Gus and I go to the library almost every single day. It’s air conditioned, free, and they have a children’s section that he and I can BOTH enjoy. Gus loves having the run of the place and making up stories with the dollhouse and the small stable of animals. I love looking at all the incredible vintage children’s books and even some not so vintage. Today I stumbled across Jessie Hartland’s new book Bon Appetit!: the delicious life of Julia Child and almost fell over with jealousy and appreciation. I have to admit that I thought it was a Maira Kalman book at first (somebody I often have huge fits of jealousy over). Hartland’s art reminds me of Kalman’s quite a bit and the subject seemed like something Kalman would do. As I discovered later, Jessie Hartland has quite a career on her own and has been at it for some time. Her work is beautiful! In any case, I immediately checked this book out because something about it made me flail around inside with a sort of itchy longing I knew had a deeper meaning for me.
I want to be clear about something right away: when I am jealous of someone’s work, it’s because I actually LOVE what they do. This book is SO gorgeous and funny and DELICIOUS to look at. It doesn’t hurt that Julia Child is a FABULOUS subject who lived a very very colorful and interesting life—something perfect to illustrate. As someone who suffers with jealousy fairly regularly, I have made a study of it over the years. I read all about The Jealousy Map in The Artist’s Way some years ago and found it somewhat instructive, but there was something deeper I didn’t get at until I once really LISTENED SPECIFICALLY to what my jealousy told me. More often than not it was: Why do THEY get to do that? When I asked myself SPECIFICALLY what it was I thought they were GETTING to do, some interesting stuff came up. On the surface it can be something like I am so jealous that Jessie Hartland got to make a beautiful book about someone I admire, but if I dig deeper it’s really what that book REPRESENTS. It’s a delicious project, yes, but what is the ESSENCE of that project that so DIGS at me? I brought it home and made a list: she traveled to Paris as part of her research; it’s filled with lists, and labels, and France, retro life, and iconic people, etc. Then I got what ALL those things for me do: They feel like a celebration of life. DING! OH YEAH! That’s what I like to do—create visual work that celebrates what I love about life.
It’s no coincidence that just this morning I was feeling so lost to what it was I even wanted to do anymore. It’s been about a month since I’ve been able to do any sort of work and things have been so stressful without any of my usual mental health resources of down time, therapy, or work, and I’ve momentarily lost the groove. Seeing this book was just a WAKE UP call to say: HEY! YOU STILL WANT TO DO STUFF!
I swear, sometimes jealousy can be more instructive than inspiration can be. It can be like a set of MARCHING orders. This is when I welcome jealousy and almost get EXCITED by it. I’ll never forget the afternoon I saw that an author I admired was coming out with yet ANOTHER book so hot on the heels of their last one. It made me so jealous that I finished the draft of The Artist in the Office THAT DAY and contacted the agents I knew. Seeing Maira Kalman’s work gave me the marching orders to draw cakes. Jessie Hartland’s Bon Appetit! is giving me the marching orders to go back to what I love to do visually: celebrate life.
I’ve ordered all of Hartland’s books from the library. I am excited to explore this “new” discovery. What other marching orders does her work have for me? I’m looking forward to finding out.