When I was an early-20s drama student, I went to see the film Julie & Julia in my grotty, local, Wood Green cinema. We budding thespians were encouraged to watch as many performances as possible to heighten our critiquing skills and character analysis. Never mind that cinema tickets cost nearly £15, almost my total week’s grocery shopping.
I can’t remember what I thought of the characters, or even the storyline all that much. I sat by myself in a middle row, sniffing pathetically with a cold and ravenously hungry for the popcorn and hot dogs everyone else seemed to be devouring. Screw analysis.
I found a copy of the original book last week, and discovered the author and I had much more in common than I thought.
We were both 29, had both moved to our respective Big Smokes to create a failed acting career, both felt like glorified secretaries, both felt the looming socially-imposed deadline of THIRTY bearing down on us as we struggled to “find ourselves” and all that other Eat/Pray/Love malarkey. I had a baby and she had three cats and a snake.
So throughout the book Julie Powell devotes herself to an outlandish project, and, without re-telling the story, had some kind of French cooking-inspired spiritual experience, following every recipe in an old cookbook by another woman who had found her calling (aged 37, I believe), Julia Childs.
Now, what I liked about the book was the distinct lack of revelatory, life-changing, self-discovering, positivity-overloaded ending. It’s also a, perhaps, unusual choice for this blog considering the only real challenge Julie overcame was her boredom. But isn’t succumbing to boredom as much a waste of a life as other things? Instead of finding what her life was meant to be, Julie found her way in life, a different thing altogether.
Julia taught me what it takes to find your way in the world. It’s not what I thought it was. I thought it was all about – I don’t know, confidence or will or luck. Those are all some good things to have, no question. But there’s something else, something that these things grow out of… I didn’t understand for a long time, but what attracted me to [the cook book] was the deeply buried aroma of hope and discovery of fulfilment in it. I thought I was using the Book to learn to cook French food, but really I was learning to sniff out the secret doors of possibility.
I am one of those people that doesn’t like committing time and energy to something that isn’t It, to put that much investment in something that won’t change my life. But sometimes the projects we take up are what give us something else to think about besides finding our calling, and whether we continue them or not, they open the next secret door of possibility. And the hope of possibility is something we should all keep alive no matter what side of 30 we are on.