I know I said my presence online would be minimum this month, but y’all, let me tell you. This blog post is worth it.
It was Girls Weekend, so Lesli, Susan, and I were doing our usual thing. We eat, we talk, we have coffee, we talk some more. Sometime around 2 a.m. we realize that we’re not 25 years old anymore and our bodies cannot handle such late hours. The whole thing begins again for one more day and then we don’t see each other for several months.
On the rare occasion, we’ll go to an event, a museum, or a movie, and Saturday night was one of those times. Elizabeth Gilbert was coming to Knoxville to read an excerpt from her new book, The Signature of All Things, and discuss writing/creativity/life with the audience. (She is best known for the wildly popular and inspiring memoir Eat, Pray, Love.) The three of us were giddy with excitement to hear whatever batch of wisdom Liz would have for us. All attendees received a signed copy of SOAT, and I took notes on the inside cover page of mine.
She was as ever bit as brilliant as I knew she’d be. Clever, witty, eager to share with the audience what she had learned over the years of being an aspiring writer. Write every day, so that when you don’t write for a couple of days you know that something is missing.
The evening concluded too soon and I held back tears as she graciously thanked Knoxville for the warm reception. (Liz isn’t unfamiliar with Knoxville. She taught creative writing for one semester at the University of Tennessee in 2005, immediately after her year-long sojourn that eventually became Eat, Pray, Love.) Audience members were invited to have their books personalized in the lobby, and I swear every single person did just that. The line was painfully long but we stood in it anyway. My moment with Liz Gilbert was less than 10 seconds; I didn’t even speak to her. Both Susan and Lesli had more courage and swapped polite conversation, but I said nothing. If I had opened my mouth, I would’ve said too much and started crying. I might have even crawled in her lap. (In hindsight, she probably would’ve listened to my drivel patiently because she is too kind to do anything else.)
As a whole, the night was perfect.
But it wasn’t over.
The girls and I walked to Coffee & Chocolate for a treat. Conversation floated from our favorite bits of Liz’s talk to other unrelated things. We had been there nearly an hour when I casually glanced at the small group of ladies standing at the register. There was Liz, ordering a steamed milk and talking with three women who were obviously as inspired as we had been. That’s her, I mouthed to Susan and Lesli. That’s Elizabeth Gilbert!
My eyes bulged. I said all sorts of profanity and Susan stripped off her cardigan. (Because clearly that’s what you do when you find Liz Gilbert standing five feet away from you ordering a steamed milk. You strip and cuss.)
I said more profanity and pulled out my phone. Despite the cardiac arrest I was clearly experiencing, I was going to be bold and ask her for a picture. Susan, minus her cardigan, grabbed her phone too and stood next to me and waited for just the right moment to interject. (Lesli, at nearly 32 weeks pregnant, stayed calm.)
From the depth of my gut, I squeaked out, “Um, excuse me? Can we have a picture with you?”
Liz turned a kind, smiling face our way and said, “Absolutely! Come on!”
Y’all, seriously. SERIOUSLY. I might be smiling all calm and cool in this photo, but I was on the verge of vomiting all over the floor from nerves. What a crazy, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime moment this was for me, for us, for three women who dearly love reading, love writing, love learning from other smart, strong women who have important things to say. Again, I barely spoke to her because I would’ve lost all self-restraint. Instead, I said, “Tonight was wonderful. Thank you very much.”
My cup runneth over.
This morning, as I add to the novel I started four days ago, I’m meditating on these words from Saturday night: Your story chose you and needs to be told through you. Meeting Elizabeth Gilbert was exactly the gift I needed in this year, in this month, in this season of molding my words into fiction. None of this was by chance, for I am too smart to consider it as such. All of Saturday night was on purpose.
“Destiny, I feel, is also a relationship – a play between divine grace and willful self-effort.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love