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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Book Tour #14: Eat, Pray, Love

My sister was the first person to tell me about this book. We were wandering through a bookstore and it was on a display table. She slapped the cover and said, "you have to read this." For a long time, it remained on my "to read" list. Lindsay bought me a copy for my birthday and I took it with me on a beach trip, starting it on the bathroom floor in a hotel in Chincoteague. It made that early bathroom breakdown scene feel like method reading (except that I was treating the bathroom floor as my office so I could read without waking the twins).

I don't know why this book grabbed me so much, but it did. I think that is the amazing thing about Gilbert's writing; she figuratively brought me along on her trip and I got to go through my own metamorphosis through the reading complete with a return to meditation (those were not my japa mala beads though in the picture...hmmm...the story gets even more interesting).

What is the word that defines your city? workplace? home? yourself? Why?

The word that defines my town is "safe." You can practically hear people murmuring it to themselves in the grocery store. I don't really have a workplace unless you count my living room. The word that defines my home is "laugh." The word that defines myself is "love." It's the word I use to weigh everything else against (I won't continue with something if I don't love it) and it is the impulse that drives all of my actions.

As Elizabeth Gilbert is writing her letter to G-d about divorce, she begins saying names of individuals who 'signed it'. She says, "I became filled with a grand sense of protection surrounded by the collective goodwill of so many mighty souls." As you blog about IF, parenting, life, and love; in what ways do you feel protected? How in your journey has 'the collective goodwill of so many mighty souls' guided you? Who are those mighty souls?

I feel so incredibly protected--by which I mean my heart feels so incredibly protected--by the blogosphere. I often jump to your blogs in my mind. I will be sitting somewhere stressful and go figuratively into my blog or visit you at yours by thinking through old posts. There are songs that remind me of some of you or colours that make me think of some of you or places I associate with some of you. And collectively, my life would feel very different without your souls.

The author learns Italian for the pure love of it (no real practical reason). Have you wanted to learn something just for the pure sake of the knowledge? Did you pursue it and how did it make you feel once you had done it?

When I was a junior in high school, my art teacher asked if I wanted to go to the Smithsonian school to learn etching. My tuition was paid--all I had to do was show up once a week for several months of my senior year and attend the art classes. There were twelve people total in my class. I can only remember four of them (and at that, only three names): there was the boy with a single arm (who hand-wiped his plates and I still can't completely explain how he did it nor replicate it, but he continuously left me in awe), Adam (who became a rabbi), Zoe (who is still a visual artist), and Sabrina (who is a lawyer). Oh...and there was Worm Boy who only drew worms. Huge etchings of thousands of worms.

I didn't really know if I wanted to learn etching, but I knew I wanted to be out of my regular school for one day a week and I knew that I wanted to be downtown on the National Mall. Once we checked in, the day was entirely our own. The same tape played on a continuous loop with each song cut at the five minute mark so you could time out your day in five minute increments. The songs were all by Bruce Springsteen and though we rarely spoke during school time, for someone inexplicable reason, whenever the line "nothing feels better than blood on blood" came around, we all lifted our heads and sang that line together.

I would check in and take out my plates and tools. But when the carousel started running outside, I'd go out and ride it several times. I bought ice cream from street vendors and walked through museum exhibits alone. I'd swing back through the room, do a little work on my plate, and then pack up to go home for the day. It probably now makes sense to my mother why I needed to go down on the weekend before the show to finish up my work...

When I got to college, I was trying to decide what I wanted to study and I spent freshman and sophomore year trying on a bunch of majors. I kept coming back to the art classes in the catalog even though I knew I didn't want to be an art major. I finally signed up for an etching class even though it didn't fulfill any credits.

I had signed up for a second level etching class because I assumed what I had learned back at the Smithsonian would be enough to boost me to the second level. But the first day, when people set out samples of their prior work and explained their vision for the semester, I decided I was in well over my head. I stayed after the class to speak to the professor and ended up crying as I told her that I thought the class was too advanced.

She kept dismissing my claims because I had studied under a very famous printmaker until I admitted that I spent most of the class time riding the carousel and standing in the whale room at the Natural History museum. Finally she said, "Melissa, why do you even want to take this class."

And I had to admit that I had been really happy just being back in a printmaking lab. That I like the smell of ink. That I have a really great old school etching needle. I liked the time while the plate was in the acid. I liked that there was no going back sometimes with a plate. I liked the fine powder when the plate came out of the dust box and turning it in the light to judge the thickness of the rosin like I was a bee considering the amount of pollen on a flower. I liked handwiping my plates and continuing the day with the ink still embedded in the fine folds on the side of my hand. I really liked everything about printmaking and if she would catch me up to the rest of the class, I really wanted to stay.

I continued to do printmaking for two more years of college--working after the first class in independent studies (and the professor wasn't even that upset during the time I decided it would be a great idea to pass actual pine needles through the press for the Christmas tree I was creating and the sap squeezed onto the felts and made the whole room stink like we had been buried under 3000 cloying pine cones). And then when I got to my MFA program, I completed my six credits outside my MFA program in the etching labs. Once the twins are in school full time, I intend to return to printmaking. I'm really not very good at it, but I love the smells of the room.

I randomly chose my questions off the list and almost returned this one to the batch to choose another because at first I couldn't think of anything I studied because I loved it though it didn't have a practical use (cake decorating and bread baking wouldn't count). And then I remembered this story.

10 comments:

Lori said...

"I often jump to your blogs in my mind...There are songs that remind me of some of you or colours that make me think of some of you or places I associate with some of you. And collectively, my life would feel very different without your souls."

Oooooh. I feel this way, too.

Love the etching story. So glad you kept it in. And I really love that you are motivated by love, that love is what guides you. I want to do that, too.

Cassandra said...

I really enjoyed your etching journey. Pottery also has some evocative smells... unfortunately some of them are toxic!

Pamela Jeanne said...

"collectively, my life would feel very different without your souls."

amen. beautifully and touchingly put. couldn't agree more...

annacyclopedia said...

Sigh. I didn't think it was possible to think you were cooler, but printmaking? Lolly, you rule. I've always wanted to try printmaking, mostly because I love prints, not because I think I would be any good at it. But you spin a great yarn here, making me feel like I know what an etching studio smells like, and what it's like to go home at the end of the day with a belly full of ice cream and my skin stained with ink. Lovely.

kathy said...

I stumbled on your blog and just wanted to say that I love your etching story. Only those of us who are obsessed with the printmaking process know how deeply you're telling your heart. "Good" is relative, but anything you speak of so beautifully, with all your senses in love, is definitely worth doing. Good luck to you!

Kristin said...

"The word that defines myself is "love." It's the word I use to weigh everything else against (I won't continue with something if I don't love it) and it is the impulse that drives all of my actions."

I really identify with this sentiment. If I am not at least enjoying something, I find it almost impossible to complete it.

Kathy said...

Hi Mel! Being my first experience on the Book Tour, I couldn't wait for this morning to start reading the rest of the questions and Group A's answers to the questions for Eat, Pray Love!

I too had this book on my list for a long while and it was actually you that finally inspired me to to read it! At some point after you started it you made a few referecnes to it on your blog and/or in the L&F I believe, and that peaked my intrest. Then I found out that my neighborhood Yoga center was also reading it this month too and I felt like the universe was doing everything it could to get me to read this book.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the book (as you will see in my post tomorrow) and your answers! Intersting that you chose your questions randomly and then challenged yourself to answer them.

I really liked the one about one word descriptions. I had actually considered submitting a similar question. I am impressed that you were able to come up with words for your city, work, home and yourself... I am still figuring mine out.

I also enjoyed your etching story. I love finding out when my friends (IRL or here in the blogosphere) have hidden talents and passions. I also like to learn the stories behind those talents or passions. Maybe sometime for Show and Tell you could share a picture of one of your etchings? That or I should probably Google etching, as to be honest I am not exactly sure what etching is.

Finally, your comments about how your life would be different without the souls you have connected with here in the blogosphere were beautiful. I too am blown away by the people that I have met in the world of ALI blogs and continue to be grateful to you for helping to introduce me to so many of them through so many different avenues (like this Book Tour).

Thank you! So far I am loving this whole concept of an online book club that has to do with topics that hit so close to home.

Ciao!

loribeth said...

Love your answers, Mel, & especially your description of printmaking. And I would say "love" is a good word for you too -- your love for your family & for all of us out here in cyberspace is so evident!

My life would be very different without all of my online friends too!

Deb said...

I am glad that you left your etching story in... I agree with the PP that I would enjoy seeing some of your work during a show and tell.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and I am glad that this book showed up in the rotation, I probably wouldn't have found it otherwise.

JuliaS said...

I agree with you on that sense of "collective goodwill". It was the need for that very thing that lead me to find my first email support group and eventually to blogging. Knowing there are others out there - reading, caring is comforting and lessens the feelings of loneliness and of not fitting into the 'real world'. Also to - I find reading the words of others with similar frames of reference gives me an opportunity to turn my struggles into compassion, understanding, love and encouragement - good things, positive things.

Oh my - did I just do an obscure lemons into lemonaid platitude?? :0)

Anyway - thank you for sharing your thoughts, I enjoyed reading them.

Still working on my "word" though!