I’m tired of all the complaining, jibing and whining I’ve been hearing and reading about Eat, Pray, Love. The recent release of the movie has intensified criticism of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, perhaps because Hollywood took her story into a level of abstraction that generates a public feeding frenzy that ranges from lampooning to EPL-inspired candles and dream journals on the Home Shopping Network.
But underneath all the Oprah and Hollywood hype, it’s a great story of personal transformation. Spiritual journeys have been around for a long time. Think pilgrimage. Think vision quest. The physical journey is a metaphor for the inner journey where the real work is taking place.
The wild popularity of the book told us that there is a market for reading material about a woman’s journey toward deeper wholeness and self-understanding, and Gilbert’s story is the real deal, in my opinion. The stage for her journey was set when she hit her knees in the bathroom and prayed for help. (Already I can hear the critics tittering in the background. Go pour yourself another rum and coke.) What happened next, the divorce, the rebound relationship, the idea for the trip, the support from her publisher, the people she met along the way, the lessons she learned, and yes, the ultimate discovery of a true soul-mate were not scripted by anyone other than the force she prayed to on the cold tile floor.
Some have accused Gilbert of a sense of entitlement that motivated her travels to exotic locales and seeking guidance from native people. Yet the book and movie reveal that she didn’t find healer Ketut in an Indonesian phone book. She met him a year earlier on a writing assignment, and HE told her she would be back to work with him again. She didn’t stumble into the ashram, either. She practiced these teachings in New York. And the Italy part, well, don’t we ALL feel a connection to Italy? All parts of her journey were threaded back to her “real” life, the one in which she, like all of us, wakes to an alarm, shows up for work, and puts one foot in front of the other. The most interesting thing to me was that she approached her journey with an open mind and heart.
All the criticism raises caution in me because I am a memoir writer, and I want to believe I won’t be condemned for sharing my story. While my breakthroughs were not quite as exotic–many have occurred while journaling on my back porch or pulling weeds out of my flower beds–my learnings, like Elizabeth’s, were borne out of my experience with loss and darkness.
I had the opportunity to meet Elizabeth Gilbert when she was in Bloomington a couple of years ago. I stood in line and asked her to sign my copy of her book. I told her I, too, was writing a memoir. She looked me in the eye, smiled, and said, “you’re the only one who can write your story.”
With that dose of encouragement, I press on…one foot in front of the other, with faith that each woman’s story, no matter the circumstances, is valuable if told with honesty.
-- Kim for the Poplar Grove Muse