Alison Clement

observations from a novelist who sometimes wants to say something small and see it published immediately

My Julia Child Week, not all mint juleps, but still.


I didn’t spend my Julia Child week sipping mint juleps, but I did have fun.

Last month writer Karen Karbo made a request. Karen’s book Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life has just come out. She was looking for bloggers to choose one of Julia Child’s axioms, to apply it for a week and to blog about it. I chose being amused. Here’s my report.

This is my final year of school. This summer I finished  a new novel. I’m writing a screenplay. I’ve started a novella.  I’m in the habit of busyness. Even when deadlines aren’t pressing down on me, I’m in the habit of feeling pressure. The habit of to- do lists. The habit of ignoring pleasure. I take feeling overwhelmed for granted. Somehow we have arranged things in this way. Americans. We brag about how much we have on our plate. As if busyness itself is a virtue.

Thoughts on School, Writing and Relationships
Sometimes we begin something for the pleasure of it, but end up using it to torment ourselves. Or is that just me?

Being Amused
There are several parts to being amused. First is the way we look at what we’re already doing. Most of it isn’t brain surgery. No one will die if we don’t get it exactly right. Face it—the things we do are just not that serious.

If you laugh at people’s jokes, they tell you more jokes.

Last night the baby came over. I call him the baby, but Harrison is 21 months now, a little boy. Babies and small children are amused by everything. We take a walk. We see many wonderful things. Four fat  hens. Piles of white rocks. A purple flower. Leaves on the ground. A calico cat. A small green ball. We stop so Harry can say hello to a man in a wheelchair and tell him we are hiking. Hiking! He notices the moon and reaches up his arms. “Grab it,” he says to me.

The small green ball
Harry found a small green ball in the road. It was squishy, he said. He was squeezing it, he told me. He threw it to me and I threw it back. He rolled it to me and I rolled it back. He bounced it. And then he kicked it down the sidewalk in front of us as we walked. A small green ball can do so many things.

Some things about me
I’d rather drive a funky car and live in a too small house than drink bad wine and cheap coffee.
I’d rather live in my warm car than live in a cold house. Although it hasn’t come down to that.

The bad habit
When you’re Catholic, you can make up for doing something bad if you suffer. People, non-Catholics, think this is letting ourselves off the hook—but it’s not. Also, you can make a sacrifice and then you get something. Not money, but something like grace. Or maybe you get a soul out of Purgatory. There are many useful things you can get from denying yourself pleasure.  It’s like money in the bank. I say I’m not Catholic anymore but I still have this Catholic way of doing things. Of needless suffering. Of pushing aside what is desire. Of everything being contingent.

Looking at a Menu
When I look at a menu, I don’t ask myself what I want. I ask what is cheapest or what has the fewest carbohydrates. When I run into my old friend Leon, my first thought is that I need to get home and finish writing my lesson plans.

My husband is wrong about one thing.
My husband thinks people can’t change, but he’s wrong. You can begin to change just by changing your actions. You can change just by choosing what to notice.

The Lesson of Breaking Bad
We become what we do. Changing what we do is doable. We can’t help how we feel. We can’t do anything at all about our own history. But we can order what we want instead of the cheapest thing. We can buy a cup of coffee and sit down with Leon.

The amusement list (abbreviated)
One my Julia exercises this week has been to notice people (or, sometimes, animals) amusing themselves. A few things from that list:

  • a girl in the park shows three children how to do the yoga pose called The Wheel
  • the neighbor’s black and white cat sits by a tree, watching, as the sun goes down
  • a woman on roller skates pushes a baby carriage
  • Maya in her yard picks the last of the summer peaches
  • the pitbull at my feet rolls onto his back and kicks his legs in the air
  • the neighbors set up a movie in their yard for anyone to come and watch
  • Farmer’s Market a man plays guitar with a Chihuahua lying on it
  • a girl at the park, reads
  • the fountain, full of children
  • a little girl sits on the sidewalk petting two cats
  • friends sit at a table outside on a summer night
  • a man on a unicycle, juggles (wait—is that actually fun?)

Categories: belief, books, Catholic Church, children, Chuck Willer, Living Like Julia, memoir, school, teaching, work, writing

1 reply

  1. I’m also in the camp of taking overwhelmed for granted. Rather than change, I chose Rule 6: To Be Happy, Work Hard. Useful, too, in its own right to remind me that there is happiness to be found in the work I do and I need to remember to notice it! But I should maybe try a week of learning to be amused as a kind of balance.

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