How can the book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, inform our homeschool lives?
I’m excited to share how Elizabeth Gilbert infuses our homeschools with Big Magic, helping us to embrace our creative lives.
We want our kids to be self-directed learners, lifelong learners, eager to follow interesting rabbit trails engage their curiosities, and just play their hearts out, but are we truly encouraging them to do that if we’re not doing that ourselves?
Elizabeth Gilbert infuses our homeschool lives (or could infuse our homeschool lives) with big magic if we embrace creativity & play.
She addresses why we’re not likely to pursue that creativity…
Elizabeth Gilbert tells us, “Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.”
Creativity is just play in disguise. When we’ve been accustomed to living the adult life long enough, we don’t assume that play should be part of our adult lives.
What’s the value of the certain outcome of play and creativity?
Will play clean my kitchen, clean the dog’s bowl, fold the laundry, drive my kids to soccer, or teach the kids how to understand polynomials? If play can’t do that, then girlfriend, I agree, none of us has the time to play!
Sure, we think we should sit on the family room floor and play Legos with our kiddos. We assume we should play games like Bananagrams and Monopoly because they’re educational. And we assume the kids should be playing and obviously, we’re giving them more time to do that when they homeschool.
- But allow ourselves to sit with a few bags of pretty beads and thread and explore?
- Should I make a bracelet or should I hot glue some beads on a piece of coloured cardstock to make a bookmark?
- Should I pull out my crochet basket like I did when I was pregnant with my first child?
- Could I return to a childhood interest even though I’m 39?
- Is there value in me pursuing an audacious dream just because?
- Can I really pursue adventure in my life even as a homeschool mom?
We don’t assume we should play like this, we don’t assume that this part of our lives is for play, and we certainly haven’t got the time to play anyway.
Our adult selves assume we must have a plan. We must use our time wisely. Our time cannot be wasted. And anyway, if we’re creative, what we create will likely not be any good anyway.
Therefore, what would be the end goal of doing these creative things anyway? Be assured, there are no certain outcomes.
Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Let me list for you some of the many ways in which you might be afraid to live a more creative life”:
- You’re afraid you have no talent.
- You’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored.
- …Afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it. You’re afraid somebody else already did it better.
- You’re afraid everybody else already did it better.
- Or that you’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark.
- You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously.
- And you’re afraid your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life.
- You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing.
What else might you be afraid of?
- You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money.
- You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline.
- Or you’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of workspace, financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration.
- You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of training or degree.
- Even if you’re afraid you’re too fat. (I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly, but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.)
- You’re afraid of being exposed as a hack, a fool, a dilettante, or a narcissist.
- You’re afraid of upsetting your family with what you may reveal.
- Perhaps you’re afraid of what your peers and coworkers will say if you express your personal truth aloud.
Don’t even get me started pm these fears that impede our creativity.
- You’re afraid of unleashing your innermost demons, and you really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons.
- You’re afraid your best work is behind you. You’re afraid you never had any best work, to begin with.
- Do you fear that you have neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back?
- You’re afraid you’re too old to start. You’re afraid you’re too young to start.
- You’re afraid because something went well in your life once, so obviously nothing can ever go well again.
- Perhaps you’re afraid because nothing has ever gone well in your life, so why bother trying?
- You’re afraid of being a one-hit-wonder. You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder.”
Yeah, girl, there are a whole bunch of reasons to be afraid.
However, girlfriend, I agree with Elizabeth Gilbert: fear is boring.
IMO a life well-lived is not a life lived in fear. You’ve been given this one life: be anything, but don’t be boring.
Elizabeth Gilbert realized that her fear was boring…you can read about that story in her book or join the Homeschool Mama Book Club this Thursday and we can chat about it. (It’s a virtual Book Club, just $5, and you don’t have to read the book to join.)
Elizabeth Gilbert learned that her fear “wasn’t some kind of rare artisanal object, fear was a mass-produced item, available on the shelves of any generic box store.”
Maybe that’s why I’ve never wanted to own a Costco membership (and also why I love our local grocery co-op where you can find handmade everything from soap to soup, locally grown pea shoots to walnuts, beeswax bowl wraps to essential oils, flanks of steak to organically raised free-range chicken, and handcrafted cheeses to hand-milled oat flour).
Girlfriend, I love me some heart-created, handmade, birthed from creativity everything.
Hear’s what I see that fear does:
- Fear keeps us from doing fun stuff,
- From owning who we really are,
- Fear keeps us from acknowledging our hard stories.
- It also keeps us locked into unhealthy relationships wasting our time and energy.
- Fear keeps us from living a purposeful life.
You know what? Fear is boring. Fear is ordinary!
Of course, fear is human, but fear can sometimes disable us from fully living our lives on purpose.
If fear could be reflected in a painting, I imagine you’d see various shades of grey.
Creativity, on the other hand, would be reflected in many of the colours represented on Elizabeth Gilbert’s book cover of Big Magic.
There’s lemon, amber, flaxen; magenta, salmon, rose; emerald, lime, sage; cobalt, Saphire, and azure.
I’d rather live a life of colour than various shades of grey.
So how do we live and embrace that life of colour when we’re accustomed to various shades of grey?
1. Own who you are.
This can be one of the most challenging things to do if you haven’t done it: own who you are. (But from the other side of having done it, it is one of the easiest things to maintain).
Own who you are: why wouldn’t we do this?
Oh, I dunno: because we weren’t given the space to explore who we are so we just haven’t spent time getting to know ourselves, or because we were too afraid of losing someone’s validation if we didn’t be who we thought they wanted us to be, or because we’ve been too busy doing stuff for others (since we were told it was selfish to own who we are and do anything for ourselves).
Really, though, you are just one person. So, you be you!
I can only represent my version of myself becoming me.
My version of me becoming me required me to embrace my hard stories, to own them, to acknowledge how they impacted me, to be honest about how I was choosing to show up in response to that impact, to recognize how I was self-sabotaging, to own that I liked certain things, that I didn’t like other things, or even that I was indifferent to some things.
These were some of the factors for me becoming more me.
I deeply identify with the lyrics of the Greatest Showman’s song, This is Me:
“I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
But I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
And I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me
Look out ’cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me.”
Elizabeth Gilbert reminds us, “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”
Girlfriend, if you don’t know who you are or can’t declare it unapologetically, I encourage you to find your voice, stand up, and declare THIS IS ME.
The second thing I’ve learned to embrace a life of colour of Big Magic is to follow your curiosities.
When I was a girl, one of the things I loved to do was design houses. Imagine me, a 12-year-old cutting up a Sears catalog and creating vision boards for each of the rooms in my dream home. I’d sit with a pencil, eraser, and ruler and try to create to-scale blueprints of a home I might one day live in with my four kids and physician husband (yes, I had that plan when I was a girl).
Believe it or not, I still have a copy of one of my earliest designs (interestingly, the bathroom was directly across from the dining room, a design guffaw for certain).
My childhood was filled with designing, creating, and writing.
I might have been designing that home before I was ten years old, sitting on the top bunk of my bunkbed in my sister’s and my 9×11 sleeping space in that brand-spanking new mobile home.
In my first apartment, I was content decorating my 900 sq ft space with cheap Impressionist prints that I found at the local hardware store for $10 each. I imagined this 2 bedroom apartment would likely be as luxurious a space as I might live in my adult life since I intended to be a registered nurse overseeing a Romanian orphanage (my contingency plan if I were 40 years old without kids), or I would be managing a clinic outpost in the Arctic to pay off my student loans, or I’d be paying them off faster if I could nurse at a Saudi hospital compound, or working in administration at an NGO supply center in Somalia.
(All plans I had on paper before I graduated from nursing school).
So you can imagine that I didn’t expect I would actually design my dream home one day.
But I have. Twice.
The second time I had that opportunity, I created and designed a home and a homestead built on raw land. It’s also where I live today.
Would you believe it? The very first time I stepped on that land with my four children and the realtor (without my husband, a physician, was at work), I knew that this land would be my home.
So many days I’d sit on the edge of an outcrop, dangle my toes toward the river, and imagine where the windows would be situated in my home and where the doors would be so I could walk out to feed the chickens and the goats in the morning or grab a cut of chives for dinner or sprigs of mint for tea.
If you were to walk my land with me, you’d see a whole bunch of Douglas fir, larch, and giant cedar because I live in the western region of the Kootenay Mountains in southern British Columbia.
A hundred feet below is a blue-green river, placid most of the day, reflecting the mountainous carpet of trees and an occasional CP Rail train chugging past.
Slightly moving ripples on the river move toward the canal a mile downstream. When the canal locks are opened, the water rises or falls quickly and dangerously.
To the west, just a hundred feet from our embankment is an island. It was once named Pig Island (because someone once corralled pigs there). I wonder what it was called when a century ago, an indigenous tribe would boat here to catch salmon every late summer.
Salmon has since been diverted by the canal and I learned much later that the indigenous tribe who summered on the island would not travel to where our home was as they deemed this sacred ground.
There is indeed something unusually peaceful about this place.
When we were building our home, the kids and I made camp on that island.
Fitted with a boat landing area, fire pit, and mature Douglas fir protecting its eastern edge, it is ideal for human use (though rarely anyone uses it).
Canadian geese families inhabit this island from spring to fall so we let them and their young be during that season. Bald eagle families inhabit the high ledges of those 200-foot trees all year long.
We are a cornucopia of Canadiana over here in the Kootenay Mountains (say that 5 times fast).
Numerous times we have canoed to the island to splash in the icy cove, our bodies burning as we swam over in life jackets and floaties, even in July. One Easter, I planted our kids’ Easter Egg hunt treasure on that island. Every summer, my husband and I canoe over to pick saskatoons for my favourite coconut saskatoon tarts.
But before our home was built on our raw land, I followed my curiosities and regularly sat on a ledge with my folding lawn chair propped up by shards of granite.
Scattered dry tree limbs and mossy, pine needles tangled with my dangling feet. To the west, below that outcropping, we built an outdoor kitchen: a roughly hewn fire pit. We pulled out rocks and trees roots and soil, layered sand and rocks, and created a grill (which we continue to use long after our home was built and comes in very handy when the electricity goes out, which it does, with all too frequent regularity).
On the only leveled spot of our three acres, we built our home.
Not in the pioneer, log cabin Laura Ingalls way. Neither of us could work a hammer before we built this homestead. (Almost a decade later, we can now maneuver all sorts of tools).
Rather, we hired a design firm, so they could properly design and build our one-and-a-half-story home (the bathroom and kitchen on opposite sides of the house, in case you were wondering).
I built and designed the house, and the homestead and this place reflects my soul.
Though I’m fully aware that not everyone has the opportunity to do this form of creative design (I certainly didn’t think I would have been able to either), as I share my story of bringing a childhood dream to adult life come true, you might be reminded of an audacious dream.
What is that dream and what is that curiosity you want to follow?
Naturally, I’ve got a theme song to inspire you toward that too: I give you the song A Million Dreams:
I close my eyes and I can see
The world that’s waiting up for me
That I call my own
Through the dark, through the door
Through where no one’s been before
But it feels like home
They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
Or that I’ve lost my mind
I don’t care, I don’t care, so call me crazy
We can live in a world that we design
‘Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colours fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
Oh a million dreams for the world we’re gonna make
There’s a house we can build
Every room inside is filled
With things from far away
The special things I compile
Each one there to make you smile
On a rainy day
They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy
They can say, they can say we’ve lost our minds
I don’t care, I don’t care if they call us crazy
Runaway to a world that we design
Every night I lie in bed
The brightest colours fill my head
A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
Oh a million dreams for the world we’re gonna make.”
Dream your dreams, homeschool mama, and follow your curiosities just as you’re encouraging your kids’ curiosities.
3. The third thing I’ve learned in order to embrace a life of colour, of Big Magic, is to pursue adventure.
When we choose a homeschool life, we quickly learn we need to unlearn (or deschool) a lot of notions about what an education is anyway, to deschool our notions of how an education gets created for our kids, we also get progressively clearer on our true values, (these values become more aligned with our daily activities), and we discover that we can live a life of adventure, adventure for our kids and ourselves.
And adventure always fuels Big Magic in our lives.
Remember how I imagined I had plans to work as an RN in the far north or a Saudi hospital compound? I told you about my dream of working in a Romanian orphanage or working at an NGO in Mogadishu, Somalia.
How could I pursue those things if I was a homeschool mom?
(Side note and super cool story rabbit trail, the NGO I was contracted to work with in Mogadishu, Somalia, pulled their ex-pats just weeks after the military coup that inspired the movie Black Hawk Down, so though I was contracted to go, I didn’t go…and that adventure would definitely not be one I’d aspire to bring my homeschool family).
Well, our homeschool family chose to do a whole lot of traveling during seven of our homeschool years. One of our biggest adventures was to travel to rural Kenya where my husband would share his time and expertise in a mission hospital.
I had decided before we left Canada not to bring the kids’ studies on our two-month trip, ten time zones away because I knew that we had an educational adventure awaiting us in the cross-culture.
It was an immersion in the language, the food, the social faux pas, and people’s stories. We had a guest speaker every time we talked to someone. The Kenyans introduced us to chapatis, chai tea, cabbage, and beans.
Kenyan folk introduced us to shaking hands warmly with strangers and acknowledging every child.
- They introduced us to sharing, even when there was almost no food in their straw hut kitchens.
- They taught us to slow down, see that more is not more, and appreciate what we already have.
- And they taught us that no matter where we live in this big wide world, families value similar things, no matter where and when we’re born.
Homeschooling while traveling gave our children adventures they could never have had in Canada.
Only in rural Kenya could our children spend a day with dad on daily rounds in pediatrics and the male medical ward.
One day, they all took turns putting on adult scrubs and masks and headed to the operating room.
Daddy could show them what he does for patients when he works in the OR: intubations, IVs, and anesthetics. Our kiddos watched their first surgeries up close and personal: a thyroidectomy, an exploratory laparotomy, open abdominal surgery, and orthopedic repairs.
The sprawling intestines weren’t a hit.
Road safety became an adventure.
The surroundings were hilly, seasonally green, and ripe for ankle sprains. Tan-brown muck stained our clothes and shoes.
But no matter what puddle we stepped through, or wild chickens we climbed over, the motorcycles on this continent demanded immediate attention: get off the road.
Our family learned about food availability and scarcity.
Most Kenyans can tell you what they ate in their childhood. Westerners could not document everything we ate in our childhood.
The daily menu plan of a well-fed rural Kenyan, we were told, was:
- chai and sweet bread for breakfast,
- beans, cabbage, ugali (maize porridge), and collard greens for lunch,
- and if you were lucky, sheep stew for dinner.
Even for those of us with means, the grocery store was still a rough, and I mean physically rough, three-hour ride in our uber-ambulance away. It was a treat to have a bag of carrots or apples.
Though unaccustomed, and not so curious to make new friends with new foods, we all tried many new foods, because we were hungry. We learned to be more thankful for our food, even if it was beans, again.
One afternoon, our four kids, aged three to eleven, and our guide, Agnes, went on a field trip. A field trip adventure to school.
We took a Toyota-sized taxi, along with four other strangers, to an even tinier village twenty minutes away. We then walked for fifteen minutes, past woven maize silos, shambas (family farms), wandering cows and sheep, and children of all sizes.
In the mountain town of Kapsowar, we watched uniformed primary kids walk an hour for their seven a.m. school start, five-year-old children piggyback their baby siblings, and non-schooled kids gather firewood and water for the entire day.
Learning to read and attend high school was a privilege, not a right, for most children.
It was an honour to don a crisp white shirt, plaid vest, and skirt and then head to school.
We stopped at the only private school in the area, started three years prior by the village chief’s wife.
The principal eagerly welcomed us, without an appointment, serving us Fanta sodas. He asked me about the education system of the west and how he could improve his tiny school. Irony? I, a homeschool mama, was both representing the WEST and also the education system.
In that conversation, I came to understand that the only way, in his opinion, to enable health and security for families of poverty, to which there were many more than I was accustomed in my part of the world, was for a child could test themselves into a good school (a strict educational caste-system, of sorts, or so he described, was in place to be accepted in vocational or academic post-secondary schools).
I realized, in the principal’s office of a rural Kenyan village school, with orange Fanta soda in my hand, a toddler sitting on my lap, and three other kiddos standing beside me, what a privilege it was to homeschool our children.
Our trip to this new-to-me world revealed that an education adventure could be found in the cross-culture without books tests and grades.
It turns out, we could incorporate Big Magic through travel adventures as a homeschool family.
We could live a life of Big Magical adventure by living this homeschool life.
I’ve learned that we can live our big magical lives when we embrace and own who we are, follow our curiosities, and live our adventures.
So I encourage you, through the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, “Do whatever brings you to life. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”
Just as we affirm our children in what they were meant to do and who they were meant to be, I also affirm and acknowledge you: you need to become who you are meant to be and do what you were meant to do.
I must be who I am and do the things I was meant to do.
You’ve listened to my stories. What comes up for you?
- What’s on your list of big magical adventures?
- So what have you learned about yourself?
- What would you like to include in your life?
- And what would you like to exclude from your life?
- What are your priorities and your values?
- And WHO are YOU?
It would be fitting that I close this episode with a song.
(You can find the link on the show notes on my website).
The song is written and sung by Martina McBridge, Anyway.
“You can spend your whole life building
Something from nothin’
One storm can come and blow it all away
Build it anyway
You can chase a dream that seems so out of reach
And you know it might not ever come your way
Dream it anyway
You can pour your soul out singing a song you believe in
That tomorrow they’ll forget you ever sang
Sing it anyway
Yeah, sing it anyway
I sing, I dream
As Rumi so eloquently said, “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you love. It will not lead you astray.”–Rumi
Elizabeth Gilbert shares in her book, Big Magic, “A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.”
So, in conclusion, I ask you this question (or Elizabeth Gilbert asks you this question), “…the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the hidden treasures within you?”
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Homeschool Mama Book Club
…how our favourite authors, like Elizabeth Gilbert, can inform our homeschools…
Join monthly to engage in book club discussions from important influencers that can shift how we show up in our homeschools & lives.
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Frequently Asked Questions
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Call to Adventure by Kevin MacLeod