Sunday, April 10, 2011

Eat, Bitch, Moan

Friends with whom I've discussed my upcoming travels have asked whether I might use this year to write a bestseller, À la la Elizabeth Gilbert's wildly successful Eat, Pray, Love. To this, I respond: not likely. Not because I wouldn't like to write a bestseller (it's amazing how often relatives suggest this as if the very idea would offend me, or as if they think I'm holding out on them by not doing this. How often, in fact, they earnestly suggest such a thing as if I'VE NEVER THOUGHT OF THIS BEFORE MYSELF, or that writing a bestseller were something anyone could do with just a touch more gumption or discipline, something creatively equivalent, say, to the decision to invest the money one spends in coffee shops each month into one's Roth IRA, which I also don't do; I drink that money right down, my friends, because I feel like saving over 20% of my salary in case I really do live to be 100 years old and have to live off root vegetables begged off my neighbors is enough, but that's another discussion for another day). No, I would love to write a bestseller. I would love to be able to bask in my own Eat, Pray, Loveness of commercial preordination. I go to bed each night hoping against hope that someone, somewhere, will eventually beg me to "sell out" in ways that I have yet to comprehend. And while I know there are many literary types who sneer at what they perceive to be the cultural schlockitude to all things Eat, Pray, Love, I'm not one of them because, let's be honest here:

The money would be nice.

Unfortunately, I won't be able to write such a book. I'm a poet, and unless overnight I become an adorable 12 year-old with cystic fibrosis, this kind of writing doesn't tend to sell. Also, I lack one of the real forces behind that book (from what I've read, that is: I only got through the first third, because I love eating, and because it was my mother's book and she needed it back for her book club): the voice. Gilbert seems like a very humorous and very generous travel companion. I aspire to that. But I lack her voice and, from the little I've read, I lack interest in the two other Big Things Gilbert's book seems to be about: God and finding yourself.

I have no interest in God. I have no spiritual life. I have (as the poet John Berryman might say) no Inner Resources. And there's a good reason for this: I went to Catholic school.

So let the reader of this blog rest assured that, while eating will be featured and discussed at near pornographic length, God and prayer won't be. If I'm in a church, it will be to look at a fresco or scout for some loose change near the offertory or to sit in air conditioning for an hour. If God speaks to me, it'll be because of the mushrooms someone named Pedro probably slipped me. There won't be spiritual crisis, yoga, or any clothing made out of bamboo.

As for finding myself, I think I have, at age 40, a distressingly clear sense of who I am. I'm the unmarried, intimacy-challenged, obsessive-compulsive over-sharer at your potluck. I'm the woman with three huge, ill-mannered dogs who (oddly) can't decide whether or not to take on the responsibility of a child. I'm the one who bought a duplex with her boyfriend so that she can still have her own apartment. I'm the one who drives around town wondering to herself, If an earthquake were to hit right now, would I freak out and drive up on the sidewalk over all those people right there? and who plans--and deeply worries over--all the potential funerals of her still-living loved ones just to make sure she's truly prepared for the worst life has to offer, because half her family is Norwegian and if Norwegians know anything, it is that Worse Things Can Always Be Offered Up by Life.

But I also have a Roth.

And now, this great award. So here's the "Bitch, Moan" part of the post: I find that the amazing opportunity of this year has presented me with yet another (somewhat dismaying) picture of myself. I'm the woman who may just be too comfortable in her current life, too enamored with her routine at work and gym and writing table, too essentially mortgaged and staggeringly happily partnered and be-dogged to want to go. Essentially, someone who may be too old for this award at all. Were I 28, I would have left yesterday. But at 40, I find myself fretting about leaving all my nice friends, my home, my books and worrying about what will happen to them all in my absence. I have to fight against my urge to collapse on my new couch with my sweetie, eating all day and knitting expensive sweaters no one in her right mind would ever wear. In essence, to go on this trip is to try and become someone I now am not, not to find some more authentic self that has continually eluded me. My authentic self is a bourgeois slug. Which is why, as I waddle around the world in my newly middle-aged daze, I will be forever grateful to friends and strangers who help give me an idea of what it would be like to be adventurous. Who help me, in other words, be the woman I never truly was.

That said, let me say that I have traveled, and widely. I've lived in three different countries, traveled for short periods of time in over 20. I'm not a total rube. Just lazy. And this decision to travel around the world for a whole year is an entirely new category of adventure for me, one that certain mornings leaves me kind of dizzy. I admit it: I need help.

One friend, Jennifer, knowing I am dead set on living in Vietnam sometime next spring, has requested that I experience ear picking. While this potentially violates one of my own "rules" set forth in my last post and certain of my most cherished physical boundaries (these boundaries being legion, and as heavily defensed as the DMZ), I am still willing to try. For those of you interested in finding out more about this practice (and to try and dissuade me from it perhaps?), she's given me a link here.

A perhaps slightly kinder friend, Lisa, knowing I am going to spend my first four months in Paris, has suggested that I go see an art exhibit. This is right up my alley. The passive viewing of attractive objects has ever interested me. I excel at it. Here's the link for that.

What I particularly like about this exhibit is that, in Paris, there is an exhibit about Winnipeg. WINNIPEG. Maybe this is for the moral improvement of all Parisians, who might be too used to having won the planetary lottery of All Great Things To Eat and See in their choice of city. Still, Winnipeg. The mind boggles.

Again, I urge you: send in your requests! So far, my travel plans include living in Paris from September to the end of December (with week-long jaunts to Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy and Greece thrown in--as inexpensively ((gulp)) as possible), a week or two in Istanbul, three months in Hanoi, then it all just falls apart until I can end up in Buenos Aires for the summer months. I am up for any and all suggestions. And I need them. Or else I'm just going to wander around the world, looking at pictures of Canada while having various of my orifices scraped.

And do you really want to read about that?



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  2. Nice to catch this blog near the beginning, and to be following your travels rather than someone's cancer narrative. I'm hoping to be in Asia for a month, mid-December to mid-January, so I may just miss you there. As a confirmed hedonist, learning about ear-picking moves Vietnam far up my list -- Burmese gold, bah. To offer something helpful, here's a NY Times article about four far-flung Parisian restaurants "worth the Metro ride." Hope you can eat something with tonka beans (mentioned in the crème brûlée at the end), which are illegal here because some rat got cancer (and blogged about it?).

  3. Thank you, Brian! This will be added. Will eat rat-cancer beans in Paris for sure. It looks like I'll be coming into Hanoi somewhere around the 10th of January, maybe the 15th. Perhaps we'll pass each other en route--