Writing as cooking

In what is surely an over-used metaphor, it occurred to me today that my writing is similar in a lot of ways to my cooking.

A notebook, a novel and two cookbooks.

Every dish you make is building on the ones you’ve made before. Each egg you fry and each paragraph you write builds on all the past eggs and paragraphs. You build skill each time and you get the pleasure of having done the thing. You can see how this egg was different than the last, how you need a little more butter and a lower flame on the stove. You can read a paragraph you wrote and see how its sentences work together, or don’t.

Think of writing as something done for a small audience, sometimes of one or two. Making a dish you really want to eat, the story you really want to read. The dish may not come out as well in every respect as you would hope and the story will almost never live up to the idea of it you had in your head when you began. The story will have become something surprising and you’ll discover over the years what constitutes the perfect scrambled egg and the right setting on your toaster.

Roasted butternut squash over Arborio rice, dinner on Friday night.

Reading improves both writing and cooking, both spring from the same place of giving yourself the shared experience of creating something. Being a cook and being a writer are both matters of eternal practice and continuing pleasure as well as being things you can share by degrees with others. Most cooks don’t have restaurants and most writers don’t have publishing contracts.

Try to make writing like eating and cooking: daily, essential, and enjoyable even when the reality doesn’t meet your expectations.

Neighborhood cedars from today’s walk

Recent walks

I’ve been walking after lunch most days and I’ve started taking the same photograph each time, at the spot where there’s a good vista. It makes a nice place to turn around.

August 11, 2020

I’ve been doing this walk, almost every day for a couple of months. It’s just under two miles round trip on the straight flat road of my neighborhood.

October 16, 2020

I’ve taken a lot more than these two photographs but they make for a striking contrast. I don’t quite have a strained metaphor for my own life the last couple of months or in the last year. A lot has changed and a lot hasn’t.

I’m on sabbatical and I’m learning and working and moving through the project I outlined both faster and slower than I’d hoped. Overall, I’d say I’m on schedule and generally enjoying the time I have to work at home. I always struggle with managing that time though, even more acutely since I am the only one accountable for it. (And I want to look back on the span of months, weeks, and days from mid-August to January with a sense of having done a lot of work, well.) It always feels I *could* or _should_ be doing more…but it’s also a traumatic, stressful, deeply worrying time we are all living through. Being kind to myself as much as I can (and to others) is perhaps in any time and especially now, the best way to survive this year and those to follow it.

Recent Reading, Spring 2020

Hello hypothetical readers,

Life here is a notch or two up on the difficulty scale here at Broadhead Cottage. We’re safe and healthy overall but there’s certainly a weight over things, like a weighted blanket you’d love to get out from under. I’m going to put all that aside, as I said, we’re safe and healthy, we’ve still got jobs.

What have I been reading you ask?

Email, of course, some of it deeply good. I love Craig Mod’s newsletters. I already felt them to be a major balm for my life & mental health and lovely encouragement to walk more. Here’s a brief excerpt from his most recent edition of Ridgeline:

The route had almost nothing but the fields — no restaurants or places to stop aside from some sad wayward convenience stores. I made the mistake of eating the wrong convenience store thing, realizing I had done so twenty minutes later, and coming within seconds of fertilizing some unsuspecting farmer’s patty. Instead I saw yet another convenience store off in the distance, sprinted, and then realized I had also found the saddest toilet in all of Japan.

Ridgeline 070: Kodomo-no-hi

I’m also, slowly, reading both Moby Dick and 3 Musketeers.

I’m planning a writing retreat for myself in July & August, I have a block of twenty vacation days and I’m going to spend a couple of hours sitting at a computer, writing. (or, in a hammock in the shad of the hundred-year-old white pines that we share our yard with.) I got a copy of what looks to be a very good book on fiction writing, one that balances as it says in its introduction the analytical and creative requirements of fiction writing. I’m very much looking forward to it.

I’ve inevitably got 4 or 6 other creative projects of one kind or another I’m also working on, so I’ll reserve afternoons this summer for those pursuits as well. I’ve got a couple of websites I’d like to build and a publishing project or two I’d love to get off the ground this month.

Do anything, do something

Hello from my home office.

I’ve been walking outside more, never as much as I’d like. I’ve been drinking tea and sitting with a book for a few minutes in the afternoon. I’ve been working to be kind to myself, to set meaningful, attainable, goals. I’ve been doing yoga more consistently. I’ve started to take two minutes a few times a day, get up from my desk and do some exercises. I’ve been trying to learn to spell ‘exercise’ not ‘excercise.’

I hope you, hypothetical reader, are finding the things which help you manage and maybe even find some victories amid the ongoing chaos here in our Jackpot.

Lichen on White Pine (detail), taken with a GF1, March 30, 2020

I’m working on things in my job that I enjoy, most days, and have made space to do some self-taught programming stuff during the work day that I’ve been struggling to allow myself to do since it’s the sort of learning with a long-term payoff on the order of “do lots of things a bit better and faster while doing some things less now.” Working my way through this programming book over the next month or so.

I’ve always got three or six things I’m ‘working on’ that are small, creative things: craft projects for lack of a better word. Little software things that resemble games, micro-publishing projects, small electronics things or websites or little essays here. I am trying to make space for these things, accomplish a bit, do some novel cooking, make some bread.

This is the good bread I made for Feaster, we ate good food and I spent a lot of the day baking. It was as good as can be and it was nice to spend a lot of the day in the kitchen. (Which we’re in the process of renovating/paying a friend to help us with paint & carpentry.)

Chessie got me these little note pads above, a little daily affirmation for myself of ‘three things’ in my case ‘three things I want to do that I don’t have to do that will make me feel good and/or better. So, I think that fits in very well with what I’ve been describing here: do something, anything, that’ll help you through that’ll make you feel better, more equipped to help yourself, those your with and those you’re not. Remember the things you love to do and try to do them. Knit the sweater, play the video game, hem the skirt, make the bookshelf, weed the garden, take the long walk: make space to be kind to yourself.

Monday Night Risotto

A few weeks ago I read an article Chessie sent to me:
Cooking Complex, Time-Consuming Meals Taught Me to Be Patient With Myself 

This article is very good. A great reminder about doing things for their own sakes, that good things take time, and that your kitchen should always be filled with music.

I came across this recipe from Smitten Kitchen here for a risotto with leeks and bacon.

Cooking bacon, warming stock, chopping onions.

We replaced the light in the kitchen on Saturday, so there’s brighter, warmer light in our small kitchen. We’ve been doing a lot of work lately to build good habits and make the house as calm and relaxing a place as possible. Making the bed every day, making sure all the dishes are done and put away and wipe down the counters, clear the dining room table and make sure all the chairs are pushed in. A place for everything and everything in its right place.

In the spirit of the article above, I listened to some music while I prepped the ingredients and prepared myself to stand at the stove stirring for half an hour.
I listened to:

  • John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
  • John Coltrane – Giants Steps
  • Bill Evans – Everybody Digs Bill Evans

I made a spotify playlist here of those three records.

It was a good meal and a good way to spend an evening. I forget sometimes to play music and really listen to it and doing something like stirring a pot gives me a little bit more space to pay attention to the music.