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‘Eat, Pray, Love’ author says fear not a good companion to creativity

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Jennifer Schatten
Author Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert wants writers, musicians, artists or anyone else with a creative bent to have a conversation with fear. The author of the memoir “Eat, Pray, Love” and the new novel “The Signature of All Things” (Viking, $28.95) thinks the fear of failure, of being too old or young to succeed, of not being able to measure up to peers, can derail the creative process.

“Fear,” she told an enthralled audience Nov. 3 at Carnegie Music Hall in Oakland, “is not allowed to drive on road trips with creativity.”

Gilbert was speaking metaphorically — to a point. She does talk to herself when she embarks on new projects, to foster and encourage her creativity and to banish all the fears that plague writers and others who create for a living. The day after her appearance as a guest of Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures’ Literary Evenings, she spoke about the creative process and how “Eat, Pray, Love” has become a pop-culture touchstone.

One of Gilbert’s themes is how “courage is required to live a creative life.” But, all too often, creativity is viewed as the odd duck in the American experience, frivolous or unimportant.

But Gilbert thinks America fosters and encourages anyone who wants to be creative.

“I’ve traveled a lot around the world and the reality is American society, for all its flaws and faults, is still the best game in town to letting people live innovative and creative lives,” she says. “The evidence of that being: This is where everybody comes to live their creative dream.”

That said, how creativity is nurtured can be limiting. In her lecture, Gilbert said she has nothing against master of fine arts programs, but doesn’t see that as a requirement for aspiring writers. A university professor once told her that many of his students are lost when they graduate with an advanced degree in the arts.

“They’re supposed to keep writing or keep acting or whatever it is they’re supposed to do,” Gilbert says, “and they can’t get outside of that structure, because somewhere along the line, they missed the memo that, eventually, the walls of the school are going to fall away … That’s when the rubber meets the road. That’s when you have to decide if you are serious, or were you just being propped up by schooling. And that’s where I watched a lot of my really creative friends stop being creative.”

Before launching a career in journalism, Gilbert worked in diners, restaurants, bars and on ranches. These experiences as a server and cook and on a ranch were invaluable when she started to write fiction.

But nothing she did prepared her for the success of “Eat, Pray, Love,” and how it became part of the cultural zeitgeist. Nothing prepared her for the book being mentioned on shows such as “The Big Bang Theory” and “South Park.”

“It’s strange and it’s wonderful and it’s a bit puzzling and it can’t be solved,” she says, laughing. “I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t even going to bother to make sense of it. It’s so completely random, and it will never be repeated, either.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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