“Exuberance is an abounding, ebullient, effervescent emotion. It is kinetic and unrestrained, joyful, irrepressible. It is not happiness, though they share a border. It is, instead, at its core, a more restless, billowing state. Certainly it is no lulling state of contentment: exuberance leaps, bubbles and overflows, propels its energy through troop and tribe. It spreads upward and outward like pollen toted by dancing bees, and in this carrying ideas are moved and actions taken. Yet exuberance and joy are fragile matter. Bubbles burst; a wince of disapproval can cut dead a whistle or abort a cartwheel. The exuberant move above the horizon, exposed and vulnerable.”—Exuberance: The Passion for Life, by Kay Redfield Jamison, Johns Hopkins Professor of Psychiatry
Julia Child changed, no, redefined, the American kitchen, American cooking, American life. A housewife of a State Department operative in Paris, she fell in love.
She fell in love with Paris.
She fell in love with Parisians.
She fell in love with French ingredients.
And French chefs.
And French food.
And she made many, many of us fall in love with all those things, too.
(And we never looked back.)
“Julie and Julia,” the movie, is a love story.
To watch the movie was, for me, to fall in love with Julia Child.
To fall in love with Julia was easy.
How could you fail to fall in love with her?
You watched her shriek with unabashed delight as she fondled a pepper or shallot or mushroom in a tiny Parisian grocer’s shop—and you marveled as you watched the French shopkeeper, doubtless no instinctive lover of Americans with their questionable grasp of the language (Julia was no linguist), fall in love with Julia’s raw, unadulterated Exuberance.
The movie was Exuberance defined.
A, dare I say, perfect picture of the unregulated-unregulatable Power of Exuberance to make the world wobble on its axis.
(NB: Friends of the “real” Julia, to the person, agree that Meryl Streep’s continuously “over the top” effervescence was, hard to believe as it may be, Julia pitch perfect!)
The movie was also Excellence defined. Julia’s Book #1, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, merits the use of the word “mastering,” defines the term “mastery.” Ms. Child brought to the party, along with her off-the-shelf exuberance, only one prime attribute, of which she delightedly informs us at the start: She loved to eat!
From that love of food ingested came her years-long journey to mastery. She haunted the food shops of Paris and learned the ins and outs of the ingredients themselves. Fighting an oppressive, “males only” culture, she graduated from Le Cordon Bleu cooking school; the skeptical master joined the ranks of those fallen victim to JC’s exuberance, and her pit bull+ tenacity. She then engaged in a tireless and ceaseless and pothole-strewn Long March to cookbook publication by Alfred Knopf—prior rejection slips and last-minute publisher jiltings were almost too numerous to bear, even for the casual viewer of the movie.
But the story—including the unreported years following the first book in which more books followed, the TV show blossomed and America and its kitchens and pantries succumbed to Julia’s thrall—is, in the end, a story of Exuberance.
Julia did indeed master French cooking. But it was her pleasure therein (joy, effervescence, etc—see the epigraph at the top of this post) per se, captured in her prose style and in front of the TV camera, that conquered America. Her delight became our delight. Her sunniness became our sunniness. Her self-effacement in the kitchen as she booted another grounder (flipped an omelet out of the pan and onto the floor) became our license to play. It was … EJ/Experience Julia … we bought into as much as or many, many times more than the accuracy or novelty of the recipes she presented.
It was a helluva movie.
And a helluva message.
(Hats off, too, to Julie Powell as played brilliantly by Amy Adams. Julie’s own Relentless Pursuit of Excellence—producing all 524 recipes in Julia C’s first book in the space of a year, and recording it all at her Blog—was damn near as impressive as her mentor’s.)
I came to the movie with a 35-year-old appreciation of Ms Child, an almost equally long obeisance to Ms Streep’s acting skills, and a demonstrated 30-year Search for Excellence under my belt. But the movie sent me scurrying back to Kay Redfield Jamison’s book—and reminded me of the Power of Exuberance Unbound, of the Power of Exuberance Unbound and the Spirit of One Person to, literally, change the world.
As a practical matter:
I urge you-beg you-command you to inform your HR department today that Attribute #1 in the hiring of anyone in any job, non-technical or technical, shall hereinafter and forevermore be enthusiasm, effervescence—exuberance. And that goes triple or more when it comes to any and all promotions.