Write, Pray, Hope: Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert
You see, about a week ago, my editor told me, quite casually, “Oh, I asked that agent about your book…” (This was the agent she’d told me about, the mythical agent who could, she said, sense whether or not a book would be popular by, I don’t know, sniffing the query letter.) But when my editor mentioned my book to her, the agent said, “‘Oh, I already have an angel book I’m working on. I’ll pass.'”
And my heart sank to the floor. For three days, it lay there – flopping around in a death dance of angst and wretchedness that I was unable to own or explain. Three long days I felt unmoored, unseen.
I felt wasted – as if my life itself had been wasted. And all because someone that I’ve never met, and now, never will meet, said, without looking at my work, “I’ll pass.”
And then, this morning, I woke up and saw the trailer for the movie, “Eat Pray Love,” and I have to admit that, for at least an hour, I hated Elizabeth Gilbert.
But then, I took myself to my daily cafe – and settled at my corner table with iced tea and poached egg on a nice piece of whole grain toast and I got over it.
This pity party can not stand. This liability – this tenderness, this vulnerability. This is the kind of thing that has kept me hidden from view for 53 years – that has left me standing at the center of the stage of my own life, hands open to the stars, asking: Why?
Why would the gods make me this sensitive, this open – so tender that I can feel light with my fingertips and then and then and then… ? I mean, Why give me this light to hold? Why, if you never open the window? Am I just supposed to stand here and hold it until it burns right through my hands?
And then today, after anguish, after jealousy, after bitterness, it came to me.
Yes, you are supposed to stand there.
Yes, you are supposed to hold the light.
Yes, even if it burns. Yes.
Because, the thing is, it’s not about the gods. It’s about you.
Today, when I woke up hating Elizabeth Gilbert, I was ashamed of myself. It wasn’t a personal hate – I’m sure she’s a very nice person. I saw her TED talk. I saw her on Oprah, she’s beautiful – and interesting, well-spoken and real.
This envy had nothing to do with her. It was a white hot lie that was searing me from the inside out like a slab of raw tuna. Envy. A, wailing, sour, “Why not me?” that sent me searching her website at 5:00 in the morning for clues.
I had to know: What specialness, what difference, what entitlement of breeding, accidental opportunity, education, and dumb luck separates this writer from me? We’re both magazine editors; both good writers, both… nice. What forces of destiny conspired to give her the gift of a year in Italy, India and Indonesia eating pasta, meditating and riding a bicycle around Bali – when I am… well, you know, here?
I know now.
In the trailer, there’s a scene, a bit of the story that I don’t remember from Gilbert’s best-selling book where Julia Roberts, as Gilbert, stands in the office of the editor of a magazine and she asks the magazine to send her on a year-long journey, which she will chronicle, and write a book.
She asks. And before that, she worked. Head down, nose to the grindstone work – inner and outer – and she built a relationship of trust with that editor. She was reliable. She wrote outstanding prose for that magazine; and, also, she authored several other books. Every brick in the foundation of what she calls, in her TED talk, this “freakish success” was laid by her.
And then, she asked her question, that pivotal, now archetypal, “Please, Sir (or in her case, Madam) May I have some more?”
This morning’s envy-fest led me to my own question: What about me? And so I asked it – of myself.
What I found was this: I’ve laid the foundation. I work – hard. Like Elizabeth, God’s voice has lifted me from the bathroom floor more than once. As for inspiration, there is an entire room in my house crammed with notebooks so pregnant with ideas that when you open the cover of any one of them, it bleeds.
All that’s missing is that one simple step: I don’t ask.
I stand there, hands filled with light, and I don’t – I can’t let myself take the exquisite risk of asking for more.
Today, my envy taught me something. Today, I am asking. Instead of sitting here seething with envy and powerlessness, I am ripping a window in the wall of my life and demanding: Please, please – I want more.
The deep-down, soul-aching truth is: I am in love with Elizabeth Gilbert – in love in that deep, crushy way that a woman loves and celebrates another woman who is doing the thing that she, herself, longs to do. I adore and honor this beautiful talented woman who is daring to live, daring to write, daring to ask.
And so today, out of that love, on the day that the film of her miraculous book opens in theaters, I am sitting at my desk, opening my hands and letting the light pour onto the page. I am writing. I am praying, I am asking: Lord, let me be truly useful.
Today, I am celebrating Elizabeth Gilbert, and blessing her journey, filled with hope for my own. Thank you, dear Elizabeth – for showing me how to write, pray and Hope – and how to ask.