Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Passion of the Everyday

It's New Year's Day. A day both reviled and praised for its insipid power to make people introspective and to arouse a need for revision in one's life. Those bloated with an excess of holiday goodies crowd the gym (though luckily for the avid exerciser, most of them quit a few weeks later), I'm sure sales of Nicorette increase and especially this year, people open up their outdated Quickbooks software in a futile attempt to balance bank accounts.

For whatever reason, January first is our cultural cue to hit the reset button and attempt (often vainly) to draw new inspiration into our lives. I have generally eschewed the entire concept of New Year's resolutions on account of the fact that they have minimal staying power.

My innate and pathological need to get things done means I feel more let down than normal folks when I don't achieve a goal. Believe me, spending most of New Year's Day on the couch was as much an accomplishment for me as losing ten pounds and cleaning up the basement might be for you.

Two of the activities I indulged in today have converged in my head as rather striking and serve as the real inspiration for this post. First, I read a bit more of this fantastic book, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. It's a nonfiction piece about a disgruntled secretary who embarks on a quest to cook all the recipes in Julia Child's classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking in her Long Island City, Queens kitchen. Dogged by hard-to-find ingredients, a lifestyle that does not allow for hours of cooking and a rebellious plumbing system, Julie charts her experiences on a blog and fuels her efforts with many vodka gimlets.

You have to get past some histrionics, but ultimately both Julie Powell's story and the framing biography of Julia Child are a testimony to following one's passion, even when found in an unlikely place. They faced more existential obstacles than the average amputee war hero or blind race car driver, but their zeal nonetheless comes across ebulliently. Neither Julie nor Julia truly uncovered their talents until their late 20s/early 30s and as a gal with a birthday coming up next week, I find that particularly comforting.

Second in my New Year's Day agenda came watching Man on Wire, a new documentary that tells the story of Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974, a few other daring walks. NPR's David Edelstein offers a pretty good review here, that you can read on your own. What fascinated me about Philippe's feat was the sheer audacity of it all. While preparing for the "coup," he repeatedly flew back and forth from Paris to New York, had to purchase expensive equipment, procure false documents and convince friends to participate in the effort.

For the life of me, I could not get over how this all happened; even more so because he did it for the art of it. The only explanation the film offers and the only conclusion I could come to was - passion.

Just like Julie Powell threw all logic and quite a bit of money out the window in order to whip up more than 500 baroque French recipes in the span of a year, Philippe risked his life and his freedom for the beautiful thrill of accomplishment.

In no way do I mean to assert that getting through my lengthy to do list of grocery shopping, trips to the gym and blogging is on par with walking on a thin wire, 110 stories up for 200 feet; but it's a start. The notion of discovering my passion occupies probably too much of my brain time these days with a monumental birthday just 395 days away. Maybe I believe in resolutions after all.

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