Famous for "Eat, Pray, Love," a memoir about her spiritual and personal exploration across Italy, India and Indonesia, author Elizabeth Gilbert encourages other women — and men — to go on their own journey, if possible.
Gilbert wrote the 2006 book, later made into a movie starring Julia Roberts, financed by a big publisher's advance.
She wants people to think, "What do I want the shape of my life to look like?" And, "when women start asking that question, it's a great thing."
Gilbert appears at the Voices Lectures event, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 13 at Tiffany Center, 1410 S.W. Morrison St. For tickets and info, see www.voicesinc.com.
After "Eat, Pray, Love," which has sold some 13 million copies, Gilbert has written other books, including best-seller "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear," and the latest work, the coming-of-age "City of Girls."
The Tribune caught up with Gilbert, 50, a New York University graduate and New York City resident, for some thoughts on "Eat, Pray, Love" and more:
Tribune: What are you going to talk about at the Voices event?
Gilbert: I'm going to talk about variations on my favorite topic — helping people get on the other side of fear, so they can do things creative and expansive. I'm very intimate with fear, I'm a high-anxiety person. I'm not scared of it anymore; I'm really comfortable with my fear. You have to surrender to the unpredictbale, and fear would choose you not to. I hate that people have fear, but I have a tender feeling for it. You have to acknowledge it exists.
Tribune: So, you would encourage fear of failure as a motivator?
Gilbert: Definitely. It's one of the hallmarks of our humanity. The language we're used to hearing is to attack fear. My experience is whenever I try to fight the feeling, it wins, it hits back harder. Fear likes to show me how tough it is. ... It's ancient and evolutionary and it prevents you to go to scenarios where the outcome is uncertain. ... This is the operating system. This is a healthy human operating system.
Tribune: Your personal journey for "Eat, Pray, Love" is very similar to local author Cheryl Strayed's in "Wild."
Gilbert: She's a dear friend of mine. I'm having lunch with her on Wednesday. In very different ways both of us talked about (finding one's self). I'm honored and flattered by comparisons. Her book came out after mine, but she went on her journey long before I did.
Tribune: So, do you now have everything figured out?
Gilbert: No, I haven't figured things out. I figured that chapter of my life out. Life is in session constantly, until it's not. There's an expectaion you're figuring things out in the present tense until you're not in the present tense. Earth school never stops. You get to keep everything you learned. The big breakthrough on that ("Eat, Pray, Love") journey, especially in India, was I had meditated all the time. I was learning how to sit alone in a room with myself without thinking I was going to die. I made friends with myself in those rooms.
Tribune: Tell us about "City of Girls," your latest book.
Gilbert: It's a coming-of-age novel, set in the New York City theater world in the 1940s, and it's about a young woman who goes to New York City and goes on a promiscuity bender. It's about female desire. It's a look back at life at age 90.
I did a lot of reserach meeting showgirls and dancers. When they talked about their wild life, it gave me a sense of permission to write about women going off. There's a line in the novel: "Every generation likes to think they invented sex." The women said, "Don't worry, we were having plenty of it." It's fascinating getting into that history, as well as birth control, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion. I met one showgirl who had five abortions, and she relayed that (information) without any anxiety — no apologies, no regrets.
Tribune: Did you have a fear of trying to stay at a national level after the "Eat, Pray, Love" book?
Gilbert: It has a life outside of me. What do you do after that? It's tempting to not take the risk of failure, and not do anything. I'm not going to write anything that has that impact again; it's impossible, it was a phenomenon.
Tribune: What's next for you?
Gilbert: My (personal) partner died of pancreatic and liver cancer almost two years ago. I knew I was going to write about her, but I didn't know how, but I'm feeling the coming of a novel, about grief and ways that people leave and ways they remain.
Basically, every book that I've written since "Eat, Pray, Love" has been like my acoustic album, from a band that once had a huge anthem album. It's whatever lights me up.
Tribune: You sound like somebody who truly enjoys talking with people and sharing your stories.
Gilbert: Most (writers) are uncomfortable talking with people. The reason they become writers is so they don't have to talk to people. This moment in history is difficult for introverted writers. You're expected to be on social media, be engaged with people. I have friends who are very reserved, quiet and introverted and they're beautiful writers. I'm a freak, I have the soul of a serious author but the personality of an airline hostess, very outgoing.
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