Monday, May 21, 2007

I like to eat and to love - not sure about the prayer

I'm not sure what word is the most appropriate to describe how certain books seem to come into my life at the ideal time, how they seemingly seek me out. Fate? Coincidence? Serendipity?

I recently read Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray and Love. This book has been generating quite a buzz, largely because of its "word of mouth" success. (As I write this, it sits atop the NYTimes paperback non-fiction list.) The funny thing is, I knew Gilbert's work before she published EPL: she had written a couple of humour pieces for the NYTimes magazine that floored me, particularly one that revolved around a meat raffle in a bar. I sought out her first collection of short stories called Pilgrim (published in 1997), which I enjoyed (although I can only recall a couple of the stories). I remember reading the review of EPL last year in the Times and thinking I should get it from the library. I just never got around to it, however.

By chance, the same week that I dug out an electronic copy of Gilbert's meat raffle piece to share with my new good friend K., EPL was released in paperback. "I want to buy you this book," I said to her when we were at the book store one weekend afternoon. I like buying books for friends - there's something intellectually intimate about sharing the gift of words. She read it, enjoyed it, and then lent it to me. I had put it aside for a couple of weeks because I was finishing up some other stuff I had already started, but picked it up about two weeks ago.

I'm not going to detail the whole book or why Gilbert choose to write about her year-long journey after her painful divorce - if you're curious, follow this link. What I want to do, at least in this post, is write about how the book has affected me, in ways that have come as a complete surprise. (I'm eventually going to delve further into some of the more specific thoughts it's engendered in subsequent posts. I don't want to blow my proverbial wad in one post, after all!)

Ever since I started the book - I finished it a few days ago (it's one of those books that I read languidly) - I've been ... well, there's no other phrase for how I'm feeling but to say that I've been in an upbeat and positive mood. Some of that mood is attributable to the book, I think. Don't worry, I'm not going to say that "this is my bible" or claim that it's totally changed my life; rather, it got me reflecting on my own life, on how the last couple of years has played out. The latter is an important point.

Much has happened since the summer of 2005. For one, I finished grad school and landed an almost-ideal job, which completed a career transformation. I split with my long-term partner and moved out on my own. I had to deal with much uncertainty about the future of said ideal job. I dipped my toe back into the dating pool. I developed a couple of intense crushes (one which ended very abruptly last summer when she pulled the plug, while the other simply disappeared without explanation). I slept with a few women. I had my first relationship (albeit one that lasted only a few months) since the split with M. Yet while all this was going on (and the ups and downs were quite a ride, in good way), I don't feel I took the requisite time to reflect on all these changes, to find some mental balance and to properly sort through some of the lingering emotions of the ending of my relationship with M.

Gilbert's book seemed to arrive at a time when I'm ready to deal with these issues, and reading about her own journey has provided the grist for my self-reflective journey. (Unlike her, I won't be travelling to Italy, India and Indonesia; mine is going to have to take place solely in my brain.) I'm dealing with thoughts and feelings that I seem to have conveniently tucked away in the far recesses of my brain: issues of self esteem, of guilt, of anger, of sadness. Yet in confronting some of these issues, my mood has been on the upswing. I feel good about where I am right now. Hopefully with the next few posts, I'll be able to share how I'm dealing with these issues and perhaps come to some conclusions.