Monday, November 18, 2013


A lovely November sunset this evening to the west, as I pedalled home in the dusk, with car headlights bright on the streets and people hurrying home from work along the sidewalks.

It’s an exciting time of year, but days are so short that each moment of daylight feels precious. I thought it would be easy enough to get work done here in Toronto in November and December, with no warm sunshiny days to tempt me outside to play. But in fact it doesn’t seem to work like that. As long as it’s not pouring rain or wildly windy outside, I find I yearn to catch a little sun and air, not just a little but a good dose, rather than diligently working away at the computer. Hmmm

Perhaps this is just another expression of procrastination. I think though that it’s a lifelong urge in me, to be active and moving, to be outside rather than inside, and that weather (and obligations) have only a small influence. When I was a kid my mother used to say, “It’s such a beautiful day; why are you inside reading/studying/sitting around when you could be out in the sun and air?” Perhaps that’s part of the origin of my deep-seated guilt at staying in or sleeping in when the day is beautiful.

My kids say to me (when I start talking like my mother about not wasting a beautiful day): “That was your mother’s line, because she was raised on a farm, where a beautiful day was an opportunity to get necessary work done outside. It’s not relevant to us”. I feel fortunate to have the push-back from them; it helps keep those still-active mother-inspired feelings of guilt at bay.


I was interrupted right after finishing those first paragraphs and then the weekend swept me up. Here it is now a windy blustery Monday morning, not cycling weather, for sure.

The week is starting well: Lillian is visiting from Grey County and that’s a treat. But also in the last ten days, including on the weekend, I have managed did get a lot more recipe work and writing work done. Each bit, however rough and approximate, is a necessary part of constructing this complex thing that is a book. And each bit of progress makes the rest feel less difficult.

Why is that? I wonder, each time. Part of the answer of course is that each bit of work or recipe tested or reading or travel adds to my understanding, sheds a little more light, and makes my footsteps surer. But the other, arguably more interesting reason lies in the whole process of starting out, or initiating any new project. Those early decisions set the tone, and the course, of what comes after. They are an embarkation in a certain direction. And so they feel very determinative of what follows.

Hence the procrastination, hesitancy, fear, frozenness, paralysis - there are many words for this state – that afflicts me intermittently at the start of each project. I’m talking about book projects here, but in fact a milder version of “starting-out-paralysis” strikes when I go to plant the garden in the spring for example…the first decisions, or optings, eliminate some options right away and narrow the possibilities. There’s thus a big pressure to “get it right”. That is the negative view.

But there’s another much more positive way of thinking about each project (book or garden or whatever): to see it not as a task directed at achieving a perfectible goal but instead as a process of engagement. Each decision then, or each bit of progress, generates its own new insights and possibilities, enlarging the field of vision. I love this mindset. I love the idea of the process being the source of creativity and pleasure. It means that there are huge possibilities awaiting, just around the corner. My project will not be limited to just what I can imagine now. It will take on its own life and become bigger and richer than I can possibly know in these early stages.

Strengthened by this more generous idea, I’m pumped by the ideas and insights I have gained from work I’ve already done. And I am moving forward into the rest with enthusiasm rather than anxiety.

It feels like a kind of rebirth, this new attitude. It certainly is life-giving in all kinds of ways.

POSTCRIPT: What recipes? I can imagine you asking. Well I've made three different soups, the word is "ash" in Farsi, all of them easy thickly satisfying, loaded with green herbs and other greenness, one vegetarian (ash-e-reshteh) and two extremely light on meat. And I've made a delectable grilled eggplant dish that's flavored with raw shallot/onion, dried mint, and loads of pomegranate seeds. I learned it from a home cook in Shiraz. Last week I also made a roast chicken Azeri-style, stuffed with tart fruit and walnuts and glazed with saffron water, and to go with it a classic herbed Persian rice. Some of these need another test-drive, but they're all good additions to the book.


Nicola said...

I suffer with you Naomi. Sitting here in Toronto's blustery weather (and politics)worrying that my writing project will end up in a deep, dark hole of nothing. Thanks so much for finding a new key in the music. It reminded me of a saying I heard years ago - 'don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.' It will find its way...thanks!

Katharine Kunst said...

I am so glad to hear that you are doing a cookbook that will include Persian food. I adore that food and have been cooking it since sometime in the 1960s when I acquired In a Persian Kitchen.I've made two trips to Iran and did a big blog on it in my food/cooking blog I'm telling you all this just to let you know that I admire your work immensely (and have been introducing people to Burmese food via your book) and that my blog might be helpful to you in your current venture. Katharine Kunst