I remember receiving an application to teach from Julie Powell. The cover letter was polite but made no mention of any special achievements. I had to look closely at the resume to discern this wasn’t just Julie Powell; it was the Julie Powell.
You know, the Julie Powell who felt her life was stuck in a rut so she decided to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year, and blogged about it in the early aughts, creating one of the first blogs that lots of people paid attention to. From there, it became an acclaimed memoir, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, and a movie, Julie & Julia, written and directed by Nora Ephron. She brought fine cooking down to earth for us, in much the same way Julia Child did when she brought French cuisine to this side of the Atlantic with her first cookbook.
If it were me, I’d put some of that in my cover letter. And I told her so when we interviewed her. She nodded politely, accepting my point. And she did get the job.
This is also the same Julie Powell who left this world recently at the age of 49. Last term, she begged off teaching a class because she wasn’t feeling well. I suspected she’d be back. Julie came and went at Gotham, but she always came back.
Despite her cover letter modesty, Julie wasn’t cutesy like the movie version of her, played by Amy Adams. (Weird seeing yourself played by someone in a movie, right?) She was much spikier. If you wanted to have a wickedly witty conversation, Julie was a perfect partner for it. At one point, she had a snake for a pet.
She cared about food, obviously. And not just the fancy stuff. I recall us arguing about which is better: Frito-Lay Cheetos (Julie’s corner) or the 365 Cheese Curls (my corner).
Here’s me reading a passage from her Julie & Julia.
Near the end of the book, Julie writes about Child:
I read her instructions for making béchamel sauce and what comes throbbing through is that here is a woman who has found her way.
Both Julie and Julia found their way by getting a bold (even crazy) idea, then going for broke with it. We should all do that a bit more, be it for a year-long project or a serendipitous Sunday. The pursuit of the idea is what counts. Success is secondary. Julie had no earthly idea that her big idea would bring her anything other than too-large grocery bills and some adventurous meals.
Try something interesting. See what happens.