Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert

I went last night to Davidson College to hear Elizabeth Gilbert - the woman who wrote that book I talked about way back in April in my post "Gift-Wrapped Tapestries" - do a talk with her sister, Catherine Gilbert Murdock (also a writer). To get there I had had to weasel my friend Austin into driving the half-hour north from his house to pick up our free tickets three weeks ago. Then yesterday I had to teach a full day of classes, ride my bike home, borrow a car, pick up my son from his Uncle's house, take him home, hand him off to my dad with instructions and a meal, and finally ride my bike the one hour back up past my school to where Austin lives so I could hitch a ride with him up to the college.

This was all a horrible, grinding affront to my natural, comfortable Self. I am a homebody. I like to do homebody things like reading, writing, pulling weeds in the garden, horsing around with the kid and learning to play my ukulele. I do not like traffic, or driving, or planning ahead. I did it all anyway, though, because it was that book that overflowed my bucket and convinced me that I could and should attempt to write the truth of my life, an endeavor that has become my "Anatomy of an Effup" series. Her writing is conversational, relaxed and personal, and although I do not claim to be a great writer, I am good enough at being myself. Reading her work convinced me that that was enough, as long as I was willing to tell the truth.

The upshot is that I have been able to say, publicly, things that I have hidden even from myself for years. Things in the dark have been brought to light, and I have been freed to breathe the clean air of a well-dusted environment. The hope I held as I began this sometimes painful work was that rooting down to the bodkin of my story would help others search out the hidden truths of their own lives, and the responses I have gotten thus far - even with such a rough draft as I have been sharing - have been amazing. I wasn't going to the lecture to fawn, therefore, but to listen and then give her a little note of thanks I had written.

As Austin and I approached the building where the lecture was to occur, I turned to him and said, "Look, dude, I gotta warn you... my guess is that this thing is probably gonna be mostly middle-aged women." We walked in and got in the extraordinarily long line, which (surprise, surprise) was mostly middle-aged women, all gibbering excitedly and pointing out lines to each other in their well-thumbed copies of her book, "Eat, Pray, Love".

Eventually they let us in; and after some guy in a suit told us how prestigious this lecture series was and some woman from the English Department played some embarrassing childhood recording of the lot of them pretending to be celebrity interviewers and proving that she and the lecturers were, in fact, Best Friends Forever, Elizabeth Gilbert and her sister came out onto the stage and sat down on a pair of red and blue armchairs.

When we had come in Austin, who is a professional actor and filmmaker, had informed me that the theater's backdrop, a modernist wood-frame set for Moliere's "Tartuffe", was in his opinion odd and misguided, and as they began to talk I found myself thinking of how deeply weird the whole situation was, with a couple of guys like us at this gathering of so many women. We had marched down front and center, one row back from the four mom-aged women who'd been valiant enough to sit in the spit pit. They turned when we sat, and one of them said, "Getting in touch with your feminine side? Or... I suppose you have to be here for your class?"

To which I replied, "Nope. Read the book and liked it, and Austin here saw the TED thing* on creativity."

They seemed genuinely shocked, but I suppose that had something to do with the fact that although I am thirty, I look like an eighteen year old mallrat. It is odd that someone of that sort would read Gilbert's book, and even odder that they'd like it. Nonetheless, we sat there and enjoyed her often witty and inspiring talk as hundreds of fawning women behind and in front of us gushed their approval at every little word and mannerism.

"Woo-Hoo!" Austin said a little too loudly, with a fist pump: "Welcome to the feminist rally!"

After it was over, I waylaid her on the way to the autograph table, bypassing the line in that obnoxious, chauvinist manner of all men, everywhere, and gave her the little note I'd pre-written, thanking her for her book and what it had done for me. I walked away, then, shoulder checking to make sure she hadn't tossed it in the round filing cabinet by the desk.

Who knows? Maybe she'll read it. And maybe, out of curiosity, she'll follow the link on the card I shamelessly stapled in and read this post and feel that weird sensation you get when you live one of your own experiences through someone else's eyes. Maybe she'll write me an impassioned letter, encouraging me in my art, and maybe we'll become, as Anne of Green Gables would say, "bosom friends".

Given the hundreds of gushing women at that lecture and the millions worldwide who probably also stalk this woman it is highly unlikely - and probably not something I would even benefit all that much from. I already suffer far too much from our cultural malady of celebrititis. Elizabeth Gilbert made the distinction during her talk between "fans" and "readers", and I hope that I am more the latter. It was good to be there, though, with my sardonic friend and all those women, and to say a word of thanks to one of the many, many writers from whom I've stolen a tiny bit of inspiration.

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*In which she was wearing the same shoes as she did last night, I'll have you know.

1 comment:

  1. Had you but mentioned your Wendell Barry fetish, your presence would have become self-explanatory to the women in the audience, I believe!

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