Elizabeth Gilbert: Not made for “momming”
Thanks to Cathy Coley for sending me a link to Lucy Kaylin’s interesting interview with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed (as well as three other books). The interview is good reading for any writer or Gilbert fan, but the bits about motherhood — and choosing not to become a mother — are of special interest. Here are a few excerpts.
LK: While the book is fundamentally about marriage, you are also quite frank about not wanting children, which had been a big problem in your first marriage. How did you reach that decision?
LG: Where other women hear that tick, tick, tick and they’re like, “Must have baby,” for me, it was like, tick, tick, tick, “boom.” [Laughs] It was a biological clock, but it was attached to a bunch of C-4 explosives. I’ve often thought that if I had been married to somebody who wanted to be a mom, I could have done it. I used to say, “Man, I think I’d be a really good dad. I’ll be a great provider. I’m funny; I’ll go on trips with them — I’ll do all sorts of stuff.” But the momming? I’m not made for that. I have a really good mom; I know what she put into it. I didn’t think I had the support to both have that and continue on this path that was really important to me. I wasn’t married to a man who wanted to stay home and raise kids. So…
LK: You tell a story in the book that is pivotal for you, about your grandmother. She was born with a cleft palate and thought to be unmarriageable, so she got an education and took care of herself, one day rewarding herself with a $20 fur-trimmed, wine-colored coat, which she adored. Eventually she does marry. And when she gives birth to her first daughter, she cuts up the coat to make something for the child.
LG: That’s the story of motherhood, in a large way. You take the thing that is most precious to you, and you cut it up and give it to somebody else who you love more than you love the thing. And we tend to idealize that, and I’m not sure we should. Because the sacrifice that it symbolizes is also huge. Her marriage and her seven children, in a life of constant struggle and deprivation — it was heavy. And that beautiful mind, that beautiful intellect, that exquisite sense of curiosity and exploration, was gone.
I went to Africa when I was 19, and when I came back, I was showing her pictures. And I remember her stopping me and just — she had to collect herself. And she said, “I cannot believe that a granddaughter of mine has been to Africa. I just can’t imagine how you got there.” I think that her story is so central to my story. To be able to choose the shape of your own life — you sort of must do that, as an act of honor to those who couldn’t. There were times, especially when I was traveling for Eat, Pray, Love, when, I swear to God, I would feel this weight of my female ancestors, all those Swedish farmwives from beyond the grave who were like, “Go! Go to Naples! Eat more pizza! Go to India, ride an elephant! Do it! Swim in the Indian Ocean. Read those books. Learn a language. Do it!” I could just feel them. They were just like, “Go beat the drum.”
LK: Now that you’ve been hit with this tsunami of cash, is there any threat that it might insulate you from the kind of rugged, spontaneous travel that made you famous?
LG: I’ve actually never traveled less than since I got hit with a tsunami of cash. When I was in Mexico when I was 20, I remember meeting this American couple who were in their 60s, and they said, “Oh, it’s so great that you’re traveling now, before you have kids, because you won’t be able to then.” I know this is a thing that people do; they go traveling for a year, and then they hitch their leash to the wall and put their face in their feed bag and that’s the end of it. And I thought, “But I might want to keep doing this,” you know?
You can read the full interview here.
Gilbert clearly believes that banging the drum and having children would not be compatible. I can understand that perspective. I can also understand how suburban inertia can look very much like being hitched to the wall with your face in a feedbag. <shiver>
I have to admire Gilbert for knowing who she is, what she wants, and what she doesn’t want. And I have to thank her for reminding me that I DO NOT want to waste my life face-down in a bag of oats. (A bag of Entenmann’s chocolate-chip cookies, maybe.) But really. It’s a good thing I read this interview while still full of New-Year adrenaline. I’m considering posting pictures of feed bags all around my desk just to make sure I stay on track.
What about you? Have you banged any drums recently? Is drum-banging compatible with your brand of motherhood? Or are you too occupied cutting up your treasured coat in order to fashion something new for your children?