On cooking and writing

I fork one brussel sprout as it sizzles and pops. Olive oil, salt, pepper, just enough baking. I add nothing and am rewarded: It’s a green, healthy French fry taste. Perfection without complication. Like my favorite writing. Issa:

Don’t kill that poor fly!
He cowers, wringing
his hands for mercy.

I spend 3 hours hunched over, staring at the same junk sentences. From four pages into one, from a jumbled-cable like mess of academic fluff into the Art of Plain Talk. I retreat after copyreading myself into another case of jamais vu. Clean a chicken, pull out the leftover feathers, pull out its heart and liver, and liberally douse it in salt, pepper, and stuff it with thyme. I remember to cut out the wish bone before I brown the fowl in the oven. The right preparation. I always have more ideas in my head when I write than what ends up on the page: It takes hours of thought, training and scrawling marginalia for every successful paragraph. Such is Nabokov’s “First Love”:

In the early years of this century, a travel agency on Nevski Avenue displayed a three-foot-long model of an oak-brown international sleeping car.   In delicate verisimilitude it completely outranked the painted tin of my clockwork trains.   Unfortunately it was not for sale.   One could make out the blue upholstery inside, the embossed leather lining of the compartment walls, their polished panels, inset mirrors, tulip-shaped reading lamps, and other maddening details.   Spacious windows alternated with narrower ones, single or geminate, and some of these were of frosted glass.  In a few of the compartments, the beds had been made.

When you sit down to write, you open a vein. But no ugly puddle or disaster scene. I set up a mise en place to seamlessly juggle copy and rewrites like I would for any recipe. Green tea over here. Thesaurus there. Herbs chopped and ready on the board. Carrots, celery, and onion (the Trinity) wait patiently in a white metal bowl. A stew begins.

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