Friday, January 22, 2016

Be the Lobster

I recently read the book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert and was absolutely gobsmacked. The book is a paradigm shift in how we should approach creativity. Gilbert posits that we need to throw away the trope of the tormented artist in favor of lightness, curiosity and play in our creative work. She has definitely inspired me in how I will approach my writing life from this moment forward. 

To illustrate an important point in this book, Gilbert tells the story of an American artist who goes to Paris to be inspired. One day he finds himself at a cafe and meets some charming aristocrats. In the course of their conversation, they invite the American to a costume party at a castle in the Loire Valley. Being the starving artist that he was, he had to use his creativity and ingenuity to come up with a costume for the party. 

Upon his arrival, he immediately realized that he missed something in translation of the invitation: the costume party was a theme party -- a medieval court. Everyone was dressed in period gowns and were dripping with jewels. The young American came dressed as... a lobster, replete with red tights, a painted red face, and giant foam claws. 

At this moment, the young American had two choices: run away in shame, or stay and risk the torment of being the only one not dressed like everyone else. In that moment, he decided to descend the stairs and join the party. In so doing, he ended up being the life of the party and even danced with the queen of Belgium. 

I read this story to my students this week. They wrote about it in their writer's notebooks and we talked about it as a class. As I discussed this story with all three of my 8th grade classes, there was the inevitable suggestion that, "Hey! Let's all dress as lobsters for Halloween!" Or, "We should all go to homecoming dressed as lobsters next year!" As some students nodded their heads in assent or verbally expressed their enthusiasm, I immediately thought to myself that some of them had missed the point. 

So the next day, I brought in the picture book The Hueys in the New Sweater by Oliver Jeffers. This is a book about a group of people who are all the same. Until one day one of the Hueys decides to knit a sweater and be different than everyone else. At first the Hueys are horrified, but eventually the sweater catches on, and then this happens:

So now the new mantra in our classroom is BE THE LOBSTER. But let's make an important distincton here -- "be THE lobster." Not "be A lobster." When given the choice to be like everyone else dressed in gowns and jewels, walk down those stairs into the ball wearing your red tights and giant foam claws and dance with the queen of Belgium. Put yourself out there. Be vulnerable. Don't be like the Hueys. 

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres


  1. Some books/authors reach us more than others. Big Magic has really done its magic well with many readers. For me the thought that spoke the most was that when an idea comes, work with it, it won't wait forever, it might find someone else to collaborate with. "Be THE lobster" is something your students will probably remember for the rest of their life.

  2. I've just requested The Hueys in the New Sweater from my public library. Looks like a great book to share with my students. I want to read Big Magic sometime soon as well. Thanks for sharing your great ideas!

  3. I have some few other books to finish before Big Magic, but you & others make me want to read right now. How creative you are to follow that lesson with an additional one so that the students get the point. Now, they will remember! Thoughts often turn to Halloween, don't they? My granddaughter was just sharing with me her ideas for what she might wear.

  4. There's so much I love about this post!!! I love how you took a story from Big Magic and used it with your students. BE THE LOBSTER. What a mantra! I confess, I struggle being the lobster and I aspire to BE THE LOBSTER. Definitely getting that picture book too. You always inspire me! Thank you!

  5. I agree with Terje, the thought that most resonated with me was when an idea deigned to come to live with you, pay attention and work with it right away because it won't hang around forever.

  6. Love this work you are doing with creativity and being brave. Such important work for us all! I'm reading Big Magic and loving it. Thanks for sharing The Hueys book. Sounds like a must have.

  7. I love that you followed up with the Hueys. It got at the point very well. I'm so reluctant to be the lobster. Sticking out is something I have always avoided. It's hard for me to step out. I have often wished that I could be that bold. It would require a big shift in my mindset though. Perhaps. You make me want to try.

  8. I am reading Big Magic and savoring it. This one is for me, though. I hadn't thought of using it with my students. I love how you shared the two stories to make the message loud and clear. Great mantra: Be the Lobster.

    1. I can picture you soaking up each syllable.....looking forward to seeing Big Magic manifest in you and your students.