Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love), in an oft-linked-to TED Talk described how our culture expects impossible things from artists and geniuses. We are supposed to create and create, and be brilliant each time. Yet we aren't. She suggested that instead of someone "being" a genius, all of us "have" a genius, a creature separate from ourselves that sometimes shows up, and sometimes doesn't. When that genius is there, we are brilliant. And when the genius fails to show up, well, we aren't. Failure of genius is not the artist's fault as long as the artist keeps showing up and doing his/her job.
I've thought about Gilbert's words often. Then in a recent post, Deborah Freedman shared a description of W. Heath Robinson's very own genius.
He was sincerity itself, and he had the simplicity of a child combined with the wisdom of old father William. No mortal could compare with him for ingenuity and inventiveness. He could do wonderful things with a piece of knotted string. There was one thing he lacked and that was a sense of humour; perhaps this was not a loss, for strangely enough it made him all the more humorous. It seemed wrong, however, to laugh at one so earnest, so guileless and free from cynicism, but at times he was irresistible. Fortunately, he was far too busy to care whether I laughed or not.
And so I wonder, what does my genius look like? And will she mind that I've noticed her? I promise to keep working and be available whenever she wishes to appear. And when she doesn't, I will keep on working. So come on by, genius. I'll be there whenever you are ready to show up.