Monday, May 30, 2011

What I Learned from Eat, Pray, Love

I have just picked up Eat, Pray, Love for the second time. I have to admit to having a platonic crush on Elizabeth Gilbert – I think if I met her in person we would get along smashingly. When I first read her book about three years ago, it was because someone pressed it into my hands and told me I should read it. Funnily enough, I can’t remember why they said I should read it, because at that point they had no idea that I liked to write or perhaps even that I liked to travel. Anyway, this person gave me her book, and I devoured it as if I had been given food for the first time in weeks. At that point, I was deep into a job that was supposed to make me happy because it was a career and was making me money, but I was miserable without really being able to put my finger on why. Reading Eat, Pray, Love reminded me of the things I had tried to tuck away and forget about because they weren’t considered particularly mature or grown up by the people around me. At that time, my friends were starting to buy houses and settle into long-term jobs, and I was trying to convince myself that this was what I really wanted, too, despite the fact that nothing on earth made me happier than stepping off a plane in a foreign country and knowing I had more than the typically allotted two-week vacation time to spend there.
I had tried to forget this very essential part of myself, but reading Gilbert’s book made my feet itch and my backpack call to me from deep within my closet. When I finished the book, I went back to the woman who had given it to me and said, rather pompously, “I could have written this.”
Well, that’s a lie.
I could not have written Eat, Pray, Love for one simple reason: I had given up on my dream. At that point in my life, I couldn’t imagine life without a corporate insurance benefit package, or without a steady income. Most importantly, at that point in my life, I couldn’t have said, as she did, “Well, I’ve just emerged from a crippling divorce and badly terminated love affair, and I am undoubtedly deeply depressed. I’ve written books about others and made money doing it, but right now, despite the fact that my life is in shambles around me, I am going to walk up to my publisher and tell them that they should give me an advance to write a book about my travels through three different countries that have nothing in common except that I want to go to all of them. Not only that, but I’m known as writing about men’s issues, and this one is just going to be about me, and what I am experiencing – it probably won’t have anything to do with anyone else at all, and no one would take it with them traveling to help them decide where to stay or eat.”
Reading her book again, I am immediately struck by the courage and audacity of what Gilbert decided to do, not because she wanted to do it, but because she convinced someone to pay her to do it. I think three years ago I probably just thought that some people got all the luck, but now I see something much deeper and more admirable in what she did: she went for it, without any idea of how well it would work.
Perhaps because now I’m in a similar situation, I can appreciate what she did more than I could then. At that point, I arrogantly thought that I could do what she did, if only I had the resources she had. Now, however, I know what stepping off that ledge feels like, and I admire her all the more for having stepped so boldly into the thin air.
If you think it would be easy, think about all the things you would have to change to make it happen: getting out of a mortgage, quitting your job, selling your car, paying your health insurance out of pocket, living on next to nothing out of a suitcase with no idea what you would do or where you would live when you got home a year later. Think about all the things you do every day that you would have to give up – dinners and drinks with friends, buying clothes – and all the ideas you would have to rearrange. Think of the terror of promising a book to a publisher without being sure you could write one, or that anyone would want to read it. Think of the idea of deciding before you even left that you would have to bare your soul to the world in exchange for the money you got, and hoping you had enough of a soul to bare.
Now I know that I never could have written Gilbert’s book, -- it was hers and her life experience, after all -- but I am incredibly glad that she did. Reading Eat, Pray, Love was one of first small steps that it took to start to change my ideas about my existence. It made me think that perhaps, if I believed in myself enough and refused to give up, I could create the life of my dreams, instead of trying to squash someone else’s idea of happiness into my life box. I am grateful for what I’ve learned from her, and what I am still realizing: nothing is impossible if you get out of the way and let it happen.

Love and not-so-impossible kisses,