When I was a little girl I loved to read fairy tales. I spent hours with my nose buried in beautifully illustrated books and my favorites were the classic stories of strong-willed maidens and castles far, far away.
To overcome whatever obstacle bound them, each woman used her wits, called on magic (there was always some kind of magic) and then fell for the handsome prince who came riding into each story just in the nick of time.
And each, by the end of the story, walked away with the keys to the castle.
The first time I opened the pages of Eat, Pray, Love I recognized a familiar landscape.
In it, author Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her failed marriage and combative divorce, her depression and tendency to repeat old patterns and, ultimately, her search for authentic self. That search, in case you’ve been on Mars and haven’t heard, took her to Italy for the food and language, India for spiritual solace and Bali for personal direction. At the end of the year, thanks to the magic of good food, a guru and a medicine man, and - the most magical thing of all - a lucrative book contract to write about experiences she had not yet had, she was whole again. And, coincidentally, in love with a hunk who’d come riding in and fallen head-over-heels for her.
That would be, by any middle-class, overworked, underpaid and under-appreciated woman’s standards, a fairy tale ending to a really bad year.
I’m not bashing the book. I read it and enjoyed it well enough when I actually finished it. (It took me two tries.) But at no time did I ever lose my head and believe that I can do what Gilbert did. Because, as it turns out, I am a middle-class, overworked, underpaid and occasionally under-appreciated woman. I may be able to get out of town for a week or two, when the budget and schedule allow, and if I organize things around the house and call home every night, but how on earth can I run away for a year to simply sit and think? I can’t. I have to take my peace and inspiration where I find them.
Now there’s a movie and Julia Roberts has made Gilbert’s story even prettier. Entertainment and enlightenment in 2 hours and 13 minutes. Another fairy tale ending.
The tourism industry is rushing to make Eat,Pray,Love packages available to women who want to retrace Gilbert’s journey. What do you want to bet well-heeled participants don’t have to scrub floors at the Asham.
Virginia Woolfe told us we need a room of our own and a little money. Those two things on their own are often hard enough to come by. Now, we need even more money and a trip around the world?
The thing I find most fascinating about the whole EPL phenomenon is that Gilbert, in true modern day princess fashion, has become a brand. You may not be able to book a flight away from the kids (children were a complication Gilbert didn’t have to work around) but thanks to the Home Shopping Network and Cost Plus World Market you can buy genuine Eat,Pray,Love merchandise to give your home that journey-of-personal-discovery look for less. Not to mention the jewelry, tea, candles and journals and perfume. All without a passport.
I guess the world hasn’t changed all that much since I read old fairy tales and my daughters watched spunky Disney princesses live happily ever after.
Can “Eat, Pray, Love” panties and Band-Aids be far behind?
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country.