Thursday, March 18, 2010

Coq Au Vin, Creativity, and What Aline Hallenbeck Said To Me In Eighth-Grade Home Ec

Our friends Roy and Josine came down for drinks, dinner, and Rummy-O today. I made coq au vin, which always makes me feel as though I should be wearing an apron with frills and pockets, like the one I made in Mrs. Nebeker’s eighth-grade home ec. class in 1970. (Note: I almost failed this class. I massacred that apron. Aline Hallenbeck said she didn’t like my hair color [brown] with my eye color [brown]. Barbara Lamon gave an oral report about skin care and could not utter the word “pimple” without dissolving. All in all, a massively stressful experience.)

When I tell people I’m not creative, they often say, But you write books! You must be creative. It’s a reasonable thing to think. I would say it to writers if I weren’t one. But because I am, I know that writing is a supremely laborious task bearing little resemblance to what I think of as creativity. There are no sparks of inspiration, no bursts of epiphanic realizations. (Well, very few, anyway.) There is just sitting and typing out a sentence and then deleting a word or a comma and sitting again. The process is “creative” only in the sense that something eventually gets made. But I, myself, am no more creative than the person who “makes” a spreadsheet or a diagnosis or a driveway.

Now, entertaining: that’s creative. I get to cut and arrange flowers,

design a menu (coq au vin over egg noodles, buttered green beans, blueberry crisp with vanilla ice cream) and cook it, pick the music (Benny Goodman, Marvin Gaye, Ray LaMontagne), and choose which china and napkins and wineglasses to use:

On thinking it through, I guess entertaining feels creative because it’s fun. Writing feels like a job. An important job—a job I adore, a job I think is vitally important, a job I am lucky to have—but a job. It’s slow-moving, often financially unrewarding. Not as stressful as having my appearance critiqued in eighth-grade home ec., but stressful nonetheless.

(Aline and I eventually became friends. She spent three hours on the phone with me one night in eleventh grade trying to get me to join Young Life and never held it against me when I chose not to. I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. The horrors of eighth grade don’t last forever? First impressions aren’t always accurate? Hair- and eye-color preferences change over time?)

At any rate, Roy and Josie and Robert and I had a blast playing Rummy-O.

A night with good friends can do much to revive one’s midweek spirits.

I’ll bet Aline Hallenbeck is a killer Rummy-O player.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Gina!

    To update my record ... I don't remember making that insensitive 8th-grade comment, but if I reflect honestly on my 8th-grader self, I can't confidently deny making it. So I truly apologize!

    I'm glad we had the 11th grade chat, and that apparently I had matured by then. Thanks for your openmindedness!

    And finally, I've never played Rummy-O, but my kids are enthusiastic board and card game players, so I will have to try it out next time we're together.

    Glad to hear you're doing well. I'll send you a longer letter soon ... my thoughts on creativity, especially in the realms of writing and entertaining are quite similar to yours. How refreshing to read your views and find a kindred soul! It's great to hear from you after so many years ...

    Aline Caulley (nee Hallenbeck)