My parents have always told me that thoughts are powerful and that whatever images you let yourself see, you will become. On my worse days (filled with exhaustion or senseless-worry), I would cry, and get angry with myself for letting myself get sucked into images full of worry and fear. On my best days, however, I am able to visualize a positive immediate (or sometimes long-term) future.
My first thought upon reading the first few chapters of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, was, “Oh she’s like Anne Lamott.” Then I looked more closely at the front cover and saw Anne Lamott’s praise for the book. I felt the connection to Lamott’s work because both writers describe various parts of their lives, some terribly painful, and yet we read them in a humor class. Gilbert did make me laugh, but these laughs were in the vein of Lamott’s self-deprecating humor. What then, is this? For me, Gilbert’s work is studied in a course on humor because she grows to have a sense of humor about her own life, and can look back with a sense of humor at the times during which she did not.
The end of the story, as mentioned in other blogs, and by Gilbert herself, seems very much a fairytale. I too, wonder how all of this worked out for Gilbert. But then I recall my parents’ lectures on visualization and will. In the final section of the book, Gilbert tells us about the oak tree. She says that everyone can see the acorn. “But only a few can recognize that there is another force operating here as well—the future tree itself, which wants so badly to exist that it pulls the acorn into being, drawing the seedling forth with longing out of the void, guiding the evolution from nothingness to maturity” (329).
In order to practice this principle, one must have a sense of humor. Someone who is too stiff and demands immediate perfection will see the acorn only for what it is. But according to Gilbert’s narrative, if we can see the potential inside our acorn, and will it and visualize it, we can become it. Now does this sound hokey? Yes. Yes. Of course. But Gilbert also says that truth is what strengthens her belief in this potential.
Her now-husband says to her, “So I was thinking. . .we could try to build a life together that’s somehow divided between America, Australia, Brazil and Bali” (330). Her response is to laugh, because, as she puts it, “why not?” This reminds me of a section earlier in the story when she is in Italy with the couple Maria and Giulio. Giulio asserts that “all Americans are like this: repressed. Which makes them dangerous and potentially deadly when they blow up” (58). As Gilbert explains, the Western mentality is to be a “realist” (or rather, a cynic). When we serve as repressed American realists, we do not acknowledge our potential. Instead I wonder if we turn our acorns’ potential energy from positive to negative.
Do we then, to some extent, control our truths? Are we responsible for the energy and the force we put into the world? Are we in charge of whether or not we bloom into an oak? I think that my parents, as well as Gilbert, would say “yes.” I wonder then, if those of us who angrily disagree are too scared to risk, and to put all of our energy into visualizing and willing and working for something that could end up not happening or could be taken away. I do not mean to attack, as it is a very human thing to be scared to risk. Yet it is also very much a part of our human nature to risk, to leap and to yearn.