Back in July I wrote about my thoughts on the book Eat, Pray, Love, and promised a follow-up. Since I saw the movie with Julia Roberts last week, I thought it would be a good time to fulfill that promise.
We established before that I liked the book, but I didn’t love it like some people did. It was just… alright. However (and I know this may be a totally uncool opinion based on many of the reviews I’ve read), I am coming clean and admitting that I honestly enjoyed the movie. Do I feel like it was deep and completely revelatory? Not so much. Were important details left out for the sake of making the story more Hollywood-ized (like the fact that Liz Gilbert was PAID to take this “year off” to find herself in three different countries and write about her journey)? Of course. But I found the scenery to be a feast for the eyes, Julia Roberts enjoyably refreshing in that she seems to be aging naturally and gracefully (unlike much of Hollywood), and the dialogue charming, even if it was contrived. Ultimately, it was a movie, and it just plain entertained me. (Might I also add, this was the first time I ever went to a movie by myself. And it was kind of awesome.)
Now that I have that admission out of the way… while I didn’t love the book, I mentioned a few months ago that there were a few parts that did stand out to me. In addition to relating to the fact that Liz had a hard time grasping the concept of il bel far niente, or “the beauty of doing nothing,” I also couldn’t help but think, “oh my goodness, that’s totally me,” when I read this passage:
When I was nine years old, going on ten, I experienced a true meta-physical crisis. Maybe this seems young for such a thing, but I was always a precocious child. It all happened over the summer between fourth and fifth grade. I was going to be turning ten years old in July, and there was something about the transition from nine to ten — from single digit to double digits — that shocked me into a genuine existential panic, usually reserved for people turning fifty. I remember thinking that life was passing me by so fast. It seemed like only yesterday I was in kindergarten, and there I was about to turn ten. Soon I would be a teenager, then middle-aged, then elderly, then dead. And everyone else was aging in hyperspeed, too. Everybody was going to be dead soon. My parents would die. My friends would die. My cat would die. My older sister was almost in high school already…. Obviously it wouldn’t be long before she was dead. What was the point of all this?
The strangest thing about this crisis was that nothing in particular had spurred it. No friend or relative had died, giving me my first taste of mortality, nor had I read or seen anything particular about death; I hadn’t even read Charlotte’s Web yet. This panic I was feeling at age ten was nothing less than a spontaneous and full-out realization of mortality’s inevitable march….
My sense of helplessness was overwhelming. What I wanted to do was pull some massive emergency brake on the universe, like the brakes I’d see on the subways during our school trip to New York City. I wanted to call a time out, to demand that everybody just STOP until I could understand everything. I suppose this urge to force the entire universe to stop in its tracks until I could get a grip on myself might have been the beginning of what my dear friend Richard from Texas calls my “control issues.” Of course, my efforts and worry were futile. The closer I watched time, the faster it spun, and that summer went by so quickly that it made my head hurt, and at the end of every day I remember thinking, “Another one gone,” and bursting into tears.
Did you get all that?
So, here’s the thing. I have long been a worrier. People who know me now think I’m a worrier, but they have NO IDEA how much I have truly lightened up compared to my younger self. And while I don’t know that it necessarily happened at age nine, I know that at some point in my formative years, I began to feel like time was passing me by and I just. couldn’t. catch up. Instead of living in the moment and taking things day by day, I was constantly fretting about tomorrow, or feeling stressed out about everything I wanted/needed to do but didn’t know how I’d do it all perfectly. While I could have started just doing it all in a mediocre fashion and figuring it out as I went, I was instead spinning my wheels worrying and wasting time not doing any of it at all.
Instead of treasuring the moments I had with loved ones, I’d start to panic that something bad could happen at any given moment and I’d be completely devastated. Thus, actually missing the whole point of savoring precious time that was happening right then, and instead worrying about the moments that could happen sometime.
It was exhausting.
My controlling, can’t-keep-up-with-it-all, everything-has-to-be-perfect tendencies really hindered me in college. My major was extremely competitive, and instead of spending time really working to become a better designer, I spent most of the days leading up to a deadline worrying about coming up with the perfect solution to the problem so I wouldn’t be kicked out of the program. I missed the whole point, and usually ended up with work that got me by but was not a fair representation of what I was really capable of. While I know it has made me who I am today (and I feel like my design skills have improved tenfold), I look back and feel disappointed that my worries and fears held me back so much.
Over the years, I’ve learned to slow down a bit and just take things as they come. I have learned to face my fears, especially in my work — when I feel myself procrastinating a project because I’m afraid that I don’t have the perfect solution, I force myself to sit down and just start doing something to break the ice. More often than not, something decent actually starts to take shape, and I feel a lot less stressed knowing that I’m not going to be staring down a deadline with nothing to show for my time.
I have learned lately, particularly this past year of self-employment, to stop watching the clock when I’m not working — to savor each blissful unscheduled moment I have and not worry so much about the fact that I’m not being “productive.” I mean, if relaxation leads to becoming a more balanced, content person, I’m pretty sure I can convince myself that I’m making pretty good use of my time. There is still room for improvement, but I’m getting there. I’m doing my best to live in the moment, appreciate what I have now, and not worry so much about what could happen tomorrow or when I’ll accomplish everything I need to accomplish. It’ll all happen… eventually!
So… maybe the hype for Liz Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love was a bit much. But it turns out that we do have a few things in common, after all. She’s not perfect, and I’m tired of grasping for perfection as I watch my life pass me by. Her book isn’t the most groundbreaking page-turner to ever hit shelves, but it led to a blockbuster movie nonetheless. And while that movie isn’t the most riveting, critically acclaimed cinematic revelation, it provided one-hundred thirty-three minutes of utter solitude, relaxation and enjoyment in my life that perhaps I wouldn’t have made time for ten years ago.
I think I can live with that.