Elizabeth Gilbert began her appearance last Sunday by admitting that earlier in the day she had somehow lost an hour “looking at the air” at the airport. She had therefore missed her flight, and arrived on time at Campbell Hall only as the result of some extremely fast driving. Next, she admitted that she had also happened to lose her speech. Gilbert then gave a rambling monologue loosely organized around the themes of having your act together, how strange (or not) it is to be famous, and the nature of genius. The talk lasted 25 minutes, after which she took questions.
If this sounds like a less than stellar performance, then you probably haven’t read Gilbert’s bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love. Things have a way of working out for the author, who describes herself in her book as someone who “could probably make friends with a four-foot-tall pile of sheetrock.” Certainly Gilbert did not need to make friends with many in the auditorium; the 99 percent female, sold-out crowd already seemed to regard her as an intimate. Gilbert’s signature compassion, intelligence, and wit were on evidence throughout, no less compelling for having been delivered off the cuff. Indeed, some of her most interesting material-her thoughts on memoir and on marriage-was delivered during the question-and-answer session.
The audience unabashedly relished the extended question-and-answer time for the chance it offered to interact with Gilbert. Several questioners seemed to want to hear the sequel to the book, asking what happened after it ended (she married the Brazilian) and what happened to Richard from Texas (yes, he’s still a big part of her life). The most important question, though, seemed to be how Gilbert, once severely depressed, had “gotten up off the bathroom floor.” Gilbert admitted that it was hard, but, she insisted, “It is rude to God not to try. There is something very precious about what you have been given. You should turn upon yourself at least a little shred of the compassion you would give to anyone who was suffering.” By that point, everyone had long forgiven her for having forgotten her notes.