Ancient Romans believed that each of us was born with a ‘genius’ (from the Latin gignere, meaning “to give birth or bring forth”), a guiding spirit who provided us with our unique thoughts or abilities. This spirit defined us, and gave meaning to our lives. If we had a brilliant idea, it was due to our genius.
Over time, we moved away from the idea of spirits, and instead attributed the word to the talent itself. A stroke of genius became a manifestation of someone’s abilities, not a gift from some angel on their shoulder. But anyone who has had a work come to life – seemingly without their help – will understand the idea behind a guiding spirit. When the muses strike, they do so as a part of our autonomic nervous system – without our conscious instruction. The brushstrokes may feel without purpose, the words may feel like a grind, or the music may feel aimless. Then one day, you look up and realize you built an empire without realizing it, and that something beautiful was there the whole time.
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9
In the internet age, there’s a natural tendency to want to protect our ideas. Theft is a real thing, and you don’t want to give away all your brilliance. Save it, instead, for the agents, for the publishers, for the hope that one day, you’ll reach your target audience. But this ‘idea abstinence’ (saving your ideas for a special person), seemingly forgets the goal of art, and it’s origin. In the words of J.M. Barrie, all of this has happened before and it will all happen again. We are recreating, building upon all that came before us, and translating it through our independent lens. We modify and deliver an old idea through our unique perspective – through our genius – and that’s what gives it new life. It’s also important to realize that we may not be the final destination of an idea, we might simply be planting the seed in someone else’s mind who can incubate it into something even greater.
Have you ever listened to a song and found yourself struck by a single line? Play it on repeat, why don’t you. Wear it out. Pick it apart. And then know that someone out there wrote those words hoping that they would be impactful. Dreaming that you would pick it up and give it a listen, that you would cry in your car, that you would feel what they were trying to convey. That person will never likely know that their goal has been achieved, but they left a little piece of their magic out there for you to pick up.
That’s what we’re all doing, every day. All of us are working at a giant masterpiece, leaving tiny pieces of ourselves to be picked up by others.
It’s not enough to just create something because the urge strikes you. We’re often afraid of being too big, or too much. We don’t want to share ourselves because we are afraid of rejection, or of coming across a certain way. But it’s important to have, as my friend Stephen Wells once put it, the audacity to share your works. It’s a fine balance of understanding that art – no matter the form – is not about the artist. It’s about the audience. It’s about producing something that moves another person, that furthers our sense of connection, and conveys clearly what it is to be human. Whether your pursuit is writing, art, a private venture, or just living your life with intention, you can only make an impact if the work is witnessed. You have been given a stroke of genius, and you mustn’t be afraid to let it pass through you so that it might reach the person for whom it was intended.
So share your magic, friends. Take that little light of yours, and let it shine.
Originally published on K.M. West's website (08-Oct-2019)