moonie. Thanks for stopping by and giving the feedback. I really appreciate it!!


  3. Joshua James says:

    I did a talk during my A-Level English talking about where ideas come from… After telling the class about where the ideas of some of my poetry came from eg. Tonight The Stars Descend and explaining most of my poems come from a blend of imagining the impossible and seeing the beauty in things then trying to process them into words… I made the mistake of saying about how the only PERSON who can make me write on and on was the girl I had forgotten was sitting right next to me… Talk about an awkward hour long lesson -__-


    1. sonofwalt says:

      hahaha, oh you poor boy.


  4. slpmartin says:

    Really enjoyed the video on creativity…I always talk about my Muse…oh my dear friend she is real! 🙂


  5. Colin says:

    I’m not a poet, but I think where ideas come from is a big mystery. I don’t have a metaphysical explanation for that, but I’m not sure I have a rational one either. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one. The human mind is a complex thing; layers upon layers from the pure instinctual to higher reasoned thought, and then a million different layers in between.

    I can sit in a chair, doing nothing and thinking nothing, and a whole sequence can just pop into my head – just like that. I can see everything so clearly. Where it comes from? I have no idea. Not a muse. Nothing supernatural. I just chalk it down to the strange workings of my own head. I’m not sure any other explanation is needed, because isn’t it so that if you have an explanation, then you’re sort of done with that which is explained?

    I’m not sure I want my creativity put away in a neat little box with a stamp ‘understood and processed’ on it. 🙂


    1. sonofwalt says:

      I love your explanation! Great way of looknig at i.


  6. John says:

    I am not a fan of Gilbert. I saw this video quite some time ago, and, while their were parts of it I found interesting, I couldn’t get past how much I disliked her.

    I like reading memoirs, and, I’d read several glowing reviews about “Eat, Pray, Love”, and thought I’d give it a go.

    I was immediately swept into the book, it’s writing style was welcoming and accessible. However, the more I read, the more it began to annoy me, though, for most of the book, I couldn’t quite decide why I was so annoyed. It wasn’t until the ending when I finally realized why I disliked her. For someone who is supposed to be some sort of inspirational figure, the shallowness of this woman is astonishing.


    1. sonofwalt says:

      Ah, interesting. I admit that I had some guesses at such possibilities, but as yet have not read the book or seen the movie. I was perhaps being rather hipster, in the worst sense of the word, about priding myself in avoiding what I guessed was a fad. Like you said, there were parts of this presentation that were very interesting. I’m not sure I would interpret things the way she did, but it did make me think, but combining her view with the more scientific talk below it seemed to be extremely inspiring.


  7. ManicDdaily says:

    Ha! Well, I’ve avoided that movie too – seems so privileged – and yet, I was all for traveling in India when young! (Double ha!) So thanks for your post – will look into it all more. k.


    1. sonofwalt says:

      Yes, to be honest, that was part of my problem too. 😉 And the more I watch it, it’s the second video link by the brain scientist that I find most inspiring.


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