Over the past couple of years, author Elizabeth Gilbert has been something of a joke in our house. We read her book The Last American Man for book group, and neither Kris nor I were impressed. It was certainly well-written, but the subject was lame, and we felt as if Gilbert were writing a love letter rather than a biography.
We’ve had friends read Gilbert’s subsequent memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, and their reactions have mostly been ambivalent, as if they couldn’t understand the hype.
So, Kris and I are unimpressed.
My opinion of Gilbert has changed. After viewing her presentation, I have new-found respect for her and her process. What she describes is similar to what I experience. I’m not saying that I’m a genius, but what glimpses of genius I may have often seem to come from somewhere outside myself. (I think of it as possessing a muse, but maybe that’s because I don’t really understand the word.)
Gilbert tells the story of a poet who, as a young woman, would feel poems coming at her from across the landscape. She would run to the house to grab pencil and a paper before the poem would pass her by. I experience something similar. I am not joking.
When people ask me where I get my ideas, I tell them the best ones come from mowing the lawn. It’s true. For some reason I cannot fathom, when I am mowing the lawn (or doing other yardwork), I come up with the most brilliant ideas. For a long time, I would lose these ideas. I wouldn’t remember them by the time I was finished with my work. Frustrated, I developed a system. Now I keep a pencil and a pad of paper near the door. If I’m working outside and the muse comes to me, I stop what I’m doing, and I go to my pad of paper to write it down. I capture these bits of genius.
Gilbert’s talk is brilliant — at least to me, as a writer. It captures some bit of writerliness, and for that I am grateful.
(On a sidenote: Kris and I watched Almost Famous the other night. I knew the plot going in, so I expected the film to be “about” rock bands. Sure, that’s a main theme. But I was impressed that this is one of the best films I’ve ever seen about what it’s like to be a writer. Capote? That’s a film about a writer, not about writing. Almost Famous is about writing, and I love it for that.)