Meister Eckhart on Excellent Work

“It were a very grave defect in God if, finding thee so empty and so bare, he wrought no excellent work in thee nor primed thee with glorious gifts.”

Meister Eckhart

Lewis Hyde on Creation vs. Invocation

“An essential portion of any artist’s labor is not creation so much as invocation. Part of the work cannot be made, it must be received; and we cannot have this gift except, perhaps, by supplication, by courting, by creating within ourselves that “begging bowl” to which the gift is drawn.”

Lewis Hyde

Theodore Roethke on Receiving a Poem

“I was in the particular hell of the poet: a longish dry period. It was 1952, I was forty-four, and I thought I was done. I had been teaching the five-beat line for weeks—I knew quite a bit about it, but write it myself–no: So I felt myself a fraud. Suddenly, in the early evening, the poem ‘The Dance’ started, and finished itself in a very short time—say thirty minutes it was all done. I felt, I knew, I had hit it. I walked around and I wept; and I knelt down–I always do after I’ve written what I know is a good piece. But at the same time I had, as God is my witness, the actual sense of a Presence–as if Yeats himself were in that room. The house was charged with a psychic presence: the very walls seemed to shimmer. I wept for joy.””

Theodore Roethke

May Sarton on the Only Real Deprivation

“There is only one real deprivation, I decided this morning, and that is not to be able to give one’s gift to those one loves most … The gift turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison. It is as though the flow of life were backed up.”

May Sarton

Allen Ginsberg on Evaluating Your Work

“The parts that embarrass you the most are usually the most interesting poetically, are usually the most naked of all, the rawest, the goofiest, the strangest and most eccentric and at the same time, most representative, most universal … That was something I learned from Kerouac, which was that spontaneous writing could be embarrassing … The cure for that is to write things down which you will not publish and which you won’t show people. To write secretly … so you can actually be free to say anything you want …

It means abandoning being a poet, abandoning your careerism, abandoning even the idea of writing any poetry, really abandoning, giving up as hopeless — abandoning the possibility of really expressing yourself to the nations of the world. Abandoning the idea of being a prophet with honor and dignity, and abandoning the glory of poetry and just settling down in the muck of your own mind … You really have to make a resolution just to write for yourself …, in the sense of not writing to impress yourself, but just writing what your self is saying.”

Allen Ginsberg

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Jesus via Gospel of Thomas

Elizabeth Gilbert on Work, Fear and Time

“The work wants to be made and it wants to be made by you.”

Elizabeth Gilbert

This was an excellent interview. Never read her books, just became an instant fan. Below are some more quotes from this interview (I couldn’t stop collecting them).

On not enough time

One of the most important things I was ever given as a piece of advice was from a woman I was complaining to in my 20s about how I didn’t have enough time to pursue my writing because of all the other obligations I had in my life. The eternal complaint; you’re never going to meet another creative person who doesn’t have that essential, fundamental complaint. They’re dreaming of some slow, grass growing place where they can gently allow these things to ferment. Everyone fantasizes about that, it never comes. I was just sort of griping to her, and she said: what are you willing to give up to have what you really want? And it was such a searingly important question to me at that time. And she also said, “what’s your favorite tv show?” I said the Sopranos, and she said “not anymore! You’re done watching evening television. What are you willing to give up in order to have what you say you want?” Of course you have to know what you want.

On how the work feels about you

I love it when people let themselves love something that they made because it loves you, it wanted to work with you, it came to you because it wanted to be made manifest and it tapped on your shoulder and said “do you want to be a collaborator with me?” because it liked you. … Most of us like to be liked and so does inspiration and creativity. All this stuff likes to be appreciated. Just say “I welcome you, I love you, I want to work with you.”

On the voice of self doubt

I have an answer in the chamber when the dark evil demon in my head says, “who the hell do you think you are trying to do this!?” I realized long ago that that evil psychotic demon in your head who says that you’re worthless, that’s the only question he ever asks: who the hell do you think you are? But if you take the tone of voice away from him, maybe he’s just curious. Maybe because you’re insecure you’re hearing it as an assault, but he’s really, like, “hey, who are you? Who do you think you are?” And so, I just answer him now, really sincerely. “Hey, thanks for asking! I’ll tell you who I am: I am a child of God just like everyone else and I am a constituent of creation and therefore I have every right in the world to participate in its unfolding.”

On marriage partner expectations

Here’s what you’re putting on (your spouse): they have to be incredibly sexually exciting to me forever. They have to be my best friend. They have to be my soulmate. They have to be my intellectual match. They have to be the perfect parent for the kind of parenting I want to do. They have to fit in to my family and my community and all my friends and be interested in the same stuff that I’m interested in. When you start to quantify what people are expecting out of this it’s kind of overwhelming and maybe a little bit unrealistic.

On the big fear mistake

Here’s the mistake we make with fear: we hate it, we fear it, we resent it and we want it gone. And the biggest mistake we make with it is that we don’t start by showing it our enormous gratitude. Because before everything else, before we bitch about how it holds us back and stopping us, start with ‘you’re here because your fear has saved your life.’ You literally owe your life to this thing. You’re here because your ancestors survived because they were terrified enough to save their own life. You’re here because you didn’t get into the car with that guy, because you got out of the ocean when the waves were too big. And all you want to do is be mad at it, the most loyal protector of your bodily life. So, before you start hating on it, just take a moment and say to it, ‘thank you so much for all the times that you stood in front of that car for me, took a bullet for me, stopped me from doing that stupid thing. I owe you literally everything.’ Start with that. When your fear rises up, start there, say thank you. And then explain what you’re doing and why you don’t need its services right now. ‘Thanks so much, I know you’re concerned for me, but you can wait offstage and I’ll come join you when I’m done.’ That’s what I’ve learned about fear: respect it, admire it, thank it and then just ask it to stand down, no ones going to get hurt, I’m just writing a poem.

“Whenever you start to question your own artistic choices, just remember: Picasso drew a butt.”

Patrick Rothfuss

“There’s a fine line between on something and on to something.”

John Roderick

What If You Made Up Your Own Holiday Traditions?

So, a friend asked this a couple days ago: we don’t have any Christmas traditions and I want to make some up for my son and I. What do you guys do, what do you like about it, what do you wish you did?

I got really excited about it. I have a 6 year old son, a gorgeous and smart wife and we live pretty far from both our families. I would love for Aiden (my son) to have a sense of holiday tradition that feels like us — thoughtful, goofy, inclusive, inebriatory, lots of moments where I cry in parts of kids movies, etc.

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Do you have to hate yourself to make something good?

Of course the writer and creative and “man on hunt to be celebrated posthumously” part of me immediately shouts: Hey fucker — you do that and we’re not going to make any really great stuff anymore! This is where our power comes from, not feeling like you’re enough is the explosion at the heart of the star keeping the lights on.

That guy sounds desperate. Also, sounds like another one for the “stupid shit I find myself believing” category:

“I have to feel unloved to make good things.”

Chase Reeves