Elizabeth Gilbert’s “The Signature of All Things”

signature of all things elizabeth gilbert

I saw Liz Gilbert speak at the Malibu Public Library last June with my friend Melanie. It was a perfect location, of course, yet also strangely comic, populated as it was with the type of elderly Malibu resident who goes to all of the free events at the library, and so are inclined to maybe not defer to the visiting talent, giving celebrity its due. It was a refreshing crowd, and Gilbert managed them and their questions with grace and kindness.

Otherwise, she captivated, and at times it felt like it was just Gilbert and Melanie and myself sitting there. Gilbert spun tales of tales for over an hour, describing her tenuous relationship with ideas, and telling us all how her new novel The Signature of All Things came into being. Part of that story reminded me that Ann Patchett exists, and so off I went in fangirl zeal to read her latest works as well.

One of her slides showed the vast card collection upon which she had made and organized her notes. It filled seven large boxes. She investigated and researched for years…and then she started writing.

The patience and diligence and self discipline this task requires seems no small feat to me, a blogger who cannot bear to persevere through a post if it takes more than one sitting, abandoning a draft if distracted or called away by a more pressing matter.

But Gilbert’s patience is well worth it. Like her main character, Alma Whittaker, she seems to have had nothing but time. It is an epic tale of a woman’s life beginning with another, that of her father. The novel encompasses history, science, politics, geography, navigation, life aboard a ship, in the jungle, in the growing metropolis of Philadelphia in the 1800′s. But as any great story that catches my eye, it is about one person and her search for something.

I bristled at Eat, Pray, Love. I struggled academically through Committed in preparation for Gilbert’s appearance. But I absolutely relied upon The Signature of All Things, for it has gotten me through my latest episode of back pain, well, nearly. I still feel the pain, but I also still feel the novel.

She found herself pacing her rooms in the night, pressing one hand against her chest, for fear her ribs would cleave open and her heart would fall to the ground.

With this, Whittaker is experiencing extreme grief. But I find myself doing this – clutching my chest – in grief and joy and empathy alike. I am astounded to discover that I am not the only one. Whittaker may be imaginary, but she belongs to all of us now, as any good character does once she is put to ink. I barely restrained myself from clutching my heart as I read the last chapter and said goodbye to this story. My one regret about reading this book is that I raced through it so quickly because I was resting my back for more than a day. Better to have savored it.

Sidelined

I threw my back out again, but it’s no cause for alarm. This time I’m just bored.

This happens periodically – my back gets stiff and sore and it gets worse and worse until finally I am rendered fairly useless, at least physically. I’m not quite sure what brought it on this time, maybe a combination of lack of exercise, and infrequent attention to stretching in the morning, which I must do daily to keep my muscles in working order – then suddenly I planted a garden! We also had rain this weekend, which was probably just a coincidence, but I found myself wondering if I’ve become like an old arthritic sailor who can predict the weather in his bones.

oscars in bed

Either way, I rested most of Sunday and then since I was just sitting here, I watched the Oscars. The entire show. I muted the program during the musical numbers – I’m over U2, and I couldn’t handle Adele Dazeem’s screechy version of “Let It Go,” which, it is interesting to note, I had not actually ever heard even in its original manifestation. I also muted or paused some of the acceptance speeches, and I toggled back and forth among Twitter, Facebook, and the analog (paper) version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things during the three hour broadcast. What can I say? When one has not seen even one of the nominated films, one gets bored by the Oscars. And even the online snark didn’t do it for me this year. I just thought it was too mean. As we get older, do we lose our prickly edges? It might seem so.

This morning I felt a bit better – an entire day of laying around doing nothing was good for me in more ways than one – but after making lunch for the boys and sending them off to school the pain was just as bad as ever, so here I am back in bed again. I had been dreading my every-other-Monday volunteer hour in Brady’s class, not just because I’m over volunteering in the class, but because it involves so much bending over and just the thought of it makes me wince in pain. Miraculously, I got an email informing me that the kids’ schedule was different today because of Dr. Seuss’ birthday. So, thanks to him, my calendar is clear.

Yet I am not excited about the idea of just sitting here watching TV, reading, and mindlessly checking in on social media all day, so I made a list of tasks I can complete from the relative comfort of my resting position. Phone calls, paying bills, my writing gigs, my social media gig, all of these have items I can handle here because I have a laptop. With the children gone for the day, I can even keep my attention on the task at hand.

Writing about it all here, first, by way of procrastination, feels the way my blogging felt long ago, when I checked in almost daily to record the mundane details of my life. Whether or not anyone ever read them, it gave me comfort to mark the day, to record that this or that happened, to keep track of time passing.

Whatever else this blog has given me, there is always this record. It is almost ten years old, and over the last few years, as other bloggers I’ve known for all this time have shut down their sites or changed them dramatically, I wondered whether I should, too, but that never felt quite right. Another of those venerable original bloggers announced her shift today, and I can’t say I’m surprised – I know that she is talented in several media, and that she has been working more on her film making lately – but I will say that it makes me sort of sad. I know my blog is not known to many, but the one by one departure of my respected long time peers from this pastime makes me feel like a lone dinosaur, pawing at the dried up edges of the muddy pond, wishing we didn’t have to evolve or go extinct.

Or maybe that’s just the Vicodin talking. I know so many bloggers from the old days who still hang around refreshing their content and continuing to share their stories to my great delight and possibly their own. But Liz is right in reflecting that so much has changed. Maybe the wider public’s view of blogging is completely different from how I see it, though, which is as it was in the beginning: this site is still a place for me to tell whatever story I want to tell, even if it’s just the boring details of my day spent in bed. Maybe nobody will read it. Maybe somebody will stumble upon it when her back goes out, and she’ll feel better, not the only lump of flesh in the world who cannot function or get anything done today.

Either way, here I am, giving my body the time (and so lucky to be able to do so!) to heal before I leap out of bed to do all the exciting things I was planning: laundry! a trip to the bank! grocery shopping! I mean, what is life without all that adventure?

Gluten-Free Pie Recipes for Pi Day, on Foodie

This opportunity to create a collection of gluten-free pie recipes is sponsored by Foodie.

If you’ve seen me around the internet or in person lately, you may have read or hear my whining about my elimination diet. Long story short, I’m cutting out a whoooolllllleee bunch of foods for 90 days to see if I am truly allergic to them. I am investigating other solutions to the problem of my occasional crippling tummyaches, but for now this is the plan.

As such, I’m on a gluten-free, dairy-free, low glycemic diet. It’s pretty challenging, but it’s forcing me to be super creative with preparing my food or else I go faint with hunger.

And sometimes a girl’s gotta have a slice of pie.

I made this collection of a dozen pies in anticipation of choosing a suitable pie for Pi Day, March 14 (3.14 – get it?) that I can serve to my family and also enjoy while on this crazy diet. The collection is on Foodie, a site and app that is like a cross between Pinterest and Foodgawker. It’s very easy to make collections – I just installed the bookmarklet in my browser (I’m sweet on Firefox these days) and I click it every time I come across a recipe in my travels that I want to remember later. Foodie has a lot of recipes already saved by other readers, so it is easy to put in a few keywords and come up with a wealth of recipes to browse.

My head explodes with all the pie recipes and now I’m really hungry. AGAIN. Anyway, this is the first of these recipes I’m going to try: Gluten Free Cherry Blueberry Pie. Because my friend Yvonne can taste it and tell me if I did it wrong – it’s her recipe!

Flashback Friday: Being John Malkovich

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I have no recollection of this. My files say it’s from 1999.

I know I’m the one in the middle with the fake combover, and that’s Christine on the left, and my dear Heather on the right. Heather is recovering from surgery, so I found the most awesome photo of her to put up here. Love you, Hinkee.