Letting Creativity Simmer: Unlikely Kitchen Adventures

“If you can read, you can cook.”

My mother always said this whenever I would express any culinary trepidation. I’m not sure if it was disinterest or fear that kept me out of the kitchen, but I would usually nod my head and then disappear with a book, only turning up again when it was time to dress the salad.

Once my grandmother was about to prepare a turkey. She asked me, “Now, if you came home to this, what would you do?” I wasn’t trying to be funny when I replied, “Um, I’d put it back in the fridge.” My concerns about potential food poisoning far outshone my awareness that being involved in the process of cooking a turkey was an option I’d ever pursue.

Now I am married with a house of my own and I am fortunate enough to have a man around who has a way with poultry. I manage to produce a fair number of rather tasty meals (still avoiding having to touch raw meat whenever possible), but there is still a great divide between me and those who actually feel bliss at the other end of a spatula. For years, I had a picture of a redhead in a tiara with the caption “Domestically Disabled” prominently displayed on the refrigerator. A lot of the time, I still feel that way, but the diva excuse doesn’t cut it when you aspire to equality in a marriage and a home that you can be proud of.

To a certain degree, my mom is right: there is no reason to mystify the preparation of food. I have never been such an aloof artistic type that I had no interest in nourishing myself or setting a welcoming table for those I love. Still, it’s not always that easy: I am a pretty skilled reader, but it is amazing how, um, uniquely I can execute a recipe when I try to translate words into action.

There was the time we enjoyed a lovely gazpacho while I listed the five or six ingredients I had neglected to add, I don’t know how many dishes I have served only to exclaim “I forgot the spices!” And then there was last night when I got ready to prepare the fabulous Gluten Free Goddess‘s Mediterranean Chicken Soup (Husband kindly did his magic on the foul while I did the rest). How did I make a grocery list based on a recipe without ever noticing that it was supposed to take five to six HOURS in a crock pot? I wanted to have dinner ready by halftime – I was definitely not part of the slow cook movement. Luckily, though I have no idea how it was supposed to taste, it filled my woefully small soup pot and simmered little while and was actually wonderfully satisfying even on a condensed time line.

I share my culinary misadventures because it has helped me to realize that it is still possible to leave your comfort zone, veer off course dramatically, and still reap some rewards. For me, spending time at the stove is to dabble in someone else’s art, a territory that welcomes me only grudgingly and offers the rewards of a full belly rather than true self expression.

Still, last night was one of those times when I began to understand why those divinely inspired kitchen witches love to create with food. Mixing and tasting and knowing that I was just making it all up as I went along… There was a sense of connection to the vegetables and spices and wonder at the alchemy of making a meal for the person I love.

I may be a writer who reaches out to the world with language and thought, but it is sweetly liberating to learn that creative acts of any form are waiting for me to find them, urging me to look at the world anew.


The Responsibility of the Dreamer

In dreams begin responsibilities

W.B. Yeats

When I first savored this line in college, I was too high on the poetry and dreaming to realize it was a simple phrase that ends with thud of adult responsibilities. By graduate school, Yeats was as much vocation as avocation, and I was so chilled by watching literature become a responsibility that I left the path of academia before I had really begun. Once I was marooned in the “real world” and trying to forget about poets and their dancing words, I eventually realized I was ducking both dreams and responsibilities. Now that I am carving out a new space for myself and trying to balance the poetic and the pragmatic, I am figuring out the relationship that Yeats described.

I have surprised myself over the last few days with my entries that call for a focus on individual choice and change even at a moment when we are all captivated by events on the national stage will shape our lives. “Responsibility” has not come up in my writing yet, but I think it is inevitable when we think about finding hope and renewal within ourselves rather than relying purely on the inspirational tones of a man at a podium.

America is the perfect example of a dream that became a most certain reality. It has not been sustained by idealists alone, but by people willing to bear the burden of its reality. It hasn’t just been perpetuated by the politicians who believe that they follow in the footsteps of the framers of the Constitution either. If we want to take part in this dream of America, if we want to resuscitate this once mighty icon and save it from its nightmarish state, then we all must take part in weaving the visions of what we want this country to be and then tend those visions as they become reality.

Dedicating oneself to birthing any creative impulse, be it a work of art, a piece of writing, service to another person, or the invention of a country quickly divests the dreamer from her airy throne. There is criticism and exhaustion and fear and doubt to contend with at every turn. In the end, finding yourself in charge of your own brilliant fantasy made sweet flesh must be worth sacrificing the freedom of being devoted to nothing in particular.

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

Thanks to Those Who Inspire Creativity and Delight

Sailboat skyThe wise, wise Painter of Blue at Art of the Spirit posed the question:

“How much natural creativity would flow out of us if we just opened completely to the One?”

Immediately I felt the power of that question, the way in which, if followed to its conclusion in the depths of my being I might reveal a new face of possibility I had never dared envision. At the same time, perhaps because her site is graced with such amazing artwork, I could only imagine fulfilling that vision with a paintbrush in hand. Though I suspect that buried somewhere inside me there may be a creature who could fill canvases, she is generally too afraid of making a mess and spoiling a perfect white plane with mistakes and wasting money on paints and paper. This fear seems to be related to the same sort of mysterious trepidation that made me afraid of ruining my shoes when I was young, causing me to leave too many trees unclimbed and too few mud puddles explored.

Of course I know that deciding that such a flow of creativity did not apply to me is just another way that I obstruct the flow of the Divine through my life. I was able to only see my chosen mode of expression – these written words – to be instantly limited and less. Words are cheapened currency – used to curse and abuse and sell fabric softener and describe nuclear missiles. Instantly I longed for a more profound method of conveying whatever it was that the One was trying to say through me, because clearly I had chosen an inferior medium. It had nothing to do with a basic refusal to just open myself up and listen, to become liberated from distractions like my addiction to my own inferiority. No, no, I just careened off in the direction of all I ought to have done: should have stuck with dancing, or the violin of the flute or the saxophone, or invested myself more in art classes, or reveled innocently in nature when I had the chance. And off I wander down a path of regret, negligently slamming the door of my heart shut with a thud that reverberates all the way back into this gloomy past of my own creation.

But I can spot such foolishness and avoid such wasted thought, right? I am too smart to be enticed by such dark detours now that I read the right books and dabble in a new vocabulary of the soul. Sure.

If I have learned anything so far is the intense difficulty and absolute simplicity of opening myself to the One. The process can be forgotten the instant I leave the books or meditation chair. So today I am going to try something simpler and less plagued with the wisdom of the ages. I take a cue from Christine Kane who talks about delight.

How much more creative could I dared to be if I let myself truly feel overcome with delight at:

– kittens finding new comfortable contortions to sleep in
– snoring creatures in my bed (husband included) who just prove to me I am surrounded by trusting love
– a stretch that makes me sigh “ahhhhhhh”
– an unexpected letter from a friend
– the smell of snow
– the glow of the rising sun on my tea kettle
– discovering a new love of classical music and cellos
– the poem that suddenly makes everything clear
– nicknames
– a smile of recognition in a face I barely know
– those free flowing moments of joy when I forget I am on any sort of a journey at all