I first started Eat Pray Love in the summer of 2008. My book club had chosen it, and I was living at the time with my lovely friend and fellow writer Ashley - who is always gentle, spiritually sensitive and adorably, frustratingly zen. It seemed fitting, but the truth was that I couldn't even finish the book. I found it sappy, far too long and meant for people who were already living in an ashram in India - not, as was the case for me - out of suitcases in the spare bedroom of some friends who lovingly pretended I was not out of my mind that summer.
So the Oprah-favorite has sat on my bookshelf for almost two years, ready to be finished quickly and summed up in the sentence above during this year of intense reading. I always knew I would eventually finish it - I still haven't learned how to be a quitter... but fortunately, I had trouble remembering where exactly I had left off and had to start from the beginning again.
I couldn't have been more wrong in my thinking in 2008! Gilbert, the brave and honest writer that she proves herself to be, is someone anyone can identify with. She wants to be happy and peaceful and beautiful but cannot seem to get out of her own way. She very often wants to give up, can justify almost anything to herself, and is just stubborn enough to keep at it - it being the one year long adventure she set out for herself. I had this idea that Elizabeth Gilbert was this terribly calm, seeker- and finder- of the divine, this ethereal writer who was pretentiously quoting Sufi poets and who probably laughed delicately and without snorting. What I found is that she laughs often - and makes me laugh - in a frank, bawdy, too-much-information kind of way.
Page 73: "Here's how my Swedish friend Sofie describes the great queen [Christina of Sweden]: "She could ride, she could hunt, she was a scholar, she became a Catholic and it was a huge scandal. Some say she was a man but at least she was probably a lesbian. She dressed in pants, she went on archaeological excavations, she collected art and she refused to leave an heir."
And on Page 182: "...my ex-husband never forgave me for leaving, that it didn't matter how many bushels of apologies or explanations I laid at his feet, how much blame I assumed, or how many assets or acts of contrition I was willing to offer him in exchange for departing - he certainly was never going to congratulate me and say, "Hey, I was so impressed with your generosity and honesty and I just want to tell you it's been a a great pleasure being divorced by you."
(If you know me at all, you will find a little chuckle at the universe's idea of a joke if you read this, and then this - while thinking about the cadence of that last quote - and for future reference, never compare yourself to a writer whose book you didn't finish. Yikes.)
Her book, which chronicles Gilbert's year in Italy, India and Bali could have easily turned into a travel guide. It could also have turned into The Diary of a Sad White Woman, or Under the Tuscan Sun. Thankfully, it is not any of those things. It did however, make a really good case for meditation as well as educate me on a great many historical tidbits I may not ever have known. Case in point: While most of Bali is actually inhabited by the descendants of Kings, Priests or Artists, it also has a very violent history and only became known around the world as paradise in the 1960's as a result of a very targeted marketing campaign. (Pages 225, 236-238)
I finally fished the story with a feeling of optimism and promise, and a real belief that by truly seeking out the ways to internal peace that holy men and women have been professing for all ages - I mean really seeking - taking with determination the time and practices set forth, you might actually begin to achieve it. Even if you are a skeptic, even if you think you are a hopeless case, jaded and bitter and far too chatty. I'll tell you this - I'd like to find out.