Elizabeth Gilbert (01/25/2010)
I fell in love with Elizabeth Gilbert’s smart, poetic, humorous and utterly authentic voice while reading Eat, Pray, Love. In the four years since its release, I re-read the book whenever I need to be reminded that awakening and wisdom are rewards that await on the other side of suffering, if I can be true to myself and follow my heart.
I arrived at Portland’s Bagdad Theater to see young women buzzing with urgency and excitement swarming the ticket counter. The historic theater lobby with rich mosaic ceilings, stone columns, and lacy iron lanterns was packed with people holding wine, beer, and copies of Gilbert’s new book Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage (unfortunately my comp ticket didn’t include a copy of the book). Squeezing through the crowd, my friend and I were too late for seats on the main floor, but found comfy velvet armchairs and a good view in the balcony.
For twenty minutes Gilbert read from Committed and told the story of herself, “a bird who could dive,” and her lover Felipé, “a fish who could fly,” and their healing love which began in Bali while Gilbert was on the last leg of her Eat, Pray, Love journey. Deeply wounded by their first marriages, both had sworn never to marry again, but after a long time of Felipé flying in and out of the U.S. on ninety-day visas, Homeland Security decided enough was enough. “Like a stern, old-fashioned father” the U.S. government presented them with the options of separation or marriage, and so this unlikely bird/fish duo “had been netted.”
Following the reading Gilbert gracefully responded to questions, and the gushing of fans, for about forty minutes. Several of the questions belied assumptions commonly held about life after marriage, such as the notion of “settling down” and the expectation that Gilbert would somehow do, or be, less. Gilbert’s take was refreshing and conveys the quiet confidence of a woman who remains true to herself. Pets and a garden speak of her ties to a home-base, whereas her relationship (married or otherwise) exists in a realm that cannot be limited by walls and a roof, or even laws and social convention.
When asked about taking her husband’s name, Gilbert replied that to do so never occurred to her, and further, that the issue is a red herring that detracts from the more essential feminist issues surrounding marriage, including intimacy, privacy, and equal rights. Gilbert is a smooth and relaxed speaker, and she discussed her pre-nup, love life, affluence, and legal entanglements with candor. She also dispensed advice to aspiring writers on the virtue of discipline and the importance of following one’s curiosity.
Despite several cell phones going off, a writer’s “dump on” (I think she meant to say “pitch to”) Gilbert, and the feeling that I might be at an opening for Sex and the City rather than a book reading, I walked away feeling touched and inspired by Gilbert’s creative essence and self-possession.