Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Eat, Pray, Learn

Walking into the Empire movie theatre on a recent Friday night, I can't help but notice the obvious.

About 200 people in attendance.

I am but one of the 5 or 6 men in the crowd.

"Why am I not surprised?"

I am told these demographics are typical of the audiences being attracted to "Eat, Pray, Love". Less than 5% will be men, seeking to learn more about a year-long soul-searching journey that took best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert through Italy, India and Indonesia.

As you might suspect, many men will not look up long enough from their NASCAR races, Bowflex machines or internet porn to give this film or Elizabeth's book a chance. Regrettably, the chest-thumping, cro-magnon types have already decided this is a touchy-feely "chick flick", unworthy of their time or attention.

That's unfortunate since "Eat, Pray,Love" is less about a woman's recovery from break-up and divorce and more about a fear-confronting, gut-wrenching, very human journey of self-discovery. Strictly from a man's point of view, there is a lot to learn from Elizabeth with respect to the way women really think and feel and what she discovered while in search of her self. Rarely, have I met a man who doesn't wonder why women think the way they do, and while "Eat, Pray, Love" may not have all the answers, at least its a start for those men sincerely interested in acquiring a deeper level of understanding.

My own experience with the book revealed an unexpected surprise when I researched www.ElizabethGilbert.com in an effort to learn more about Liz and what makes her tick as a writer. What I discovered on her website was a most interesting piece on the subject of “Writing”. Interesting because I could instantly see the common patterns enjoyed by writers, artists, musicians … and "entrepreneurs". In other words, scan this excerpt – replace the words “writer”, “filmmaker” or “artist” with "entrepreneur" - and see if you can detect the pattern.

“I have a friend who’s an Italian filmmaker of great artistic sensibility. After years of struggling to get his films made, he sent an anguished letter to his hero, the brilliant (and perhaps half-insane) German filmmaker Werner Herzog. My friend complained about how difficult it is these days to be an independent filmmaker, how hard it is to find government arts grants, how the audiences have all been ruined by Hollywood and how the world has lost its taste…etc, etc. Herzog wrote back a personal letter to my friend that essentially ran along these lines: “Quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you have to, but stop whining and get back to work.” I repeat those words back to myself whenever I start to feel resentful, entitled, competitive or unappreciated with regard to my writing: “It’s not the world’s fault that you want to be an artist…now get back to work.” Always, at the end of the day, the important thing is only and always that: Get back to work. This is a path for the courageous and the faithful. You must find another reason to work, other than the desire for success or recognition. It must come from another place.

Here’s another thing to consider. If you always wanted to write, and now you are A Certain Age, and you never got around to it, and you think it’s too late…do please think again. I watched Julia Glass win the National Book Award for her first novel, “The Three Junes”, which she began writing in her late 30’s. I listened to her give her moving acceptance speech, in which she told how she used to lie awake at night, tormented as she worked on her book, asking herself, “Who do you think you are, trying to write a first novel at your age?” But she wrote it. And as she held up her National Book Award, she said, “This is for all the late-bloomers in the world.” Writing is not like dancing or modeling; it’s not something where – if you missed it by age 19 – you’re finished. It’s never too late. Your writing will only get better as you get older and wiser. If you write something beautiful and important, and the right person somehow discovers it, they will clear room for you on the bookshelves of the world – at any age. At least try.

There are heaps of books out there on How To Get Published. Often people find the information in these books contradictory. My feeling is -- of COURSE the information is contradictory. Because, frankly, nobody knows anything. Nobody can tell you how to succeed at writing (even if they write a book called “How To Succeed At Writing”) because there is no WAY; there are, instead, many ways. Everyone I know who managed to become a writer did it differently – sometimes radically differently. Try all the ways, I guess. Becoming a published writer is sort of like trying to find a cheap apartment in New York City: it’s impossible. And yet…every single day, somebody manages to find a cheap apartment in New York City. I can’t tell you how to do it. I’m still not even entirely sure how I did it. I can only tell you – through my own example – that it can be done. I once found a cheap apartment in Manhattan. And I also became a writer.

In the end, I love this work. I have always loved this work. My suggestion is that you start with the love and then work very hard and try to let go of the results. Cast out your will, and then cut the line. Please try, also, not to go totally freaking insane in the process. Insanity is a very tempting path for artists, but we don’t need any more of that in the world at the moment, so please resist your call to insanity. We need more creation, not more destruction. We need our artists more than ever, and we need them to be stable, steadfast, honorable and brave – they are our soldiers, our hope. If you decide to write, then you must do it, as Balzac said, “like a miner buried under a fallen roof.” Become a knight, a force of diligence and faith. I don’t know how else to do it except that way. As the great poet Jack Gilbert said once to young writer, when she asked him for advice about her own poems: “Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say YES.”


As far as the men who are reading this post are concerned, I can assure you that reading or watching "Eat, Pray, Love" does not make you any less of a man. In fact, you may surprise yourself in ways you don't expect.

After all, what have you got to lose?

And what have you got to learn?

"True love doesn't come to you it has to be inside you"

Want Gair to speak to your organization or at your event?
Visit http://www.gairmaxwell.com/

You can follow Gair on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/gair.maxwell

For more info on The Seamless Brand and how this program can benefit your company or organization, explore http://www.seamlessbrand.com/


Lenny Boudreau said...

I actually went to see the movie on my own Saturday and I was the lone male in the theater. Movie was absolutley fantastic! And so it this post by the way.

ElderGEEK said...

That's it! Now I gotta go watch the movie.

Did I mention that I love your writing style Gair?

Cheryl Ann Hannah said...

Elizabeth's comments are reminiscent of the same sort of writing found in The War of Art.

BTW, a really smart man takes his lady to a chick flick if he wants to score points. Or even just score.

Gair Maxwell said...

When it comes to women, a "smart man" may think about "the score", but a wise man is interested in something deeper and so much more ...

Kathy Mercure said...

Liz Gilbert did an absolutely game-changing speech for the Ted series about creativity and genius that I wrote about in my blog "Right here. Writenow!". You can find the link to it at http://www.writenow-communications.ca/writenowcomm/Blog/Entries/2010/5/13_Thoughts_on_writing_and_genius.html.

As in her book, and in the film (which I haven't yet seen), she is funny, touching and inspiring in this piece. It's highly worth watching.

I'm enjoying the new style of writing. Good to see a new face on you Gair!