“While your job as a writer is to hone the instrument of your life to transmit the best possible writing, your job as a person is to honor and cultivate the balance and delight of your existence here on Earth. When writing is in service to our life, we are likely to be balanced and content. When our life is in service to our writing, it can feel like driving without breaks.” ~ Sage Cohen, The Productive Writer

This morning, after writing morning pages, I opened my new copy of The Productive Writer (thank you to Christi Craig for the recommendation and to my dear husband and son for the book store gift card with which I bought it!), and an amazing thing happened. I like to flip through non-fiction books randomly at first, before I read them start to finish, and the first page the book opened to was page 76 and a section titled “The Genius Is Not the Muse.”

[Imagine Twilight Zone music]

You see, yesterday, in one of my humanities classes, I showed Elizabeth Gilbert’s popular TED Talk on nurturing creativity (watch or re-watch the video at the end of this post). The college where I teach is in its tenth and final week of the quarter, and I wanted to give the students a perspective with which they might approach their final projects and exams. In her talk, Gilbert not only provides a terrific overview of creativity in the arts from the perspective of inspiration, she also offers us the possibility of adopting the psychological construct of thinking of one’s genius as outside of us, “kind of like Dobby, the house elf, who would come out and sort of visibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work.”

The section that The Productive Writer fell open to in my hands this morning was a discussion of Gilbert’s talk specifically, something I didn’t know was in the book at all.

But wait. As in all good infomercials, there’s more.

Last night in the class I am taking, we learned of the idea of jinn, which in Islamic and Arabic cultures and folklore are free-willed spirits that can influence human beings. We mainly discussed the psychological benefits of being able to blame something outside of ourselves for unwanted, internal states or feelings.

Yesterday was “one of those days” for me (we all have them, so insert your own details here). Before I went to bed, I thought about how much better it felt simply to blame the day on some impetuous or mean jinn rather than get down on myself for not feeling better.

Then I thought of how, to use Elizabeth Gilbert’s phrasing, I nonetheless did my part. I showed up. I did my dance anyway. I finished my morning work and taught my classes and attended my evening class.

And now, this morning, looking at The Productive Writer open on the chair beside me, I realize that my own genius is on the ball this morning.

Whether you prefer the idea of a genius with time management issues or a jinn that can sometimes wreak havoc with our minds, the important point is that we need only to do our part, to show up. Or, in Sage Cohen’s words, to “honor and cultivate the balance and delight of your existence here on Earth.”

Olé to you!