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The Work

December 30, 2010 Leave a comment

“What happened to doing the work?”

It was an angry question flung from one character on television to another, but the barb landed in my chest. Yesterday, I wrote a blog entry describing the house my words will build for me and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Since I’ve been thinking about it so hard, those thoughts lead me back to what I’ve actually done to get there lately. I’m not happy with the answer.

What have I done? More than nothing, but not the kind of work that someone who wants so much should be putting in. Law of Conservation of Energy. Can’t get out of it what you don’t invest to begin with. Right now, I have a WIP waiting for my attention, but I’ve been a delinquent parent. The thing is, this child won’t jump up and down, scream and cry until it gets my attention and the effort it needs to grow into more. Instead, this child of mine will patiently languish in my inattention without uttering a peep. When my focus returns to this lonely little piece, it will be too late. The story that has been written will be there, but the root that’s still inside of me will have died and withered away, and the wellspring dried up. The story will wait, but will never thrive, if it survives at all.

This is something I need to correct. I don’t do resolutions because it is acceptable and expected that they will fall flat before the first month of the new year draws to a close, but I need to find some way of initiating a change, of articulating what I need to do to prevent this from happening. I am seeking the words to translate what I know I need to do into some kind of goal I can set in front of me and strive to achieve. Stay tuned to see how it comes out…

Ahh, the life of the perfectionist is never a dull place. 😉

The House Words Will Build

December 29, 2010 Leave a comment

This is an exercise in visualization. They, of the almighty and anonymous wisdom of the universe, say to get what you want, you have to really be able to see it manifest in your life. They say that you have to believe with every ounce everything that makes you who you are that it is not only possible, but that it will happen. So let us attempt to bring forth a miracle of sheer will, shall we?

This is not my first vacation at the beach wherein I spend a week languishing on the coast and doing little more than cooking, reading, writing and shutterbugging, but with each year I do it, the more the desire pulls at me to make it a lifestyle and not just a vacation. I am at peace at the seaside. It seems like such a small phrase for the feeling that being here evokes in me. Here, I am in a state of zen-like calm, of meditative stillness, something like the way that some people are at peace climbing mountains or painting or…oh, I don’t know….hang gliding. In my normal day to day, my world is surrounded by sound. Music plays constantly because I love to swim in it the way a child will play in a pool. If not music, then the tv chattering in the background for the comfort of the sound, but here…this past week and those that have come before in years past, the only sound dominating my world is the sigh of the waves as they overtake the shore. It is music. It is what keeps me company in the silences, and it is enough. With the waves in the background, music becomes an intrusion, a disruption. The tv becomes just distracting noise. I have tried to bring this feeling back home with me, and I have tried to exist in the quiet like I do here, but I generally lose the feeling within the first day or so. There is no place in my current home where I can sit and look idly out the window and just watch a ripple of water approach, grow a white frothy cap and fling itself upon the sand. In my current home, the sound of the water is distant, and only digitally reproduced. That’s not enough.

I want to be able to feel this peace and serenity all the time, or at least whenever I choose to tap into it. I want to live here, where my soul becomes quiet and calm, and things feel…right. This is where I belong. This is where I have always belonged; I’m just finally in a place to understand it.

The only way I can think of to make this happen is to build this beach house with words. I don’t mean a fictional place where I’ll retreat when life gets too real, though it may be just that for the time being. A “happy” place, if you will. A place of mental respite and by spending time there, strengthening the vision. But no, what I mean is this place will become a reality through my writing. Funded by words.

I am not naive enough to believe that I’m going to be one of those billionaire writers who can publish their to-do list and have it land on the New York Times bestseller list. I don’t have any expectation of wealth other than to make a little here or there and hopefully, make a comfortable living writing. But one of the things I’m going to strive for is this house.

I want a house on the beach. Not “beach accessible” but on the beach where I can sit in my kitchen, on my back porch or in my living room and watch the tide make its passionate entrance, or quiet retreat. I want nothing but a few weathered stairs to separate me from the sand where I can walk, meander, run, dig my toes in and let the surf beckon me to the the lip of the water then chase me away with playful tongues of foam. I want to be able to step outside my second-floor bedroom onto my balcony and look over the waves under a glittering canopy of stars while the wind blows through my hair and tugs at my clothes. I want to be able to sit at my computer in my office with the window open and listen to the chorus of seabirds and waves and let those sounds drive me deep into creative space.

My home will have a kitchen that I can move in, but won’t necessarily be large. I just need it to be a space where I can create magic and a dining room table in front of windows looking out on the surf. I want to be able to sit, drink my morning coffee and eat my meals while looking out over the whitecaps, and to be able to entertain the occasional guest and revel in the sounds of something so far beyond human scale that the awe we feel lets conversation die before it happens.

I want to be able to have a life where I spend my days reading, writing, cooking, playing on the beach, spending time with my thoughts and letting them develop into words, then sentences, then paragraphs, and fall in strings to form stories and novels, and I want them to stack up all around me, building this house around me. The house my words will build. I want to be somewhere on the east coast, and I’d love to stay in North Carolina, but I’m not all that picky. I just want my home perched on the sand, overlooking the sea. I want to go, to stay, to be finally HOME. That is the house that my words will build and I will live there happily ever after.

Damn Spam!

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

There’s nothing like being away from your blog for a few days (or more…heh) and seeing that you have comments. Comments excite me to giddiness, even when they’re relegated to my spam queue. I know that even the real ones get shuffled there from time to time.

What’s disappointing is reading something that seems so edifying and genuine….until you see the website they’re promoting. Excitement: crushed.

What’s even worse is the embarrassment of falling for it, and believing they’re real, which I’ve done. I thought I had a genuine follower (other than those I’ve invited to stalk me, that is). I was blissfully ignorant that my cherished comment was spam…until I got the exact same post a few days later. From the same “person.”

*sigh*

Damn spam…

Living the Dream

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

…in a manner of speaking, at least.

I know, I’ve been somewhat slack about posting recently. I blame it on the pre-holiday, pre-vacation activity binge. Everything has to be done RFN and it sends me scrambling for days at a time. My writing time was laid upon the altar of the WIP (Work In Progress) and all other writing fell by the wayside.

I am on vacation at the moment, in Kitty Hawk, NC. We are in a beautiful house called “Fragile Magic” and I can say (as I often do when spending a week in a house on the beach) that THIS is the life I want to live. To give you a visual, I’m sitting on the couch in the living room, listening to the waves behind me, the fireplace just in front of me, a cup of coffee steaming beside me and potatoes on the boil for some gnocchi later on. I’ve done little other than read, write and cook for the past two days, and even though it snowed, the impact it had on my mood lasted only as long as it took to clear off the steps and get down to the car.

THIS is what my life should look like.

(It’s not perfect, of course, but it’s good enough. Perfect would require a few modifications, but all things in time.)

I have just finished Anna Karenina. It’s not the first time I read it, but I forgot how it drags after the spectacular climax. The last part was almost excruciating to get through, because I wasn’t engaged in Levin’s soliloquies on faith.

I’m not foolish enough to think I’ll get through Android Karenina in the next couple of days, but my intent is to put a good dent in it, and get a feel for how it measures up against the original before the new year is out. I’ve already met my goal of getting it started as the last book of 2010, so anything I get done with it now is gravy. 😉

Anyway, kids, I’m going to bank a little time writing and then take off to the lighthouses. I’m sure you’ll see more of me before the year is out….

Something Like a Review – The Passage by Justin Cronin

December 16, 2010 Leave a comment

T’was a few weeks before Christmas and all through the store,
I looked for new horror that wasn’t a snore.
What to my wondering eyes should appear,
….but a new post-apocalyptic story with vampires!

Yes, I broke the rhyme, but I didn’t really care. With a new scary story in hand, my little heart squee’d and jumped with delight and I dug in with gusto.

In a manner of speaking.

I got this one from Audible.com, so “digging in” was more like clicking here, clicking there, syncing my device and hooking headphones onto my ears so the story could unwind somewhere between my ears and my brain. But more on that later.

The Passage is a long and winding story spanning over a century covering the discovery of a virus, the evolution of an apocalyptic crisis that decimates the population of the United States to the very abrupt ending of the book. Justin Cronin uses historical references a journal being written by one of the travelers in the course of the story to allude to the fact that yes, the world does go on, but in a very different way after the story ends.

I liked the story. I liked the concept of the tale and the twist Cronin puts on the image of a traditional monster. The vampires are familiar, yet an entirely new breed. The complexities of the story kept me wondering what was coming next, or at least wondering if my hunches were correct. The new world is fully realized and Cronin does a great job of bringing a nightmare-haunted world to life through his descriptions of the relics of the past, and through the circumstances the characters are living through.

The depictions of the world Cronin creates are a vivid sensory experience and the cast of characters diverse and, for the most part, well-developed. I did have somewhat of an issue with two of the prominent female characters feeling artificial, but I will qualify that with the fact that I don’t think I liked who he created in at least one of the characters. Alicia, the character I neither liked nor really believed, seemed to have little to no female sentiment at all. I’m not one for archetypal characters, but I expected a little more tempering in her over-the-top, almost militantly masculine behavior. Early on in the story, allusions to her upbringing hint at a militaristic existence suggest this is entirely appropriate for her and later revelations support it. It is possible that I just didn’t like the character Cronin intended to create in her, but something about her rang false in my head and as a result, I found myself rolling my eyes when her character took center stage. Another character, Mausami, felt too…well, wishy-washy. She was the woman torn between two men – the one she loved, and the one she married in an attempt to force the man she loved into action. In the circumstances of her life in the context of her world, she is forced into a protective custody and while she struggles against it, she evokes a sense of passivity that doesn’t seem like it fits her other actions. Again, I expected more tempering here, but this time, in the opposite way. She was a guardian of her colony and in that respect, I expected her to fight harder to live her life in a way that was meaningful to her.

One of my primary disappointments in this story was the involvement of a military force later in the story. My caveat to this disappointment is this: I’m a fan of the underdog. I want to see the average Joe pull through and accomplish astonishing things, even if the only astonishing thing is the fact that they survive in this dark wreckage of an Eden. I want to see people pull off the unthinkable and live to tell the tale. That being said, the presence of the military force long after they’re assumed to be a relic of a long-dead world seems like a cheap device. It’s too easy. It’s too expected.

A couple of other little things irked me the longer I listened. In this new world plagued by “virals,” new slang arises. The world “fliers” becomes an expression of anger, frustration, annoyance, and often seems to be dropped in where most people would swear. At first, it peppers the text to remind you that this is a different world, lived in under different circumstances – and that the “fliers” are the bad guys, and a negative thing. Then, it just gets abused and over-used. I probably wouldn’t have noticed it as much if I wasn’t listening to the text – but with the significant repetition, it became irritating. Another significant insignificant thing – this story takes place in the United States…and all these characters are using the metric system. As strange as that sounds, more than once, it snapped me out of the story haze. The US is relatively stubborn when it comes to adhering to English metrics, and I can’t imagine that even an apocalyptic event would prompt the conversion to a system that is resisted in times of peace and serenity.

The Passage is worth reading, though I would recommend turning off your internal nitpicker or critic because there are places where Cronin falls in love with his own words and you can hear the writing breaking through the crust of the story to wave at you to remind you there’s a scribbler at work behind the images. While the story starts of quite tight with respect to pace and style, it seems to fall slack and, frankly, lazy as the story goes along giving the impression, at times, like it’s dragging. My personal belief is there are scenes that could have been trimmed down or even eliminated to make the story more powerful. All in all, this was a good story with a new perspective on an old monster. I probably won’t invest the time in listening to it again (the audio was roughly 36 hours), but I enjoyed the tale and would recommend borrowing this one from a library or friend.

Lost in Transcription

December 13, 2010 Leave a comment

In my head there are wonderful images. Sublime images. I can see a woman standing in the middle of a snow-covered field, her arms raised over her head, a bundle laying at her feet while snow falls all around her. I can see a brilliant red light trailing across the sky towards her, and hear her singing in a throaty,off-key warbling Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer only to be drowned out by a shrill, piercing whistle.

But all the stuff between where I last stopped on this piece and that image is just not coming forth. I’ve pulled together my pathway of how I want this to go. I know where the stepping-stones are, yet the words seem…hesitant to appear on the paper. I’ve been sitting here for almost two hours, and I have 0 words on paper.

Zero.

Less  than one.

Somewhere between where I started this and where I am today, I lost the path of the story and I’m not sure where. There are no guideposts to look back at. The story makes sense, but not in the way it needs to so I can proceed forward. I’m frustrated and tempted to scrap what I’m working on and start over. Scrapping what I have done worries me because it feels like some vital (mood/tone/words) will be lost if I do that and it will only lead to giving up on the story altogether. That won’t benefit what I’m doing, but I know I can’t just sit here and glower at it, either.

This is one of those moments where I really hate writing.

Categories: Writing, Writing Career

Writing in Public

December 13, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s common to walk into a Starbucks, indy cafe, Barnes and Nobles/Border’s cafe and see a handful of people with open laptops typing away, scowling at their screens or sipping from a paper cup and staring off into space. Some people are kept company by a stack of text books. Others, are just there with their laptops, drink and their thoughts.

The people scouring text books between bursts of machine-gun typing get a pass. They’re obviously students escaping busy dorm rooms, or a family who would otherwise clamor for their attention. Their pursuits are admirable, and some might consider them enviable.  The rest of us, though, who have “rented” space at a table for the cost of a hot coffee or a light dinner without obvious purpose for our digital dabblings, we are the ones who get noticed. We are the curiosity in the window that draws the imagination of the world passing by. I admit to being one of them…

I can only speak for myself, but I want to part the veil for the curious and give a little explanation why hunkering down in a public place is more effective than being at home.

Now, we know that there are pretentious “artistes” who are exactly as pictured in the clip above. There are people who find the image of writing the most appealing part of the whole process from having the newest, sleekest tech gizmo they can both use and display to the persona of the tortured soul persona they portray. They sit, faces contorted in artful angst laboring as they pour out their pain while they strive to create something so beautiful it will bring the world to its knees and praise the creator like some kind of benevolent god for gifting humanity with a glimpse into their mind.

Yeah. Ok. Then, there are the rest of us.

Simply stated, for me, writing in public is a thousand times less distracting than writing at home. That statement won’t make sense to many people because writing in public means being adrift in the middle of the sea of humanity where people come and go, conversations spring up around you and the hum of activity doesn’t cease. There are some people who would find that distracting in and of itself, but for some, that’s exactly what we need to focus the inner eye towards the work and get to business.

When I sit down at my computer at home, there are a myriad of distractions that immediately bombard me. The mail on my desk that I have yet to deal with, the updates my computer reminds me about, the socks I kicked off under my desk and forgot to throw in the hamper, the coffee cup I abandoned earlier in the day or the dinner plate I just finished with that really must be rinsed off right now before the remnants of dinner get so stuck on they have to be chiseled off, the sound of my SO watching TV from the other side of the desk or interrupting me with a story/comment/question, the urge to update and reorganize my music files, my to-do list sticky, the sound of the washer and/or dryer beeping and prompting me to get up and reboot them or start the dishwasher since the laundry is finally done, the sudden need to fold the laundry that just finished in the dryer, the phone ringing, the urgent need to check and make sure I sent in my car insurance payment, the random thought to go in and check on my fantasy football team….

It’s exhausting to think about, never mind to experience and if I’m even the slightest bit resistant to the idea of writing when my butt hits that chair, each one of these distractions becomes a temptation of epic proportions. I’m amazed I’m ever able to get anything done at my desk.

I’m not a neatnik, and keeping a completely clean desk is never going to happen for me. Most of the time, I’m good about cleaning it off before I sit down to work and again once I’ve finished, but there are times I miss one or the other and the vicious cycle begins. I can usually ignore the phone, but eventually, my curiosity will win out and I’ll get up just to see who it was that called, even if I don’t return the call. Then, there’s the human factor. I cannot kick my SO out of a shared office or the house, and the TV is too shiny a distraction to easily ignore, even with the ability to drown it out with music.

Not being at home, not being anywhere near anyone who knows me and can intrude on my time, not being tempted by mundane domestic distractions, I am able to focus and get to the business of writing. I am able to redirect wayward thoughts because there’s no way I can act on them anyway except to jot down a note to deal with it later. There’s a freedom to not being responsible for your environment, and that freedom allows me to drift into creative space.

The pressures of getting to a difficult patch also ease somewhat. Instead of reminding myself that I need to sit still, ignore each temptation to get up and do something else and power through whatever has tripped me up, I’m able to draw inspiration from the environment around me. Sometimes watching the interaction of personalities at other tables, or the way their expressions and body language tell me more than the words I’m able to hear from where I’m sitting will help me get through whatever has stalled my fingers on the keyboard.

For people like me, writing in public is not about being seen, or having my personal vision of myself recognized by others, but about giving myself the space to work. Getting out of the house translates into freedom to create without reality’s responsibilities tethering your feet to the floor…which needs to be vacuumed, by the way. By sitting down in a cafe with my netbook or my iPad, I’m giving myself permission to give in and dive into the creative pool and spend as much time there as I need to in pursuit of the sunken treasure.

Imagine that the next time you see us out there. The ones who are doing their jobs for the love of it, for the passion of creation are the ones who are studying your behaviors, your movements, listening to the rhythms of your speech, or maybe just staring off into space with dreamy expressions. We’re not there to be seen, but to create enough distance between ourselves and reality so we can create a new one. We don’t care if you notice us writing, and probably won’t realize if you do….

Horror: Fiction’s Dirty Little Secret

December 6, 2010 2 comments

So when did horror become fiction’s dirty little secret and tawdry, poorly written romance become acceptable?

I remember going to the used bookstore with my mother and bringing home a paper grocery bag of books in preparation for summer vacation and almost eve one of them featuring some leering skull, fierce claws, some lurid, embossed splash of blood speared by a gruesome knife, or some promise of some dark doings scrawled across the bottom of the cover. There were great stacks of books, whole bookcases of them in the store, and it would take me forever to pick which ones were coming with me. I imagine the shop owner would give my mom some strange looks when I checked out with a huge bag of horror fiction, but I don’t remember if that actually happened.

The bookstores in our area were all independent, and before the big chains moved in, they all had proud horror sections rife with thick books brandishing scary titles like scars and covers that would give you chills just to consider what lay between them. They beckoned with long, shining claws and charming grins of gleaming teeth.

Today? To call the horror section in the big box bookstore across the street “thin” would be generous. To say it exists at all in the only other bookstore in the area would be a lie. Horror gets shelved under science fiction or fantasy or shuffled in with all the other fiction. Romance, on the other hand, has a 16+/- foot section.

W. T. F.?

When did horror become such a dirty little secret? Why is a well written horror novel by one of the masters (Richard Matheson, Stephen King, HP Lovecraft) less socially acceptable than the poorly written “romance” clogging up the shelves? Yes, I understand the marketing aspect of it – you give space to what sells, but let’s be honest…the American consumer will buy what you put in front of them. Make it shiny, make it distracting and make it “cool,” and whatever it is you’re pushing will fly off the shelves.

I just don’t get it. I don’t understand why hacks like Nicholas Sparks make millions while much more eloquent and well-written authors get shoved aside because they’re writing about something scary. If it’s acceptable to be scared out of your wits in a movie theater, why is it not acceptable to read about the same thing in a book?

Even talking about horror fiction gets a strange response from many people. As many a writer knows, the first question flung back at you after you confess to writing is “What do you write?” When I admit to scribbling horror, the first thing I usually see is the wrinkling of my conversant’s lips into a sour half-smile, as if they’re trying to ignore the fact they just stepped in poo. Then it generally goes something like:

Them: “You mean like Stephen King?”

Me: “Yup. H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, Dean Koontz, even Anne Rice before her ‘Jesus’ book days. You know, scary stuff.” (Big grin) “Fun stuff.”

Them (grimace of something akin to pain): “You write about blood and killing and all that too?”

Me: “When it’s appropriate, but you rarely need to slash and splash to scare someone. You can create monsters, never show them and have people jumping at shadows.”

Them (after a long contemplative pause): “Oh, ok. Have you ever read (insert flavor-of-the-month-writer/book here…ie: Nicholas Sparks, Twilight, etc)?”

Me (grimacing in a mixture of pain and disgust): “Yes, and let me tell you why XXX sucks….”

Maybe I’m just weird because I prefer to play in the shadows with the monsters who live there. That probably is part of it, and when you consider the “normal” people of the world, I can understand. Really. Life is scary enough and the monsters are everywhere you turn, so why would you want to face them when you finally have the time to be alone? Besides, there’s something terribly dangerous about dabbling with the forbidden…

…but it’s also incredibly thrilling. It’s fun to delve that deeply into the human psyche or into taboo subjects that make people uncomfortable, and it’s energizing to challenge them to think about something in a different way.

Granted, not all horror is good. Over the years I’ve read some some that weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. I know I don’t always get a reader to that thinking point with my writing, but that’s my ultimate goal. I believe that any writer in any genre could get there with enough skill and desire to do so and it’s a shame that what is popularized and pushed is relatively brainless and lacking in quality.

I am not maligning all romance, nor am I defending all the other genres; I just feel like picking on the swooning, pouting maidens and the overly muscled heroes flashing The Smolder splashed across the four-foot section of my grocery store, drug store and occupying too much precious space in the bookstore. I’ll even admit to having a couple of torrid romance novels stashed in my bookcase, but they aren’t conventional bodice-rippers that find excuses for rape or the denigration/subjugation of the female lead, either. I know not all romance is crap, but it seems like the label is used to defend against the use of one-dimensional characters, the lack of innovative twists to the story line, or to just slap some poorly written pages of melodrama between two covers and charge $8 a book for it. And they sell. That’s what scares the hell out of me.

Planning for 2011

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a lazy writer. This may be part of the reason why I set lofty goals and then thrash my way to meeting them. As much as I rebel against structure, I need it. I need goals, accountability, and something to rebel against with fierce gnashing of teeth and grumbling.

So, with that in mind, here’s the preliminary list of Blotter stuff to accomplish between 1/1/11 and 12/31/11:

  • Get all current projects out into circulation through the shark tank.
  • Finish the Cafe Series stories completed, edited and out into the shark tank. All in all, this one is a novel of short stories, though each one should stand on its own.
  • A minimum of one blog post per week, but preferably two.
  • Write a minimum of 1k per day.
  • Track my writing efforts DAILY. (I’m a slackass and forget big gaps, making it difficult to re-create my work over a given day/week/month.)

In addition to the above goals, I’m also setting a reading list goal for myself. While reading On Writing Horror: A Handbook by The Horror Writer’s Association, I came across a list of 21 horror classics recommended by Robert Weinberg. I have read some of these books, but for the most part, it has been so long since I’ve read them they’d merit revisiting. I’m calling it The 25 Book Challenge. Here is the list, along with a couple of added recommendations from the HWA handbook:

  • Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
  • Dracula – Bram Stoker
  • The Ghost Pirates -William Hope Hodgson
  • The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James
  • Burn, Witch, Burn – A. Merritt
  • To Walk the Night – William Sloane
  • The Dunwich Horror and others – H.P. Lovecraft (Since I have read quite a bit of Lovecraft, I’m taking the liberty of substituting a the dream cycle anthology I bought a while back)
  • Fear – L. Ron Hubbard
  • Darker Than You Think – Jack Williamson
  • Conjure Wife – Fritz Leiber
  • I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
  • Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin
  • Richard Matheson: Collected stories 1-3
  • Hell House – Richard Matheson
  • The October Country – Ray Bradbury
  • Something Wicked this Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
  • The Exorcist – William Peter Blatty
  • Falling Angel – Wialliam Hjortsberg
  • Salem’s Lot – Stephen King
  • The Stand – Stephen King
  • Watchers – Dean Koontz
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
  • Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural – edited by Wise and Fraser
  • The Dark Descent – edited by David Hartwell
  • The Essential Harlan Elllison: A Fifty Year Retrospective – edited by Terry Dowling

That is a lot of pages. A lot. And I’ll probably read more, but this is the baseline. Even though I’m wandering through the Byzantine complexity that is Anna Karenina and even though I’m eager to finish it so I can tear through Android Karenina over my vacation, I’m already trying to decide which book in the challenge list I’m going to start when the new year begins….

Something like a Review – Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

December 5, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m not a fan of non-fiction; my life is real enough, and jumping into the trials and tribulations of another person just isn’t much of an escape from my own. Most of the time, I prefer my stories to include some kind of monster or paranormal entity harassing the characters…or at the very least, there needs to be Something Big and Scary to run away from and make me shudder when I shut out the lights. It bears keeping this in mind when reading this “something like a review.”

Books that make it big with the general public intrigue me. Really, they should because I’d love nothing more than to have my name on the cover of one of them. Whether or not these books cover topics relevant to my interests, I generally grab them in my local bookstore, along with a cup of coffee and sit down to read for a few pages to see if the book hooks my interest in a positive or negative way. Sometimes, after the first few pages, I’m sucked in enough to whip out the wallet again, contribute to the cultural phenomenon and take it home with me.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert started that way with me.

Imagine a night perusing the stacks of the local bookstore, a little bored, a little lonely and just….seeking. I idly flip through the first few pages of the book before picking it  up off the “Buy X, get X free” table and something in the text catches my eye. I can’t remember now exactly what it was, but it was enough to make me pick it up, wander over to one of the few squishy chairs in the place, plop down and start reading.

The book begins with Gilbert’s trip to Italy and the things that led up to her decision to go on this grand adventure. “Thirty-six Tales about the Pursuit of Pleasure,” the title page of the section proclaims. Less than five pages in, I found the hook only to discover it was a particularly painful one. I recognized my own life in the second tale. I think I bought the book because I was sniffling and struggling against tears and I didn’t want to humiliate myself by sobbing in the middle of the bookstore.

For the majority of the first part, the Italy portion of Gilbert’s journey, I was quite happily swept away. I could identify with her, I understood her motivations, and honestly, I wanted the brass balls to just walk out on everything and take a whirlwind journey around the world just like her.

Then something subtle changed during her time in Italy. I can’t figure out exactly where it happened, or why, but like travel with someone, if you spend enough time in a foreign country living out of suitcases and reliant on the person as your only source of human entertainment in your native tongue, the mold of animosity will start to grow. The whining started, and never stopped.

In all travel stories, one expects a certain level of whining, whether it’s about the paroxysm of fear when faced with nothing but unidentifiable foods you can’t translate, the Gordian knot of cultural differences, the inconveniences of modern air travel, the complex navigation of public transit, exchange rates, language barriers, homesickness or being sick in general. That’s part of the trip, and also why some people prefer the vicarious experience over the real thing.

The thing is, most people get over the whining and move on. I can’t say that Gilbert did.

Maybe it’s because my experiences in Italy were amazing and I would give just about anything to be able to take off and immerse myself back in that culture or maybe I was jealous and longed to re-experience the things she was talking about, but either way, Gilbert’s whining prickled me towards the end of Italy and rankled me in India, the second part of the book and her journey. She spend this part of the journey at an ashram learning to meditate and to find peace within herself. Her presentation of herself in the novel lends the reader to envision an uptight, somewhat neurotic in the midst of several simultaneous emotional crises. In India, the whining reached a fever pitch and I ended up rolling my eyes a lot.

When one envisions a trip to India, opulence and luxury are two things that don’t really make the top of the list. Maybe with unlimited resources, or when hitting the big cities, but even so, they can only be found commingling with their direct opposition. Step back even further and envision an ashram in India. Maybe it’s me, but I envision something rather ascetic and structured, an expectation to live within narrow parameters to reap the most benefit from the time there, and I don’t imagine that “modern comfort” is something built in to the experience when searching for the divine. To be honest, I lost interest in the book at this point, but I was hoping that the final part of the book would show the results of these growing pains, so I kept plugging.

Bali, the third part of the book and the final part of Gilbert’s journey, was a disappointment. The description of the world she was in almost made it worth it, but I had lost the original connection to the story and Gilbert. In this leg of her journey, the neuroses returned and I spent a lot more time rolling my eyes. Reading the third part, there seemed to be this sense of resistance to change. Gilbert seemed to sense the changes that were taking place within her and then rebelled against them. It was frustrating to sense the potential for growth, and the way she sidestepped it and danced around it. While it had an ending, the story didn’t feel like it reached a satisfying conclusion.

On the whole, the story began well, and if one can overlook Gilbert’s existential angst and whining, the look into parts of the world few of us will ever experience is worth it. She does a great job describing the worlds she walked through, and her internal/emotional world was the most frustrating one to navigate and diminished my enjoyment of the story. While I didn’t love the story, it’s worth a read-through to get a perspective on places that aren’t frequently highlighted in stories (India and Bali), to sample a different story-telling voice and to see how not to evolve a character through their resistance to change. I wouldn’t recommend investing in the book, either digitally or in print, but I would recommend borrowing it from the library or from a friend who has already purchased it.

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