Riley and I had been married for a couple of years when we got into a big fight about cookbooks. It went something like this:
Driving home after a long day, it had been quiet for an hour and then Riley spoke up,
Riley: You are always looking at cookbooks. You know that? Always buying them and reading them. But then you never make anything out of them. Ever. Do you know how annoying that is? It’s such a waste.
Me: What the hell? You are mad that I enjoy reading cookbooks? What kind of person gets upset about that?
Riley: You spend hours looking at those things. And you never do anything about it.
Me: Well. We’re broke. We don’t have enough money for most of the ingredients. And looking at all the recipes is a kind of escape. It calms me down. It makes me happy. I can’t believe you are angry that I have a little hobby that makes me happy.
Riley: Too broke to make ANYTHING? You’re buying ingredients for something every time you go to the grocery store. It’s not like we don’t spend money on food. Why not try all those recipes you’ve been looking at for once? Megan, I am not angry that you look at cookbooks. I am frustrated that you never do anything with what you find inside of them.
Me: Are we still talking about recipes here? Or is there something else going on?
Riley: No, I guess this isn't really about those cookbooks.
He looked at me once and then re-focused on the road. I got quiet. He wasn't actually talking about cooking. He didn't really care that we ate the same five things ever week. With a fall of my heart, I knew what he was trying to say. For years, I had been talking about maybe writing or maybe this or maybe that. Maybe. Someday. Perhaps. A few days before I had cried because I hadn’t begun to do all the things I always thought I would do. He’d held my hand and told me to get started. Instead, I calmed down and went to sleep. The next morning, I’d forgotten what that ache felt like and moved on. I was skimming through my existence in the same way that I’d been skimming through those cookbooks. Flipping the pages of my own life - looking at the possible ingredients and shutting the book before I’d given anything a chance. I was without direction, without confidence and without courage. I’d forgotten how to become a participant in my own life.
I’d lost the savor.
The next day I pulled just one cookbook down from the shelf and opened it to the beginning. We had dinner from it the next night and the next and the next. I learned the beauty of french peasant food on a budget and the art of deglazing. I burned the hell out of a roast chicken and made the perfect pot de creme. I found myself within the constraints of creation - the measurements and cooking times and chemical reactions.The act of cooking was a gift to myself that also provided sustenance for those I love. And, blessedly, I learned that some nights it was alright to let the kitchen fires stay cooled. There was no shame in a little (or a lot) of domino's pizza, chicken nuggets or paper wrapped burgers.
As I cooked my way through that book, I applied the lessons I learned in the kitchen to my writing. I don’t need a lot to create much. Sometimes intended masterpieces come out smelling liked charred trash can. There are constraints to my creation - limited time, limited talent and unlimited family. Those are not obstacles to be gotten over, they are a structure to be built upon. The act of writing is for myself but it has given additional happiness and purpose to our home, sustenance for those I love. And, blessedly, I learned that some nights it is alright to let my fires cool - to collapse in front of the tv or into a book or the sleep that promises to give me the next day.
I still sit in front of piles of cookbooks - flipping from glossy page to page. I still dream of far off spices and those unattainable (for me) perfectly light rolls. I still run my fingers across the possibilities for my life. And sometimes I still get overwhelmed. But now, when I am at my best, I remember to stop perusing and start cooking.
Life tastes just a little better now.