The one area of domestic creativity that has intrigued me from an early age has been anything connected to cooking and baking. My mother was very capable in the kitchen, but didn’t enjoy her time there; I speculate this was largely because producing family meals day in and day out without much of a break became a dull routine. I recall her deep pleasure in my father’s midlife interest in gourmet cooking, and the way it freed up her weekends so she could relax and enjoy time away from the kitchen.
One glorious Christmas, Santa brought me an Easy-Bake Oven, with its miniature stove, pans, utensils, and boxed mixes. It conjured little layer cakes, muffins, and quick breads through the magical heat of a light bulb. It entertained me and kept my brothers content for a few minutes after the Lilliputian cakes were frosted, but I soon tired of putzing around on such a small scale: I wanted to enter the arena of the real kitchen and manipulate the enchantment of chemistry on a grander and more sophisticated stage.
My mother was only too happy to encourage this, and I am eternally grateful for the trust and freedom she granted me as she left the room with her own pile of books and a sigh of contentment.
Her list of rules was brief. She expected me to clean up whatever mess I created, which I thought a fair exchange for the pleasure provided, for creation—both the birth and death necessary for it to occur—is a messy affair indeed. She also asked that I share my results with my brothers, which taught me that while indulging one’s creativity is vital, the sharing of one’s creation, art, and self is the purpose.
I’ve been pondering these lessons lately, as I return to the kitchen with the great excitement of holiday baking adventures, new recipes, and family gatherings tantalizing my imagination. I love all the seasons, but there is none better for me than that grand culinary and guest-welcoming stretch of the calendar year between October and January. Friends, family, food and its accompaniments: what’s better? Imagining how this or that creation will please someone we love is a lovely impetus for our artistic endeavors.
And so, in the kitchen, I still create wildly and clean the mess as I go along, and I still—mostly—share what I create. I’ve been wondering lately, though, if I apply these rules as wisely to the rest of my pursuits in the grander and more sophisticated arena of life outside of my kitchen.
It is no secret that Wisconsin, the state where I have lived most of my life, is experiencing a political crisis and that divisive laws, choices, and use of power have been more in evidence this past year. We are living through an intensely concentrated and tempestuous version of the larger international and national socio-political chaos that is the hallmark of our time, and there are days I can enter the fray with energy and clear vision, and others, when I desire silence, peace, and a Canadian refuge. Life and choices are not black and white, as they were when I was younger; they are rather a formless gray and we are invited, especially in a representative democracy (if we truly are that anymore), to co-create our society’s shapes and patterns, institutions and laws, taxes and their use…and we are expected to participate fully in the operation and integrity of these systems, ensuring that our creation is fashioned to include and honor everyone justly.
I am filled with doubt when asked to support an “us/them” mentality, and yet the divisions between the opposing political worldviews seem more and more distinct, and I am increasingly unable to perceive enough common ground where I may stand and hold hands with those on either side of the arguments. I am concerned that all of us are creating messes without attending to them and have no well-formulated plan for how our new creations will be shared among all the state’s, or country’s, or world’s residents, including the non-human.
I fear we may act without forethought, fueled by anger and reactive impulses rather than reason and compassion. How will we reconstitute the relationships we are dissolving and repair the connections we have destroyed? How will those we oppose be invited to contribute their gifts if we become the party in power? How are we living into the change we desire?
It seems the earth is straining more violently these days, and the hope flickering at my core is that these are birth pangs as well as death cries, and that the spirit of love is present, working earnestly to help us midwife a time of greater peace and equity among all earth-dwellers. I can’t go on without such hope, despite the preponderant evidence that we never, really, learn how to accept and love the stranger.
Hate is a dangerous fuel, energizing and strengthening a journey of division. It can change the faces of power without altering the balance. Discord is not a reliable or sustainable diet. And I cannot be fooled into believing myself, and therefore my pursuits and methods, any less selfish and partisan than those with whom I disagree. Listening, reflection, and circumspection are more important practices than ever.
I’m trying a new recipe today and as excited as ever about creating something new and sharing it with those I love.
Tomorrow I will sign a petition that seeks to recall our current governor.
May we proceed cautiously and with mindfulness regarding the energetic sources that inspire and motivate us; may we take time to tend to our messes as we go along; and may we finally create a life-giving system for governance served at a table where all are welcome and all are fed.