Eat, Pray, Love and Quit Being a Nun

I actually liked Eat, Pray, Love.  I had to be dragged to it, kicking and screaming, by one of my very best friends in the whole world, Barbara Campman, who looks like a lovely sprite, makes profound art and keeps a magnificent garden, among other things.  I pulled hard for The Kids Are Alright, but Barbara won because she said I’d get to see Bali and Italy, and so there I was in a darkened theater amidst a pack of senior citizens (I’m not sure why?), and there was Julia Roberts and that boy who played Sean Penn’s lover in Milk.  “He’s delicious,” I whispered to Barbara.  “He’s too pretty,” Barbara whispered back.  “They’re all too pretty.”

Casting was a bit of a problem.  No matter if you frizz out Julia’s hair and put her in frumpy ashram clothes, she’s still almost abnormally beautiful.  But the man with three teeth was perfect and the guy who calls her groceries was believable.  I loved the architecture of Italy, the chaos of India and the lush beauty of Bali.  The film hit me hard with nostalgia. How many times had I left a lover and a life and headed off to Sri Lanka and India, Panama and Mexico, Mississippi and the southwest, to find myself or to find other people who would change my life? How many times had I used travel as a drug, to see everything new again, to remember the vastness of the world and my tiny place in it, to get drunk on smells and sounds and accents and cultures that were so different from mine I felt turned upside down and shaken out?

But the nostalgia didn’t turn into longing because at the end of the film the narrative affirms that sometimes our journey toward truth involves getting on a plane and heading out, and sometimes it means staying in one place and journeying to the interior within.  Nowadays, for various reasons, I am rather still in my life. Sometimes all I do is stare out the window at the sun sparkling off the river, the red-tailed hawk circling, the leaves on the mountain showing their silver undersides and the marsh turning golden in the falling light, and think how lucky I am to be alive.

When I got home from the movies, I ran into the bedroom and hopped on my husband’s lap and kissed him a million and four times. “It was so romantic,” I told him.  “You would have hated it.” And then I jumped on the bed like it was a trampoline because the movie gave me a happy feeling inside and because I’m a grown-up, so I can.

I guess Eat, Pray, Love has hit such a nerve (whether you hate it or love it, the nerve is still there) because it shows how one woman changed her life.  I know it’s easier with a fat book advance to go off and figure out how to be happy, but the fact is, people do it without that.  I had a favorite English teacher in high school who was about 5’2 with gigantic plastic glasses and 1940s hair. She spoke rapidly, like an auctioneer. “Because,” she said, “I have so much to tell you about literature and so little time.”  She didn’t care about grammar or spelling, she just wanted us to write, as fast as we could, the truths we learned from Dickens and Austen, from Melville and Alcott.  “Look it up in the big dick,” she used to tell us when we didn’t know a word. And then someone would go to the back of the room and flip through a gigantic Webster’s that was heavy as a tomb.  Mrs. Garber used to be a nun.  I thought about that a lot the year I had her for English.  It was a revelation.  Things change, I told myself. Absolutely anything can happen. 

We need testimonies to this, we need to witness other people’s journeys.  That’s why it’s so important to write blogs and diaries. Which, as usual, leads me to my grandmother. Thank you, Maggie, for typing your own journey on the old Corona back in 1937 in New York when maybe it wasn’t so so easy to hop a plane to Asia and find a new life. And maybe you didn’t even need to.

I love this post of hers, personally.  I love to think of Oysters being expensive at 35cents a dozen and thinking about having to depend on newspapers for news of something like the Spanish War because there was no internet, and I especially love thinking of a coconut cake as a little bride… I’m off next week for a little retreat so see you around the 20th until then, enjoy the journey, tralala….

March 3, 1937, Saint Mark’s Place, New York

Food very high now, string beans, 25cents a pound, peas, 23, Beef 39, oysters 35 cents a dozen.  Grace says no cheaper even on First Avenue.  Katherine down about five o’clock with Dale, then M. came bringing Walter Schwinn who is on month’s leave of absence before tooling off to Washington to look for a job.  Katherine had fun with baby, held gingerlly for a few minutes, showed to Dale, watched it eat.  Fine dinner, black bean soup, lovely glazed roast ham, coconut cake that looked like a little bride in white mousseline.  Dale sold another story to Redbook which K. says is one of his best.  K. told me Thyra* was very unahppy and at loose ends in L.A. but wants everyone here to think she’s having a whirl and everything is perfectly o.k.  Doesn’t miss Young, particularly, but does miss man to love and give point to life.  She told K. about practically futile efforts to find out how Spanish War is getting on, no news in papers, and when she called up L.A. Times one evening when a little tight could get very little out of “foreign news editor” either. Discussed Russian trials*.  All company finally left about twelve after elegant evening.

*Not sure if this might be the writer, Thyra Samter Winslow, who separated from her second husband in 1927 (thus her affair with Young) and left New York in 1937 to go to Holywood to work with Columbia, RKO, and later with Warner Brothers and NBC.  When this diary was being written, she was working on her screenplay, She Married Her Boss.  Her magazine publications included Century, American Mercury, Cosmopolitan, and Redbook. She also wrote for The New Yorker, then a new magazine of the Jazz Age, and a book was published as a result of her New Yorker publications entitled, My Own, My Native Land and published by Doubleday.  Later in this year in my grandma’s diary, Thyra comes back, which follows Thyra Samter Winslow’s journey also. The description of her in her biography claims she was “restless, witty, independent, shrewd, kind, utterly mendacious, and sometimes completely dishonorable, and yet she is remembered most for her charm.” Which is just how she appears in grandma’s diary.

*The Russian Trials: Once Stalin had defeated Trotsky’s Left Opposition, he turned on all his opponents, including his allies on the Right. The victory of the apparatus was to culminate in the infamous Moscow Trials of 1936-38 where the ‘Old Bolsheviks’, including Trotsky, who led the October Revolution, were accused of counter-revolutionary activity, sabotage, murder, and collaboration with fascism.  It doesn’t sound much different from today. Except, ahem, no one went to trial.

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