Me & Liz
I’m going into this post knowing full well that instead of writing about what’s inspiring me about writing, I should be…you know, writing. But you wonderful readers are kind enough to delight in my delights, and so it would be unfair of me to keep the events of this week to myself.
I adore one Elizabeth Gilbert, she of Eat, Pray, Love fame. The book was profoundly impactful in my life, not in the least because I discovered it at the very moment I was in a place where I could fully receive it. More than that, her words have stayed with me like good friends since first discovering them, there for me when I need them.
That best known book, however, is not the only bit of Gilbert and her work I adore. I am not some fair-weather Liz Gilbert lover. No sir, not me.
My adoration extends to Committed, a book Gilbert herself admits she just needed to “get out there” and, while no EPL, is still incredibly insightful and smart and dare I say liberating for those of us perpetually single and in no rush to pair off.
My adoration extends to her TED talk on genius, 20 minutes of conversation that I listen to on a monthly basis, if not more often. It is easily my favorite talk on the site (trailed only by Brene Brown’s on vulnerability) and I may have it playing in the background as I write this.
My adoration extends to her social media presence, her daily posts on embracing this world around us and being an active participant in it (currently balanced with a fierce passion for the World Cup); her unabashed love for a great curse word – or two, or three – and a great meal; and the essays and interviews that pop up here and there, each an opportunity to see the author in new light.
Fast forward to last year when buzz started building around her latest book, a sweeping Victorian novel called The Signature of All Things – of course, I was interested sight unseen. When I saw the book on sale at Target (and signed!), I snagged it. Me, the girl who typically limits my book buying to Strand and its used shelves – I tossed it in my cart without a second thought.
I’d planned on going to an author event of hers late last year, and was really looking forward to it, too. But a good friend was in town the same night and as I told her, I knew the opportunity would come around again – I was certain of it. Fast forward once more to the paperback release of SOAT this week and the announcement of a small book tour the author would be attending to promote it. First stop: Brooklyn. $15 tickets. Calendar marked in a big red circle. I’d be there.
Of course, it occurred to me I should probably read the copy of SOAT I’d picked up months previously and subsequently added to my ever-growing To Read pile, so I plucked it out and dove in happily. I sunk into that wonderful habit of reading before bed, reading on the subway, reading in line at the grocery store, reading on the plane home for a family reunion. Which is where I read this passage, dabbed tears from my eyes, and snapped and posted an Instagram of it (including the hashtag #signatureofallthings).
A bit less than halfway through the book, and Gilbert was already delivering in ways I’d come to expect (and some I didn’t). The voice of the book is reassuringly confident and charmingly dated – it’s as if you’ve just picked up an Austen or Bronte. The story is multi-layered and multi-generational, specific down to the smallest details about botany and early American history, and filled with turns of phrase I can practically hear in Gilbert’s voice.
Little did I know that the hashtag above would have me be found, as hashtags are built to do, by a producer with HuffingtonPost Live, who asked via Twitter if I’d like to join an on-air conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert on the day of SOAT‘s paperback release. Yes, please! After some back and forth due to my own work schedule and Gilbert’s lingering bronchitis, the spot and the conversation was on (she even RTed my mention of it!).
In a haze of nerves, I listened in as she spoke about the book and took questions from the two other guests. Then it was my turn. She said “Hi, Lisa!” and I somehow eeked out the words to ask the person whose writing has shaped my perspective on the world as an adult perhaps more than anyone else I’m not related to a question about how she manages to stay moving, to stay productive.
Click the image and jump ahead to the exchange at 13:50. What you can see is a tremendously gracious author answer a question she’s likely been asked a thousand times in a genuine, meaningful way. What you can’t see is that I’m dabbing away at tears in my eyes as she speaks about asking oneself “What did you come here to do?” and being honest about the answer.
Still floating from our earlier exchange (I think I got some work done that afternoon. I don’t remember.), I got to the Brooklyn event that night in time to nab a seat in the third row. I listened as she and Rebecca Mead (author of My Life in Middlemarch, which I must now read) discussed the fame following EPL, the decision not to have children, the challenge of writing in that sweeping Victorian style and much more. Afterwards, I lined up with my fellow fans to have my well-loved copy of EPL signed, my heart beating with those darn nerves again as I approached. Like a little girl meeting Cinderella at Disney World, I practiced in my head what I wanted to say and then could get none of it out when the moment arrived.
I did manage to mention I’d spoken to her that day, and she was kind enough to say she thought I’d looked familiar – but the line behind me was long and the staff keeping the event running smoothly were efficient in their efforts, so I moved along after she wrote a quick “For Lisa” on the title page of both EPL and SOAT. I contemplated waiting for the line to end, staying for a picture with her – but she was still fighting that bronchitis and would have a lot of pictures to take. After the day I’d already had, the cloud I was already floating on, no need to be greedy.
Now Gilbert is off across the country on that book tour, and I’m back to full workdays and carving out time to think about writing and time to actually write. Though I’d hoped for a new BFF, I am beyond elated that our paths crossed at all, however briefly. I remember walking the Monon one summer several years ago, listening to Gilbert’s own reading of Eat, Pray, Love.
I’d picked up the audio version thinking I’d get through the book a bit faster. Instead, I’d stop and stand on that trail as pedestrians passed and cyclists zoomed by, lost in a moment that wasn’t mine but felt so close to home I would’ve sworn it was. I’d re-listen to parts just to hear her message again, to truly internalize it. Later, as I traveled across India, I thought of how possible Gilbert made it seem, thanked her in my own indirect way for helping to open me up to this idea that had been just a seed, a distant impossibility.
I’ve talked a lot lately about how much I’m looking forward to this summer – that the twists and turns of the last few months have finally opened up into a straightaway that has me seeing ahead more clearly than I have in a while. I think Tuesday’s encounters are a sign I’m on the right track.