Sunday, February 14, 2010

Finding inspiration in the movie Julie & Julia

Last night I watched Julie & Julia, a delightful movie about cooking, about pursuing your passion, and about writing. The film parallels the lives of Julie Powell and Julia Child. While Julie was writing her blog, The Julie/Julia Project, my friend Lucy kept me abreast here in Malaysia about how this blogger had a massive following around the world as she cooked her way through every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. This led to a book deal, whereby she rewrote her blog into a memoir and then this memoir, along with a memoir by Julia Child, was made into a film by Nora Ephron starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child.

What struck me the most about this film was how you never know how close you are to success. This applies to everyone, especially those who undertake to follow their dreams. It’s about taking stock of your life and deciding where your passions truly lie. It’s about not giving up and seeing the project through to the end.

Writers know this especially, spending years writing a book, not knowing whether you’ve wasted your life at the expense of a book that no one will ever read, if it never gets published; or even if it does get published, will it make its way into the reader’s hand. And can it affect others in a way that you could never have imagined, thus making it all worthwhile, if not financially, then emotionally satisfying, so at the end of your life, as you look back, you would do it all over again. This is what we strive for, validation. Fame is too fleeting, but financial success would be nice, too.

Like a lot of writers I am at a crossroads, as my three-year contract teaching creative writing at Unimas comes to an end in about six weeks. I have felt for a long time, for over a year now, that I did not wish to renew my contract, since in the long run, it will do me very little good; and in the short run, despite the obvious merits of having a regular paycheck, it takes away from the time I need to write and to sell my work and hinders writing opportunities that may come my way.

This is a harsh reality of writing. It’s not just about writing; it’s about selling what you wrote, and the selling is a job in itself and the cumulative effect of rejections does affect you, if not your writing, then your enthusiasm for writing, if you choose to let it! This is a business, so we need to separate the two, but in reality, at times, you can feel like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the hill every day only to watch it roll back down again. If only we persisted until we reach the top of the hill so it can roll down the other side to success . . . . That’s what happened to both Julie Powell and Julia Child. That can happen to us, too!

I do know, that my making this decision, that because of it, it will force me to make other decisions that I would not be forced to make -- there would not be the same urgency (for example, getting an agent and selling my novels), and because of that, this is the year that will make all the difference. I just know it, when I look back five, ten years from now, this will be the crossroads and I had made a wise, though a difficult choice; but I stuck with it and it sure paid off! Sometimes it's all about the momentum and the time you put into something -- you never know just how close you really are...

Yes, success happens. We see it all around us, so focus your attention on the success, yours and others and keep plugging away. Keep your passion; at times that may be all that we have; at times, that may be just enough to keep us going. Be persistent, and keep on writing and keep on selling what you write. Keep on knocking on those doors. Sooner or later one will open. Just be ready for it when it does.

***Here's the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

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