I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while, but perfectionism and “no that’s stupid, who needs to read that? no one” has gotten in the way. So here I am. Moira, my nanny-baby, is asleep for maybe another forty five minutes if I’m lucky.
Several months ago, Dan suggested we watch this movie:
I’m not a huge documentary watcher (Dan is), so I was hesitant. But it ended up being one of the most fascinating films I’ve ever seen. Watch the trailer here and rent it on Netflix if you can. I’ve never seen sushi look so good.
Quick Summary: Jiro Ono is an 85 year old sushi chef who is supposed to be the most talented sushi chef in the world. His restaurant seats only ten people. One plate costs around $100. You have to train for fifteen years just to be an apprentice. People travel to Japan just to eat his sushi.
You get the picture. The film focuses on Jiro’s fame but also on his philosophy of work:
Once you decide on your occupation, you have to immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret to success.
The reviews in the poster above call Jiro’s “breathtaking, inspirational, and humbling,” and that’s true. Listening to this man’s advice on work was very humbling. For me, it really put into perspective some of the complaints I had at my first two jobs out of college –that the expectations were too high, the hours too long. In some ways, that’s just what you have to do to succeed in your occupation, in your skill.
But another word I would use to describe the movie is “horrifying.” A sub-theme in the documentary is Jiro’s relationship with his two sons. Both are in their forties or fifties and both are sushi chefs. The first son is filmed saying (with a smile, so he must have gotten over it) “I wanted to go to college. my father talked me out of it. For the first eight years, I hated working here.”
In another scene, the two sons sit together discussing their childhood with the interviewer. They recall (again, laughing, so maybe this is just a cultural thing I’m not getting) waking up on Sunday mornings to find their father in the house. They would be so unused to seeing him that they would run to their mother (this is the only time she is mentioned in the film) saying, “Mom, there’s a stranger in the house!”
In this way, the documentary reminded me of another film I absolutely LOVE, which also features a highly successful… individual.
“The Devil Wears Prada” follows Anne Hathaway’s character as she works the major fashion magazine Runway for the magazine’s Executive Director Miranda (played by Meryl Streep). Though Hathaway really wants to work as a serious (non-fashion) journalist, she takes the job as Streep’s assistant because editors tell her it will be a major stepping stone. “A million girls would kill for that job.”
Hathaway starts out frumpy and skeptical, but (through many twists, turns, and awesome makeover scenes) she comes to respect Miranda and the work that she does. The movie ends, however, with Hathaway making the decision to leave the position because she repeatedly sees Miranda putting her work before the people in her life, and Andy (Hathaway’s character) sees herself beginning to follow in Miranda’s footsteps.
It’s a great movie. But there’s one scene I never really got. Andy jump starts her big Transformation after a devastating (but oh so fun to watch) dress-down from Miranda for her attitude towards fashion. Exhausted and humiliated, Andy goes crying to a coworker (played by Stanely Tucci) and tells him, “I don’t know what to do. I’m really trying–” to which Tucci replies, “Oh please. Honey. You’re not trying.”
When I first saw this scene, I sat there staring at the screen, thinking I’d missed a line. “What do you mean? Of course she’s trying. She puts up with Miranda. She does everything Miranda says…”
But that’s not the point. Hathaway has not “fallen in love with her work.” She hasn’t entered deeply into the craft. She hasn’t even entertained the possibility that the fashion world could have some importance she doesn’t grasp. There is no passion there. She’s not trying.
On the other hand, both Jiro’s and Miranda’s stories show the downfall of working with that kind of passion. As I said, Jiro literally looked like a stranger to his own sons. Miranda goes through her third divorce before the movie’s end. Neither are really able to sustain healthy relationships in or outside of the office.
This whole meditation had an interesting tie-in with yesterday’s Gospel and homily.
Our priest’s homily was actually about how it’s NOT bad to work hard! (Seems like a tough pitch with that whole “Martha Martha” thing in the background, right?) He encouraged us to look at the Gospel in light of the Old Testament reading, which sows Abraham and Sarah working very hard to welcome the Three Visitors to their home (making bread, killing the fatted calf, etc. etc.).
According to our priest, the juxtaposition of these two stories is supposed to show us that Abraham’s attention (and Mary’s, in the Gospel) to God is what sanctifies his actions. First, Abraham notices God passing by. Next, he invites Him to say. Finally, he sits down with the Lord and listens to him. All of his actions are ordered towards a relationship with God.
So, the answer to this whole Work/Life Balance thing, according to Father Bob? Well, it’s a… balance. Only by maintaining this active relationship with the Trinity will we know when to stop serving the Lord and start listening.