Tuesday, January 15, 2008

We Interrupt The Regularly Scheduled Blog to Talk About Eat, Pray, Love

I just finished Eat, Pray, Love. Yes, I jump on bandwagons way after the rest of the world does. For example, I didn’t “discover” Law & Order until 2004, fourteen years after it premiered. I still haven’t discovered Seinfeld. Or House or Scrubs or football.

I can totally see how this is the type of book that changes lives. If you read it at the right time, in the right frame of mind, with an urgent desire to find peace (or God) and happiness (or balance), then this book is almost a Bible. But it left a little to be desired. First of all, I’m sure this has been said by a million people already, but it’s worth repeating, because I believe it is the book’s biggest flaw: This type of journey, emotional and literal, and its happy outcome, is impossible for about 99.99 percent of the earth’s population. Unrealistic to the core. Tell me one person you know who can pick up and leave their lives for a year, without much concern for career or money or family? In their mid-thirties, no less? Who can wean themselves off of antidepressants with no real side effects or consequences or residual depression? Who can swap an awful, cluttered, miserable life for an amazing one in just 365 days?

Realistically, most of the people reading this book, myself included, are reading it because we are NOT in that balanced happy place. Balanced happy people don’t really read books on how to be balanced and happy. Just like, say, thin, healthy people won’t be reading books on how to be healthy and thin. So showing me a roadmap to inner peace, which includes a year-long trip around the world, with stays at Ashrams and stints in Meditation Caves and such, is just unrealistic and daunting and a teensy bit annoying.

I need someone to show me how to find peace while sitting on my couch.

And sometimes, just because I am cynical and all that, I found the book a little contrived. Elizabeth Gilbert set out on a journey to find God and peace and balance. With a notebook and pen and camera and a cash advance from her publisher to turn it into a book. Her intention from the start was to record this journey. That’s all well and good but, to me, it makes for slightly affected content. How much of this journey is genuine and organic and how much was for the sake of the book? This is also my argument with reality TV: If you wanted to make a reality show about my life, the cameras would catch Nicole and I talking about politics and the economy and articles in The New Yorker while working on the Sunday puzzle together. But if you were a fly on our wall, you would catch me in my pajamas at 4:00 p.m., green flannel things that are so big the fall off of me and so long that I walk on the cuffs; see me watching The Awful Apprentice and listen as Nicole and I exchange dialogue that includes such nuggets as the recent “He looks like a talking finger” and debate whether it is appropriate to floss our teeth in the living room. Which is not to say we don’t have some interesting conversations, but you know what I mean. Picture an audience at your next sit-down dinner and imagine how different your conversation would be. Now picture yourself writing about your day and how different is your agenda?

Gilbert mitigates, to an extent, her own demons and issues, which frustrates me because I love dwelling in that muck. She glosses over her problems, only hinting at how horrifying they are through her actions (sobbing on her bathroom floor while her husband slept in the bedroom; losing weight because she is so miserable and anxious). Her anecdotes to describe her deep depression seem more concerned with seeming witty than seeming sincere.

Instead of the good stuff, she focuses on her actual journey, an unbelievably luck-tinged series of escapades, with an at-times flippant writing style that just seems incongruous for someone seeking enlightenment. I appreciate that she wanted to write a user-friendly treatise, but I think her core audience could have handled something a bit less irreverent (at least in regards to depression). I just find it remarkable that she was able to achieves what so many of us can’t: Weaning herself off of anti-depressants and dragging herself out of depression by sheer force of will, pasta and chants. Really? So I can tell a miserably depressed person, “Buck up! What you need is four months studying Italian in Italy!”

By the end of the book, when the focus stopped being on just her and her journey, we got to know who this woman really is. Ironic how taking the spotlight off of herself highlighted her. When she was reaching out to help others (and not just herself) I really saw changes in her manifest, therefore showing by example the book’s greatest and, most likely, unintended lesson.

It made me want to try meditation, but in I’m obviously not ready for mediation because I only want to do it if someone can guarantee I will be enlightened, much in the way the author was, after two sessions, tops. Because the way she described it, that is where I want to be, spiritually. The book also made me look at my last therapist in a different way. Now I get what she meant when she would tell me to “sit with it” and “just breathe.” All this sitting and being and thinking and letting go and breathing, that whole way of being, I am so not good at, but I wish I were better. And in the end, the book offers a glimmer of hope that I can get there one day. But what I don’t know is how. Frustrating.

I wish I belonged to book club. I would love to read and discuss these sort of things, face-to-face. Then again, anyone who has ever been in a group anything with me knows that I can be...monopolizing jumps to mind but I'll just say talkative. I have a lot to say! Always!

Anyone who read this book and felt changed by it, how did the book change you? Did it literally make a difference in your day-to-day? In big ways or little ways? I really want to hear how people extracted the lessons here and incorporated them into their own lives.

Pictured above: Obviously Avery has already reached enlightenment. Look at that smile on her little face. And below, Madeline and Avery set out on a journey…for cords and wires and other things they shouldn’t play with. One thing I learned in the book was that in Bali, babies are considered Gods until they reach six months. In accordance with their God status, they are not allowed to touch the ground. So they are carried around and then when they reach six months there is a big ceremony and they touch the ground. Also I learned that Hobo is short for “Homeward Bound.” I had no idea. That makes hobos sound so folksy and fun, maybe carrying those little calico kerchiefs tied to a stick, and not like the scary, meandering, homeless drunks riding on flatbed trains that I imagine in my head.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for reading the book so I don't have to.

Just read that Beth Lisick has a new book out about self help (have you read any of her???)


I am still reading it- slow reader here. I'm still thinking about the scene where she makes a lunch of eggs and asparagus. And how- alone- and suddenly you realize life is good. Just that pure moment we all hopefully have. But- you are right- it is contrived. I don't think chant will bring peace to X percent of people. I wish it did, I would have tried it long ago. I think- that moment when you are along (her Italy moment eating eggs on floor) To me- seemed pure. The rest was like wife-swap or some other reality show.

I also like the book (so-far) because- I related to her. I was a new yorker, who 2 months before September 11th going thru a crazy break-up. So I related. Not sure if eggs and asparagus bring inner peace.

Sorry my partner just told me to check my crappy blog - as you sent your email address. Thanks- will shoot u an email.



ooopps- i just read my comment. I meant to say : That moment you are ALONE and realize life (can) be good.

Anonymous said...

I avoid books like that like the plague. Most of them are pure and unadulterated rubbish.

Your girls are lovely. :)

Judy said...

I agree that is all in the timing. I read Eat Pray Love last summer just after my 40th birthday. I thought that spending three weeks with four children at our lake house would be uplifting. HA. I was 40(how the hell did that happen?) morning the absence of my daily ashtanga yoga practice (had to constantly watch the little ones for fear of them drowning so no yoga for me) and my superstar partner was traveling on business.
So in a nutshell....it was a really loud, lonely vacation with my only relief coming when the children were tucked into bed and I could sit by the fire with a glass of wine and become Elisabeth Gilbert.
I so loved this book.

M said...

I haven't read it, I skimmed parts, saw part of the show with her on oprah . . .

But I have gotten myself out of a depression, I have developed a meditation practice, I have dramatically lowered my level of anxiety, and I did go off antidepressants cold turkey many years ago (don't recommend it, and obv. one must discuss any changes in meds with their dr.) with the help of therapy and have stayed off for about 10 years now.

And I think an inner journey like Gilbert's can occur at home as elsewhere. One doesn't need a literal journey in order to have an emotional/spiritual one, not in my own personal experience at least. And I think most of the world's religions, as well as therapists and such would agree. But again I haven't read the book so I can't speak to what she experienced. (Based on my skimming, I don't plan to do more than skim it for now, I think.)

If you suffer from any sort of anxiety I really recommend meditation. Maybe it helps with depression too, I'm not sure. All I know is it feels wonderful.

I can't make any guarantees about enlightenment, but the meditation itself is the reward for me, it feels so good, and then the bonus is how much better I feel the rest of the time all from having maintained a regular practice.

Other things that have helped me: therapy (I only went during the time I was coming out of major depression), eating healthily, exercise, Buddhism, confronting past/childhood issues, being vigilant about preventing depression as I notice it creeping on.

I'm still working on all this and probably will forever but I can't stress enough how much meditation has added to my life, as well as incorporating and learning about Buddhist philosophy.

I'm new to your blog, really like what I've read so far.