Last night Tim and I attended Elizabeth Gilbert: A Conversation with Pico Iyer at the Granada Theatre in Santa Barbara, California. My personal fandom with Liz Gilbert began when most everyone’s did – when I read “Eat, Pray, Love”. Since then, I’ve read her follow-up book about marriage, “Committed: A Love Story” and her most recent book about living a creative life, “Big Magic”. I have not read any of her fiction – which, by all accounts, is also excellent. Her fiction doesn’t interest me right now. (Fiction, in general, doesn’t interest me right now.) Which is not a dig against it. The thing is, I get so much insight, faith, and inspiration from her as a person….from listening to her talk about her own experiences, her own epiphanies and her own humanity. It’s soul-soothing. During this era of my life – it’s what I need.
I got the tickets for this event not knowing what to expect from “A Conversation” with some person she’s never mentioned before. Still, I knew it was going to be something great! For Tim, this was all new. He’d seen the E,P,L movie and a TED Talk or two of hers, and he’d listened to me blather on about “Big Magic” last year when I read it. But he didn’t really know Liz Gilbert. So I felt a tiny twinge of that feeling women get when they drag a guy to a chick flick. Mostly, though, I knew he’d get as much from it as I would.
So, there we sat, our first time in the really gorgeous Granada Theatre on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara, eager to see and hear Elizabeth Gilbert, the Eat, Pray, Love girl, in the flesh.
The audience was prohibited from taking photos during the show, and from electronically recording any part of the talk. So I took notes. Old school!
First Pico took the stage, spoke briefly, and warmly, and instantly won over the audience. He gave Liz the kindest introduction, filling it with accolades and deep, authentic writer-to-writer respect. Then Liz came out – first her swinging blonde bob appeared, then the rest of her followed. They sat on arm chairs, like they were just chillin' somewhere in a hotel lobby. Liz greeted the audience, thanked Pico for the amazing intro, said she would like to just sit and marinate in all the kind words he said about her, then they were off! He asked questions – which seemed more like cues to tell her what to talk about. Then she would answer, very thoroughly, for a while. So, while it was an “interview”, it was mostly Liz just telling us things. Here are some of the things she told us.
The first question (I didn’t write down every question, so this is an anomaly, not the start of an outstanding structure!)– During the course of this Big Magic book tour, what is the one thing which has most surprised you?
Liz said strangers will often walk up to her and say they feel weird because they feel as if they know her, even though they’ve never met her. Her response is “You DO know me, because I have told you everything about myself”. She said that she is the “weirdo”, who has told 12 million complete strangers her most personal details of her life, her innermost thoughts. Yet each of the 12 million people really are complete strangers to her. When she meets someone who has read her work and, therefore, knows all about her, the awkwardness those people often express to her is caused by the imbalance in the relationship. She said she often tries to cure the imbalance as quickly as possible, by asking people rapid-fire questions about themselves…which really doesn’t work.
She said in all of her books, her “thing”, her process, has always been to research the heck out of a subject – read and reference books and books and books on a topic – then compile all of her newly-found knowledge into a manuscript. She’d been wanting to write a book like “Big Magic” for a long time – nearly twelve years. During that time, she’d collected all the books she could on creativity, delving into her typical process. Then one day she looked up at the shelf where she kept all these books on creativity and she thought “I don’t care. I don't want to read these books. I simply don't care.”. She realized she had more than enough real-life experience on the topic of creativity to write “Big Magic” – so she just wrote it. It’s her first book which is written simply based on what Liz Gilbert thinks. She said the most surprising thing about this book tour is –people agree with her thoughts in the book, no matter how “out there” the thoughts may seem.
Next Pico asked her about curiosity. Calling attention to her belief that the opposite of fear is curiosity, he asked her how she quiets her fears, to remain curious. She spoke about fear a few times last night – here’s what I got out of it.
Humans are here to create. We are here to create, to make things, to make things beautiful, to better our surroundings. It’s what we do. Somehow, here in the US, we get the creativity knocked out of us – maybe our teacher in 2nd grade told us we cannot sing, so we never sing again. Or maybe it’s not singing, maybe it’s drawing or dancing or creating art – we take those early criticisms and decide “creating isn’t for me”. Even though we are made to create.
Liz said her grandparents were from Scandinavia. They were Scandinavian farmers. Lutherans. “You cannot get more practical than that”. They didn’t have a lot of money – so her grandmother would make things they needed, by hand. She knitted blankets. Even as pragmatic as she was, when she knitted a blanket, she knitted beautiful blankets. Works of art. She could just as easily have created basic, plain, one-color blankets which would have served the purpose just as well. But she chose to create items of beauty, as well as function. Why is that? What made her choose to do that?
When you go to Papua New Guinea, and the entire village is sitting together, singing, “Steve” is not sitting off on his own in the corner saying “I don’t sing.”. Everyone is engaged in the humanity of the moment, not limited by whether or not they think they are “good” at it.
We are here to create. "We are not here to pay bills then die."
Each of us has that creativity inside of us. We have a deep need to make things – even if it’s just one thing – a thing that lives on after us and shows I was here. I mattered. I made something, and it made the world better, more beautiful.
Liz said she doesn’t know why she feels such a deep need to evangelize about this topic…why she cannot just leave people alone to live their lives. But she wants everyone to live more creatively. Find the time. Make it a priority. When people say they don’t have the time, she responds by saying people who have affairs always find time to be with their lover. They could have 3 kids at home, a job, a commute, and still they find time to be with their lover.
Make creativity your lover.
“The only limitless things in the Universe are the Universe itself, and human imagination.”
To be continued….