The latest selection for the online Barren B*tches book club is Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. This book had been in my "to read" pile for some time (familiar story...!), so I was glad when I heard it would be a future book club selection. I had heard mixed reviews on the book -- people either seem to love it or hate it.
Dh actually read it before I did! He said the Italy part was interesting (full disclosure: his background is first-generation 100% Italian-Canadian) but after that, he thought she whined way too much & it got boring. (I tried to persuade him to do a guest review here, but he wouldn't bite.)
Maybe it's a guy/chick thing (although I know women who didn't like it either), but when I finally did read the book (finished it on my recent vacation), I did find myself liking it. There were many passages that "spoke" to me, & to my infertility journey specifically -- such as her visit to the Augusteum in Rome in Chapter 25, her musings on whether to have children in Chapter 30 and the importance of rituals in Chapter 60, and the awkwardness of being asked extremely personal questions ("Are you married?") in Bali in Chapter 76.
On to some of the questions:
At the start of the book, the author states that she will not go into the details of her divorce. Could you accept this and move on to the rest of the book, or did this lack of explanation influence your opinion of the entire book?
I was surprised, reading some of the first-day book club posts, that the lack of details on the divorce bothered some people so much. I never gave it very much thought, & I really don't care whether they fought over the wedding china or the house or what have you.
To me, it was quite clear what happened on a fundamental level: they married young &, as the years went by, found themselves moving in different directions: he wanted kids & the big house in suburbia with the white picket fence, etc., & she realized that she didn't. That doesn't make him right & her wrong, or vice-versa -- different people have different life visions & that's OK (otherwise, the world would be a pretty boring place). And dreams can change as your life circumstances change, and you gain maturity, perspective and greater self-knowledge about what makes you happy. It's sad when it happens after two people have been together for a long time (& sadder & more complicated still when there are children involved), but it does happen.
It's one thing to disagree about petty details like what brand of toothpaste to use and who should take out the garbage this week; quite another when it comes to fundamental questions like having kids and kind of lifestyle you want to lead. Either you have kids or you don't -- there's not really an in-between option (we'll try it out for awhile & if we don't like it, we'll send them back!). And I certainly wouldn't recommend going ahead and having them in the expectation that it will be different with your own kids (maybe it is -- but what if it's not?) and that a reluctant partner will come around eventually once the baby is here.
When my IRL (in real life) book club discussed this we had widely differing opinions on the tone of the book. Some thought it was "all about me, poor, poor me!" and "whiny" while others saw Gilbert's self-focus in as a fascinating journey to becoming a better person. What would you say?
As I said at the outset, dh thought she was "whiny." I was able to relate to a lot of what she had to say. Not everything, but a lot. Reflecting on my life is part of why I blog and have kept journals over the years, & I suppose some people reading what I've written might think I'm being whiny at times too. Who was it who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living"? Granted, one can certainly become entirely too self-absorbed, but it seemed to me like Liz had lots of friends & she does refer to the wisdom she gained from others throughout the book.
In the end, is Gilbert a better person? Why/why not?
"Better?" It's hard to say. I would certainly say she is happier and more at peace with herself.
Elizabeth Gilbert's spiritual crisis was brought to a head by a failing marriage and the dawning realization that her desires were not nearly on the same track as some seemingly powerful, external expectations about how her life should unfold. What defining 'disasters' have triggered you to course-correct your life? Did the crisis(es) sneak up on you or did you see it (them) coming, but deny it for a while? What expectations did it force you to challenge -- either your own or external ones? How hard was that for you personally (as in, are you the kind of temperament that is naturally rebellious? Or not so much? Do you have a hard time letting go of control? Or are you at ease with improv on a grand, spiritual level?)
I hesitate to describe the loss of my baby & later decision to stop infertility treatment as a "disaster" (my daughter was definitely not a disaster!) -- but that period of my life it was certainly a crisis and a turning point. I was absolutely in denial for a long, long while -- throughout my pregnancy (thinking that the drs would work miracles & she would be OK), and then during treatment (of course it's going to work...!), and even long after treatment, when I continued to hope for a miracle pregnancy against all the odds.
I most certainly would not describe myself as rebellious. ; ) (That's my younger sister!) I've always been the conventional, traditional one -- definitely not one to break the mould. I don't necessarily think of myself as a control freak -- but I always used to believe that if I did all the right things, didn't rock the boat too much, met other people's expectations, that the universe would unfold as it should & I would be rewarded.
The last 10 years of my life have shattered my long-held beliefs & expectations of how my life was going to unfold. In many ways, it's unfolded as planned (good education, good job in a field I've always wanted to work in, wonderful husband, nice house...), but in others (i.e., children), it has not. It is hard for me to buck the social norm & accept that my life is not going to work out the way I had planned -- particularly when so many other people take their families & their ability to have children for granted. I never really saw myself as a trailblazer, but I kind of see myself as one these days. It's still expected that most women will be mothers, but more and more of us will not be, whether it's a road we've deliberately set out to travel on (like Liz Gilbert), or one that we find our cumulative life choices have led us down.
In chapter 13, the author talks about what type of traveler she is and other traveling personalities. What type of traveler are you? Does it vary based on the trip or do you approach every trip the same way?
One of my life's regrets -- and one I hope to remedy in the coming years! -- is that I have not travelled as widely as I'd like. That's partly a function of starting out my working life with just two weeks of holidays (I now get five) & living 1,500 miles away from a family that likes to see me a couple of times a year, & vice-versa.
I've never done the backpacking thing, & I don't think I'd be comfortable with that. (For one thing, I always overpack. I much prefer my nice suitcase with the wheels & telescoping handle.) I don't think I'm a tour bus kind of traveller (although a guided tour of a new city is great to scope out what's available & where you want to return to spend the rest of your time), but I'm also not a "let's go to Africa & bum around" type of person either. I've always wanted to travel across the rest of Canada, to certain places in the States (I want to see the glaciers in Alaska before they all melt...), maybe a Caribbean island or four ; ) and go to Europe -- all over Europe. But I've never had a burning desire to go to visit some of the exotic places in the developing world that my boss has been to, like Thailand and China and Peru. I can put up with some inconveniences (more so than dh can, I think) -- I used to go camping in my youth -- but these days, I prefer a nice soft mattress, preferably in a hotel with a spa & room service. ; )
Have you had a breakdown like Elizabeth Gilbert's scene on the bathroom floor (near the beginning of the book)? How did you come out of your crisis? Did you adjust yourself to the situation, did you change your situation, or did you find a third alternative?
Not so much a breakdown -- but I did start having anxiety attacks, shortly after my last IUI failed, seven years ago. I have not had an anxiety attack in more than six years now (knocking wood...!), but it was a scary time in my life. I knew I couldn't do infertility treatments anymore, but the idea of a childless life terrified me.
Time has been a great healer, as has the childless friends I have found on the Internet, & several sessions with a couple of sympathetic counsellors. I came to realize that my life was pretty happy before loss & infertility took centre stage, & the same things that made me happy then (dh, my family & friends) make me happy now. It is just a different life than the one I thought I would be leading. I was ready for my life to take a different direction, only to find myself in more or less the same place as before (at least when viewed from the outside). If I still want it to go in a different direction, I know that I can't rely on a child (or anyone else, for that matter) to take me there. It's something that I will have to figure out for myself. And that's what I'm trying to do. ; )
Which of the three settings (along with associated activities -- eating, praying or loving) resonated most for you? Why?
Definitely eating in Italy. ; ) Can I say that I think I deserve a medal for actually LOSING two pounds while reading this section of the book?? I found the India/pray part somewhat interesting, probably the part of the book with the most substance. However, while I love yoga -- it's incredibly relaxing -- I find it hard to relate to gurus & ashrams & such. (I keep getting visions of the Beatles & the Maharishi.)
In one passage, Gilbert describes the typical life experience: "first you are a child, then you are a teenager, then you are a young married person, then you are a parent, then you are retired, they you are a grandparent--at every stage you know who you are, you know what your duty is and you know where to sit at the reunion...watching over your progeny with satisfaction. Who are you? No problem--you're the person who created all this...If I have done nothing else in this life, then at least I have raised my children well." If you're an infertile person, possibly or definitively unable to have children, how did this passage make you feel? What emotions or conflicts did it evoke?
I have felt the same way many times. To a certain point, my life went according to the usual script; then it started veering off on tangents into unknown territory. It's scary sometimes. But it also means that I'm free to write my own script and move my life in a different direction.
As I said before, I'm not really a trailblazer, and I'm sad that my life is not going to include children, let alone grandchildren. I think I will always feel like I missed out on something very special. And I don't think I'll be donating all my money to charity & going to live on a beach in the South Pacific or anything like that. ; ) But I think it I can set my sights beyond the things that life has denied me, there are possibilities out there waiting to be explored.
Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens (http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com/). You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Baby Trail by Sinead Moriarty (with author participation).