Selling ourselves

With timely enthusiasm, my 10 year old, who has been making “insect poison” all day out of a messy concoction of whatever she can get her hands on, just declared joyfully to me~ “I’m glad I made what I always wanted to!”  And I am glad to know that 2 decades before me, she has figured out the bliss of following her passion, without waiting for an outside jury to call it good.  We have been studying Genesis this week, and it calls to mind the fifth day.  God looked at the oceans and land, sea creatures and birds, and called them good.  I’m pretty sure he had just finished up with pistachios when he said this.  And then he moved onto the sixth day, and added people, probably so we could agree that it is good.  Even God likes an audience.

My husband crashed out at the ungodly early hour of 11:00 pm last night.  Which meant I had the rare opportunity to touch the sacred remote control.  So much power, so much pressure.  What does a girl watch when she actually gets to choose?  All I know is what I WON’T watch: if it includes Matt Damon or LEEE-O (as in DiCaprio), my husband’s man crushes, not gonna watch it.  (Sorry Matt and Leo, you’re both fine actors!) If it has the name Bourne or Star Wars in the title, not gonna watch it.  If a bike is going down a hill anywhere on screen, not gonna watch it.  So what did I watch?  Julia and Julia!  As contrary to all the former “not gonna watch’ems”as I could get:)  As a rule, if it’s a Nora Ephron film, wait for your man to fall asleep early!

Watching the film, my number one thought was how unlikeable I found the Julie Powell character, which is especially surprising, because she is played by the usually very likeable Amy Adams.  (If you’re not with me on this, try and find a copy of Junebug to watch.  She’s amazing.)  So, my conclusion is that perhaps Julie Powell herself is not so likeable.  Apparently (and surprisingly) Julia Child’s herself was not a fan of Julie Powell.  In a Publisher’s Weekly review, Judith Jones, Julia Child’s editor and confidante at Knopf, had the following to say on the topic:

“Flinging around four-letter words when cooking isn’t attractive, to me or Julia. She didn’t want to endorse it. What came through on the blog was somebody who was doing it almost for the sake of a stunt. She would never really describe the end results, how delicious it was, and what she learned. Julia didn’t like what she called ‘the flimsies.’ She didn’t suffer fools, if you know what I mean.”

At one point in the film, the Julie Powell character writes to her invisible audience:

Sometimes, I can’t help but wonder. Is there anyone out there reading me?   But I’m sure you are, aren’t you? Somebody?     Anybody?

And sure enough, lots of people were, in the end.  Perhaps the percentage of the population who gladly suffers fools? It’s frustrating, when you try to produce quality and be authentic, to see how mediocrity and stunts do so often succeed.  In fact, if you spend any time at all trying to study the alchemy of success, you may come across websites that explain the importance of self promotion.  In this day and age of everybody writes, it seems you do need to do a stunt to be noticed.  Most books and blogs giving advice on the subject agree.  Perhaps Julie Powell is a genius.  Perhaps she is just lucky.  Who can explain what made her blog so popular-if it was timing, talent, or topic?

Sometimes, I get obsessed with the science of it-trying to figure out what “it” thing other people are doing to compel success.  If Julia Child’s doesn’t even approve of Julie Powell, how did she get a movie made featuring Julie Child’s as a character, and a book deal with her name?  I suppose Malcomb Gladwell would have an actual answer for me, but I mean it philosophically.  For every J.K. Rowling in the world, there is a Stephanie Myers.  Success really is a crapshoot.  Life really is a mystery.

I watched a nice little video this morning by Rilla Alexander, an Australian illustrator who wrote, among other things, a whimsical book called “Her Idea” about a little girl trying to find success with her BIG idea.


The most compelling part of her presentation is the idea that making an idea into a success is 99 percent effort, and only 1 percent inspiration.  I don’t think this takes into account all the other outside factors, but I do like her take that making an idea successful requires an on going commitment to that single idea.  And her conclusion that- at the end of doing your best at something-there may not be a bandstand.  Not every idea-even with a commitment of 99 percent effort, brings the intended result.  We won’t all end up with a book and movie deal.  The conclusion of her book says “This is her idea, and it’s completely done.”  Like my daughter, she is glad she made what she always wanted to.  And sometimes, that’s the most we can hope for.  If you’re born a poet, you probably won’t be a great salesman.  It’s the conundrum of our age, and unfortunately, the salesmen usually find a lot more success than the poets.  But if you are a poet, here is a parting thought for you:


{Print available at emilymcdowelldraws.}


3 thoughts on “Selling ourselves

  1. i’ve thought about this topic a lot. i think when it comes to movies and books and the like – the formula for success is actually painfully simple. painful – because it’s tough to get there.

    i look at directors like stephen spielberg for when someone is trying to produce a “hit”.

    what it takes is heart and something unique. people want to feel your work so deeply and to learn about something new (be it a funny piece, a sad piece, or some other powerful emotion). they want art that seems effortless and lyrical but impacts them at their core.

    how to get there – finding new places in your heart and being willing to fall flat on your face and trusting your instincts in all new ways. some joy in the process yes – but for most a lot of hard work until they understand the formula a bit more clearly. workshopping and critiques and taking a step back and looking at things in totally new ways.

    an unflappable belief and commitment that you’re supposed to be doing what you’re doing.

    an example – the author of “the help” – i believe it took her 10 rewrites (at least) until her book was ready. what got her from the first rewrite to the second? the ninth to the tenth and everything in between?


    a friend who believes that you have greatness within you 🙂

    • Wow-I never heard that story about the author of the help before! 10 rewrites certainly would require an “unflappable belief and commitment”! Really appreciate your comment. Thanks for sharing:)

  2. Pingback: nursery love, etsy products for baby & modern, eclectic nurseries.

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