I was fucking stoked to be there.
Tucked away in the Napa Valley hills, we sat in a grand ballroom at the Meritage Resort and Spa. If it wasn’t for my boss co-sponsoring the event and buying my ticket, I would have had no business being there. Rich women dressed warmly, cozied up in name-brand scarves and coats from their department store of choice (Nordstrom or Bloomingdales, maybe) waiting in line to see their hero. My hero.
I stood watching, absorbing their energy as they filled in with coffees or hot tea in hand. I felt completely at ease surrounded by liberal left-wing new-age enthusiasts. While most of the women were in their middle age, these were my people. These were my homegirls. I knew then that I would have no problem opening up during Liz Gilbert’s first-ever writers workshop.
I also had no problem dressing the way I wanted to. Again, I was with my people. I felt it was necessary to break out my black cotton-blended man cape. Keep in mind that capes once made Oprah’s Favorite Things List, said a nice lady outside of the men’s bathroom. And again, these were my people.
I was here for the workshop but I was representing our company, so I knew I had to keep the fan-girling to a dull roar. Sat near the stage, I kept my composure, knowing that my favorite author/human/woman would appear only fifteen feet in front of me. Our publisher knows Liz personally so I certainly couldn’t embarrass her. Most importantly, I didn’t want to embarrass myself. My boss knew just how much Liz meant to me which is why she called me to look over at the table at which she was sitting (the table directly behind mine) to point out that Liz was sitting only four seats down from her. In all her amazing glory, there she was, my prophet and the friend inside my head, sitting there laughing and looking onward as her assistant caught my gaze, recognizing what it looks like when a fan is overwhelmed by Liz’s presence and is secretly screaming on the inside.
* * *
The workshop was underway.
For those of you who don’t know who Liz Gilbert is, she is the author of the epically impactful Eat, Pray Love and most recently, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. She also has four other critically-acclaimed novels that you might not have heard, but are amazing nonetheless. In Big Magic, Liz shares her beliefs, ideas, methods for creative people everywhere, discussing everything from fear of creating to how ideas are living organisms traveling the world, searching for a human to bring the ideas to fruition.
Before we began the workshop, Liz instructed us all to pair up with a stranger. I ended up at a random table near an exit, paired with the only other guy at that table. Oh, by the way, apparently the guys at this event were referred to as “SNAGS” — Sensitive New Age Guys. I had never heard of such a thing but it looked like I was also a snag…or at least just a middle aged woman trapped in a 23-year-old gay man’s body.
My partner’s name was Phil. He was older with a kind but tough demeanor, a guy you could go to for both spiritual advice and to kick someone’s ass. Perfect. For each writing activity, Phil and I would write in our journals and then take turns sharing what we wrote afterwards. We were on our second activity and this was our writing prompt from Ms. Liz:
“Write a letter to yourself from your Enchantment.”
Ah. Enchantment. In Big Magic, Liz defines Enchantment as an “external daemon of creativity”—a being the ancient Greeks and Romans believed lived in the walls of your home and aided you in your labors. The Romans referred to daemons as your “genius—your guardian deity, the conduit of your inspiration.” You weren’t a genius, you had a genius.
This spoke to me upon reading the “Enchantment” section in Big Magic a month prior. I saw my Enchantment as this floating angel, like Roma Downey in Touched by an Angel (love her), assigned to my case, guiding me throughout my creative life. I live a very “enchanting” life, but sometimes, my trouble is carrying out the ideas my Enchantment brings to me.
And so I began to write.
Seven minutes later, Liz said cheerily, “Pens up. Now chat with your partner!”
This was the part where Liz would stop at a random table for a second to see how people were doing. She would just pop by whatever table she chose to eavesdrop and see what her fans/followers learned from her writing prompt. I saw her move about the large ballroom close to the stage on the opposite side of where I was sitting.
Phil went first and told me about his letter from Enchantment. We both agreed that our Enchantment is here with us, waiting for us to take action and pursue our creative passions with fire and determination. As Phil continued, I grew more and more nervous to share my letter with him. It was immensely personal. I think talking about your childhood to a complete stranger would be difficult for anyone. And that’s exactly what my letter was about. My childhood.
As Phil finished, I had already decided I would give him the abridged version of my letter, a version stripped of any raw truth. I would dance around my letter and not give up any actual details. I was prepared to speak vaguely about something that I felt could embarrass me if it resembled any sort of realness whatsoever.
And that’s when she sat down.
“Alright, let’s hear about your letter from Enchantment!” Liz said.
There she was in all her Elizabeth Gilbert glory, squatting on the ground in between Phil and I, waiting for me to speak about my vague letter from Enchantment. But her presence there bolted me with an adrenaline I didn’t recognize and suddenly the person speaking was not me. The person speaking was Enchantment. Enchantment literally was like, “Robert, fuck you and your fake ass letter, Liz fucking Gilbert is sitting right next to you, so I’m gonna do the talking here, K?”
And sure enough I spilled ALLLLLL THE TEA.
Well, my Enchantment has been there for me since I was a child. When things were too difficult for me to deal with, Enchantment would show up and offer light to encapsulate my story in an imaginary jar and place it somewhere I could keep safe. Somewhere to go to when I needed to remember where I’ve been, where I’m going and who I am. I didn’t always listen to Enchantment because I was taught to avoid dealing with myself. It wasn’t until I made one of the steps in becoming my authentic self (accepting my sexuality at 16) when Enchantment really came full force, rushing in with bottles of champagne, a good pen and a piece of paper. The truth is, no matter what bullshit happens in my life, Enchantment is there to help me see this dark world as a wondrous place. It is because of this that I know shitty times will pass. Things will get better if you put in the work, and my Enchantment’s purpose is to help me see that even if I’m in a place where I can’t connect to joy or bliss, it’s OK to recognize it when it’s happening around you, to remember it and to savor it another day. Writing allows me to do that. Even if no one reads it, it is for me and me only. I have decided that Enchantment’s job is to help me seize every creative opportunity imaginable.
Now, what’s written here is far more eloquent than what I actually said. It happened like a bolt of lightning but I know I got the point across. Liz hugged me and said, “That’s beautiful, darling,” and went about her way to the next table. I wanted to cry. Literally. I knew I had a fifteen second window to rush to the bathroom to let it all out. I was overwhelmed. Did that really just happen? Did Liz Gilbert just listen to me talk about my ideas on creativity? Holy shit.
But that’s not the most amazing thing that happened. The most amazing part was Phil.
“You are a beautiful person.” he said.
I didn’t know what to say, I was still in shock.
“You are a beautiful person. My nephew is gay.”
And that’s when he began to tell me about his life. Phil was raised to “push your feelings under the rug” and “be a man.” He had crazy things happen to him. He was even almost kidnapped once. He spent his whole life dealing with how to handle his emotions and here he was traveling from Canada with his fiance to take a writers workshop with Liz Gilbert. Amazing!
My story hit him as he thought about his nephew. And the crazy thing is, had Liz not sat down next to me at the moment before I shared my story, I would not have spoken my truth. And that would have been a shame. It was my truth that moved Phil to share his story and open up in ways he was still getting used to.
And that’s what Liz would call, BIG MAGIC.
xoxo Robby Rob