#LivingLikeJulia Week Two – Empire Strikes Back
I love that girl Karen Karbo. We are not close friends though, and I am old enough to be her maiden aunt, the one that works at the DMV and has gross lip wrinkles like Marge Simpson’s sisters.
K2 has awesome dimples, and an un-fancy, honest way about her.
Having met her is right up there in my life with passing Michael Jackson in a hallway, flirting with Dustin Hoffman, and answering the phone for Diane Keaton one day to take a message for Al Pacino.
When I got to hang with Karen, she was one of the first working writers I’d met since I realized that was what I wanted to be.
As we sat by the edge of the pond she told me a little of her life: and that a magazine column each month paid her mortgage. I still think: How amazing that she shared that, making my own goal somehow tangible.
I have written four novels, several screenplays and many newspaper articles that have never been read, or if sold, never paid me enough for a sushi dinner.
For a while I got paid $25 bucks a newspaper article, plus $5 for a picture. In one year I wrote almost 200 headline stories for the local paper. Some months I made almost $250.
But I keep bumping into people who seem to keep me from slitting my throat over such things: Karen – so approachable and encouraging. The incomparable Jane Smiley, and Janet Fitch, Deanne Stillman, Carol Walker, Terri Farley – none whom I know well but all have been so helpful to me, amazingly so; that it seems that the sisterhood that I envisioned as a 17-year-old member of National Organization of Women buoys me to this day.
I write because I can I write and because it amuses me, and because people I respect, and who turn me on, encourage me and challenge me.
I believe Julia Child wrote and cooked and went on TV for the same reasons.
Julia embraced who she was; and my challenge is to live for a month under one of Julia’s rules. It’s without any sort of ego I have got to say: I always have. I am short, my hair is like a baby’s, but I swear like a sailor.
Julia had money, but I had the pride of being different. The lure of the Disney princess never called to me. I was the barefoot, bareback hoyden trampling Midwest farmlands and deep rivers, my kaleidoscope eyes absorbing the moon landing, the sixties, rock and roll rebellion…when your family is composed of generations of liberal democrats, actors, activists and musicians… your rebellion has to be really wild, man!
Julia Child adored being different.
I, too, had a big old bug up my ass. Having scored a scholarship to a fancy women’s college, I left with the first guy going west. The fact that he was a dead ringer for Cat Stevens and wanted to be a forest ranger, okay, that didn’t hurt. My dad cried as I packed up my childhood room and I remember him pleading with me to stay in school. I reasoned with him, we did not yell; even so, as I drove away in the truck with Ferrucio, tears fell hot and I felt my heart being ripped from my body.
But it was soon after that I first tasted food. Endive, sea bass, sushi, avocado. Margairitas with anejo tequila, lime and Cointrueu. Al dente handmade pasta with olive oil, garlic and anchovies. Cracked Dungeness crab, sourdough bread, smokey chardonnay. Cake made with butter and sugar, a French chef’s cheesecake, still puffing hot from the oven. A burrito as big as a baby’s head with real simmered pintos and quesa fresca and fresh jalepenos that blew off the top of your head.
Leaving the Midwest was an intellectual journey, but the journey of food was one I had never imagined. Korean Barbeque. Dim Sum. Sake. Lobster on the grill with a pound of melted butter and a bowl of lemons. Croissants, bagels, yeasty sticky cinnamon rolls fresh and hot from the oven.
I was not a foodie, yet I got to eat some great food – in Oregon, and San Francisco and LA, Chicago, New York and Central America. Along the way I became unafraid to throw in some tumeric, or fish sauce, cilantro, cumin, coriander, dill, or lemongrass; sprinkle on some basalmic vinegar, or fresh ginger, or roll stuff in Panko.
In Illinois, in the 1960’s, talking like this might get you a weekend in the lockup with Sylvia Plath.
Thank god we women have helped each other evolve. I don’t have kids; neither did Julia. But with a little help from our friends, we all can make a memorable story, or a meal or two, that some might remember, and pass on.