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Best-selling author backs genies over geniuses

Elizabeth Gilbert. Image credit: Deborah Lopez.
by Staff Writers
Long Beach, California (AFP) Feb 5, 2009
Elizabeth Gilbert wants genies to get credit for genius.

The author of best-selling memoir "Eat, Pray, Love" told a genius-prone gathering at the Technology, Entertainment, Design Conference on Thursday that the shift in perspective would be a godsend for the creative.

"I think putting genius on a person is like trying to ask them to swallow the sun; it warps egos," Gilbert said. "The pressure of that has been killing artists for the past 500 years."

Gilbert delivered a humorous, heart-felt argument in favor of copying Roman, Greek or other ancient civilizations that credited brilliant works to gods, genies, fairies or other magical beings.

While such perspectives might be contradicted by science or reason, they free people lucky enough to have achieved creative peaks from fears of failing to live up to what may have been unrepeatable career high points, she said.

"Creative people across all genres have this reputation of being unstable ... being undone by their gifts," Gilbert observed, joking that writers tend to wind up in an alcoholic-manic depressive category.

"I think that idea is odious. I think it is better if we encourage our great minds to live."

Gilbert colorfully spoke of cultures through history that fostered humility by crediting marvelous moments of dance, song or art to divine influence.

She recounted that the Spanish exclamation "Ole," commonly shouted to praise dancers that appear sublimely in tune with performances, is derived from "Allah," an Arabic word for God.

Gilbert argues performers will be happier if they wake the mornings after such moments thinking they were fortunate enough to have been touched by magic for a time instead of fears of not being able to repeat the acts.

"If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to be glimpsed for just one moment, then ole. If not, dance anyhow. Have the sheer determination and stubbornness to keep showing up do your part anyhow."

Gilbert confided her presentation was inspired in part by the "freakish success" of her memoir and the pending release of her next book.

"It is very likely that my greatest success is behind me," Gilbert quipped. "That kind of thought could start a person drinking gin at 9 o'clock in the morning and I don't want to go there."

At age 40, Gilbert prefers to believe she has decades of writing ahead of her whether a genie pops in on her while she is working or she "dies on an ash heap with her mouth filled with the taste of broken failure."

"This memoir went out in the world and for some reason became a mega-best-seller," Gilbert said.

"The result of which is people walk up to me now like I'm doomed."

She joked that people approached her with worried expressions and sympathetically ask "Aren't you afraid you will keep writing and never again make a book anyone cares about."

"The answer is 'Yes'," Gilbert quipped. "But, I'm afraid of lots of things; like seaweed."

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