Why I’m A Writer Who Cooks
August 31, 2010
Everyone who knows me knows I cook. Do I love to cook? Sometimes. Not all the time. But I love to eat. I love to eat good food, and most take-out and many restaurants (even expensive ones) don’t quite satisfy me. So I cook. And when I cook, I get drawn into its pleasures even at the end of a day’s writing when I think I’m too tired to cook.
But the real reason I cook is not that I love cooking, but that I’m a writer and I need to cook. What’s the connection, you may ask? Lots of writers don’t cook. Lots of writers pride themselves on not cooking. Lots of writers say they have no interest in cooking, have no time to cook — writing takes such a long time. And that’s fine for them, but not for me. But one writer, in particular, I remember, made fun of me for cooking, as if in cooking I lost my writer’s chops, never to regain them again. That writer was a woman, and what she also told me was that cooking was a betrayal of my feminism. Hmmm.
I just finished a huge chapter of my father book yesterday. Or I should say, I finished it for now. You know how these things go — you think you’re finished. You put the thing down, you reread it, you see what else has to be done. You know there’s more to be done. But you can’t do it now. You send it out to a writing buddy, they concur. There’s lots more to be done. But every once in awhile you have to tell yourself you’re finished, at least for now, because writing a book goes on and on and on with no seeming end points until, one day, that sucker is finished, and you can’t figure out how it happened. But in the meantime, the never-never land of being in the process of writing a book. (And a sucker it does seem sometimes to be, of time, energy, vital essence, you name it.)
But last night, after a marathon revision session (unusual for me), I came into the kitchen, pulled out some tomato sauce that I’d started the day before, finished it, threw some raviolis into a pot of boiling water, boiled up some green beans, and tossed them with some home prepared garlic olive oil. Within half an hour, there we were, my husband and I, on the porch, eating a glorious meal, drinking a glass of lovely Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. It was twilight. The meal was wonderful. It had taken no time. It gave us an enormous pleasure.
That’s why I’m a writer who cooks. A book, what? Three years? Five? Ten? Forever? A chapter, what? A few weeks, a few months,r more? (The chapter I finished took months of research; a month and a half of writing, maybe more, and I know it’s not finished.) A great meal, half an hour to an hour. In that amount of time, you can start something, finish it, enjoy what you’ve created. For me, writing is so open-ended, that cooking provides an antidote to all that ongoingness of writing that sometimes feels like forever and ever without end. And, the truth is, I never enjoy a book I finish the way I enjoy a meal I cook. That’s one of the strange things about writing that researchers into the creative process have discovered: we can spend years on a work and once it’s finished, it gives us satisfaction, yes (for five minutes, a writer friend of mine once admitted), but no real pleasure — pleasure, we hope, is what a reader gets from our work.
One reason I cook — a book takes forever and a meal, only a little while. Another reason I cook — a book, satisfaction but not pleasure and a meal, both satisfaction and pleasure. There’s a big bang of pleasure from cooking a meal (unless you exhaust yourself in the process) and it happens right away. You don’t have to wait a long time to accomplish something.
Another reason I cook is that when I shop for vegetables, say, or when I rummage around in the fridge for what I need, when I slice a carrot or a pepper or an onion, I have to pay attention. I can’t be thinking of my work, and so cooking pulls me out of the intense monomaniacal concentration of writing. I notice that on days when I don’t cook after writing (the rare occasions when we eat out or go to one of my sons for supper), my writing brain has a hard time shutting off. I’m not very good company when my writing brain is engaged. I don’t pay attention to anyone or anything around me. I’m in that writing bubble I’m sure you’re familiar with. A not so much fun place to be, at least for me, after hours.
My son described it this way some time ago. He said that when he came home from school, and I was writing, he’d come up to my desk and say, “Hi Mom, I’m bleeding to death.” I’d say, “That’s nice, dear. Get yourself a little snack. I’ll be with you in awhile.”
Well, cooking forces you out of that, forces you to be a human being. Which, after all, every writer needs to be every now and then, especially when we’re away from our desks.