I have been excited to review Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic, since an amazing friend gifted it to me a couple of months ago. Like most things that make me excited, I instantly become obsessed and want to get my hands on anything that has to do with my new obsession. This was no different, and I found out very quickly that Ms. Gilbert herself would be in my state on her book tour within a few weeks of me reading it. Can you hear my head exploding from where you are sitting? Because it totally did. So I grabbed aforementioned bestie friend and dragged her (more than willingly) to the event.
Now, I was only going to spend one week obsessing over (aka reviewing) the book and move on, however the book review is going on pause. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book tour stop in Connecticut was not just your average book signing, but it was part of a much larger event I have never heard of put on by an organization I've never heard of! So today, I want to write about that and leave you hanging for one more week before I roll out my book review. Trust me, you’ll thank me!
The event was called Creative Artists: An Evening with Storytellers, Creators & Entertainers. When I initially saw the event, I didn’t really get what it was, just some famous people talking about some random stuff. I figured I would pop in long enough to see Elizabeth and head out for a girl’s night. The other two speakers were Nile Rodgers (at the time, I had no clue who he was) and Bill T Jones (who looked vaguely familiar, but still didn’t know him either). It was held at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford, CT, a local performance arts venue known for hosting local graduations, performances, etc. Gorgeous location to say the least!
What I didn’t know was that The Connecticut Forum (the group who created this event) is an amazing organization with the mission to encourage the free and active exchange of ideas in forums that inform, challenge, entertain, inspire and build bridges among all people and organizations in their community. Past Creative Conversations include Danny Glover, Jane Alexander, Gene Wilder, Kurt Vonnegut, John Legend, Patti Smith, Lyle Lovett and so many more! Where in the heck has this group been hiding and why have I not heard of them?!? To locals, Hartford has a reputation for being a burned out, wannabe city trying to find it’s identity, lost somewhere between New York and Boston. It's where you go out on Thursday nights when you're in college and run into all of your high school friends. Super fun. Recently, there has been a movement of young and passionate “hipsters” looking to bring life back into the area, and this is one of the examples of how they are succeeding in doing just that!
When we arrived at the Bushnell, we easily parked a block away (for free) and were greeted by some local artists jamming outside the venue. It created a fun vibe right off the bat that made you want to dance in the street. When we went inside, there were giant rapping monkeys. Literally. The atmosphere felt like an oversized party full of like-minded people who were all just waiting for a good discussion and glass of wine. The inner nerd in me could have died happy on the spot. Of course I totally geeked out and bought a signed poster of the event (the money went to a good cause!!!). The night also ended with another live band playing outside, closing the circle of creativity and joy beautifully.
Trying to capture the profound depth and beauty of the event is impossible in one short blog post. The three panelists were lead by a moderator and riffed on various topics, from their paths as creative artists to their opinions on where art is going today. For anyone who considers themselves an artist or creator of any kind, this is the sort of event that keeps you up all night in a manic haze of endless inspired creation. The artists acknowledged their identities as creators from their own frameworks – one as a young white woman growing up with quirky parents, another as a gay black male in the professional dance industry and the third a young man with addict parents and an eye for reading music. The collaboration of insights and challenging of ideas gave me goose bumps, and I literally could feel my brain expanding. I definitely don't have time to get into the amazing life story of Nile Rodgers, who shared tales of what it was like to be friends with the late, great Prince and what it was like growing up with parents addicted to heroin. His autobiography is next on my must-read list.
Events like this are not just important to those who identify themselves as artists or creators (like myself, and many other writers and bloggers). This was an example of people coming together and putting aside their unique qualities that cause them to typically run in different social circles to explore a topic that appeared to be the one common thread between them all. They shared their views and were respected for them. They were open to hearing about other people’s life experiences. They were willing to challenge what they believe to be true and stand up for the truths that they hold. They proved that no matter how different people may appear, they are fundamentally the same at their core. (Sounds like the exact opposite of the current state of our politics. Hmmm....) There is not a single person on the planet who could not be made better for engaging in discussions like this.
If you can not get access to an organized event like this one, I strongly encourage you to reassess your social circle and develop a community for yourself that supports this non-judgmental exchange of ideas. I found this place for myself when I was in college. I regret not seeing it for what it was at the time and wish I participated then with the self-awareness and confidence I have now. But for what I was able to take from it back then, I know it made me a better, more compassionate person. I seek it out now by aligning with friends who do the same – challenge and respect me – and let go of those who hold narrow-minded views of the world.
The simple lesson in this is that you never know where you will find inspiration. I was not expecting to be so moved and challenged, but I welcomed it with arms wide open. I am grateful for the little surprises life throws my way, and hope you continue to seek ways to expand and grow in whatever way you can.