Do you dream of living a creative life? What Elizabeth Gilbert can teach you about the “Big Magic” of a life beyond fear.


I saw Liz Gilbert speak in Lebanon, Illinois this week. I still can’t quite believe my luck. Gilbert’s best-selling memoir, “Eat Pray Love” has sold ten million copies to date. The world-renowned author has a financial net worth of 25 million dollars. She presumably doesn’t need more money. So what on earth was she doing in the improbably quaint, pear blossom-lined, Midwestern town of Lebanon, Illinois (home of McKendree University) on a Wednesday night in April?

I admit that I felt a certain sense of vague anxiety and writer’s envy as Gilbert stepped out onto the stage. Here was a beautiful, successful woman who has achieved the kind of creative life and writing career that most of us can only dream about.  I quickly realized that she’s about the same age as me and I could feel that queasy sense of “not-enoughness” that Brené Brown speaks about rising up in me. Yet she comes across as so genuine, self-deprecatingly funny and present that it’s impossible not to instantly like, even love Elizabeth Gilbert in person.

Most of the 90-minute talk centered on the themes of her book “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear”. Gilbert makes it clear: she’s here because this is her passion project. She’s not about judging you, shaming you or making you feel “less-than”. She wants to meet you exactly where you are. She believes that each individual has a sacred right to honor the call to create that lies deep inside us. So here are a few of the take-aways:

Be open to the ideas that come to you. Never dismiss them as “silly, unworthy or frivolous.”

Elizabeth Gilbert literally believes that ideas are living, intelligent sentient beings. She charmed and disarmed the audience before she launched into this topic saying, “I know we’re heading into some pretty ‘woo’ territory here guys, so be prepared”. As she writes in “Big Magic”:

I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form … And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner.

The author joked that a “very serious” NPR reporter attempted several times during the course of an interview to give her an “out” on this philosophy and admit instead that it’s simply a metaphor for the creative process. Gilbert laughed and insisted that this is a matter of both fact and faith for her.

On a practical level, this means that we need to be consciously aware and “listening” for the inspiration that comes to us from the universe. We need to take ideas seriously. To give them our attention and respect. For a writer, that might mean taking notes as soon as an idea comes to you. For an artist it might mean making a quick sketch (the same applies if you’re an entrepreneur). Then comes the hard work. You need to show up for a certain time each day to develop and complete the idea.

As Gilbert explains, if you can’t or won’t “collaborate” with the idea, it might move on to another person who’s more willing to “birth it” into the physical world.

There’s something freeing in this “democratizing” approach to creativity.  We’re no longer tethered to the notion that only “gifted” people can generate ideas due to their own particular genius. It also brings responsibility. There are an abundance of ideas. It requires those who wish to be creative to actively and consciously honor those ideas with our time and available talent.

Speaking of the eternal question of “making time” to be creative …

One of the many stories Liz shared with us, is that as a young writer in her twenties, there was a creative, artistic older woman in her neighborhood that she looked up to. Gilbert often went to her with questions and concerns about the writing life. At some point Liz complained to her that she simply didn’t have enough time. Liz was busy working three jobs, and trying to maintain a social life. Her mentor responded that she was continually making excuses not to live the life she was “pretending to want”.

After being offended and then thinking it over, Gilbert answered, “I get it, I have to start saying no to things I don’t want to do”. The response she received was something along the lines of, “No Liz, you don’t get it. Sometimes you have to say no to things you want to do”.  One thing I know is true: making those kinds of sacrifices for our creativity doesn’t come easy to any of us. The only question is whether we find it worth the effort.

Meanwhile over here in the real world …

The truth is I’m too much of an agnostic to truly believe along with Gilbert that ideas are literally disembodied, energetic life-forms”. I agree with the NPR reporter, however, that it’s a great metaphor. I’ve found it incredibly helpful in my own creative life to act as though it were true. Many artists, whether writers or musicians speak of their creativity flowing “through” them onto the page or onto a keyboard. I’ve found that when I keep a notebook faithfully and write ideas as they come, soon it’s surprising just how many different subjects come up.

I wonder too about this idea that it simply takes saying “no” to the things we want to do in order to make time for creative pursuits. Gilbert makes passing mention of the social and economic realities that shape people’s lives, but refuses to dig deep into those or allow us the luxury of using them as an excuse. She herself continued to work her “day jobs” until the massive success of Eat Pray Love made it unnecessary.

What Gilbert does almost without parallel is communicate her deep sense of awe, enthusiasm  and pure, childlike wonder at the mystery of life and creativity. There’s no doubting her generosity of spirit. I think anyone who can come up with the words, “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them” deserves to be read and listened to. Those of us who seek to live creatively need a champion, and she’s one of the strongest voices we have right now.

I leave you with the one of questions that Liz experimented asking people on her last book tour:

What are you most excited about in your life right now?

I think perhaps in the answer to that question lies the key to the creativity and joy we seek.

America, what’s not to love?


I first set foot in America in the summer of 1989. My family and I descended the plane onto the ground at O’Hare in Chicago. The heat hit me like a blast furnace. It was a presence, pressed against my face and body. It was an unwelcome kiss, almost sucking the air out of my lungs. It shimmered, living waves in the distance off the black tarmac.

America smelled “different” too – like it had been baked. Sometimes I joke and say America smells of French fries, like McDonalds. Just a little poetic license.

I’ve lived in St. Louis for over 25 years now, longer than I lived in Scotland. Our aunties, uncles and cousins over there see us as the “American” side of the family.

The truth is, I don’t feel “American”. I’ve never felt truly at home here.

Fast forward to 2017. Time flies, doesn’t it? I am sitting in my neighbors’ apartment. They have a projector that casts their movies and music videos right onto the blank wall beside the television. They’re showing me footage of the good-bye party they held the evening before they left for America. The Indian night is warm and soft. The leaves of the mango tree above their old home flutter softly in the breeze. Their relatives laugh and dance around them in the garden. The men drink too much. They joke and make faces at the camera. My neighbor Ajit smiles at the memories. “That’s my brother” he says, pointing him out for me. “That’s Sita’s mother”.

Is it my own homesickness I feel, as the camera cuts to the morning after? The women hugging, telling each other “Come on now, don’t cry. We’ll see each other soon.”

Of course they don’t feel at home here yet. They are early into their immigrant life. I ask Ajit if they plan to stay permanently. He looks uncertain, “I don’t know with the way things are now …” he trails off. “Besides, the Indian economy is growing. The rupee is strong against the dollar. Things may look different in five, ten years”. He dreams of going home to farm the land his family owns. He likes the idea of self-sustainable living; growing his own fruits and vegetables.

Ajit and Sita have two kids, seven and ten years old. The children miss their family and friends in India, but the life they’ve known for the past few years is in America: yellow school buses, jeans and t-shirts, the morning Pledge of Allegiance, science projects, McDonalds, Minions, and endless hours of Minecraft. They both speak English fluently, only the hint of an accent left.

Me, their “American” neighbor who still thinks she’s European, even keeps a rabbit in the house. Can you believe that? Sita wrinkles her nose a little. It just doesn’t seem right to her.

This morning I, the American neighbor spent two hours spring cleaning the bunny’s cage and thinking about what it means to be an immigrant. A former “friend” on Facebook accused me a few weeks ago of hating America. “Why did you come here? What did you want from this country when you first came?” She demanded to know, as though I must answer to her simply because she, unlike me, was born here.

First of all I wish I had told her that it was none of her business. That I do not need to explain the circumstances that brought me here, or justify the reasons that I stay to anyone. Neither do Ajit and Sita. It reminds me of a t-shirt I saw my co-worker wearing once, “You don’t know my story”. Or as famed vulnerability researcher Brené Brown would say, “You haven’t earned the right to hear my story.”

I am a European-born white immigrant. I must acknowledge my privilege. My right to be here is not challenged because of the color of my skin. Yet those of us who weren’t born here, are now being told by some that we must “prove” we love America in order to remain.

It seems that nobody has told those people how complicated love can be. How love can smell damp as the rain-soaked earth in a country you haven’t visited in years, or sweet like the fallen fruit of a mango tree in a courtyard in Southern India.

How can the love for our new country be without conflict, when the very essence of being a first generation immigrant is a sense of loss and displacement from the life we once knew?  This is not a black and white situation. This is about shades of emotion, memory, hopes, dreams and fears. This is about living with uncertainty. A perpetual balancing act between two worlds.

Even our own children will not know or understand that feeling. How to explain that for some of us, the way we love America is mixed with a melancholy nostalgia for a place and time so far away and long ago that it no longer exists? How can we explain that staying may be hard sometimes, but that going back seems impossible?

Ajit and Sita at least, have made the first step to prove they love America. They have done better than me already. Outside their apartment they have posted a small square of striped cloth; an American flag that flutters slightly in the breeze. We live in America now; land of the free, home of the brave. We sip chai together outside in the early Spring sunlight and watch our children play “flip the bottle” on the sidewalk. America, what’s not to love?

Leslie Jones … Please Give America More of What it Wants!

Last weekend my bf and I did what all couples who are truly in love do on a Saturday night before Valentine’s Day.

We rushed home to watch Saturday Night Live. What? Are you kidding me? It’s the new normal! #liberalrelationshipgoals

The political sketches were predictably glorious. McCarthy’s turbo-charged Spicer, the “Fatal Attraction” of Kellyanne. Yes, yes, yes. But the sketch that brought tears of laughter and delicious schadenfreude to my eyes? It was Leslie Jones: vulnerable, determined, eager to further her craft and embrace the role of a lifetime as our so-called “President”.

The following morning I waited with anticipation for the lampooning headlines of my favorite news outlets, the outraged tweets about “disrespectful conduct” and carefully crafted think-pieces praising SNL in general and Leslie Jones’ comic genius in particular.

There were reactions, yes. About Baldwin, about McCarthy as Spicer, about McKinnon as Kellyane. Yet it seemed unusually difficult to find any commentary about what seemed to me to be one of the most brilliant and ferocious comedy sketches in SHL history.

Were the opinion-makers put off by one of the questions asked during the sketch? “Is it like a Hamilton thing where you’re making a comment on race in politics” and Leslie’s terse response, “Nope. It’s about giving America what it wants.”

Was the skit so self-explanatory, the message so obvious that it didn’t merit discussion?  If this is the case, then why did Baldwin, McCarthy and McKinnon’s sketches receive more than their fair share of praise and analysis the Sunday after?

It WAS a brilliant piece of comedy, though. From the moment the subversive realization sweeps across Leslie’s face that it’s entirely possible that SHE could replace Alec, to the hilarious mashup of 45’s own words: “Drain the swamp of tremendous … Muslims.”

Who would think it was possible to satirize so thoroughly on so many levels?

Matthew Dessem of Slate explained that the main barrier to Jones taking over from Alec was that her impersonation was “terrible“. Although his review was entirely positive and worth a read.

For me, part of the “yuge” appeal of the sketch was that Leslie’s accent was a conscious and hilarious nod to Trevor Noah’s send-up, America’s African Dictator.

The “meta-jokes” (as Dessem calls them) about racism and sexism were plentiful and poignant. At one point, Jones skewers the stereotype of strong, vocal black women as perpetually angry. She throws Lorne Michaels against the window of his SNL office screaming, “People keep casting me … as someone who YELLS!”

She goes on to prove that Leslie DO got range! The way her voice breaks as a white female cast-member passes her dressed as the President is convincingly sorrowful. “I thought you were my friend” she cries. It’s another hard dig at the racist complicity of white women “friends” in positions of privilege, executed so perfectly that we all laugh as though we’re in on the joke instead of all too often, the perpetrators or beneficiaries.

The look of lascivious pleasure she gives as she steps into the limousine beside “Melania” surely had to be enough to enrage 45 beyond belief.

And yet, *crickets* … silence from the Tweeter-in-Chief. We can hypothesize as much as we want about that, but may never know. Did he actually listen (for once) to an advisor who suggested it best to avoid comment? It seems unlikely. Did he develop a sense of humor all of a sudden? Again from what we know, unlikely.

Could it be that he knew that to respond was to confirm beyond all doubt the accusations of racism that have been leveled against him? Or could it be that he actually views an impersonation by a black female comedian as less rather than more of a threat from a white male “peer”? Could it be that his “color-blindness” extends into an actual inability to see black women (who do not conform to his standard of attractiveness)? Are people of color who dare to criticize simply invisible to him?

Is that far-fetched? Probably so, although I have given up my secret hope that this might actually force 45 to imagine just for a moment what it might be like to be black, to be Muslim, to be an immigrant, to be poor and disenfranchised in this “United” States of America. It is this sheer lack of imagination that astonishes me most of all in the man, and in his supporters.

It’s Saturday Night Live time again tonight. Of course I’m looking forward to seeing  Alec Baldwin and the others do their thing. Most of all though, I’m waiting for Leslie and hoping against hope that she will continue to “give America what it wants” even though America, and Trump, for reasons that I think we can all imagine, don’t want to seem to talk about it.

United Hates of America

Why I Once Chose to Engage With Trump Supporters On-Line and Why I Will No Longer Do So (Well, Okay Maybe Not As Much).

My decision actually came a day before Berenice King wrote her brilliant, viral Facebook post about how to #resist. What she said was incredibly relevant, and bears repetition:

“Do not argue with those who support him – it doesn’t work and it makes them feel important. It makes them feel they’ve won something.”

Now, I know there are stronger people out there who’ve somehow managed to remain “above the fray”; either out of denial, disinterest or some kind of noble and steadfast determination. I respect that. Kudos, and an Appletini to you! Salut.

I had my reasons for engaging, of course. When it all began, I thought that there must be some value in the attempt to dialogue. It appeared to me that Trump’s platform was so obviously fueled by racism (etc.) that ordinary, everyday Americans simply would not stand for it. These after all, are my compatriots, no matter our political differences. I quite simply am Scottish. Freeeeedom!!! Let’s hashtag this out! Need I say more?

Things reached an apex for me on Superbowl Sunday. One of my close friends had posted a joking response in a Pro-Trump Facebook group about Lady Gaga’s imminent half-time performance. Apparently, the Trump supporters were absolutely up in arms over the NFL’s supposed “liberal agenda” (who knew, lol?) “Lady Gag” as they called her, was (to put it nicely) immoral, disgusting and has whorish, “un-American” values.

Many of them had decided ahead of time to boycott the game in general (kind of like spooning your eye out to piss off your face because you know these guys LOVE their football). They had it in for Lady G. in particular. Some of them were pleading for a marching band (what, you mean like in north Korea?) instead. Others just wanted to round the snowflake liberals up and dispose of them for being such a human waste of space (what, you mean like put them in a concentration camp maybe?)

I lost it folks. I absolutely lost it. The same people who had told me to “wait and see” if Donald J. Trump was going to make good on his racist promises to build a “beautiful” wall and impose a ban/registry on all Muslims, were now unable to WAIT AND SEE what Lady Gaga was going to do at a performance at Super-Bowl Halftime.

Priorities, anyone? Anyone?

I’m not especially proud of what followed. I don’t know how many comments were on that thread. I only know that I trolled like the wild-haired, blue-paint-faced madwoman that Trumpists would expect (because it turns out that STILL in this day and age a woman who is passionate AND VOCAL about her beliefs is regarded as simply hysterical or well, whorish).

Then I took myself and my white lady privilege to the main comments section and I asked those people directly, “Where is the Christian behavior in this group?” What the ever-loving f*** happened to:

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)


I did not wait around to read any responses. Or see if my comment was deleted or if I was blocked. I already knew the answer and it almost certainly involved something about snowflakes.

Here’s the thing. Arguing with Trump supporters is a fool’s game, but I don’t truly believe it was wasted time. It gave me a chance to articulate some of my core beliefs. It forced me to explore issues and confront opinions I hadn’t previously considered. I measured my words, I checked my tone. I examined my own willingness to listen and respond without hate (#notperfectwhois?) I read. I read some more. I checked and re-checked my facts. I lived and learned.

In these trying times, we all find ourselves dragged into an on-line spat now and again. Don’t feel guilty about it. Brush yourself off and move on to whatever nourishes you more, and of course it goes without saying that we need to take concrete action in the ways we can, as much as we can. (#againnotperfectsobiteme)

Just be happy #youfinallywoke.

As for Lady Gaga? I honestly wasn’t a big fan of hers before now. I clearly haven’t been paying attention. Now I think she’s freaking awesome. She didn’t need to say a word about politics to make her point. She was just born that way.

Make Facebook Fun Again!

Awwww. Isn’t this meme so fun! It’s so bright, it’s so colorful. It contains such a plethora of happy, positive messages!

Make Facebook fun again! Who could argue with that?

Well … me, of course! I hate this meme. I’m sorry did I use the word “hate”? My bad. What I mean is I “strongly dislike” this godawful meme.

Why, do you have to be such a party pooper Anna? How can anyone possibly disagree with such  a cheerful little cartoon?

Let me tell you why … it’s because I absolutely despise people’s attempts to silence others. I don’t care how artsy and cutesy you make it. I don’t care if you do a round-off, the splits and end it with f***ing jazz hands. I don’t f***ing CARE. I hate propaganda. I mean REALLY hate it.

Silencing is silencing. And it’s always ugly.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the messaging on this meme … “if you can’t be nice, be quiet”, “show cute pictures of your friends and family” and of course the ultimate Facebook rebuke … “NO POLITICS!”

I’ve started hearing the phrase floating around Facebook, “I miss the days when Facebook was fun [insert pouty, sad face].”

But lemme tell you. You know what used to be fun? It used to be fun when an authoritarian malignant narcissist dictator wasn’t running our country. Oh sorry, did I break another one of the rules, “quit your psyco-babble”? (Misspelled of course but I keep being told how liberals look down on everyone for their shitty spelling so I’ll let it go.) Who do we think this meme is being directed towards? I can’t for the life of me imagine.

You know what used to be fun? It used to be fun before we found out the Russians interfered with our election in order to have a white nationalist madman at the helm of America. Before we realized a whole bunch of us were using a neo-Nazi publication to get our news … loving it and and lapping it up. Before we knew who “Pepe” was. Before we found out that people actually believed that the DNC was running a child pornography ring out of a pizza shop called Comet Ping-Pong. It used to be fun before legal green-card holders were being detained at airports, questioned and sent back to their home counties. It used to be fun before white people woke up to the fact that racism still reigns supreme in the heart of America. It all used to be so much fun. But I digress.

Let’s come back to the most sinister message of all: “if you can’t be nice, be quiet.”

Listen. I know a lot of you want to stick their heads in the sand and forget who you voted for. You want to pretend that things “aren’t really that bad”. I know you wish people would just “calm down and get over it”. I know you wish folk would just “give him a chance”.

Guess what though? (And this will be a “newsflash shocker” to some of you). Your right to “have fun on Facebook” is actually a whole lot less important than people’s actual lives, people’s actual safety, people’s actual civil rights. Right now, in this very moment there are thousands of mothers, and fathers crying out in despair. There are immigrant and refugee families whose lives have been ripped apart by the stroke of a pen. You want to show “cute photos of your kids”? Well. We all saw the photo of that little Syrian boy covered in mud and dust and blood. Is it “cute” that the blood of that child and countless others is on ALL of our hands?

The sound of those cries, the thought of this injustice should be tearing at the heart of every. single. one of us. It is the sound that should either be keeping us awake or be haunting our dreams every night until we see the Muslim ban lifted.


NOW is the time to get involved, to speak up for what really matters.

If you want to show that you are standing on the right side of history, you need to SPEAK UP in defense of the right to free speech. Not your right to “have fun” while others suffer. Or hide behind a keyboard while the most beloved and precious values of America are systematically destroyed. To remain silent is to render ourselves complicit.

If you don’t believe me, read the article by Naomi Shulman whose mother “was born in Munich in 1934, and spent her childhood in Nazi Germany surrounded by nice people who refused to make waves.”

If that’s your idea of fun, I want nothing to do with it. The personal is political once again, more deeply, more fiercely and more powerfully than ever. This is our chance of a lifetime to speak truth-to-power and stand on the side of LOVE and JUSTICE.

That’s way more fun.


No Time To Be Nice by Naomi Shulman

Shades Of Color: Ten Reasons Why “Moonlight” Is The Best American Film Of 2016

My friend Brake writes incredible film reviews! Please visit and be inspired!



The 89th Academy Awards will be severely tainted in February by recent political events which will unfairly push attention away from some very deserving films.  The awards show has long ago since turned itself into a soapbox for political speak instead of focusing on the very reason for its creation; cinema art.  If the show would spend half the time devoting itself to cinema history and the very films it has nominated, as opposed to the nudge nudge wink wink of sociopolitical commentary, maybe more people would tune in.

The American independent film scene in 2016 rose to great prominence and promise judging from the releases.  The standouts include Kenneth Lonergan’s “Manchester By The Sea”, Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land”, Kirsten Johnson’s “Cameraperson”, Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic”, The Daniel’s “Swiss Army Man”, Robert Egger’s “The Witch”, David MacKenzie’s “Hell Or High Water” and the one film that has stood out…

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Tender Skin


All I’ve ever wanted
is a quiet place
in which to create,
to write and why not just say,
“a safe space”?

Where warm light softly
filters in
to reveal the blush of bruises
underneath this tender skin


How exactly do we choose now
to connect?

Which fragments of this life
should we select
to portray these fragile, inner worlds?

Given how deeply
we suspect “the other” and do not trust
ourselves …

Which uncertain possibilities
to shed?
Which to protect?


History repeats again,
this hidden hatred rises,
in the hearts of men
(and women, yes
it beats inside us all)

Each generation bears the witness
and the blame,
the burden of our time
still weighs the same and


which side of history we stand
or we we will lose …


See this child?
Her tender skin
contrasts with mine

But underneath we are both
blood and bone
We do things together
that cannot be dreamed alone

We will fly together over walls,
hide each other when the Bad Man calls
We have fought this war for centuries,
been bought and sold

Still we weave, we knit
we laugh, we fold,
we spin our stories out of gold

We call our sisters to a warm hearth,
shield each other from this bitter cold.