Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed; A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed; A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage arrived at my bookstore on January12. I had pre-ordered my copy, so all I had to do was drive down there and pick it up. Having read Eat Pray Love twice, because there we so many messages inside the book for me, I was now eager to see whether there were pertinent messages about marriage I could relate to. There were. There definitely were, but I have to say there might have been a few too many. Committed is so jam full of historical references, and so many personal anecdotes, that for me, the memoir veered in too many different directions to give the reader a satisfied feeling of being all-of-a piece. I think Gilbert struggled with too many competing voices. I also think she struggled with the competing disciplines of sociology, psychology, pop culture, while trying as much as possible to interject her own conversational, engaging narrative voice throughout.

So would I recommend Committed to a friend? Definitely. It is enlightening. There is a lot to learn from the book. It’s a must read for people thinking of getting married, and for people who want to see how women in other cultures view marriage, or simply for women to think about their own marriage. My favorite part was the description of how a healthy and lasting marriage works: The marriage has windows and doors that the married couple put into place. They agree on the windows–how, where, and when they will let family members and friends in. They also agree on what doors to close to protect their intimacy. Having failed at several marriages, and been successful at one, I would say Gilbert’s analogy is spot on.

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Starting Up Again

We (my husband, my daughter and I) live on the academic calendar. KU’s spring semester began today. We are inching back into “our normal lives.” This is good for my writing because I can focus primarily on that. A retired teacher, I am used to an academic schedule. I am used to setting goals and meeting them. My present goal is to have Jewels that Speak in the editor’s hands in six weeks. In writing time, that can be very little time, or a lot of time depending where you are in the writing process and what kind of writing you are doing. Given what I mentioned in my last blog, The Scheme of Things, that’s not much time for me.

The clock ticks as I do some research. It tocks as I write a new paragraph, delete or change a word. It ticks as I re-read my manuscript, tocks as I blog about writing. Let me see, today is January 14th. The end of February is going to be here in a whoosh.

You might ask why my goal for completion is set for this date. It is an arbitrary goal set by me. It keeps my writing engine revved up and running at a steady pace. There are so many ideas I want to explore in writing. And, I believe in the value of finished products.

The Scheme of Things

For any writer out there struggling with the problem of creating two competing voices in the same memoir, this blog is for you.

Right now I am dealing with the uncertainty of how to keep the original narrative voice with its own naturally flowing arc in the book, while I at the same time include background information about some of the people in the memoir; this background information will help the reader come to a richer understanding of the behaviors and actions of these people and their effect on me.

I have tried various different methods to make this all come together. I don’t know yet, if the one I am trying will work. Presently, I am putting all background information as footnotes so that the information is there, but does not interrupt the voice of me as I grow up. However, as I do this, I realize that not everyone reads footnotes in size 8 font. Hence, my uncertainty.

These footnotes could also be done as sidebars, so the background information would be on the opposite page of the main narrative. The font could stay in size 12.
My husband Paul, who does academic writing, favors the sidebar approach.

To be honest, I’ve completed this method, have read it through, and I am thinking about it. I am listening to my own voice, but it has yet to give me an immediate answer as to whether this separation approach works, or whether the separation works better using footnotes or sidebars.

“I’m here, but the car’s not!”

“I’m here, but the car ‘s not.”

These are the words Paul spoke to me this morning when I asked how he was feeling today. He added “Maybe a little stiff, but I’m stiff every morning when I wake up.”

Yesterday Paul drove his eldest son, Jesse, to the airport to fly back to San Francisco. They parked in short-term parking and went to share a big bite at Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue. They decided not to have a beer along with their barbecue. Just before they reached the airport Paul had said to his son, the roads are safe now, don’t you think?” “You don’t need 4-wheel drive here,” Jesse agreed. I have not yet mentioned how smart Jesse is. He figures things out so fast, he leaves my jaw hanging.

They ate their barbecue and had a great conversation, according to Paul. Then they said goodbye.

Paul got back in his old 4Runner–1997, 130,000 miles– and swung out of the airport onto I-29. Minutes later I receive a call.

“I’ve had an accident,” Paul says sounding normal.

“Are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m perfectly fine.”

“Fine?”

“Not even a scratch.” He’s sounding positively cheerful. Then he lowers his voice. “The car ‘s totaled.”

“My God! Are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m positive. There are a lot of people around me here. The car is turned over on its side.

“What happened?”

Paul tells me the first version. We discuss AAA and I go downstairs to get the insurance policy number.

A while later we talk again. Paul says, “We figured out what really happened. A piece of ice slid off the back of a truck in front of me. All of a sudden the car was shifting, skidding sideways across the highway towards the median. A farmer in a pick-up truck came along, hit the back of the 4Runner and sent it careening on its side.”

“My God! How did you get out?”

“I tried but couldn’t open the passenger door. Someone climbed on the car and was able to open the door. I hoisted myself out.”

“Paul, you were so lucky!”

“That’s what everyone’s saying.”

Luck, karma, God, who knows what to call it? My husband is safe.

Passed Away

I never read Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea until now. Rhys’s book is a prequel to Jane Eyre, a beloved book I have read many times. Every five years or so I pick it off the shelf and read it again. So it blows my mind that a different viewpoint has been available since 1966 that, with one read, would forever change my thinking and feelings about Jane and Mr. Rochester and Thornfield Hall. Until now, the mad woman in the attic was simply the mad woman in the attic, even after I learned she was Mr. Rochester’s wife. The twenty-one years it took Jean Rhys to produce her 112 page novella is worth all the labor of her research and writing. It gives us an authentic point of view of the hows and whys of a nineteenth century white Creole heiress, Antoinette (Bertha) Mason, essentially auctioned to the youngest and therefore disinherited son of a wealthy English aristocrat, Mr. Rochester. Through Wide Sargasso Sea we come to see the cruelty of Mr. Rochester as a young dispossessed man. He marries a beautiful Creole woman, rejects her physically, owns and uses her money, then imprisons her. Antoinette cannot hold onto her vibrant sexuality and spirituality in such a vacuum; she loses her mind.

In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the mad woman sets fire to Thornfield Hall and jumps off the roof. I did not feel sorry for her. I felt sorry for Mr. Rochester and the lied-to Jane. In Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, Antoinette Mason Rochester sets fire to Thornfield Hall and jumps off the roof. I felt infinitely sorry for her and understand why she did it. I felt Mr. Rochester had his comeuppance. And Jane, Oh Jane, so feisty, but so naïve. Who would have thought you had so much in common with the first Mrs. Rochester?

The best friend of my cousin Dorothy’s husband, Jim, passed away on Saturday. “He was larger than life. He lived big. He loved life. He was loud, but underneath the kindest, sweetest person you could imagine. He had global significance as an artist, although he was not a celebrity. He greatly influenced and was a consistent encourager of my own work as an artist.” Jim’s words have set me to thinking, what remains after a person has died? Small life, big life, unknown life, known life; what does it all mean? Is the importance of someone’s life determined by how that person lives on in minds and/or hearts after he’s gone? Why can some people simply move on from death of a loved one, or react for one day to the loss of a person of national significance, such as a president, and then say and mean it’s time for the next?

My mother lives on in my mind and heart, larger than life. Our lives as women have inevitable historical differences. Her take on life was not the same as mine. She had a different emotional make-up. But there is a thread of strength in both of us and it has something to do with being a woman. In addition, her viewpoint informs my viewpoint.

I am glad Rhys reclaimed the real Antoinette and allowed her to have a sympathic place in my memory. I trust Jim’s best friend will live on in his memory. My mother will always be in mine.

The Pinch of Christmas

We had a white Christmas here in Lawrence, Kansas. It kept a couple of people away from our Christmas Eve gathering, but not others. One woman came early to cope with the snow and ice before darkness approached. She bore a squash dish, salad, cookies, and a change of clothes. Slowed by the blizzard, three other people came late. They had to park down the hill, around the corner. The front door opened to a beautiful black woman her wealth of black hair flaked with snow, and two men–one my son–carrying warming lights and some hot dishes: a spicy shrimp and tomato casserole, fried plantains, and crispy balls with meat and cheese inside. Our Russian neighbors trekked to our house from across the street bearing a calamari salad, and a tray with crackers already prepared, each with a slice of brie and topped with a dollop of homemade spicy jam. Later, the son disappeared and came back from home with a little vodka. All of these dishes were in addition to what we offered: gorgonzola cheese and crackers, shrimp cocktail, cucumber/watercress soup, baked eggplant slices rolled with boursin cheese and sun-dried tomatoes, couscous with garlic, collards, oyster mushrooms, roast beef smeared with roasted garlic, and slices of semolina baguettes with butter.

We sat down to two adjoining tables covered with white tablecloths, set with silver polished a few days earlier, pewter and crystal candelabra bearing six red candles, and two small vases of little pink asters. Everyone seemed happy to be at the table. Not surprisingly, conversation started off with food, because each person had worked hard on his dish(es) and relished appreciation.

Uppermost in my mind was my Norwegian mother who, with help from daughters and daughters-in-law, always produced an elegant Christmas Eve dinner before we held hands around the tree to sing “O Yule Mesen Glede.” She is gone, my sisters and brothers live and celebrate Christmas in the east. As we sat down to eat, I raised my glass nodded to everyone and just like Mom said, “Velkommen til bords.”