August 13, 2009

The Julia In Our Heads

In case you've been living in a cave recently, let me bring you up to date on the bestselling book that inspired the current hit movie, Julie & Julia. It's the true story of Julie Powell, a woman who, on the cusp of 30, found something to take her mind off of her unsatisfying professional life and fast-ticking biological clock: she decided to prepare all 524 recipes in Volume 1 of renowned cooking teacher/TV chef Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in just one year, and to blog about it. She called this the Julie/Julia Project (you can still find the archives online, but I recommend you read the book instead).

In the process, Julie became very close to Julia Child, if only in her mind; in fact the two women never met, never even spoke on the telephone, and had but one brief correspondence.

My favorite part of Julie & Julia occurs when she discovers that her 91-year-old "guru"—whom she all but credits with saving her life—might have had feet of clay—or at the very least, was not exactly the person Julie thought she was. Yet, Julie comes to see that her relationship with the Julia in her head—the supportive teacher-narrator of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the personable, bizarrely-voiced, often humorous Julia-persona on TV's "The French Chef," plus Julie's mental projection/construct that she calls "Julia"—has been the real relationship, the one that matters, the only place where the two women could have possibly met as friends.

Reading Julie & Julia, I recognized a classic thread that perhaps began with the story of the tribal boy Eklavya in the Hindu epic Mahabharata. Eklavya, who desires to study archery, is rejected by the master teacher Dronacharya due to Eklavya's low caste. Undaunted, the boy makes a clay statue of the master and teaches himself to shoot in its presence, imagining he has the teacher's guidance and blessings. Eventually, Eklavya comes to achieve a level of skill unsurpassed by Drona's star pupil, Arjuna.

However, the story of Eklavya and Drona ends badly, as the master somehow views this as theft of services and demands Eklavya give him his right thumb as gurudakshina (the teacher's fee). Eklavya, revering the teacher nonetheless, severs his thumb and renders himself unable ever to draw a bow again.

Julie, thankfully, does no such ridiculous thing; in fact, buoyed by and grateful for what she has learned/self-taught in the presence of the equivalent of a clay idol, she even makes a symbolic pilgrimage to the Julia Child kitchen at the Smithsonian. And, of course, she appears on TV, writes an irresistible and very successful book which gets made into a movie, and gets to quit her thankless job and move to a better apartment.

The Julie in my head instructs me so well on how to treat the Julias in my head. There have been more than a few people in my life who have been major influences, but with whom I have become disenchanted or who became disenchanted with me: friends, teachers, students, clients, employers, romantic partners, not to mention those people I've liked and admired who have not liked or admired me in return. Truth be told, I haven't forgiven them all. I'm frankly amazed by some of the ones I have been able to forgive and the gratitude I feel to them in spite of everything that went down between us, or that I imagined went down. And some who I imagined would never speak to me again made peace with the me in their heads and we're friends again.

I've been the ungrateful daughter/student/employee, the facilitator who didn't do a damn thing of value for you, the teacher who didn't care about you, the girlfriend who wasn't the person you thought I was, the fair-weather friend who didn't follow through on my promise. I've also been the one you think so highly of that it blows my mind and makes me wonder what drugs you're on.

For better or worse, the primary relationship between two people, whether it's a fan and a remote rock star, or two longtime companions who have shared a lifetime together, seems to be the relationship in the head. We can't control people, we can't make them love us, we can't take back what happened; so we may as well make it right with the one in our head. That's what so much of my self-inquiry has been about.

So, thank you, former spiritual teachers; because of my story of you, I learned how to feel devotion and reverence, how to listen and learn. Thank you, former lovers: because you were attracted to me until you weren't any longer, I learned to see myself as a beautiful, desirable woman. And thank you, those from whom I sought love, approval and appreciation. Thank you for giving it to me when you did, for I must have needed it. Thank you for not giving it to me when you didn't, because that left me with my one and only, the one who will stand with me till death do us part.

I'm happy for Julie that she didn't dismiss an amazing year of her life, put her life on hold, or discount and dishonor a beneficial relationship, just because someone withheld the approval she didn't have and never needed in the first place. I aspire to it.

"When I walk into a room, I know that everyone in it loves me.
I just don't expect them to realize it yet." —Byron Katie

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.


Annie said...

This is absolutely brilliant.

Carol L. Skolnick said...

Thanks. And if you're my BFF Annie, thanks and what are you on? :)

Lisa Stone said...

Meryl Streep shines, as usual!!!

Liason said...

this whole post really resonated with me, thanks so much.