“Be the lobster”

Elizabeth Gilbert discusses writing, fear and life at Writer’s Center Stage on Nov. 17

Nardine Taleb, Contributing Reporter

Do you have the courage?

This is the question Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and “The Signature of All Things” asked her audience on Monday, Nov. 17 at the Writers Center Stage program, hosted at Tinkham Veale Center. The program invites remarkable authors, poets and journalists to discuss their art and answer questions. Often, the audience is made up of the author’s fans and of artists seeking for inspiration. The question Gilbert offered, then, was not only specifically directed to artists, but any person in the ballroom.

Courage is essential to almost everything in life. However, in order to have courage, the presence of fear must be acknowledged. As a young girl, Gilbert not only acknowledged fear, but also clung to it.

She admitted to her audience that she was afraid of everything as a kid. She was afraid of snow, of “Sesame Street” and practically every story that had an antagonist (which, she noted, was every story). Fear seized her life so much that she was called “Reverend Cry-Baby Pee-Pants.”

Gilbert realized that “Fear, at its essence, is a boring thing,” and that defending fear made no sense. So Gilbert did the scariest thing of all: She promised her life to a writing career. She decided that fear would not hold her back from the thing that she loved. In fact, she was so dedicated to writing that she lit a candle at 15 years old and swore herself unto this adventure. She told writing (because she loves, as her fans would know, talking to inanimate things): “Let me take care of us (financially). I just want to be with you.”

Sounds a lot like marriage, but that’s the sort of commitment Gilbert described.

The important thing to note is that Gilbert never threw away fear, yet still did not ignore it. In fact, she made room for it. She embraced fear. Writing, she said, was like going on a road trip with her in the driver’s seat, Creativity in the front seat, and Fear in the back. She would be doing her thing, Creativity would be doing its thing, and she told Fear: “You’re gonna be doing what you do – screaming that we’re gonna die.”

Her perspective is refreshing, and it works. Those “road trips” she takes is what led to the worldwide success of “Eat, Pray, Love,” a book based on her own experience.

She also told a story of Little Brother, who went to a themed party dressed as a lobster, when the theme was Medieval Times. The room was filled with French aristocrats, princes and princesses, kings and queens. When Little Brother found himself in the midst of such high class, dressed like a fool, he thought, “Well, I made it this far.” His courage and impressive costume attracted attention and fascination. They loved him; they made room for him.

Be the lobster, Gilbert said. They might make room for you.

So again, the question is, do you have the courage?