icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle


Why Writing is Like Cooking a Turkey

 I was listening to The NY Times Daily podcast about the stress we all feel when we decide to host Thanksgiving, when someone mentioned slathering the turkey with mayonnaise before putting it in the oven at a slow-cook 325 degrees.  So, that's what I did this Thanksgiving, to my credit, I have decided. Isn't it always risky to try something new in the kitchen for a person who does not consider herself a cook, or like to cook? I thought it was brave to prepare the Big Bird off-grid, so to speak, and to trust that the NY Times cooking team knows of what they speak. My husband argued for the trusty foil tent, but I dissuaded him. "Just mayonnaise," I said.


Because turkeys are an impossible Big Bird to get absolutely right—dark meat, light meat—it's best to surrender to imperfection, apparently. Well, I'd never heard this before, but I liked it; it took the pressure off. Usually, polite, grateful guests ooh and aah at the absolute perfection of the turkey. "The turkey's perfect," they say, which is only sometimes true and everyone knows it. I think guests are grateful that someone else is hosting the Thanksgiving extravaganza and/or they don't want to insult the host and/or they love the host very much.


8 a.m., the mayonnaise jar on the counter, and I was painting the skin of the 13-pounder with a basting brush. It was wonderfully relaxing. After shifting the turkey into the oven, I did not look at it again until more than three-hours later. I picked up my Canadian cousin from the station and we sat and chatted over cups of tea until the other guests arrived. All the last-minute brouhaha was yet to come, the stress of getting everything onto the table at once, but I pushed that anticipatory anxiety aside.


Full disclosure, I'm old enough to remember writing on a typewriter, and fortunate enough not to be intimidated by the blank page, nor am I a perfectionist by nature. But I know many professional writers who are, and before computers wastepaper baskets in newsrooms across the world, and writing dens across the world, were filled with crumpled up discarded pages. My husband could never get started until he worked his way past the first paragraph into the body of the article. When the computer arrived, it was a blessing, he said. Who knows anymore when a first draft ends and revision begins? But he still labors more than I do, worrying every word and sentence. And, no surprise, he follows recipes meticulously without improvisation.


Perhaps it's a matter of temperament or personality. The turkey we cook will turn out okay, or not okay, and the end result is not what is important, not entirely anyway. I've done my best, worked hard, made an offering to family and friends. They will forgive a bit of white meat dryness. What's done is done or over-done, unlike writing, which we can play with and revise ad infinitum.


Post a comment


Sketch of William Gibson in Jakarta by Indonesian graphic artist, Sheila Rooswitha.

Letters. Once upon a time my mailbox was chock-a-block with letters, not junk but letters. Envelopes with stamps, handwritten missives on all kinds of stationary, typed missives, laser printed missives, photographs. Now, every morning when I open my email I’m excited if personal messages await me. We live transnational lives, friends and relatives and colleagues everywhere. But only a few use the convenience of email to send long narrative “letters,” if we can still call them that. Certainly, writers send long narrative emails more than most. Not only does it keep our professional and personal relationships alive, it keeps our writing muscles supple.

After a decade of working in London, I’d made many friends and I was sad to leave. My friend, Norma, suggested that we correspond regularly. About once-a-month we exchanged huge envelopes filled with: news clippings, a written letter or tape, programs of plays, press releases (we are both journalists), gallery brochures and photographs. Now we do the same on email which is much cheaper, faster and environmentally correct though, somehow, not nearly as much fun. The arrival of these packages made me smile. I’d have days of browsing and reading ahead of me, the joy of hearing Norma’s voice telling stories on tape (she’s an actor as well as a journalist) and the sensation, illusory though it was, that I was still in London, if only for an hour or so a month. Skype, phone, Facetime, all wonderful and immediate, but not the same. And this is true of every technological advance: we gain and we lose.

So here’s a gain story:

My friend William moved to Singapore when he finished his PhD and couldn’t get a job in the U.S. He married and now has a baby. Settled, more or less, into a very interesting life abroad. He teaches, he writes hard-boiled novels, reviews books, travels. We had both taught ESL at a Japanese school in New York and although we are a generation apart became fast friends. Then he left. What to do? Stay in touch, of course. Recently, after he moved from Singapore to Jakarta, our email correspondence accelerated and deepened. A few days ago he attached some photos of his wife, his new baby girl, and a link to a blog post sketch of him made by a well known Indonesian graphic artist, Sheila Rooswitha. They were in a noodle cafe discussing a graphic novel adaptation of one of William’s Malaya trilogy, “Singapore Black” (Monsoon Books), when William’s phone went off. There’d just been a terror attack south of where they were sitting and he was trying to get some information. Sheila started to sketch him. The sketch was so vivid that I was right there with them.

Then there is my cousin, Cameron, a musician (French horn), who led a peripatetic life in the orchestra of “Phantom of the Opera” for many years—stayed in touch with everyone—and is now living in the woods of northern California with his husband, James. Cameron collects old typewriters and is an avid correspondent. To my shame, I discouraged him from writing me very long letters and I am sorry, truly, Cameron. Somehow the electronic revolution addled my brain. It made me impatient and dismissive of thick beautiful envelopes arriving in my snail mail box. So I’m contrite and repentant and by way of apology will post the link to your blog here so that others might enjoy it:


All best,
Carol Bergman  Read More 
Post a comment