Oct 24, 2015

Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert



This book couldn't have come into my hands at a better time. Many of the passages felt like the author had visited me, knew my creative dilemmas and wrote those responses exclusively for me. As I was reading "Big Magic", I could feel nodding my head vigorously at multiple places.

The author talks about our creative genius, the process of feeling inspired, the fear and excuses that hold us back and most importantly, falling in love with the process and keeping the outcome aside. Bhagavat Gita has conveyed the same principle but it has to be retold again and again, given the pressure that we (and our society) place on outcome. Elizabeth's personal anecdotes and her easy-to-read flow of writing make this very interesting non-fiction book a page turner. Perhaps, call it the self-help book on creativity.

She starts off brilliantly by posing a thought-provoking question.

 "Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?"

The process of uncovering these treasures is what she refers to as "creative living". She quickly clarifies that it's not just about arts but any activity that elevates us, that makes us feel alive. Many of us feel scared to go down this path, as we doubt ourselves and fear that we don't have talent, resources, time, blah-blah….Fear actually makes our lives boring and she suggests that we acknowledge the presence of fear but not be driven by it.

Once we give the rightful place to our fears, inspiration finds a way towards us. I just loved the way how she describes an idea as a living entity in the cosmos and it's sole purpose is to get manifested by the right human being. Many times, we get inspired or drawn towards certain ideas and they keep coming back to us at many different places in our life, trying to grab our attention. It's all about how much we are ready to pay attention towards these interventions.

"Be ready. Keep your eyes open. Listen. Follow your curiosity. Ask questions. Sniff around. Remain open. Trust in the miraculous truth that new and marvelous ideas are looking for human collaborators every single day…."

She hits the nail on the head when she argues about why creativity is for all and not for the selected exclusive few. "If you're alive, you're a creative person". Period.

Her sincere advice to those who have found their creative calling is to be persistent and disciplined and enjoy the work you're drawn to, without worrying about the outcomes. There will be times when you are frustrated but frustration is not an outcome but it's part of the creative process itself.

Do you burden your creativity with paying your bills? She suggests not to and I agree with her reasons. The other issue that prevents us from staying in the game is the fantasy of perfection. Done is better than good. Enjoy the smallest progress, Be actively creating something.

"Big Magic" is filled with these little nuggets of inspiration, the common myths that engulf the creative process and actionable insights towards a creative, fulfilling life.

I wish she had also talked about a few examples of creative process in the corporate world across various domains. It would have helped me to tie together these different ideas on creativity, given my background.

Relevant and hard-hitting, I highly recommend "Big Magic" to anyone who is curious about creativity.

P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback of the book.

Oct 6, 2015

2 lessons I learnt on behavior change

Last night, I had prepared white rice for my 4 year old and broken wheat for myself for dinner. The accompaniments were rasam and carrot curry. D had little rice and was curious to know what's inside the pressure cooker. She has a fascination of pressure cookers just like me :-) I said "that's broken wheat for amma". She said she wanted to taste it and so I offered her a spoonful of it. She loved it and then finished almost the entire cup with rasam and curd. After finishing her dinner, she said, "mumma, this is yummy. Tomorrow, I want buckwheat". Don't be surprised yet.

During the weekend, I had prepared ragi idlis and regular rice idlis for breakfast. While I was feeding her ragi idlis, she asked "mumma, are these kambu idlis?". (Kambu means pearl millet / bajra)

This is the effect of our reading ritual. Every night before going to bed, we go through pictures in the book "aaraam thinai" and that's how she knows the names of other grains.

My in-laws were visiting me last week and I had offered them a choice of ragi idlis and regular idlis. Without a second thought, they replied, "we are fine with regular idlis". The fact they are both diabetic and have hypertension didn't motivate them to choose the healthier option. Given that they are used to eating rice idlis for so many years, they are scared to do the switch at this age. They didn't even want to try a piece while my 4 year old was happily eating her ragi idlis. It's a different story that they got hungry soon and were munching on bread toast with diabetic jam (sugar-free jam).

On reflecting upon these incidents, I learnt a few lessons on behavior creation and behavior change. Nothing earth shattering here, but plain old common-sense.

1) It's much easier to create a new behavior in children. Whether you want them to eat healthy, be responsible towards nature, care for others etc, start as early as you can. On a related note, children like to emulate what their parents do. So if you exhibit positive qualities in front of them, they will reflect the same.  My motivation to eat healthy and remain fitter has become stronger now, as I see how my daughter is trying to follow me.
2) It's a tougher ask to change deep-rooted behavior. Even if there is a genuine reason to change a not-so-good behavior, the resistance is high and people prefer status-quo. As the years pass by, the beliefs get so strong that even if there is a scientific proof about a belief being wrong, people do not want to change them. For instance, a strong belief that's no longer true => Cow's milk being the "only healthy" food for a child for getting calcium and protein.

If there are certain behaviors in yourself that you want to change, start NOW. Don't wait for the right moment / right time / right place / right situation. As time passes by, the resistance to change will be so high that you wouldn't want to take even a small step towards it.

Oct 1, 2015

Why we don't want to throw lavish birthday parties?

D turned 4 a few days back. From the beginning of 2015, hubby and I decided to keep the birthday party simple. The main influencing factor was how the previous birthday (3rd) turned out. We had decided to host a birthday party. Booked the small party hall in our apartment, invited a few common friends, apartment neighbors and kids that D usually meets in the play area. Ordered birthday cake, snacks (pizza and soft drinks), bought personalized return gifts and other party goodies. Took a lot of our time, energy and effort to get things arranged.

On the D-day (it was a Sunday), friends kept dropping out one after another through messages/SMS. During the party, very few invited kids turned up. Many of their parents didn't even bother informing us that they wouldn't be able to come. With the few kids who turned up, we conducted the party. After the party got over, we requested the security guards to take the remaining cake and other food items (which were quite a lot).

Hubby and I had a long discussion about this whole party - the wastage of food, expenditure and most importantly, the callous attitude of certain people who didn't even have the courtesy to inform that they are dropping out / won't be able to make it.

This year, the party was very simple. We arranged a simple cake cutting celebration in the evening at home, with D's grandparents and her close friends. The food was cake, chips and home baked muffins. Hubby and my dad decorated our living room with some balloons and a couple of birthday banners. It was a simple and cozy event. As a family, we felt happy and D also had her share of fun.

After eating the cake, a 6 year old kid asked "Aunty, I'm going home. Give me my return gift". I replied, "There's no return gift, dear. This is a different kind of a party". I could sense her disappointment but I'm not going to feel guilty about it.

The expectation of kids around these birthday parties is seriously a cause of concern. The party has to be in a hall/playarea/mall/pizza outlet and there needs to be some events, games, a caricaturist / a tattoo maker, chocolates, lots of snacks (read: junk food) and return gifts.

It's becoming like a transaction oriented event where the kids compare the return gifts they got from different parties. There's no innocence or fun anymore. Introducing such materialistic expectations at such a young age will certainly do more harm in the future.

We have decided to continue the same kind of birthday party for D unless she demands something else. And for the few parties that she's been invited to, we give the gift to the child and politely excuse ourselves.

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