ERIN DONOVAN

Small town life has no secrets

Posted May 25, 2014, at 6:10 a.m.
Erin Donovan
Erin Donovan

When you live in a small town, people know what you get up to. Whether you want them to or not, they know what you’re doing. Where you’re going. How long you’ll be gone. They know all of this because they pick up your breadcrumbs. All of us leave behind breadcrumbs — small and trivial proof of our habits and whereabouts — as we go about our life’s business. We all do this, regardless of where we live, but in a small town, people are more apt to notice. It took me a while to understand this until someone at the library asked me, “How was your trip?” I faltered because I hadn’t mentioned I was taking a trip. She leaned in and said knowingly, “You haven’t been by to rent your movie.”

My movie. “Eat Pray Love.” I have developed a dependence on this movie over the last year and a half. I’d already experienced it, in written form, when it first hit bookshelves. I saw it in the theater when it was released, shortly after I’d moved to Maine. Despite its critics, I enjoyed both the book and the film — my friends will roll their eyes and caution that I always use the loftier term “film” when I’m trying to get someone to take a movie seriously. Then I moved on to different commercialized romantic dramas and mostly forgot about it.

It took the end of my marriage for me to seek it out again and to watch it with new eyes.

For those who don’t know much about the plot, it’s a story told by Elizabeth Gilbert about the dissolution of her marriage and herself, and the quest she takes across the world to find answers to questions buried deep in her mind. Her journey of self-discovery and renewal begins in Italy, where she nourishes her body and feeds her soul. It’s satisfying even to the viewer to watch, especially for a mother whose sustenance comes from chipping away the petrified remains left upon the plates of her children. The food is so lovingly pictured and convincingly eaten that your mind and mouth will start to fool you into believing the microwave popcorn you are eating out of the bag is actually carbonara, or bread drowning in olive oil, or the most sinful gelato.

I am reminded that I am eating styrofoam packing chips upon her arrival in India. This is the valley in Gilbert’s journey to the heavens. This is where she is forced to deal with herself through strict meditation and mental examination. This part of the movie always makes me squirm, no matter how many times I watch it, because I am pretty certain I am meant to die in a place like an ashram. I’ve always figured I’ll go out in a really bizarre fashion, like straining to redeem a free online shipping code or searching for the caps to my chapsticks, but dying in a place that requires one to be quiet and reflective all day and all night seems likely for me, as well.

I also happen to really enjoy complaining about life’s minor injustices, like having to pump your own gas or needing to use stamps on mail still, so a place like India makes my white woman’s burden seem downright trivial when compared to a poverty most of us could never imagine. This part of the movie reminds of the time my mother used to teach severely handicapped children in the public school system. Her tolerance for complaints from me and my brother over unsatisfactory lunchbox offerings would bottom out with a guttural scream, “I taught a child without a head today!” Gilbert’s voyage through India is a similar contrast; If you don’t dwell on the inadequacy of her problems when set against the backdrop of a country riddled with ache, you can continue to walk beside her along her path.

The final chapter of Gilbert’s voyage across her mind and the world is set in the exotic milieu of Bali. The world looks more vivid in the Southern Hemisphere with its untamed vines and exploding bouquets of Gardenias and Lotus flowers at every turn. She concludes her journey there so that she can commune with her personal Yoda, the mystic who foretold of her failed marriage and financial collapse, another narrative thread I enjoy since I, too, got some freaky counsel from a psychic when my own world was imploding. I won’t tell you what happens from there in case you want to find out for yourself, suffice it to say that you will mutter to yourself, “I need to get a bicycle. And a Brazilian.” And not the waxing variety though we could all could probably use that, too.

I can’t really explain why I am so drawn to this movie – er, film. Perhaps its the reminder to study the pores of life and go after the happiness you want them to exude. Perhaps its the wandering, both literally and figuratively, that is so appealing to a person like me, a woman who spends her days mired in feedings, carpooling, laundry, work and bills in a town where little ever happens that could be deemed exotic. Perhaps it’s just that it’s always available at the library.

If I had to say, I bet it’s that I like to watch someone, who seems a little like me, throw her breadcrumbs into the wind even if I am just dropping mine quietly around this town.

 

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