Cooking with Love–and Mindfulness

I love to cook. This fact has actually been a slight source of contention in my relationship from time to time. Has anyone else had this experience? I cook elaborate meals, not because I feel obligated, but because I want to. Having a warm, delicious meal on the table as my partner walks in the door feels good, because it requires a mastery of timing and kitchen know-how. Also, I love to eat good food, so it’s not like I’m being totally selfless here. Yet, at times, my partner has protested that I’m doing too much–that I shouldn’t feel like I need to have dinner on the table when he gets home. The thing is, I don’t just cook to feed him–I cook to feed my self, in more ways than one.

Cooking, for me, is an act of mindfulness. “Mindfulness” is that new buzzword people are throwing around, especially, I’ve found, in higher ed and health and wellness industries. According to Psychology Today,

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. […] Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

As someone who has always had a tendency to spend copious amounts of time in virtual worlds–through computer games, web surfing, smartphone apps, you name it–mindfulness is something I try to actively practice. Going for a walk, reading a real paper-and-glue book, and, yes, cooking all help me reconnect with what’s real and human.

There are few things in this world that smell better than onions, celery, and carrots cooking in butter.
There are few things in this world that smell better than onions, celery, and carrots cooking in butter.

Cooking, especially, is something that connects me not just to the present, but to the entire history of humanity. This is probably just because I’m a raging history nerd, but putting a whole chicken in a pot of boiling water makes me think about the millions of people throughout history who have performed that same act–maybe in a kitchen in a European manor house, maybe over a cooking fire in a temporary camp. That act, to me, feels so primal and ancient, it makes me feel alive and connected to a long tradition of preparing sustenance.

So, those are the kind of things I was contemplating today as I made a chicken pot pie from Ree Drummond’s blog. It’s cooling right now, and I have to say, I can’t wait for the boyfriend to get here so we can sit down and share it.

The crust started to fall apart when I transferred it, but that just gives it a rustic, down-home feel, right?
The crust started to fall apart when I transferred it, but that just gives it a rustic, down-home feel, right?

Lovers’ Knot Infinity Scarf

One of my friends texted me the other day wondering if I could make this scarf, which she had seen on Pinterest. This scarf is done by arm knitting. I haven’t attempted any kind of knitting before, and though I plan to learn soon, I thought I would go ahead and try to do something that has a similar feel using crochet. I decided to use the Lovers’ Knot stitch, which I first learned by watching this video. This is a fast, easy stitch which lets you choose how tight or loose to make the stitches.

Infinity Scarf

Infinity Scarf on Hook

 

I also made cuffs similar to the one shown with the arm-knitted scarf.

Cuffs

Overall, I think it turned out okay! I might experiment with this look a little more, by using multiple colors and playing with the size of the stitch.

When and Why to Break Your Routine

Trip to Siesta Key, Florida 2014
Trip to Siesta Key, Florida 2014

Routine is important. All the great writers say so. “Write every day” is perhaps the most common piece of writing advice given by writers to other writers, and I trust this advice. As Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird,

You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. … But you cannot will this to h

appen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started (6-7).

The simple truth is, writing is hard, but making it a part of your everyday routine makes it easier. Sort of.

So why would you ever break from this routine?

For some people, maybe you never should. I, on the other hand, have always been a proponent of the old adage, “everything in moderation.” Even in my writing life, and even with the things I’m passionate about. Why? Let me share with you my biggest secret: I’m not someone who enjoys being busy.

I heard you gasp. But busy-ness is the cornerstone of our society! I feel slothful just mentioning my aversion to being busy. So imagine my relief when I read Tim Kreider’s piece on “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” As he says,

The space and idleness that quietness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration–it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.

Maybe this is all just my big excuse for not blogging while on vacation in Florida last week. But you know what? I’m gonna go with it. My week on the beach gave me the space I needed to breathe in life, to read some good books, and to get my mind back in a place where I can do good work.

On the beach last week
On the beach last week

Finding Your Rhythm: First, Throw Grammar Out the Window

I have a friend who’s a drummer. Everywhere we go, he’s always tapping out a rhythm–on the steering wheel in his truck, on the table of a pizza joint, on the inside of my palm as we walk down the street. Rhythm is a part of his everyday life; he feels it in everything he does, and that’s what makes him a great musician and songwriter.

But rhythm isn’t only important in songwriting–all writing is made up of syllables and stresses, long and short sounds, pauses and flow. I know I’ve read emails from coworkers which make me feel like a wooden soldier marching along, stiff-legged and jerky, because the words are strung together so haphazardly. Of course, it might be you’re trying to make the reader feel like they’re a passenger in a car driven by a brake-happy old lady. The point is to be aware of the rhythm your words create. You’re creating a mood for the reader, whether you’re aware of it or not, based on how your writing carries them along.

I think one of the hangups which can cause writers to break their flow and rhythm is feeling the need to stick closely to grammar rules. Not splitting infinitives, for example. Who made that rule? Why does it matter? If your meaning is understood, isn’t the language doing its job–communicating ideas to others?

I have to admit, I can be a stickler for grammar at times. No one wants to wade through a mess of grammar mistakes when they’re reading. The key, I think, is to understand grammar rules first, and then to not be afraid to break them when needed–whether for the sake of meaning, flow, rhythm, or story. (See what I did there? Splitting that infinitive? Heck yeah I did it.)

So, go study up on your grammar–then throw it all out the window and write something with rhythm.

Are You a Writer or a Storyteller?

This summer, I decided it was time to re-read Harry Potter. I just finished the 7th and final book yesterday, and while reading, I learned something–something which disturbed me at first. Now, I’ve read the HP series many, many times before–I think this was only my third time to read the final book, but I’m sure I’ve read the first few books at least 8+ times, mainly because of my slightly obsessive tendency to re-read the entire series every time a new book came out. But this last time through, I was (I like to think) a much more mature writer, and it shocked and saddened me that I didn’t find JKR’s writing as incredibly flawless as I used to believe it was. I felt a bit like Harry himself realizing that the people he so admired–his dad, Sirius, Dumbledore–are human after all.

HPend

Despite my small misgivings about some of the writing, I still consumed those books voraciously. After finishing the seventh book, I felt the same sense of loss which I had felt after reading it the first time–the loss you feel when you put down a good book and wish it didn’t have to end. J.K. Rowling is not an impeccable writer. But she is a superb storyteller. And though the two are connected, they are not the same.

It is possible to write well without telling a story. We’ve all read articles or stories or even long Facebook posts which are well-written from a technical standpoint, but which leave us wondering–what’s your point? Where is the narrative? What story are you trying to get across here?

The fact is, our everyday lives are full of stories. It’s how we communicate and make sense of the world around us. People who are bad at telling jokes are usually bad because they aren’t natural storytellers–they jumble the components together and don’t fully understand the need for suspense or timing. Storytellers, on the other hand, can feel the pulse of a story; they understand its rhythm, the way it rises and falls and builds towards something.

Great writing, a sense of language and structure, deepens and strengthens a great story–but a great story can also get pretty far on its own, I think. What about you? Have you read great stories which weren’t written particularly well, or read great writing which didn’t tell a story?

The Tools of the Trade

Like any good artist, a writer has a set of tools for creating. And, like artists, writers’ preferences for said tools vary greatly person to person. I’ve come to realize lately just how important my writing tools are to helping me write. I don’t just mean the literal act of translating thoughts into the written word–though they are, of course, essential for doing just that. But my choice of writing tools can help me jump that first hurdle of actually wanting to sit down to write, which in itself is my own biggest obstacle to writing. Once I start writing, I’m fine–it’s that initial push, putting that first word down, that is the real struggle.

So, tools. While in Portland, Oregon visiting friends this summer, we stopped off at the iconic Powell’s Books, a bookstore the size of a city block where, I think, most writers and readers could easily spend hours (days, weeks…) just browsing the shelves. While there, I decided to pick up a journal, both as a memento from the trip and because I’ve been meaning to start journaling daily again. I found a beautiful little journal with a leather cover and fell in love:

owl journal

(I love owls, so the recent fad of everything-owl has left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s super easy to find cute stuff featuring owls. On the other hand, it’s not particularly unique. Oh, well.)

I love everything about this journal–from the look of the cover to the feel of the paper. And, bonus, the leather cover is removable, so when I fill up this journal I can just swap it out for another.

Now that I had a journal I loved, I needed a good pen. (I typically prefer pens to pencils when writing.) I really like this Pilot Precise V5 which I picked up who-knows-where.

photo (8)

Because I love the physical act of writing in this journal now, I’ve found it much easier to convince myself to write in it daily. I’m still looking for a website or piece of software which makes writing on the computer just as enticing. Any suggestions?