The first thing that struck me about her was her demeanor. Given the enormous success of her novel, which was subsequently made into the movie starring Julia Roberts, I expected her to have some grand air about her. Surprisingly, she came on stage and even though we were in an auditorium filled with hundreds of people, I felt I was having coffee with a friend. Given how organized her thoughts were and how the story she told came together, I realized it had to be a prepared speech, but it came across as a conversation. I was also struck by her soft spoken voice, humor, wit and height – she is tall!
Her first words on stage were, “Wow! There is a man here. Wait. There is another one. Don’t you all know where you are?” We all laughed. She then moved into sharing a bit more about who she is – beyond what she shared in her book. Liz, which is what she goes by, shared with us her passion for writing and that it is a gift, the only gift, she was born with. At seven years old, she was given her first journal, and in her initial entry wrote about her recent sledding experience which she equated to being “like riding a thoroughbred that got stung by a bee.” Yes, at such a young age, she already had a knack for writing. In fact, at the age of 15, she made a vow to writing – a commitment where she would give it her all and expect nothing in return. And look what happened!
For years, she spent her days writing about and for men, starting out with cowboys and then moving to the lobster fishermen of Maine. However, she is thankful that the Eat, Pray, Love concept came about later in her career. She said that had she written it and become famous for it at the age of 20, she, like many of the women who become famous at a young age, would also be getting out of limos without underwear!
The greatest challenge in dealing with her fame has been facing disappointment. For example, many people now expect something of her, and she clarified by saying that none of these expectations are irrational or unreasonable. She simply cannot do everything. She cannot call every daughter who is struggling or review every potential writer’s pitch.
She also faced the disappointment of her fans and publisher. We all hoped she could repeat Eat, Pray, Love – but in a different way. In a better way. That was tough to deal with, especially when she was faced with a book contract deadline. Apparently, her latest novel, Committed, was published as a re-write. On its original due date and after having printed it at her local Kinko’s, she knew it was terrible. She could not send that yellow envelope to her publisher, so she emailed him and said how sorry she was but she it was not her best work and could not deliver on her deadline. While he understood, he did say he was disappointed. (There is that word again.)
For the next seven months, Liz took a break from writing and instead, took up gardening. Why? She read somewhere that there are two cures for depression – be not idol, be not solitary. She did not know if she would ever write again, so she gardened day and night in hopes that she would figure out what was next. At the end of October, she was gardening when suddenly, just like in a movie, a leaf was falling from a tree ever so slowly gliding side to side and down toward the ground. At this moment, the first lines from her next book came to her, and for the next three months, she wrote, or shall I say, rewrote the book we now know as Committed. She was now ready to write her book rather than the book that would make 10 million people happy. Interestingly, it was purposely named this because of the many connotations of this word, and she says it is her favorite book out of the ones she wrote.
I know many have had positive and negative views on each of these novels – Eat, Pray, Love and Committed. It was interesting to hear directly from the author what her intent was, especially in the second book. Many have said she is hypocritical because in one book she says marriage is bad while in the other she says it is good. I was intrigued to hear why she now sees the value of marriage. Yes, it is true that had immigration allowed her now husband back into the country, they would have been Bohemian enough to not get married. However, now that they are, she sees great value in it. For example, in her New Jersey community, she noticed a greater level of acceptance and they now carried a “badge of respect” as a married couple. She also said that we cannot practice intimacy without privacy and we cannot have privacy without rights and we cannot have rights without the legal bounds of marriage. I had never considered marriage in this way and thought this to be so profound!
Many asked about her experience in India, which she considered to be the hinge to her life, in that there was her life “before India” and her life “after India.” While she did have an experience of enlightenment during her four months at the Ashram, it is not as though she is permanently enlightened. She still experiences the mundane days of having to do grown-up things and even cited this past January as being a bad month for her overall. What did stick with her from India is the idea of unconditional self love. She had to dig deep in the trenches to get at her “stuff” and accept it. She also learned how to differentiate between a crisis and a “life puzzle.”
My favorite story of hers was the one that happened toward the end of her multi-year divorce with her ex-husband. She went to the mid-town post office just across from Madison Square Garden to mail important documents. It took every ounce of energy to be there, but she had to get the documents out. Once she was done, she went into the corner and cried hysterically, which she said you can do in New York and no one would notice (which is true). Rather than go home and continue to cry as she had been doing for two months, she told herself she had to go outside and walk around until she could find something beautiful. So beautiful, that she would look at it and acknowledge just how beautiful it was. After that, she could go home and cry.
As soon as she stepped out of the post office, she saw elephants. Yes, elephants in New York City. They were decorated with vibrant colors and walked along the bus lane. Some of you may immediately think of the book, The Secret, which speaks about manifestation. Liz reminded us she manifested nothing. The circus was in town and they walk these elephants every day for exercise. However, because of what she told herself inside the post office and what she subsequently saw outside, she could claim those elephants as her elephants, her sign, her “God.” They were her reminder to break out of the mundane and move into the realm of new possibilities….and that is how she began to get over the pain of her divorce. To this day, when she sees an elephant, she sees it as a sign of possibility.