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Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Gilbert’

[February 3, 2010, UNM Sub Ballroom]


By Carolyn Flynn





Elizabeth Gilbert in Albuquerque, February 3,
2010, in the UNM Sub Ballroom, photo © 2010
by ybonesy. All rights reserved.






From The “You Can’t Hurry Love” Department:


The age at which people marry is the greatest predictor of a failed marriage, so marry late and lower your expectations.

“You almost can’t wait long enough,” says author Elizabeth Gilbert to an audience of about 720 book lovers that gathered in the University of New Mexico SUB ballroom in Albuquerque this month to hear her read from her newest book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.

“The expectation thing is huge,” Gilbert goes on to say. “We have overloaded this institution.”

American marriage is supposed to be the safe harbor for soul gratification, life partner, wealth building, child rearing and everyday companion.

“I don’t want to become the goddess of lower your expectations,” Gilbert says, “but manage them.”

In an interview before the event, Gilbert says more about that: “People who marry at heat of infatuation. The only one way to go from there is to speed down. People who marry from place of love and friendship find that over the years they find their love just deepens.”

Gilbert didn’t set out to be an expert on romance and marriage. Rather, the author of the mega-best-selling Eat, Pray, Love set out to be the “bride of writing,” as she proclaims on her Web site, elizabethgilbert.com.

“I married it,” she tells the audience, which, judging by the questions, has more concerns about what she will write next and how she writes it than fixing up their love lives. “This is what I’m for. This is my purpose.”


The “unidentical twin”


Gilbert set out on a career in writing with this simple goal: “I just wanted to see something published before I died. And people in my family live a long time.”

She also set out to travel, to do yoga and to recover her heart after a brutal divorce and an even-more brutal breakup in a rebound relationship. That led to Eat, Pray, Love, which took readers from Italy to India to Indonesia, where she met the man she loves and shares her life with, the Brazilian gem importer she calls Felipe in her books.

What she didn’t plan on was that her journey would lead her to Committed, released in January 2010.

That book opens with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announcing to Gilbert and her sweetie that their 90-day chunks of commitment — which resembled marriage in every way but weren’t marriage — weren’t going to pass muster. Felipe, an Australian citizen, was in the U.S. on a limited visa that allowed him to stay with Gilbert in their non-wedded state of bliss in Philadelphia about three months at a time. Then, he would have to depart to parts elsewhere, sometimes with Gilbert, only to return. This activity appeared suspicious in the post-9/11 world. Homeland Security announced they would deport him… though a friendly official known only in the book as “Officer Tom” gently advised them that they could solve this problem with the M-word — marriage.

“What we determined, quite swiftly there in the bowels of the Dallas-Fort Worth airport was that it would be hugely to our benefit to do this,” says Gilbert.

Thus, another journey began — and another book.

The route to writing a follow-up to Eat, Pray, Love, was, shall we say, a learning experience.

“The notion that we (as writers) are supposed to be defeating ourselves strikes me as cannibalistic and a little scary,” Gilbert says.

The author considered that Eat, Pray, Love, was her last book “and maybe she would be selling scented candles.”

But she also reminded herself that writers have long careers, and she planned to be writing at least until she was 80. Now 40, she realized that she had 40 more years of writing ahead of her, of which Eat, Pray, Love, would be a small part.

The struggle that she believes every writer has is that the final product is often the “unidentical twin of what you had in mind.”

It took 500 pages and some time off to shed the mantle of expectations for what her next book would be. She freely admits she rejected the first 500 pages, making the painful decision that she could not turn it in to her publisher, which was expecting a manuscript.

She had to take six months off and do something completely different until it became clearer how to approach the next book. That meant a lot of gardening. “Your hands are in the dirt, it’s restorative, and every so often you get a cherry tomato,” she says.

One day in the fall, the first line of Committed came to her. It was in a different voice.

“The problem with the early draft was trying to write in an imitation of my Eat, Pray, Love voice,” she says.


Lessons about love


That version of the draft was a completely different way to tell the same story she tells in Committed, which gets us back to what Gilbert has learned about marriage.

At the Albuquerque event, Gilbert read from the opening of the book, in which she and her sweetie, whom she calls Felipe in both books, were averse to marriage, though there was no absence of love. Both were survivors of nasty divorces. Gilbert had borne witness to what she referred to in Committed to the fact that every relationship has buried within it the “ever-coiled makings of a catastrophe.”

In an interview before the event, Gilbert says her yearlong search to define marriage for herself, she came to understand what had doomed her first marriage was not going to doom her second. “What doomed our marriage — pretty simply, (is we were) young stupid, selfish and immature.

“You take those traits and apply them day-to-day and watch them get eroded.”

But Gilbert also had to make her peace with how much of her marriage was public – owned by the government and the community – and how much was private. “It’s not just your own story,” she says.

Yes, two people who are in love write their own code, governing the graceful balance of give and take.

But their relationship also belongs to the community. And to the U.S. government, as she learned. And to history. “And some would say it belongs to God,” she says in the interview.


‘Waiting to be born’


Gilbert worked through the tremendous expectations not only about marriage, but about her next book. She admits to big time writer’s block. In a 2008 TED lecture on creativity, she wonders why writers put this on themselves. Her father, a chemical engineer, never had chemical engineering block.

Gilbert tells the audience in Albuquerque that what saves her is her work ethic. “I’m a little bit sloppy.”

The newspaper columnist Russell Banks admitted to being lazy and a perfectionist.

This is a difficult aspect in a writer, Gilbert says. “You need to be the opposite.”

“I just refused to die as a person who had 30 pages of a novel in her drawer,” she says.

The biggest thing that kept her going through Committed, is she wants to get to the next project, which she says will be fiction. There are “those things lining up waiting to be born.”





Carolyn Flynn, an MFA candidate in fiction and creative nonfiction at Spalding University, has seen her literary short stories published in Ellipsis and The Crescent Review, as well as the German anthology Wilde Frauen. She is the winner of the Renwick-Sumerwell and SouthWest Writers fiction prizes and has been short-listed for the Tom Howard Prose Prize in creative nonfiction and the Danahy Prize in fiction. For the past ten years, she has been editor of SAGE magazine, published monthly in the Albuquerque Journal. The author of seven nonfiction books on body-mind-spirit topics, she lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her 10-year-old twins.

Carolyn also wrote red Ravine posts An Evening With Elizabeth Gilbert & Anne Lamott after seeing the two writers together in 2008 on the UCLA campus and The Devil Came Down To Austin about seeing ghosts of her father while attending the 2007 Agents & Editors Conference. You can find out more about Carolyn at carolynflynn.com.

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By Carolyn Flynn

For red Ravine


SAGE Editor, author and redRavine.com contributor Carolyn Flynn recently attended “An Evening with Elizabeth Gilbert and Anne Lamott” on the UCLA campus.




 

To loosen up before writing a new book, Elizabeth Gilbert invites one person to join her and live inside her head. She says she wrote Eat Pray Love as a letter to her friend Darcy. “You should never begin unless you have in mind one person,” Gilbert says. “It’s good if you choose somebody who likes you.”

Gilbert is before an audience at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus with Anne Lamott, author of Operating Instructions and Traveling Mercies, and they are sharing tattoos and exchanging metaphors because that’s what writers do when they get together. “Like my boots?” Gilbert says, clicking her toes together, then her heels, “I’m acting like a second grader,” she says.

Gilbert has just introduced Lamott and everyone is laughing. My son is slapping his knee and nearly falling on the floor. Gilbert confesses that she was so giddy when Lamott blurbed her book that she drank two margaritas and ate an entire bag of Halloween candy. When she called Lamott to thank her, she thought about chirping out that charming anecdote, but then, she says, “I realized that might not be the most professional way to introduce myself.”

Now, with 4 million copies of Eat Pray Love sold, their lecture agents have brought them together for two nights of conversation — here at Royce Hall and the next night on Lamott’s home turf in Marin County, California. It’s a rare evening that’s been waiting to happen for about the past four years, starting back with that crisis point in Gilbert’s life when she was going through a highly charged divorce and a gut-wrenching breakup with her transitional relationship (“It didn’t work. No one could see that coming,” she says, deadpanning). Gilbert was planning her trip to Italy, India and Indonesia that would be the tableau for Eat Pray Love and pitching the idea to her editor.

But a book about spirituality was a tough sell. We’re talking about people who say “fuck” eight times before breakfast but can’t say the G-word, Gilbert says. And forget about the J-word. She told her editor, “But don’t worry, I feel like I can tell that story, kind of like Anne Lamott would.”

And so the seed of a great pairing was born. Gilbert breaks away from the format that the writers’ lecture agents prescribed for them and introduces Lamott to the audience. “If she had not done this, there wouldn’t have been a path,” she says. “She proved to the world that you can write about divinity in a way that does not make intelligent people want to projectile vomit.”

That blurb that prompted Gilbert’s ecstatic binge on fun-size M&Ms meant a lot. “If she liked the book, if she did blurb me, then it was a stamp of authenticity: It’s safe to read this.”


Thoughts on Faith

Then Lamott reads her story, “Ski Patrol,” from Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. Again, my son’s sides are splitting with giddy laughter, maybe because he relates to Lamott’s son’s embarrassment about her feeble attempts to ski, a lack of grace he can easily picture in his own mother. In the story, Lamott takes a rather ungraceful and ill-advised leap from the chair lift and lands in a contorted heap in a mound of snow. She has no other choice but to ask for help, she says, “something I force myself to do every four to five years.” But she believes that help will always come — eventually. For instance, she says, “America will heal from the Bush years — eventually.”

After her reading, the two writers sit in comfy chairs like we’re all just in their living room. Lamott launches the conversation with, “So what’s your favorite question for an interviewer to ask you?” But she follows with this question, before Gilbert can answer: “Are you on any particular spiritual path?”

Gilbert admits to “cherry-picking” in Eat Pray Love but says we should not be apologetic about embracing a diversity of spiritual beliefs. Spirituality is evolving, and many of the current structures aren’t a perfect fit. If she had to say just one, it would the yogic path, which led her to the ashram in India. “Buddhism makes the most sense intellectually, but it doesn’t grab my heart,” Gilbert says.

Part of her needs the messiness of not having just one path, Gilbert says, but she tells Lamott she admires her for being anchored in one church community, St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City, California. “You have one place that’s your home,” Gilbert says. “I admire that. While drinking from many wells.”

Lamott, who describes her church as the one with the scraggly Charlie Brown Christmas tree and the ragged hearts, says it was just the right place for her. “I am very devout, but I don’t have certainty or conviction. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt; it’s certainty.”

Though many people look to her for wisdom, she says she’s unqualified to answer spiritual questions that the greatest minds of the world have explored, such as how to explain suffering. “I’m just a post-alcoholic, post-menopausal tired person. I don’t know.”

Lamott’s down-to-earth spirituality is easy to embrace. “Like everybody else, I forget it. I think things into the ground.” But it’s very simple. It’s about how you live and how you respond to suffering. All traditions know this. “When you see suffering, you don’t look away.” Lamott was raised in an atheist home with a strong social justice orientation, so her faith is through the lens of helping others. “If I want to feel really loving, I need to do loving things,” she says. “Faith without works is dead.”

Gilbert notes that when she examined the arc of Lamott’s work, she saw an evolution from Operating Instructions, Lamott’s memoir of the first year of her son’s life, which came not too long after she got sober. Lamott was a single mom who hadn’t planned on raising a baby boy on her own. Gilbert notes that in Operating Instructions there were “so many shredded edges,” but now Lamott has raised a son to adulthood and written three books on faith and people are coming to her.

But Lamott won’t say it’s easier for her. “When I wake up in the morning, I’m mentally ill.” All of her obsessive-compulsive disorders and addiction tendencies have woken up already and made the coffee and they’re sitting on the bed. “I have written so many books. People think it goes well for me.” But she says, “Humor and laughter are carbonated forms of holiness.”



On Writing: A Work Ethic and a Little Grace

Neither writer says it’s easy to write. Neither says she has any discipline whatsoever. Gilbert tells a story about the poet Ruth Stone, who would receive poems fully formed in her imagination. Her challenge was racing up from the strawberry fields back to the house to get a pen and paper and get it down before it left. To this, Lamott says, “I’ve never heard of Ruth Stone until now, but she is now my mortal enemy.”

For example, Lamott says, it took her two weeks to write the 1,500 words in “Ski Patrol.” Her first prayer in the morning, when she’s greeted with all of her demons is “God, help me get out of the way so that what needs to be written can be written.” For her, the process is to work really hard to get the “shitty first draft” that she writes about in Bird by Bird, her book about writing, and the rest is getting out of the way. “Everything is five or six drafts.”

Gilbert calls it the “angel and the plow mule,” harkening to her Calvinist work ethic Connecticut upbringing. “This is my job. I’m the plow mule,” she says. She believes that if she works hard enough, the angel will come along and put the moving sidewalk under your plow.

“For artists, the enemy is perfectionism,” Lamott comments to this. When you are writing, you are finding out slowly what it is. “You have to un-learn everything they told you. You have to waste paper.”


The Auntie Brigade

Gilbert has not taken the path of motherhood, and Lamott asks about that. Gilbert attributes much of her angst in her 20s and early 30s to grieving that. She knew she wasn’t going to have children, by choice.

She says when you examine any human settlement in any culture, any time, you’ll find a very consistent 10 to 20 percent of females who don’t have children. It’s so consistent, that she has concluded that it’s a genetic necessity to have a cadre of adult, caring, compassionate women who do not have their own children. She calls it the “Auntie Brigade,” and she likes to think of herself as a “sparent” — a spare parent. “I feel a kinship with those women,” Gilbert says, adding an aside that she has since married her sweetheart from Eat Pray Love.

“What’s the most important thing you know?” Lamott asks her.

“Gentleness,” Gilbert says. She’s learned how to be gentle with herself, like the “older sister, older me” in Eat Pray Love. This is the older, wiser self who will say, “You want to do that? Well, that’s OK. You know it didn’t work out so well the last time. But if you really need to do that, you can do that.” She’s learned to trust that wise counsel, which grants her free will with compassion.


The Abyss

“You haven’t asked, but I’m going to tell you,” Lamott says. “What’s the most important thing I know? We’re all afraid.”

Lamott, who takes the spotlight for a bit to sound off on the presidential election, says in America, we’re all walking around with “this sheet metal loneliness.” American culture is about disguising that. “In America, if you do fall into the abyss, you go shopping. Go to Ikea and buy a throw rug.”

This “sheet metal loneliness” is protecting us from the dark night of the soul, Lamott says. We are very fearful, “but truth and beauty win out. The right thing will happen.”

 


      
Photos of Gilbert and Lamott from authors’ websites; photo of Lamott by
Mark Richards; book photo © 2008 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.



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