“Your problems aren’t bad enough”: Privilege and the personal essay

eatpraylove.jpgBefore leaving home on an April Sunday to drive to an Elizabeth Gilbert lecture/workshop in Detroit, I got into a small argument with Joe about, well, Elizabeth Gilbert.

“I hope you have a good time. Personally, though, I can’t imagine ever wanting to read that book,” Joe said, referring to “Eat Pray Love.”

“This event isn’t about ‘Eat Pray Love.’ She’s got a new book out about creativity,” I said.

But then, like a scab you just can’t stop yourself from pulling off, I asked, “But why would you never read ‘Eat Pray Love’?”

“Because this woman basically took a year off of work to travel and go to all these amazing places, and it sounds like all she does is complain,” said Joe. “Nobody else can just take a year off on a whim. Other people with real problems have to just keep going in their lives.”

“That’s pretty reductive, and it’s not really fair,” I said. “You haven’t read the book. She was going through a divorce when she sold the idea for the book, so she got an advance and used that and her savings to travel for 9 months. But even if she had been rich, does that mean she has nothing meaningful to say about her experience? I mean, you’re right, most people aren’t able to do what she did. But that made me all the more curious to read about what it was like, and what insights she managed to take away from it.”

The debate continued, though the time when I’d have to choose between continuing this verbal cage match and being late for Gilbert’s talk was fast approaching.

But my face burned, and I was all in. And there was a reason for that. Continue reading