Liz's Gilbert's face was at least 20 feet tall.
The auditorium was buzzing, vibrant with the hum of hundreds of excited, imperceivable conversations all around me. At the front of the stage was a giant picture of Gilbert, author of a number of bestsellers, including “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Big Magic”. She holds her face in her hands, a knowing and weary smile just touching her lips and eyes. It was the face of someone who had a secret, but held it in a way that conveyed both apprehension and excitement.
In front of the giant portrait sat a massive audience. The theatre held nearly a thousand - a packed show. Some members of the audience had young unblemished skin and tight curls. Others stood hunched, their faces marked by age spots, laugh and worry lines etched deep, and had brilliant silver hair that had long since lost its original colour. One mother brought her daughters, no more than 10 years old. Many brought their moms.
Notably, the audience was almost entirely women. As we walked towards our seats, I estimated there might be 10 to 20 men in the whole auditorium. I was struck by how unfamiliar that felt to me, how rare a thing to be in a space completely dominated by women.
I laughed at the strangeness of it. This tour was based on “Big Magic,” a book about living a creative life with wholehearted courage. When the tour was announced, I was reading and enjoying that book, so my partner bought the tickets for me as a gift. But no one looking at the audience would ever believe the evening was for me. I looked the part of an unfortunate and unsuspecting husband, dragged along on his wife’s insistence. The optics of it were immediately apparent to my wife, annoying her and giving me no small amount of amusement.
My partner and I were silent as we took our seats, aware of the buzz of expectant excitement all around us. The space was pregnant with anticipation. But anticipation for what? We didn’t know exactly what this evening would be.“Big Magic” was released years ago (in 2015), and Gilbert had written a handful of books since then that didn’t seem to be a part of this tour. Would she be reading to us from the stage? Was this even a book tour?
We started the evening with so many unanswered questions. And Liz Gilbert’s 20 foot tall sly smile wasn’t giving out any answers.
And then, with a brief introduction from her publisher, the real Liz Gilbert emerged. Dwarfed under the backdrop of her 20-foot face, she appeared positively pedestrian in her short cut hair, thick rimmed glasses and khaki pants. The audience erupted with applause, and then settled into attentive silence.
And then Gilbert spoke. For over an hour, she held our collective attention fast. There was no covert multitasking, no faces washed in cell phone glow checking time or notifications. Instead, there were bursts of laughter, there were murmurs of agreement, there were fingers slid across eyelids, wiping away the occasional tear. There were gasps of shock, the collective intake of breath, and smiles of understanding and connection between complete strangers.
I wouldn’t describe the event as a comedy show, despite some of those tears being those of laughter. It was not strictly a motivational speech, despite the fact that many of us came away profoundly moved, motivated to approach our lives with renewed passion. I also wouldn’t call it promotion, despite the fact I came away with even greater interest in Gilbert, and her writing projects.
After the show ended, as we left the auditorium and walked along the busy sidewalks to our car, I wondered what, exactly, we just saw. We were part of something special, but what exactly, and why was it so impactful?
It was a performance, certainly. There could be no doubt that the material of the evening had been meticulously practiced, curated and masterfully performed. Sitting down to listen to someone talk for a solid hour could either be a joy, or considered a form of torture. But care was taken with this evening and these stories. The audience knew they were in good hands from the first moments. No joke felt canned, no story over dramatized, no life lesson fabricated.
At its core, the event was a surprisingly simple one. Years ago Gilbert started writing advice and observations on how to live a creative life beyond fear, and was suddenly confronted with the realization she better practice what she was preaching (or “smoke what she was selling”, as she put it). She committed to follow her curiosity and creativity wherever it went, even (and especially) when it terrified her.
In the years that followed, she wrote a collection of stories about how that authentic bravery was both an invaluable gift and how it cost her dearly and remained a constant challenge. Those stories were deeply personal, but the themes of authenticity and courage were universal.
Those two traits are actually inseparable. You cannot have one without the other. Those who aim to be brave and courageous without authenticity are really only posturing. Those who dare to be authentic, to be fully themselves, they require the courage to look both within and without with clear eyes.
The evening wasn’t captivating because of Gilbert’s particular set of skills or status as an accomplished author. It was captivating because she was brave and vulnerably authentic. It was much less about her books, and more about the conditions she keeps herself in to be able to write them.
It was her humanity, rather than her celebrity, that called to us that evening.
Liz Gilbert, the New York Times bestselling and celebrated author, who travels the country with 20-foot tall promotional portraits was pretty impressive. Liz Gilbert, the vulnerable, creative and courageous human was even more so.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.