It's funny about TED Talks: how those of us that haven't had the good fortune to be able to attend have started passing these 18-minute nuggets of insight around.
It's a nice little ritual that feels as precious as sitting in on a Socratic circle: you look forward to the moment, to being with other thirsty people and hearing something that will add nuance to your perspective.
Maybe that's the only way the Meaning of Life™ can be transmitted: petit à petit, in shared and cultivated insights whose essences we must try and hold onto, to internalize and build on, so we can construct the tapestry of our existences beautifully, vividly and with conviction.
I have yet to see a TED Talk that hasn't moved me to either enthusiastic agreement or vehement disagreement. That means every time I watch one, I am learning how to think, flexing muscles that, for many of us, are on autopilot because we've turned most aspects of our daily lives into rituals: the shower, the email-checking, the smalltalk in the breakroom.
The one above is of author Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love. A friend passed it to me a month or so ago but I didn't have the chance to look at it. Then, on Facebook, another friend posted Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice talk. I couldn't swallow the thesis at all, and the discussion that followed kicked off The Ritual: the sharing of other TED talks.
That's how the Gilbert one came back to me. And I'm really glad I didn't miss it this time around, because anyone working in the "creative" capacity -- that is, where you have to improve upon or adapt what's been done before, using only what you manage to wrestle out of your obstinate mind -- needs to hear this.
How she starts:
We've completely internalized and accepted collectively this notion that creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked, and that artistry, in the end, will always ultimately lead to anguish. And the question that I want to ask everybody here today is, um, are you guys all cool with that idea? Are you at all comfortable with that?!
She argues that in the realm of creativity, we have to let go of the rationalist idea that it's 100% our responsibility. This notion leads to overinflated egos when something is a success, and, on the darker side of the coin, suicide or the drinking habits for which writers, musicians and ad men are particularly notorious.
Frankly, giving yourself over to "what you were put on this earth to do" shouldn't have to feel as if it's killing you every. Single. Day.
What's her solution? To return to an ancient idea: think of real creativity -- that moment when it's flowing out of you like water, and you need to get it all down superfast OR ELSE DIE -- as a caprice of the divine. Keep showing up for your job, and hopefully your supernatural helper shows up for his.
This is less mysticism than an acknowledgement that creativity is not at all rational. It doesn't come when it's called or work on your timetable. And if you can't find a proper way to put this bitch of a muse into context, she will make you crazy.