Life Lessons from Julia Child
I stumbled upon Julia on HBO thinking it would be something light to watch while doing other things. Instead I’ve been lured into the world of Julia Child. At 52, I marvel at this woman and see her as an unlikely rebel with much to teach those of us who find ourselves in the middle of life. It took Julia Child 10 years to write her first cookbook, which was published when she was 49 years old. She was even older when she started her cooking show. Child was paid $50 per episode, which also had to cover the cost of food, but she wanted the opportunity more than she wanted money.
Watching Julia is an education on how to claim space in the middle of one’s life when the world would prefer you quietly retreat into obscurity. Child was not young and did not see herself as beautiful, but this was no impediment to her insatiable desire to create. She was devoted to her own curiosity. At 6’2” (some say 6’3”), Child didn’t try to fit into a world not built for her; instead she created her own space with higher countertops and a singular voice that defies description.
Child was a force who doggedly pursued her interests and found meaning and purpose in her work. The more I learn about her, the more I realize that she wasn’t held hostage by cultural expectations of beauty or age. She was a woman who believed she was worthy of joy.
I started painting a few years ago. I had no training or previous experience making art, other than always loving art. This year, I committed to a series titled See Jane. Every day, I post at least one small portrait with a brief story. I’ve sold a painting for every day of the year. Some days I sell none; some days I sell three or four.
What’s more astonishing to me is the small community of people who have gathered around this project. They post images of their Jane portraits and ask me questions. Many have never purchased a piece of original art before. Many are buying them as gifts and buying more than one for themselves.
We’ve had conversations in our online community about visibility, courage, self worth and midlife. Many have encouraged me to grow the project in new ways. None of this was part of my plan. I was simply doing something I dearly love. I was simply placing my work in the world and trusting there would be enough people that it would speak to. I am not Julia Child; but like her, my modest project still energizes me and allows me to make contact with people I would never know.
When I was a child my father bought me a series of books about artists. These were not children’s books, but serious books about Degas, Cassatt, Matisse and Picasso. I poured over these books. Original art was not something I saw much of as a child. We were poor. We didn’t own original art of any kind and my single mother didn’t take me to museums because she was busy working and trying to survive. But those books were a portal that pulled me into a world that forever gave me joy and hope and meaning.
When someone comments on my writing or buys a painting, it creates a thread of connection. We are forever connected even if we never speak again. My work is extremely accessible. I want people to feel they can afford it because I think every human deserves something that is original and art should not be the domain of the wealthy. I’m humbled by the fact that my work is often the first piece of original art someone has ever purchased. I’m moved by the conversations that are sparked in this small community of collectors.
I was filled with anxiety about sharing my work. I am, afterall, not a proper artist. But the hunger to create and make contact was greater than my fear of judgment. So much time and possibility is wasted on the opinions of others. But if we allow those opinions to dictate our choices, we will forever be shrinking and contorting ourselves to the whims and tastes of those who do not enrich or expand our lives. And that is truly tragic. Because who might we be if we no longer cared what the world thought of us?
Julia Child was a serious woman doing something important. She changed the way Americans experienced food, but she also left an important legacy of self-actualization. In her 80s, she signed a contract for a 22-part series with Jacques Pepin. Child lived out loud until the very end. She did not fade away or retreat into obscurity as she aged. She went boldly into the future tasting life, creating new work and reminding us what’s possible if we decide we are worthy of our own passionate pursuits.
You can follow my visual work on Instagram at trailsnotpaths