slowly undefined

I love writing because it is such a quiet experience. So much of it is sitting, wondering about how I feel or what language will surface next, and waiting for it. I look out my window, and type. I look again, and type more. I sip my tea, and I wait. The time in between key strokes is highly active inactivity. Even when the words crash onto the page, there are still moments of waiting. Oftentimes, things come to me when I can’t stop to write them down. I manage to keep track of most thoughts by quickly jotting details down in my phone. I love leaving the door wide open for those thoughts and memories to walk right in whenever they feel like it. It means I get to be surprised by my creativity; it also means I’m forced to be patient.

Time whips by and then some things in life seem to move so slowly. If I go too many days without writing something, I get so anxious. I fear the door I’ve left open so language can come and go will close and I’ll just lose myself. It actually feels terrifying. I haven’t yet learned to trust that the door won’t close unless I close it, and even if the wind blows it shut, I can open it again. Life is moving too fast and writing reminds me to go slow. Things take time.  

Cooking, for me, is also a quiet experience. Of course, cooking in commercial kitchens wasn’t. It was literally loud and people’s demands of me were invasive. But that is a wholly different environment from a home kitchen. At home, cooking is long and slow; it happens piece by piece, and sometimes over several days. When dried beans soak in water, they start to open up like little clams. I leave them for a day, sometimes longer, before cooking them. This is the heart of my relationship with beans, and it’s completely different from cooking them for hours on the stove, or packing them into burgers and eventually frying them in a pan. Everything I do is for nutrition, digestibility, and satisfaction. In there, I sometimes manage to make the food look beautiful. But this isn’t a restaurant. This is about sustenance. I come and go from the kitchen as I please, checking on things cooking, things soaking, things fermenting. I can focus on one thing, or many, and I’m often waiting to see what it all transforms into. It’s a pastime of engaging ingredients in a performance. At the end of it all is a table, where we sit and enjoy together; it’s fuel for the work day; it’s pleasure. 

Ross Gay is one of my favorite writers. In an interview on the OnBeing podcast he talks about his relationship to gardening:  

For one, it’s just fun to be in a garden, for me, dreaming about what could happen: that kind of mystical space, actually, of trying to figure out what this thing that I do here could be in five years, that kind of strange dreaming space that it is. 

There’s also something really moving about putting a seed in the ground and it turning into something really different, and a lot of something really different and, potentially, on and on and on, a lot of something very different. 

I just love where he goes there and I’d say the same for the kitchen. The part I love most about long, slow cooking is that I’m often doing it alone. It’s a solitary experience of having a plan but still wondering what will be in the end. This is definitely true for my kombucha brewing; that is most certainly a kind of dreamy, mystical space of trying new flavorings and teas, or sticking to the same, but always being surprised by the end result. I prepare the tea, add the culture, nurture it, bottle it. The entire process is one of waiting while tiny microbes, like silent helpers, transform the tea and sugar into something completely different and medicinal for the body. 

While musing recently about my ideal job, I said aloud, I wish I could cook for a village. Even as an introvert, this feels delightful in my mind. What I imagine is being the one who nourishes without ever being seen. And I realized that I had witnessed a version of this before. When I traveled to Ireland in 2014, my first stop was a Tibetan Buddhist Center. I helped in the gardens there, with cleaning, and sometimes in the kitchen. The cook was a man from India. He lived at the center and cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the community. Periodically, I’d pop in to ask if he needed any ingredients from the garden. He’d be floating between work stations, not necessarily in a hurry but attentive to everything in his care. Steam rising from the stove, various ingredients about, and mixing bowls strewn was the usual scene. I’d return with the produce and herbs. Sometimes he’d show me how to make whatever it was he was making. Every aspect of each meal was put together from scratch.  

By choice, this cook rarely ate with us. He slowly prepared everything all day, offered the food before serving it, and then he’d retreat to his space or eat alone in the kitchen. This was his contribution to the community and he was greatly loved and appreciated. Everyone was nourished together at the same table through his food, which was incredible and mostly served from big stock pots. 

One day, I went to town with him and another community member for groceries. The Buddhist center was strictly vegetarian. I was craving protein and decided to snack on some canned fish and bread. The cook joined me. I offered him some of my food and we shared it together on a park bench. We got to talking about religion. I was feeling conflicted at the time about where I fit in spiritually. He said something then that I will never forget: You don’t have to be Christian, or Hindu, or Buddhist in order to decide to be a compassionate person. 

His words laid in my ears for a long time. Every now and then I need to revisit them. At the heart of religion is love for each other. The heart of contribution is also love for each other. And at the heart of sharing food is connection. We can be silent helpers, living fully by simple contributions grounded in love.  We don’t need stages or platforms to make what it is we do real.

I’m starting a new job in a week. My social anxiety is flaring up, but I’ll manage it. I feel confident that I found the best match for me out of the current pool of opportunities and I’m grateful for that. What feels most comforting about this new situation is that, for the first time, maybe in my entire life, I feel solidly and consistently sure of who I am, and she is undefined by any type of job. I’m not in a rush to become a writer, to establish a career, to be sure of what lights me up. So many things light me up. Living is who I am and what I do. Living is satisfying. This is a really different place for me.  

If we can allow ourselves this pleasure, slowly evolving to become more and more undefined by conventional boxes can be an extraordinarily nourishing life.   

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