Barefoot Zen?

Barefoot Zen?
Namaste, Y'all...

Monday, August 2, 2010

Eat. Pray. Retort.

I do a pretty decent job of dodging remarks that compel me to vent out loud.  I don't tune in to Glenn Beck or Pat Robertson, and I know where the 'hide' button is on Facebook.  It's all part of being in my early 40's and keeping my usually excellent blood pressure in check.

That said, I do - at times - stumble across a quote or two that requires at least a cursory response, and my blog seems like the place to take such umbrage.  Sadly, the bone I wish to pick is with a talented woman - she's a decent writer and obviously folks find her engaging.  I, however, am just not so moved.

Here's the quote - courtesy of this week's Entertainment Weekly- from Elizabeth Gilbert, author of "Eat Pray Love",  in response to repeated criticism of her hit book and soon to be blockbuster film:  "If women like it, it must be stupid."  In other words, my work is being marginalized because it struck a chord with women.

Now, I take pride in my balance of gender-based yin and yang.  For every Scorsese movie I worship, there's a Meryl Streep film that devastates me.  For each Springsteen anthem that moves my soul, there's an Emmylou Harris ballad that makes me believe in worlds unseen.   I would likely be described as a 'sensitive male'  before someone uttered the phrase 'man's man', and I'm cool with that.

Therefore, I read "Eat, Love, Pray" last year at the behest of a couple of female friends who felt I would connect with Gilbert's journey.  I do, after all, love to cook, meditate, and I believe, as Sheryl Crow said, "Love is a Good Thing".

In a nutshell, I found Gilbert's journey to be vapid, self-absorbed, and self-serving.  To be fair, that's her right.  Hey, if a publisher paid me $200,000 to go on a year's journey to indulge in great pasta, find some inner-peace, and then have a passionate romance, I'd be looking for the dotted line.  That is, if I weren't happily married.  Gilbert apparently was as well, but suddenly decided she was unhappy - for no definable reason, according to her book. So, she walked out, leaving everything to her ex-husband (out of guilt, she purports), had a brief fling, and then went on a quest to find God....or happiness...or a really good angel hair marinara.

Honestly,  I'm a tad mystified that this book is so popular among women.  In the end, Gilbert's apparent search for happiness ended with her, ultimately, falling in love with another man.  (Oops...retroactive spoiler alert.  She travels the world over seeking enlightenment and then completes her journey by falling for a handsome Brazilian dude who makes her all tingly inside.)  In the long run, she could've saved some frequent flier miles, wandered into a singles bar in Jersey and gotten the same outcome.

To make criticism of her work a matter of sexism is a tad insulting to women and men alike.

The reason I didn't like Gilbert's book is the same reason I LOVE the writings of Carrie Fisher, Anne Lamott, Geri Larkin, Mary Karr, and Joan Didion; the lyrics of Lucinda Williams, Indigo Girls, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patti Smith, and Bonnie Raitt.    These are insightful, empathic women who explore both self and other, who ask the big questions but don't feel like the world is revolving around them as they do so.  They are self-deprecating, alive with humor and mischief, and capable of busting your heart wide open with the right phrase, because you know they meant it, they lived it, and they want to share how it felt.

Now, to put Carrie Bradshaw's $500 shoe on the other foot, I have to be fair and ask the fateful question:
Can men be narcissistic, self-absorbed, and self-serving?  Hell yes.  We wrote the book on it (likely titled "Overeat. Prey. Self-Love.").   We majored in this topic and graduated Summa It's-All-About-Me Laude.  We swim daily in Lake Me and dangle from the tip top of the MeMonkey Tree.  That's why truly en-route-to-enlightenment guys see women as teachers, mentors, and our best bet at understanding whatever divinity intersects with our humanity.

Hell, we're looking to you to save us, ladies.  We're the barely walking upright Y chromosomes who start wars, fill up 90% of our penitentiaries, and seem to leave a pretty brutal karmic footprint everywhere we step.  We'd do well to listen to the wisdom you ladies lay down on the page, in song, in artistry, hell, at the checkout line.

But I just didn't find much of that life altering wisdom in "Eat Pray Love", and I don't think that makes me a chauvinist, a shallow guy, or even a harsh critic.  It just makes me all the more aware that the women who truly Eat, Pray, and Love with the kind of joie de vivre that moves me not only reside on my bookshelf and my I-Pod, but also happen to share my home, my zip code, my kids' school hallways, yoga classes, dinner parties, and Girl Fight Club gatherings.

I'm sorry Ms. Gilbert, but I disagree with your assessment of why some find your book to be as shallow as an Atlanta summer rain puddle.

To paraphrase Mr. Dylan - "You don't need a weather girl to know which way the wind blows..."

8 comments:

  1. You are a tad mystified and like so many men (self-proclaimed sensitive or not) afraid and threatened by others female/male who have what you want:

    "$200,000 to go on a year's journey to indulge in great pasta, find some inner-peace, and then have a passionate romance, I'd be looking for the dotted line." -you

    You have no idea what women are up against, you only wish to relate by enjoying good music or an undeniable performance. Admit it you are terrified!!! Sorry I'm the only one who read your "Retort" and it upsets you that millions got a lot out of Gilberts book. Your right it's selfish to want to be your best self and leave a marriage your unhappy in. We should all just stay put in our miserable lives and seek nothing more than mediocre.

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  2. You are a tad mystified and like so many men (self-proclaimed sensitive or not) afraid and threatened by others female/male who have what you want:

    "$200,000 to go on a year's journey to indulge in great pasta, find some inner-peace, and then have a passionate romance, I'd be looking for the dotted line." -you

    You have no idea what women are up against, you only wish to relate by enjoying good music or an undeniable performance. Admit it you are terrified!!! Sorry I'm the only one who read your "Retort" and it upsets you that millions got a lot out of Gilberts book. Your right it's selfish to want to be your best self and leave a marriage your unhappy in. We should all just stay put in our miserable lives and seek nothing more than mediocre.

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  3. I'm glad you got something more powerful out of Elizabeth's book than I was able to glean.

    You seem to have missed the nuances of some of my commentary, and the intended sarcasm behind my quote you tossed back my way, but I am assuredly happy, and surrounded by a beautiful, independent wife, two great kids, and a close knit group of female friends who have defined happiness and empowerment in a way that I just don't see in Ms Gilbert's writing.

    Many of my friends - female and male - have responded positively to this post on Facebook - that's where I get most of my feedback.

    I welcome yours. I knew when I wrote this that - even though I don't know Ms Gilbert - I was risking casting stones and aspersions. And those same stones and aspersions could rightly be fired back at me. Good for you for taking aim.

    From your response, it is clear you don't know me, who I am, or what I stand for at all...and I should fairly admit that I don't know that about Ms Gilbert either, so color me hypocritical if you like. It's a fair cop.

    However, I've read 300+ pages of her attempt to share her thoughts with me, so I know as much about her as her book allowed.

    I wish you well. And I hope you never settle for mediocrity. I'm so grateful I haven't.

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  4. Hey there, Molly! I totally understand how you might've come to the conclusions you did, as someone who doesn't personally know Tommy, and as someone who is a fan of the book. And as a blogger, Tommy knows that he's putting his words out there not just to those of us who know him, but to pretty much the whole world. Your opinion is totally valid, as it is exactly that, your opinion.

    But all that said, I just have to give a shout out to Tommy, whom I am fortunate to actually know, and whose feminine energy often makes me feel that I'm letting my female gender down. And I could've just as easily written this blog, minus the mentions of being male. I couldn't make it thru Italy while trying to read the book. Perhaps Tommy can't relate to the unhappiness of marriage because his wife and kids are AWESOME, but I've been thru hell and still couldn't connect with it. About half the women I know love it, the other half, well... So, there ya go.:)

    And I kinda wanted you to know that he has quite a blog following - it's just that we don't all come to the blog to read it. :)

    I hope you'll keep following Tommy's blogs in the future and discover areas where you do connect with his thoughts - they are often enlightening and QUITE entertaining! (And he mostly writes as a humorist, so there's alot of tongue in cheek going on.)

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  5. Tommy is one of those rare guys who actually "gets" women - and for that, his wife and female buddies like me are thankful. But I do think that this book, which I LOVED, might be a uniquely female experience. For me, it was about the inner conflict many women face between the life they are expected to lead and what they truly desire. All of that said, I was really surprised to see such an intense comment above from someone who practically jumps down Tommy's throat without seeing that his post was written with humor, not hatred. Personally, I enjoy different perspectives from this blog and feel life is more enriched because of them.

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  6. Thanks, Shira and Widdi and - yes - this was written with an awareness that my opinion on the book was from a male perspective, though a male who strives to understand the journey my female friends are on, not deride it.

    I say if anyone read "EPL" and got something rewarding out of it, more power to ya. There are some splendid spiritual insights along the way, as I said. Just a lot of it rings hollow for me. But hey, I hated "Braveheart" and "The English Patient" too, so plenty of folks from all camps could pick a bone or two with me.

    To each their own, but I'm still gonna share my opinions here, with an open mind and as diplomatic an approach as I can take while maintaining a healthy and entertaining cynicism.

    Buy the ticket, take the ride...

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  7. Wow, Tommy--looks like we read the same book! :) And I AM a woman and went through something very similar to what Elizabeth Gilbert describes--minus the months of pasta, men and fully-funded self-indulgent searching. Why it may be that her struggles *are* uniquely feminine (I think most of us still buy into the prince and picket fence fairy tale more than we'd like to admit, and we're too easily swayed into living into others' expectations), but I just didn't find it compelling. And maybe it was the ending--just too trite and neat, even if it was her reality. And I don't begrudge her for having or sharing or profiting from her experience. But I couldn't relate beyond the need to escape---and grateful that I couldn't, because I learned so much from the experience of being fully present in my life.

    And Molly, anyone who knows Tommy would tell you that he's a sensitive soul and self-described feminist who would never dream of encouraging a woman to stay in a loveless marriage. But he's allowed to like or dislike a book just as much as you are entitled to your own opinion about it and him.

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  8. Wow, Tommy--looks like we read the same book! :) And I AM a woman and went through something very similar to what Elizabeth Gilbert describes--minus the months of pasta, men and fully-funded self-indulgent searching. Why it may be that her struggles *are* uniquely feminine (I think most of us still buy into the prince and picket fence fairy tale more than we'd like to admit, and we're too easily swayed into living into others' expectations), but I just didn't find it compelling. And maybe it was the ending--just too trite and neat, even if it was her reality. And I don't begrudge her for having or sharing or profiting from her experience. But I couldn't relate beyond the need to escape---and grateful that I couldn't, because I learned so much from the experience of being fully present in my life.

    And Molly, anyone who knows Tommy would tell you that he's a sensitive soul and self-described feminist who would never dream of encouraging a woman to stay in a loveless marriage. But he's allowed to like or dislike a book just as much as you are entitled to your own opinion about it and him.

    ReplyDelete