Dream Live Learn
My Muse Made Me Do It
(Essay submitted to Elizabeth Gilbert’s publishers for her Eat Pray Love Made Me Do It anthology)
(Nope, it didn’t make the cut…)
What would Elizabeth do? Admittedly, these four words haunted me on a cellular level in the months after the Eat Pray Love phenomenon first swept the world. An ordinary life became secretly less bearable knowing a gutsy blonde thirty-something writer from New York had rejected the conventional character role and written her own script–with her own unconventional rules. Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir did more than plant a seed within me. Her story spawned an awakening that brought with it a hunger for life that would no longer be satisfied by scraps. The mundane, once swallowed like a slippery blue pill, suddenly caught in the throat like a splintered bone, and I was either going to choke on society’s lies about how life was supposed to look or embrace my own truth: I wanted more.
As a single mother, a high school teacher, and part-time waitress, I can assure you, boredom wasn’t the culprit. I wasn’t searching for something to keep me busy; I was searching for something to feed my soul. For years, I had dreamed of exploring the globe, of soaking in other cultures and seeing the world through a different lens, but like many people, I viewed travel and adventure as an out-of-reach luxury meant for the rich and famous. My dreams sat sad and shrunken on a shelf waiting for “someday” to come and set them free. But something about Liz’s memoir left me just uncomfortable enough to start looking at things differently. Instead of seeing and accepting what was, I started imagining what could be, and this shift in perspective allowed me to see through the illusory veil that bound me to monotony and blinded me to possibility. Suddenly, the impossible seemed not only possible–but imperative.
In a beautiful sort of way, Liz ruined me.
She shattered the weak and broken layer of me that lived in fear and acted out of obedience by showing me that “the rules” are only the rules if you agree to them. Underneath my weakness was a coat of armor that had never been put to proper use, and I was determined to put it to the test. Merely surviving life, maintaining the lawn, and making my credit card payments on time was no longer enough. I wanted magic. I wanted epic. I wanted freedom.
And so, Elizabeth became my ethereal muse, my invisible friend, and my imaginary confidant assuring me that if I leapt, the net would indeed appear.
So leap I did.
In the summer of 2011, I quit my teaching job of 5 years, gave away a hoarder’s houseful of belongings, fostered out my beloved Labrador, Buddha, and declared to the universe–and anyone else willing to listen–that my twelve year old daughter and I were going on an international sojourn abroad. Mind you, this was all before I knew exactly where we were going, before I had been offered employment elsewhere, and before I had found tenants to move in and pay my mortgage. But, as some wise sage once said, if you take one step towards your dream, it will take two steps towards you. It was a dance with destiny, and I was following its lead–wherever it was going.
While my heart had been set for years on moving to Europe and securing a job in an international school, ideally in Italy, England, or Turkey, I found myself enchanted by the fantasy of Liz’s life, daydreaming about living and teaching in Indonesia. Before Eat Pray Love I had never been inclined to even visit Asia, but, I thought, if it worked for Liz, it could work for me. Sure enough, within weeks of deciding to jump ship, I manifested an opportunity and was offered a job in a small school in Bali just outside of Denpasar. My memoir, I decided, would be called Dream Live Learn. And, of course, it would be dedicated to my faithful muse, Ms. Gilbert.
Because I had a child in tow, there were plenty of raised eyebrows and warnings to wade through with friends and strangers asking: Is this really responsible? Is it safe to take a child to a third world country? Is it wise to uproot your daughter and pull her out of school? What about her friends? What about stability? Did you read Eat Pray Love or something? What about your 401(k)? (Which I cashed out) What about health insurance? What about vaccinations? What about terrorism?
Honestly, I didn’t have a rational response to any of their queries. I couldn’t say, I just have this feeling everything is going to work out. But that was the truth. Not the blue pill sort of truth others were used to swallowing, but it felt true in every fiber of my being. I knew it was time to go, and I knew we would be okay. And, of course, I had Liz by my side. Her only question was: “What’s your ‘word’”? My word, deep down, has always been believe.
By July 4th my daughter and I were standing on Kuta Beach in Bali, Indonesia celebrating our newfound independence. We were living the dream. Almost.
There were a few major glitches upon our arrival in this very foreign country–which would have made for juicy pages in the memoir I never ended up writing–but synchronicity worked its magic, and by one auspicious encounter after another, our paths were safely paved by a real and ever-present providence. Angels in many forms found their way into our story and will forever remain a sacred part of it. If there was ever any doubt that “The Physics of the Quest” was a true and tangible force, I no longer needed convincing. We were guided, and we were protected.
I’d love to share the many delicious details of our adventures on that tiny island, about meeting Ketut Liyer and his asking me to read aloud a post card he had received from Liz (talk about surreal), and about my experience with Wyan and Tutti, but for the sake of keeping this essay to the 1500 word maximum, and in the interest of sharing the most important lesson I learned, I will have to give the abridged version of this tale.
While meeting the characters from Elizabeth’s story was certainly remarkable, it wasn’t exactly magical because–as I quickly realized–they were her characters from her story–not mine. Elizabeth’s memoir is about her soul’s path, her questions, her answers, and her kindred spirits. In some slight way, I almost felt that I had trespassed on sacred ground that wasn’t mine to explore.
We all have our own stories, our own “personal legends” as author Paulo Coehlo describes, and those destinies are ours alone. We share our journeys with others to inspire them and show them magic awaits, but we are each our own alchemist. And this was one of the more beautiful lessons my muse, Elizabeth Gilbert, gracefully taught me during my faithful leap into the unknown. In essence, as so many great spiritual teachers have said, she was saying to the world: “You too can be brave and do what I do,” which isn’t the same as saying: “Be me and do exactly what I did and go exactly where I went.” We can be encouraged by another’s course, but we each have our own roads to map out.
And so, early on in my adventure, I surrendered someone else’s dream for my own and allowed my quest to take its divinely unique form.
As it turned out, for reasons too long to explain here, Bali wasn’t going to be our forever home after all. After two months, countless insights, and endless escapades all our own, we bid the island and our new soul-friends adieu and ended up traveling through Europe, where I’d always dreamed of going. I fell in love with England, had a brief affair with Italy, and ended up settling in Istanbul, Turkey where I accepted a better suited teaching position. With a soul full of memories and a heart full of new kindred spirits, we have since returned to the US where the adventure still continues because, as I have also learned, it never really ends. My epic quest for More is decidedly infinite and ultimately more internal than I’d imagined.
Had I written my memoir, I think it may have inspired others to believe in their own capacities for courage and live out their own epic odysseys. Perhaps even I could have served as someone’s humble muse. But, since it was never written, I can only leave readers with this brief snippet of my adventures in the hopes that the moral to this manifesto is taken to heart: Dream your own dream. Live your own life. Learn your own lessons.
And, of course, sing praises to your muses, whatever form they take. Thank them, love them, and trust in their guidance.
Thank you, Liz.
Much Love and Magic
Ever Your Anam Cara,
An Unpopular Essay by your Anam Cara Cat:
For the Love of Jobe
Our tabby, Jobie Lee, is (quite obviously) the handsomest cat in town. He knows this.
And he knows he is safe and loved and protected.
Let it be said that I haven’t always been a fanatical animal lover by any means. I’m irritated by animal hair, grossed out by animal odors, inconvenienced by animal dependency, and intolerant of animal anarchy.
Jobie, incidentally, embodies all of these things. His gray hairs cling to every piece of black clothing I own. His litter box is the bane of my existence (“Fresh Step” my arse). He thinks he’s the boss of me and demands my attention at 6 AM seven days a week. And his favorite pastime is unrolling the expensive Quilted Northern into the toilet.
That said, I am, admittedly, in cat-love.
Some say rose-colored glasses can be deceiving. But I assure you, these love-tinted lenses have opened my eyes and allowed me to see a divine truth that’s so true and so blatantly obvious I’m ashamed I didn’t see it sooner: All animals are sentient beings who have an inherent right to live free of fear, pain, suffering, and exploitation.
Why is it that we recognize our domestic “fur-babies” have their own unique personalities, feelings, habits, and feel joy and pain, yet we conveniently convince ourselves that other animals – which we refer to as “farm animals” – don’t have the same capacities? Pigs, for example, have incredibly distinct dispositions and are smarter than dogs; they are considered one of the most intelligent animals on Earth, alongside dolphins, elephants, and orangutans, yet we casually celebrate International “Bacon” Day without blinking an eye. Cows, chickens, lambs, and turkeys are also highly intelligent beings who feel and think and have their own quirky character traits, yet we serve them up on plates as if they’re inanimate commodities. If Western culture had an International Golden Retriever Jerky Day or an Elephant Stir-fry Friday, society would throw a gut- raging fit. Hmmm. Who smells hypocrisy? Why is it that some animals (we won’t mention any names) can lie lazily atop the refrigerator while some lie cut up and frozen inside the freezer? Why aren’t all animals privy to the same reverence, adoration, and protection that our “domesticated” or “exotic” animals are granted? What determines a life to be sacred? Appearance? Availability? Intelligence? Productivity? Society’s selective indifference is a phenomenon labeled as “Speciesism” or “Carnism,” which refers to the belief system or ideology that humans are inherently superior to animals and – quite arbitrarily – deem some animals “pets” while others are considered food.
Simply put – it’s brainwashing. We’ve been disassociated – desensitized – conditioned to ignore the origin of our meals and the suffering of innocent beings. We proudly post pictures of our “barbecued ribs” and “California sushi rolls” and “spicy chicken wings” and as if we’re posting pictures of our first born, when in reality, we’re posting pictures of death, pain, and destruction. Those who attempt to draw attention to the madness are called “left-winged radicals” or “crazy extremists,” which, as we know, is historically what society does to people who make others uncomfortable by thinking outside of the box and causing others to question their behaviors and beliefs.
Fervently believing animals are inanimate and inferior doesn’t make it so, just as Hitler’s belief that some races were inferior to others didn’t make it true. However unintentional it may be, the masses are unconsciously contributing to a heinous holocaust and responsible for the ethical, environmental, and health related repercussions that will infinitely affect all of humanity.
For the love of Jobe, think. Make the connection.
An Unpopular Essay:
A Word About History, Humanity, and Change by your Anam Cara Cat:
Historically, humans have been conditioned – brainwashed – into participating in monstrous crimes against humanity and nature believing them “natural,” “God’s will,” or a matter of “survival of the superior.” We’ve seen it with slavery until enough people had the courage to speak and act against it. (Yet slavery still exists in cleverly concealed corners of the world.) We’ve seen it with multiple holocausts until enough people had the courage to speak and act against it. (Yet genocide is still occurring in foreign lands.) We’ve seen it disguised as justice when people were denied basic human liberties based on sexual orientation until enough people had the courage to speak and act against it. (Yet bigotry still pervades every society.) The more people who participate in a heinous act, the more acceptable it becomes. The longer people participate in a heinous act, the easier it becomes. The less we think about what we’re doing, the less we question the necessity or the inhumanity behind such acts. But that doesn’t make them any less formidable. So when will we recognize and have the courage to speak and act against the gross injustice within the culture of animal agriculture? Animal agriculture is the number one environmental threat to air, land, and water and consequently the leading cause of global warming. But that’s not enough to get our attention. Thousands of animals are slaughtered per second worldwide – the greater majority of them tortured throughout their lives and killed inhumanely. But that’s not enough to get our attention. Science has proven that animals, like humans, are sentient beings who feel pain and fear as much as they do pleasure and security. But that’s not enough to get our attention. Multiple scientific studies prove it is both unnatural and unhealthy to consume animal products. But that’s not enough to get our attention. At some point, we have to ask: What exactly does consume our attention? Smart phones and selfies? Sports? Celebrities? Politicians? Cable TV? We have to choose to be wiser than that. The veils of hypocrisy and ignorance that blind us to the atrocities we are unconsciously participating in can be removed. We are not zombies. We can live consciously. We can question the status quo. We can see the truth and act accordingly. And it will take courage. We can choose to be the change – however unpopular, inconvenient, or uncomfortable it may be – or we can choose to perpetuate the monstrous mentalities that weaken every society and poison our souls.