Eat, Love, Pray was a pivotal book in my life. Just not in the way everyone assumed it would be. After 23 years of employment within the Southern Baptist denomination, I determined that I could no longer sit across from pastors who knew I believed exactly as they did when, in fact, I did not. With no plan but to walk away from one of the best teams I will ever work with, do some traveling, volunteering, and lots of learning, the book made an excellent “here’s-to-your-new-adventure” gift.
I hated it.
Well-conceived, written, and marketed, the tale of one woman’s attempt to redefine her life through food, a spiritual quest and new experiences should have inspired me. Instead, I knew the ugly truth (several if you really want a critique of the book). With its release, anything I had hoped to write chronicling my yearlong pursuit of a new life would be considered derivative. So for me, what was supposed to be inspirational was a buzz kill.
Did I laugh at her accounts of carbing her way around Italy? Sure. Did I resonate with her attempts at clearing her mind for meditation? Absolutely. Did I celebrate with her discovery of love on an island? Absolutely not.
I mean,, really. I had already released any hope of pitching my search for truth on $2000 a month to a publisher because she’d cornered the market on women on a quest. But as I turned the final page, I was livid. We began her journey with the realization that a man wasn’t going to be her answer. We ended her journey with her smiling in the arms of a man.
So now I had to confront the fact that IF I had a book in me, it was going to be turned down because another female writer was savvy enough to tell a tale which contradicted itself.
Consistency be damned.
Almost three years later, the movie trailers are cleverly appearing on every female-oriented network I watch. Julia Roberts’ smiling face consuming pizza interrupts my weekly obsession with the Iron Chef. Javier Bardem in his pre-Penelope Cruz unattached state declaring that she doesn’t “need a man, she needs a champion” eases the guilt of having spent another hour with real housewives on Bravo. But with each commercial break, I am confronted yet again with what I didn’t do.
My year – carefully crafted to include open ended experiences for learning and growth yet not so defined as to fill like another trap – became three. The three years ended with me at least 30 pounds heavier – from stress eating and not freshly made Italian pasta – and fighting the sense that as a lover of options, I had none. Not exactly the makings of an inspirational story guaranteed to feed the need of women everywhere who want to believe there’s something outside the mundane 7 to 11 work day (cause really, who’s work is ever 9 to 5?).
Sure, I launched my journey with a hot air balloon ride, studied and taught English as a Second language in one of the most diverse cities in the U.S., drove with friends along Route 66 in a VW Beetle convertible, wrote erotica, relished in the kindness of strangers and friends, volunteered in Africa, and ran the field work of a state representative campaigning for reelection. But Tanzania to Texas politics proved to be a beginning of the end of sorts and not the celebratory and revelatory final chapter that would launch my new career. In fact, those preachers began to look rather alluring by the time I concluded that I was once again trapped.
Of course, I’m completely aware that the corner I’d carefully crafted for myself was one of my own making. When the campaign was over and my commitment to my friend, the campaign manager, complete, I could have walked away. The fact that we were in the beginning days of a recession suggested the adage about the bird in the hand was worth noting. I can’t help but wonder what might have been if I’d only looked at the bush! Instead, I signed on for the legislative session – 140 days of Texas shenanigans up close and personal. Ignoring the months of micro-managing I’d already endured, I convinced myself that learning how the state governs would be beneficial to my intentions to return to the non-profit arena. And, hey, religion, academia, politics, why not try them all?
Now that I know the rest of the story, I’ve discovered soooooo many responses to that question.