I just finished reading Julie and Julia by Julie Powell. I have heard some readers did not enjoy it, regarding Julie as whiny and self-indulgent, but I get her, I really do. Because what better illustrates the dark underbelly of the American Dream than Julie slogging her days away at a grunt job while saving her soul by indulging her creativity at night?
Julie sets out to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. But this project was more than a lark or a method of improving her cooking skills. It was her way of lending structure and meaning to her life. Her day job as a temp secretary at a government agency involved in post 9/11 PR work was both mindless and emotionally draining.
It was one of those all too common jobs that provide no real sense of accomplishment, no volume of completed work that she could point to at the end of the day and say, “I achieved this” or “that is where I left my mark.”
So Julie turned to her project. She single-mindedly attacked one recipe after another, hunting down ingredients and conquering the rigorous mental and physical challenges required to complete one complex recipe after another night after night all while trying to maintain a marriage and a semblance of a social life.
It all reminds me so much of my former colleagues at a tech distributor where I spent much of my career. Working there was certainly more challenging than working a temporary secretarial job. It was, in fact, quite a nice place to work. We were well-compensated, well-trained and had a sort of work hard/play hard mind-set.
But the one thing that I noted is that it was simply loaded with people who were basically financing their dream jobs with their day jobs. There were countless writers, singers, actors, DJs, photographers, dancers, musicians and artists. It was amazing how awesomely talented and creative the work force there was.
So I didn’t see Julie as whiny or self-indulgent. I just saw her as just like the rest of us, trying to balance earning a paycheck with living her dream.