Last night I went to Barnes & Noble to see Julie Powell read from her blog-incited book, The Julie/Julia Project: 365 Days, Blah Blah Blah Some Retardedly Long and Ill-Advised Sub-Title That Seriously Contains a Math Problem and 3 Clauses
. But the idea for the project is as sharp and concise as the title is bloated: to cook every recipe in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking
in the space of a year. I mean, insano, arbitrarily outlined projects like that are right up my alley.
Obsessed as I am with Caitlin Flanagan, who writes about domestic issues in the New Yorker and formerly in the Atlantic Monthly, I had hoped that Powell's project would have her coping hilariously with 1960's expectations not only for pantry munitions but for hostessing and mothering, that it would bring to light all sorts of chasms and ironies and failed prescriptions for women and housewives. But the Times review I read, and a few others, have noted Powell's bloggery emphasis on herself, her "gal pals," engagements and hardships and whatever quotidian scurvy-catching or deck-swabbing that happened to make it into her captain's log that day.
But at the reading yesterday, where I expected to be put off by the personal, I was actually very touched. Powell constantly emphasized how stuck
she was before this project began, how unhappy she was being a broke, expendable secretary. She credits Julia Child-- or, funnily enough, "JC" as she calls her--with having saved her from drowning in her own self-doubt (she had drawers full of 3/4 finished fiction manuscripts) in a world of accomplishment and status that seemed to have no entry point for her. Someone inevitably asked at the reading "What's next for you?" and she responded, "Books...anything that keeps me from being a secretary." Powell was super traumatised by her years of being tethered to a phone in a cubicle, and is still bitter towards people in power or people who have it easy.
I was really almost on the verge of tears when she concluded the reading with the passage she had written about Child's death, which occurred near the end of her project. There was nothing sad in a wonderfully well-lived woman dying peacefully at age 92; it was Powell's expression of sheer gratitude to the woman who inspired her to create her own silly blog adventure. Child herself, Powell noted, took her first cooking class at age 27, also in a somewhat stuck situation.
Although less bitter than Powell, I understand feeling cornered by financial and professional realities, unable to plug talents you know you have into this concrete matrix of publishing or performance outlets.
When Powell says that Julia Child "saved" her, I understand completely. When someone asked her if she ever felt like quitting, she said that the project eventually became her spine, that it became so central to her identity that it would have been impossible to quit.
I've always kept a distance with the Bruni Digest, my blog project, also undertaken out of the blue, with nothing to lose. Like Powell, I created my own structured challenge course around one individual. But I've always written with myself as a fictional persona-- a scrappy, starving fool, and I made a character out of Frank, too. Where I talk about my life, it's usually an exaggerated tale of behavioral idiocy intended to excuse an extended absence: It's not a personal
But in other ways, I feel akin to Powell. I'm grateful for whatever circumstances put someone with such a silly voice as Frank in such a serious position. I try to correct Bruni critics who cite me as a fellow detractor: it's an affectionate blog. I have had fun creating the blog's voice, part pest and part acolyte, and like Powell, I feel centered by the existence of an expectant audience. Powell's other writing projects loomed too large and never seemed terminable; the blog format allowed her to publish in little bites, at a human scale. The novel I write in my head when I stroll around midtown on lunch break never seems to get done, but reliably, every week, Frank will publish something exuberant, read by many thousands of people and I will publish something obnoxious read by a couple thousand people, and the whole silent process will at least be what these things are meant to be-- fun. And whereas my project hasn't yanked me out of my little fiscal pothole yet, it has allowed me to taper slightly the many-headed totum of potential careers that I'd like to pursue. I really only want to write.
P.S. with this post, I truthfully meant to go "Saw Julie Powell! Loved It! Keep It Real, My Blog Peeps!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" but ended up writing a huge Farty McGasbag personal essay, but hey, J.Po, if you're reading this, let it be known, you really moved me. ****
**** disclaimer: I also cried hysterically at Elf, Ice Princess, and Chasing Liberty.
Someone tell all those Mexicans to stop freaking out!!! It's not an apparition; it's only JULES watching FIELD OF DREAMS!!!!