This morning’s bowl of stale corn flakes made me very happy. Lunch was perfect, too: a limp lasagna noodle covered with a thick layer of oily cheese and a lone, soggy artichoke heart. I loved it all because I didn’t have to make it. I didn’t even have to wash the dishes. I haven’t had to think about preparing food for the last 24 hours, and it has been a pleasure unforeseen. My thoughts are usually so congested by obsessing over what to eat, how to eat it, where to buy ingredients, how much money to save or to spend. But waking up this morning and knowing I had no say in what to eat today? It was a gift. This week I find myself at an artists residency program. I say “find myself” because I was invited off the waitlist, whisked away from my normal life and into the resplendent Blue Ridge mountains. Here in the company of poets, painters, and musicians, there is no room for cooking. Literally. We are not allowed into the kitchen. But what lacks in culinary counter space is made up for in the form of a private writing studio with a big desk and view of a rocky, cow-dotted field. There is lots of time, space, and freedom from household chores. But the freedom I am enjoying most? The freedom from food.
It’s not that thinking about what to eat is a problem, not at all. It’s actually one of my favorite topics in conversation, especially with the many adventurous eaters I have for friends. I love looking at beautiful food photography, too, and I enjoy reading cookbooks front to back for their stories as well as their recipes. The problem is that food and writing about food is the weak link in my chain of focus and concentration when I’m at task on a different creative project. I think it’s because cooking is such a outlet for expression that it does battle with my writing on a regular basis. A weekend afternoon, for example, will be laid out before me, ripe with potential for new words and ideas. Instead of writing, though, I find myself poking around in the grocery store pondering butternut squash soup with garlicky croutons. We have to eat: It’s the most justifiable and enjoyable distraction.
During this writing retreat, however, I’ve come to scrutinize my obsession with thinking about food. My first day here has felt like a week. During this long day so much has happened (when actually so much has not, but that’s a form of “happening” when it comes to the imagination, right?) This food void and the sense of freedom that came with it reminds me of Barbra Ueland’s book If You Want to Write. I flip to the chapter titled “Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect it for Their Writing” and wonder how many more hours I could spend writing at home instead of planning meals and hunting down recipes?
This is not to say I don’t want to make dinner most weeknights, can tomatoes for a few days at the height of tomato season, or throw an all out dinner party on the occasional weekend. It’s more of a realization that my dinnertime daydreams need to be budgeted. The mental energy saved will be at the expense of fantasies about blueberry coffee cake, pumpkin bread pudding, and homemade pasta. But maybe those dishes might just benefit from this new thought-diet of mine: less time thinking, more time doing.
Same, too, for the writing.