I said yesterday that I would talk about that book I read on my recent road trip. I will. The book was Julie & Julia by Julie Powell. I know, I know, I’m way behind on the curve. The movie has already opened. Yes, I will be going to see the film, but no, I haven’t seen it yet.
I think part of the reason I kept putting this one off on my reading list was simply the fact that I have such strong memories of Julia Child. My mother, back in the days long before anyone had thought of The Food Network, used to watch most of the cooking shows on PBS. The Romangoli’s Table, Yan Can Cook, show after show featuring Jacques Pepin…but my strongest memories are of watching in fascination as Julia Child careened her way around her kitchen, seemingly courting disaster at every turn until she presented a beautiful and delicate French dish to my wondering eyes.
Julia mesmerized me. I’m not certain my mother ever actually made a dish Julia taught on her show, but she was a fan, too. She owned both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Julie Powell doesn’t seem to have come from such a Juliacentric background. Still, one day while visiting her family, she suddenly decided to make off with her mother’s copy of The Book. And after a horrible day of working a job she found unappealing, being reminded by her gynecologist that a woman nearing thirty with PCOS should probably have a child sooner rather than later if she wanted one, and watching a woman have a complete mental break as she waited for the subway train she needed to get back to her apartment, Julie found that Julia Child made everything okay again with a bowl of potato soup.
Shortly after that, the Julie/Julia project was born. Julie decided to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking – all 524 of them – in a single year and blog about doing it.
Obviously, the book is about her efforts and her successes and her failures along the way. Of course there are discussions both hilarious, triumphant, and discouraging about the various dishes she makes. There are passages that can churn the stomach even while exercising the funny bone, such as her very first battle with bone marrow. There are passages in this book that are definitely not for the faint of heart, nor for those who find offal offensive.
But in the end, the book is about far more than one frustrated secretary facing thirty and deciding to cook a lot of retro French dishes. No, it’s about grabbing the brass ring of life. It’s about finding something that brings you joy, no matter whether anyone at all – including you – understands why it brings you joy. It’s about choosing to find meaning, being bold, and refusing to let the daily grind make you nothing but ground down. It’s about the tiny bit in all of us that longs to tilt at windmills and climb things simply because they’re there.
Sometimes it’s enough to do something simply because you got it into your head to do it. Every person I know who has approached life with that attitude has been able to find joy, whether permanent or sporadic. Most of the best decisions in my life have come about this way. I might not know why I felt a need to do these things, but I did and they paid off in ways I could never have imagined. I took my first acting course this way, began writing this way, learned to make bobbin lace this way, and discovered how wonderful Mr. Twistie is just this way. I have found joy and meaning in every one of these whimsical decisions.
If there’s a thing you’ve been considering doing but thought it was too silly or too self-indulgent or too pointless, please, take another look at that project. I don’t care if it’s building a replica of Stonehenge out of toothpicks in your garden or writing up the story of Obama’s election in the form of an ancient Icelandic saga, or translating the complete works of Shakespeare into Pig Latin. Sometimes in life you just have to roll the dice and see how it works out. Take that class, create that artwork, start that screenplay, or take a year to learn everything you can about how the very first steam engine worked.
Time is our most precious commodity. And sometimes you just need to spend some in a seemingly frivolous way to find the greatest rewards for your investment.