The internet has been making me cranky lately. I’ve been sensing this growing resentment towards travelers and it’s making my skin itch. There’s the snotty comments scattered across the interwebs, there’s some weird infighting drama going on in the travel blogosphere (which I’m not going to touch), and then there’s the Eat Pray Love backlash. That’s the one that I can’t escape and can’t agree with.
Now I haven’t seen the movie yet but I did read the book a couple of years ago when it came out. I didn’t love it, but I thought it was pretty entertaining and I liked Elizabeth Gilbert’s personality and her emotional honesty. So I’m somewhat stumped over all this criticism. On twitter, in the mainstream media, even on my favorite feminist blog Jezebel people seem positively offended by the book and movie. Why?
Some people, like my mom, just didn’t care for Gilbert’s voice and writing style, and that’s understandable. Some found her story boring, which is fine. Some people don’t like the way she glamorizes third world countries (although in my mind Bali was already pretty glamorous, so whatever). The majority of criticism seems to be about Gilbert herself. People are offended by her “rich white girl problems” and her solution, which is essentially “navel-gazing.”
Here’s where I start to get offended.
First off- there’s something hollow about that accusation. Gilbert was NOT all that rich to begin with (although I’m sure she’s doing well now). Anyone who read the book will know that her world adventures were supported by a writer’s advance. She had a dream, she figured out a way to work and make that happen. Personally, I find that admirable.
As for the “navel-gazing” accusation, maybe I’m biased due to the nature of my own writing, but in what world is insightfulness a bad thing? Who wouldn’t love to spend some time getting to know themselves better? The book is a memoir- really what else is she going to talk about?
I’m not writing this to defend Elizabeth Gilbert, because she seems like she probably doesn’t care what people on the internet think of her anyways. And I’m not writing this to defend the book because I didn’t even LOVE it all that much. The reason I’m talking about this is because when I read these criticisms about her, and about full time travelers, they are not so secretly criticisms of MY life choices as well. After all, I’m a (relatively privileged) white girl, I’m eschewing societal norms to go travel, I’m writing about it. Hell, I really love pizza too; Gilbert and I are practically twinsies.
Luckily I haven’t gotten a lot of push back on the issue. Most people I’ve met have been friendly, supportive and curious about my trip. Part of this may be a facet of age: it’s far easier to understand a young twenty-something traveling the world then a middle aged woman who leaves her marriage to do the same. Is it okay because I don’t know any better? Or because someday I’ll “get it out of my system” and settle down and be normal?
But that’s not really true either. It’s not just ageism, and it’s not just sexism either. Just look at the internet thrashing 29-year old Nomadic Matt is getting. Some of the comments on that piece are downright venomous criticisms of his constantly traveling lifestyle. Every long term traveler will have at least one story of encountering serious criticism. The internet now makes it easier to judge each other’s life than ever.
There is a certain self-policing aspect of society that has a real problem with people doing things outside of the norm. It’s threatening. When that someone is a major blogger, or a bestselling author, or Julia Roberts, well then it’s that much easier to want to tear them down and put them back in their place.
My major life philosophy, that I am constantly reminding myself, is to live and let live. You want to quit your job and travel the world? Right on! You’re happy with your life and career and content to stay where you are? That’s great too! More power to you. I have my own goals and desires but I am not so one track minded that I can’t see that DIFFERENT people need DIFFERENT things to make them happy.
I think that last thing is what’s hard for a lot of people to grasp. My happiness is different from your happiness. More importantly: it’s not a threat to your happiness.
There is no veiled criticism of you in my choice to quit my job. When I joyfully talk about my travel plans, I’m not implying that your life is boring. Just because I want to backpack around the world doesn’t mean I think you should (unless you want to- in which case: YOU SHOULD).
So in the end it’s probably a waste of energy to get myself worked up on the comments of anonymous internet users. I’m going to keep on doing what I’m going, and people can keep on hating if they want. And why wouldn’t they? It’s a lot easier to knock people down for their choices then it is to look at our own lives and examine whether we are living them as effectively as we can.