Letters to Inspiring Writers: Dear Elizabeth Gilbert, I Do Love Your Voice
Subject: Letters to Inspiring Writers #8: Elizabeth Gilbert
Date: April 17, 2009 3:26:28 AM EDT
I hope you don’t mind that I am being so informal with you. After reading about your time as a Coyote Ugly muse, your extreme sadness over your divorce, and your urinary tract infection, I feel like I know you well enough to call you Liz. (I was even tempted to write “Dear Groceries,” as if I was Richard from Texas.)
I’m writing this letter to you for a column called “Letters to Inspiring Writers” on a website called nonpretentious. I say this because, if you decide to write me back (or meet me at Capogiro for Philadelphia’s finest gelato), I will post your reply to the site for everyone to read. I think it’s only fair if I tell you that now.
Your strength as a writer reflects how you describe yourself as a person – a mix between a sensitive soul, a social butterfly, a neurotic, an explorer, an intoxicating romantic, someone with ADD, and someone with resolute determination. I say this because your willingness to connect, share, and be vulnerable – while remaining quick-witted and approachable – is what got me through 300 pages of complete jealousy.
(Sorry, Liz, I’d love to say you had me at “I gave up all of my worldly possessions after an emotionally tiring divorce.” But, cynicism – a close friend of mine – reminded me that you replaced a permanent address with a book deal (read: paid vacation) to travel to Italy to learn Italian, eat artichokes, and pizza, to India to study at your guru’s ashram, and to Bali to hang with a medicine man and meet someone who fell madly in love with you. So, fine, I’m petty for resenting you, former SPIN-GQ-Esquire writer, This American Life contributor, Pushcart prize-winner, PEN/Faulkner finalist, and your tough life. Isn’t it some consolation that, after hearing your point of view, I became a Liz Gilbert convert?)
Which brings me to your TED talk.
I listened to your TED talk before I read your book. I imagined your voice, your delivery, as I flipped through those pages. Without dismissing your past success, and without dwelling on it either, your TED talk is about your decision to focus on the future. You describe the discipline and the faith you will need to continue even with the realization that you may have already reached your pinnacle. Your voice is quivering and your hands are shaking and your listeners – we, us, me – know that you have never taken the easy path in life.
How can I resent someone who is so. . .so. . .human?
Whenever I found myself gritting my teeth – like when you had to taste the best pizza in Italy or when you had to visit that beautiful, remote island near Bali – I thought about how hard you worked to get there. In work, in your marriage, in your search for self, you push yourself to the limit and then you push yourself some more.
As always, I’ll finish the column by posing a question to you. Even in your search for self, other people play a big part. You mention on your website that you trusted your friends to give you feedback on your work rather than a creative writing class. Who do you let into your writing process now? When do you seek feedback? When do you rely only on yourself?