Sunday, December 27, 2009
Saturday, December 26, 2009
... First off, I realize this discussion of this book comes nearly four years after everyone else’s. Oh well ...
Because I’m in a fancy MFA program, I’m probably not supposed to like Eat Pray Love. In fact, CNF and fiction writers alike all over the world might be cringing as I write this. Maybe if I read creative nonfiction more widely, I wouldn’t. But I can’t help it, because like it, I did.
I mean, I’ve heard the criticisms: Who gets to traipse around the world on someone else’s dime, looking for inner grace? If I’d been given a huge advance, I’d have found grace, too—go the criticisms. Which sounds to me like a great big batch of sour grapes. So what. Liz Gilbert’s lucky. At least by page 334, the 109th bead, she’s come to understand how lucky.
So, some of the descriptions of Others are a bit generalizing: Italians are like this; Indians are like this; Indonesians are like this. Yeah, this is irritating at times. Who among us, though, does not do this unwittingly at times? At least she’s slapping her name on her opinions and calling the thing what it is: a memoir, an accounting of her version of events, a creative but still non fiction. No one’s going to read her book to learn the full accounting of these people or places—and if they do, well, God help ‘em.
Fact is, Eat Pray Love is an easy pleasure to read. Liz has this tone of voice that is sometimes self-deprecating and sometimes self-centered and almost always funny and occasionally even so elegant it moves the reader to actually feel her words. It’s well thought out—indulge in pleasure in Italy, practice devotion in India, and find balance in Bali—if perhaps a little gimmicky, the kind of memoir a dear and smart CNF friend of mine terms “pop immersion.”* Most of all, it is honest: Liz went through heartbreak, braved and faced it, and then was willing to share that experience. Also known as “got to write about it.” Bringing us smack back to that notion of luck.
If I were to choose the one thing I most took away from the book, I would say the notion of “Diligent Joy” (discussed on page 260 of her book). Yes, it is easy to pray when life feels hard and you need to believe in deliverance, but to continue to pray when life feels good, to guard your joy, to be present and grateful for it, well, that’s harder to remember to do. But that’s exactly what we need to be doing. The declaration of independence even gets it right in this regard: we are not entitled to happiness itself but, rather, the pursuit of it. The word pursuit connotes an exciting chase sequence, where happiness is the little red convertible sports car and we’re in a police clunker, roaring after it, sirens wailing, flying crazily around bends and near the edges of cliffs. Sometimes we catch happiness, sometimes we even hold onto it for a while, but if we are not diligent about it, if we do not think about that happiness every day, be in it, be grateful for it, it can give us the slip, and back we are to pursuing.
Which is fine.
It’s just that we need to acknowledge that’s what’s going on here: no one is happy all the time. Even the people who you think are. Everyone struggles, but it is how you struggle and how you choose to live that matters. Do you choose to let yourself get sunk by the escape of happiness, sunk for months or years at a time, sunk so low that you can’t even remember happiness or you convince yourself out of ever having possessed it at all, or do you choose to dust yourself off and pursue again, perhaps this time wearing street clothes and using an unmarked car and no siren, so you can sneak right up on that motherfucker Happiness and be all “Wop-a-cha! Caught you, SUCKA”? I say the latter, definitely the latter.
Finally, in closing, I would just like to add I appreciated Liz’s very wide definition of “God” and “prayer.” I am NOT a God person, and the Christian overtones of the word pray kick me straight in the gut. I wish I could find different words for both notions. I don’t happen to believe in Something that takes the shape of an old white dude with a flowing beard in big shiny white-golden robes, nor a skinny long-haired brunette man crowned in thorns and wearing a loincloth, nor even Morgan Freeman in a spiffy white suit and/or a janitor’s costume. Or any other less Hollywood renderings either. Neither do I feel more akin to Buddha in his many incarnations or Allah of Whom I know next to nothing or any of the world's many, many, many other deities. But that does not mean I don’t feel the things other people feel when they think of God or when they ask Someone (that is, no one, for they ask inside their heads) for guidance or a better understanding of their lives. It does not mean I wish I had something to offer when people ask for prayers regarding a difficult time in life, an illness, a death, so forth. I’m just not sure I’ve found what shape these things take for me, or even if I believe I should go questing around looking for a shape into which to pour my ideas about there being something bigger and more powerful and inexplicable and—okay let’s go cheesy but true—magical/spiritual out there.
What Liz Gilbert learns that God is everywhere, especially within her, and that her notion of God might be the older her, waiting for and holding the hand of the younger her, wanting her to catch up and become the who she will be. I think that's pretty much spot on.
2006 Eat Pray Love: One Woman's Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia. New York: Penguin Books.
* Hi there, Suzanne Farrell.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Friday, December 18, 2009
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Allow me to laud societynotes’s incredible design talents for just a moment. A. @ societynotes makes book plates, business cards, cards, stationary, you name it! You can order off of her Etsy site (http://www.etsy.com/shop/societynotes) or contact her to work closely on a particular design. For example, I e-mailed her a link to Google photos of a particular Hawaiian flower (the liko lehua) and she patiently rendered it into unbelievably gorgeous business cards, allowing me to collaborate on style and colors. In fact, she came up with two different designs, one of the liko lehua (leaf bud) and one of the lehua flower. Both designs were incredible, so I ended up ordering 100 of each because I could not make up my mind. I wish I could post images of them here, but then my personal information would be all over the Internets.
I'll post instead the photo of another awesome purchase I made, via her Etsy store: these adorable hand silk-screened strawberry note cards.
I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but they were this delicious green with silver strawberries, paired with matching envelopes. I so enjoyed the art of correspondence on those babies, lemme tell ya.
Also, I'll go ahead and say it: A. is a fellow SLC alum as well as a true Brooklynite, so if you buy from her store, you're genuinely supporting a New York artiste!
Sunday, December 13, 2009
I am all tucked in for the night—pajamas, hot chocolate with marshmallows, editing American Anthropologist obituaries (forthcoming in June 2009)—when I stumble across an excellent metaphor for writing. The obituary is for the anthropologist Jane Goodale (not to be confused with Jane Goodall, the primatologist, who is alive and well), who died in November. Evidently, one night Jane was trying to undo a skirt hem and the next morning when revising a lecture made the margin note, “pulling the right thread.” It is said that, twenty years after witnessing a Tiwi ritual, she “pulled the right thread” and finally understood the meaning of the ceremony.
The metaphor came at a good time, when I’ve turned from writing/revising my work and toward the editing of others’ work—partially because the semester is over, partially because work deadlines now take precedence, and frankly partially because I feel discouraged. I went over the last revision of a long story I’ve been writing, and it seems like no matter how many times I revise, I am never done with the thing. Every time I think I am done, I give it to another reader and am beset with another list of comments to address. UGHGHGGHGHGHHG! And the worst thing is, I can’t even disregard the comments, because when I consider them, many of them are worthy criticisms.
It’s not even the additional revision required that bothers me as much as the fact that I couldn’t see these qualities lacking in my work. I mean, how do writers in “the real world” handle this? If you no longer have professors and peers whose job it is to look for the shit that’s missing, how do you develop that objective, querying voice that can look at a work as if it is not one’s own?
It’s okay to feel discouraged sometimes, I realize: keeps us humble and so forth. But I do then need corresponding encouragement to then drop from the sky and somehow rescue me (deus ex machina!), because it’s no good staying in a stuck place. And so I am given the metaphor of the right thread: revision as the act of tentatively pulling at all the threads, asking all the questions and thinking through all the answers, remaining undaunted by constant fallibility, moving on always to the next more promising thread, until finally the right one unravels story wide open.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Yesterday, I finished a first full draft of my VCFA critical thesis, “The Strange Familiar, the Familiar Strange”: In Defense of Writing What You Don’t Know." One down (critical thesis this semester), two to go (critical lecture and creative thesis next semester). It felt good, although with the looming work ahead, it also felt a little like being handed a bigger bucket to bail out a still-sinking ship. But, at any rate, I finished a first full draft (38 pages and over 12,000 words)--along with the cover letter, short story revision, and tentative table of contents for next semester's creative thesis--and sent it all off to my advisor. It felt exceedingly good to get especially the thesis off my desk and onto his (sorry, Phil!), and within five minutes of sending, I was dressed and out the door to meet Shaun, Rachel, and Cooper for Coop's first day in New York city.