So, to celebrate my first official day as a freelance writer, I watched Oprah over lunch (assuming this is the kind of caper freelance writers get up to). Today's interviewee was Elizabeth Gilbert – she of Eat, Pray, Love fame ('cause the book really needs some more publicity – only every woman on the planet, including Yours Truly, has read it, and more often than not loved it; but I suppose that there is the interest factor).
Gilbert is more Oprah than Oprah, I swear. Everything that came out of her mouth was so perfectly Zen/spiritual/profound ("I am the master of myself"), it was like she was reading from a script. She's quite charismatic, and she uses just the right amount of self-deprecation, confession and humour to keep you from thinking she's just another author riding the gravy train. That said, she'll probably have her own show soon. After all, Oprah has never had a deep 'God experience' like Gilbert's (more on that soon), and Gilbert has found happiness and a husband.
A former magazine journalist (SPIN, GQ, The New York Times Magazine, Allure...) who once worked at Coyote Ugly Saloon (incidentally, that fabulous film is based on a memoir piece she wrote about working there for GQ), Gilbert is an attractive blonde with a prominent nose (here's to chicks with prominent noses – self included!), with glossy, perfect skin – unless they're using some kick-ass filtering mechanism filming Oprah (durr, of course they are!). Then again, she is only in her early 30s. Her eye makeup was quite spectacular (a little golden shadow; a lot of mascara), her teeth a bit uneven, lips thin, and her facial expressions and body language were open and expressive. She's instantly warm and likable.
Oprah asserted her celebrity power at the beginning of the show by name-dropping Maria Shriver – "My good friend Maria Shriver gave me this book" – before gushing about how many women have found solace in the book's pages. Though Gilbert says she wrote the book for herself (um, didn't a book deal fund your trip?), its contents have struck a chord with unhappy women, or those who are searching for something deeper than The Devil Wears Prada, the world over. Women ADORE this book. It's almost Biblical. And every reader feels like an apostle whose job is to make sure the 'Gilbert word' is passed on. I was having my hair done when I first started the book and the lady seated next to me caught a glimpse of the cover and told me how she'd bought it for her daughter and close friends, and that it was the best read she'd had all year. I was a few months off getting married (joy!), so the book didn't resonate as well with me (hello, Runaway Bride!) but I could appreciate where Gilbert was at – been there; done that, though without the divorce papers. I think there's a little Gilbert in all of us. Especially the highly strung, ambitious, neurotic, mildly selfish, perfectionist, spiritual-seeking type of 'us'.
The show started with Gilbert talking about the bathroom floor incident the book opens with. As the story goes, Gilbert lost the plot at three in the morning, collapsing onto the bathroom floor in a flood of tears alone, while her soon-to-be-divorced husband slept. Her dilemma was that she was not living the life she wanted to live; though the life she was living was quite nice, thank you. She didn't want babies – didn't want to progress down that hackneyed path of settling down before she was ready, and staying in an unhappy marriage just to keep everyone else happy: "My life no longer resembled me," she told Oprah. "I felt like a squirrel in a box... [but] I never got the memo that said you're not allowed to become the hero of your own life's journey." Pure Oprah GOLD. The night of the bathroom incident, Gilbert started to pray to God, which becomes one of the book's central themes, but not before she eats herself fat in Italy (durr, Eat Pray Love!).
Gilbert talked about tuning into her inner voice, the divine ("Now when I look back on it, it's clear some divine hand was guiding [me] because the order [of her journey; of the book!] was so perfect"), meditation ("One of the great teachings that I learned in India is that silence is the only true religion") and how we're afraid of silence ("We set our lives up so that we do not need to be with ourselves").
The highlight was when they introduced Richard from Texas (he's real!). What a legend, seriously. It was so refreshing to hear his voice in the book – the voice of someone cool, calm, all-knowing, rational – and get a break from Gilbert's neurosis for a second (granted, spending time in my brain would drive someone equally as mad). It didn't really dawn on him, though he knew she was writing a book, that she was recording almost everything he said to her: "I didn't realise talking to a writer who's writing a book is like talking to a reporter." On Richard, Gilbert said: "The main thing was that he took all these super esoteric, ancient Indian yogic ideas and boiled them down into these simple, Texas, pragmatic sort of mantras for me that I could digest."
I can't help but wonder if Richard isn't a little ticked off that she basically profited (in a BIG way) from his wisdom – the chapter on India, after all, is pretty much a conversation between them; and we learn more from him than her. Perhaps Gilbert and Richard can cut an Oprah/Dr Phil type deal?
While in India, Gilbert had her real God experience: "It was very brief. It was also very eternal. It was as though the scales fell from my eyes and the openings of the universe were shown to me. What I felt was pure, divine, eternal, knowing, compassionate love, and it was obvious...". As someone who has had a couple of quite deep interactions with God in the past two years, I can relate (though in the Christian church they'd call it 'being filled with the holy spirit' or something). And you do want to hold onto that feeling forever... and then your mind takes over. But if you can retain some of that feeling – that inner warmth/peace/knowing – and remember that incident, you're a changed person. And I think it can happen to everyone on their own terms... in their own sweet time.
After India was Bali, where Gilbert was told to just "sit and smile" by her medicine man and found love in the arms of a Brazilian man who could tame her mind as well as her body. He brought relief to her aching mind and soul... he nurtured her and loved her. In a way, he saved her... from herself. A bit fairy-tale like, huh.
Gilbert says she gets a lot of women asking her how they go about doing what she did. She tells them that they need to find their own path; that her journey was and is not for everyone (as much as we'd all love to go to Italy and eat pizza for four months). She failed to mention not everyone is going to get funded by a major publisher to take a year off to find themselves – or run away from the ickyness of their divorce under the guise of a 'leap of faith'. Luck, if not God, Ms. Gilbert, is definitely on your side. On a positive note, to end with, Gilbert offered Oprah's viewers three life-altering tips:
1. Ask yourself "What do I really, really, really want?" and answer it truthfully: "to be happy" is not legit.
2. Start a gratitude journal and write about something you're thankful for each day, then look back on it to find the consistencies.
3. Refine your self-loathing mantra. "Whatever you repeat constantly in your head is your mantra," says Gilbert. "So if you're repeating, 'I'm a moron, I'm an idiot, I'm a failure, I'm a jerk, I'm a loser', it's your mantra. So decide whether that's working for you [laughs all round]... maybe you might want to choose a different thing to say..."
How very Oprah.
Girl With a Satchel
Pics c/o Oprah.com