The Plow Mule and the Angel

Have I ever read anything by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of New York Times bestseller Eat, Pray, Love?

Not a chance.

And if I tell more people about the incredibly honest, thought-provoking interview she held with Rachel Khong at the Rumpus, none of my friends (read: bros) are ever going to invite me to a fantasy football league again so please keep this on the hush. 

Rumpus: I love your TED Talk about creativity. You talk about all the pressure creative people put on ourselves to be “geniuses,” and how that’s messed things up and given us an unrealistic amount of pressure, when in fact we should think of “genius” as a thing out of our control. Has that perspective made writing easier?
Gilbert: I’ve come to think of it as the plow mule and the angel. This is how I think of it: there’s a contract between you and the mystery. And the mystery is the thing that brings life to the work. But your part of the contract is that you have to be the plow mule, or the mystery won’t show up. It might not even show up if you do your work. There’s no guarantee. It doesn’t promise you anything, but I can promise you that if you don’t do your work, it won’t show up. That’s the only guarantee. It’s not going to wake you up in the middle of the night to be like, Hey I’ve got this golden gift for you! It doesn’t do it that way. It needs to see that you’re giving the full commitment.
It’s the idea that I will do my side of this bargain. As long as I am able, as long as I have agency over my body, I will do my part of this, even when I don’t want to, even when I don’t believe in it. It’s gonna be a long life, hopefully. And so it’s all right to embark on a project that doesn’t work, and it’s okay to abandon one. It’s okay to recognize that you took a wrong turn, and to begin anew. It’s okay to write a book that gets bad reviews. It’s okay to write a book that no one reads. The idea is just to focus on how you want to spend your life. My intention is to spend my entire life doing this, so any one piece of it isn’t that important when you think of it in the long scale. Then when you open up that scale even further and you think of the entire history of human collaboration with the arts—my little piece of it is really insignificant, and that takes the pressure off a lot, too. I’m just joining a history of people who do this work. I’ll do it for as long as I’m permitted. I’ll do it to the best of my ability. It may not be successful, it may not be lucrative, it may not be well-received, but I’m gonna give it everything that I have, and then I’m gonna die, and then other people will do this. And so it will go. And what a wonderful way to live your life! What a great company of saints to join. And a wonderful team to play on: the makers. It’s worth a lot of trouble to get to do that.

Thanks to Ian Alas for sending along the full interview