Monday, March 10, 2014

LIVE with…Elizabeth Gilbert & Rayya Elias!

Authors, new books, and dreams being followed!
WELLINGTON — Last night I met Elizabeth Gilbert, for the second time. The first time didn't go so well. That was about three years ago on the Upper West Side of New York. Back then, I embarrassed myself in front of a crowd of several thousand who'd gathered to hear Elizabeth speak about Eat, Pray, Love. Although I'd wrangled a general admission ticket to the sold-out event, I'd wanted to sit right up front, in the VIP section. So, I bet one of the security guards at the event that I could guess the number he'd written on a piece of paper. The number was between 1 and 100, and I had three chances to get it right. My odds were terrible, but on the second guess, unbelievably, I nailed it (98, in case you're looking for a lucky pair of digits). To the front-row VIP section I scampered.

After Elizabeth finished speaking that night, my errant hand shot up to ask a question, and my equally errant mouth opened. At the time, I was working on the manuscript which would eventually become the book that is LIVE from Mongolia. It's a story about what happens when you pursue a lifelong dream. At the time, I'd been losing a little bit of faith in that dream, and I was looking to Someone Who Has Made It Big to fix all that. I wanted Elizabeth Gilbert to tell me what to do next, to hold my hand, maybe do a little of it for me. So, I asked the question I'd been forming in my head, which went along the rough-shod lines of, "How do I get published?" The crowd laughed at me, and I fled the scene in tears.

Anyway, deep down, I already knew what I had to do next. I had to keep going with my dream to birth my book. Eventually, I would.

Fast forward to last night in Wellington, New Zealand, where I have just moved from New York. Elizabeth is here with her friend Rayya Elias as part of New Zealand Festival's Writers Week. Elizabeth is promoting her latest book, The Signature of All Things and Rayya is promoting her first book, Harley Loco. In my backpack, I had a copy of my own book.

Rayya spoke first. She talked about Elizabeth, and she talked about addiction, sobriety, grit, and what it takes to actually enjoy pursuing a dream. She talked about the Lower East Side, about hairdressing and music, and about not giving up. She spoke with such passion that if you looked around the room, you could see the collective hairs stand on the collective necks of every single person in there. It was that sort of night. And then Elizabeth spoke.

Elizabeth has a theory about creativity, which I'll have to paraphrase. (Alas, I'd banished pen and paper from my evening in order to simply soak it all up and enjoy myself.) Her theory is that ideas, creative ideas, are out there in the "ether" looking for a home, looking for a mother. "Are you my mother?" a film project asks of filmmakers in every nook and cranny on Earth. "Are you my mother?" a book idea asks until it finds its author. And so on. When an idea taps you on the shoulder, it's not just saying hello and introducing itself. It's informing you that you better pack your bags for a long journey ahead. This fresh, new idea will give you time to gestate it, but it won't give you forever. If you wait too long, it'll move on to the next filmmaker, author, painter. This idea, this little creative fetus; it just wants to be born. You are the mother, or maybe you are not.

Elizabeth finished speaking, and the room heaved. Everybody needed to take a deep breath. Finally, someone's hand shot up to ask a question, and I'm relieved to say that the hand wasn't mine.

After Elizabeth took questions, she and Rayya signed books. There's something exquisitely nostalgic about holding an actual physical book in your hand. For one, it smells good. It smells like those summer afternoons when you were a kid and you didn't have anything better to do in the whole world other than your chores to empty the trash and weed the garden — and read a novel.

I bought Elizabeth's latest book. My friend Lissa Carlino, an aspiring novelist who'd accompanied me last night, bought Rayya's book. While Elizabeth signed for me, I pulled out the copy of my own book and explained why I was giving it to her. Giving birth to my creative baby took a long time, and somehow Elizabeth Gilbert had gotten tangled up, all those years ago, in the midwifery of it all.

"You did it," Elizabeth said to me, author to author, idea-mother to idea-mother. It was a pretty special moment.

On the way out, a woman named Amanda stopped me. "Were you just now talking about LIVE from Mongolia?" she asked. She'd seen me holding the book, she explained, and wondered if I was talking to Elizabeth Gilbert about it. Yes, I told her. "Why?" she asked. "I wrote it!" I said. "I'm reading it!" she exclaimed.

And with that, a night that didn't seem like it could get any better got even better.

'LIVE from Mongolia' is the true story of what can happen when you follow a lifelong dream. "This book is inspiring, and teaches all of us to put passion first, and happiness will follow," says 60 Minutes' Ira Rosen. 'LIVE from Mongolia' is available on Amazon (hardcover and Kindle), Barnes & Noble, and in bookstores internationally. Join us here for our weekly blog series about people all over the world following unusual dreams. 

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