Thursday, 12 May 2011
…sticks and stones…
Italians cut up and parcel out their meats in a wholly different manner than the French, the British, and the Americans. They all cut things up differently, have different names for the cuts, different purposes for those cuts… It is, enlightening, and perhaps a bit telling about a certain aspect of my psyche. I’ve long thought that cooking was a somewhat perfect microcosm of all that one ever need know about the world; you can find it either literally, or metaphorically here. But there is something even more illustrative in the names of things, that shines an insight into my own personal being and makeup, that others have groped to understand and make sense of.
I loathe names. I loathe descriptions, definitions of anything. Call it what you will, but at my best, in my happiest moments, I’m a complete sponge hoping only to take things in, soak them up, let them sit and ferment in the idle recesses of my soul. I don’t want things defined for me a priori.
I don’t see life that way at all. Even the simplest of things, something I make multiple times a week, bread, isn’t a name or a definition. It’s an idea. I could venture to say that bread is, in some manner, almost always “cooked dough”, but that really is open ended. Dough is a relationship of flour to water, usually with some leavening agent (yeast, soda and acid, etc), incorporated. The benchmark ratio, is usually about 10 parts flour to 6 parts water by weight. More water and the dough approaches batter. More flour, and it approaches something like putty. It’s an idea. Beyond all of that, of course is the cooking of it. The type of heat, the shape of it, the duration. It is, always, the story of the relationship of all the factors. It’s difficult to name that succinctly, and yet that is exactly what it is.
Working on my cookbook has been interesting to me, if for no other reason than realizing the way I organize information. Nothing in my world is ever a static definition. Nothing is without context. Nothing exists outside of how it relates to something else.
I pick up arbitrary bits of information, but I always find myself stringing it together in some way, always trying to find some meaning or story or relationship as to how or why it came to be that way.
Conversely, I think of all the times and places I’ve had names, definitions placed on me, and the way it always makes me feel boxed in, 2 dimensional, predefined with expectations and presuppositions about what I am, how I am to behave, what my relationship is to a particular place or circumstance. Is there anything honest about that? Is there anything about claiming to be, or allowing yourself to be tagged with a description that is in name only, that’s healthy or worthwhile?
I differ from the rest of the world here, I know, because people close to me want to know, what is it I want to be? What, exactly, do I want to do? What label can they put on me so they can understand, quantify, bank on what I am, what I’m going to do, how I’m going to behave. They seem to need that for some level of comfort in their world, because I know in most cases, it isn’t out of concern for me. They ask because they want me to be predictable and definite for their own peace of mind. I am neither.
Definitions, maybe, aren’t things I’m opposed to. Rather they don’t come easily or randomly. When I say I can cook – it’s because I’m confident that I can string together a meal anywhere, almost anytime, under almost any circumstance. That is what the definition means to me, not whether I have a really ‘killer’ brownie recipe that you can cook in a microwave in 20 minutes. Similarly, I’ve seen things, tags like ‘architect’ hung out to describe a profession that offers minuscule, at best, opportunities for creativity, centering most often around acting as a liaison between building departments, clients, and banks. Architecture is a name first, consisting of a reality and actions that have no relationship to it in practice, little to do with the training…
The danger of names and definitions, to me, is that they allow people to assume too much, and cloak themselves in some thing that is little more than a description. Like the spouse who shows up and never feels the need for romance or effort in the relationship so long as they wear a ring, or the politician who says claims to be one thing, and acts completely opposite on the issues. It’s a means of something expedient, to lay claim to something one is not, illusions people use to paint themselves as something they may or may not be… To be something, anything, is to be that in deed first, without definition…