Book of the Month: Big Magic


Elizabeth Gilbert is one of my idols.

I first read Eat Pray Love about six years ago and I remember thinking, Ugh, why do some many people like this book? It is so self-indulgent and overdone and who does this woman think she is? I tossed it aside, thought and talked about it with derision for years. Something about it stayed in my mind though, and a few months ago, I began to think I should reread it. Then, when I lost my baby at the end of the summer, I felt like I needed something to lose myself in. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything, couldn’t seem to focus on a task or a book or a project, so I decided to try out audiobooks. (I had always thought of them with derision, too, like, Audiobooks aren’t really reading! Why have I spent so much of my time being so derisive?! What a waste!) I scrolled through the available books in the library’s digital catalogue and there it was, on the first page: Eat Pray Love. Like it was waiting for me. It was a sign. So I downloaded it. I lay there in the dark, listening to Liz Gilbert’s voice, and it felt, somehow, like she knew me. Like she had seen into the deepest parts of my soul, felt what I felt, and wrote it down on paper. I lapped up every word like a woman who has been deprived of water. At one point, as I lay listening one night and Bryan puttered around our room, he went still, listening too. Then he said, wryly, “Oh no, I don’t see why you relate to this woman at all.” 

After that, I completely revised my entire opinion of Eat Pray Love and Liz Gilbert herself.

When I heard that she had a new book out on the subject of creativity, I was intrigued. Being a writer, creativity has always fascinated me. Not just how to get more of it, but simply how it works. Why do we have it? What does it all mean? I knew that Liz Gilbert was going to have some interesting thoughts on the matter.

Boy, does she ever.

My favorite one is this: ideas are sentient little beings running around, looking for the perfect person to bring them into corporeal being. Inspiration may visit you, thinking you are the artist for them, only to be rebuffed in some way: maybe you think the idea is dumb, or you aren’t the right person for it. Inspiration may visit you, and then realize that you aren’t ready for it, or aren’t serious about it, and so it leaves you. And sometimes it inspiration visits you, and you are ready for each other, and it is a wonderful relationship that results in art.

I love this idea. I love the idea that we are receptacles for inspiration, that we are not wholly responsible for generating our art, that part of being an artist is communing with some otherworldly muse that bestows its gifts upon you, rather than dredging all your ideas up from the centre of your cells, which, after all, have to be a kind of finite supply.

Her book is full of anecdotes (the Ann Patchett one will blow your mind, seriously) and quotes and thoughts on how to live a more creative life but it is mostly this: permission to just be an artist. To just make whatever the hell you want to make, despite the fear, despite the critics, despite the outmoded and dangerous idea of the Tormented Artist. To accept the gifts that your muse is dying to give you. To live the creative life that you have always dreamed of. It is optimistic but not saccharine. It comes from a playful and light-hearted view of creativity (which is not to say that all created things should be light-hearted and playful, but that the process of making them should be enjoyable, rather than painful). There is a kind of wonderful mysticism in her ideas about creativity as well that I find glorious and inspirational.

If you are a creative person (and I truly believe that every single one of us is, in some way, a creative person) then I think you will find that many aspects of Big Magic ring true for you. Here are a few great ones for you to nibble on for now:

What is creative living? Any life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.

Possessing a creative mind is like having a border collie for a pet; if you don’t give it a job to do, it will find a job to do – and you might not like the job it invents.

Your ego is a wonderful servant but a terrible master – because the only thing your ego ever wants is reward, reward, and more reward. Always remember this: you are not only an ego; you are also a soul.

Fear is always triggered by creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome. And fear hates uncertain outcome. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, however, something to be dealt with.

And there are about ten thousand more where that came from.


Book of the Month: Big Magic

one thousand and one days ago

The Irish sky was black outside the window, which was fogging with condensation. The air outside was chill, though mild by the standards of a Canadian January. However, what Ireland has in more temperate temperatures, it makes up for with its complete lack of central heating. My tiny apartment was furnished with a wall heater in the kitchen, and that was it. So most nights you could find me, kitchen door closed, cuddled under a blanket on the couch or at the table, heater blasting for 30 to 60 minutes, making the room toasty warm before I felt compelled to shut it off and save energy (i.e. money). It was awful when I had to go to the bathroom; not only was the bathroom outside the nexus of heat, forcing me to escape into a horrible chill just to pee, but I had to open and close the kitchen door as quickly as possible, to prevent too much heat from escaping. But a bathroom trip meant an inevitable and quick decline from cosy nest to cold kitchen once more, at which point I would have to retreat to my bedroom and huddle under the covers.

It was in this atmosphere, accompanied by heart-crippling homesickness, one thousand and one days ago, that I sat down at my kitchen table across the ocean to craft a list of 101 goals. I didn’t achieve them all. But I certainly achieved a lot, and learned a lot, too, the biggest of which is this:

Goals should be suggestions, rather than commandments set in stone.

People grow and change. Their priorities grow and change with them. Clinging to a goal because it’s on the list, because it’s always been a goal, because I said I was going to do it instead of because it speaks to my soul, are really silly reasons to do anything. I’ve changed a lot over the past two years and eight months. I would go so far as to say I am a totally different person than I was then. Would it make sense, then, to cling blindly to the goals of that Past Me over the goals that make more sense for Present Me? Probably not.

And so that is what I took away from the 101 in 1001 challenge: allow yourself to grow and change. Be flexible. Be aware. Be ever present. Because when you are those things, you will always be self-correcting, and it will be easier to say, “No, this does not fit me anymore, I am going to let it go.” And then actually let it go.

I have a pretty decent fear of heights. It isn’t insanely debilitating; I can still ride in airplanes (though I can’t think about it too much while we’re 30 000 feet in the air), I can still walk across bridges and stand on balconies (though I do, on occasion, picture them collapsing beneath me), and I can still climb a ladder when necessary (one of my fondest memories is helping my stepfather put up Christmas lights and spending a few minutes just exploring the roof of our house). But heights have certainly been the cause of more than a few near-panic attacks and hurried footsteps to get a little closer to safety.

So for a long time, I had “bungee-jump” or “skydive” as a goal. Despite the fact that my whole body would go numb when I thought about doing either of these things, I felt like it was really important that I face my fear. That I should face my fear (uh oh, should is never a good sign).

But then I started thinking, Okay, but why? Will jumping off a 400 foot platform suspended in the middle of a canyon really do anything for me besides give me bragging rights? The thing is…I am okay with my fear of heights. I push it a little bit when necessary. It doesn’t stop me from living my life the way that I want. And so I said to myself, “I think I am going to let this one go.”

So I am not too perturbed by the fact that “skydive” sits forlornly on my list, uncrossed off and ignored. Sorry, Skydive, but you won’t be on the next list.

My list was a great way to stay focused on some of the things that truly mattered to me: finding a job that I genuinely love, becoming debt-free, and injecting a little more whimsy and fun into my life by doing things like watching a movie in a drive-in theatre, taking a surf lesson, and hosting an old-fashioned slumber party. These were all things that I wanted to do, but I might not have put the energy into actually doing if they weren’t on my list. Which would have been a shame, because they were all great fun!

It has been a long journey, from sitting at that table in my freezing cold kitchen in Cork, Ireland, dreaming of the things that I would accomplish over the next three years, to sitting at this table in my cozy apartment in Edmonton, dreaming of all the things that I will accomplish over the next three years.

They’re going to be great ones. I can feel it.

How did your 101 in 1001 journey turn out? What did you learn? What was your favorite goal that you checked off?


one thousand and one days ago

November Discussion: Throne of Glass


Housekeeping Note: I am getting rid of the forums. They aren’t being used, and I think they only serve to generate confusion as to where people should post. To solve that problem, I am going the easy route: everyone will simply post on the blog post itself. No need to create a profile, everyone can access it, and everyone’s comments will all be together. Bing bang boom. Sorry for making you create profiles for nothing. 🙁 First failed experiment, haha. Onward and upward, and onto the book discussion! 

To be honest, guys, I didn’t love this book either. D: I liked the plot well enough, and I thought Celaena’s character had real potential (a young woman who is not only a bloodthirsty killer but loves books and clothes? count me in!), but the writing really dragged the whole thing down for me. It felt so forced, so … juvenile, almost. I don’t know how many more times I could have heard about her smile/grin (vicious or otherwise) before I would have just thrown the book against the wall in utter exasperation. And can I just say: I am sick to death of love triangles. They are boring. 

I’m really hoping for a book I can enjoy for next month!

Anyway! I’m excited to hear what you guys thought. Did you love it? Hate it? Want to marry it? Tear it to pieces? Did it make you laugh? Cry? Swoon? Make you want to become an assassin? Here are some of my thoughts to kick it off:

  • I love how female-centric this story is, with Celaena, Nehemia, and Kaltain at its center. All three are complex characters with complicated agendas and desires, and that, in my opinion, is enough to make this book worthwhile, even if there wasn’t a whole lot else about it that I liked.
  • The whole thing with Celaena keeping her identity secret seems ludicrous to me. Did people really not know who she was? They weren’t even careful about not mentioning her real name! She sent a note to the Crown Prince and signed it Celaena Sardothien, for God’s sake. One of the guards addresses her as Miss Sardothien on her way to the masked ball. I understand that there is some tactical advantage to concealing her identity; as Chaol tells her, since the other Champions don’t know who she really is, they don’t pay any attention to her and don’t consider her a threat. Advantage. What baffles me is that Celaena can’t seem to see this. She complains about it all the time. She doesn’t strike me as a stupid girl and this isn’t exactly military genius levels of subterfuge here, so what’s the problem? Not only does she complain about it, though, she actively blows her advantage by doing things like flinging herself off of buildings to save other Champions. I don’t blame her for her altruistic impulse, but then why bother continuing to conceal her identity? The tactical advantage was kind of lost after that point. And I felt this way about many things that happened in the book: they seemed to merely serve a quick plot purpose and then cease to have any meaning at all.
  • I felt like there were no stakes! The competition was basically background noise that we revisited every few chapters for a page or two. Oh, I’m sorry, I thought Celaena was in a battle for her life and liberty here, or was I mistaken?! I barely cared about Celaena’s fate as it was (because we learn NOTHING about her as a person, her entire past is some shadowy secret that we only ever encounter obliquely), but with the competition seeming like such an after thought, and the murders of champions that we didn’t even know or care about anyway, and the fact that I just did not, for even one second, believe that Celaena was capable of being a deadly assassin…well. No stakes.
  • We are taken into a dream where this big huge thing happens (Queen Elena visits her) and yet, the full impact of that scene is lost because we have no idea who Queen Elena is until after the fact. If she had been mentioned before, even in passing, perhaps there would have been more punch to this scene, but as is, it fell completely flat because it was yet another thing that was just thrown into the story without any build up.
  • Anyone else think that Kaltain was the monster going around murdering Champions willy nilly? I think that would have been more interesting than the truth, which was, if you think about it, the obvious choice.
  • I want to know more about what happened to magic! It seems to be this really big, important thing that happened in their world, and yet we barely skim the surface of it. Why is the King of Adarlan so against magic? Why has he chosen to outlaw it? And why did him outlawing it make it magically (haha) disappear? Also, sidebar, the whole Yulemas religious ceremony sounded like a whole lot of references to magic to me, yeah? I want to know more!
  • Overall, I think this book had so much potential that was squandered on pointless exchanges between Celaena and two love interests that, frankly, she has zero chemistry with, and skimming over plot points that could have been huge deals! I felt like so many things were introduced and then never fully explored. The whole experience left me feeling like I’d just eaten a cookie that was only half-baked. And not in a good way.

I really hope that I like next month’s book more than I liked these first two. And I really hope that you guys enjoyed this one more than I did! I can’t wait to read your thoughts. Maybe you’ll have me revisiting my opinions. 😀

(PS. Make sure you vote on next month’s book selection here!)

November Discussion: Throne of Glass

it’s so unfair

We didn’t really tell anyone that I was pregnant again. It felt like a jinx.

We needn’t have worried. The whole thing was jinxed without our help, apparently.

This is my second miscarriage in two and a half months. Logically, I know that I haven’t done anything. That chromosomal mismatch is not something that is under my control. But … still. It feels like my fault. It feels like I am being punished. It feels like I should have done more.

I’m really angry, you know? I’m so angry that this is happening again. Especially so soon. I hadn’t even recovered emotionally from the trauma of the last miscarriage and here I am again, grieving once again. It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair. There are sixteen year olds out there who manage to have babies. There are forty-six year olds out there who manage to have babies. I know, I know, there are many people who have problems. I know. But I think that is deeply unfair too. Why is it so easy for some people and so so hard for others?

At this point, I don’t know if there is something wrong with me that is causing this to happen. Maybe it is a fluke. But I find myself wondering, over and over again, what is wrong with me. And what I can do to fix it.

It is all that I can do not to be dragged under by the tide of my overwhelming anger and sadness. I desperately want to thrash against the indifference of fate, to wail and scream and tear out my hair and have someone say, “You’re right, it’s not fair,” and fix it. But that won’t happen.

All that I can do is focus on letting myself heal, both physically and mentally. I told Bryan early on when we found out I was pregnant again that if we lost this baby, too, I was done for a while, and I am. I can’t go through this – any of this – again for a while. I am going to focus on things that I can control: writing my novel, getting back into running and weightlifting after a long hiatus, saving for another international trip, volunteering, taking a dance class. I am going to focus on living life and being happy, and I will do my best to trust in the universe’s timing. Now is not the time, I guess. Maybe, if I put all of my attention into other things, the right time will sneak up on me.

Here’s hoping.

it’s so unfair

ethical vegetarianism

Creative Commons © 2008 Victoria Henderson
Creative Commons © 2008 Victoria Henderson

Disclaimer: This post contains content that may get a rise out of people. That is totally fine! Feel your feelings. But please, always be respectful when expressing them. Let’s have a calm, productive discourse, like the intelligent adults we all are. Thank you! 🙂 

I have been a vegetarian for three and a half years now. It was an overnight decision, a quick change that stuck fast. I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, and was so thoroughly disturbed by everything it contained that I gave up eating meat immediately upon finishing the last page. There wasn’t a lot of dithering or weighing of pros and cons, it was a gut instinct that this was the right thing to do.

So I am a vegetarian for ethical reasons. While I recognize that animal agriculture here in Canada is not necessarily exactly the same as it is in the United States, and that most documentaries and books focus on the US, I still firmly believe that we have a moral imperative to treat animals with dignity before we kill them for our food. I still firmly believe that there are many ways that we can be better. I am not morally opposed to the concept of eating meat, not by any means. I don’t think you are a monster for eating meat, or that we are ingesting an animal’s fear, or whatever else. I don’t care that a piglet has a cute little face. I have no issues with using animals as sustenance. I have issues with treating them with cruelty before killing them for consumption. I have issues with the ethos of factory farming. I have issues with the idea that animals are lesser than us and therefore are undeserving of respect and quality of life.

But for the last six months, I have been coming back, again and again, to the idea that I should go back to eating meat. This isn’t an easy thing for me to contemplate. If I had given up meat simply because I didn’t like it, then it wouldn’t be a big deal for me to resume eating it because I suddenly had a hankering for it. But because I gave up meat from a moral standpoint, I have been struggling mightily with the idea that I might go back to eating it. At one point, I was convinced that I would never eat meat again, and that we would raise our children as vegetarians as well.

Part of the reason I am considering transitioning back to my previously omnivorous ways is, yes, because I miss meat. Just a little. When we are staying at my parents’ house and they cook up a big pan of bacon after church, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been tempted on more than one occasion to throw vegetarianism out the window then and there and scarf down a few pieces. Sometimes, I just really want a burger, you know?

But there are bigger reasons than that. And they are this: I don’t believe that abstaining from meat consumption is the most effective way for me to make my stance on factory farming known. If I am standing here, saying, “Factory farmers, you are bad, so I am going to stop eating meat!” then I am also depriving small, ethical farmers of my business. And what is more effective: being a passive bystander, or actively giving my money to the change that I want to see? I want to see more ethically produced meat, and, yes, I am absolutely willing to pay more money for it. I think that this is the way that meat production should be: less quantity, higher quality, more ethical. So I should be putting my money where my mouth is. It isn’t enough to remove my support from factory farmers: I should be transferring it over to the farmers who are doing exactly what I think should be done. If those farmers are out there, doing things right, but not getting enough support, then they are going to vanish, and we are right back where we started.

I haven’t come to a conclusion yet. It is still percolating around in my mind, but every time I think about it, I draw closer and closer to the decision to return to the land of the meat eaters. I am still coming to terms with what that means for my ethics, but I’ll get there.

For now: have you ever made a change for ethical reasons and then changed your mind again later? And if you have any resources on the vegetarianism debate, please feel free to share them.

ethical vegetarianism