This week’s guest post comes from food writer and all-around rock star Carol Penn-Romine. Thanks so much for your contribution, Carol!
Last Sunday was Freaky Friday at our house. My husband Andy, a.k.a. Ink Gorilla, entertainment industry professional and the resident writer of science fiction and fantasy, was in the kitchen cooking Moroccan food, baking flatbread…the whole business. I, resident chef and food writer, was in the office writing scripts for a series of web-based chat shows for the science fiction television drama Falling Skies. For us both it was weird but exhilarating.
I needed this decidedly different creative challenge, because right now my book proposal is a whiny little snot nose with head lice and outrageously bad breath that has been tugging on my skirt and demanding my attention. I’d rather be spending my time with the book itself, this golden child with the aura of angels and the breath of lilacs. Of course, it might not be as golden, angelic or lilac-ish as I think it is, but it’s eminently more appealing to me than the proposal is. A solid proposal is crucial to the book’s publication, however, so the whiny snot nose must be indulged, the little creep.
“Palate cleansing” is a good way to describe the periodic restorative breaks we all need as creative people. Cooking gave Andy a much-needed palate cleansing during work on his novel. Science fiction-focused writing allowed me a similar respite from my proposal and book.
Total immersion in what we’re creating is valuable and necessary—up to a point. But when we get so focused on our trees that we’re unable to see the forest we’re working to create, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. We find ourselves staggering backward, trying to escape what we love to do most. But we haven’t ceased to love what we do—we just need a break from it to regroup a bit. It helps to take a walk or even head for the hiking trails. Or perhaps have a swim or go biking.
But at times we need something more. One of the best ways to cleanse the creative palate is to give it a rest by taking a trip down a completely different creative avenue, especially one we feel we’re not at all proficient in. If you’re a painter, play music. If you’re a dancer, cook something. If you knit, try building a birdhouse. If you’re a writer, maybe you should tie-dye that favorite ratty-assed t-shirt you insist on writing in, or batik the curtains hanging by your desk. Or take a class in improvisational comedy, as a couple of our friends are doing.
This tactic helps even if you shift your focus from one type of writing to another. The past couple of weeks spent studying the scripts of a science fiction television show and drafting interview questions for its actors, writers and producers is quite a departure for me. Frankly, science fiction and fantasy have never been quite my cup o’ chai, and I read them more often now only because my husband writes them. And in my 15 years in Los Angeles, I’ve avoided the entertainment industry the way Superman avoids kryptonite.
But in the process of writing these scripts, I was surprised to discover that I was enjoying the show and that I cared what happened to its characters. In the meanwhile, the part of my brain that is constantly looking for clever observations and turns of phrase regarding food and culinary cultures took a vacation. I returned from my sci-fi TV adventure with a refreshed mind. Now I’m ready to have another go at my book proposal. I think I’ve gained some clarity from the mental and creative vacation. (And, interestingly, I’m eager to watch Season 2 of Falling Skies!)
There’s something about busying yourself with what you might consider a lesser creative pursuit that makes your brain function in different ways and exercises mental faculties that usually get short shrift. This is something we all intuitively know but that we still must remind ourselves of sometimes. I’m sure there must be some scientific basis for this. Maybe it’s just my own theory, but I think it’s a valid one.
It’s time to get back to that whiny little creep. I think I’m ready to face him now.
How about you?
Carol Penn-Romine is a food writer, Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef and culinary tour guide, offering food tours of Ireland through her company, Hungry Passport Culinary Adventures. Her work has appeared in Leite’s Culinaria, Gastronomica, Los Angeles Times, Cornbread Nation IV: The Best of Southern Food Writing, Farmhouse Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor. She is a past editor of Edible Los Angeles and a contributor to Edible: A Celebration of Local Foods and to a number of magazines within Edible Communities. She blogs about food and travel at www.hungrypassport.com.