Knowing how to cook got me through 2020. So many days, I made a meal the central attraction of a day. I spent hours fixating in the topsy-turvy kitchen of my old basement apartment, where the cabinets practically slid off the walls and no range hooded the stove, my lungs filling with smoke as I browned meat. I burned my hands countless times slipping dishes in and out of the oven.
Since moving to Manhattan, I have cooked less. I sometimes will worry over how little I cook, fearing I might lose touch with the skill. For so long, cooking sustained my creative identity; it was a way I saw myself in the world. I cooked.
In 2020, I also read a lot about writing. I was coming into a rhythm, writing daily and beginning to feel comfortable calling myself a writer to a certain extent. I learned I am a writer for no other reason than because I write, but to improve (as much writing on writing suggests) I needed to write every day. I needed to survive on the craft. Since I like to be the best at things (in fact, I fear being anything but), getting serious about any one interest can mean letting it overtake me. A new pursuit may become a whole personality for a time. I throw myself at things.
So, I took the advice I was reading to heart. I sat down every morning and afternoon to write. I bought a stack of notebooks, each one for a different project, and began filling them with sketches and ideas. I stretched myself in multiple directions to see what would stick. Without question, the practice rewarded me. But the trouble came when there were days without enough time, or when something else crashed in and held my attention.
I grew irritable without time to write. A panic crept. After all I read about consistency as the key to improvement, I believed a break or an obstacle was the same thing as a weakness. As I learned to love and center my practice, I tore myself down at every pause.
Several weekends ago, I made dinner for some friends. A familiar process: a braise. I prepped for hours in the kitchen, rebuking shortcuts. What I love most about cooking is working with the senses — how there is nothing more valuable than observation and instinct.
I didn't start writing to be "successful," in the same way I don't cook to open a restaurant. I started writing because I needed to. Even as a child, I kept diary after diary. I needed an outlet to process pain and confusion, to celebrate and sit with my own insight.
It had been months since I'd cooked seriously, and though I moved more slowly than I might have had I been in more regular practice, my body and brain organized each other. I anticipated changes and worked proactively. Easefully, but deliberately, I fit steps and flavors together in my mind.
Being in touch with myself as a creative means honoring how many different pieces may coalesce. I possess varied creative interests and longings. Writing has been a way for me to make sense of them, to think and rethink, sifting through memory and crafting dreams. I know I am better at it when I am doing it often, but the fear that I will lose it if I keep it on hold for too long is just not based in reality.
Our creative practices continue to flourish when we rest from them. They wait ready for us to come back when we need; ready to help us gather our energy and learn to love them again; ready even to guide us to find something new, perhaps offering broader impacts than before.
When I cooked this meal, it had also been some time since I had written. And as I cooked I felt myself picking up dropped thoughts, mending and deepening them.
I wrote the next day.