Veronique Darwin

Cooking and Not Cooking Recipes

In Literary Events on November 5, 2015 at 11:08 pm

There was a time when I said: “Why cook a recipe?” I said it for many reasons… I didn’t want to, I didn’t know how to, and I thought that maybe to be a good cook one had to not use recipes. I was trying to be a master chef and I hadn’t even cooked a recipe. Maybe I’d made cookies. But I felt like I should be able to just stir fry something, and that this should be enough to sustain me. And wouldn’t it be better, I thought, to stir fry and really know how, then to busy myself going out and buying a whole list of things just to come back and make them into something that probably wouldn’t even work?

I was wrong, of course. Cooking recipes is what cooking is. Recipes are just the product of someone who cooked something and wrote it down. Did I not know this?


So I started doing it. It is still a pretty big thing for me. I look up a recipe for, say, a stir fry, and I read it over a few times (not carefully) and then I check what we have and I go to the grocery store and buy the things we don’t. I usually have to walk around with my cell phone at the grocery store to convert between grams and pounds and Google questions like “Is bok choy big?” I was doing this grocery store bit so successfully the other day that a man asked me if I sometimes made fried rice and if I do, what do I put in it? I said I did (I’ve never, but it sounds so simple, I must have) and I told him maybe some zucchini? He winced. That would be a bad choice. I asked him what he normally puts in it. You know, the usual, he said. He named a few things. Eggs? I asked. Oh yeah. Then I pointed at the bell peppers. Maybe a red pepper? I suggested. Oh! His eyes widened. Oh yes.

It maybe isn’t in the recipe that one feels the magic. It is in the addition of the bell pepper, the extra dash of spice or the replacement of some ingredient with some other that is where cooking begins. And once a recipe has been repeated so many times, with various successes, maybe one becomes a cook by default, if the noun is just a reflection of the verb. Because with recipes I am cooking, and without them, I find it hard to.

Now I wonder where writing plays into this. Because I know that I don’t want to follow a recipe. I don’t want to write a murder mystery or an acrostic poem. I want to actually be a writer. But writers write. And when I’m playing with a novel for four years wondering about the consequence of a look shared between two people across a bar, and whether it’s a bar or a restaurant, and whether his name is Gil or Hugo, and whether she is 28 or 29, then the novel isn’t getting written. And there are (I believe!) other people who have written novels. Those are the recipes. They’ve written them down. So maybe the step toward writing isn’t writing, really—isn’t diving into the process of putting words in whatever order on paper—but reading. Maybe reading is the recipe to writing. And if you read enough, so that the recipes get engrained in you, and you know how a stir fry works (and tastes, and looks), then you can do it yourself, adding and changing and getting the flavours all right in the way that works for you. Just don’t use a zucchini in your fried rice. We all knew that.

Not Quite Ready to be Forwarded to an Editor

In Literary Events on October 28, 2015 at 8:51 pm

I’m trying a thing where I send out short stories to people at literary magazines and contests and they send me back (in their minds) the message above. And I go, that’s great, thanks, I’m not ready either! And we are all in agreement and then I cry a little bit and think to myself “If only, if only,” THEN I’ll quit my day job, as though getting one short story published is the start to a burgeoning literary career, though it is, in a way, or at least it’s closer than a lot of other things.

I’m writing sad little stories about sad people saying sharp, quick-witted things to each other in different ill-described settings. I began to read the short stories of Lorrie Moore and Mavis Gallant and Miranda July recently and this seems to be what I like, so why not? The saddest story about the saddest, quick-witted lady, who is maybe mid-thirties and undergone a divorce? That is the feel of the story that is on the tip of my burgeoning fingertips. It is the story that is Not Quite Ready to be Forwarded to an Editor.

I have also begun taking baths, unsuccessfully preparing a fire in the wood stove and voraciously reading articles in which I am not interested in The New Yorker, as though the articles are vacuums and I a piece of dust. It sounds idyllic, no? It is idyllic, because in reality those things I do (bath, fire, New Yorker) are in my spare moments, which are fractionally one forty eighth of my day. The rest is volleyball practice, marking, reading about photosynthesis, listening to children slash young adults, shouting about expectations, running up and down stairs and adding paper into the photocopy machine because I seem to be the only person that does that. So the bath thing? That isn’t often. But that is me. The bath thing, the fire thing, the New Yorker vacuum thing: that is me, living my life. The teaching thing, that is a great thing, but that is not me, that is not me living my life.

I kind of have to say that to myself to keep myself alive. Because I am working so many hours in a day that I don’t want to tell it to you because I can remember when I worked at Crema and I counted out an eight hour day and measured how that was one third of my life, how every day I was spending one third of my life serving different people the same thing over and over again and THAT was depressing to me then. So don’t make me count the hours. Because I will and it will be like, fifteen, and then my stories, they will get sadder, and the women older, and the divorces more numerous and the things they say less witty, but not on purpose.

This blog, I reckon, Not Quite Ready to be Forwarded to an Editor. But I am not either. So.


Is It Because

In Inspiration, My Writing on August 25, 2015 at 9:46 pm

When I’m not writing, is it because I have nothing to say? But I speak at all hours of the day, to whoever will listen. I speak in full phrases in my head. I interrupt myself and continue the conversation you are having over there with someone who isn’t answering fast enough. I’m not writing because I have nothing to say.

When I’m not writing, is it because I’ve lost my nerve? But I step out of the door every day, sometimes to terrifying places. I try new things, I cook food, I carry heavy boxes over very tiny toes. I’m not writing because I’ve lost my nerve.

When I’m not writing, is it because I’ve become bored with my work, with my mind? Maybe I’m just letting my work go off and do its own thing, go on vacation, because I honestly haven’t thought about it for weeks. Maybe it’s bored with me.

When I’m not writing, I’m rearranging bookshelves and getting tingly excited by literary things in a way that I don’t when I’m trying to accomplish them. When I’m not writing, maybe I’m becoming reinvigorated and reseduced by writing.

When I’m not writing, is it because I’ve decided writing isn’t important anymore? I don’t think so, because I’m always so frustrated that I’m not writing and saying things to myself like What does my life even mean anymore?

But I don’t have that edge when I’m not writing, that edge like I’m going to fall off the edge of the world at any moment to go write down the world. I love that nervous energy at dinner parties after even half a glass of wine when I think of all the characters I know and can’t wait to get back to.

When I was little, I would be out for forest walks and just want to go home and draw a picture of people lined up in rows. That is a very vivid memory for me, of every time I was out on a forest walk, returning home and drawing an image that was maybe at first supposed to be the beauty of the forest or something but would just end up being cartoon people standing in rows, each with different hair, a different facial expression, funny looking feet.

Is it because I’m not writing that I’m not writing? Yes! That’s it!



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 186 other followers

%d bloggers like this: