On the Meaning of the Word ‘Genius’

IMG_8837.JPG    In Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear she describes her creative process and shares her perspective on the nature of inspiration. The whole book has been captivating thus far, but one part stood out to me in particular. Gilbert writes about the original definition of the word genius, and the way we use it differently today. She says:

“The Greeks and the Romans both believed in the idea of an external daemon of creativity- a sort of house elf, if you will, who lived within the walls of your home and sometimes aided you in your labors. The Romans had a specific term for that helpful house elf. They called it your genius- your guardian deity, the conduit of your inspiration. Which is to say, that the Romans didn’t believe an exceptionally gifted person was a genius; they believed that an exceptionally gifted person had a genius.”

There is a subtle but meaningful difference between being versus having. Psychologically speaking, it makes all the difference. If you have an external genius, you are not totally responsible for your work. If it is a success, you are obliged to thank your genius for showing up to help, keeping your ego in check and protecting you from falling into the trap of narcissism. And if you your work is a failure, it’s not completely your fault. You can blame your genius for not showing up to work that day. You can say, “Hey, it’s not my fault my genius keeps irregular hours!” Either way, the fragile human psyche is protected– protected from the perversive influence of praise and the destructive influence of shame.

Why, then, did society start calling people geniuses? Gilbert explains that during the Renaissance, a more human-centered, rational view of life emerged, stripping the world of all unexplainable, intangible phenomena.  Artists were then venerated as geniuses themselves, elevated to a higher class of creators. They had to carefully balance atop their pedestals, and all too often came crashing down under the pressure.  Gilbert lists countless artists who cracked under the pressure of being a genius. One such example is Harper Lee, acclaimed author of the American classic To Kill a Mockingbird. She was so pinned under the heavy boulder of her own reputation that she never published another book during her life time, and only after death was the sequel Go Set A Watchman published. Just think of the many stories she could have gifted the world with if she hadn’t taken her genius so seriously.

Gilbert happens to have personal experience with this issue, her book Eat Pray Love having graced the New York Times Bestseller list for more than three years. She said people would ask her how she continued to write, as if her success was a curse, not a blessing. But she never stopped writing, because writing for her was about the love of creating, not the outcome. She believes her work is a gift from her genius to herself, and if others happen to enjoy it as well, great! If not, also great! Because in the end, it’s not up to her.

What do you think? Can we learn from Gilbert’s words? Please share your thoughts in the comments below! As an aspiring writer myself, I can glean a lot from her work as I prepare to enter the professional world. Have a great day friends!

IMG_8836.JPG

Inspiration Owes You Nothing

vsco-photo-9.jpgI’ve been sitting in front of my computer screen for the past two days, racking my brain for post ideas. I kept hoping inspiration would strike in time to meet my self-imposed deadline, and that the perfect words would simply flow from my fingers like magic. After staring at the blank page for long enough to admit defeat, I decided to listen to one of my favorite podcasts, The Lively Show, in hopes that it might spark my creativity. The guest being interviewed was Elizabeth Gilbert, acclaimed author of Eat Pray Love, among many other titles. She said something that plucked at my heart strings and really forced me to think. She said:

“Inspiration owes you absolutely nothing, other than the pleasure of its company. Honor your creativity so much and love your creativity so much that you do not place upon it the demand to provide for your entire life. That is too much of a burden to put on such an ephemeral thing…keep this thing sacrosanct. And make sure you are diligently paying attention to unfolding your creativity however and wherever you can.”

I do not always pay my creativity the respect it deserves. Instead, I often bully it into a corner and force it to do things it simply doesn’t want to. Elizabeth goes on to talk about how she didn’t quit her day job until after she’d published her fourth best-selling book. Even when it looked world like she was obviously successful by the world’s standards, she didn’t want to destroy her creativity by insisting it provide.
My generation seems to think we need to strike out on our own to follow our passion, or else we’re not really living up to our full potential. Everyone and their mom is becoming an entrepreneur, struggling to make their hobby pay the bills! Don’t chase the statement Do what you love so hard and fast that you let your work become anxiety producing.

Elizabeth comments on the countless artists she’s watched destroy their creativity because they insist it isn’t real unless it makes ends meet. And when it doesn’t, they become enraged and embittered, and eventually quit their creativity all together. Putting your entire heart and soul into something doesn’t mean you have to risk ruining everything else in the process.

Freshman year of college, I was a Fine Art major. I’ve always enjoyed making art, so naturally I thought I should study it. But eighteen year old Micah didn’t realize that making art for fun and making art for a living are two entirely different things. Of course you should study something you enjoy to an extent, but make sure that enjoyment can withstand the harsh reality of hard work and criticism. In other words, are you okay if a little bit of your enjoyment might be sacrificed in the process to arrive at the final result? For me, being a successful artist wasn’t worth it if it meant my genuine love of art even slightly diminished along the way. I decided to keep art as a sacred hobby, something that can certainly influence my other endeavors, but isn’t relied upon to earn an A in class!

This is not to say deadlines and structure are unimportant- they certainly are! Nothing would ever get done if we didn’t just power through once in a while. Just remember to keep some perspective when you feel frustrated, and allow yourself to pursue other things you enjoy, even if they aren’t traditionally labeled ‘creative’. Who knows, perhaps inspiration is lying silently in wait, ready to pounce when you least expect it. As much as we’d like it to, creativity doesn’t always perform on cue. It is a precious gift that graces us with its presence every so often. This podcast was a much needed reminder to protect my creativity like I would my own child, even if that means only publishing a blog post twice a week instead of three times. I am blessed with ample amounts of creativity, so it’s my job to live a life that cultivates and cares for it!

Question of the Day
Have you ever put so much pressure on one of your creative outlets that it no longer brought you pleasure?

The ABC’s of Hildesheim

IMG_5577.jpg
I hope you’re having a happy day friends! If not, perhaps this post will make you a little bit happier. A few months ago during my time in Heidelberg, I wrote a post called The ABC’s of Heidelberg, in which I chose one experience/thought/thing in my current life to represent each letter of the alphabet. It was one of my favorite posts to write, and also one of the most popular. So naturally, I figured it was time to write The ABC’s of Hildesheim, broken up by a few photos from life lately. Enjoy!IMG_5571.jpg
Au Pair- I am living with a German family and working as their Au Pair, or nanny. I help the mom with the three small children during a portion of the day, and make life easier in any way I can. This is my first time doing something like this, and so far so good!
Birthday- I recently celebrated my 20th birthday, which you can read about here. I was a bit nervous because, other than the fact that I’m no longer a teenager (yikes!), it was my first birthday away from my family. But the community I’ve found here made sure my day was filled with nothing but joy and celebration!
Church- I am also interning for and attending a local Church of Christ, and Sunday mornings have quickly become my favorite part of the week. I look forward to interacting with the lovely church members and being spiritually rejuvenated. There is something special about worshiping the same God in another language. It reminds me our God is not American, he is universal!
Daria- Daria is the three year old of the family. She has taught me more German in the past month than in the past two years combined! She is sassy, energetic, and creative. She loves to help cook in the kitchen and take care of her dolly. I’m already dreading saying goodbye in August.
Erdbeeren- This region of Neidersachsen is known to grow some of the best strawberries (Erdbeeren) in Germany. The family and I plan to go strawberry picking in a nearby field one day soon!
IMG_5506.JPG
Friendship- Making friends can be hard in general, but making friends abroad is a whole other ball game! Add in the language barrier and cultural differences, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for some interesting situations. It definitely took time and a few steps outside my comfort zone, but I’ve made some wonderful friends here whom I will cherish always.
German- The German language and I have a love hate relationship (read more here). Everyday is an adventure, filled with small victories and failures! Some days I feel nearly fluent, and other days I feel like I don’t know a single word. Never the less, I’m confident I am pursuing a worth-while goal and I wouldn’t quit for anything.
Hamburg- My friend from home is visiting my this weekend as the final stop on her European tour! I can’t wait explore the port city of Hamburg together. Stay tuned for a post all about this adventure.
Inclusion- One thing I was initially nervous about was feeling lonely. I wasn’t sure I would be able to make friends and have any sort of social life. I’m thrilled to report that people have been incredibly welcoming and inclusive. For example, the other day I was sitting in the mall when a girl about my age approached me to ask me to take a survey. We ended up talking for a while, and she invited me to the movies with her and her friends! I went and had a great time, and it was a reminder that I usually have more in common with people than I think!
Julius & Jakob- Julius is the one and a half year old in the family. He doesn’t talk so much as grunt, which I find incredibly endearing. He is a huge fan of all moving vehicles and building things for the sole purpose of destroying them. Jakob is the one month year old! While we haven’t had too many great conversations yet, I love to cuddle and snuggle him when I get the chance.

IMG_5502.jpg
Kultur- (Culture) Hildesheim is a culturally rich city! There is always a festival or exhibit happening, so it’s impossible to be bored. This summer, the city is celebrating its 1,200 year anniversary with a giant jubilee!
Lets Start Talking- Lets Start Talking is a mission-focused organization that helps people practice their conversational english through reading the Bible. A team of five people from Oklahoma Christian University worked with the church here to ‘read’ with people in the local community. They stayed for six weeks, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them and bonding over our experience as Americans in Germany!
Mädchen- (Girls) The main focus of my internship with the church is to get to know the middle school and high school aged girls in the youth group. I have held movie nights, ice cream dates, and game days to connect with them thus far, and I can’t wait to see how those relationships develop further in the coming weeks.
New experiences- It might surprise you to hear that I tend to stay in my comfort zone. My introverted nature often makes me hesitant to step outside my bubble. But now, every part of my day forces me to take a step further into the unknown! For instance, tonight I forced myself to attend Zumba at the local gym. I was so nervous I wouldn’t understand the instructor and totally embarrass myself, but I went anyways, and LOVED IT! #noregrets
Open mind- “Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you have travelled.” -Prophet Muhammed. This quote rings true in my life, and pushes me to travel and see as much of the world as I can.
IMG_5457.jpg
Parties- Let me just say, the German people know how to party! It seems like every other day is some sort of party, whether that be a BBQ, lake side bonfire, birthday party, or movie night. I adore how hospitable and generous they are, and how they love inviting people into their homes.
Questions- I recently wrote about my thoughts on my future career. I’m half way done with college, and sometimes it feels like I should know ‘what I want to be when I grow up’ already! But to be honest, I still have no clue…and I think that’s okay.
Raps Feld- Raps Feld means rapeseed field in German. Rapeseed is the colorful yellow plant pictured above used for canola oil and animal feed.They completely cover this part of Germany, and provide the perfect backdrop for photo shoots!
Skype- Sometimes I think people either have the ‘homesickness gene’ or they don’t. Unfortunately, I think I’m one of the ones who has it! On the other hand, it means I come from a home worth missing, which I am always grateful for. Lucky for me, there are plenty off ways to stay in close contact with friends and family back home such as Skype, Facebook, or this blog!
Travel- If you’ve been hanging around this blog for a while, you know I traveled every weekend while in Heidelberg. And although that was amazing, it wasn’t a sustainable pace. Now I’m trying to live the normal ‘German lifestyle’ and experience the every day culture. But I’m not completely traveled out- I’ve visited Hannover and am planning trips to Hamburg, Amsterdam, Heidelberg, and possibly Belgium. Once the travel bug bites, you just can’t stop itching to go!
IMG_5452.jpg
Understanding- Most of the time I don’t understand what is being said, but I have developed a deeper sense of understanding for this world and the people in it.
Verse- My ‘life verse,’ that is, a verse I’ve chosen to encourage and inspire myself, is 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
Weather- The calendar says its summer, but you would never know by the weather lately. It went from summer to winter in one day, completely skipping over fall! But I must admit, I kind of enjoy staying at home snuggled up under a blanket while its pouring rain.
EXtremes- I go back and forward between feeling extremely comfortable and settled in a new culture and feeling completely confused!
Youth-group- I have been loving working with the youth group and being a part of the young adult group here!
Zzzz- I’ve finally reached the end of the alphabet, now it’s time to go to sleep. Goodnight friends, thanks for reading!
IMG_5428.jpgIMG_5446.jpg