“…I had decided that cookbook writing was just the right job for me. I found myself working entire days on the manuscript with hardly a break.” –Julia Child
Once Julia Child found her passion for cooking-teaching-researching-writing, she worked long days, put herself on a schedule when she felt tempted to explore Paris or Marseille (“my Royal portable typewriter was my steady companion”), and once rushed home from an evening out with friends to sit “right down at the typewriter and [stay] there until 2:00 a.m.”
The need to pay the bills did not fuel this indefatigable spirit of hers. She had an allowance from her family (and I assume an eventual inheritance) and Paul had a job. They made do comfortably.
Julia cooked (practicing each recipe dozens of times), taught, researched, and wrote tirelessly all day every day because …
Well, what fuels such hard work? Where does such passion come from?
When I’ve thrown myself into projects, it’s been motivated by a need for survival: to earn a degree, to acquire a good job, to keep said job. This hasn’t always been so. In the past, I’d dream up an idea, a children’s coloring book for example, and just start. I never considered how long it might take, whether it would turn out or not, or if anyone else would appreciate it. I just did it.
Lately, however, I think of similar projects, and I sigh: Oh, that would be so hard, so much work, and it might not even turn out well.
Bill Watterson (the creator of Calvin and Hobbes), on the other hand, spent half of his sophomore year of college painting a copy of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel on the ceiling of his dorm room. It took a jury-rigged system of chairs and a borrowed table so he could lie flat, two feet away from the ceiling, and paint for months.
Two weeks before the end of the school year, after the painting was finished, Watterson asked permission to paint the ceiling. He was told he could do it, but he would have to paint over it at the end of the year and leave the ceiling how he found it. And that’s what he did: painted over it.
Talk about a waste of time, right? All those weeks of work, and it’s gone. However, Watterson says, “Despite the futility of the whole episode, my fondest memories of college are times like these, where things were done out of some inexplicable inner imperative, rather than because the work was demanded.”
I think I’ve lost touch with my “inexplicable inner imperative” in favor of pragmatism, feeling like I can only put energy into practical, necessary tasks, ones that I know will turn out and be of use, like doing laundry and washing dishes.
Maybe that’s why I found myself slightly misty-eyed when reading a recipe book about vegan cheese. Yes, you read that right. I got teary over a recipe book, and that recipe book is about making cheese without dairy.
Surprisingly, Miyoko Schinner’s book Artisan Vegan Cheese starts out discussing patience. Miyoko says that few people are willing to embrace the time it takes to make something like cheese. She must be right because in spite of reading her book a few times, I’ve not yet tried a recipe. I fear the time it will take only slightly less than the fact that it might fail and all that time and ingredients will have been wasted.
During the year Miyoko took to perfect and write her cheese recipes, she sounds a lot like Julia. Her kitchen turned into a laboratory with different cheeses in various stages in the works at all times. Once finished, just like Julia and her partners, Miyoko spent some grueling effort revising her book as she received critiques from her editor. Julia and Miyoko were most definitely in touch with their “inexplicable inner imperative.”
When I interviewed Miyoko for an article, I asked her what advice she has for fellow food/vegan entrepreneurs. She said: “Don’t give up! If I’d given up after my struggles a decade ago, I wouldn’t have written Artisan Vegan Cheese… . So believe in yourself, find what is unique in you that you can give to the world, and work your butt off!”
This, too, reminded me of Julia. Although Julia fully agreed she and her two partners lacked experience, she believed in the three of them, their clearly focused project, and the value of their work. Rather than grovel and kowtow to the first publisher who seemed only tepidly interested, Julia searched for someone else:
“Though I quite appreciated that we were unknowns, I saw no reason to crawl about on our bellies. I felt that our revamped book was good enough that, in the right hands, it would sell itself… . Therefore, I saw no reason to waste our efforts …”
It seems these women’s passion outweighed doubt and fueled confidence, stamina, and determination. Then again, they worked for this passion too. Julia did not find her calling until nearly forty years old. Miyoko says she had the idea for a vegan cheese book 30 years ago, but did not start it until 2010.
Like Julia and Miyoko, Watterson’s passion had stamina. He endured five years of rejection to get the job he wanted, which “requires either a faith in oneself that borders on delusion, or a love of the work. I loved the work.”
Good things don’t come easily, I guess. Perhaps it takes some courage to have faith in oneself and to love one’s work, and that faith and courage keep us from crawling about on our bellies when we have something great to offer the world: French cooking, vegan cheese, Calvin and Hobbes.
Miyoko says to be patient and willing to wait for something special, and Julia is proof that the wait and effort are worth it:
“Now that I had started writing, I found cookbookery such fulfilling work that I intended to keep at it for years and years.”
It takes tremendous creative energy to continually adjust our life’s path, especially when we don’t always know where we’re going. Similar to the Fast Company quote from Sir Ken Robinson from an earlier post, Watterson says:
“The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive. At that time, we turn around and say, yes, this is obviously where I was going all along.”
Even better, he confirms:
“To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.”
A note about authors’ names: in academic writing, a writer refers to an author by last name only (after the full name has been introduced). Here, however, I find myself stuck. I refer to Bill Watterson by his last name but Julia and Miyoko by first name. Is this sexist of me? I don’t intend that, but I feel like I know Julia personally after reading her book and Karen Karbo’s book, and I’ve interviewed Miyoko and will meet her this weekend at VegFest. It feels weird to say Child, or Schinner, or even Karbo when I feel I kind of know these amazing artists. And yet, the man gets referred to by the last name because I don’t feel I know him. Is there any blog etiquette about this? Any insights or advice?