Friday, December 12, 2008

Life Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert

(Sorry the pciture isn't good - the spotlight was terribly bright).

That was completely interesting & entertaining and I'm glad I decided to come afterall. Feeling exhausted, queasy & down right crappy since last week, especially the last few days, the rain today & the 1981 movie Tron nearly made me stay snuggly warm in bed with Vic this afternoon! (And when the thought "She speaks all around North/Western NJ all the time" popped into my head, I shooed it away & started getting ready!)

And the $45 admission was so worth it being that the proceeds were being split between the Hunterdon County Library and the Hunterdon County Cancer Center. The first 3 rows were reserved for cancer survivors from the Center who now donate their time to help others thru this horrible disease - as the Director said when someone is crying, she could say she understands, but it wouldn't be true. She can kind of imagine but these Survivors know first hand and can offer empathy which helps & means more than sympathy a lot of the time.

That's when I thought of C from the online book club I belong to, to whom I sent my "Happy Surprises" care package to day before yesterday, who is fighting Cancer now. I hope she has wonderful people like these where she is.

I felt like a spy or imposter as most of the women who attended are from Hunterdon County and/or the Library or Cancer Center, all of which is local for Ms. Gilbert since she lives there as well. (She and Felipe, her husband, own a business in Frenchtown NJ! I do believe we went there in September & I had no idea!)

I know I'm not remembering everything (I didn't think to borrow Mom's little tape recorder until today - lol!) but I hope you'll get the gist of the evening.

Elizabeth is funny and eloquent. She began with how a woman walked into the business she and her husband own (Two Buttons), right up to Felipe and said, "Do you know this business is owned by a very famous author?!" Amused, he replied, "No I didn't! Who might this very famous author be?" The woman answered, "Barbara Kingslover!" and walked away from him, shaking her head. Liz said she wasn't sure how this rumor got started (it wasn't the first time she'd heard it) but for anyone who was expecting Barbara Kingslover to be speaking this evening, she was sorry to disappoint them but that Barbara was in Arizona (she thought) and if anyone wanted to leave, she wouldn't be the least bit upset.

She then told a story of how she was at the San Francisco airport waiting for her flight to Santa Barbara where she was going to speak to 2,000 people and she began thinking about her nephew asking for a nerf gun and if she should buy it for him since her sister is Quaker... A lot of time passes and when she suddenly realizes where she is and why, the plane has left and there were no more flights that day to Santa Barbara.

After much panick on her, her publicists and the organizer's part, she took a plane to Los Angeles where the organizer had to fly up the coast to pick her up & take her to the event. Along the way, she lost her notes for the speach and her comb. They arrived 5 minutes before the start, she was an absolute mess and was supposed to give a talk on getting ones life together!

She said she tells this humiliating story to illustrate a point: That just because you settle or "figure out" a specific area (or a tiny aspect of your life) doesn't mean you have solved the big picture or that you won't ever have another problem or other area of yourself/your life to improve. You still have to work at yourself and your life every day, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little.

She talked about how easy and unfortunate it is that once we feel as though we've achieved some sense of calm about something, we see someone whom we think has done it better and it throws our entire being into swirling doubt, about how we as women are constantly comaring themselves with others we think have it all or have it better (and who most of the times don't) which lead her to make an incredible point that I had never considered much less thought of before:

Women now, especially in the United States, have so many options (and we're so over-connected to the world and un-connected to ourselves - that's just my 2 cents, not Liz's), we are the first women in history, meaning women of the last hundred years, to be in this position and we have no "role models" as it were, so there's no one for us to look to for true guidance and while that aspect is daunting, we are fortunate. In the past, women (and even men to an extent) lived life as they were told and expected to, regardless of their feelings. (Women in Asia and the Middle East still go through this now).

I'm still thinking about the impact that point had on me!

Liz is still pleasantly surprised that the "best place in the world" where she's settled (now with Felipe) is NJ, unexpected to say the least. She said she still loves when she tells people this and they've no idea how to react. It's the first time in her life where she feels as though she fits it and it part of a community. She knows she's fortunate because without the monetary success of EPL, she wouldn't be able to live where she does.

This made me so sad - Vic & I were both born & raised here and unless we hit the lottery (or I write a very successful novel), we have to find our "best place in the world" elsewhere. Even in this economy, NJ is for the wealthy.

Anyway, after talking a bit about how people ask her all the time, "Did you ever think EPL would be SO successful?!" (To which she always has the desire to answer, "Why yes, of course!")...

And this is for all of you Richard from Texas fans:

Liz and Richard from Texas were talking on the phone the other day and he asked her, "How are you going to top this Groceries?" She said she's ok if she never "tops" EPL because it's incredible journey since publication in 2006 has been beyond anything she could've ever imagined and she doesn't think there's any way she could intentionally set out to "top" this experience.

Then Liz said she'd talked enough and wanted the audience talk, so she'd take questions. I was a bit startled by this, I hadn't thought of any "questions" prior to arriving.

One of the few men who attended asked if she was surprised at how the book has been received in other countries given that we are the society which is constantly trying to improve itself because we never think we're good enough (because other cultures tend to be more spiritual and less materialistic than ours).

A couple of women thanked her for sharing so honestly about what she's been through. Another asked what is was like for her to come back to the Country after being away for a year.

A woman asked for advice on going on a journey without physically going anywhere and another woman, one of the few younger women in the crowd, gushed. Oh my how she gushed! And cried. I do believe she referred to EPL as her new "Bible" but she also thanked Liz for writing it and how much it spoke to her. She said her sister, seated next to her, gave her the book and she was thankful for that too. She asked Liz for advice on how to handle her perfectionist tendencies.

My first thought was that you have to accept who you are, regardless of the flaws and work on what drives others crazy about you (because that's generally what you don't realize is driving you crazy about yourself!)

Liz said someone once told her "Your responsibility is to be the least annoying person you can be" and then basically told her the same thing I had just thought only moments before! (Nice! I've come a LONG way!)

She also said that one of the best pieces of "advice" she can give everyone is to make a commitment of 5 minutes to up to a half hour, any time of the day and any way you can, to sit in silence. No tv, no cell phone, no computers or lap tops, no music, no phones, no nothing.

A lovely older woman told Liz about her writing, more specifically how she writes - does she set out each days to write for a specific amount of time/pages/words or just when inspiration hits. Liz used a saying I've heard many times before, "If you wait to write until inspiration hits, you'll be waiting a VERY LONG TIME!" She goes to bed early, wakes early and write from about 6:30am until around noon, 1pm. That's when she's working on a specific project. If she's not, she may not write for a considerable amount of time unless the mood strikes. But she feels that if you put the effort into it, you'll be rewarded. (She likens herself to a plow and inspiration to an angel - it's her job to plow a field every day as as she does her work, the angel watches over her & guides her).

She's been working on her next book, Meditations on Marriage (I don't recall the specific title), diligently for the last 3 to 4 months and is nearly finished. It's not a 'pick up where she left off' from EPL, but it is the next chapter of her life.

And for CoL: She and Felipe were together for 2 1/2 years before it was firmly suggested to them by a border patrol agent that they marry (after a "tense" border crossing). She lived here in NJ, he lived in Brazil, so it was a long distance relationship for much of its' beginning, giving her plenty of time to continue her journey and accept herself. They were both terrified of marriage given the monumentous mistakes they both made in their first marriages and neither realized they were ready to make that step until they "were proposed to by the border patrol officer" that day & that came after much panick at home.

Now they have their lives, seperately and together. (She has step children!) They are both happy.

Liz said there's nothing she'd rather do with her life than write. She said if it's not working out for you, step away from it, try anything & everything else and if there's nothing you love more, than stick with it. (This goes for any "career" choice).

With that, she ended and thanked everyone for coming out in such nasty weather to see her (it was raining & windy). She spoke with a few people, took a couple of pictures and discretely left.

I am so glad I went and feel more validated that I can too make something good come of all my craziness. And next time we're in Frenchtown, we're stopping by Two Buttons again!


trosekay said...

Jo, I'm so glad you were able to attend this and thank you so much for sharing your evening and experience with us. If she ever come to SLC I'm going to have to be there. Thanks!

Hannah Banana said...

Jo, I'm so glad that you got to see Liz. Thanks for the great summary!

GardeningJo said...

You're both quite welcome! ;)