Sunday, September 1, 2013

my week of living like julia - part one

Writer Karen Karbo has a fun month-long project going on over at her blog Karbohemia, to help promote her new book Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life. The idea is this: you choose one of Julia's ten rules and live that rule for one week, then write about it.

I chose rule number eight: Cooking means never saying you're sorry.

"[Julia] knew that mastering anything was a process," Karbo writes, "and just because you were serious, that didn’t mean you wouldn’t mess up, a lot. Her own show is a real-time lesson on this philosophy: the nonsensical instructions, the occasions when things are overdone or underdone, or something that’s supposed to adhere, doesn’t. This is simply the way of it, or so the unspoken message goes, and there’s no need to apologize, ever."

How freeing, I thought. And how... impossible.

I apologize for everything: for my cooking, for gifts I give people, for social engagements I can't make. When I have a nice conversation with a friend I've met at the supermarket, I later apologize for having kept her so long from the peanut butter aisle. I apologize with my face when I haven't yet gotten around to apologizing with words. In writing group last Thursday, the low-grade apologies I tossed out about the excerpt I was about to read had my fellow writers bringing up the theoretical "apology bucket" so much that we found ourselves in a discussion about how cool it would be if we had an actual apology bucket, with actual money, and could take up a pool where someone could win the pot.

"Why all this apologizing?" Karbo asks. "It’s a terrible and silly tic, and it’s not remotely polite. Instead, it creates the mental habit of feeling apologetic."

Alright it was time to change. For years, my sorry-sorry-sorry had been driving Stephen crazy, and now we were on the brink of a week in which we'd taken time off to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. The timing was perfect. I determined that with Julia's help, and Karen Karbo's, I was going to spend the week of Friday, August 23,  through Thursday, August 29, not apologizing - and break this habit forever.

Of course the first thing you learn when you agree to Live Like Julia for a week is that you can't just instantly turn on your inner Julia and turn off your inner you. In the car on the way to work that first morning, Friday, I was feeling terrible that we were approaching our anniversary celebration and I'd suddenly come down with a bad cold. The apology popped out as naturally as an exhale. It wasn't just the guilt over the bug I'd contracted [which I had no control over]. It's also pretty automatic with me whenever I sniffle without stopping myself:

Sniffle. "I'm sor--"

"What?" he said.


I decided that Friday would be pre-Julia day. As preparation for my week of no sorries, I'd have a day where I just observed my sorrying habits - which is to say, I moved my start date back a day because I obviously wasn't ready. That day I apologized to my boss because I was taking time off work. I called and apologized to Stephen when I wasn't ready to be picked up at five ... then when I wasn't ready to be picked up at five-thirty, then five-forty five. Stephen didn't care. The only thing that was annoying was the apologizing.

"Starting tomorrow," I told him that evening, "I'm not apologizing for a week."

As I explained the plan, I fully expected Stephen to praise me for the initiative I was taking in honor of our relationship, but what he said was:

"I hate to say it, but--"

"What?" I said.

"But you're not anywhere near as bad as you used to be," he said. [Surprise.] "When we were first together, it drove me nuts."

Hmm. Maybe he'd gotten so used to my apologies that he hardly noticed anymore. Or maybe it was true. Maybe I wasn't as bad. Maybe this would be easier than I thought.

Saturday morning, I awoke feeling good. The game was on. As I brushed my teeth and gave them a floss, I didn't feel apologetic at all. When, a little later, I apologized for stepping on what I thought was Stephen's toes but turned out to be the rubber rim of his flip flops, I was not concerned. It was a momentary setback in an otherwise promising morning.

A little later:  

Sniffle "Sorry," I said, and then immediately, "There I go again."

"What?" Stephen said.

"Oh, sorry, I apologized again." I said. "Oops, and again. Sorry."

This was not working.

I decided to amend my goal. Instead of I won't apologize the whole week, the plan would be, by the end of the week, I'll have gotten myself to stop apologizing.


 That I could do.

#CliffHanger #LiveLikeJulia

[For more information on how you can Live Like Julia, check this out. To pre-order Karen Karbo's lovely book Julia Child Rules, go here.]


  1. A great amendment to your goal. Looking forward to the next installment of the cliffhanger!

  2. thank you for sharing this project. i am overly apologetic too and have been trying to quash the sorry insurgency once and for all. alas, what is apologetic in me is not so easily defeated, for which it is sorry. i am reminded of when i quit smoking. i quickly realized that it's impossible to "not do" something i have been doing. i mean, you have to think of what it is that you don't want to do and then sort of clench to restrain yourself from doing that thing. i realized that i needed to find a way of phrasing it that allowed me to do something, in the case of not smoking, of letting go of cigarettes, which i visualized as a hand dropping a cigarette. the other thing that came up for me as i read your piece was the idea that sorry suggests a level of control, that you can guarantee an outcome despite there being things you don't know & unknown factors beyond your control. doesn't sorry suggest an unrealistic assumption about how much you are truly capable of being responsible for? and that to be sorry less often is merely to more accurately assess what is truly your responsibility?

  3. Thanks, Karen. It's been a very interesting week!

    Rick, thanks for your great personal, insightful comments. What you say about responsibility is so true - and one of the things I found myself mulling a lot during this week. The connections between apology and responsibility. And the connections between apology and authority.

  4. "the first thing you learn when you agree to Live Like Julia for a week is that you can't just instantly turn on your inner Julia and turn off your inner you." Love this!

  5. So true - it's difficult to turn off your inner self and completely absorb Julia! Rick's comment is relatable. I frequently apologize for everything and everyone - it is a crutch for me to proactively assume responsibility for what has or will go wrong, and in some situations to lesson the reaction of those who are unhappy with something. My use of sorry had not been something I thought of until reading your post.

  6. Sorry is so many things, isn't it? Definitely a crutch. Thanks, all of you, for your comments!