Elizabeth Gilbert I am not. Envy about her being number-one in Amazon.com’s “memoir” category aside, there are other reasons to dwell on her this morning just as the sun is about to rise.
Let’s start there. The sun is about to rise and I’m not consumed with angst. Breakfast with angst, for far too long, was part of my regular routine, as I’m guessing it is for most of the women who, like me, have had to come to terms with being barren (or fill in your own cataclysmic personal crisis). Just as crying in the shower and lying awake at night, consumed by “what ifs” and second guessing, was for me, and apparently for Elizabeth Gilbert as she shared in her book, Eat, Love, Pray.
As consumed as I once was with my own angst-sobbing-inducing-demon-plagued problem, I couldn’t get away from her or her book, with large posters of her and stacks of Eat, Love, Pray in places from Costco to Borders to the airport. Weeks, months went by and I didn’t buy her book. I was skeptical. I usually am when I hear a book has “changed people’s lives.” I needed to check her out further. I watched a video of a talk she did about creativity at the TED conference, and I read her website just to make sure she wasn’t some creepy self-helpie, get-rich-quick type. What I found was an observant women who openly shared, among other things her thoughts on writing,  which I found honest and practical.
It was time to crack open her book. As I wrote in an online book club post in August 2008, like the author, I’m not the standard issue woman. The archetypal woman’s life doesn’t apply. What’s a girl to do? Elizabeth Gilbert set out to find peace and contentment after confronting her truths: She didn’t want to be married anymore. She didn’t want to live in big house. She didn’t want to have a baby.
My truths are these:
- Infertility devastated me and fundamentally altered my life and my identity.
- I can’t relate to those whose identity is predominantly wrapped up in being a mommy
- I am on a life path that’s not better or worse than most women; it’s just different.
It’s about damn time I owned these truths and set out to find my own peace and contentment ...
Fortunately, in the past year or so I have found peace and contentment. But unlike Elizabeth Gilbert, I didn’t have the luxury of a magazine paying to send me Italy, and then from there having the copious time away from my “what have you done for me lately?” marketing position available to hang out in India and Indonesia. (I lust after the idea of a sabbatical the way some women swoon for George Clooney) But I digress.
In the wake of her great success, Liz and her book came under fire for being selfish, whiny and the like. Sure, writing a memoir is the ultimate in navel-gazing self-absorption. (How can it not be? It’s a memoir!) She also won praise and was held up as a goddess by Oprah. She garnered a loyal following of women eager to re-invent themselves and confront their truths.
Guilty as charged.
Unlike Liz, I—and the vast majority of women inspired by her honesty to reinvent ourselves -- had to do the emotional heavy-lifting not in the glorious surroundings of the Italian countryside, the quiet meditative gardens of India, or the exotic Indonesia. No, we had a tougher assignment. Rather than traveling abroad and getting outside the often oppressive day-to-day routine, we had to reinvent ourselves in the very environments where our angst and unhappiness took root. We had to take it “old school.”
I often wondered how Liz’s reinvention process would have differed—and whether her memoir would have had the same euphoric response if she had to do it—and write about it—staying put in her old life, among familiar ghosts, faces and places. Take it from me, it’s particularly difficult to do a major remodel of your home while you’re living in it!
A few days ago I learned Liz had yet another memoir out. My initial response: Come on now, Liz, isn’t that a little greedy? Two memoirs in less than a decade? Whatever you think about her copious sharing of her life and the blanket of publicity surrounding her again, I was taken once more by her honesty in an ABC News  interview. She bristled at being compared to other “self-help gurus,” and stated up front that inner peace isn’t something that’s easy to achieve. Amen to that. She also said, “I was useless to anyone until I got myself together. It’s a community service to get yourself together. It’s the least selfish thing you can do.”
I’ll drink to that. Chianti, anyone?