Wednesday, November 14, 2007

For Proust, Whose Work I Don't Know At All

The voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

I woke up today with that quote playing over and over again in my head, mantra-like. The voyage of discovery, I thought, as I sat up in bed and scowled at my alarm clock. Having new eyes, I reminded myself as I brushed my teeth. Voyage AND discovery, I whispered silently as I turned on the shower. New landscapes, new eyes, I thought, as I washed, and headed through the misty too-warm-a-day-for-November air to start my day.

The voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

I asked myself as I walked hastily to my dentist appointment, do I NEED new eyes? Am I thirsting for discovery? Of course I am, I answered myself. Isn’t everyone?

This mantra, this mantra repeated itself over and over in my head today as I went about my day. It repeated itself as I wandered into store after store, buying things for the trip. It arrived in my head for a simple reason. The mantra planted itself in my brain because I was reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. The book is very self-involved. Naturally, you say, it’s a memoir. But no, this book is self-involved because it’s more like a journal than a memoir. It’s self-involved because the author decides she needs to be self-involved for a year before she scatters into a million unidentifiable pieces, and then after her journey, she shares her story with the world. It was hard for me to get into this book, even though I know so many people who told me that they couldn’t put it down. But really, it was hard for me to read at first, hard to tap into someone else’s selfish rants. But somewhere just after her time in India came to an end and before her time in Indonesia was fully underway, I woke up with a Proust quote in my head, and over and over it played.

I finished the book today in a coffee shop in Shadyside. For those of you who don’t know, Shadyside is in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is this place where I have felt the greatest moments of self-doubt, even a twinge of self-loathing, in my young life. It is a city that has caused me to reexamine myself, to answer some difficult questions, to grieve some difficult griefs. But I finished the book in this coffee shop in Pittsburgh and I went to the bathroom and as I washed my hands, I looked in the mirror. Rather, I should say that I saw myself in the mirror. No, I NOTICED myself in the mirror. And while I am not a woman who regards her physical appearance with much esteem, what I saw in the mirror surprised me: “you look better than you thought you looked, Lizzi. You look pretty good. You look pretty. You look pretty.” And there it was. I was standing in a bathroom in Pittsburgh, all by myself, with nothing interesting to look at except myself, and I was having new eyes.

I left the coffee shop and spent more money on things that I will surely fail to use on our trip. I left the coffee shop and walked about the streets of Pittsburgh, in misty air that smelled faintly of latkes, and people smiled at me as I walked by them. And I smiled back. Which was when I realized that I was actually smiling FIRST, which is why THEY were smiling back at me.

It occurs to me now, as I write this, that this voyage of discovery on which I am about to embark, it is my chance to look through my old eyes, my eyes that have carried me through these 29 years, so far, and to see what new things they will show me – about myself, about my partner, about my friends and family, about the rest of the whole wide world. It is a chance to look through these old eyes, and to experience this amazing (not crazy) voyage of discovery. It is a chance to look through old eyes and see through them as though they are new, as though someone gave me a gift of new and clear eyesight, and a voyage with its sole mission of discovery. As it turns out, I am ready.

1 comment:

Amanda said...

I saw a quote today that reminded me of this post: It's not about the destination; it's about the journey.