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!

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Dating in College, or the Lack Thereof

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Have you heard the ‘Apple Tree’ metaphor about dating? It goes a little something like this: Girls are like apples and boys are like the apple pickers. The ‘best’ girls are like the juiciest apples that hang on the top branches of the tree, but boys are too afraid of climbing all the way up there and possibly hurting themselves, so they go for the low-hanging apples instead.

Well, I used to think that metaphor was accurate. But after two years of college, I’ve come to believe that boys have given up apple picking all together. And not just boys, for that matter, everyone has stopped casually dating. No one knows that the heck they are doing anymore.

I read this article the other day, which hit the nail on the head and inspired me to write this post. Now I am not anti-technology at all, but I do believe it has messed with the classic tradition of dating. “Do you want to go to a movie?”  has turned into a text, “Do you wanna hangout at my house and watch a Netflix?” And while that’s great and all, it leaves a lot of room for ambiguity. Relationship clarity is at an all time low. We are unable to decipher each other’s intentions and therefore end up stuck in the infamous ‘friend-zone.’ Many of my guy friends complain about being friend-zoned, and don’t know how to get out. I want to tell them Ask her on a date! When they are clear about their interest in pursuing her- POOF, friend zone escaped. If you don’t explicitly communicate your intentions, she has no reason to believe you’re interested in more than friends.

A date is not just hanging out in a group and texting nonstop. A date requires intentional planning and effort to ensure both parties enjoy themselves and walk away knowing each other better. In our defense, maybe my generation is so horrible at dating because we never actually knew what it was in the first place. We are the first generation to grow up with technology, our only role models being movie relationships.

Another reason I believe dating is on the decline is the confusing atmosphere surrounding gender ‘roles.’ Do women want to be equal or courted? Should he still pay or is that too old fashioned? Is chivalry really dead?

My question to you is: Can’t equality and courtship coexist? I don’t see why not. Just because women are seeking equal treatment as human beings in society, doesn’t mean they don’t want to be asked out on a date! And I also believe women should feel more than free to make the first move. Sometimes guys need a little nudge in the right direction, a subtle hint that you are in fact interested and they won’t be rejected if they climb the tree.

I don’t believe we are just loosing all social skills despite increased social media. I believe there is more to a relationship than a friend request. I know fear of falling is a legitimate concern that I don’t mean to belittle, but I promise the reward is worth the risk.

So go on, climb the tree. The apples at the top are waiting for you!