Barren Bitches Book Brigade: Eat, Pray, Love

August 19, 2008

Welcome to my stop on the Barren Bitches Book Brigade!

My first exposure to Eat, Pray, Love (aside from my mother-in-law telling me that she found it “whiny”) was a quote that Lollipop Goldstein used in Barren Advice Nine in response to my question about whether I should pee on a stick. Through Gilbert, she advised me to “grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt.” I followed the part of her advice that instructed me to pee on a stick, but I didn’t manage to follow the happiness part.

Now that I’ve actually read the book, I may be more receptive to some of its wisdom. In fact, I had a transformative realization while reading the book, but you’ll have to wait until Show and Tell this weekend to hear about that. Please come back to see it! For now, I’ll answer some questions posed by other Barren Bitches. Can you tell that I really like that moniker? I also really like that the Barren Bitches actually read the book and then actually talk about it instead of sitting around gossiping and getting drunk like most IRL book clubs that I’ve attended. I’m often the only nerd who sits there sober, having read the whole book and wanting to discuss it. Now, we can all be nerdy Bitches together.

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?
Fine with me. I didn’t come here to read a book about divorce.

Which of the three settings (along with associated activities — eating, praying or loving) resonated most for you? Why?
Of the three, I would most want to spend time in Italy. I have been to Italy, but not to India or Indonesia, and there is a reason for that. Italy is the kind of travel I am into at this point – culture, art, wonderful food, a language that I understand enough to read menus, first world. DH also happens to be so freaked out by India’s downsides (poverty, disease, lack of roads, and so much more) and by Indonesia’s strife (even if that doesn’t apply to Bali) that we will end up going to many other countries (and back to Italy half a dozen times) before we ever consider going to either locale.

It actually took me several trips to Europe before I made my way to Italy. DH wanted to go very much, but I thought that it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. I was entirely wrong, and Italy was even better than its reputation. I like some cities more than others (Rome is not my favorite), but I would rather be anywhere in Italy than in most other countries in the world.

However, I also feel certain connections to the other two settings. When I was a child my family had a guru from India, and I became very familiar with mediation and Hindu-influenced spirituality. However, I have not meditated since I was a kid, and spirituality is something that I mostly choose to put out of my mind at this point. I still believe in reincarnation… I think.

When I was very young, my father took a trip to Bali. He came home with some vibrant batiks that decorated our house for years. He also came back with a story about walking along the beach and stepping on a deadly jellyfish. His local friend immediately sprinted into the forest, located some magical healing herb, and instantly cured the sting, saving my father’s life. The healing wisdom of the Balinese, the incredible natural beauty of the island, and the sense of peace that one feels there are part of the mythology of my childhood.

As for the associated activities, I guess you can sign me up for Loving over Eating or Praying, in that order. I’m actually not a big foodie, but several of the meals I ate in Italy are among the best of my life — and comparing the average meal in Italy to the average meal here is a joke.

On pages 94-95, Elizabeth discusses the continuity of and our positioning in our family as it relates to fertility/childbearing and the idea of finding purpose and the feeling of “being relevant” if we choose to not have children or are not able to. Does your infertility struggle affect your perception of your position in your family hierarchy? Why or why not? Has this affected your involvement with family events? If so, how?
Depends which family. In my own extended family, there are the breeders and the achievers. The cousins who have not been successful (poor or no job prospects, little education, debilitating mental illness, serious substance abuse) all have children, and all are divorced. Those of us who have gotten educations and pursued big-shot careers are all currently childless (actually, now that I think of it, all of them are divorced too except for me – my family doesn’t do marriage very well). In my family, my job is to be educated to an unprecedented level, and extremely successful, and well-traveled to places that others can only dream of, and fabulously happy in my marriage. I haven’t heard a word from anyone in my family about my childlessness, except for the annual hints my father gives in the form of holiday gifts for his future grandchildren.

(Don’t get me wrong. My “unsuccessful” cousins are mostly really good people, and by no means are their problems related to having had children, and in fact I think most of them are better at parenting than they are at the rest of their lives. My “successful” cousins are even better people, some of the very kindest people that I’ve ever met in my whole life, in addition to being smart and ambitious and athletic and unbelievably attractive and humble… the kind of people that you would hate except that you absolutely can’t because they exude goodness yet are also wonderfully sarcastic.)

In DH’s family, it’s another story. We are also considered successful and educated, but for the past decade our role has been The Married Ones (with the other siblings either too young or too immature). We still go to family events, but more and more over the years I have started dreading them (even when they turn out to be not so bad after all). In the old days if I happened to be in my in-laws’ city around my birthday, they would throw a big party for me with the entire family and all of our friends. It was generous and thoughtful and a lot of fun. I’ll actually be there around my next birthday, but I won’t mention anything about a party. I’m not in the mood for our friends to bring over their babies and preschoolers, and for my in-laws to fawn over the babies and display their obvious yearning for grandchildren.

Our parents must either…

  1. suspect we are having trouble conceiving but they are refraining from asking directly
  2. assume that I am too focused on my career for children, which is the impression I’m trying to foster at this point
  3. think that I absolutely cannot take a hint.

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?
Ideally, I am the best prepared traveler around, full of what Gilbert calls “due diligence.” I am nothing like Gilbert in terms of travel style or personality; instead, I am much more like her sister Catherine on both accounts. When I have time, I try to learn a bit of the local language (if I don’t already speak it), research the perfect hotel, the best restaurants, the local delicacies, the can’t-miss sites, maybe even brush up on some history. When I am being extra-prepared, I rent some movies from that country or read novels that take place there, to get a feel for the culture. That’s what kind of traveler I am when I travel infrequently and have free time.

Lately, I have been traveling more than I ever imagined possible and have had very little free time (partly related to the travel, partly unrelated). I still manage to figure out a hotel in advance, and usually how to get from the airport to the hotel, and download a few restaurant recommendations to sort through later, but for the most part I’ve been doing my research on the plane or even in the hotel room the night before, just planning one day at a time. I’m embarrassed when I don’t know how to say “thank you” in the local language, but I have traveled so much lately, to countries whose languages are so different from any that I speak, that I have been slacking off. Luckily DH is great at languages and can instantly learn the key phrases, saying “thank you” for the both of us in an impeccable accent.

Unlike the author, whether I do a little or a lot of research ahead of time, I am the one in the train station who looks like she knows where she is going. I carry my little compass, and on the train I try to memorize the route to my destination, with a tiny map folded in my hand just in case. I don’t have the easy people skills of the author to elicit help from anyone who may pass by, and I don’t particularly feel like getting pick-pocketed because I am an obvious tourist.

I also try not to be an obvious tourist by being the opposite of an “ugly American”: I speak softly, follow the locals’ lead in my comportment, carry an unobtrusive camera, wear nondescript clothing instead of “USA” t-shirts, wear European comfort shoes instead of sneakers. In fact, I try to do all of these things in any country, including my own.

By nature I’m not someone who starts long conversations with strangers, but when I have the opportunity for an extended conversation, such as a one-hour shuttle ride or a meeting with a friend of a friend, I seize it as an opportunity for cultural exchange. I try to learn all about their way of life and connect on a personal level, preferably in their own language if I can manage it, though their English is almost always better than my command of their language.

I’ve only had the opportunity of living in another country for an extended period once. Even though it was a big city, I experienced a sense of community I’ve never encountered before. One day, the produce market didn’t have an ingredient I needed; the next day, the grocer had procured it and eagerly ran up to me when when I walked through the door and presented it to me. Nothing like that has ever happened to me in the States. I really should figure out a way to live abroad again…

In the Ashram, Richard points out to Elizabeth that “nothing pisses off a control freak more than life not goin’ her way.” He counsels her to “let go” or she’ll “make herself sick” and “toss and turn forever, beatin’ on yourself for being such a fiasco in life.” Are you a control freak and, if so, how do you manage when life doesn’t go your way?
If you couldn’t tell from my detailed description of my travel style, yes I am a control freak. Infertility was my first big encounter with life not going my way. Over time I’ve come to a teetering place between continuing to attempt to exercise control (mostly through pursuit of aggressive Western and Eastern interventions, but for a while I exercised control by opting out of TTC) and accepting that my control is finite. In some areas of life, I’m working on reducing my controlling tendencies. In other areas, I embrace my control-freakiness.


I will close with some advice in case you are ever in Rome. I disagree with the information from Gilbert’s friendly bus driver about San Crispino having the best gelato in Rome. It is excellent, some of the best gelato you could possibly have in this world (and is worth a stop if you are on a gelato-a-day tour of The Eternal City), but the gelato is even better at Giolitti. I don’t even like ice cream! I do make an exception for gelato in Italy — I’m no fool. Just imagining the shop, the feeling of anticipation, looking at all of the flavors and being faced with such marvelous indecision, puts a huge smile on my face.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Baby Trail by Sinead Moriarty (with author participation).

10 Responses to “Barren Bitches Book Brigade: Eat, Pray, Love”

  1. Kristin Says:

    It has been so very long since I’ve been to Europe. I lived in Germany when I was little and remember traveling all over.

    Have you ever been to Venice? I’m asking because I have and I don’t remember it having the depressing atmosphere Gilbert described it as having.

  2. babysmiling Says:

    Haven’t been to Venice yet, but I’ve never heard anyone else I know who has been there describe the depressing atmosphere either. The words that usually come up are romantic or cramped.

  3. JuliaS Says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts – I enjoyed reading them! I am always so envious of “world travelers”. The most exotic place out of the states I have been too (in fact, the only place out of the states I have been too) is British Columbia!

  4. loribeth Says:

    I’m envious of your travels too — & I agree, Italy is way ahead of both India & Indonesia on my to-go list. I will have to bookmark your post to refer to for WHEN I go to Rome & am looking for gelato. ; )

  5. Zee Says:

    Thanks for such an interesting post. I’m envious of your being so well-traveled (and so graceful about it–I never thought about carrying a small compass, which I will now do, since I have zero sense of direction!) Interesting comment about about your “job” in the family. It’s funny how we fall into roles without really intending to. I’m the smart, capable one–which doesn’t say much for the others, considering what a fiasco my life is. And as for your addendum about gelato: YUM! Where do I sign up for the Gelato-a-Day Tour of the Eternal City? If there isn’t an official one, I think you should work on starting one up!

  6. Mel Says:

    Oh, we should travel together–you’d be the prepared one and I’d get you to talk to strangers 🙂

    Now you have intrigued me about Show and Tell. I will definitely be here on Saturday.

  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…as one control freak to another, I completely appreciate how much infertility has messed with your mind. I wish I was more laid back, then perhaps IF wouldn’t have bothered me quite so deeply…

  8. babysmiling Says:

    @JuliaS: BC has lots of cool (if not exotic) places to visit!

    @Loribeth: The food in Rome is not nearly as good as some other cities like Florence, but the gelato is top-notch, the history can’t be beat, and the Vatican has the best museum I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

    @Zee: Nah, I’ve got lots of other cities to explore!

    @Mel: I’m in.

    @Pamela Jeanne: My husband may be the most laid back person I know, and IF has bothered him deeply too. You might wish that you were more laid back for other reasons (for one, it seems like it’s probably more fun to go through life that way, not caring if things are exactly the way you want them and instead just letting them happen), but I don’t know that it would have made IF any easier. I haven’t met anyone with long-standing IF who wasn’t bothered deeply.

  9. Thanks for dropping by my blog. 🙂 I’m adding you to my review list for this book. Feel free to browse through my other book reviews – most contain links to several additional reviews, so you’re sure to get a good idea if you’d like a particular book or not!

  10. Lori Says:

    Sitting here, sober (but it IS only 10 am).

    I liked reading about your parents, and your childhood that included a guru and stories of Balinese healing.

    And I am extremely envious of your language skills and your travelocity.

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