I finally got around to watching Julie & Julia. No, that’s not quite right. It’s not like I’d been meaning to see it, or wanting to or planning on it. The only thing I knew about Julia Child was her voice; I didn’t know anything about Julie. I saved the movie on my DVR because my daughter, who is quite interested in cooking (and chick flicks), wanted to see it. And finally, last weekend, we watched it.
The opening scenes give pleasing images of deco Paris and hipster New York, and we are soon enough introduced to the conflicts of each character. Julia is bored, her talent underutilized; Julie is not as successful as her (icky) friends, and she hasn’t fulfilled the promise of her college years. Although she comes home and cooks every night, it turns out she wants to be a writer. She even wrote half a novel at some point. Meanwhile, Julia gets into cooking school, fights to hang with the male chefs, and meets a couple women of writing a cookbook. They need her help.
Suddenly the movie is not just about cooking, but about writing.
For a while I am confused every time Julie buys ingredients, cooks an amazing meal, feeds her husband or guests, gets calls from food critics, and somehow concludes: “I’m a writer!”
But I am paying more attention. Now a scene of Julie getting reader comments on her blog; now a scene of Julia typing up manuscripts. Now Julie is in the New York Times; and Julia is in Boston meeting with an editor. Now Julie is getting phone calls for book deals! Now Julia gets a letter in the mail: “Oh Paul, they will publish our book!”
I find myself increasingly engrossed in this publishing plot, tantalized by images of typewriters and manuscripts and bookshelves and scenes at the computer, the way, I’m sure, the rest of the world is seduced by images of French cuisine.
I glance over to the other side of the couch, where my daughter is fidgeting. Could she be . . . bored?
Certainly she could be; it’s not that great a movie. But despite the fact that Julie’s mother is too naggy, her husband too perfect, her job too awful, and her friends too icky, by the time the double-climax arrives, I have gotten caught up in the dual quest for publication. I know it will happen for both of them (after all, I’m watching the movie that’s based on all the books they published), but I don’t know how or when, and I know the feelings all too well – the desire, the anxiety, the despair, the delight. And so, when it happens (oops, spoiler!), I get a find myself moved in spite of myself.
My daughter is already reaching for the remote, relieved that it’s finally over.
She turns to me. “Are you crying?”
I spurt out a weak, “Oh it’s just, well they finally got…published!”
The fact is, I cry at just about anything, so it’s not saying much to say that I was crying. But that doesn’t take away from another fact, which is that publishing a book is a major emotional experience. And watching a scene of someone publishing book is, for me, a minor emotional experience.
What this movie shows that is useful for anyone who wants to become a writer is that it takes sacrifice, focus, and a lot of time. Julie gives up time with her husband; Julia has to keep going through multiple relocations and rejections. Julie’s success seemed to come in a year, but don’t forget that she’d already been a writer in college and written half of a novel before starting her blog. Julia’s road to publication took years.
In a previous post, I reflected on my ten-year journey from starting graduate school to publishing my book. I remember when I started school and how fast I wanted it (a book) to happen. But the only thing that went fast was time. The next thing I knew I was done with grad school and no book. I was moving and starting a new job – and no book. I was teaching and teaching – and no book.
And then, one day – my birthday, in fact: BOOK.
I was in my office at school. It was Friday. I was headed to a meeting in a few minutes. And: “We’d like to publish your collection.” I shut my door. Alone in my office, I cried.