A Country Between


Woman, whom destiny has made to be man’s superior, by trying to become his equal, falls beneath his estimation. – Inayat Khan

I have been reading Stephanie Saldaña’s new book, having loved her first, Bread of Angels, and finding this one to be wonderfully meaningful and heartening.  It is the continuation of Bread, her first years of marriage to the French monk she married after she lived in Syria for a year on a Fulbright scholarship to learn Arabic in order to study the teachings of Jesus in Islam, and both books have been lovely and poignant instructions on how to live in a war zone and still find beauty and life.  I was amazed to think that she would, after her first book, return not to Syria–we know what tragedy is transforming that ancient culture beyond belief–but to Jerusalem, with her husband.  When I read that she would, I thought, well, we will hear that she is living in some middle-class suburb and teaching or something, but not so:  she and her husband found an amazing house in the heart of life in that ancient, now-partitioned city, moving daily from one sector through checkpoints to the other,  from that house that was part of a convent and an adjunct to a neighborhood that was still holding on in the midst of of the terror breaking out all around it, and eventually in it.  We Americans would find such a life far too difficult, but she and her husband plunged right into a world where a local man sold sesame bread right on her doorstep and gave it to her family, refusing payment,  where the entire neighborhood became family, Muslims, Sufis, Christians, Jews.  And they did indeed have their first child  there, in the midst of violence and poverty and war and inconveniences that would send most of us fleeing.  And they found and became a part of Life.  This story is largely about the birth of her first child, one of the eventual three, and although they have had to leave their huge house, they still live in Jerusalem in a smaller one.  Perhaps they have chosen Life over Convenience, the great god of this culture.

I wrote a brief review of this book on Amazon, where I purchased my copy, and said that Stephanie (I can’t call her by her last name, it doesn’t seem right) is the girl I always wished lived next door.  By this, I mean that we as women have become so caught up in becoming equal as to often lose the uniqueness of womanhood, which is to be tender and tough at the same time, knowing innately what is most important, in a world of far too many women who have perverted their true natures beyond belief, all in the cause of equality.  [Redaction:  my millennial daughter who often edits for me points out that most of the women she knows are not working for equality, but equity.  A most compelling thought!  And when I wrote that, I have to admit I was thinking of the Kellyanne Conways of this world, not the countless women who struggle in a man’s world just to survive and become themselves.)  Her lyrical and poignant writing bespeaks her values:  she places her children above any other accomplishments she could have, and her love for her husband is perhaps most important of all.  Yet that is always a conundrum when we become mothers, isn’t it?  We thought falling in love with our soulmate was all-important, and then we fall in love with our children and are lost forever.  She writes of making a home and giving birth in the midst of danger and violence and the common family passages that take place in all families, as her father dies of cancer back in the States.  Her story is a common story set in a place we think to be uncommon, but that is an internal space in all of us, one that is becoming projected on our own landscape in the West, more and more.  I love most about her writing that she is a woman who is more soul than body, more being than striving, more watching than doing.  She is, perhaps, what “traditional” women are currently fleeing in the cause of becoming equal to men, in the mistaken belief that becoming like them is then the answer, instead of being what she already is:  better, innately.  It is understandable, I think, because of the world we live in, but here is someone who intuitively found a better way of carrying forward the divine heritage of womankind.

I hope you will read this wonderful book, which has made me think again about the confusion and despair of suddenly living in the age of Trump here in the States.  I think we Americans became complacent:  believing our own rhetoric, we fell asleep at the wheel, thinking we were safe, and all the while the projection of our collective shadow was growing and growing, ready to pounce, all the while complacently dreaming of our first woman president, of the fated progress of humanity, and we became derailed when our shadow overcame us.  Reading Stephanie’s book shook me out of the fog of malaise and despair most of us are experiencing increasingly after his “election,” and I realized–had been trying to articulate inwardly all along–that this is Life.  We Americans know so little of what our neighbors have been enduring for thousands of years, and we are soft and all too trusting.  Our ideals may stab us in the back yet.

Here is what I think:  a while back, I wrote about a piece by Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee that is about the cyclical nature of the universe.  He stated that we are nearing the end of one cycle, and the beginning of the next, and that such a time is always a time of darkness, of confusion, of….waiting, as in the Christian concept of the “In-Between Times”, the time between the Resurrection and the Second Coming.  I didn’t want to accept that, I wanted to continue in my New Age-y beliefs of love and light and imminent joy, and I know that there is a place where Joy waits, but for now…he was right.  We wait.  Trump and his ilk, Brexit, the tragedy of the Middle East and all countries where darkness battles with light, seemingly with imminent victory, are all symbols of that change.  Those who think they can make time hold still, who think they can return our country, at least, to the 1950s and its complacency and acquiescence to the Man, may think for a time that they can make that happen, but they are as nothing next to that power that is both might and tenderness that is moving over and closer to the world with every heartbeat.  And Stephanie, I have slept better because you did  your part to show us where and how to go.  We await the Kairos.

Be of good cheer.

“Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Always.” – Gandhi

Eat. Pray. Bore.

Awhile back, I started writing a book with some friends, and one of those friends said to me that he wanted it to be the caliber of the bestseller Eat. Pray. Love.  “We’re talking New York Times Bestseller List,” he said.  I gulped, since I was supposed to do the lion’s share of the writing.

Well, my own book is still in process, partially because I quickly discovered that group process via writing doesn’t work, and partly  because I was never entirely able to figure out what the hell he meant (about EPL, that is)…in addition to which, the book I was writing didn’t seem  to want to be what he said it ought to be.  But I finally talked myself into reading the book said friend wanted me to write, terrified because it was supposed to be such a great read, so profound, and so well-written, and I was fairly sure I could never measure up.


Well, friends, it just wasn’t all that great.  I really wanted it to be, because then that might have inspired me, and I think if I’d read it when I was in my twenties or thirties (as I assume the author was), then perhaps I would have been terribly impressed.  As it was, though, it struck me as a book that should have been entitled The Cosmo Girl Seeks Enlightenment or some such.  And oh, this is such a snarky thing to say, but. . .  the entire process seemed to have been an exercise in narcissism.

Most of all, though, I wondered about all the truly great literature that never makes a dime, while The Cosmo Girl, etc., evidently made a bundle.

Now, having gotten that off my chest, I will say that the author is probably a truly sincere seeker (at her own level), and did indeed do a reasonably good job illustrating the fruits of her search.  The book had numerous rather charming moments and a few truly lovable characters.  She was just. . . young.  It seems that life gave her what she wanted, and it didn’t prove to be as great as she thought it would be, and so she became depressed and sought a divorce, and followed it with another obsessive, attention-seeking relationship with a like-minded man.  For people in their twenties and thirties, that’s all pretty much the standard human experience, right?  Please understand, I do not say this with malice, having been there.

Anyway,  so our heroine figured out what she needed to make her happy–again–and she created–through an intricate series of events having to do with divorce lawyers–the means to make it all happen.  She went to Italy and sought the experience of pleasure.  She gorged herself on food and beauty and friendship; and well, who wouldn’t have felt better after all that pasta, wine and great art and architecture?  She made some great friends, too.

It wasn’t enough, of course, but she had planned for that, and next she went to India (where do people get all that money?), to live in her guru’s ashram and seek an experience of the Divine Being.  I must say, remembering the stories I’d heard about authentic Indian ashrams, I got the distinct impression that this was more of a resort than an ashram, although I gather that India, seeing a market for its age-old proficiency at the contemplative life, has been smart enough to create a market for us more affluent (and lazy, and luxury-loving) Westerners, and so the idea, here, was that if you want to find God, that’s where you have to go.  I mean, we all know that.  But don’t worry, it seems that at least some of the buildings were air-conditioned, and the food was really good, although not as good as pasta.  Our Cosmo Girl was still having a great time, despite the despair (read:  egotism)  for which she sought remission.  Despite the snarkiness mentioned above, I can honestly say, also, that she did have an authentic experience of awakening, and did a fairly good job of describing it.  This is something I admire, because I decided, awhile back, that while one cannot and should not be able to find words for the ineffable, it is important to point out the Footprints of the Ox for those who come after.  It is the least we can do, right?

After India, our heroine went to Bali, to live with a Shaman she’d met awhile back, and to seek balance.  She was feeling pretty good by this time, as might be imagined, and it was here that she–so far, as I understand it–found True Love.  I enjoyed her descriptions of all these places, of the people she met and the food she ate and the experiences she had, yet it was here that the story began to deflate a bit for me, and I realized what it was that had sort of disappointed me all along, and it was exactly what I’d said above:  our heroine really wanted to find love, to find a human being who would fulfill her narcissistic desires for affiliation and happiness and sex, and well…why not?  As I said, she was young, and when I was her age, I felt exactly the same.  It is only now, when I am growing older and have become thoroughly disenchanted with my experience of the earth plane, that I am impatient with love stories that end with . . . human love.  But when I was in my 30s, and awash in a sea of hormones and the urge to procreate, I’m sure I felt exactly as she did, although I find it interesting that our heroine was quite clear that she did not want children.  Being an innate breeder and natural-born Mommy-type, it is tempting to cite that narcissistic designation again, but I am aware that people who have children tend to be judgmental of people who don’t choose to have them, so I should let that alone.  Suffice it to say that, although the book had its pleasant and even charming moments, and much that I could relate to, I found it to be rather a waste of my time.  It was interesting, however, to learn that this is what becomes a bestseller these days.  I must say, I was much more reassured as to the fate of humanity when people loved Harry Potter than I was with the success of Eat. Pray . . .

Then I saw the film.  Now I know that if I am ever in need of a sure way to waste about two-and-a-half hours, I will put that film in my Netflix queue, confident that it will do the trick.  My husband and I read each other numerous examples of the reviews others had written about the film before we saw it, howling at the number of “one stars” given it, more than I’d seen any other  film of my choice get, and we therefore approached it with curiosity and trepidation.  I am pleased to report that it was not quite as bad as we had been led to believe, but it was pretty darned bad.  I will say that Julia Roberts was not nearly as bad as I’d heard she was:  the poor woman really did her darndest to play her part, and wasn’t afraid to look plain to do so, but…well, there just wasn’t much to hold on to, really.  Whoever wrote the screenplay evidently thought it would not suffice to tell the writer’s story as written, but seemed determined to beef it up with angst and Hollywood in equal measures.  I usually simply hate watching a film I’ve read the book for, because in my experience, the film never equals the book; the only films I can say I was completely satisfied with were the Lord of the Rings series, simply because although they didn’t quite follow Tolkien’s books, they were . . . complementary, in the best possible way.  But back to Eat. Pray. Love.  Again I sigh.  I have never seen a film quite so divergent from the original writer’s story and words.  In fact, the film actually caused me to appreciate the book more, simply because it was so bad it made the book look better by comparison.  Julia Roberts didn’t have a chance.  The only bright spot was Javier Bardem, who depicted a most lovely and lovable REAL MAN (in my opinion), although he didn’t strike me as remotely like the character of the Brazilian lover in the book.  As far as the rest of it, the screenwriter seemed determined to leave out all that was meaningful and profound in the book–including the characters who had given the book the most life–and inject as much Hollywood angst and schmaltz as possible.  Lucca Spaghetti became an inconsequential bald man, when he had been a fascinating and charming character in the book.  And as for Richard from Texas, even more of a bright spot in the actual book for me, well . . . what a pity.  His character alone could have carried the film.  Instead, he became a watered-down James Garner who did indeed, as the main character herself said, speak Bumper Sticker.  What on EARTH was the screenwriter thinking of???  Why was the experience of eating the “best pizza in the world” in Naples watered down to a less-than-profound dialogue about our heroine’s jeans?  Why was the delightful and humorous attempt of Wayan to get our heroine to give her even more than the $18,000 she gave her completely left out?  AND WHY ON EARTH was the trip to the island of parrots turned into a silly and vapid couple’s spat as an opportunity for our heroine to come to terms with her relationship issues?  Perhaps an even better title for this film would haven been “How to Sacrifice a Huge amount of Money, Time and a Reasonably Decent Book on the Altar of Inconsequentiality.”

I am left with only one question:  how does the author of this book, Liz Roberts, feel about the desecration that was made of her reasonably sweet and occasionally profound little novel (and it was little, metaphorically speaking)?  Perhaps she has made so much money from the entire thing that she doesn’t care?  Or perhaps I am being snarky, but if it was me, I don’t think I’d be able to sleep nights after selling my soul to the devil that is Hollywood to quite that extent.

My apologies to Liz Roberts, who probably is a Good Egg overall, and to anyone who simply loved the book, because I can see how that could be possible . . . all in all, though, Eat. Pray. Love. was on about the same level in the genre of spiritual literature as Eckhart Tolle’s books (and don’t get me started on him!).  I would recommend, if you want something inspiring for your Netflix queue, Fierce Love, about our good friend Ram Dass, and for books, The Bread of Angels, another book I ought to write about, and probably will, now I think about it.