Happy second Sunday of Advent, my friends! While I am quite certain that you are not sitting at your computers every morning awaiting the appearance of a post from me, I want to apologize for the missed ones this week. Again, stomach bugs and sitting for long periods of time don’t seem to go well together. I definitely miss you! And I wanted to tell you about something I did this week that I absolutely swore I would not do. In fact, I didn’t even really swear, I just knew that I did not have the slightest interest in doing this thing, so I barely thought about. I watched “Eat, Pray, Love.”
I’m not sure how it happened. I was at the grocery store buying Saltines, and they have this Redbox movie thing, and I was all sweaty and miserable and was wearing my fat-ass smelly pajamas, and I thought, “Oh God, who cares. It’s the only thing that looks pretty.” So I rented it.
I thought I had successfully avoided the “E, P, L” book craze until I got to work one morning and a copy of it was lying on my chair with a note from one of my more eccentric colleagues. Not the kind of eccentric that you like, more the kind that secretly makes you glad that you aren’t her. Anyway, the book looked beaten up and had a Post-It note on it that said, “I thought you would like this. Sorry about this blood stains.”
So I felt I had to at least skim through it, and in the beginning, when the author is struggling deeply with whether to stay in her marriage (this part is completely underplayed in the movie), I was drawn in. I mean, she’s miserable, her friends have had to find her a therapist, she’s on antidepressants, lying on her bathroom floor crying, trying to pray—this is my kind of story.
Because I love a good story of struggle and redemption. I’m sort of addicted to them. They show how far we can fall and how far we rise. What I do not love are stories where the redemption part has to do with getting a free trip to three of the most beautiful places in the world, you can eat whatever you want, and you end up with an exquisite man who worships you. Then you have a chance at happiness. Hmmm…
I’ve been lying in bed most of this week trying to figure out why I disliked this movie so much, and why I couldn’t stand the book. I think it was my sister who said, when she finished the book, “After all she did, I was sort of hoping for more, like some words of wisdom or something.”
But they’re aren’t any, and that is not Elizabeth Gilbert’s fault. The reason there aren’t more, despite the overwhelming popularity of her book and the movie, is that this is, and ultimately remains Elizabeth Gilbert’s story. It’s not an Everywoman story. And while I didn’t like the book or the movie, I do happen to like Elizabeth Gilbert. I’ve heard her speak (you can too if you click on this link–she has some interesting thoughts about creativity and genius) and she seems sincere and deeply invested in learning how to be a good writer. This was her story, and she worked hard to tell it, and then she was fortunate enough to have her voice be heard by lots of other voices who said, “Yes!” And I think that’s damn amazing.
The disconnect between the transcendent joy that Elizabeth Gilbert (the character) gets to feel as she’s travelling around the world and the reality of the everyday world worries me, though. I worry that people, women especially, will see this movie with its absence of any clues about how to find food, prayer and love in their everyday lives that they will begin to despair. And yes, I know all about the beauty in the everyday, appreciating the perfection of imperfection, the Jack Kornfield After the Ecstasy the Laundry view of the world. I GET it. But still I worry.
Because after you’ve been cinematically seduced by meal and meal of perfect pasta, not one of which you had to cook yourself, and by a medicine man who tells you your future, and every word that people say seems steeped in the deepest truth; after that, when the movie is over and you look over at the puke bowl at the side of your bed, the little silver card of turquoise Immodium pills, and you and your sheets smell repulsive, and you’re out of “Grey’s Anatomy” episodes to watch, well, the beauty in the everyday looks more like a thrift store version than the real thing.
But I think that’s okay. Mostly I think this because if it’s not I, and, I would venture say, 95% of the rest of us are in big trouble. It just has to be okay. As John Prine, best of the best old American songwriters wrote, “That’s the way that the world goes round, you’re up one day and the next you’re down, it’s a half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown—that’s the way that world goes round.”
That’s the way that the world goes round. Some people get amazing opportunities, and those opportunities give them the chance to touch the lives of others. That’s how it should be. A few weeks ago, I was doing a workshop on therapeutic writing to a group a nurses and hospital administrators, and they were sharing stories of acts of kindness they has received. One nurse, who was eating some oatmeal at a diner with her husband shortly before undergoing a procedure that she was very, very frightened about, described the waitress who came over to her, put her oatmeal down, laid her hand on her shoulder and said, “I just want you to know that this was made for you with love.” They didn’t know each other, had never spoken about anything. It was just, “This was made for you with love.”
We all get amazing opportunities every single day to touch the lives of others, right in our own home, workplace, grocery store. Good for Elizabeth Gilbert to tell her story, and good for the rest of us whose stories may never get to be told, but are, without question, just as important.
Here is a poem called “Initiation II,” by Nina Bogin which actually has to do with the everyday and the transcendent. I hope you like it. See you tomorrow!
At the crossroads, hens scratched circles
into the white dust. There was a shop
where I bought coffee and eggs, coarse-grained
chocolate almost too sweet to eat.
When I walked up the road, the string sack
heavy on my arm, I thought
that my legs could take me anywhere,
into any country, any life.
The air, dazzling as sand, grew dense
with light: bougainvillea spilled
over the salmon walls, the road
veered into the ravine. The world
could be those colors, the mangoes,
the melons, the avocado evenings
releasing their circles of moon.
I climbed the pink stairs, entered
the house as calm and ephemeral
as my own certainty:
this is my house, my key,
my hand with its new lines.
I am as old as I will ever be.