sábado, 16 de julho de 2011

Committed - Elizabeth Gilbert

This is one great book. A book that all my words could never even come close to describing the fantastic and fabulous feeling you get out of reading it. Well, for starters we all know that Elizabeth Gilbert is one hell of a writer. Not only is she one hell of a writer but the subject she picked to research and then impart to us in great detail is one of the most polemic, confusing, age-long topics ever: MARRIAGE!
Elizabeth explains the many, many facets and sides of marriage all summed up in her observations, researches, books she's read, interviews made and of course, her personal life experience as well.
One thing which makes Elizabeth's book so enthralling is her narrative and descriptions of the different ways cultures all over the world see marriage, child-rearing, wedding celebrations, divorce, sexual taboos, and the list goes on. 
One aspect which I at once felt a kindred spirit towards Elizabeth when reading is how she mentions that when she doesn't understand  what to do or have a clue on that subject or even when she is afraid of some new or unknown thing to her she, instead of running away from it does the exact opposite. She researches it, goes after knowing all she possibly can about it, asks others advice on the topic and basically forces herself to know the whole story from top to bottom as this takes away her fear of the unknown and still gives her courage to adopt that subject as part of her life - and in this aspect I pretty much have always felt the same - and so being that was one of the reasons I wanted so bad to read this book as I believed it would give me a  better and clearer outlook on the complicated and crazy subject of marriage which constantly enters some piece of my mind and just frightens me out making me just want to run away from it and once and for all!!! And so the main explanations for me having read this book (and also of course I had already read "Pray, Eat, Love and had become Elizabeth's huge fan after the book having had amazing changes over me.)
A lot of things spoke to me in this book and made me feel like a whole new dimension was being opened to my once closed and pre-made conception of marriage.
To start off one of the main truths Elizabeth writes is how nowadays people marry and then expect their wife/husband to "complete" them. Their expectations on the other person are so very high that when that person can't continue to make them feel on a constant roller-coaster ride of joy, personal and professional fulfillment, happiness and ecstasy then they suppose they must have gotten married to the wrong person. When the truth is that NO one can make us happy forever because just for starters no one is always happy at every moment and instance of their lives. And so the pressure we receive of our other half waiting on us to make them happy or the responsibility of always having to make that person be happy is something completely unrealistic and impossible to achieve. 
Another very serious part is when Elizabeth mentions how in a recent study researchers found out that the second greatest cause of suffering and turmoil is divorce. Yes, divorce comes before the loss of a loved one (this includes your own child), a terminal illness, a serious accident, loss of all your material possessions, etc. when ranked in the list of what makes people suffer most. How serious is that? Just to show how careless we are to get married at such a young age to take such a large risk of putting ourselves and another person into a situation in which there is a huge chance they (and you as well!) will be soon suffering terribly in just a matter of years. And so I completely agree with Elizabeth when she states that most people should only get married after their thirties and that decreases a huge percentage of the risk of your marriage turning into a divorce in the next few years. 
And last but not least I was impressed when I read the following quote in one of the last chapters of the book: "Married men perform far better in life than single men, married me are happier than single men, married men live longer & earn more money than single men. Married women make less money than single women, married women suffer more from depression than single women, married women don’t live as long, & are more likely to be victims of violence than single women."
As soon as I finished reading the above the first thought that popped into my head was: 
So why in the world are most women crazy to get married while most men are running away from it like the plague?!!! Many answers entered to my head but none of them seemed to be good enough to balance out what I had just read. And that's when I finally received the answer to one of my big questions: There isn't any correct answer to marriage. Marriage is something different for each couple. Marriage is what you make it to be and as much as you try to understand it, put your finger on it or keep it stuck in your head as being one fixed thing that's just not going to happen. Marriage is in constant change and the reason for that is that each couple - realizing it or not - somehow adds to this greater change making marriage what it is right now these days and what it will be in one, five, ten, fifty and even one hundred years from now!!!

Eat, Pray, Marry

Published: January 7, 2010
When exactly was it that “Eat, Pray, Love,” Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir about her divorce and subsequent year of travel in Italy, India and Indonesia, crossed from mere best seller — published in more than 30 languages, feted by Oprah — to cultural phenomenon? The film adaptation is due out later this year, with Gilbert played by (but of course) Julia Roberts; some of the people Gilbert wrote about, including her ex-husband, are now working on books of their own; and Gilbert’s second appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” featured such admiring readers as a woman who had actually retraced much of Gilbert’s around-the-world journey. Perhaps most impressive of all, in a sign of what a widely understood reference point the book has become, it inspired a headline in The Onion: “Copy of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ Left on ­Elliptical.”

Illustration by Monika Aichele
So self-aware, accommodating and generally good-natured a writer is Gilbert that in “Committed” she gives us what we want by addressing the “Eat, Pray, Love” business right away — as in, before the new book even officially begins, in a prefatory note to the reader. No, she tells us, she had no idea how big “Eat, Pray, Love” would be (a claim believable in part because of that book’s candor about topics like constipation, masturbation and two-way conversations with God). Yes, after the success of “Eat, Pray, Love,” she was freaked out and self-conscious and wondered if she was finished as a writer, in spite of the fact that she’d written three earlier books, all well received and one nominated for a National Book Award. And no, she doesn’t think she can replicate the popularity of “Eat, Pray, Love,” but here’s the book she needed to write this time around.
Once that’s out of the way, we pick up pretty much where “Eat, Pray, Love” left off, with Gilbert in the arms of the boyfriend she pseudonymously calls Felipe — a debonair Brazilian gemstone importer who had become an Australian citizen and met Gilbert while he was living in Bali. He is older, 55 to her 37 when “Committed” starts in the spring of 2006. They’ve established a happy rhythm in which they mostly share a rented house in suburban Philadelphia, but in order to comply with visa restrictions Felipe leaves the country for several weeks every three months; for two inveterate travelers and independent personalities, this routine is no big deal. Felipe also has been through a divorce, he has adult children and he’s as determined as Gilbert not to ruin the good thing they have by marrying.
Alas, their agreeable arrangement is upended when the couple is returning together from a trip overseas and Felipe is detained at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. A Department of Homeland Security officer explains that Felipe’s repeated three-month stints in the United States in fact violate the terms of his visa. He must leave the country immediately, and the fastest way for him to return on a permanent basis is for the couple to get married.
With Felipe jailed overnight then sent to Australia, Gilbert continues alone to Philadelphia to pack up their rental house. The couple reconnects in Southeast Asia (it’s cheap there, and “Eat, Pray, Love” hasn’t yet hit it big) with a plan to travel for the next 10 months while waiting for the paperwork required for Felipe’s new visa to go through. Since they’re headed toward a wedding whether they like it or not, Gilbert will also use this time to figure out the institution of marriage, not only by researching its history but also by discussing the subject with everyone with whom she has contact — from her own family members to Hmonggrannies in rural Vietnam.
As a tour guide to both Asia and matrimony, Gilbert is consistently entertaining and illuminating and often funny. That said, something about the premise and structure of this book feels off. Gilbert’s pattern is to chronicle a firsthand experience during her and Felipe’s “exile” and then use that experience as a point of departure for delving into various aspects of marriage. At an Internet cafe in Luang Prabang, Laos, for instance, she notices that the young Buddhist monk checking his e-mail at the computer next to hers has received a message from a person named Carla containing this eyebrow-raising sentence: “I still long for you as my lover.” Gilbert doesn’t speak to the monk, nor does she see him again — and Gilbert being Gilbert, she has the good manners to chide herself for reading his e-mail in the first place — but this one glimpsed sentence prompts her to ponder, for the next 40 pages, infatuation, adultery and divorce.
While her musings are usually interesting, some of the connections between her brief firsthand experiences in Asia and the larger phenomena they’re meant to illustrate seem tenuous. And this, in turn, accentuates the neither-fish-nor-fowl quality of “Committed,” a criticism Gilbert anticipates by self-mockingly referring to it as “another memoir (with extra socio-historical bonus sections!).” She’s right, though — the book is rather chatty and personal to be so heavy on research, but it’s rather researched to be so chatty and personal. Gilbert is equally likely to quote Plato or her friend Ann, and equally keen to discuss how attitudes toward marriage changed from the Old to the New Testament, how important — according to evolutionary biologists — the vasopressin receptor gene is in determining male fidelity, and how her own parents have managed to stay together for more than 40 years. While such shifts between the factual and the subjective shouldn’t be inherently problematic, they made me feel lost as a reader: where in the history of marriage were we, and were we moving forward chronologically or thematically, and how long had Gilbert and Felipe been traveling, and what month was it again?
Because of the nature of the couple’s sojourn — as they wait for Felipe’s American visa, they are, Gilbert mentions more than once, “killing time” — a slackness permeates their days, and soon permeates the pages as well. In “Eat, Pray, Love,” Gilbert was on the run from an ugly divorce, and her story contained the forward momentum of a quest and the juicy tension of unanswered questions: Would she attain personal equanimity? Would she put aside her doubts and give in again to romance?
The central question of “Committed” is less of a nail-biter: Will Gilbert be able to overcome her aversion to marriage in order to live in the same country as the man she deeply loves? If they had to marry but she didn’t deeply love him — if, say, she hated him yet was secretly drawn to his broad shoulders and rakish ways — well, then you’d have the plot of more than one of the bodice-rippers I devoured in adolescence. But it’s not giving anything away to say that of course Gilbert reconciles herself to remarrying — the book’s subtitle announces as much. This foregone conclusion means that “Committed” often seems an intellectual exercise, an internal rather than external journey, whereas “Eat, Pray, Love” was both.
And yet, if the sum of the parts in “Committed” add up to an awkward whole, many of those parts are nevertheless terrific. Gilbert provides an abundance of interesting factoids: ancient Roman law recognized marriage between aristocratic males, she says. Divorce rates skyrocket when arranged marriages give way to “love marriages.” Papua New Guineans have a special category of songs about “marriages which never came to pass but should have.” Gilbert also shares practical tips, including a remarkably clear and simple recipe, drawn from the research of the psychologist Shirley P. Glass, on how not to cheat on your spouse (the short version: Don’t confide in anyone else more than you do in him or her). And Gilbert has written some wonderfully memorable scenes, among them a description of the life of her maternal grandmother, Maude Edna Morcomb Olson, who was born in 1913 in central Minnesota with a cleft palate. Assumed by those around her to have no shot at marriage, Maude was allowed to stay in school longer than other rural children and then travel, work, accumulate money, acquire a wine-colored coat with a real fur collar and finally, defying expectations, get married after all to a “staggeringly handsome” farmer with whom she had seven children.
Another strong section is Gilbert’s brutally honest depiction of an excursion to Cambodia she takes without Felipe. Her frankness about the fact that the trip is a disaster is all the braver given that Gilbert clearly prides herself on her ability to navigate foreign countries. Then there’s the delightful digression on “aunties,” or women who don’t have children — Gilbert is childless by choice — and the important role they play for their literal and figurative nieces and nephews; it should be copied and given as a present to all such women.
By the end Gilbert had indeed convinced me that “the book that I needed to write was exactly this book.” Because really, in the wake of “Eat, Pray, Love,” wasn’t she damned if she did and damned if she didn’t? If this book were too similar to that one, some readers would say it was repetitive. If it were a complete departure, other readers would say she ought to have stuck to what she does well. By bringing along some elements, like exotic international locations, and leaving behind others, like a certain emotional rawness, she will no doubt displease those who will think she brought along what she should have left behind and left what she should have brought. But I’ll bet most fans of “Eat, Pray, Love” will be quite content, book clubs nationwide will have a grand time debating “Committed,” and even those of us with grouchier dispositions — including those of us who review books — can appreciate the closure of knowing that Gilbert and Felipe live happily ever after. Gilbert generously permits us to be virtual guests at her wedding, and for all her before-the-fact reluctance (she compares planning a wedding to waiting for a colonoscopy), the scene is as sweet and satisfying as the end of any movie where Hugh Grant plays the groom.
And so with “Committed” Gilbert has gotten something out of her system, allowed her readers to do the same, and now can move in a different direction. Personally, I think Grandma Maude’s life would make a fantastic novel.

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