What exactly am I doing?
What am I doing each time I serve you these little tales each Sunday morning that you seem to appreciate so? Keeping my fingers busy, escaping the pandemic or simply a way to pass the time as I listen to Bach, Mozart or Giuseppe Verdi? Or perhaps I want to offer you a moment of joy, like I used to all those years ago? Would it be wrong for me to want to recreate the same thrill by attempting to offer you a nicely spun short story for breakfast each week?
It pretty much sums up my days at the moment. I try to dazzle you, like I did when I explored a thousand and one food combinations to delight our guests’ taste buds. Today, my relationship with the world is still as a cook, wanting to make eyebrows shoot up, eyes to sparkle and faces to flash astonishment. It’s perhaps not by chance that each week I sit down at my large kitchen table near my huge stove with six elements and the coffee machine. I have a huge pantry full of memories, stories of dishes, effervescent words and powdery affection to dust over my texts. And in the large bottom drawer, some one hundred precious recipes written by hand.
I still cook, if I may say, with the same passion as when I started; wanting to draw a memory so crisply, you will feel as if you had been there yourself. I dwell on each detail, just as I did on each piece of food that needed to be cut just so and skilfully plated – the slice of kiwi, the spear of red apple, the yellow of the pineapple…and now, the colour of the ink that must illuminate the words. Like each one of the breakfasts we serve, I hope that these generously dressed sentences succeed somehow in nourishing you; that they move and delight you if only for a moment.
I’m not an expert, but I do love to throw words onto a page, just like when I was a young girl playing marbles. I tried to aim straight, but rarely succeeded. So I learned to be patient and to practice as often as my brother would allow me to borrow his marbles.
Today, words often drop into my mind from above like some miracle. Some days, it is as if a divine hand empties the contents of a bag on the kitchen table. I love to gather this lexical bounty, examine the pieces, one by one, tinker with them, give them room to swagger and soften their unfamiliar edges. I love to chase after an unsteady verb, an overly long adverb, an annoying repetition. I can spend an entire hour cajoling an obstinate adjective to cooperate before throwing it onto the table.
I am not immune either to a splendid word that I read somewhere and absolutely must include in my text. Then, after one or two paragraphs, find myself forced to admit that the invited guest has thrown off the story’s flavour. Like overly sweet icing that overpowers the taste of a cake.
I often have the impression that the page is bigger than me. That it knows before I do the course my story will take. It’s not unusual for me to reach the three-quarter mark in a text and have to then change the title or first sentence. I set off for Ottawa, only to find myself approaching Halifax.
Writing is to explore a territory – the territory of my own being, I often tell myself. I am a witness to my own joy when the words appear and drown in anxiety when they evade me.
Back then, after I had put away my spatulas, cleaned the kitchen and taken off my apron, instead of resting, my heart would recharge with sudden energy, my thoughts already anticipating the next day. I seemed to instinctively know that the sun would rise on a new day that would be as promising as the day that glided through my mind’s eye as I fell asleep.
I realize today that I possessed a certain providential assurance that is almost impossible to describe. Each new dish represented another cherished customer, hundreds of smiles asking for it, an attractive illustration drawn on the wall and a precious recipe to include in my journal.
I suspect the angels must have had a hand in it. They knew from the beginning that my boundless creativity would be put to another use. Perhaps they even helped the Invisible provide the necessary trappings for my new life. Perhaps these weekly letters, if attached from end to end, will form a beautiful border along the final stretch of my life.
I hope this border is as long as the Great Wall of China, which I strolled along for a few kilometres back in 2001.
As this interminable pandemic persists, I encourage each of you who have been tempted to throw your marbles onto the table. I encourage you to sharpen your pencils and put into words whatever is pressing from within. If you free the bird from its cage, you will hear it sing, and I promise you a certain sense of well-being will enter your heart. To write means having the courage to catch a moving train without being certain of its exact destination. Believe me, it is an adventure worth taking, one that I experience each day. Whether you are passing through a long tunnel or over a suspension bridge dangling between two volcanoes, or even a field blanketed with bright poppies, you will gradually come to understand that your mind can open windows, break down doors and learn to bring the best of you into the world. And remember, the journey matters more than destination!