Eat, Pray, Love – Book and Movie Review

For a couple of years, I had to push Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, out of my way. At the bookstore, a copy was invariably obscuring the book I wanted. I pushed it aside and carried on. The Amazon site, using their crazy little matrix, determined sometime ago that based on my purchases I had to be interested in the book. I didn’t click. At a friend’s house, normally freakishly neat, I had to move it off the chair seat to sit down. At the grocery store, a copy was sitting on top of the bag of spinach I was trying to buy. These instances played out against the merciless promotion of the book for the past year or so as the movie version starring Julia Roberts was filmed, edited, and just as unmercifully promoted.

I think it was the Spinach Event that provoked surrender. Soon thereafter, I was at the bookstore, the memoir was on sale and I bought it. If one wants to get all New Age-y (and at times I do), it can be said the Universe wanted me to read this book.

I settled into the coffee shop with a large mocha and began reading.

I had resisted the book after reading its description. My take was that some 30-something narcissistic chickie with a life most of us envy was wallowing in the pain of an existential hangnail. I didn’t want to read Liz Gilbert, I wanted to smack her. And, generally speaking, I’m opposed to violence.

I also do not read nonfiction for the most part. No matter how much a novel mirrors real life, my emotions are sufficiently kept in check by that fiction label.

I’m real emotional these days.

While pregnant, I was a bundle of hormonal, hair-trigger emotions. In the space of 30 seconds or so, I could go from despair and rage to sprawling on the floor, howling with laughter while banging my fists. I cried because I was happy, because I was sad, because I was mad, because my hormones were rocketing throughout my body. There was the very memorable Spilled Coke event in which I happened upon a spilled fountain drink in a parking lot. There was a puddle of Coke. A popped lid. A mangled straw. I sobbed. Some child, I’m sure, used an entire week’s allowance to buy that Coke, stumbled and lost it all. I sobbed for nearly an hour.

The menopause hormonal imbalance is a lot like that of pregnancy. Funny is hysterical, sad is total despair, and heart-warming just annihilates me.

Nobody told me Eat, Pray Love was laugh-out-loud-in-public-until-you-snort-whipped-cream funny. People with perfectly intact hormone systems tell me it’s not just me. The book is funny. And it’s sad. And it’s heart-warming.

I read it twice. I never read anything twice.

And, yes, it’s about a near-40-something chickie with a life most of us would envy plunged into despair over an existential hangnail. Gilbert’s hangnail was a painful divorce and a painful mid-divorce love affair – a divorce she initiated for reasons she chooses not to detail.

I wanted to roll my eyes at her and tell her to get some perspective. But (1) I was too busy laughing because (2) she realizes how out-of-proportion her misery is and makes so much fun of herself I didn’t need to. It’s the depth of her misery that spurs her plan to travel Italy, India and Bali for a year – not the life events. And I had to hand it to her. After my life events of the past few years, if I could pull off running away from home for a year to get a grip, I’d be at the post office renewing my passport this second.

I loved the book. I want to hang out with Liz Gilbert and eat a fine meal somewhere.

I stated emphatically that I wouldn’t see the movie.

The movie arrived here on Thursday and at 6 p.m. on Friday my mother, who hadn’t read the book, and I were sitting mid-theater watching previews. Upon walking into the theater, I asked two women exiting if the movie was any good. One said it was and the other said, “It was okay.”

I neither like nor dislike Julia Roberts. I’ve enjoyed some of her movies, but don’t regard any of them as works of art. Since Hollywood doesn’t produce art that often, I don’t expect art from a movie. I go to be entertained. In the case of this movie, the reviewers were all over the place – it’s good, it’s bad, it’s okay – but all agreed the scenery was gorgeous. I’m a sucker for gorgeous scenery.

I loved the movie. I laughed through much of it. I cried through much of it. (I’m just a spectacle these days.)

The movie departs from the book in some key areas, but does so in the spirit of the book. I hadn’t been interested in the movie because I thought there’s no way to tell Liz’s story visually without losing the spirit of the book. Well. I was wrong.

Mom, who hadn’t read the book, thought the movie was wonderful.

For the past month or so, I’ve been compulsively reading reviews of the book and the movie trying to get a handle on why I liked the book so much. My best guess is because it’s funny – I’m a sucker for humor. Now, I’m going to have to puzzle the movie out. The movie provokes some laughter, but it’s not a comedy. It’s about love, but it’s not a love story.

I’ll probably see the movie a second time. I never watch a movie twice.

Is it a small world? After all?

Now and again I find myself in a daydream thinking about what people are doing while I’m thinking about what they’re doing. For example, right now I’m convinced that somewhere someone is:

  • Painting their toenails and wincing because it hurts their back to do so;
  • Standing in a line that is not moving;
  • Explaining to an officer of the law what happened;
  • Winding duct tape around something;
  • Encouraging a child to either do or not do something;
  • Trying to hold back tears;
  • Crying;
  • Begging for food;
  • Praying;
  • Cursing;
  • Singing in the shower;
  • Having an orgasm;
  • Having a heart attack;
  • Bursting with pride;
  • Suffering shame;
  • Drifting to sleep;
  • Awakening;
  • Falling in love;
  • Falling into despair;
  • Picking their nose;
  • Picking a china pattern;
  • Picking ripe tomatoes;
  • Picking a casket;
  • Entering life;
  • Exiting life.

I imagine these people oblivious to the knowledge that I’m wondering what they’re doing. And why. And how. And taking some comfort that the wheel goes round and round and round; that we endure and not endure and struggle and relax. That, viewed from a distance, there’s a symmetry and a balance to it all until peering in close to see the broken heart in juxtaposition to the joyous one; the ridiculousness of painted toes in comparison to the struggle for nutrition. There are injustices wrought by the arbitrary lines of geopolitical divides; and injustices wrought by economic gerrymandering. Injustices of opportunity and means. Injustice against the person. Injustice against the self.

It’s all silly, poignant, important, meaningless, and cruel, but most people in their last breaths think, “Oh, please. Not yet.” At least I think they do.

And if you were wondering — I’m sprawled on my couch lamenting chipped nail polish and economic injustice. I’m writing this drivel, and plotting, yet again, the best way to infuse my puny little life with meaning wondering all the while if by virtue of existence it already has meaning or if that’s a pig in a poke bought in the cosmic market square on credit at an interest rate I can’t afford. I’m also thinking somewhere else someone is riding a similar thought train. I’m also thinking about how much I’d really like a taco and for It’s a Small World to quit ricocheting around my brain.

Yogini Again-y

This is an actual asana (position). It's one of my favorites. Now c'mon people - why did it take me a week and the purchase of a book to force myself onto the floor to do this - knowing I would feel better?

I really dislike being a cliché, but, yes, I’m just another middle-aged woman with a bunch of bad habits who thinks yoga is going to rescue me from myself.

There are worse delusions.

A few years ago, I regularly practiced a very lazy form of hatha yoga. My reward was a flexibility that surprised doctors and which I took for granted. I have long attributed yoga as being the reason I am not in a wheelchair. As my neurosurgeon said, “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”

Well. I didn’t.

In April of 2007, I was in a car wreck that looked to be minor. There was $400 damage to my car and $32,000 (and counting) damage to my body. The first six months were lost in a miasma of pain and medical appointments – orthopedist, podiatrist, chiropractor, physical therapist, massage therapist. There were pain pills, outpatient surgeries, a walker, crutches, surgical shoes, ice packs, steroids and much complaining. Yoga was impossible when simply getting out of bed or up out of a chair exhausted my physical reserves.

The acute phase of my injuries passed and I thought I had reached a point where I could return to yoga class.

The yoga class I attended at the time of the car accident barely meets the definition. It is terminally a beginner class – ideal for out-of-shape Westerners with no interest in the mental aspects of yoga. I began attending this class when the woman who introduced me to yoga retired from teaching. I miss her still. She, too, didn’t press us too far outside our western sensibilities, but she did gently push us into more challenging poses and did discuss how our brains could become as flexible as our bodies if we paid strict attention to our breath, the position of our bodies, and our attitude towards the world.

Shiva Rea doing what I could almost, but not quite, do at the peak of my practice.

I was intrigued enough that I studied on my own and practiced on my own. Most yoga folks will tell you that a formal class is indispensible, but that daily home practice is just as necessary.

I’ve done neither for the better part of three years. I tried to return to class, but ongoing problems with my foot and hip made formal class a debacle. On one occasion it took the instructor and a classmate to get me up off the floor. More importantly, my return to class resulted in a return to pain. A cardinal rule in yoga practice is Do No Hurt – the very antithesis of no pain, no gain.

Still. I should have done what I could at home. There was much I could have done without pain. I should have stayed in the formal class – sitting out the poses that stressed my injured foot and hip. I should have done things differently. But I was appalled at how much I had lost and embarrassed at needing help with poses I’d been doing for years. Vanity will always get us in trouble.

This is why a formal class is indispensable – it keeps you motivated and humble. The closest I’ve come to yoga at home is to push aside my unitard in search of a pair of leggings to wear to bed. Foolish me.

This past December I had what I hope is my final foot surgery. Unlike the previous two surgeries, this one seems to have taken – the pain is finally gone and my foot works like a foot should.

Due in part to the novel about India I just finished, I’ve been feeling like a back-slidden yogini. [And, yes, I do hate that word for its pretentiousness, but I have no other to use.]

More importantly, I’m about as flexible as a potato chip and everything hurts. I’ve lost a lot of ground in three years.

I could do this - and do it well. It's a lot easier than it looks and my back feels so good during the pose.

It’s been hard to get started. I have the books. I have the mat. I have the DVDs and audio tapes. I have the unitard. That formal class still meets every Tuesday. That vanity thing again. I have to start over from the very beginning. Lie on the floor, arms and legs gently flexed and relaxed. Breathe in. Breathe out. Push your spine flat to the floor. Hold. Release. Remember to breathe.

I’ve been mentally preparing myself for a return to regular yoga practice. Mentally was as far as I got. I simply could not force myself to get up and lay on the floor to begin despite the fact that under normal circumstances yoga has always, ALWAYS, been an activity of deep contentment – even as a beginner, especially as a beginner. There was a time I rushed to the mat to begin the descent into the pleasure of a united brain and body.

I am very aware of the mind/body split. I can get lost in what Diane Ackerman terms Deep Play – a time when my brain behaves like a Ferrari – effortless coasting at high speed and cornering like a dream. I can get lost in the physical sensations of hard work while gardening or working on the house – reveling in muscle fiber stretching, relaxing and increasing. Yoga joins those two states of being.

I could not, cannot, understand my reticence to begin practice again. I did everything except get on the mat and begin. I suppose discovering how debilitated I’ve become was part of it. Part of it could be sheer laziness. Mostly it is chagrin. I didn’t do what I knew I should.

Today, I went to the book store to escape the humidity of this hot, stormy afternoon. I ended up in the yoga section, squatting on the floor, cursing the pain in my hip and the ache in my back. I was looking for the Holy Grail of DVDs or books. I looked at the jacket of each offering trying to decide if this particular one would have the phrase or the image I needed to get me on the mat. All the while I told myself the problem was a lack of discipline and no book, no DVD was going to provide the impetus I needed.

After struggling to get up off the floor, I walked over to the café with B.K.S. Iyengar’s Yoga Wisdom & Practice. Iyengar is credited with creating the yoga renaissance of the past few decades. It’s a beautiful book of lithe bodies, gorgeous symmetry, the power of simple words that sound stupid to people who haven’t experienced the mind/body fusion of yoga.

It turns out I was wrong. In spite of the balance in the checkbook, I bought the book. Just looking at those strong, flexible bodies, or perhaps it was the expenditure of money, provided the impetus to begin. I came home, dragged out the DVD most appropriate for a beginner, put on the unitard and made it through 28 minutes of a 40 minute program. I’m pleased I listened to my body and stopped when I should.

I feel good. My hip aches far less than it did. As I moved from seated positions to standing ones and back again, each successive rise from the floor was easier. By the end of the 28 minutes, it was hard to understand how it was I’d had so much trouble getting off the floor at the bookstore.

I expect to continue.

Below is Shiva Rea who is pushes a type of yoga called Vinyasa Flow Yoga. It’s a beautiful dance-like form. I don’t expect to ever be this good, but . . .

Cold Tub

Sun Worshipping, Yet Vigilant Willy

In 2002, The Ex and I bought a hot tub, er. . . I mean spa. We had always wanted one, but after we installed the fence to corral puppies, the perfect alcove was created. It would have been a crime not to put a hot tub spa in that spot.

One of The Ex’s most annoying and most redeeming qualities was that he shopped things to death. Except for one notorious car deal, I don’t think we ever paid one cent more than rock bottom on any major purchase. He was legendary in his wrangling which was not limited to just the major purchases. The guys at Firestone still talk about him and his fist full of coupons and competitors’ advertisements. He felt a failure if he paid more than $10 for an oil change.

We schlepped all over three states and the entire internet looking at hot tubs spas. In the course of comparison shopping, we were informed that the cool kids refer to them not as hot tubs but spas. Hot tubs are large vats of hot water. Spas are mini-vacation experiences that involve jets. The number of jets determines how much you get to swagger at the convention of Cool Kids with Spas.

I was pretty sure that standing around in showrooms peering at molded acrylic wasn’t the best way to determine the suitability of any one hot tub spa. I got in them and sat down. Sometimes they had water in them, sometimes not. Through trial error we determined the features we were willing to pay for and the ones we wouldn’t tolerate at any price. We then narrowed brands. Then price. Then swagger.

Finally, we ordered the damn thing. Finally, it arrived.

During the shopping phase, I was quick to say that it was primarily for The Ex. He had always wanted one. When we went on vacation, he gravitated to the nearest hot tub spa and soaked for hours at a time. Hot tubs Spas contented him in a way I never did.

I liked them well enough, but after twenty minutes or so I’d had enough.

Well. We got one. Here. At the house. Bathing suits optional. Privacy guaranteed. Open at any time of the day.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

The spa boasts 57 (I think) jets. I fell in love with each and every one of them, but particularly the configuration of five that massage my back in just the right spots. My back that had ached for 20 years, ached much less. My stress levels plummeted. It was all good if pruney-skinned.

Even in winter, particularly in winter, I loved to sink inch, by inch, into the hot, steamy, bubbling water. As long as it was warmer than -10F, it wasn’t too cold to dash naked from the family room to the spa.

The biggest pain was lifting the cover. It was a good sized and, particularly with an inch or two of snow sitting on the cover, getting the cover off could be challenging.

We invested in a lifter – a metal contraption that works on the principle of torque. With one hand, I could rock the cover open or closed. It was better than all good.

I started most days and finished nearly every day with a good soak. I particularly loved morning coffee. That little alcove just the perfect size gets morning sun. After dark, I would turn the underwater light on and sip wine while pretending to be one of the idle rich I was genetically predestined to be but which, through a cruel twist of fate, was not.

During the cool days of spring and fall, Willy and I discovered that sitting on the cover was the perfect solution to wanting to be outside but it being too cold to be outside. The cover absorbed and retained heat from the water beneath and the sun above – the top was 10F warmer than any other place outside. He and I clocked a lot of hours sprawled on the cover.

When the heat of summer hit, I would turn the temp down to lukewarm. Mid-day soaks were still out of the question, but mornings and nights were wondrous.

Vapor barrier, styrofoam and the sweat of my brow.

The cover, and the spa, are now nearly 8 years old. Last year, the cover began disintegrating. The vapor barrier split and peeled. Covers, I learned, are nothing more than steel reinforced Styrofoam. The foam waterlogged. Slowly, as the wet summer of 2009 dragged on, it became more and more difficult and finally impossible to lift the cover.

I kept hoping that if it would quit raining long enough, the cover would dry out and I could Mickey Mouse a temporary vapor barrier that would last me until I could get the money together for a new cover. Styrofoam is more costly than I would have thought possible. Nothing doing. Once the thing waterlogged there was no drying it out.

This weekend, my brain fried by the heat, I decided to wrassle that cover off and at least use the spa as a miniature swimming pool. I figured I’d have to use a boat load of chemicals to keep the algae at bay and still have to drain it regularly, but it seemed like a good idea. There would be no jets and no nifty underwater light as there’s no way to operate the thing without the heater running. I’m not about to pay Appalachian Power to heat the already too hot great outdoors. Stupid design.

Stupid Thing

Wrassling the cover doesn’t begin to describe it. Two 8x4x3” panels of high-density, waterlogged foam hinged together and wrapped in a tasteful brown vinyl nestled in a perfect little alcove are a bitch.

The hacksaw was useless and I figured I didn’t need to be poised over 3 feet of bacterial infested water with power tools. It came down to me, a bread knife, and a pair of pinking shears.

It was ugly. After nearly concussing myself, coming close to stabbing my thigh and almost lopping off a finger, I managed to get one of the panels off the spa and into the yard WHERE IT WOULD NOT BUDGE.

I pushed. I pulled. I prayed.

All this in 95F with 90% humidity.

I had a tantrum and kicked the damn thing. Evidently, I kicked it in just the right spot and the foam cracked like the shell of a hardboiled egg.

The second panel was a lot easier.

After all that, it took the rest of the day to get the spa to cycle completely through the start-up phase of pump priming and whatnot. I was fixin’ to have another tantrum when the pump finally started to pump, the jets began to bubble and the digital readout informed me the 9 month-old water was 76F.

I drained that puppy and cleaned it between attacks of heat stroke. Had I not been able to get it to start up, I was going to take a sledgehammer to the thing, haul it out in pieces and install a $10 kiddie pool from the K-Mart. But it did start and Plan A is being executed.

Oh, Lord, it's cold...mmmmmm

Today, I am finally filling it. In an hour or so, I expect to slip inch by inch into icy water as the sun slips over the hillside and the solar lights begin to flicker on. While it’s possible I’ll opt for a glass of wine, it’s probably a surer bet I’ll be nursing a mug of hot coffee. One of the more gruesome aspects of this heat wave is that my caffeine levels are well below normal.

The cold tub spa will soon be open and I am thankful for small mercies.

The Computer, the Witch and the Closet

Oh to have a closet so grand.

When I was young I used to sit in closets.

My parents only noticed that I did so when angry or upset, but in truth I did it often. They only checked on me when I was angry or upset.

The first-time I can remember, I was about 8. The memory seems a foreshadowing of now. I was home from school with a cold, but was feeling better. Though still sick, I was restless and at loose ends. I had read all the books I had to read. I discovered that daytime television was inane. I was feeling creative.

My brother and I had a child-sized table and chair set that was beginning to be too small for us. I remember pushing aide my clothes and dragging that table into the closet. I turned on the closet light, stepped in and closed the sliding doors. I wrote my own book sitting on the floor in front of that small table. If memory serves, it was about the wonders of newborn spring animals.

The closeness of the closet was not oppressive, but comforting – a womb of sorts.

Later in junior high, when I was always upset and seldom creative, I would sit in my closet and brood. A closed bedroom door provoked too much attention, but slipping into the closet and closing the door brought me the alone time I needed. The time to think through my brooding.

My parents didn’t discover my closet hide-out until I couldn’t be found for dinner one night. I remember being very angry about something; and I remember exploding when they teased me about “hiding in the closet.” I couldn’t make them understand – indeed, I probably didn’t even try. I remember childhood as being a time when I didn’t yet have the right words to explain my thoughts and actions. Even now, anger renders me inarticulate.

I puzzled out life in my closet hideout, sitting on the shag carpeting sometimes in the dark and sometimes with a flashlight.

Some time between 8 and teenager, I read C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe — a story about a large wardrobe closet that is the entryway to a magical land where good struggles against evil. I loved the book and I loved the author’s description of hiding in the closet and the surprise of finding it went on and on into a forest.

It didn’t occur to me until just a few moments ago, that at the ripe-old age of 50, I’ve built a closet hideout. Without any guile, I told myself the closet office was to house the computer equipment I couldn’t bear to see sitting on my old oak library table.

Just now I finished writing a thousand words or so on that computer in that closet. As I puzzled out the right words, I would stop and admire the atmosphere of the closet – cozy and hidden. A secret place -even with the door taken off and thus open to the sounds of the forest behind me.

I have this house to myself and I don’t need to hide in a closet to be alone with my thoughts, so I’m surprised the closet office resurrected secret thoughts and feelings- the ones I wouldn’t put words to. What I intended to write is not what I wrote. The piece is raw, but honest, contemplative and strong. It is the stuff I’ve never given myself permission to set out in words; stuff I can only bear to look at if glimpsed through the safety of hands held loosely over my eyes. Tonight there was no frightened peering through fingers.

I’ve surprised myself. I’m anxious and a bit scared of what I might write in that closet. Good battling evil is far too strong a metaphor, but it will have to do for now. 

I’m puzzled that in all the weeks of painting the closet, building shelves, sorting through stuff to effect the closet, the memory of my childhood need for a closet sanctuary never burbled to the surface.

Virginia Woolf wrote of needing a room of her own.  It seems I need a closet.

Sunday, just before midnight

Midnight is close.  I should be in bed.

My life is full of shoulds and a great deal of can’ts.

I will be tired in the morning if I don’t go to bed soon.

Indeed, I’m tired now.

I’m tired now and the glass of cabernet keeps me occupied here. That and the wet nail polish on my toes. And the gentle peace of this room.

It has been a full and productive weekend. I am pleased with myself.

Earlier today, I purchased chrysanthemums and carnations, both white. The scent of the flowers, the hum of the fan, and the lamplight falling across the floor are singing a siren’s song. I have become one with this chair. In truth, I might not be able to move from this spot. It’s a definite truth that I don’t want to.

The night is cool – a blessed relief from the heat and humidity of the past few days. The cat wanders in and out; and there is a moth flitting around. The shamrocks have folded their leaves and are nodding as if asleep.

I should match their repose.

The house has been straightened, the laundry put away, provisions procured.

I have always been fond of Sundays. There was a time when Sundays were lazy, uneventful days – a day of cooking, napping, reading, watching old movies. My weeks are so busy that it is now Saturday that I wallow in, but I do so amidst the chaos resultant from a busy work week. Sundays, I deal with the chaos.

This weekend, I  was a whirlwind – both days.  This time now is my downtime. 

It is nice to wallow.

But it’s so late.

The wine is in a graceful, hand-painted balloon goblet, condensation sliding down the stem to puddle on the end table next to the treasure chest that was my son’s heart’s desire when he was young.

Would that my heart’s desire could be purchased at a discount store for a few dollars. Indeed, I would be pleased to discern my heart’s desire. Dissatisfaction has been a close companion these past few months which may explain why I’m sitting here. My sense of contentment is almost palpable and I don’t want to disturb it.

I have a strong need to luxuriate in this sense of well-being.  This feeling that all is right in the world, but if it’s not, it soon will be.

For this moment, it is my heart’s desire to luxuriate in this contentment. The shoulds will still be there tomorrow and, perhaps, this time of contented thought will transform the cants.