Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised that I find much in common between cooking and writing. Both are about the passion to take pieces and make a whole. The parallels are true of all creative pursuits, I suppose. But I like food and that metaphor speaks strongly to me.
I just finished watching Julie & Julia, which is a perfectly wonderful movie about passion. I could rave about Meryl Streep’s performance, but suffice it to say that about halfway through the movie I had a sudden jolt and reminded myself that I was not watching wonderfully preserved and produced real live actual footage of Julia Child. There is no Meryl in the movie, only Julia. Along with Julia we have a very cute, vivacious Julie with a story to tell as well. The reasons these two stories work so well together is that they are both about the pursuit of joy through passion.
Never having wanted to cook like Julia Child, I don’t on some level understand the passion for crafting the perfect mayonnaise. I do understand wanting to share that perfect creation with the world. Every time I sit at the keyboard, I’m hoping to share most of what I do with other people. I am hopeful (time to time) that it will pay me enough to keep doing it, too. I rarely let the pragmatic interfere with the passion, certainly not while in the act of writing.
One of the other things I do at my computer is read the words that other writers have put down on paper, living their own passion, and submitted for publication to Bella Books. Sometimes the mayonnaise is brilliant. Sometimes the cook needs a better recipe. Sometimes the mayonnaise needs to be thrown out. I nearly put sadly in that last sentence, but in actuality, when I receive a perfectly awful manuscript–and I have–it’s not a time for sadness.
After all, it would not be in my hands if the writer didn’t have a passion for her work. Too many people never discover theirs. The sad part is when the chef feels that because the world has not declared her another Julia Child that she has failed. I may be in the hard place of telling a writer that she will likely never be professionally published, but I would never tell anyone to stop writing.
In the course of the movie, both Julie and Julia pursue publication. Their trials and woes are typical–rejection, not enough money, lack of understanding of what they were doing. The bottom line is, however, Julie Powell came up with a great concept, did a year’s documented research to develop it, and in the burgeoning blogosphere, she hit the tipping point just right. She wasn’t passionate about blogging or food, she was passionate about Julia Child.
Julia Child is a household name because she was an undisputed genius of both cooking and entertainment. She told stories with her food.
I know only a few people who believe they are a genius. But many of those who know they’re not Julia Child compare their goals for success to people like her. Many believe the not-always-true sentiment “If you want it bad enough, it will happen.” Hooey. Tell that to Hilary Clinton. All the wanting and working in the world will not compensate for timing, luck and lack of talent–at least for most of us. There are poor writers who hit it big, to be sure. There are truly exceptional writers who never get their heart’s desire, and it’s not because they didn’t want it enough, or work their hinder off for it.
Lots of people tell me they want to write a book. As far as I’m concerned, every time my inbox contains another submission to Bella, that writer is already a success. She has acted on her passion, put butt in chair, and told a story. It may never be published. But it would be such a shame if the frustration over lack of publication soured the passion. There are too many people–and we all know and work with some of them–who never give themselves permission to live a passion, even for the length of a vacation.
After seeing a genius like Meryl Streep make me forget I’m not watching a genius like Julia Child on the screen, I know (again) that I’m not any kind of genius. Thank goodness that the occasional paycheck, as well as the generous indulgence of family and friends in my quirky writer ways, keep me at the keyboard. But there is one other thing that makes all the difference.
I don’t need to be Julia Child when I get a note from a reader who says my books saw her through breast cancer, through a break-up, dating and dating again, that she lost parents and lovers and clung to hope through my stories, that my passion shone something into her life and made her look for passion in her own.
I am willing to own that I get to do what I do through luck, timing, work and perhaps a bit of talent thrown in. As so many other writers I know will tell you, Writing is the best job ever. Ever. Even if it wasn’t I’d still do it, because it’s my passion.