By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is “Follow your curiosity.”
The story, as I recall it, was that Elizabeth Gilbert was working on her follow-up book to Eat, Pray, Love when she got stuck. That’s stuck as in missing deadlines stuck. The more she tried to make it work, the more panic-stricken she became, which made her even more stuck in miserable stuckness. A friend suggested she set the project aside and follow her curiosity, so for several months she focused on her garden*. She planted, weeded, pruned, harvested, until one day inspiration blossomed and she went back to her desk and finished the book.
I use a variation of this when I hit blocks in my own work. Not quite to this extent, but with short breaks to rest my mind while I do something totally different, like going for a walk in the park or practicing a new trick with my dog. Some of my best creative solutions have come to me when I’ve completely given up and decided to take a long-overdue shower. Bam!
And I have started to think that curiosity can play a part in my healing process. As I grieve the loss of my dreams of motherhood and family, I sometimes get really stuck. I can’t figure out what to do with the next week let alone the rest of my life. Do I focus on my career? Do I become my community’s most giving volunteer? Do I challenge myself to break the marathon record for my age group?
Right. All of these seem so big and lofty (and not all that much fun), and I’m not ready to commit to any of them. But I can do something small. I can sign up for a one-day knitting workshop or a five-week Italian conversation class. I can purchase Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and listen until I understand why everyone considers it one of the greatest albums of all time. I could pick a particular era or event in history and read up on it, or I could rent one of Ken Burns’ documentary series and learn about prohibition, the American civil war, or the Central Park Five. I might select three cookbooks at my library and experiment until I create the perfect chocolate cream pie.
Wine tasting, photography, classic Russian novels…whatever I choose to explore, I hope it engages me enough that I get out of my head and heart for a bit. And who knows, maybe I’ll discover a new passion and direction in the process.
What are you curious about?
*By the way, I noticed in her bio that Ms. Gilbert has a new book coming out this fall. The Signature of All Things is described as “a sprawling tale of 19th-century botanical exploration.”
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.