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Archive for the ‘creative habit’ Category

Simplicity

For a long time I promised myself that, some day, I’d bake my own bread.  It made so much sense: it would be tastier, healthier, there’d be no packaging.  The issue was finding the time.  Then, through a friend, I discovered an adapted recipe for the Grant loaf.  It took me a while to get round to trying, but now I’m hooked.  I love the making of it: the feel of the dough in my fingers, the alchemy of the yeast causing the mixture to rise and how, when I bake it, the bread fills the house with its smell.  And I love that I can do it so fast, by heart now.  Seriously, the time it takes to mix it is the time it takes to walk to the village shop.

The recipe has only four ingredients.  You can’t get much simpler than that.  There are no preservatives or additives – just flour, yeast, water and salt (I’m afraid I do need the salt).  It struck me when I made the last batch that my new ritual of bread-baking chimes with one of my aims for this year.  At the start of January, inspired by Chris Brogan, I chose three words to guide my direction for 2010.  One of these is: ‘Simplify.’   For me, simplifying means trying to focus on one task at a time – something I hope will make me less stressed and irritable.  Simplifying means, in fact, doing less (or, being absolutely clear about why I’m doing it in the first place).  It means having the conviction to say no to yet another enticing project or idea that would clutter up my already too-full head. 

Simplify.  It also works with writing.  To simplify is to be clear about the ‘through lines’ of story and character which, in turn, influences the purpose of a particular scene, or section, or chapter of the novel.  With simplicity in mind, I consciously ask myself at the end of each writing session ‘so what?’ and ‘what next?’  Writing more simply is to ‘say it once’ – cutting out extraneous passages or sentences which, however well written I think they might be, obscure the real point of things.  I find it fascinating how the act of creating a product with fewer, good quality, ingredients allows us to focus more on the process.  It allows things to breathe: dough expanding, the characters on the page; and the rise and fall of the writer’s breath in time with the words on the page.

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The Art of Washing Up

washing up

When we moved house, six years ago now, we asked for the dishwasher to be taken out.  Some people were bemused by this (how usual is it, after all, to have a dishwasher removed from a kitchen?).  Others were quietly impressed by what they saw as our eco-credentials.  I’m not geeky enough to know whether a dishwasher actually saves water (these days, quite possibly, it does).  But anyone doing the dishes in our house (we like our morning porridge and our lasagne-with-a-crusty-top) would, by the third bowl of clean water, undoubtedly side with the dishwasher lovers.

There are countless things I’d far rather be doing than washing up.  It’s tedious and time consuming.  If I delegated it to our ten-year old, she might demand payment (although admittedly she does it sometimes out of love- or boredom).  But there’s something about the action – the wiping of the surface of each knife or dish, the rhythm that builds as I wash, rinse, stack – that liberates, but also quietens, the mind.  The same might be said of any repetitive task (ironing, cleaning, and running on a treadmill).  But washing up is my favourite necessary non-displacement activity.  While my hands are occupied with something simple, something that happens on a daily basis, my mind is free to range over more imaginative things – a knotty plot issue, for example; a snippet of dialogue that surfaces when I’m thinking about a character.  Habit, repetition, ritual: they’re crucial for any creative individual.  And routine, as Twyla Tharp tells us – in her wonderful book, The Creative Habit – is fundamentally democratic.  It’s available to everyone. 

For me, there’s a definite order to washing up.  As with a piece of writing, we might start with the easy things – the water glasses, the wine glasses – that require only a cursory wipe.   We progress to plates and, finally, to the pans and serving dishes with the burnt-on, stubborn bits of grime.  These are the parts of story you dig at with a scourer, or sometimes a fingernail or a piece of steel wool. 

But perhaps the real art of washing up is to know when to stop.  There’s always the steeping method: fill the dish with water, put it to one side.  Let it soak for a day or two, then come back to it when you have more energy, when things have loosened up.  Sometimes I wonder if elbow grease might be overrated.

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