When I first heard about the movie version of Julie & Julia my reaction was one of dread.
I’m a blogger. Julie Powell is also a blogger, but one who was able to parlay her blog into a best-seller and a movie starring Meryl Streep. She managed to do what so many bloggers secretly yearned for–to find the gimmick that took her to the next level as a literocelebrity. When I first got into blogging all those years ago my initial goal was honestly to find a place to yell at the TV and have other people hear about it at the same time. I do want to be recognised as a writer, but I never wanted that out of my blog. My blog is my escape from making things up. But I’d reckon that at least thirty percent of the people who got into blogging in the last seven years did so in an effort to duplicate Powell’s trajectory. So to me watching the movie seemed like rubbing my face in the fact that her blog took her to Hollywood while the farthest mine has taken me is to a few random lawyers’ offices via telephone. And even though I didn’t get into blogging wanting what she had the fact that she found a way to get it and I didn’t does kinda make me feel a bit like a failure.
I’m just trying to be honest here, because I don’t want people to have to read this next bit and think “Oh,she’s just jealous.” Because while I freely admit that I am jealous, I’m also operating from a place beyond that basic reaction.
Terry Goodkind said something in an interview earlier this year that caused a lot of things to gel for me. For years I couldn’t put my finger on what was bugging me about my writing and so much of the other writing out there in the fiction space. I had slivers of ideas, but no crystal whole. And then Goodkind–first published in his mid 40s–said this:
You can’t explain to people that they’re just not intellectually prepared to write a novel. A novel is a thing of incredible complexity. … The intellectual aspects critical to worthwhile novels don’t develop in a person that young.
If I would have tried to write a novel when I was 20 years old, it would have been a failure, just like all the other 20 year olds who can’t get published. It takes a certain amount of living, and that doesn’t mean traveling the world, going to war torn areas, and all that kind of stuff; it means watching how other people move, talk, think, and behave.
That’s the key, I think. That many people who write are pouring new wine. It may have potential but it just isn’t there yet. And so a lot of writers try to come up with a gimmick that they use to substitute for the actual GUTS of the work. So much of what’s out there now in terms of literature, especially memoir, is replacing Story with Gimmick.
And that’s exactly what I felt when I watched Julie & Julia this morning. It was so very clear that there were two women here. One lived a fascinating, off-beat life and pushed herself to try something completely new and different. The other was jealous of her more successful friends so she came up with a gimmick to get her foot in the door and her name recognised. Her gimmick just happened to be copying someone else’s better and more heartfelt work. And true to Goodkind’s observation, Julie Powell was young. She was just on the cusp of 30 when she went down this road. Her selfishness and lack of seriousness and earnestness were noticed and remarked upon by Julia Child herself. I happen to think that Child sensed the gimmick. Perhaps she even resented being used as a prop in someone else’s relentless scheme of self-promotion.
In thinking on the whole thing even further, I have to say I don’t think blogs really have much of a future beyond themselves. I know there were high hopes in both the publishing and blogger worlds that this would be a new thing to catch on, a new trend with a ready-made market. But I happen to think that blogs aren’t the same as finished literature. They are too elemental, too self-driven. Not that blogs aren’t great reading and great ways to get to know people. They just aren’t STORIES. They are more of a recounting or editorialising. And I think they’re perfect as they are. The medium and message are made exactly for one another; the message can’t readily cross streams into a new medium. Because you then end up with a conventional fictional story, the journey from innocence to experience, without a conventional hero (or anti-hero.)
I think there are bloggers who will and do write great fiction. (See Aunt B.’s October Halloween stories as the prime example.) But a book by a blogger and a book about a blogger’s blog are two different things.
And a movie about a book about a blogger’s blog? Half of it was good. The half that wasn’t about the blogger and her blog.