The necessary ingredients.

August 25, 2012 § 7 Comments

I guess the necessary ingredients depend on who’s doing the cooking. The pinch of this you add, the dash of that I throw in may be completely different. This isn’t a recipe that is handed down. Although it comes, at least in part from family, each of us has to decide what is necessary and what we might add if we’re lucky enough to find it on the shelf.

The ingredients I consider necessary have changed many times, but after vast experience in life’s kitchen, these are the ingredients I find essential.

Solitude: One of my favorite ingredients. Don’t be stingy with it. You need time alone with your thoughts, nothing in a pocket that will jingle to let you know someone needs your attention urgently, irrelevantly.

I find walking solitude the best. Maybe it is the rhythm of my own footsteps, the views along the way.

All I know is that some thoughts refuse to instantly snap into focus, or to queue up with three others, or draw breath under the gaze of the human committee. Sometimes a thought must mature in my one solitary mind.

Approval: We need to see our best selves reflected in someone else’s eyes, an unequivocal approval we may never live up to; accept it as the gift it is. Add as much of this ingredient as people will give you–you can’t buy it at the store.

Yearning: Don’t go overboard with this one, but in my experience, leaning toward something desired, imagining and reimagining it coming true, is the leavening that makes the dough of real life rise.

Green: Sadly, this essential ingredient is harder to come by than it used to be. Green is being buried under the human landscape.  If you need more try growing it yourself.

A pack: We need the comfort and friction of being part of the group whether it is family or neighborhood, or people who do what we do; musicians, writers, collectors of beanie babies. Pack members don’t even have to be particularly suited to each other; consider family. The pack is made up of the people we are committed to loving. They are ours without question and we are theirs.

Maybe they’re not really part of the recipe, maybe they are those with whom we share the meal.

A project: This is the opposite of the “to do” list,  which, when I make one, is guilt on paper. A project is that big self-assigned job you just have to do.

The best projects, like building an ark, painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or taking back an inner city neighborhood seem impossible—and some are–but the goal is not as important as the doing it takes to get there. You can sometimes cook without this ingredient, but be sure to add it every few batches.

Decent work: We all hope for a job that uses our brains and talents, makes us look good and keeps our hands clean, but someone has to pick up trash and empty bedpans and stand over a steam table slopping spaghetti onto plates in the school cafeteria.

Any job, no matter how menial, is decent if the worker turns in their best. Attitude dignifies work, and so the work becomes decent. Put this ingredient in every time.

Single digit friends: If you are old enough to have any interest in reading this you left your single digit years a while ago.

Maybe you’ve walked lock-step with those in your age cohort; we tend to do that, beginning with grade school and ending in a retirement community.

But to remind yourself of life’s astonishments become friends with those who have yet to go around the block even once–as you cook let them lick the spoon.

A self of reasonable size: Whether we are boastful or self-deprecating the problem is the same. The self is too big. It casts a shadow so colossal it’s as if Godzilla has come to town. We have a world-defining stake in that self, so we see it as more important than it is. For this ingredient, let someone else taste the recipe. It’s the only way to know whether you are overdoing it.

A song: Music is a universal ingredient. Its rhythm beats in our veins, but I may use it in greater proportion than most cooks. There is never a silence in my mind, always a song. Waking in the night I swim up to consciousness in the middle of a song.

Life with a soundtrack becomes epic, and despite the niggling day-to-day life is epic. It is grand and sprawling. Why shouldn’t it unfold to music.

As I said, the ingredients for my recipe have changed with time. Take good looks. Important when I was a teen, now it remains like a splash of food coloring, but no more. I hope the recipe will work fine without it–the day is coming when I’ll find out.

Perhaps one day the necessary ingredients will be reduced to warm hands, someone to talk to, and a comfortable position to sleep in. If so, so be it.

As long as I get to remain in the kitchen and keep on cooking.

Note: You  may have noticed that I didn’t give you exact measurements or tell you how to cook the darned thing. That part changes from batch to batch and I have to admit it still needs work. I’ll get back to you when the recipe is fool proof.

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§ 7 Responses to The necessary ingredients.

  • craig reeder says:

    “attitude dignifies work” WOW! that is just beautiful!
    what a great blog! ………….. however………………..
    i would express mild surprise at the conspicuous absence of one rather obvious “necessary ingredient”:


    • “Dog” is in the same category as “air” and “water.” Too obvious to list.

      And speaking of lists, I thought about you when I made the snide remark about lists. I know that you are a fan and are comforted, not terrified by them. Your list-making is of a different kind–so lists can be on your list of necessary ingredients (I give you my permission).


  • Sometimes the right ingrediants appear when I don’t search for them. If I look for something, it disappears or changes . When I sit still, everything I need is right here.
    Always a pleasure to read your writing.


  • KM Huber says:

    It is hard to imagine bliss sans song, inconceivable to imagine the recipe without music, as you say. For me, the spice comes from the array of people that drop in and out of my life. I always try to pay attention to the spices. I am fortunate in observing the lives of two, single digit folk as well as sharing my life with animals. These last two ingredients remind me why I cook with care.



  • I have not let go of things enough to accept people dropping in and out of my life. I want to wrap my arms around them and make sure they stay.

    I’m working on it.


  • deb reilly says:

    This was absolutely beautiful–so glad I saved it for today.


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