"Eat, Pray, Love" and Women on the Road


GUEST BLOGGERS: Susan Pohlman and Margaret Feinberg

Elizabeth Gilbert's best-selling memoir, "Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia," has inspired other women to hit the road on a quest for self-discovery. Two women who followed Gilbert's lead are Susan Pohlman, author of "Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Home" (Guideposts Book) and Margaret Feinberg, whose memoir is called "Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wool, Wine, and Wild Honey" (Zondervan/HarperCollins). We asked Pohlman and Feinberg to reflect on their personal journeys.

By Susan Pohlman
Great memoirs like Elizabeth Gilbert's "Eat, Pray, Love" are helping us visualize an unstructured life journey and realize that, yes, we can give voice to our restlessness and take control of our own stories. Today, women - historically left off the lists of the great explorers that shaped history - are gathering courage and venturing out on their own. Along the way, we are celebrating a sense of renewal and self-redefinition by sharing our experiences with others.

No one was more shocked than I was at my sudden departure from convention. I was a product of an era that espoused duty, service to others, and raising my hand when I had a question. Rules were to be followed - it was the path to the American Dream. Any fool knew that love looked like June and Ward Cleaver. What Mike and Carol Brady had to deal with was a stretch, but even they found happiness and order with the help of Alice. I was devastated when, after I had recreated those beloved TV scenes in my own life, the director kept yelling, "Cut! Where's the deep joy, Susan? Try it again, and this time, stop grimacing."

One day, at the grocery check-out, I became suddenly, soulfully, aware that the endpoint of my life would be a plain old period. I would never win the exclamation point reserved for the exhilarating lives of the movie stars whose photos taunted me from the magazine covers. Peering around, I saw lines of distracted faces and far away eyes. This was the sum of a life spent following the rules. I considered tying the plastic bag over my head then politely asking the shoppers around me to ignore my choking sounds.

As a young wife and mother, I read the books and articles on how to nurture a marriage and a family. Not once did I see "adventure" named as a basic human need. Now I believe that it was a devastating omission on the authors' part. Had I understood the psychology of adventure, I would not have spent years consciously and subconsciously blaming my husband for my own boredom. Like it was his fault that my choices did not include soul-stretching escapades.

In 2003, my husband and I chose adventure together rather than ending our marriage. We stepped out of our ordered life in Los Angeles and into the disarray of the unknown. We moved our children to Italy on a whim and a prayer, desperate to keep our family together. I didn't know at the time what was missing between us, only that we were exhausted from trying to figure it out. Venturing out into the world without a plan, we discovered the restorative power of travel and the intimacy it creates. It was the salve that healed a myriad of wounds. We will never live without it again.


By Margaret Feinberg

I can't help but agree with Augustine, "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." With the relative ease of travel these days compared to thirty or fifty years ago, it's no wonder women are taking to the road to discover more about the world--and themselves. Elizabeth Gilbert opened up our imaginations to the notion that one of the most powerful ways to capture an honest snapshot of our true selves is through immersion in a different culture. When we take to the road to taste, touch, see, and experience new places we uncover hidden facets of ourselves--truths we could not discover any other way.

Rather than traveling overseas, I chose to search for spiritual truths in an agrarian setting in the United States. My four-part journey included observing a modern day shepherdess who cared for a flock outside her Oregon home, walking the fields of a Nebraska farm, exploring the mysteries of a bee colony in Colorado and discovering the intricacies of pruning with a vintner in Napa Valley.

Why did I go? Because I am increasingly aware that the earthy culture of the Bible is very far removed from the modern suburban world. There's so much I wanted to touch and taste and feel and understand. With each stop, I asked those I encountered to respond to passages of scripture not as theologians but as observers of everyday life. Their answers illuminated spiritual truths I had never recognized. Each leg of the journey answered spiritual questions yet raised many more. Among warm living rooms and wet fields, I found myself asking tough questions of my companions, myself, and God. Through this spiritual adventure, I discovered that however fractured my faith may be, hope remains--a hope I did not know I possessed before I ventured off.

My wish is that other women (and men) will scout the divine or embark on whatever journey they need to learn more about themselves. It's amazing what clarity emerges when you step outside the familiar--and how the pages of our lives turn into chapters, books, and volumes of personal growth.


By Steven E. Levingston |  September 14, 2009; 5:30 AM ET Steven Levingston
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