Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Stop Throwing the Book at Me

I have never left the United States.
But I have been eating, praying and loving for the better part of my whole life.

I caution you, if you are a big fan of Liz Gilbert’s, it’s best that you
X out of this page and return for the next blog post.
It is not my intent to offend anyone, and I have nothing against
Ms. Gilbert; in fact, I think she’s one cool cat.
But seriously, you should go—especially if you’re one of those
EPL prophets.

I enjoy reading.
Cookbooks have always been my first choice material but I love a good love story too. I am also a sucker for all-things-Oprah.
She’s a good egg, that Oprah.
Sometimes, when she tells me to read something, I actually do.
Such is not the case with Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert;
well, at least not the first time around.

The book piqued my interest from first mention of its title.
Any book whose title starts with “Eat” is a book of interest to me (thank you Tyler Florence, for Eat This Book).
Add to that a visual stimulus, like the word “Eat” as it appears on the cover in its delightful edibility, and no one had to twist my arm—so I bought it.
It didn’t take long however, for me to realize that this book and I would have a relationship that remained tumultuous at best.

Truth be told, I lost interest and motivation just a few short chapters into the book. The bathroom floor episode left me feeling a bit guilty; guilty for the pity I felt for a woman (albeit one in a state of emotional distress) who really didn’t have it so bad, guilty for the money I spent on the book, and quite frankly, guilty for the fact that my own bathroom floor wasn’t clean enough to welcome my own late-night breakdown (Liz probably had a visit from her cleaning lady before that collapse).
I won’t bore you with my chapter by chapter assessment of a book that some grown women unabashedly refer to as their Bible
(I already have one of those, thank you very much).
What I will offer however, is that Ms. Gilbert deserves ownership of her experience. And while her readers may gain knowledge and insight as a result of the words bled from a painfully deep, emotionally conflicted wound, it seems criminal that others may wish to copycat another woman’s catharsis.

Admittedly, I am old school, so her entire journey was a bit of a pill for me to swallow. Where other readers suggest spiritual revolution, I see disingenuous genuflections.
But that is the beauty of the written word and the responsibility of a good book.
Eat Pray Love certainly stirs the pot and titillates the taste buds. Let’s just say it’s not my favorite meal.

Getting back to my dear friend Oprah; When I scrolled through TiVo’s Season’s Pass recordings of her show, I realized that she interviewed the author of Eat Pray Love a second time. I almost deleted
(or as I like to say “TiVorced”) the recording, but my curiosity got the best of me, so I watched it in its entirety.

Honestly, I am perplexed by Oprah’s fascination with, and undying praise for this author. For no particular reason, I made the connection early in the episode that Miss Gilbert shares the same initials (L.G.) as the manufacturer of those state-of-the-art refrigerators Oprah gave away during her “Favorite Things” episode—Oprah pointed out that LG stands for Life’s Good, and
I’ll bet it is for both LG and L.G.
(Perhaps there’s a theme here).

During this follow-up episode with Ms. Gilbert, Oprah allowed audience members to ask questions and comment on Eat Pray Love, while Ms. Gilbert sat comfortably, offering shaman-esque advice to smitten readers.
I was most disturbed as I watched and listened in horror to the viewer who detailed her recent journey to the same places
Ms. Gilbert traveled to, with the intent to find the same people, expecting the same experience.
And ultimately, she did it all.
Listen folks, as a New Yorker, I am somewhat desensitized to news headlines about car-jackings and hi-jackings. But dare I say, this is the first time I have personally experienced a sordidly detailed account of a journey-jacking by one blissfully ignorant
(albeit well-intentioned) woman.
Ms. Gilbert seemed visibly uncomfortable at the notion that a perfect stranger essentially hi-jacked her personal guru and enjoyed the same (no longer sacred) experiences of tea time and massage.
I was genuinely surprised that Oprah didn’t challenge her on such atrocities.
I was hopeful that her less-than-personable-guest-turned-
, Richard might have chimed-in, but as expected, he sat wallowing in speechless wisdom, appearing as though he’d rather be anywhere else.

The pivotal moment for me was when Liz allowed viewers a glimpse into her now, blissfully balanced life—in New Jersey.
Could irony be any sweeter?

I have nothing personal against New Jersey or its residents.
It seems however, that Bali is a long way to travel to meet a guru who will clarify your very existence (and then ultimately forget who you are and why exactly he predicted you would return), to finally end up in a once-upon-a-church residence in New Jersey.
Not to mention that Jersey has its rightful share of great Italian restaurants, churches and massage parlors.
Liz could have saved a bundle on airfare, and quite possibly uncovered her peaceful spirit while eating, praying and loving
her way across the never ending Jersey Turnpike,
with nary a concern for passports or jet lag.

Despite my cynicism, I am pleased that she found peace and was able to make sense of her own existence (it limits the odds for a sequel).
But I fail to fully understand her inability to acknowledge her original, pre-meditated life as one of validity and purpose.
We humans live our lives in constant flux. Each of us is prone to experiencing days when we feel less like ourselves, and more like the people we find unlikable.
But the cold, hard truth is that sometimes we don’t “fit” into the lives we lead because of our own foolish misinterpretation of what we thought we wanted.
Most of us have experienced disappointment, loneliness, and the painful truth of hurting someone we love, or thought we loved.
But few of us have the means, the moxie, or the ego maniacal sense to expose such sensitivities for personal gain.

I would like to believe that originally, Ms. Gilbert wanted only to tell her story. Perhaps the obsessive fanfare and spiritual dedication to her vacational-incantations, can be attributed to the inevitable Oprahfication of her amusing tale.

I have faith in Ms. Gilbert's ability to spin an interesting yarn, and those who read for leisure and the opportunity to escape an ordinary day will have their fill.
But my heart weighs a bit heavier for those less fortunate who might really be living the truths of a toxic marriage, distorted self image, or broken spirit.
In the absence of family, faith, or financial support, a posh pilgrimage to eat pasta and pray seems an impractical, if not impossible solution.

If I have learned anything from Eat Pray Love, it is that I am not alone in my occasional desire to become someone else
(anyone else) when the going gets tough.
I have also learned that Italy is definitely my gastronomic destination of choice (if I can figure out a wheels-only
way to get there
And lastly, if it’s true that the devil is in the details,
then I suppose we might expect to find God in simplicity.

Ms. Gilbert’s second meeting with her Guru in Bali offered a simple, prayerful posture with no prerequisite training or travel.
He reduced her labor-intensive spiritual quest to
his dismissive, yet brilliant suggestion that one must only
sit quietly and smile for effective meditation
(something also very doable on the Jersey Turnpike
during rush hour

While I am not a practitioner of meditation, I find this methodology especially effective on those days when I would rather be living anyone else’s life but my own.
I find that if I sit still with my eyes closed and force myself to recall my blessings, instead of my regrets, it requires little effort on my part to produce the necessary smile.
I might not have it all, and I certainly don’t have it all together,
but if a breakdown is on the horizon, the bathroom floor
is likely the farthest I’ll go.

Because Life’s Good.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


In the spirit of soulful cleansing, I have decided not to post a recipe.
Perhaps some food for thought and a cup of detoxifying tea
are in order.

1 comment:

'A' said...

You "not so blonde" sister would like to borrow this book. (It did not look like one that I wanted to spend money on, and I am also an Oprah's pick fan.) Since you already own it, can I see what all the hype is about myself? FYI: Someone in my book club suggested we do this one and I voted it down, guess it runs in the family...