Both Jackson and Lisa B. commented on one or two of my last posts about the cooking and the teaching and the writing. Jackson quoted Janet Burroway saying that neither cooking nor writing are monolithic tasks--you take to them piece by piece. It's what makes me anxious about writing--the whole idea does hover around. If you let it hover too much, it gets in the way of the details. I remember one reviewer of one of my manuscripts saying there were redundant parts. Whole-sale parts copied and pasted from other parts showing up throughout the manuscript. This was a poetic urgency on my part--you get it, don't you? Let me show you again. The details were supposed to be holding up this whole notion. Why not use the same details again? But I was missing a key factor in what is pleasurable about reading. People like reading details, new ones, surprising ones, more than they like whole notions.
When I teach writing, I make my students write idiosyncratic detail, not just specific detail. I'd rather hear about the oceanic chair than the blue, velour-covered chair. But I don't get too picky about the kind of detail, as long as it's kind of weird.
This is where my beastliness in the kitchen is so much more bossy than my professoring in the classroom. In writing, I want students to explore and surprise themselves and do new things. In the kitchen, I want food to taste right. There is a right and wrong taste with food and while there are degrees of right and wrong in writing, the process, at least as a professor of writing, is the most important part. (When I'm an editor, it's less true. There is a righter taste).
When I was blogging Chopped last spring in an attempt to avoid other kinds of competitions, I thought a lot about how teaching and writing were a lot like cooking. But instead of thinking deeply about cooking, I thought more about the competition behind cooking. Who wins? The most creative? Rarely. The best presentation? No. Taste always wins. The judges admit so much. And, with three judges, you can see that there really is one right (or one more right) taste. The judges care about all three categories--taste, creativity, and presentation--but taste always wins out.
When I cook, I know how to make sure it tastes right. With writing, I'm getting closer. But I've been writing for a long time now and I'm barely sure now what details are the right ones, what ones lead to better taste and what ones just lead to better presentation or creativity. No one wants that much creativity or presentation (sure, a little is nice) but they really want things to taste right which is so much easier to gauge with the chemistry of cooking. Not too much salt. Evenly chopped onion. Cook the onions on low. If you do burn the onions a little, add some wine, deglaze the pan. Writing. Step by step? Maybe. Correctable? Of course, just add wine and revise. But sitting down to eat and knowing that it tastes right? Our palates aren't so different.