Of Journals, Journeys, Julie and Julia

Trip Start Dec 15, 2005
Trip End Feb 16, 2006

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Friday, November 18, 2005

"No matter what form the dragon may take, it is the mysterious passage past him, or into his jaws, that stories of any depth will be concerned to tell." - Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners

San Jose Mercury News columnist Leigh Weimers writes in his final column this week:

"When paleontologists discovered those fossil bones of a Columbian mammoth near the Guadalupe River last summer, they also stumbled across a heretofore unidentified artifact: a clay tablet.

I, of course, recognized it immediately. It was one of my first notebooks when I started working at the San Jose Mercury, covering the annual mammoth migration."

Weimers is joking of course, but migrations and journaling do go back to time immemorial. Even before the merry group of pilgrims in the Canterbury Tales (did you know there's a Starbucks built into the wall of the Canterbury Cathedral?) the concept harkens way back to caveman walls.

I could talk of the archetypal journey. But not today. I will tell you I heard the call or inspiration (2002/3), and then I refused it because it was too much to ask of me (2004), and then I embarked (late 2005). I'm in the jaws of the dragon as Flannery would say. As the movie rolls forward on the screen, this is where the obstacles, tests, ogres, and the ordeal begins. Mr. Campbell's trial and initiation. (Aside: That's good news my teacher says last night. Yep, being in the lion's mouth is how Ramana Maharshi put it. There's no way out. The lion will take care of the rest. It's inevitable.)

I remember hearing a panel of successful entrepreneurs a few years back. One talked of scrounging in his car for pennies. He was short a nickel for a twenty-five cent cup of coffee at the 7-11. Of course it's ok to tell us this story now that he's millionaire.

"Your thoughts are highly regarded." - my fortune cookie 11/16/05

(That and a quarter won't be enough for even a crappy cup of coffee.) Few will tell you of their travails within this stage. I've heard Nvidia's venture capitalist talk in a small gathering. You won't find this on their website: Nvidia had two - yep, two - false and nearly deadly starts before the company honed in on the right product and right market.

This is a phase of doubt. And oft times miracles. The knight is now firmly committed to quest for the Holy Grail. The unknown lays between the them.

"I couldn't explain how cut off I felt, sealed in a pneumatic tube of a commute that spit me out each morning on a gray sidewalk teeming with business suits and spit me out again at night in peaceful, isolated, hopelessly square, far Brooklyn. I couldn't explain why I thought another year like the last would ruin me," writes Julie Powell of her life before she embarked on the Julie/Julia project. As I read the Sept/Oct 2005 article in Pages, the mythic looms large in the retelling of her "gastronomic journey."

"Journeys. Even the word sounds as if it has been drawn from some magic elixir and distilled through a gossamer screen of the imagination." - Phyllis Taylor Pianka

"People really became involved in the journey of it," Powell says. "They got encouraged by the idea that you could go and do something insane... Sometimes your crazy impulses, your irrational impulses, are the right ones. To have the courage to follow them can lead to a sort of bigger understanding of what life is like."

"The word travel is the same as the French travail. It means hard work, penance and finally a journey. There was an idea, particularly in the Middle Ages, that by going on pilgrimage, as Muslim pilgrims do, you were reinstating the original condition of man. The act of walking through a wilderness was thought to bring you back to God. That is something you find in all religions." - Bruce Chatwin, interview with Michael Ignatieff in Granta 21, Spring 1987 (via Rolf Pott's Vagabonding blog)

I'm actually struck at how humorous Julie's story of her commitment to cook a meal from Julia Child's cookbook every day for a year (too broke for culinary school). "The romance of the death march should be an obvious thing to your faithful readers" reader Isabel tells Julie (even if it sucks for the character in this farce taking this seriously called you.) If we keep a little distance from our lives we may see the absurd and the radiant among the extraordinarily difficult.

"Six cups of red wine, a cup and a half of red wine vinegar, half a cup of olive oil, thirty-five bay leaves, salt, and peppercorns. Lay the lamb roast in it, cover, don't forget to turn it now and again - and marinate for four to five days.

At room temperature.

We asked four different women over to share our putrefied lamb feast. That all four of them were called away at the last moment by entirely legitimate circumstances is one of the more compelling pieces of evidence I've run into that there is a just and protective God watching over us. Well, them anyway." - Julie Powell, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen

"Through her toils, Powell found a crazy inner peace in this almost magical Juliaverse. "In the Juliaverse, the laws of thermodynamics had been turned on their heads," Powell admits. "Here, energy was never lost, merely converted from one form to another. Here, I took butter and cream and meat and eggs and I made delicious sustenance. Here, I took my anger and despair and rage and transformed it with my alchemy into hope and ecstatic mania. Here, I took a crap laptop and some words that popped into my head at seven in the morning and I turned them into something people wanted, maybe even needed."" - "The French Connection", Pages, Sept/Oct 2005

I am compelled to speak with honesty about this stage of my journey. The stage encountered by artists and entrepreneurs and adventurers alike when they finally commit to Yes. The pilgrimage does not begin when I land in Thailand. Oh no, it's in full swing right now. Inspired by a private note from Jill Fallon where she shares:

"Basically, how do we make life lessons open source? How can we pool our experience so that anyone could benefit when they need it. Lessons in divorce, what to do with a bad diagnosis, how to grieve well, how to handle the death of a parent." - Jill Fallon

And in that spirit I'll endeavor to be genuine about the twists and turns and dips and doubts and the comedy of it all.

"True pilgrimage changes lives, whether we go halfway around the world or out to our own backyards," says Martin Palmer (via The Art of Pilgrimage). Or to our kitchens.

In writing her final post, Julia Child's in memoriam, Powell says: "I had the funny, touching insights. I was coming off clever and heartfelt and sad and grateful and joyful. I was on a roll.

And then I wrote this sentence: "I have no claim over the woman at all, unless it's the claim one who has nearly drowned has over the person who pulled her out of the ocean."

And I started crying so hard I had to stop writing."

"Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life." - Stephen King, On Writing

I look forward to chronicling the pilgrimage back to Thailand and on to Sri Lanka and India here and at my blog, http://evelynrodriguez.typepad.com
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