Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Elizabeth Gilbert-envy

I have a feeling I've already said something before now about how I avoided reading Eat, Pray, Love for the longest time. Like for months and months, maybe for more than a year after it first hit the bookstores and became a big hit, I refused to buy it.

I wasn't interested. Couldn't imagine it could be as good as everybody said. Everybody being the New York Times best seller list, and bodies like that.

My disinterest was part snobbery--"I'm not going to fall for that popular, best seller hype"--and part aversion. Especially to the word "pray" in the title, and the word "spiritual" that got hitched to it here and there. "Rich in spiritual insight," says Anne Lamott on the front cover. And on the back there it is again: "memoir/spirituality" it says.

And this of course all at the time when I was more or less in flight from "spirituality" and "spiritual" books. When someone in a painting class with me raved about The Power of Now, I recoiled. "No can do," my insides were saying.

Outwardly I said, "I've read so many spiritual books in my life that I'm not interested in reading another one." My painting colleague looked at me weirdly. I didn't tell her I was a religious refugee.

So it was the word "pray" and the picture of the prayer beads on the cover of Eat, Pray, Love that kept me from reading it for a long time, until I heard from too many trusted friends too many times in close succession that I just "had to read it". I think I finally bought a copy, still a little embarrassed to be doing so, in the fall of 2007.

And when I did, I found myself enjoying it in spite of myself and my persistent inclination not to. At least I loved the Italy section--the vicarious pleasures of pasta and gelato and those lovely, beguiling Italian words.

But I was really really wary of the India section, which was of course the Pray section. I was afraid I'd feel bad about myself for not having a guru and going to India and sweating it out in a meditation cave. And maybe that happened a little--her spiritual experiences like the pulsing blue light were a bit over the top, after all. But even in India, I read some things that moved me, that spoke to me about my own religious-spiritual struggles. And Richard from Texas made it bearable.

I even forgave her for the fairy tale ending, because there was so much in the book that seemed to encourage me to keep going on my own journey. To inspire me to imagine and to grow into being that kind of a friend to myself as it seemed she became on her journey. Never mind that I was happier not to have to deal with the word "God" being used so seemingly happily and without conflict.

So what's the envy about in the title of this post, "Elizabeth Gilbert-envy"? Well, what's not to envy? Let's see. There's the fact that her book is really the kind of book I want to write--am in the process of writing--honest, poignant, funny.

I know some found her book "self-indulgent", to which I say: "what's the difference between telling the truth and being self-indulgent?" Maybe it's always a judgment call. I have a feeling I have to risk being called self-indulgent, which is akin to being called selfish or self-centered--cardinal sins!!--in order to dare to be honest and to write from my gut and heart and not just my head.

I could of course envy that her book is already written and became a New York Times Bestseller (and her next one is following the same path), but it's not really that. Or not only that. (I will be the first to acknowledge that she has paid her dues as a writer, worked hard for many years before this particular success. While I was writing sermons, she was writing books, articles, and more.)

Maybe it's the fact that the healing journey of her life that became her book happened in the course of one year. One year! That's not long at all for such a journey! And she was able to undertake those travels to Italy, India, and Indonesia with a book advance.

So here I am, writing a much longer, in many ways less dramatic (though that's always the perspective from within oneself, is it not, that others' stories are somehow more interesting than my own?), more drawn out and more redundant story. That is to say more embarrassingly hampered and hindered and slowed down by fear and self-doubt, decision and indecision, and twenty more years of not fully being myself than she had lived.

My story's not a neat one year of traveling trimesters of self-discovery ending in romance and stepping into the sparkling waters of an Indonesian island.

And some would say that's why my story might actually have a place too. Might be more "real" and accessible for other ordinary women at midlife like me.

But that's not the end of my Elizabeth Gilbert-envy. About eighteen months ago when she came through Portland and spoke as a benefit for the Telling Room, a local educational non-profit that offers great support for young people to tell and write their stories, I went to see and hear her.

And that's when the final facet of envy became evident to me. It wasn't just about her book. It was about her standing on that stage speaking to hundreds of people (most of them, of course, women) from her own experience. Inspiring. Encouraging. Giving permission. Talking about creativity, about authenticity, maybe even a little about God (though I don't remember that specifically).

"Ahhh, that's what I want to do when I grow up." Something like that. Not telling her stories but my own. Trusting that they will make a difference to people, a positive difference. And trusting those same people to use them as they will and as they are able, to be more fully themselves, more fully alive, more authentically and fully happy and grateful to be who they are here and now.

And that's what I've started doing, albeit slowly thus far. But you gotta start somewhere, right?


Cyn Narcisi said...

The world awaits your stories! What an honest, insightful blog post. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

We call people who blaze the trail before us "way-showers." It's always nice to find one of ours, and also to look into our own souls for where we hope to be that for others. As I have said before and will undoubtedly say again: "You go, Sukie."

Jan said...

I also approached the book with skepticism, expecting it to be a shallow, pop-culture approach to spirituality. I loved it! Gilbert is honest about her own flaws. She is a bit self-centered and narcissistic. And she embraces her gifts, which are warmth and generosity, they're her path to salvation. My take-away: embrace it all, and the wisdom of our own nature leads us to unity with our own true nature.

Sukie Curtis said...

How lovely to find, after not looking for comments for a few days, that a mini conversation has sprung up!

It is good to be reminded that the "way showers" are important sign posts, as long as we allow them to show us what's important to our own souls and selves, rather than getting lost in star-dusty adoration.

One of the great gifts that I received from reading Eat, Pray, Love was a "call" to being (in the process of becoming) my own best friend with depth and strength. Which is all about trusting "the wisdom of our own nature" enough to let it lead us where we need and want to go.

Thanks, Cyn, Meredith, and Jan! And do I delete that fourth comment?!?


Connie said...

I stumbled over the 'Pray" part of the title too! But loved the book-- and Gilbert's easy rapport with the crowd in Merrill Aud. Your story is just as compelling and whether you tell it before a cast of thousands or a small group, you will inspire us by your example to trust our own wisdom.