“You need to find a sucker who’ll cook for you,” Isabella said. There was the usual assortment of painters and sculptors and mixed media artists and writers sitting around a long wooden table in the dining hall of Vermont Studio Center, and we were all wondering how we were going to manage returning to our every day lives after almost four weeks of a residency, and specifically, how were we going to manage making meals again? All we had to do to get fed at VSC was show up at meal time, fill our plates, and bus them when we were done. We were all doing a residency in order to focus on our creative expressions without the distractions and chores of every day life. That’s what residencies are for.
“I’m the sucker in my house,” I said. “I do the cooking.”
Isabella didn’t really mean that someone who cooks is a sucker, what she meant is how much time attending to the daily tasks of life can suck out of a creative focus. How could we recreate the freedom from every day tasks once we got home and continue to concentrate on our creative goals for what felt like almost unlimited hours every day?
We couldn’t, and in powerful ways, that’s okay. In the spirit of the Zen saying, “Chop the wood, carry the water,” there’s a balance that attention and absorption in every day tasks brings to life. If I had unlimited time for creative expression every day I’d undoubtedly freak out, as I did for close to the first week at Vermont Studio Center last March. Not that the residency wasn’t fantastic and that I didn’t get a lot done, because it was and I did. But that kind of unlimited time for creation, ungrounded in the details of life, wouldn’t work for me forever. My creativity needs to sit in the center of a life attentive to dailiness if it’s going to be connected to life in a grander sense. Yes, there’s an ongoing need to value my writing and make space and time for it, to believe it matters, but there’s also a need to take care of daily chores and believe that matters too.
Which is exactly what Michael Pollan talks about in his book Cooked. Cooking matters. Preparing our own food, from real ingredients we’ve grown or chosen ourselves, connects us to our bodies and our place in the world. We nourish ourselves and those we feed in ways that go beyond the nutritional elements of the food we prepare. If we can chop an onion with presence and attention and allow ourselves to value and be patient with the entire process of creating a meal, we can then bring that nourishment, attention and patience to the task of writing a novel (though right now it’s editing a novel I’m trying to get a handle on) or painting a picture or playing the guitar or spinning clay into a bowl.
David read Cooked also and is now joining me in the kitchen more, chopping onions and frying eggs and stirring the pot of chili. Are we both suckers? No, we’re feeding ourselves.