A room of one's own.
It took me a long time to actualize Virginia Woolf's advice. The room - my room - has a desk. The desk has drawers. One drawer contains the box of staples which (thanks to the wit and wisdom of James Collins) reminds me of my mortality.
I love his “staples” story - “Let Me Count the Days”. Pause now to read it, or promise you’ll come back for guaranteed reading pleasure. Like mine, his drawer features a box of Swingline staples. With droll insight, he outlines his calculations - a distraction fueled perhaps by writer's block or simple procrastination? I'll offer a summary - 4850 staples, divided by 15 used per year, equals 323 years!
He realizes he will not use them up in his lifetime, and admits to similar problems with the books he has accumulated and possibly even pickles. He concludes - "Staples, books, pickles …. When do you realize that you are going to die? When you realize that, in the remainder of your life, everything is countable." Not cheerful, but then the message is - make each day count!
Like Collins, I have several “too manys” – too many staples, pencils, stickie note pads… and… wait for it… too many recipes! Even if I live another couple of decades, I could make a new recipe every single day and never exhaust the collection.
In the last five decades I progressed from the wee recipe box, followed by the green notebook, the black binder, and the hanging folders. This does not include the cookbooks and “keeper” magazines.
I lost in the work / life balance game and “a well-ordered house” was a casualty. I swore that I’d spend my first year of retirement cleaning house, but I have not yet impressively applied myself to that task. Shuffling the contents of drawers, I have stumbled across “to do” lists (literally from the last century) - “organize photos” (not done…), “organize recipes” (getting there… ). Ultimately, the recipes I really, really want to keep and use (and pass along to next generations) will have to make it to the blog.
Ah, my blog – IMHO a serenely organized digital collection. But the outcome masks the journey, and I am betting there is not a food blogger out there who is not surrounded by scattered piles of notes and recipes and books, and perhaps even a BuJo (aka a Bullet Journal – yup, that’s a thing).
Chaos. Chaos and clutter – the enemy of KonMari devotees. But does chaos / disorder have any redeeming qualities?
"...order and disorder are both common states... Why hasn’t the human yearning for order, over the millennia, triumphed over messiness in society?... Maybe what we disparage as messiness—maybe this physical state contributes to a varied world, and perhaps it’s variety that’s most important in shaping human thinking and action…." [Source]
And guess what, research is showing that people "who worked in the untidy room were much more creative overall, and they also produced more “highly creative” ideas. In other words, they were more likely to break away from tradition, order and convention in their thinking." [Source]
Let’s pause to underscore that. Chaos = Creativity. Picture photos you’ve seen of the studios of famous artists – a mess, right? Even Einstein weighs in on this. “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”
On a bad clutter day, let that be a mantra. On the other hand, I will not deny that there are parts of my mind that long for order, for release from the burden of "stuff", and for the tranquility of minimalism - and not because it is a trend.
Some say the generation behind me values minimalism – though others insist this has more to do with the lower incomes associated with precarious employment and student debt, than an ascetic. Extreme critics suggest that minimalism has become tyrannical, oppressive and conformist, and an indulgence of the rich, describing "minimalism’s ban on clutter as a “privilege” that runs counter to the value ascribed to an abundance of objects by those who have suffered from a lack of them — less-empowered people like refugees or immigrants." [Source]
I did not experience "The Great Depression", but grew up in an immigrant household. Maybe that accounts in part for why I often hang on to some things, thinking maybe one day there will be a catastrophe or scarcity and I will need it!
Back to food. How odd, and fascinating, that writing about food may ensue from disorder, but the making of food demands order. There is no chef who does not value mise en place – invaluable for replicating food in a fast-paced restaurant. But even "culinary creators" work in ordered environments - their kitchens often resembling laboratories – from which emerges culinary innovation. (Think of Magnus Nilsson, Rene Redzepi, Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adria.)
Where does that leave me? The game of work / life balance is now replaced with order / disorder balance, and the hope that the chaos of my desk fosters creativity, while the order of my kitchen results in cooking success. And it leaves me with too many recipes… and too many staples…
Bringing order to my recipes will remain a quest. I am, after all, a bit of a “quest girl” – always hunting for some ingredient, some recipe that will replicate a food memory. Fitting that I should end this blog post by sharing a successful quest – my hunt for “Portuguese Buns” which in fact turned out to be “Portuguese Muffins” (Bolo Levedo). Now that’s a story – and a taste sensation. Click here for the recipe.
Postscript - a therapeutic read for those feeling bad about cluttered / "homey" houses.
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