A (Not-So) Modest Proposal

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If you haven’t heard of Elizabeth Gilbert, you have most likely heard of her best-selling spiritual memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia. It’s the story of her yearlong search for pleasure, spirituality and balance after she discovered that a married life  — with the possibility of children in the suburbs  — was not for her. She set out for gastronomic pleasures in Rome, Italy; communion with the divine in an ashram near Mumbai, India and a balance between the two in Bali, Indonesia.

The fact that all of the countries’ names begin with the letter “I” was not lost on her as she was in search of herself.

It’s a wonderful book. Honest. Insightful. Funny. But as a married woman with children who lives in the suburbs – one who also has spiritual curiosity and an adventuresome spirit – I wondered why she felt that the two worlds had to be mutually exclusive. I began to fantasize about writing a book of my own based on Gilbert’s model but with mothers in mind. And so, acknowledging  (and apologies for lifting) Gilbert’s idea, I present the following proposal:

I’d title it: Eat, Pray and Sit Down for a Minute, Will You? My readers would be busy mothers because I believe this population is hungriest and neediest for pleasure, spirituality and balance. The book would be far fewer pages than Gilberts’, honoring a mother’s lack of time, and would be something I could produce if, and only if, a combination of the following events and support mechanisms coalesced:

  • a stretch of time that doesn’t collide with my husbands’ or two children’s work and school schedule;
  • my husband’s support and time;
  • a reliable sitter, driver or neighborhood mother materialized to fill in for emergencies;
  • a working car;
  • a tank full of gas – and a stretch of reasonable gas prices;
  • and a good GPS system.

I couldn’t take a whole year off like Gilbert did. I could only spare a long weekend. Four days tops.

Like Gilbert, I am in search of pleasure, spirituality and balance, especially as I look ahead to my empty nest years. Because of time and budgetary considerations, a cross-continent trip is simply out of the question. Since I am a Midwesterner, I would travel to Illinois, Indiana and Iowa for this adventure. (Note that these states begin with the letter “I.”)

In Chicago, Illinois — my Rome — my first stop, I’d visit the best hot dog joints and deep-dish pizzerias and ponder their flavors, aromas and digestibility. I’d consume large quantities, just like Gilbert did in Italy, and be forced to unzip the top of my pants at the end of the day. I’d interview the folks at the Vienna beef factory and ask them what makes their dogs different from Oscar Meyer’s and I’d save room to compare Malnati’s pizza to Giordano’s and Uno’s. I’d talk to locals with the most authentic Chicago accents and befriend one so I wouldn’t have to eat alone.

Stop two would be Richmond, Indiana — my Mumbai —home to Quakers and their quiet meetinghouses. I would attend Meeting for Worship and interview Friends about how their silent worship and emphasis on a simple life keeps them so peaceful and calm. I would ask for advice about how to apply these ideals to the life of a busy suburban mother’s and I would quote them liberally just like Gilbert did of her ashram friend in India, and one, maybe two, might become oft-referred icons of spiritual advice.

The final stop – my Bali – would be Iowa City, Iowa. There, in search of balance between the orgy of taste buds and expansion of my waistline and the peace from silent worship, I’d feast my eyes on the Iowa flatlands and finger the hard and soft cover reading material generated by the writers on the campus of University of Iowa. I would lose myself in the inspiring and thought-provoking sentences and soulful readings and vow to read and write more.

Upon my return home to my red brick and slate gray Georgian in the suburbs, I’d write about my journey during the available working hours when my children were at school and after-school activities. At this pace, and with this schedule, it would only take a few years to get the manuscript into presentable shape, but I believe that once pulled together, like Gilbert’s memoir, it could be a potential best-seller and may also have the added benefit of doing a little something for Midwest tourism, too.

And the end of her journey, Gilbert found love. After her memoir was published, she married him, though I am pretty sure she did not return to the suburbs.

I may discover something equally as surprising at the end of my journey. For instance, I may uncover a previously buried desire to farm the land and I would move to Idaho to become a potato farmer. (Wouldn’t this make a great epilogue?)

Eat, Pray and Sit Down for a Minute, Will You? would answer the question: Who says suburban mothers can’t find pleasure, spirituality and balance in a four-day driving trip through the Midwest? It would address the idea that you never know where you’ll find a pearl of wisdom or a moment of clarity.  Not so surprising, really, that Gilbert experienced  transcontinental epiphanies after back-to-back Italian meals, conversations with a Balinese healer and long periods of meditation at an ashram in India. Isn’t it more compelling to find spiritual clarity in the middle of the United States? Having left one’s family to fend for themselves, interrupted by frequent cell phone check-ins? Gilbert’s aha moments would pale in comparison to the ones I would certainly have after chowing down a Vienna hot dog or deep dish pizza, sitting silently on a wooden bench in an Indiana meeting house and standing in the back of a crowded university auditorium in Iowa City listening to writers who would do almost anything to exchange places with me and my big advance.

This is something adventure-hungry mothers could get excited about. Something with which spiritual seekers could resonate. Something that both editors and marketing departments could work around. The book could not only be marketed as a hot new memoir, but as a how-to manual for localizing one’s own low cost, do-it-yourself spiritual quest … recession version.

And then, for the sequel (because you know there would be one),  I would travel in a similar but expanded manner to the east coast to Maryland, Maine, and Massachusetts, then south to Mississippi, and perhaps onto Missouri, Michigan, Minnesota, and then west to Montana. Because with my previous book’s success, it will be all about me.

First published June 2008. Copyright Ellen Blum Barish