Thoughts on the literary followup to Eat, Pray, Love

I’ve been waiting for a long time for the follow-up book to Eat, Pray, Love from Elizabeth Gilbert. I was psyched when I heard it was about marriage. I’m married, and it frequently feels like playing a chess game while blindfolded and with the rules constantly changing. It feels like Calvin-Chess-Ball. Oh, and it’s culturally expected that I’ll handle it correctly the first time with dignity and grace. Clearly, culture doesn’t know me.

So when I heard that her next book was about marriage and the cultural differences, I was elated. I like her writing style. I like her research methods. I was looking forward to some fresh perspectives…for the sake of balance and sanity.

About the author herself: I’ve spoken with a lot of people who thought the author was indulgent and whiny about her year-long trip around the world. She should get a job/husband/self-control/etc. Whatever. I’d take just about any amount of criticism if I had the opportunity to travel the world for a year and the literary skill to write about it.

On to the book:

As per usual, I dog-eared the hell out of a book. I always do. Here are some of my own personal highlights out of it:

1) On Hmong women’s reaction to the Western practice of placing the marriage relationship at the center of their lives: “[None of the Hmong women were] placing her marriage at the center of her emotional biography in any way that was remotely familiar to me…I did not see [the Hmong women] weaving overexamined myths and cautionary tales about their marriages…nor did I see the Hmong women crafting the character of ‘the husband’ into either the hero or the villain”…(pages 35-37)

(Here I will interject- I love the phrasing ‘at the center of her emotional biography.’ I don’ think too many women think of their emotional investments this way, but it is an interesting way to phrase what is a huge part of our lives and motivations.)

2) On divorce as a social issue: “If you honestly want to have a society in which people choose their own partners on the basis of personal affection, then you must prepare yourself for the inevitable. There will be broken hearts…broken lives. Exactly because the human heart is a mystery, love renders all our plans and all our intentions a great big gamble. Maybe the only difference between first marriage and second marriage is that the second time at least you know you are gambling.” (page 83)

As a child of divorce, I was raised without a negative stigma attached to divorce. Or, at least I was moving too fast and being a kid, too busy to notice adult politics until I was at least….23 or so. Late bloomer. To me, marriage is as fallible as humans are. We have good intentions and we want to pretend that if we attach those intentions to our concept of God, that we will be more successful. Respectfully, I disagree.

3) “You cannot stop the flood of desire as it moves through the world, inappropriate though it may sometimes be. It is the prerogative of all humans to make ludicrous choices, to fall in love with the most unlikely of partners, and to set themselves up for the most predictable of calamities.” (page 95)

4) “[Statistically] marriage as an institution has always been terrifically beneficial for men…we have to start with the cold, ugly fact that marriage does not benefit women as much as it benefits men.” (page166)

Again, as a child of divorce, I agree with the main thrust of this statement. I’ve seen it to be true the way stereotypes are true…there’s always no shortage of exceptions, but overall it is fairly accurate. (Notice I said stereotypes and not prejudices? Yea, remember that before anyone flies off the handle and comments on that little jewel.)

5) On why the ritual of marriage is so important (and all rituals in general): “[Ceremony] is the circle that we draw around important events to separate the momentous from the ordinary. And ritual is a sort of magical safety harness that guides us from one stage of our lives into the next…what my friends and family wanted when they were asking for a public wedding ceremony [from me]…was to be able to move on with their lives knowing with certainty where everybody stood in relationship to everybody else.” (page 249)

6) “People don’t wait for permission…they go ahead and create what they need.” (page 263)

Beautiful.

I ended up dog-earring about 18 pages of this book that I wanted to go back and re-read. Unfortunately, by the time I went back to some of the pages, I’d forgotten what the older Me wanted myself to re-read and re-member. All in all, it was a thoughtful journey. I’m not as skittish about the state of matrimony as the author is- though I have reason to be. But I like the sisterly support of another point of view. It helps me sharpen my own.

I highly recommend this book whether you are married or not. It’s got a good perspective that is utterly Western in it’s flavor.

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One of those days….

Ever have one of those days where you wake up and nothing in particular has happened, but your life feels drab and you wish you were suddenly a different person completely? Specifically, you wish you were that flashy, unabashedly outgoing person that you started to be before life beat you back for it?

 

Sigh….

 

Today is one of those days where I need a little sparkle.

Telling a customer ‘no’…….priceless

So part of my job is handling customer relations for a company- I run the website, I process the orders, I take calls and try to help people figure out what they need and how to get it. It’s a glamorous world.

Last week, I had a customer call and leave a message that went like this:

 

Hi my name is __________ and I placed an order with you last week. Someone please call me back and give me a status update on my order. I haven’t seen it yet and I’d like to know when it will arrive.

 

I check her order. It’s done been delivered, as they say. So I call her back. She insists it has not been delivered. Over the course of the conversation, it comes out that she entered her old shipping address into our system, so we had shipped it there.

Old address- Alabama.

New address- California.

Problem.

Upon learning that it had been shipped to the old address (she apparently thought she had done something in Paypal to enter her new address. She hadn’t. Paypal has no address listed for her at all, new or old.), she fairly ordered me to call UPS and see about getting it picked up and sent out to her.

Implication- I was supposed to handle it.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, and yes, it would be the good business thing to do. But here’s something about our business that most don’t know. We’re the middlepeople. We organize orders between the company that makes the parts, and we run the website whereby these parts are sold. Someone buys a part from us, and we buy the part from our distributor, and they send the part to the person who bought from us. So we don’t do returns (because we’ve bought the part and can’t just absorb the cost back if someone changes their mind) and once a part is delivered, our responsibility is done.

This is getting long-winded. I’ll wrap it up.

Her attitude is that I should just fix it, and that our company should eat the cost for getting the package picked up and resent. Her mistake, but we should pay for it (literally and figuratively). She’s being a bitch about it, and I’m not willing to help her while she’s being a bitch. This is why I put up with the pay and the hours- I’m my own boss, and I don’t necessarily have to tolerate abuse anymore.

So I told her to suck it.

… not really. That would be quite un-Buddhist-like of me, and I do try to honor all living beings, even when they are acting like asshats. But if you’d been on the phone call I was on, you’d have been tempted to tell her to suck it too.

What I really did was politely told her that there was nothing we could do (true enough) and that we had completed our obligation as per the order. If she could reach someone in the old neighborhood, she could arrange to have the package shipped to herself at the new location….ah, but she wasn’t interested in that at all. She was just going to call her credit card and have it reversed.

Good luck.

I got to put my foot down and stick to my principles, which are that I will not tolerate abuse from an asshat just because they feel like the customer should always be right (even when they are wrong). I don’t have to tolerate it right now.

Suck it, and have a nice day.

Damn, sometimes I love my job.

Why I sometimes say ‘no.’ And why I don’t need to explain it.

The word ‘no’ requires a disclaimer. If you tell someone ‘no’ in this culture, you usually have to explain why, to give a reason why the requester can’t get what s/he asked for. For women, this is especially true- not only do we frequently have to give a reasonable explanation for our refusal, we have to do it in a gentle, diplomatic way that soothes any hurt feelings or fragile egos.

I followed this social expectation until I started teaching. One of the defense mechanisms I developed as a teacher of pre-adolescents (and I developed many) was to simply say no and move on. When my students were first getting to know me, they would always ask why….or they’d ask the same question again, sometimes in a different way, sometimes not. I think they initially had a very low estimation of my mental prowess.

Here’s how it typically went:

Kid: “Ms. Howell, can I ______________?”

Me: “No. Take a seat.”

Kid: “Why?/Why not?/ But you let ______ do it!/ Can I __________?”

Me: “Uh huh….you asked me a question. I answered the question. Moving on….”

I came to love that refrain. You asked me a question, and I answered it. Done and done (wipes hands metaphorically clean of the situation). Once I started doing that in teaching, I started to circle around a situation that comes up in the dance community quite often that I believe started as a social courtesy and has outlived it’s usefulness.

A bit of a wind up is in order.

Social mores within a specific community evolve for a reason. Within dancing, you put yourself out there a lot and so there are several traditions that evolved in order to soften blows to the ego that come from asking someone to dance and being turned down. The (usually unspoken) rule of dancing within the Lindy Hop community currently stands as this- If someone asks you to dance and you turn them down, you sit out the rest of that dance and turn down anyone else who asks- whether you want to dance with them or not. Usually the one turning down the offer to dance will give a disclaimer of some kind-

“I’m sitting this one out.”

“Need some water.”

“About to leave.”

So the person asking is assured that s/he would have said yes to the offer, except for some extenuating circumstance. It is supposed to follow unspoken that if asked again in the future, the person would say yes. Ego assuaged. “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Except sometimes, it is you.

Sometimes I (and others) say no to a dance because I don’t want to dance with you. Not because I’m snotty, although I’m pretty sure I’ll be accused of it soon. Not because I think I’m better than you. Not because I need water or have to say hello to a friend. But because of one simple fact- you hurt me. You dance badly. Not just inexperienced, but badly. You jerk on my arm. You pull my arm down when I’m in the middle of a spin. You whip me into painful moves that you think look cool to people watching us. You are not engaged in a dance with me- you’re engaged in a dance with yourself, and are using me as a prop. You are Oblivious Dancer.

I say no to Oblivious Dancers. They dance at my expense, and don’t bother to learn how to make me comfortable…or, at least, how to not make me uncomfortable. They don’t consider me as a partner in the dance, and they don’t create a dialogue with me. There’s no back and forth communication, either because they don’t know how to enter into said communication or they don’t care to enter into it.

Here is where I tie these two themes together.

I dance to communicate. I dance to share an experience. I don’t dance to be a prop in someone else’s experience. So now I say no to people that I’ve seen act as that certain kind of oblivious partner. I just don’t dance with them. And if someone else that I like to dance with asks me to dance three seconds later, I say yes. I’m no longer sitting out whole dances just because I had to turn down someone at the beginning who is one of these Oblivious Dancers. A dancer asks to have an experience with me. I can say yes or no. They ask a question, and I answer the question. I choose not to sit out the rest of the dance just to preserve a social expectation. I have taken back my right to say no without explanation.

In offering an explanation or sitting out the rest of the dance, I think we do a disservice to the Oblivious Dancer. They don’t learn. They don’t learn the reason that they were refused and they don’t get the message that there is something critical that they need to work on. They just go on being Oblivious. This helps no one and is cowardly in a way. I think we should slowly stop this custom of sitting out the rest of a dance just because we’ve already said no. I have a right to answer the question without it affecting the rest of the song.

And a brief message to the Oblivious Dancer: If you hurt me, your forfeit the privilege to dance with me again until you improve to the point where you are conscious of me as a partner in the dance (and not a prop). Done and done.

Moving on…