Ceci N’est Pas Une Revue de Film– or, the Julie and Julia Kickstart, Ad Infinitum– or, a Question of Yes

This is a movie review– of sorts.  It’s also somewhat surreal– Magritte’s Treachery of Images, except instead of this not being a blog post or a movie review, ceci n’est pas ma vie, my life.  At least it’s not the life that I want.

I’ve got about five drafts of this post started, all puttering out.  Much like my life, I suppose– I start things and don’t finish.  I’m sick of it, I feel like a failure, a whiner, a list of negative terms and ideas that I only partially am, because I still have wonderful family and friends who check in on me and haven’t yet given up.  I would like to feel philosophical about journeys and pathways abandoned, but right now I see roads past and a murky map with no clear directions ahead.

Ceci n’est pas une bonne vie.

The surrealist metaphor, the invocation of Magritte is intentional, because like the painting, the Treachery of Words is that while yes, they explain and can represent, they’re still chosen, only part of the picture.  The words only portray what the author chooses.  (More or less– we’ll worry about my subconscious later.  I tell my shrink that a lot.  Note to self.  Call my shrink.  Explore whether and how to re-start medications.  Start a new blog post on that.)

So there are a lot of things I could write here and go on at length about, though as I’ve said, my attempts to write this before have just meant blog silence.  Instead, I’ll just post the first fits and starts of a number of these, and perhaps later when this imperfect, unfinished, surreal mess is posted, perhaps I can come back and feel like one of them (all of them, any of them) are worth finishing.  Here goes– I’ve put them in bold for, well, not your reading pleasure, but for sheer melodramatics.

The thing about not being able to go to work anymore, about not being able to stand the idea of it, about not being able to stop the cold prickles and numbness that cover your chest, your neck, your arms, making your breath ragged and your face sweaty– well, aside from the needing to find something different to do, they tend to think you shouldn’t come back. (Also, writing in the second person can be pretentious.  Or angsty.  But my blog name starts with bipolar, and for now, I’m indulging  the crazy.)

When I chose the blog handle bipolarlawyercook, I chose it mostly because the words flowed best that way.  It’s taken me a while to realize that while I can add all the descriptors on after the “B” word that I want– writer, wife, shitty friend, avid reader, hider-from-life– bipolar comes first for a reason.  It is a defining thing, one I don’t like at all, and ignoring that means that it tends to whack you in the back of the head and make your life miserable until you admit it.  Bipolar comes first.  I hate it, but it doesn’t change one damned thing.

My mother-in-law passed in mid-July in her sleep, at home, having recently taken much joy in her new grandson and having spent time with family laughing and enjoying herself.  It was a good death, after a sometimes hard life and the eclipsing problems of old age starting to catch up with her.  It was a good death, and she’d been happy in the time right before.  It doesn’t change the feelings her children and I feel of should have done more, should have talked more, should have spent more time, should have thought more. If you’re wondering if you feel that way about someone in your life, well, you will. I miss her.  I wish I had called her more on my own, just to talk, whether or not her kids were around.  I wonder if she knew that I loved her as much as I do.  I look at her dining room table, now in my house, look at the multi-colored pyrex bowls and butcher block of hers now in my kitchen, and hope I can fill them up with enough food to feed to her children and in-laws and grandson that somehow she’ll know.  She liked my cooking, I know that.  She always seemed glad for the leftovers, and happily took leftover desserts that I’d made.  For all that I write and effuse and angst all over this screen here, I don’t say “I love you” aloud very often.  I hope that she knew that’s what the chocolate cakes and the pork roasts all meant.

I’ve said it before, I’ll undoubtedly say it again, and what I’ll say next is something that scares the ever-living shit out of me.  I don’t know where the line between self-pity, taking care of myself, and working too hard is until I’m already past it and the panic’s set in. The panic makes my occasionally brilliant, insightful, witty fine mind turn into a murky place where I play hide and seek with myself, ducking into rooms full of distractions that mean I don’t have to face the fear of not just admitting that I’ve fucked up again and have to start new all over, once more–it’s perpetual, the fear of when is it going to happen again and the fear/knowledge/worry that it’s not a line I’ll ever recognize until I’ve already crossed it.

Scorpios, of which I am one, are supposed to be passionate, incisive, creative, intense.  They’re ruled by the planet (ex-planet, and boy is that a metaphor for my sense of being right now) Pluto, named after the god of the underworld, and if that’s not a metaphor for my base tendency to brood despite glimmers of rhetorical wit and keen sarcasm (not to mention mean parking skills) then I don’t know what is. See, Pluto has an erratic orbit, can take forever (21 years, though sometimes less depending on what stars are ascendant, from 13 to 25 years) to orbit the sun only once.

According to Wikipedia’s Planets in Astrology Entry, “Astrologically Pluto is called “the great renewer”, and is considered to represent the part of a person that destroys in order to renew, through bringing buried, but intense, needs and drives to the surface and expressing them, even at the expense of the existing order. A commonly used keyword for Pluto is “transformation”. It is associated with power and personal mastery and the need to co-operate and share with another, if each is not to be destroyed. Pluto governs big business and wealth, mining, surgery and detective work, and any enterprise which involves digging under the surface to bring the truth to light.”

Oh, but I wish the last part were true, that there is renewal from the ruins of (self-) destruction.  It’s funny, because the other word that’s been on my mind is “Mercurial,” about which Merriam Webster says this:

  • Main Entry: 1mer·cu·ri·al
  • Pronunciation: (ˌ)mər-ˈkyr-ē-əl
  • Function: adjective
  • Date: 14th century

1 : of, relating to, or born under the planet Mercury
2 : having qualities of eloquence, ingenuity, or thievishness attributed to the god Mercury or to the influence of the planet Mercury
3 : characterized by rapid and unpredictable changeableness of mood <a mercurial temper>
4 : of, relating to, containing, or caused by mercury

synonyms see inconstant

I don’t like this definition, though I’m worried it’s apt.  I don’t like thinking I steal people’s time and attention and don’t give anything back.  I want to be predictable, because lord knows there was little of that when I was younger.  One of the little birthday cards I have kicking around with information about Scorpios says that we detest interference, and that is so very right, even excluding the ACOA control freak tendencies I layered on top of that like poor-laid shellac that bubbles and yellows and stifles until I have to rip it all off violently, though violence for me is also passive-aggression, such as oh, say, just stopping going to work.  Not that I would know anything about that.

The short answer to what I did in my non-summer vacation?  I hid in my house and found new corners of the internet where I could pretend things were comfortable.  When my mother-in-law passed and we went over to her place most every day to start cleaning her house, it was terrible and hard and I hated myself because all I could think half the time was “It’s easier to clean someone else’s mess than my own, and I’m glad to have something to do.” I was tired at the end of the day because I wasn’t used to talking to anyone but my husband every day.  And now I have the estate to help probate, and while it may be the only/last legal thing that I do aside from simple wills for my family and friends, and I can finish this and do a good job.  My mother in law was a perfectionist– she deserves nothing less.

Our dear friend L. became ill and needed surgery, which took longer than expected because her condition was pretty damned serious.  I insisted (heavy-handedly, but hey, we Scorpios are passionate folks concerned of our own rightness) that she stay with us because she’s susceptible to the drugs and I was worried about her being at home alone.  I did a lot of cooking– something I was glad for– and cleaned the back room (not very well, but the piles were all at least away from the bed)– and again had a hard time with the idea of talking to someone and having normal human conversations, not just the ones in my head.  I retreated more than once to my hammock, the one my dear Better Half bought for me, and generally behaved like a coward, hiding and reading and writing things I haven’t yet posted (though a few snippets have made their way in) and generally hating the fact that life shouldn’t be so hard, especially keeping a dear and ill friend decent company. I hope that she knows that the soba noodles with snap peas and my questions about whether she wanted some toast or some fruit or had gone to the bathroom meant I love you and worry about you. (And now she does, because she reads this.  Yeah.  Talk about indirect conversation.)

So yeah, now, here’s the movie review.  Still with me?  Bless you.

L. and I went to see Julie and Julia and yes, yes, yes you should see it.  I will throw in Joyce qua Molly Bloom’s “yes i said yes i will yes” because it’s not only apt in its surreal eloquence, in its way in which syntax and grammar is for people with more time and a less insistent need to express now now now. yes i said yes i will yes you should see this movie.

There’s the level on which this movie review is a movie review, or a representation thereof (Oui, bon soir, Monsieur Magritte, comment allez vous, je m’apelle bipolarlawyercook, nee Erika), and that’s this.  Meryl is marvelous, Stanley stupendous, and the Child romance is one for the ages, one in which the question of whether Paul loved Julia and vice versa like Calvin loved Alice is a resound-unto-the-hills mighty yes.  A barbaric yawp of a yes, really.  The Julia part of the film is a masterpiece, a Mastering the Art of the Period Film if you’ll forgive the horrible pun as much as you’ve forgiven my mercurial ways too many times to keep count.  The costumes (there’s a green dress when Julia’s sister’s in town (played by the FABULOUS Jane Lynch of Glee and Christopher Guest film fame) that’s just fabulous) and the sets, the color palette in contrast with the Julie part of the film, the banter, the feel– if you’ve been to Paris and ached for its beauty, for the sense that it’s its own place out of time, then YES.  The screenplay, too– the interweaving of the two womens’ stories, resonant and yet not heavy-handed– was just perfect.  And as Meryl said in her Charlie Rose interview with Nora Ephron (and thank you to L. for pointing this out), this is the Julia of My Life in France, but it’s also the Julia of television, the one in our heads and our hearts, and oh, joie de vivre means nothing until you’ve seen Meryl Be Julia.  Because she Is and she Does and she Will and a thousand million Molly Blooms would say Yes to the woman on screen reminding us that tall, awkward, not pretty women are brilliant and beautiful and beloved and capable of being all those things, always, even if it takes eight years to get published and a mountain of onions in a small Paris kitchen.

But the Julie part of the movie, this is where the already-veering-into-Aesopian-fable movie review becomes painful and meta.  Because I read the book and you should too, whether you like Julie Powell or not.  To be honest, like many movie and book reviewers, I sometimes find her annoying on page and on screen, and I’ve found some of her subsequent writing to be forced or painful or something.  Or something being the key.  It’s not so much sympathy as a sense of my own pathos that I have for Ms. Powell– it hurts like lemon juice on thousands of papercuts, and I cringed as I looked at the screen.  In the end, though, I love her, because she is Real, not or something at all.

I’ve written a few times in meta-fictional stories I’m just now, here, posting the links to (see supra, i.e., shiny mental distractions while I hide from reality via my TV show and movie fanfiction writing habit) that fiction is a mirror through which we confront truths that are too painful head-on, as well as a lens through which we project all our desires, because I don’t care what a literature fan or scholar you are, we’re all Mary Sues in the end, and you know what, here– I’m embarrassed by the fanfiction and yet not, because as weird and incestuous and stalkery as the mere concept seems, I daresay some of the stuff I wrote is pretty damned good, the craziness, smutiness, slashiness, self-indulgence all notwithstanding.  But back to that or something.  The or something is the reflection I see and cringe from, the reflection of the sad, mixed-up woman with plenty of reasons to be happy who is nonetheless miserable and wants a magic fairy in the form of Julia Child (or a blog, or a book contract, or a winning lottery ticket, oh wait, that’s a Mary Sue bit right there at the end, see how that happens?) to come along and Make Everything Better.

So yes– I did have the urge to sob hysterically at what a mess my life is during the movie, but I suppressed myself to a few sniffles and a wiped eye or three.  I’m a Scorpio Adult Child Manic Depressive and maybe a few other things– I can stave off a breakdown and be brave until I push my way through writing this blog post and hoping that the wash of saline over my keyboard doesn’t do permanent damage.  I started a blog.  I started a blog because I hoped it might save my life.  It hasn’t, because I stopped writing it, stopped cooking, stopped taking phone calls, stopped going to work.  Stopped.  But I’m breathing.  And starting again.

There’s a part in the film where Julie’s making a chicken stuffed with cream cheese and other fattening goodies, and she drops it and the filling spills all over the floor.  With a strangled scream of disgust, Julie starts scooping the filling back inside, making even more of a mess– and then the scene cuts to an opportune phone call her husband takes.  When the camera returns to our angsty blog heroine, she’s sprawled out on the floor in an attitude of defeat, and it takes coaxing from her so-patient-husband (despite his insistence he’s not a saint and a few angry outbursts they have, including one night he spends at the office rather than home, he is a saint, and yes, there’s a parallel here to my husband, because he is a saint even if he’ll deny that he is and say he doesn’t deserve me, of all incredible ironies) to get her up off the floor to answer the phone.  She does, and then she keeps going.  It all turns out well in the end, despite burnt boeuf bournignon and self-absorption and -pity and more food than is good for her waistline– although Amy Adams cannot play chunky like Meryl plays tall, but Meryl is Meryl and that’s all there is to say except, well, maybe I wish I was Meryl right now.  Except that I don’t, not really, I just wish I was a better myself, a songworthy myself that sounds not like a dirge but a carol.

So here is where the movie review is a self-imposed ass-kicking, an attempt to stop hiding and post the actual, real fiction I’ve written and come out and play nice with virtual and real friends, an attempt to say yes i said yes i will yes and answer the question of whether I’m going to get on with my life and not so much pretend that the past hasn’t happened as determine to do something different this time and hope that it works.

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I am off to chop onions a la Brave Wonderful Julia, even if she’s just the one in my head (and really, there are lots of others in there and she’s a far better role model than most) in a small-ish Boston kitchen on my mother-in-law’s butcher block.  I mean this literally and metaphorically.  As Peter Mayle once said, the year began with lunch, and I drooled at the bruschetta they showed in the movie when Julie first decides she will Write A Blog Change Her Life Do Something.  I’m hoping there’s a barbaric yawp, an I celebrate myself, and sing myself soon, and that the answer remains yes.

yes is said yes i will yes, in answer to my self-imposed question.

This is not a movie review.  It’s not even a call to my own arms, wrapped around myself, rocking (out of the cradle and I can never go back, endlessly rocking, because too much Whitman is never enough and if he didn’t need editing, then neither do I, at least not today) as I say It’s going to be fine, because I don’t know if it will.  It’s a blog post.  It’s a confession that I’m fucked-up and ashamed and scared to all hell and that goddamnit, I’m going to say yes again anyway.  It’s a to-do list of things to do for tomorrow, ad infinitum.

Say yes, even if bipolar comes first.  Waitress or bookstore clerk or essay and short fiction writer, maybe someday someone will publish me or give me a lottery ticket next, along with the cook, probably not so much with the lawyer.

Do you think there’s a domain name called yesbipolaryeslawyeryescookyeseverythingspossibleyes.net?  I’ll put it on my list of new things to do.  For now, I’ve accomplished today’s, because the question was “Will you hit publish?”

You’re reading the answer.

P.S.  I have one thing to feel brave about.  In one scene in the movie, Julia bisects her first living lobster as her voice narrates a letter to her friend Avis de Voto.  She says, “And also, I am apparently fearless,” with a cut to the lobster massacre in pursuit of the delicacy Homard a l’Americaine, which yes, I have made.  It’s delicious, well worth the murder of innocent lobsters.  I squeed and eeewed more once I was done with the crustacean vivisection than I like to imagine The Julia ever did, but the fact remains– I still did it.

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14 thoughts on “Ceci N’est Pas Une Revue de Film– or, the Julie and Julia Kickstart, Ad Infinitum– or, a Question of Yes

  1. magpie

    Yes you wrote, yes you published, yes you did, yes.

    I’m glad to see you, words tumbling out hither and yon, and I’m sorry about the great unsettledness you have.

    Reply
  2. igrockspock

    Whoa. You’re eloquent. Sorry I have nothing more substantive to say than that, but I’m kind of overwhelmed by the mastery of the English language here.

    Reply
  3. Jenn @ Juggling Life

    You are brilliant and talented and you make me want to cry and hug you and coax you out for a cup of coffee. My “I Love Yous” often come in the form of food as well–though I never could have put it as eloquently as you did.

    My condolences on the passing of your MIL. Even a good death can be hard on those left behind.

    Welcome back, I’ve been missing you.

    Reply
  4. gentlethorns

    I’m not sure what I want to say in response to this but I know I want to say something because you are brave and eloquent and deserve (I’m not sure deserve is the word I mean) to be understood and accepted.

    But more than that, this was beautiful and it’s left me feeling a little shaken up inside.

    I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Just, I know it’s hard and I get you and I like you anyway and so much of what you said resonates. I failed to finish university twice because I couldn’t leave my dorm room and hid my phone in the back of my wardrobe and quietly freaked out and then pretended I was fine. I love to learn but I couldn’t do it in an environment where I had to face so many other people. I don’t regret it because I have the best job and I’m mostly pretty happy, but I mourn for the things I didn’t get to learn.

    Anyway, this comment has got too long.

    Reply
  5. Robert Modean

    Erika,

    This was beautiful and inspiring and thought provoking and intimate and so wonderfully you in every way that it makes my heart sing even as it aches for your recent loss. My heart breaks for the recent loss of your mother-in-law, a truly wonderful woman from your description. It is a sad truism that we never feel as if the ones we love know how much they were cared for once they’re gone, but the truth is we tell people every day how much we love them, how much we care, not just with words but with actions. So with every meal you cooked, every dessert you gave her, you were telling her how much you cared. She knew Erika, and something tells me she loved you just as deeply.

    We’re all Mary Sues in the end, truer words my friend, truer words, and yet you are truly a remarkable person Erika, and gifted in so many ways, your writing chief among them. I must admit these past few months I have selfishly mourned your absence from ficdom, felt your withdrawal in the same way a child feels when denied a favorite treat. In part I hope that this will mark your return to fan fiction since you are so very good at writing in that genre, yet as much as I desire that I would put no more pressure on you than you are already putting on yourself, in fact I would wish you’d give yourself more credit. You see roads past and a murky map with no clear directions ahead, yet journeys left undone can be resumed, roads past can be revisited, and no one truly sees what lays before them. We, all of us, live in the here and now, stumbling along a path we only dimly perceive, feeling our way through the haze. The murky map before you is murky only at the moment, focus on what you need to do for yourself and in time the sun will return to burn the haze away. Ceci n’est pas une bonne vie, mais c’est l’un tu as. Vivez il, mon amie.

    Be well,

    Robert

    Reply
  6. CTJen

    I’m so glad you’ve posted this. I’ve missed your blog and have been wondering how you were. I’m so so sorry you’re having a terrible time right now and I hope you are able to find the support you need to come out of it. My own BP Hubs was hospitalized at the end of June (for 3 weeks!) and things are just now starting to feel “normal” again. I hope you find normal soon, too. (((HUGS)))

    Reply
  7. Eldritchhorrors

    I can’t respond to this without getting personal, so I’m going to send you an email tonight instead, just…

    know that you are not alone. In any of it.

    Hope you are well.

    Reply
  8. Janet

    First of all, I’m sorry about your mother-in-law. That she passed quietly and peacefully is a blessing, but it’s nonetheless hard for those who survive her. Please pass on my condolences to your husband.

    Secondly…Julia. Dear sweet Julia!!! I loved the manicotti scene 🙂 and the scene where she JUMPED out of bed to greet the day (“…joie de vivre means nothing until you’ve seen Meryl Be Julia…” – PERFECTLY said, Erika!!!)

    Thirdly, I recently bought a condo and since I’m going thru treatment for cancer, it might behoove me to make a will. I’d love to have YOU do it, if you’re able and willing. Let me know 🙂

    Lastly, I’m so, SO glad you wrote this. I’ve been thinking of you from time to time, but I’m so wrapped up in my own crap that I haven’t contacted you and I’m sorry.

    Hugs! Far away ones, if need be 🙂

    Reply
  9. Sherry

    I have read and re-read and re-read this post. I’m one of your Bones fans, following you here because I enjoy so much your sense of humor and drama and angst and darkness. Your replies to my reviews have always left me feeling befriended, so when I finally realized that you were not doing well I began to worry. Asking you for a review of this film was not simply “Hey, what do you think about it?” but more so a knock at the door asking you to come out and play, and once again I am befriended by your reply.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  10. Jennifer

    I’m a big fan of your Bones fic and I must admit I’ve been thinking about you as well. I’ve checked your blog repeatedly in hopes of finding a post. What you’ve written here is so familiar to me. I’ve been there and done that. I won’t say I know what you’re going through (no one can), I can’t say it will get better, but I will say that you are not alone in your frustrations, you are being cheered on and you are doing what all of us who face these challenges must do, getting up each day, going on, and trying to make each day a little better then the day before.
    Never forget that you are cared for, you are loved, and that each and every day is a new opportunity.
    I also have to tell you that I seriously envy your writing ability, your wit and your style.
    Remember the Poco song from Bones. Keep on trying. That’s all anyone can do.

    Reply
  11. Colette

    Count me in as another fan of your Bones fics on ff.net (I’m known as sheytune over there). I’m sorry to hear you’ve been having such a bad time (is anyone having a good year this year?), but I’m glad to hear you’re still putting one foot in front of the other. Some days, that’s all that’s possible. I hope things improve soon.

    Reply

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