Thursday, October 7, 2010

Eat Pray Love--Elizabeth Gilbert

October 7, 2010
Seems lots of people are talking about Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love these days. Oprah touted the book as one of her Oprah Book Club picks, and then more recently Julia Roberts helmed the film project. The book, and presumably its author, are enjoying quite a ride.
I'm not always prey to the big pop culture movements, but let's face it--often I am. So I jumped on the bandwagon to see what all the fuss was about. I fully intend to see the movie, but thought I wanted to read the book first. (That's usually the best order of things, in my opinion, even if it's not always the most practical way to go about it.) Fortunately, my daughter got a copy for her birthday that she was willing to loan me, so I didn't even have to go purchase it.

The movie has been showcased as a 'chick' movie, and after having read the book, I would venture to say rightfully so. It's a journey of recovery of self, a process of re-learning to be oneself and to become comfortable with the self who is one's constant companion. How can you be a good companion, the idea goes, if you can't even be a good companion to your own inner self? If you don't know who you are, how can you share that you with anyone else in a true and meaningful way? Men in our society, aren't conditioned to think this way in general. It is what it is; they are who they are. Women, on the other hand, tend to be conditioned to over-analyze, internalize, and otherwise worry, fret, and second-guess all the emotions and relationships that somehow make up what we casually fit under the over-arching umbrella of Self Esteem. Capital S, Capital E. That is who we are.

So we are introduced to Liz, an emotional wreck of a woman who has lost her Self--it took off on a walk with Esteem and failed to leave a forwarding address. A series of failed, clingy, and desperate relationships, in addition to a crisis of lack of a biological clock telling her it was time to get herself into mommy-gear, left her in a crumpled sobbing mess on her bathroom floor for the umpteenth time. Something in her suddenly spoke calmly, clearly. It was time to make a change--break out of the reality of the mess she had made of her life and find who she really was.

How fortuitous then, that she had the means to take a time-out for not just a day or two, or even a week. Her career as an author afforded her the opportunity to multi-task, as we women are wont to do, and take a year's physical and metaphorical journey on as a writing assignment. She could find enlightenment and pay the bills at the end of the road, once the book was published. Quite a luxury, that. Clearly it worked out for her, but I'm not sure most of us who might have the same degree of crisis of self would have the same serendipitous circumstance. But I digress; this is not, presumably, a self-help book. If it were it would be making some pretty arrogant assumptions about most people's realities. Just run off and travel around the world for a year, just soaking in the experience? No problem!

For Liz, it was indeed no problem. The book is, as you might expect, divided up into three distinct parts, or journeys. During the first, in Italy, Liz sets out to just enjoy the culture and the food and revel in just being. She's a bit whiny in this section, but I suppose that's to be expected when one is first learning to hear one's inner voice without the filter of someone else's perspective or eyes. It's uncomfortable to look so closely into the mirror, confronting those unwanted pieces of self that have grown strong and cumbersome and weighty. It's like dragging a small child to the bathroom to make him brush his teeth. He doesn't want to do it, whines about it, but ultimately is better off for it. At least she gets to do it while eating great Italian pasta and speaking a mellifluous language.

The next leg of the journey takes her to India, where her focus is prayer. Honestly, this section dragged a bit and almost made me want to abandon her there. I don't by any means have anything against a spiritual journey; I think the idea of seeking a closer connection to God and finding one's place in the grand design can be a beautiful and powerful one. Here, though, Liz is still so preoccupied and distracted and self-absorbed that it's a little difficult to like her. I just wanted her to abandon herself to her spiritual pursuit, but she was never really capable. I was glad when she proceeded to the final leg of her journey--love in Indonesia.

Indonesia was where this really became a story for me. The people she met there come alive through her words. They are vibrant, touching, flawed, and beautiful. And she, too, comes alive, bringing her journey full circle. It is here that she is, after months of contemplating herself and learning to be who she is, able to reach out and give herself to others, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Having learned to love and care for herself, she is able to stop focusing on herself and redirect her energies toward helping and giving to others, which ultimately gives her the strength and purpose that she lacked before her journey began. In the end, I guess that's the message, and one the rest of us take away even if we can't travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia; take care of yourself, take care of others, and you find your place in the greater fabric of the universe.


1 comment:

  1. I read this book before Oprah recommended this (I sometimes cringe at Oprah recommendations.) Found it interesting and satisfying. Beyond the message of the story, I think Elizabeth Gilbert is just a really great writer. Have you read Stern Men?
    Great review.. oh, also the follow-up book, Committed is quite good. :-)