Big Magic & Little Interruptions: Elizabeth Gilbert live

Have you ever felt so frustrated by something that you have breached etiquette and societal norms to voice your opinion? It happened the other night. Not by me. By another woman. Myself, a few hundred women and three men were lucky enough to get tickets to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak last Thursday. We expected her to talk about Big Magic, about creativity, about the mysterious spark of ideas and I suppose we all wanted to go away a little inspired.

big magic little interruptions

Mia Freedman hosted the event and she asked Liz (as fans call her) about all of those things. She also asked about a Facebook post Liz wrote calling out women judging other women for cosmetic surgery under the guise of being “sad” about it. You can read Liz’s perspective here.

The conversation came to what seemed a natural end but Mia continued with her questioning. I know that female body image and acceptance is something Mia is passionate about. In her time at women’s magazines she championed diversity in model sizes. It’s something that she talks about a lot through her social media channels. I could see that Liz’s point of view was something that Mia found confronting and genuinely wanted clarification on. Should we really accept that women psychically altering their appearance to fit into a societal norm is their own choice and just let it go. Is it really their own choice?  Should we respect a woman’s choice no matter what part of the body she might be choosing to assert control over? Mia wanted to explore issues of patriarchy and unrealistic beauty ideals.

All interesting things, no doubt. It just wasn’t what the audience was there to hear. And this wasn’t meant to be a personal discussion between Mia and Liz. People paid for tickets to glean a little Big Magic. Someone called her out. From the front row someone stood up and said “We didn’t come to hear about female body image and hostility. We came to hear about creativity.”

That was abrupt. Perhaps it was rude. Perhaps it was a heckle or a jibe. But it was also a reflection of what many people in that room thought at the time. We came for inspiration and light. Not female politics. Mia reeled and Liz took it in good grace. The conversation came back to where it started and we learned more about Liz’s perspectives on fear and creativity, on just doing the work and on turning dreams into reality — even when it means smashing the original dream to get there. The stuff people who read Big Magic and were inspired by it came to hear.

The whole incident made me think. Would someone have been so brazen in times past? To call out in the middle of what is essentially a performance? What made that woman comfortable enough to do that? On Mia’s side, what made her continue a line of questioning that clearly fell outside the ambit of what the evening was touted as? What made her comfortable enough to do that? Are we all just getting a little bit too comfortable? Are walls coming down that perhaps should be staying up?

From a purely selfish perspective, I was glad that women spoke up, even while my own propriety would never allow me to. While I found the body talk interesting, it didn’t seem to be going anywhere new and we only had 90 minutes of Liz’s precious time. I wanted to hear more about her approach to creativity, which is what we were promised.

In the closing minutes we were gifted with a beautiful analogy about dreamy tourmaline butterfly ideas — perfect and gorgeous — floating through the ether and tied to us only in imagination. But to make the thing, we need to take that beautiful butterfly and smash it. The butterfly we eventually make might be hackneyed and misshapen, it may bear no resemblance to the lofty ideal. But it will be real. It will be made. And isn’t that the thing?

If that woman hadn’t been brave or rude or frustrated enough to interrupt, we may never have received that story. The evening may have continued along an important tangent, but a tangent nonetheless.

Arrow 2

What do you think? Was that an okay thing to do?
Have you ever experienced something similar?

Linking up with Essentially Jess and IBOT


31 thoughts on “Big Magic & Little Interruptions: Elizabeth Gilbert live

  1. Kez Unprepared says:

    I know the ‘proper’ thing for that woman to do was to politely sit there and not speak up. But maybe the ‘proper’ thing for Mia to do was not to focus everything back onto her own agenda (I’m sure she was just excited and blinded by her passion) and this woman was calling her out?
    It’s funny how sometimes we secretly cheer on that person who has the bloody minded guts to speak up, even when we know it is kind of naughty or rude.
    I hope you still came away super inspired 🙂
    Kez Unprepared recently posted…The Happy List #37My Profile

    • Robyna says:

      That would definitely have been the proper thing for Mia to do – to keep things about writing and creativity. I definitely came away inspired.

  2. Bron from Flat Bum Mum says:

    I just love when people are brave and do things like that. I would be secretly seething in my seat. I agree that we are so confident and fearless now that we can almost do anything we want. Not sure that it’s always a good thing. Bron x
    Bron from Flat Bum Mum recently posted…A tale of two stylersMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      I think it’s a two sided thing – Mia wasn’t respecting the audience or what they were there for (whether she realised this, I am not sure). Then some-one felt comfortable to speak up about that because of that lack of understanding. I would never stand up, no matter how mad I was about it.

  3. The Hipsterette says:

    Brava to ‘Liz’ for her FaceBook post on beauty – I agree with her 100 per cent and think it an individual choice for women to adorn or modify themselves as they see fit – without judgement. And, brava to the audience member who called out that the speakers were going off topic. In fairness maybe they thought it was extra value for money but if the majority of audience members paid to hear about creativity then that should have been the focus of the presentation. Many of the audience members would have made sacrifices (time and money – both of which might be tight) to attend – and therefore it is only good manners to give them what they paid for! Hope you came away inspired!

    • Robyna says:

      I definitely came away inspired and thoughtful. The audience definitely paid their money to hear about creativity, not body image, and it was a pity that someone had to point that out.

  4. Vanessa says:

    It may not have been appropriate to call out but frankly a moderator’s job is to stay on topic, so it doesn’t sound like either was appropriate. And in this instance, it sounds like it leveled out well.
    It’s a skill to keep people on topic – I used to have to do it a lot when I managed teleconferences with staff on remote islands with bad connections. You have to be clear and on topic. And even more important when people are paying for the performance.
    Vanessa recently posted…Personal Price LimitsMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      It definitely wasn’t Liz going off tangent – Mia had an agenda she wanted to pursue that I think she presumed the audience wanted to hear about. But as it was a writers festival event, many of the attendees were writers and there to specifically hear about writing and creativity. I think Mia just read her audience wrong.

  5. Denyse says:

    Oh dear. Mia Freedman…she does like the limelight and the attention and I would have been annoyed at this too. You didnt pay to hear Mia (as a moderator, you do your job, you are not the star!!) and so Liz too may have been uncomfortable too. I hope you got something out of the event apart from ‘people watching’ LOL. I am listening to Liz Big Magic on CD and find that even better than the book. Warm wishes, Denyse
    Denyse recently posted…Best & Worst Subjects At School. 366/61.My Profile

  6. Nicole @ The Builder's Wife says:

    Interesting question, it sounds as though it was necessary to interrupt the conversation, so that you were all able to hear what you came for. As valid as Mia’s point of view may have been, it’s not what you paid good money to hear. I do think it was an ok point to make.

    • Robyna says:

      I just would never, in a million years, have the gumption to do that. I think she was either the kind of person that always stands up for herself, or was just SO frustrated she felt she had no other choice. I sort of wish that Mia had polled the audience at that point as to who wanted to hear more on creativity and who wanted to hear more on body image. I think it would have validated the shout out.

  7. Bec Senyard says:

    I had to get Renee to repeat what the audience member said because I didn’t hear it. I thought it was rude, but as you say, if it hadn’t of happened, we wouldn’t have heard the butterfly analogy. I went to the event to be inspired and I left feeling challenged by some of what Liz said which I shared in my blog post today.
    Bec Senyard recently posted…How to Wear Layers When it’s Hot OutsideMy Profile

  8. Hugzilla says:

    Oh wow thank you for this account!! I’ve seen the incident mentioned but not elaborated on, and I’ve been very curious as to what went down. I kind of quietly agree with the interruption. In limited time I would have wanted them to stay on topic, even though Mia’s line of questioning is one that I am very interested in personally too.
    Hugzilla recently posted…The 10 Commandments of Imperfect MotherhoodMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      Hahha – considering how many bloggers were in attendance, I’m quite surprised no-one else extrapolated. I am grateful to the person that spoke up.

    • Robyna says:

      I don’t think that Mia was happy about it. I think she believes that the politics of female bodies is something we should all be concerned about and all talk about. But that wasn’t really the agenda of the evening.

  9. Renee Wilson says:

    I was there also and was shocked when the woman spoke out, but at the same time I was glad she did. I thoroughly enjoyed the event and took away some notes that I’m still pondering over now, but it was different to what I expected. I would have preferred if they stayed on topic and spoke about Big Magic and living life creatively. It was a BWF event and I don’t feel that there was enough about writing, creating, process etc. Mia definitely went off on a tangent and I can see how easily it can happen when you’re caught up in the moment. To me it very much felt like Mia got to ask all of the questions she wanted to and it didn’t matter what anyone else wanted. I checked out the Mamamia page the following day and was surprised that so many women thought the woman who spoke up was rude. I thought the opposite. I thought good on you girl! 🙂 It was also over all too quickly for me. I wanted more.
    Renee Wilson recently posted…Everybody (my blog’s back, alright)My Profile

    • Robyna says:

      I saw you and Bec come in but then didn’t get a chance to say hey at the end. I also thought it would be more about writing, but I did enjoy what was said. Hehe, I checked out Mia’s page as well for the same reason, but I suppose that people that like her page are probably her fans and that’s understandable. I am not sure she would have reacted well to a comment challenging that.

      • Vanessa says:

        I’ve heard Mia has written about it but it’s only in her newsletter. Someone tried to post it so others could read it but it didn’t work. So I reckon it’ll come out a bit more today.

  10. Erika @ Ever-changing Life of a Mum says:

    It sounds like the interruption was warranted as the majority of the audience would have been there to hear more about Big Magic and explore creative living further. That analogy is really beautiful and something that I’m sure will stay with you for a long time.

    • Robyna says:

      I think it was warranted, but it was still sort of uncomfortable for everyone involved. But you’re right – people were there for an evening about Big Magic, not an evening of Mia chatting to Liz about Mia’s favourite topics.

  11. Annette says:

    Good on her I say! I kind of wish I’d done that at a rather large blogging conference last year when a moderator started a session with what I perceived as a derogatory comment towards the audience. Not your show my dear! Moderating a session like that is about letting the invited speaker shine on the chosen topic.
    Liz rocks.
    Annette recently posted…The view from 48My Profile

    • Robyna says:

      I think it’s just so hard to do and not look aggressive and a bit rude (which, to be honest, she did even as we were all quite grateful). I wonder if there is a really tactful, graceful way to handle that kind of situation.

  12. deb dane says:

    That woman was sitting behind me and had been in line with us before going in. She was a bit pushy in line so it did not surprise me when she called out but I have to say it did feel strange. In all my life I have never heard someone interrupt a talk to call out the speakers.

    I do not like Mia generally and felt she approached the night as “a conversation with EG” rather than her facilitating EG sharing with us. I a, just grateful I got to ask my question and it led to a highlight of the night for so many of us.
    deb dane recently posted…What I learned from an evening with Elizabeth Gilbert and Big MagicMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      I thought she seemed the assertive sort! But it was good to have someone brave enough to say something. Your question and her answer was the highlight of my night.

  13. Grace says:

    I read Mia’s take on it and she seemed like she was a little caught out, didn’t she? I agree with the woman who called out. I saw Elizabeth Gilbert a year and a half ago and she was truly inspirational – no detouring. I relished on every word about creativity and inspiration. I would’ve felt jipped if the conversation had strayed…

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