1. perseverance, tenacity, determination, a, resolution, staying power, patience, endurance, application, diligence, dedication, commitment, stamina, doggedness, tirelessness
2. the fact of continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.
The woman sitting by the front desk looked up in surprise as an enormous bunch of gold balloons tied with silver cascading ribbons bobbed optimistically through the large glass doors of the imposing grey-stone building. A book wrapped in clear cellophane with matching ribbons floated behind.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic seminar, had re-started after lunch and the gatekeeper guarding the door to the lecture theatre was reading quietly, her long white hair swept up in a bun, the rest of her comfortably wrapped in soft drapes of purple silk. She had not been expecting balloons. As the bunch parted to reveal a woman dressed in a gold-sequin catsuit, her eyebrows raised.
I hardly dared explain. What seemed a good idea a year ago and even last week seemed ridiculous now. There must be a time and place for a gold-sequin catsuit. Judging by the expression on the woman’s face, this wasn’t it.
“I’m a magician.” Her eyebrows raised a notch. “I’ve jumped off my cruise ship to come to the workshop but I can’t stay because I have a show tonight and I have to catch the next train back.”
She still didn’t say anything so I added.
“I’ve written a book inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. I’ve brought it to give to her.” I didn’t mention the balloons. Thirty gold balloons speak for themselves.
If you’re as puzzled as she was, let me explain. This is from the epilogue:
“Do you want to come to a workshop with me?” Pemma asked. Pemma is my friend with whizzy corkscrew shoulder-length blonde curls. I have serious hair envy—everyone does. “It’s with Elizabeth Gilbert and I know how you love her.”
Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of Big Magic, that book that gave me the courage to start writing. It’s true that I admire her; I’d been listening to her TED talks and watching her on Oprah and been encouraged by her podcast called, ironically, Magic Lessons. When the nasty stick-thin perfectionist in my head whispered, You’re wasting your time, no one wants to read your story, what makes you think you’re any good at writing? I took refuge in Liz’s encouragement and got back on.
I clicked on the link to the workshop that Pemma had given me. It was in London, in September, three months away. A little voice whispered, Go! Then the same little voice said, Since you’re going, you could give her your book.
And then my imagination jumped up and imagined giving Liz Gilbert a thick stack of paper wrapped up in beautiful swirls of gold organza and curling ribbons.
Oh, and gold helium balloons! Squeaked my five-year-old inner child. I bet she’d love balloons! Please, please, balloons! Balloons!
How am I going to get on the train with a huge bunch of balloons? asked my older practical self. But getting excited about making a beautiful gift to Liz that her book and podcasts had inspired was enough to silence my inner critic. It wasn’t about me anymore; it was about honouring Liz’s inspiring work and spirit with a book in return.”
When I’d paid for the workshop a year ago, I assumed it would be for about fifty students in a smallish venue. My book was still only a manuscript and I planned to arrive early, put my stack of pages and balloons in a corner and give them to Liz at a quiet moment without disturbing anyone. The workshop had been postponed for six months and I used the new date as a deadline to get the book finished and published. But then I was booked to perform on a cruise ship that week, so I’d given up on the whole idea. Three months before, I discovered the ship would be docked near Bristol that day. I could get to London with a taxi then a train and another taxi. The return trip would take six hours and be expensive but it was possible. I had a show for five hundred people that evening and going so far from the ship was risky but I figured if the trains were late, I could get a taxi back whatever the cost.
That morning, I got up early and set my show backstage in the dressing-room. Waiting for the ship to dock, I wondered whether I was completely mad. It would be much easier to forget all about it. But I’d been thinking about giving Liz this book with the balloons for a whole year. Her encouragement had got me started, re-jump-started and finished. I wanted her to know how much her work had changed my life. Plus, after the difficult year she’d had, losing her beloved wife to cancer, I wanted to give her something to make her smile; something golden to comfort her heart.
On the train, a friend already at the workshop texted that there were four hundred delegates. Four hundred! I tried not to think about how impossible it would be to enter the class late, holding a great bunch of balloons. I kept blowing, knotting, tying on silver ribbons, curling them into falling swirls with scissors. Keeping ten balloons under control on a moving train is tricky. Twenty is worse. Try thirty. Getting into the taxi without popping any was an interesting challenge.
“I can’t allow you to go in with those.” The white-haired, purple-silk gate-keeper said firmly. “And you can’t give her your book. You’ll have to put them down over there.” She pointed to a dusty square of floor by the wall.
I paused, wondering whether I should make a dash for the workshop door - I figured a catsuit could outrun purple silk - but decided against it.
In a way, I was relieved; the idea of interrupting a large and serious seminar had scared the bejeezus out of me all morning. But my inner little girl, the one who’d excitedly imagined the happy bunch of gold balloons in the first place, the one who wanted to make Liz smile, was disappointed. I slowly put my gifts down in the dirt and dust, tears starting to run down my face.
“The balloons are beautiful.” The gatekeeper said more kindly, obviously feeling sorry for me now. “And really, you know, in energetic terms, you have delivered your book to Liz.”
Still in tears and empty-handed, it didn’t seem that way.
I showed her my official ticket for the workshop.
“I can only stay a few minutes but I’d like to go in all the same.”
“Yes, that’s fine.”
I softly opened the main door and tiptoed in. Liz was standing on stage at the bottom of the auditorium-shaped room with four hundred students listening intently. I stood in the corner unseen.
“When you’re creating your art, you have to ignore everything else.” Liz was saying. “Never answer the phone. Never answer the phone!” The room laughed.
Standing there watching, I understood that this class wasn’t the right occasion for my plan. I thought sadly about my book outside on the dirty floor, signed and wrapped with love. I hoped the gatekeeper would pass it on, but I wasn’t hopeful.
Nothing seemed very hopeful any more.
There was only a few minutes left until I needed to leave to get my train back to the ship.
Then. The always whirring, softly humming cogs of magic clicked imperceptibly into a higher gear and made a different hum. Subtle but certain. I felt it.
“Persistence,” Liz said. “Persistence is the key to our creative work. Who has signed up for the gym and not gone?” Hands raised, people nodded and laughed. As I listened, my heart beat faster. Persistence. If I left now without trying one last time to give her my book, it would be the exact opposite of what she was teaching.
I looked around at the four hundred delegates. I looked at the steps going down to the stage. The room was bright, there was no way to get to Liz without being seen and probably rugby tackled to the ground.
“Take out your notebooks.” Liz said. “I want you to think of something that you need to be persistent about. Write a letter to remind yourself why this is so important.” Notebooks were taken out, heads bowed; if you could have heard the sound of four hundred minds thinking and four hundred pens writing, it would have filled the room. I had another unsigned book in my bag. No-one saw as I silently took it out. No-one saw as I quietly, quietly tiptoed down the steps to the stage. Even Liz had her head down writing in her own notebook. I gently put the book on the edge about two metres in front of her.
I didn't want to disturb her. Leaving the book there, I sprinted back up the steps to the exit, and out the front door, my heart hammering.
I hailed a taxi and jumped in.
“Oh my god!” I said to the taxi driver. “That was the scariest thing I’ve ever done!”
When I told him the story, my gruff London cabbie said, “I reckon you did the right thing mate, you would have kicked yourself if you hadn’t. Now no-one can say you didn’t try. After all, if that woman was going on about being persistent, she can’t blooming complain if you was!”
Right. As my heart relaxed and calmed, I realised that it didn’t matter whether Liz got my book. What mattered was that I’d tried, that I’d had a plan and done my best. I’d been scared but I’d followed through. As we twisted through heavy traffic to the station, I sat thanking Liz in my imagination, sending her love. The white-haired gatekeeper was right, energetically I had delivered the balloons. Everything we imagine is real in some form or other.
But did Liz get the books I’d left?
What happened to the balloons?
I don’t know. I haven’t heard.
I'm guessing that Liz was busy meeting students at the end of the workshop and my book on the front of the stage went unnoticed.
Don't worry, the universe has a p