on why reading is good for the soul

There have been very few instances in my short 18 years of living that have constituted pure and utter boredom. I could count those times, most likely, on one hand. The most recent instance, however, is this: home for the holidays.

Why on earth, I ask myself, do most colleges and universities promote total immersion into the atmosphere of home away from home and then proceed to give students a whole month in their actual home for the holiday break? I thought you’ve helped me move on from this phase of life, state college or university! Haven’t I grown up? There’s nothing left for me here at home! Old friends are nice, sometimes, but you’ve given me new ones! Better ones! Ones that I have yet to meet!

All negative ranting aside, I’ve been purely and utterly bored over the course of the 30 sum-odd days I’ve been home. In order to pass this disgustingly superfluous time, I made it my goal to visit every bookstore and music store–new and used–in my area. Praise baby Jesus that most of the Christmas envelopes addressed with my name came with Ben Franklin inside.

My trek throughout the metro-Atlanta area consisted of only one chain bookstore: the tried and true, overpriced and underwhelming Barnes & Noble. But here, for a staggering $24.95, is where my holiday quest breached the ordinary to find the pot of gold, the diamond in the rough, the extraordinary book that makes the magic happen.

Big Magic, that is.

This 273-paged wonder, its full title Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, is written by critically-acclaimed author of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert. This book has been tearing me up. Not just to shreds, but to tiny little pieces, soon (hopefully) to be picked up by the wind of ideas and inspiration and tossed into the ocean of creative living, salty and terrifying though it may be.

Throughout the course of the book, Gilbert makes several claims about creativity and inspiration (and the relationship these things have with humans), none of which I can recreate with the same effect. So enjoy this quote from the one and only, Big Magic.

I happen to believe we are all walking repositories of buried treasure. I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels–that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place–that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one. The often surprising results of that hunt–that’s what I call Big Magic.

Wow. Thank you, universe. You are too kind. But get this–that’s not all! The universe also gives humans access to its ever-flowing whirlpool of ideas. According to Gilbert, ideas are inhabiters of the earth, the same as humans. Ideas don’t have bodies or forms, but they have a consciousness and a will to be made tangible. “And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual,” says Gilbert. And, boy, do I believe this. And ideas are where Big Magic really comes into play.

Gilbert spends most of the beginning chapters convincing her readers that this theory of ideas, swirling above our heads, waiting to be manifested through the brain of a human comrade, really exists. She tells crazy stories of poets feeling an idea quite literally rush through them, the chosen soul hoping he/she gets to a pen and paper quickly enough, impossible events involving ideas transposing through a kiss, and other “freaky, old-timey, voodoo-style Big Magic”examples.

But as for me, I didn’t need convincing. I’ve seen Big Magic play out in my creative life right before my very eyes, clear as day.

A few weeks ago, maybe even a few months ago, I did some Instagram soul-searching. I love Instagram. I love pictures and photography, but even more than that, I love Instagram as a platform to encourage people. I’ve seen people do this every now and again, every once and awhile posting a picture of another person with a feel-good caption. But I thought, “Why don’t I make this an every-post thing? Making my Instagram less about me and more about others?” But I did nothing with this idea. I didn’t even notice it slip out of my brain and into the brain of a close friend.

Fast-forward. Two weeks ago. I went on a road trip with two of my close friends, Mark and Claire (one of whom is the close friend described in the preceding paragraph). We all brought our cameras and were snapping pics of the expansive view of South Georgia and of each other. It was such a fun day.

Fast-forward again. Last week. The booth of a Willy’s (not as good as Chipotle, but a far-off second) after an afternoon spent downtown snapping pics of Mark and another friend. An idea is born between Mark and me: an Instagram picture series based on people. Or #thepeopleseries for short. After a hiatus of a few weeks, the idea was reborn in my mind with one of the friends from the road trip, Mark. The name, the People Series, came to my mind as a title right off the bat, but Mark and I spitballed other names for around an hour. No joke. We wanted the name to be perfect and something that everyone could get behind. But we settled on #thepeopleseries, and I am so glad we did.

I posted my first of many #thepeopleseries that night: a picture of Claire. The other friend that I had taken the 6 hour road trip with, the only friend who wasn’t there when #thepeopleseries idea had taken flight.

Not ten minutes after I had posted the picture did I get a text from Claire. The actual text of the text was this: “Yooo that’s so weird about your people series thing because I was planning on doing a thing called #TheSheIsSeries where I paint a picture with the words ‘She Is..’ and then an adjective describing whatever subject I’m talking about. I wanted to do it to empower girls, and I’d have people send me submissions. Would it be weird if I still did it?”

Whoa. There is no coincidence here. There was some Big Magic buzzing around the heads of those that road tripped to south Georgia that day. The fact that both of our ideas even have the word “series” in them is proof enough. The three people that went on the trip founded two movements, both encouraging people on a social media that has a very self-promoting culture. Both with hashtags. And both as a series of pictures. I am so glad that Claire wasn’t in that Willy’s booth to be discouraged in her own encouraging, creative endeavors and that two movements were born instead of one.

But I could have taken this non-coicidence very differently had it not been for Big Magic. I could have been selfish, claiming that Claire had stolen my idea. When in reality, the idea almost left me, and almost the same idea (with a few differences, here and there) had sunk into the brain of Claire. On a 6 hour road trip. Where we all encouraged each other. Go figure.

If this isn’t proof that ideas are alive and looking for the next available human to partner with, I don’t know what is.

Thank you, universe, for not only providing views like these but also hidden jewels deep within us and ideas floating around us.

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