Monday, December 9, 2013


First snow-sticking-on=the=ground=and-slushy-roads day in downtown Toronto. The provident already have their boots out and the rest have wet looking feet. I am still looking for the snow shovel; it must be in the garage.

I love fresh snow in the city, for even with grey skies and the weight of that ugly word “slush”, the snowed surfaces brighten the day, giving us spare wintry lightness. I can love it because I’m not trying to drive in traffic made worse by the slush or to navigate the slippery sidewalks with a cane or walker or while pushing a child in a stroller.

Snow now is a reminder of time. Yikes! Every year December seems to collapse, lose days, until suddenly it’s the weekend before Christmas. Part of it is that we all raise our expectations at this time of year. We make more of an effort to see people and socialise, we may be doing those extra shopping errands for presents, or packing for a Christmas holiday departure. Whatever the extra “it” is, the month accelerates past.

In the last five or six years I’ve been away in November and the first half of December, so I’ve missed these early weeks and landed as the holidays were about to start. Now that work travels are taking me elsewhere my travel away pattern has shifted. I like that. The change helps me see with fresh eyes, and appreciate the details I might have ignored when I was last around at this time of year.

In this past five weeks since I got home from Iran I've been able to really dig into my Persian World project. I've come to realise, as I've been digesting my Iran and Georgia trips, doing recipe work, engaging with photos, stories, and historical research, that I love being home working and reflecting. And with short days and chilly weather, being indoors is feeling good, and productive. It’s a privilege to be able to settle in, to NOT have to think about airplanes and packing, etc. for awhile.

Is this age, I caught myself wondering yesterday, this pleasure I am taking in being home and working steadily?

Perhaps. But I think it’s also a change in working style. And that in turn comes from increased confidence. Rather than rushing from thing to thing, afraid I’ll be late or miss out on something, I am now more prepared to work steadily and to not worry about the possibility of not getting this or that done in a day. I guess I am being more methodical and generally more deliberate. Part of the explanation for the change is that after doing the Burma book sola, rather than with a partner, I know that I can trust myself to carry a big project through on my own. And I enjoy the whole process more, for I am in control of what is done or not done. It’s all up to me.

I used to think that carrying one large project, a thesis say (which was how I first imagined what a large project would be, when I was in my teens and early twenties), would be impossible for me, too sustained and onerous a burden. Then once I started making books in a partnership, I discovered that like almost every other task, the work of researching writing, etc. gets broken down into pieces and gradually as the pieces get worked on, the whole takes shape. Once the first book, Flatbreads & Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas, was finished, and the manuscript sent in, starting on another book seemed like an obvious and wonderfully desirable thing.

But in those early years there were the kids to factor in, and the organising of travel and other work, and the complications of partnership. It all seems like a whirling blur as I look back.

In comparison, this process of deciding what work I will do on a particular day is very easy and uncomplicated. I can recipe test, or write up work already tested, or take on the writing of a story, or read some history, or edit photos… All of those possibilities are inviting. That’s the thing. And none of them scares me, though they do all require me to have energy and to take them on with creative imagination, rather than passively.

I think that’s the essential difference between a chore and work that you love. A chore is something that just needs to be done, and can be done with a dull mind and heavy or exhausted spirit, whereas work that I like and that I look forward to requires good energy and engagement. If I’m sleepy or otherwise exhausted I won’t get any good work done. And in such a state I’m better off doing some chore like cleaning or tidying my office or looking for that shovel.

I can imagine you wondering, 'and what about writing this blogpost?' For me writing, all writing, including these explorations of ideas on the virtual page, requires a fresh head and good energy. And of course I also need to have an idea in my head that I want to explore. I woke up this morning knowing that I wanted to write this. And now here it is, miraculously.

Once I’ve posted this, and done some other book-writing work, I’ll hit a low ebb, energy-wise. And then it will be time to get that sidewalk shovelled!

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