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  • [Applause]

  • -That's a pretty nice reception.

  • - Nice place you have here.

  • [Laughter]

  • - Good afternoon everybody.

  • My name is Caroline Baum and I'm delighted to be here with

  • you today for what I think is going to be a very

  • inspirational experience.

  • Um, Elizabeth, you- if you'd been here yesterday,

  • I suppose we would have had to call this talk

  • "Heat, Pray Love."

  • Youů poor Elizabeth was driving back from the, um,

  • south coast yesterday and spent most of yesterday in a

  • car, um, so, she deserves a medal, I think, for being

  • here today.

  • Um, most of you will have been asked when you booked

  • your tickets whether you would like to ask a question

  • today, and so I'll be incorporating some of those

  • questions into our conversation.

  • And, I hope, that those of you that don't get your

  • question asked will still get some of the answers that

  • you're seeking from the conversation that we're about

  • to have.

  • And, at the end of this session, Elizabeth will be,

  • um, in the foyer and looks forward to saying hello to you.

  • And, there will be some pre-signed books, um, her new

  • book, which is her great-grandmother's cookbook,

  • um, which will be available for sale.

  • So, you will get a chance to say hello then.

  • Um, you know you've made it when your bestselling book is

  • satirised by Barry Humphries,

  • [laughter]

  • not to mention The Simpsons and also our own local

  • comedienne Judith Lucy who wrote a book called Drink,

  • Smoke Pass Out in your honour.

  • [Laughter]

  • - I saw it in a book store.

  • I have to say I think that's one of the best ones I've

  • seen yet.

  • - Yeah, it's not bad. - Very nice.

  • - Umů - I approve.

  • - I thought that, given that the talk today is supposed to

  • be about life after Eat, Pray, Love that, maybe it

  • would be useful for us to go back to before Eat, Pray, Love

  • in order that we can kind of understand the

  • trajectory that you've been on a little better.

  • Um, and I guess I wanted to start by asking you what your

  • definition of success was before this tsunami kind of

  • hit you.

  • So, when you were growing up on your father's Christmas

  • tree farm with two goats and honey bees and a television

  • that didn't work very well, what was your dream and what

  • was your idea of how to go about that?

  • - Um, I always say that I'm very lucky because I've only

  • ever wanted to do one thing with my life and I've only

  • ever been good at one thing.

  • And it's, I think it's rare that you get both of those

  • pieces, right?

  • Um, I, I don'tů I'm not interested in anything but

  • writing and I'm not good at anything but writing so it

  • makes your path extremely clear.

  • You know?

  • I have friends who are multi-talented and they're

  • cursed by it.

  • And I'm notů I do think of it as a curse.

  • Um, they're pulled in, in many different directions.

  • That's never been a problem for me, um, and so it's been

  • pretty simple trajectory.

  • There's been so much other stuff in my life that I've

  • made messy and complicated but, for some reason, the

  • writing path has been straight and narrow, um, from

  • about the age of nine on, um, maybe even earlier.

  • And, the idea was to just, um, write as much as I could.

  • Start, I started sending short stories out for

  • publication when I was about 18.

  • Um, I collected rejection notes for six years.

  • Um, that was okay.

  • My goal was to get published before I was dead.

  • And people

  • [laughter],

  • people in my family live a

  • really long time.

  • So, I thought:

  • "I got a long arc here."

  • And, it's not like, you know, it's not like being a dancer

  • where, if you haven't done it by the time you're 22,

  • you know?

  • Um, I had, I knew that, that you only mellow more into

  • your work as a writer.

  • So, I wouldů took the long view.

  • And, um, and, and, really honestly, from the beginning,

  • my only goal was that I, someday, wanted to have

  • something published somewhere.

  • - I'm interested in this, because I know that in your

  • 20s you left Connecticut, and you went off to Wyoming, and

  • you became a cowgirl.

  • And you, I think, cooked on a ranch, and you did various

  • kind of very physical, very masculineů

  • -Yeah. -ůvery rusticated things.

  • And, um, I wondered whether, in fact, you were on a kind

  • of personal quest there?

  • That you could talk a little bit about exploring that

  • masculine world at, because you were a tomboy weren't you?

  • - No. That's theů

  • - I thought you were? -No, look!!

  • Um, no I wasn't and I'm not.

  • And, um, and, in fact, I was on a quest to make a man out

  • of myself.

  • I think that's really what I was trying to do.

  • Um, I come from very tough people and I'm not a tough person.

  • And I've always felt that it was a liability.

  • Um, I, my mother's tough, my dad's tough, my sister'sů macho.

  • I mean, there are, like, people, my, my whole Gilbert

  • side of the family.

  • My uncle refers to them all as oxen, you know?

  • Um, the Olsen side of the family are all Swedish

  • immigrants, so they're like lazy and, no I'm just

  • kidding, they're not at all.

  • They're just, and I always felt like weak, you know?

  • I always felt like I was the weakest link in, in every

  • family gathering.

  • I was a cry baby, and a sensitive, and emotional and,

  • um, and I wasn't a pretty kid but I wanted to be, and, um,

  • and, and somehow I just wanted to overcome that sense

  • of, um, helplessness.

  • And, I think that's what drew me to, to the west and to

  • ranching, which I wasn't very good at.

  • [Laughter]

  • But I made friends, you know?

  • - Well, and you, you discovered people who were

  • incredibly competent and who lived by a very different set

  • of values.

  • And, and you wrote about those people very memorably.

  • And, that's why I was sort of leading you, hoping that you

  • were going to talk about, um, Eustace Conwayů

  • -Mm. - because he is such a, an

  • extraordinary character and I was just wondering, for

  • people who haven't read your books from before Eat Pray Love,

  • whether you could talk a little bit about what you

  • learnt from encountering someone like Eustace Conway

  • in terms of values.

  • - Um, Eustace Conway, ah, for those of you who haven't read

  • it, is, is a guy who I profiled in a book called The

  • Last American Man.

  • Um, he was one of the most fascinating people I'd ever met.

  • I did a magazine article about him for GQ.

  • He was the brother of a cowboy who I met on the ranch

  • in Wyoming and, even among that set, where people were

  • pretty macho and pretty tough, they were all like:

  • "And then there's Eustace."

  • You know, he was like, sort of at the Navy Seal level of,

  • um, outdoorsmen.

  • And he had left his family's suburban home when he was 17,

  • moved into the woods of North Carolina, and has been living

  • there ever since.

  • He's a utopian, he's a visionary, he's, um, he's a tyrant.

  • Um, he's a very complicated, difficult person, who I spent

  • probably four years of my life with, um, writing this

  • book about him.

  • And, um, came away, ah, came away with a very different

  • idea of our heroes.

  • I mean, I think I started the book with a real sense of

  • hero worship and came awayů um, there's a line that

  • Ursula Le Guin says, that she says, um:

  • "The other side of heroism is very sad;

  • women and servants know this."

  • Um, and when I was closer to his life, and you saw the

  • sort of, the sadness of, of his, um, ferociousness, um,

  • and the casualties of the people who admired him, and

  • followed him into the woods and, and just the

  • complications of being so grandiose.

  • Um, it, it tempered me for hero worship in the future.

  • - Because it's interesting, in the book you

  • de-romanticized the idea of a man who lives in the woods.

  • Because you say that, when people in cities talk about

  • the woods, they get this sort of nostalgic look and they go:

  • "Oh, the woods, the woods."

  • And Eustace's view of life in the woods is harsh and brutal.

  • -Yeah. -But then, you tell this

  • story about seeing him talking about his life to a

  • group of school children and that crystallises something

  • for you about authenticity.

  • So, when you saw Eustace Conway talking with these

  • children, you saw authenticity that you wanted

  • didn't you?

  • - Well, he, he's incredibly compelling, um, and, and very real.

  • Um, and his values are earnest.

  • Um, I don't think you can be a fundamentalist of any

  • stripe if you don't have earnest values.

  • Ah, he, he believes, quite rightly, that we are driving

  • this car off a cliff environmentally, um, on the

  • planet earth and that America is leading that car chase

  • over the edge of the precipice.

  • He wants to transform the way we think about resources.

  • He wants to transform the way that we think about nature.

  • Um, and he has this kind of messianic ability, especially

  • with young people.

  • They're awestruck by him.

  • Um, and it's beautiful to watch.

  • And, whenever you see him in action like that, it's

  • incredibly moving, and it's incredibly stirring.

  • And it's incredibly unrealistic.

  • And it's incredibly un-pragmatic.

  • And, it comes with, um, a whole other sort of darkness

  • as well, um, that, that I needed to get away from after

  • a while.

  • - 'cause I was going to ask you whether you think you're

  • very susceptible to charismatic leader figures?

  • Are youů

  • - I'm susceptible to everything

  • [laughter]

  • - But are youů - But, yeah?

  • are you a follower? - Oh, hell yeah.

  • What, what do you have? What are you selling?

  • I'm buying it.

  • What do you believe in?

  • I believe it.

  • You know? What's the fad?

  • I'm drinking acai juice right now, and pomegranate.

  • Like whatever!

  • I'm, I'm the permeable membrane, you know?

  • I'm a, I'm a Cancer.

  • Um, I, I just believe. I'm very gullible.

  • Um, it's why I think it's funny that I was a journalistů

  • -Mm. - Um, because I think it, it

  • doesn't really make for great journalism

  • [laughter].

  • Um, I believe anything people tell me about themselves and

  • then I report it, you know?

  • Um, [laughter]

  • like people, you know, people would be like:

  • "I'm the best six string guitar player the east coast

  • of the United States has ever produced"

  • and I'll be:

  • "This guy is the best sixů"

  • You know?

  • I fact checked it because I asked him and he told me

  • [laughter].

  • Um, you know, and there's a, you know, that's kind of just

  • how I am, and I'm always going to be that way.

  • Um, there's, there's nothing for it really, you know?

  • Like I keep waiting to, I mean, the world has beaten a

  • bit of it out of me, but I come back for more all the time.

  • Um, and on the other hand, there's great benefits of

  • being like that.

  • -Mm. -You know, there's a great

  • openness and, um, people trust me and should.

  • Um, and, you know, there's that sort of feeling that comesů

  • - In a sense, you've kept your sense of wonder?

  • - Yeah, yeah, I would say so I think, I think the scariest

  • thing for me about going through depression, um, when

  • I went through my divorce and, and the subsequent

  • despair, was having that dulled down.

  • Um, you know, that, what depression does to you and

  • what despair does to you, is it makes everything in the

  • world into sawdust.

  • -