Poor Old Michael Finnegan Begin-again

No room for self-pity here

A couple of nights ago I watched Julie & Julia for the first time. Imagine the scenario – it’s relatively late, I’m in a borrowed house, on my own, feeling wrung out, dejected and more than a little bit lost. I’m pre-menstrual and I cried when I realised I’d left my deodorant in the library – perspective was lacking. What I needed was escapism and encouragement. Julie & Julia fit the bill – Meryl Streep in Paris boning a whole duck ticks all my boxes. In the film Julie is turning thirty, working a government call centre job and has just moved into a slightly grotty flat in Queens with her unspeakably attractive husband. She’s feeling directionless, unable to finish anything due to her ADD and, by God, she needs a focus and a deadline.

This has already gotten me into a fit of screaming despair, I’m practically tearing my hair out and lying face down on the bed crying copiously into someone else’s duvet cover. I said escapism, dammit!

As myself and two good friends sat late into the night one evening last week, swigging wine straight out of the bottle and two of the three of us crying over men it occurred to us that, hallelujah, we had come full circle. Friends for the longest of times, now aged thirty, we are all single and living at home with our mothers. Just to pip them to the post, I am also unemployed. When I read Bridget Jones’ Diary I felt so sure that it wouldn’t happen to me. Well, fuck it. It has.

At least this allows me some measure of escapism in watching Julie & Julia – both women have fabulous husbands and a place to live where they needn’t share a room with their (beloved) mother. This exists as a kind of crazy fantasy in my life at the moment. A room of my own. A kitchen with cookware not bought from ASDA/Woolworths/the pound shop. Someone to love. Sob.

Even Julia Childs had a small moment of despair when she feels that the eight years of her life spent writing her epic book of French cooking for Americans (servantless ones) are wasted when she can’t get it published. She wonders where she’s going, what she’s doing. I was like, Julia, tell me about it, honestly I know just how you feel. Six years of university and I still don’t know which way I’m going. At least she has a special hook for each of her copper-bottomed pans, even if she feels a bit lost. I can’t even get a job in a croissant shop.

But I exaggerate. As much as a year doing a masters at SOAS in the Anthropology of Food might have left me financially destitute, single and to all intents and purposes homeless, it has been a momentous year. I have learned so much from my time there – had my eyes opened to economics, international relations and the basics of anthropological theory which has been like a window into the collective brain of society. Foucault never seemed like a serious contender for a special place in my heart but the man puts words around ideas that have tickled round the edge of my consciousness for years but been meaningless and unwieldy until given shape by his work this year.

Studying food has given me a way into theories I would never have grasped without it, helped me to understand ideas in the story of meals and shared cooking pots. It’s given an emotional backdrop to some pretty dry concepts, been the gravy to make the dusty centrepiece of academic meat a bit more palatable. Whatever it is that some (most probably delusional) part of my brain thinks I’m ‘supposed’ to be doing seems to have gotten tantalisingly more tangible this year. The environmental aspect, the social aspect, the creative aspect and the food are gradually coming together.

A sore and self-imposed break-up from a much-beloved but somehow badly timed lover has left me bruised and missing the shape of him in my life. But despite all the grief and the temptation to ease the pain by casting it all away as time wasted, I look back at our time together and realise how lucky I’ve been, how much I’ve learned from him. He’s fixed a lot of what was broken, and nursed back to health my previously sorry excuse for faith in myself and set my feet on the path. He’s also been good enough to let me go with his blessing and send me on my way with his best wishes.

So here I am. Back at the beginning. Starting afresh with no job, no man, no money and no home. I don’t own a Julia Childs cookbook. I don’t think I can blog my way to a book deal and I certainly don’t have the resources to whip up Lobster Thermidor anytime soon. But I do feel armed with renewed determination and resolve, loaded with new knowledge that is allowing me to connect things together like never before and frankly, from here, unless my mother actually throws me out onto the street, the only way is up.

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