Friday, August 13, 2010

"Eat" of Eat, Pray, Love

So at age 32, Elizabeth Gilbert had what every writer dreams about; a successful career as a writer. Paperback copies of her latest success, Eat, Pray, Love, are available for as little as $2.29 (plus shipping) on the internet. Which raises the question that vexes most writers (and musicians, photographers, etc.); how are we to make a living when our creations are so readily consumed and made available for free or near to it?

Printed matter mounds on the mortician's table and music has been pirated without remorse for over a decade (unless you count those mix tapes that are featured in Eat, Pray, Love invoking a nostalgia for simpler times. All the writers of my acquaintance testify to their devotion to the printed book; the lure of the printed page. the scent of pages enclosed between leather or cloth book ends. Well, few of us recall the scent of the mimeograph but it had an allure also and, yet, is long expired. Like them, my collection of printed matter is extensive, and much of it is housed in boxes in my basement for lack of shelf space in my busy life. And unless they hiding their collection in the attic, I might guess the same is true of them. Not that their affection and devotion to printed books is any the less. And is it only the musicians who long to collect vinyl? I am not certain of either group of artists but I do know that I can purchase Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon for $11.88 and my guess is that it would have cost me a bit more than that to buy it when it was first released. The value of art and artistic expression does not exist in the product. Yet, Elizabeth Gilbert was supporting herself, her husband (for the most part) and entertaining a lover at age 32 when she ditched it all equally. Or perhaps not so equally.

Certainly, the husband was gone forever, and the lover as well. But writing a memoir of a trip to three provocative locations and selling the movie rights and then having Julia Roberts as your doppelganger goes a long way toward thinking that perhaps she was walking away from a successful career as a writer. Rather that taking the writing career with her was the one thing she never abandoned.

I tend to agree with Maureen Callahan's review in the New York Post that the spiritual aspects of the book are superficial in the face of "the worst in Western fetishization of Eastern thought and culture, assured in its answers to existential dilemmas that have confounded intellects greater than hers." However, the movie provoked a bit richer response. In the book, the reader gets the sense that the author is skirting and skirting in memoir is a breach of contract. Movie audiences expect a bit of subterfuge from film; viewers are accustomed to reading the actors' actions and expressions, to filling in the blanks with their own experiences to a greater degree than with memoir. I did not approach the movie with an expectation that motivations and outcomes would be explained and found myself, in a few scenes, revealed.

However, few writers' work end up on the big screen. Most of us work in solitaire, without much hope of publication, with little hope of film adaptation, and while asking if you'd "like fries with that" or nursing, teaching, soldiering, etc.

So how will any poet, writer, musician put food on the table, shoes on their children, rhinestone collars on their dogs? I'm not sure. I do know that I am perfectly willing to make travel arrangements for executives, take minutes, file, walk dogs, edit, design a logo, or detail your car if it will support my writing habit.


  1. It's amazing how everyone now thinks content should be free or close to it. I will say the prices that were charged for things like new books & CDs helped create the problem. At $16 a pop, starting up a CD collection was tough. Wish I had the answer but I'm glad it hasn't dampened your passion for the craft.

  2. A writer, worth the time to read. An idea, worth considering. A person, worth the time to know.

  3. My response got long and rambly, so I posted it on my blog.

  4. This made me think about non-digitizable art as a medium that is not easily copied. No, wait, that replica of Rodin's "Thinker" is just a cast plaster copy, so not even sculpture is safe.