September 17, 2009

The Long and the Short of It

I saw Julie & Julia three weeks ago now, back when it was still August. I had a strong reaction to the movie and started mentally composing a blog post about it almost immediately, but then...well...pfffftttt, went the brain. Or the momentum. 

So.  The short version of it is that I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the movie, as I didn't have much hope for it at all.  I'd read Julie &  Julia last year after reading a lot of very enthusiastic reviews. I believe most of my problem with the book is that my expectations were way, way off.  I expected it to inspire me to start cooking,  to want to purchase my own copy of Julia Child's seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and get right down to chopping and sauteeing.  Instead, the book mostly inspired me to want to clean my house, specifically my kitchen, as every other page seemed to have a lot of vivid descriptions about how awful and small and dirty the narrator's  apartment was, with lots of cat hair and dirty martini glasses cluttering the counters and coffee table.  I also seem to remember a scene with maggots lurking under the dish drainer.

And while I truly loved and was inspired by Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France, I still didn't really want to see the movie, assuming that Hollywood would make it all too cutesy and cloying to bother with.  The book is always better anyway, correct?  But then I read a number of good reviews, when I'd expected it to be overwhelmingly panned, and changed my mind about wanting to pay money for it. short: pleasantly surprised. Smart, funny, clever, inspiring. A chick-flick, sorta, but one that I have a hunch my husband would enjoy too, as central to both halves of the movie (both the Julia Child and Julie Powell halves) is each woman's happy and nurturing relationships with her respective husband.  That's my review...THE END. 

Now, for the long of it: The truth behind my "pleasantly surprised" is that I thought the movie was actually quite fabulous, and I loved nearly every moment of it.  There was a real undercurrent of joy in "Julie & Julia,"as each woman initially floundered about in her unhappiness and yet found real purpose and zest for something she was passionate about, whether cooking, writing, or both.  

This isn't a spoiler here, as both halves of the movie are based on actual books, but the movie concludes with both women being recognized as writers.  Julia waves aloft her copy of the long-awaited publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and Julie Powell realizes that her blog-noodling was "real" writing after all -- she comes home to an answering machine filled with agents and editors inquiring "would you like to turn this into a book?" and "could you please call me?"  What kind of writer's wet dream fantasy is that, huh? 

When the movie ended and the credits rolled, I was a bit overcome, "verklempt" as Mike Myers' Jewish TV hostess used to declare on Saturday Night Live.  Not only did I get a bit misty, but I had to chew hard on the inside of my cheek to stop from bursting out into very real sobs. "Julie Powell is a writer," said the short sentence, in black and white up on the screen.  My chest heaved.  

Watching Julie & Julia coincided with my own re-dedication to the idea of myself as a writer, as a wife and woman who has been feeling more than a bit stuck and blocked and crammed into her (self-created) version of life.  I've been doing a good bit of personal writing lately, not on the blog (obviously, which has gathered nearly a month of dust yet again), but in the exercises mandated by the book The Artists Way.  "It will change your life," I've heard and read more than once.  I feel a little heeby-jeeby talking about it, as for one, thing, I'm not into "New Age" and "self-help" solutions in the least. Or, as Carolyn See put it in her wonderful memoir Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America,  when discussing the Laurel Canyon-Esalen-tinged, 1970s consciousness-raising she participated in, "oh, the embarrasing California-ness of it all." Yeah, so there's that. 

I don't want to discuss it much, except to say, oh, I'm trying.  I'm putting in my good faith, writing my morning pages, and yes, things are changing, slowly, slowly. Which is damn sight better than no change at all. Foremost, and most obviously for the moment, the biggest change is that I'm setting my alarm clock a half hour early to do the pages.  If you know me at all, this alone is pretty huge.  I mean, I felt that I should've truly typed that in ALL CAPS  and bold, just so you get it.  Setting my alarm early?  Two years ago when I first purchased TAW (and then let it collect dust on my book shelf)  that dictate alone, to get up early to complete these pages, was more structure and more bossiness and more work than I believed I could bear.   

But, here it is, ten years since I entered my MFA program, with all the ambition and hope and work that went into earning that degree.  Ten years, and maybe now, just maybe, after a thesis of short stories and a couple of publications, after rejection letters and contest dealines and the Squaw Valley Writer's Conference and yes, even the blog, maybe it's time I think of myself as a writer.  Even here, surrounded by women who mostly view "art" as something done by toddlers with washable paints, I want to dig in.

Here is some Julia for you, from her memoir, My Life in France, after struggling long and hard to perfect a recipe for mayonaisse: 
"I proudly typed it up and sent it off to friends and family in the States, and asked them to test it and send me their comments.  All I recieved in response was a yawning silence. Hm! I had a great many things to say abou sauces as well, but if no one cared to hear my insights, then what was the use? I was miffed but not deterred. Onward I plunged." 
Onward I'll plunge.  I feel it's reached a point where I don't even have a choice in the matter. And thank goodness.  


  1. Well, now I must go see it. Perhaps I'll postpone the grading one more day.

    Her kitchen sounds just like mine . . .

  2. Bossy enjoyed it too, when not stabbing herself at the thought of a successful blog that turns into a successful book that turns into a Nora Ephron movie. Sigh.

  3. Thanks for the visit, Bossy. I'm embarrassed to realize my blog header had been down for at least the last month. Doh! I'm back now, for reals.

    If "Dooce: The Movie" gets made by James Cameron in 3D, only THEN should you stab yourself. :-)


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