I’m fixated a little bit on philosophy tonight – for no particular reason other than my mind wanders there from time to time. I’d like to say I know exactly where this all started, though that would never be completely accurate. All of these thoughts have been lurking around in a sort of un-correlated fog until a few days ago. Maybe just now they’ve woven into a thread that shouldn’t exist in the universe, but does now, thanks to my brain.
I am not sure if I’ve ever mentioned how much I love fried chicken. One of my earliest memories, a complete omen and template for the way I’ve conducted myself, my entire life to this day, involved fried chicken. It was my great-grandmothers 80th birthday party. I was probably about 5 or 6 years old. My parents hosted it, and had the 8mm movies rolling to start things off. In hindsight, I’m sure my parents hosted it because it was reason for my Dad to use that beautiful screen that pulled out of a sleek blue metal tube and had its own tripod. While aunts, and uncles and cousins all sat laughing at the black and white films, I heard a call from the other room… It was chicken. Buckets – two of them – of fried chicken. I promised myself only one little taste – a mere nibble on some little glorious piece of skin, after crawling successfully silent along the floor, between knees and coffee tables…
Of course one taste is never quite enough for me, I’ve found. Maybe that was the moment I realized that I lack restraint that others possess so easily. In no time flat, I found that there was no more skin/breading/deep fried nirvana left on any piece of chicken in either bucket. Somehow it had all wound up caressing my tongue and now resided in my belly where it began percolating. I re-entered the room as I’d left it only a few minutes earlier; crawling along the floor, around the coffee table when I realized that the chicken skin wasn’t going to be more than a brief visitor. I stood up, in full silhouette against the movie screen, illuminated with home movies of granny, and began projectile vomiting the best part of dinner that no one had yet eaten, and which I’d thoroughly destroyed.
I was punished by being sent to my room, which actually wasn’t punishment at all. I was spared watching everyone else eat skinless chicken. That would have been the real punishment.
Many, many years later I found words to describe my malady; I have a viscious appetite. It was in a philosophy book and it was describing, putting into context what Aristotle meant when he talked about the nature of ‘viscious’. It wasn’t malicious, nor evil – more appropriate and sensible than that – it was an inability to be satiated by things. Maybe viscious is the same sort of appetite a wild animal has when coming across scarce, but momentarily abundant resources.
Of course appetites have many faces. Mine don’t all include eating/consumption – at least to the point of sickness – so much any longer. You can have similar viscious appetites for knowledge, strategy, understanding of things. As you grow older, wiser perhaps, you realize that you can focus those efforts on other things to more constructive outcomes.
All well and good, but sometimes you get caught up around non-viscious people who want reason and accountability and purpose for all the diversions. That is truly what smacks me into a rut of no longer giving a shit. I pity people who lack any sort of viscious nature, who never find themselves skirting the boundaries of life. I get worn out trying to mingle with them for any amount of time. They are exactly the sort of people who go out of their way to make you feel as uncertain and guilty as possible for taking time out to go for a long walk, to wander, to pick up trinkets, to ruminate over completely irrelevant stuff. They are the Deatheaters of creativity.
It’s more than that. What really sparked it for me was listening to a little speech given by Allan Watts, a modern age philosopher who talked about dying. I’d never heard of him, I know little of him, but his words stuck a chord. The gist of it was that somehow dying and getting old and sick and weak is somehow, in this day and age, unforgivable. It’s the biggest failure an individual can commit in western culture – or so we’ve been programmed to believe – and yet it is completely natural. It is how nature renews itself and always stays vibrant.
I began to realize that part of the gift of having a viscious appetite, some insatiable part of me, is what renews me. There could be no punishment greater than waking and repeating yesterday.
The final thread in this little tapestry was a little piece I re-read from F.A. Hayek’s book, The Road To Serfdom. It talked about the simplest of concepts in terms of what freedom really amounts to, the beauty and necessity of sovereignty. It was a simple, though powerful, paragraph about the importance of people acting without planned outcomes. You could interpret it as playing – or better – as making up a game, or simply exploring, integrating, putting disparate thoughts together for no other reason than curiosity. That is where innovation comes from, where you constantly stand at the cusp of reinventing yourself, your world, your knowledge, your vision.
Somehow I translate all of this into little things I do in the kitchen, and am reminded of why I love it here. It isn’t about feeding other people so much as feeding my curiosity, my own insatiable appetite and realizing that the more I feed it, the hungrier I get, the less satisfied I am.
It helps me keep seeing the magic in tweaking things; like brining chicken in alcohol (Sake – thanks for the idea Nathan Myhrvold!) instead of buttermilk. Stumbling across this, I imagine how cool this might be because deep frying is all about getting the water/moisture to evaporate out quickly to make the exterior crisp. Alcohol is unique in that it binds with water and evaporates at a much lower temperature. I also used a different flour this time; a pre-gelatinized flour (Wondra) which picks up any additional moisture much more efficiently, bringing it to the surface and in close contact with the high temperature oil…
Little threads like this make me realize that the real art of life isn’t about reflecting or explaining your motivations to anyone. The real art is fucking off as much as possible, doing irrelevant and beautiful things because you have an appetite for them.