An Idea Gets Sidetracked - Enchantment

Big magic: creative living beyond fear - Elizabeth Gilbert 2015

An Idea Gets Sidetracked

Afew months later, however, real-life drama derailed me from my pursuit of invented drama. On a routine trip to America, my sweetheart, Felipe, was detained by a border agent and denied entry to the United States. He had done nothing wrong, but the Department of Homeland Security put him in jail anyway, and then threw him out of the country. We were informed that Felipe could never again come to America—unless we got married. Moreover, if I wanted to be with my love during this stressful and indefinite period of exile, I would have to pack up my entire life immediately and go join him overseas. This I promptly did, and I stayed abroad with him for almost a year as we dealt with our drama and our immigration paperwork.

Such upheaval does not make for the ideal environment in which to devote oneself to writing a sprawling and heavily researched novel about the Brazilian Amazon in the 1960s. Therefore, I put Evelyn away, with sincere promises that I would return to her later, as soon as stability was restored to my life. I put all my existing notes for that novel into storage, along with the rest of my belongings, and then I flew halfway across the planet to be with Felipe and to work on solving our mess. And because I must always be writing about something or else I will go mad, I decided to write about that—that is, to chronicle what was going on in my real life, as a way of sorting through its complications and revelations. (As Joan Didion said, “I don’t know what I think until I write about it.”)

Over time, this experience grew into my memoir Committed.

I want to make clear that I do not regret having written Committed. I’m forever grateful to that book, as the process of writing it helped me to sort out my extreme anxiety about my impending marriage. But that book commanded my attention for quite a long while, and by the time it was done, more than two years had passed. More than two years that I had not spent working on Evelyn of the Amazon.

That’s a long time to leave an idea unattended.

I was eager to get back to it. So once Felipe and I were safely married and settled back home in the US, and once Committed was finished, I retrieved all my notes out of storage and sat down at my new desk in my new house, ready to recommence crafting my novel about the Amazon jungle.

Right away, however, I made a most distressing discovery.

My novel was gone.