An Unfinished Product October 1st, 2010
There are many reasons why I find Julia Child inspiring. Her passion for good food is foremost among them. But as I’ve been making my way through her posthumously-published memoir My Life in France I’ve fallen in love with her for many other reasons.
She was nervy and determined. She was a bit of a bohemian. She was an intrepid rookie with the French language. She was a beloved misfit in a nation of prim and tiny women. She was staggeringly in love with her husband. She didn’t take herself too seriously.
These are all both laudable and endearing in the same breath.
But on pages 71-72 of her book she makes the following confession:
But I was bothered by my lack of emotional and intellectual development. I was not as quick and confident and verbally adept as I aspired to be. … Upon reflection I decided I had three main weaknesses: I was confused (evidenced by a lack of facts, an inability to coordinate my thoughts, and an inability to verbalize my ideas); I had a lack of confidence, which caused me to back down from forcefully stated positions; and I was overly emotional at the expense of careful “scientific” thought. I was thirty-seven years old and still discovering who I was.
It is well-known that Julia Child didn’t discover her passion and talent for cooking until she was in her late thirties, and her famous cooking show “The French Chef” didn’t debut until she was 50. But the quote above resonated with me even more than her late-blooming career. For her struggles in this vein are highly similar to demons I’ve battled many times myself.
I am thirty-three now. I am a wife, mother, and professional. I have a graduate degree. I should be able to defend any position I have, right? I’m not so sure. What I do know with certainty is that I continue to struggle with many of the same issues that our beloved Julia describes. When challenged I sometimes become nervous and emotional, rather than confident and knowledgeable. I have become comfortable with many of my beliefs without first really questioning why they are so. And when situations arise that call for me to explain or defend myself I rarely find myself short of words, but often find myself short of well-formed thoughts. When I am flummoxed I get quiet. And for any of you who know me in person you know that “quiet” is a highly out-of-character state for me.
But it seems I am in good company. I’m learning from her memoir that Julia Child was a work in progress – an unfinished product – throughout most of her adult life. I find this heartening on a number of levels. First, it spares me the shame of not having it all worked out yet. Second, it means that I have a lot of living yet to do. (How sad and dull life would be if by the age of 33 there were no mental gymnastics left for me to attempt.) And lastly, it reminds me that no matter how much of my world view I am able to articulate, there is always more to learn.