Several years ago, I crawled out of bed on a Saturday morning at an unGodly hour and drove south for miles on end to attend a conference for writers. I label it unGodly because, as a night owl, anything earlier than when dawn breaks and has had a couple hours under its belt to see how the day is going to pan out deserves that adjective.
Our town is bordered on all four sides by agriculture. It is a town where those who require it of him celebrate a rooster’s existence. As a town girl residing inside those agricultural borders, if there are roosters crowing, I can’t hear them.
I don’t fault the rooster. Thanks to eons of repetition and the activity’s proven success in yanking people within earshot out of bed, the rooster has earned his right to crow at the sun.
However, for someone who finds it impossible to drift off before the moon has risen, and before my brain’s gyrations have been subdued by vodka and dinner, the bird of the morning is irrelevant. And in spite of Dr. K’s renewed applications, there are no roosters or other loud feathered friends in our backyard.
Networking conferences can be self-defeating.
The conference was heralded as an event guaranteed to improve literary skills, establish literary credentials, and help align with people having marketing know-how. The invisible subtext was that it was one of those networking things calculated to help you understand you are an absolutely worthless person, one who should drop any dream of making writing a calling, one who should find some other career to make you happy. As a shoe fanatic, I’ve often entertained the thought of shoe-selling as a likely career choice. Those of you who find the aroma of a new car or caramel corn aphrodisiacal will identify with how the scent of a thing will make you want to dedicate your life to selling it. The pristine odor of a new shoe rockets my heart skywards. It does the same for my collie Mopsy, who will do anything she can to stuff her long nose into shoe leather and inhale its delectableness.
But, back to this event requiring several hours of early morning driving. It was a writers’ conference, its aim to chat up others working in the industry to learn how to sell books. The between-the-lines meaning of these things is that there could be hope of commiseration, or at least mutual agreement that writing books is a miserable existence.
Never mind that, before attending this conference, the aroma of a hardcover book sent my senses reeling.
The very worst part of the day spent at the writers’ conference ended up having nothing to do with the drive. If I had known how conversation would evolve, I would have kept driving.
I was introduced to a fellow writer, one who had won an award from the organization holding the conference for his book. We chatted it up for several minutes — comparing notes from one novelist to another — before he dropped “the statement.”
I write a blog about recipes and about life.
“You’re a food writer,” he said.
He delivered this short line with an actual lip curl. You know it — often mistaken for a facial tic, there is that lip wrinkle on the right side of a person’s mouth. Most likely, it’s an unconscious motion; the degree of elevation is slight, and yet, it exists, particularly if you are one of those people like me who make a daily effort to crawl out from beneath your down-filled duvet to face the world and await its criticism.
“Well yes,” I stumbled, “I do write a food blog but I’ve also written a novel, um, which also won an award like yours did (except mine was national and I figured he could read that if he looked at the sticker on the book’s cover), but most of the time I develop recipes and jot down my weird views of the world on my blog.”
There was that tic again, which could likely have been Tourette’s Syndrome or some other transient tic disorder. I was probably reading him all wrong.
So I went and sat down in my seat and tried to imagine I was anywhere else but here, several hours away from home on a Saturday morning. I ardently wished I were sitting at the kitchen table, reading my city’s newspaper, sipping coffee, and ladling salsa over my eggs.
On the drive home I chanted, “You’re a food writer,” all the way. I chanted it for all the 83.7 miles driving back home, in contrapuntal harmony. The chorus went, “and you really ought to be selling shoeeeeees!” It was a beautiful ending to a symphony of woefulness.
It’s simple to find someone who will criticize your efforts. And most often, you will be the first in line to sign up and do that.
That was 2012. Since then, I’ve created 284 recipes, and 171 often weird blog posts. I wrote another novel, which people tell me they’ve enjoyed reading. And yeah, it won an award or two. And somewhere along the line, someone read what I was releasing from my brain hours after the roosters crowed and asked me if I’d like to write stories about food for a newspaper. My newspaper. My city.
I’ve come to accept that to some, writing about restaurants and food may seem a fluffy enterprise. At times, I have to agree. It’s just food on a plate. What does it taste like? It tastes like food.
It’s a bit like my novels. People ask me what my novels are about. “Um, they’re stories about people. Like a piece of art, a study on a topic, I write people studies,” is what I usually say. I meet the most interesting people every day, and often, they share stories of their life with me. They ask me to write their story, like the man from Vietnam who told me he had seen everything. There was nothing he hadn’t seen, he said. And would I write about it?
As a food writer, I also write people studies.
Without food, there is no life. How foods have developed over the millennia is pretty damned fascinating. Observing what others create, and then figuring out a way to help people understand the where’s and why’s of how food is created is larger than the circumference of a dinner plate. There is philosophy, human psychology, mathematics, and even physics. And I want readers to enjoy a meal as much as I do. In enjoying food, I hope people will enjoy life just that little bit more.
Food and its preparation is an art form, no matter how fleeting. So should we feel shame in consuming it, or describing its equally fleeting enjoyment?