Cooking and writing. They’re the two activities I gravitate to if time is spare; the two things, frankly, I would rather do than most anything else. Yet they are different, so counter in process and reward. The fact is, I can’t do both at the same time and therein lies the distinctive magic of each.
The writer Rebecca Solnit confesses that the pleasure she experiences in cooking is in the fact that it’s not writing. It is writing’s opposite. Cooking, she says, ‘engages all the senses; its immediate and unreproducable and then it’s complete and eaten and over.’ Cooking is such an here-and-now thing. It pulls me into the present. It’s messy, fragrant and extraordinarily physical. As Solnit says, it ‘operates in the realm of biology, of things rising and falling away, sustaining bodies.’ It’s true. Whatever I have faced during the day — whatever conundrums, sadnesses or anxieties I’ve brought home with me — chopping the onions and crushing garlic, browning the meat and deglazing the pan with sloshes of red wine has a way of getting me out of my head and back into my body. Whatever else life is, tonight we eat.
Writing is so different to that. To some degree, writing is an effort to defy biology and to resist the tyranny of now. Writing gets you out of your body and into your head, your soul. So much of writing is to do with consciously honouring yesterday, processing what has been or imagining what is yet to be. It’s about memories, ideas, arguments and longings. It’s a place to lose yourself and know yourself; to understand the world in new ways. It’s a place of escape, honesty, rage and engagement.
The odd thing is, I can write for hours and completely forget that I’m hungry. Eventually, though, I’ll come back to myself and I’m famished!
Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby, London: Granta, 2013.