Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Double B Book Brigade - Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

1. 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?

Granted, I am on the other side of the fence from Gilbert in that I have become a parent – but I see something missing from this – the fact that many of us fight “losing ourselves” along this pathway – losing that sense of self and “who am I” and even “where do I fit iin my family?”. While there were many points and ideas in the book that I enjoyed and were touched by – some of it I really just could not relate to, this part in particular. In fact, I was a little bit rankled by the generality of it. I am not knocking parenthood in any way shape or form – this was a choice I made for myself and even though there were struggles along the way there, I did attain that goal and I wanted to be here. However – just saying “if nothing else, I am my kid’s mom” is not as satisfying as she makes it sound. I am so much more than that as an individual too – I think, I feel, I have goals and aspirations that don’t all revolve entirely around parenthood.

2. 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?

Yes – my breakdown came in the shower. Bathrooms must be some sort of catalyst for emotional meltdowns I guess! I sat in our shower and the hot water ran out, still I sat huddled in the corner of the shower, shivering, sobbing and felt worse than I had ever felt before in my life. Interestingly enough, I did the same thing Gilbert did, I prayed. Probably one of the most honest and basic prayers I have ever said and pretty much along the lines of just “help me”. Though, I think I actually said “uncle”. I came to a realization – I could let this destroy me completely or I could make something better, give in or fight. Did I want to become bitter and angry and eaten up inside or did I want to be the person who rose above? This was my angels’ legacy – did I want it to be the absolute destruction of their mother or to become the kind of person they would have been proud to call “mom”?

3. 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?

Okay, I have to admit there were points in the book where I would shake my head and think “how self-serving is all of this?” I mean really – how many of us get or could even take the chance to pack up and leave it all for a year? I would love to spend four months in Italy and learn Italian and mostly just eat some of that food she talked about. I can’t though – I have personal responsibilities and beyond that, a financial situation that doesn’t make that feasible. Later when some of that will change – I may be too old or infirmed to enjoy it. Running away from it all to find myself, sounds pretty selfish given what I would have to do to make that possible. Though, it does occur to me that blogging is a somewhat self-serving activity in and of itself as well. There is nothing wrong with personal enlightenment and seeking to improve upon ourselves. Given that this is Gilbert’s personal journey, much of what she conveys is going to be relevant and pertinent to her journey. I think it is possible to find your own spiritual enlightenment without needing a passport. I found the book an interesting read, I didn’t necessarily agree with some of it and sometimes thought “gee, there but for the real world, go I . . .”

4. On page 92 of the book, the author says "Not all the reasons to have children are the same, and not all of them are necessarily unselfish. Not all the reason not to have children are the same either, though. Nor all those reason necessarily selfish." In the IF community we are bound by the same desire - to have a child, our child, and endure much physical, psychological, emotional, and oftentimes financial, duress to achieve that. What are/were your reasons? Do you think they were selfish, unselfish or a combination of both?

This was my question, and honestly – I kind of felt this was Gilbert’s justification for her decision not to have children and not wanting children, an attempt at making a honest feeling she had sound more noble. Whether this was because she felt society looks at this as selfishness or she had her own deep-rooted sense of maybe it was, I couldn’t ascertain. I had no problems with her choice – because it was her choice. Without turning this into a debate on selfish vs. unselfish – I will go on record and state that I never once considered having children to be a selfish thing. In retrospect however, I can see a selfish aspect to it and especially in light of the obsessive energies I put into procreating. I wish she would have said that there is an unselfish component to having children as well as selfish, because I do believe that there is both – in either decision, to have or to have not. Either choice isn’t always clearly one or the other. Otherwise, I almost felt like this part of the book was a subtly stated opinion that having children is selfish, not having is more noble, more enlightened. Wanting to have a child does sound selfish – because of that “wanting” aspect. I want – therefore I must have. However, once you have children – selfishness is not an easy thing to maintain.

In all though – the book was an engaging read. I don’t have to agree with the author to enjoy the book, particularly her descriptions of the food she ate, people she met and places she visited. I especially enjoyed her sister’s visit while in Italy and the historical odds and ends that she brought out.

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).


Heather J. said...

I agree with you about the selfish/unselfish thing. I wish the author would have said that both the choice to have children and the choice to not having children contain elements of selfishness AND unselfishness.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Cassandra said...

Her sister's visit was my favorite part too! Perhaps because I relate to her sister so much more than to the author.

loribeth said...

Lots of great stuff here, Julia. I loved all your answers -- they made me think. I especially loved your analysis of selfishness re: kids/no kids, & also your observation about bathrooms being a catalyst for emotional meltdowns!

Pamela Jeanne said...

"...just saying 'if nothing else, I am my kid’s mom” is not as satisfying as she makes it sound. I am so much more than that as an individual too – I think, I feel, I have goals and aspirations that don’t all revolve entirely around parenthood.' "

Thank you for writing that! I so often hear people default to "being a parent is the end all be all reason for existing." It's good to know that even those who have crossed over understand that there can be more to life than parenthood. Helps particularly for those of us who don't have parenting as part of our identity.

Thanks, too, for your sweet comments. I'll be passing through here again, just don't know when exactly. Until then...best to you and yours!

annacyclopedia said...

I enjoyed reading your responses - in particular your answers to #1. I know that it is a struggle for parents to hang on to their own identities once they have children, and I think you describe this very well here. Helps me to remember that my search to understand myself better will go on throughout my life, and that it won't end once I have children.

Lori said...

"However – just saying “if nothing else, I am my kid’s mom” is not as satisfying as she makes it sound. I am so much more than that as an individual too."

Boy, did this resonate for me. I have a strong need to define myself outside the parameters of being a mom.

I think you are right about showers and crying "uncle." So well put.

averyopenbook said...

Okay! I just want to know how to find the pizza place she describes!
Seriously, I did enjoy it, but it felt very vicarious and ungrounded. Does that make sense?
Learning to "just be still" doesn't jibe with my firm belief that we are put on this earth to activate peace, love, acceptance....better-ness.

Kristin said...

"However – just saying “if nothing else, I am my kid’s mom” is not as satisfying as she makes it sound. I am so much more than that as an individual too"

God that is so true. I love being a mom but there are days I feel like I've been swallowed alive by it and I wonder where I have gone.