Eat, Pray, Love {part 2}

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.

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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.

Eat, Pray, Love {part 1}

I finally read “Eat, Pray, Love” while I was on vacation last week. I enjoyed reading it, but I don’t think it warranted all the hype it received since its release. (Do you?)

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Don’t get me wrong — I definitely understand why many people (women, in particular) identify with Liz through the crisis of her divorce and her path to self-discovery. For the most part, I enjoyed her writing style and her sense of humor (though I was pretty bored through the first half of Book Two/India). And of course, I’ll see the movie with Julia Roberts when it comes out, simply because it’s a chick flick starring Julia Roberts. Duh.

There were a few parts of the book that stood out to me, though. When Liz was in Italy, she learned the expression il bel far niente, which means “the beauty of doing nothing.” In addition to traditionally being known as hard workers, the Italians certainly know how to practice il bel far neinte, and they practice it well. Gilbert writes of this “cherished Italian ideal”:

“The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life’s achievement.”

Even though she is immersed in this Italian lifestyle, Gilbert at first has a difficult time letting go and embodying il bel far neinte as effortlessly as those around her do. She chalks it up to the American stereotype of being overstressed and feeling insecure about “whether we have earned our happiness.”

This struck a chord with me because — as anyone who knows me can attest — I constantly feel guilty if I’m not doing something. Instead of allowing myself to relax, I will often feel guilty for not being productive. I have to make a concerted effort to do nothing (isn’t that an oxymoron?). Even on days when I could probably work for a few hours and then relax for a while as a result of what I have accomplished, I will often continue sitting in front of my computer, looking for things to do, just because I feel like I should. There have been a few occasions recently when I have thought to myself, what are you doing? You work for yourself. You don’t “have” to sit at this computer from 9 to 5. If you’re finished what you needed to work on, take a break!

A prime example of my craziness: last month, I scheduled a massage after Nick gave me a gift card to a nearby salon. Earlier that week before my appointment, I tweeted, “Finally scheduled a massage! I can’t wait to relax.” One of my best friends responded, “hahaha — you’re anxious to relax.”

Spot. On.

Story of my life.

It’s something I really have to work on — allowing myself to do nothing without feeling guilty, or without worrying that my to-do list will blow up if I don’t tackle everysingleitem right this minute. If I don’t blog for a few days, I will not lose all of my readers. (Will I??) If I can’t check email for a few hours, my clients won’t think I have fallen off the face of the earth. If I watch tv without multi-tasking, my brain cells will not rot away.

Do you have an easy time relaxing? How do you forget all of your troubles/responsibilities and just… be?

{Part two to come!}

Little Bee

A few months ago, I bought Little Bee by Chris Cleave, but it took me a while to sit down and finally crack it open. Over Memorial Day weekend, while lounging on the beach, I finally dug in… and, five hours later, I had to peel myself out of my beach chair and head home because I was starting to get sunburned. It was that captivating.

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Little Bee is a Nigerian runaway exploring a new world and trying to connect with the only two people she knows in a foreign country. I don’t want to give anything away because I really enjoyed that each detail of the story was a complete surprise to me, so I will just say a few things to help you decide if this is a book you’d like to read:

1. It is, by no means, a “feel good” story… BUT, it is beautifully written. The imagery and descriptions pulled me in immediately, and I don’t think I’ll soon forget a single detail of Little Bee’s life and journey.

2. The character development and clear, distinct voices make you feel really connected to the two main narrators.

3. I literally couldn’t put it down and I read it in 3 sittings. I’ve been in sort of a reading slump lately, so it was nice to feel really invested in this story.

    Have you read Little Bee? What’s on your summer reading list this year?

    The Weight of Silence

    Within ten minutes of waking up this morning, all of the power went off in our apartment, thanks to the crazy snow storm currently sweeping through the northeast. This, combined with having answered a question just last night about my reading habits (and feeling embarrassed at how little I read), was just the encouragement I needed to curl up with a book (and my Snuggie) for a few hours.

    I had begun reading “The Weight of Silence” a month or two ago but I admittedly hadn’t made much time to read lately. I finally finished the last 2/3 of the book today, and while the story kept me captivated, I am a tad disappointed that I figured out the twist about halfway through. (Although, maybe this should make me feel particularly smart.) Each chapter is told from a different point of view of one of the main characters, and I enjoyed the way this developed the story; I did not find the writing itself entirely interesting, though. There were certain chapters I rushed through just to find out what happened next, without being particularly sucked in by the writing itself.

    My rating: 3.5 out of 5. I enjoyed the overall story, but the writing itself could have been less simplistic and better developed at times, in my opinion.

    What are you currently reading, or what good books have you read lately that you’d recommend?

    Julie & Julia… the movie

    I told you several months ago about the book Julie & Julia that I was smitten over. I was delightfully surprised to find out after picking the book up that a movie based on the story was due out this summer. And not just any movie with any stars — a Nora Ephron movie, starring Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. Really, what could possibly make this movie NOT spectacular?!

    Nick and I checked it out on Saturday, and we were not disappointed — it was SO good! There were even a few lines that I missed because the laughter in the packed theatre was so loud.

    I don’t know that I would have loved it quite as much if I hadn’t already known a bit about Julia Child — Meryl Streep was absolutely awesome and hysterical as Julia — but hopefully it will teach some youngins about her legacy :-)

    Amy Adams really can’t be bad in a movie, if you asked me, so it came as no surprise that she was wonderful, too.

    A few details were modified for the film, but I was pleasantly surprised that a lot of the experiences that Julie Powell relayed in her book were pretty accurately portrayed. Overall, it was just delightful and I highly recommend you check it out :-)

    The real Julie Powell

    Julie & Julia

    Many months ago I picked up a book called Julie & Julia at the local used book store (for two bucks, thankyouverymuch). It looked cute, light-hearted, and not too long for someone like me who rarely finds/makes time to read anymore. I finally started to read it, and I am still only halfway through it, but it’s just my speed and I love it so far — witty, funny, and relate-able for a non-chef like me.

    It’s the true story of Julie Powell, a twenty-something New Yorker who is in a dead-end job that she hates and is searching for something that will make her feel like she has some purpose; while looking through her mom’s fading copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child’s first cookbook, Julie crazily gives herself the challenge of cooking every single recipe in the book (all 524 of them) in the span of one year. It is fantastic and totally inspiring that someone who has barely ever cooked a full meal can take on this challenge and actually master quite a few skills in the process (while hilarity often ensues and her husband/mother/best friend think she’s nuts, of course). Julie tracked her progress (and failures) on her blog and I can’t wait to peruse it once I finish reading the book.

    To my delight, I just discovered that Meryl Streep and Amy Adams are starring in a movie version of the book that will be out this summer. I love me some Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, and I love this book, so I can’t wait!