Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Break is Over

Yes, I’m back. My break was a little longer than I originally anticipated when I left for vacation back in July.

And yes. It was The Worst Vacation Ever.

The virus appeared on the second day of vacation and stayed with me the whole ten days. I can’t say it was swine flu because for the first ten days I was in a cabin in the north woods and didn’t bother having anyone drive me the forty miles to the nearest emergency room to find out. But I definitely had flu-like symptoms, and what other kind of flu is going around right now? By the time I got home, it became severe bronchitis (due, probably, to the airplane travel) and I and my doctor were only interested in treating the immediate symptoms. The bronchitis lasted another ten days, followed by a couple of weeks of exhaustion. It has not been fun.

But even worse than feeling bad and not getting out on the lake at all and wondering if I was ruining everyone else’s vacation and trying not to make anyone else sick, was this: I couldn’t read. Yes, I was too sick to read. At first my eyes were just too tired. And even after the symptoms went away I was so completely wiped out that I found it hard to concentrate on more than 20 pages at a time.

So, I’ve been watching a lot of DVDs that people have given me or that I had lying around unwatched. I watched the entire first season of The Tudors. I watched the entire third season of The Gilmore Girls. I watched the entire John Adams miniseries (excellent, by the way). And I’ve been working my way through episodes of Stargate SG-1 on hulu.com.

Last weekend I decided I needed a bigger screen so I organized dinner and a movie. We saw Julie and Julia with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.

I’m not much of a cook but I do like to eat and I appreciate well prepared food. So, watching Julie and Julia in their respective kitchens, whisking away and dealing with mini-catastrophes, was entertaining. And Meryl Streep as Julia Child is not to be missed. I really enjoyed it and not just because I was happy to get out of the house in an evening.

A number of reviewers have written about the parallels between the lives of Julie Powell and Julia Child. Both worked in bureaucratic jobs for a time, both married men they loved who loved them back and supported their cooking obsession, both “found themselves” through cooking. Both of them wrote a book.

Personally I was taken by another parallel that wasn’t really explored directly by the film but was there. And it ties into blogging.

Julie Powell is, of course, a blogger. She starts out as most bloggers do with a simple blogging template and the uncertainty that pushing the “publish” button actually means that anyone out there will read what she wrote. Anyone who has written a blog post knows her excitement on the day she got her first comment. And we can all laugh that her first commenter is her mother who wonders why on earth she is wasting her time doing this.

Eventually, of course, she gets other commenters. Those commenters are important to her. She tells her husband that her commenters would be disappointed if she didn’t finish the project. Her husband pooh-poohs this and tells her that if she stopped writing her blog altogether her commenters wouldn’t care and would move on with their lives. Like most non-bloggers, he seemed to think of commenters as, at worst, imaginary friends and, at best, total strangers who read what Julie wrote the way that people read newspapers in the old days. With no direct contact with the writer. He couldn’t really fathom the relationship that Powell developed with her commenters.

How does this parallel with Julia Child’s life? Julia Child was a great letter writer and the narration of the letters between Julia and her good friend Avis form part of the background of the film. Julia describes her life in Europe and her cookbook project to Avis in wonderfully written letters. Eventually Julia travels to the United States to seek a publisher and she stay with her good friend Avis. As Julia and Simone Beck, her collaborator, sit in the Boston train station waiting to be picked up by Avis, Julia tells Simone that she hopes that she and Avis recognize each other.

After hearing all of the wonderful letters between these obviously close friends, it comes as a total surprise to the audience (and to Simone) that Julia and Avis have never met each other in person. They have existed solely as pen pals until that moment. They were real friends even though they had never laid eyes on each other.

Although the film doesn’t draw a direct parallel between Julia’s friendship with Avis and Julie’s relationship with her commenters, I think it is there. Over the last few years I’ve tried to explain to “real” friends how I “know” people I’ve met only through words. The people who never interact online often don’t get it. They treat the whole thing as if I’ve suddenly started talking to myself or I have “imaginary friends”. The non-blog people often seem to doubt that it is possible to know someone that you can’t see.

But just as Julia and Avis got to know each other quite well through years of exchanging letters, blog people can also get to know each other even if they only interact in a public electronic forum. They certainly can get to know each other just as well as people who interact in a non-electronic public forum, such as PTA meetings. And, just as in real life, sometimes this public interaction leads to non-public interaction through e-mail which is just as “real” as Julia’s interaction with Avis as pen pals. And sometimes it ends up with real life meetings. Of course, often it doesn’t. But that doesn’t make it any less real.

Yes, you are all real. That's what I'm saying.

So, to all my readers, and especially my commenters, thanks again for the concern over the last month. I’m glad to have all of you in my life whether I can see you or not.