Yesterday I was at a local Aquatic Centre. I had gone with my sister, my niece and her friend.
I swam. I even had my first ever jump off a high diving board.
As we were about to leave my sister knew the kids would be hungry, so I set off on a pilgrimage to the cafe onsite at the pools. This was one of those simple, low-brow, convenient food centres – the ones where parents send their swim-starving kids to get some snacks. Maybe some hot chips. Maybe some kind of sausage in a metal tray, or sandwiches kept in those dispensers with sliding doors and tongs and paper bags for self service. Those cafes where you take your order to the beige green til and gaze at the colour banners behind, or the milkshake flavour bottles or try and read the chalk writing on the specials board.
So I was in one of those food bars feeling very summer, very New Zealand, very day-at-the-pools as I ordered my punnets of chips and then shuffled around glancing at the usual fishing and motorcross magazines they have in such joints.
This was when a huge hardback book caught my eye. It was very out of place in this sandwich joint. It had a white cover entitled “A Day at elBulli – An insight into the ideas, methods and creativity of Ferran Adria”.
I immediately started flicking through it. It was largely a photographic book with fantastic 70’s style looking pictures – a day in the life photo essay type collection. Tucked in amongst the pages of chefs, menu items, restaurant interiors were some inserts of essays with titles like Creative Methods 1 and 2; Creativity means not copying; and How does the reservation system work?
I was so drawn to this book figuring that although I hadn’t heard of Ferran Adria or had much familiarity with the cooking world, he must be a big deal.
My heart was beating quickly. This is what happens when every part of your being for some unknown reason hones in on something that is significant even when you don’t know why.
It is also what happens when you realise that the meal you have ordered isn’t from an elite restaurant and will be arriving any minute now. I had little or no time to read so started furiously photographing the pages of interest.
What was it about this book that held my attention so? It felt like I had struck gold in the middle of a desert – the irony of finding an almanac of innovative food-making and creative process in a fast-food joint had woken me up to the day.
It was a moment I was allowing myself to enjoy – one of those synchronistic-divine-surprises from the vaults of Gifts from The Unknown to the Unsuspecting.
Pure Magic. Big Magic as Elizabeth Gilbert would say. And I live for these breaks in the ordinary.
I was astounded at the juxtaposition of this book being in a chip and sandwich bar. No set designer in a movie would even dream of that. I was in heaven and raved about it to my sister, who humoured me with her nods and little sniggers until she finally started saying things like ‘you’ve told me this already’.
It came at a time when I was relishing a break from my usual life as music teacher, music writer, creative process enthusiast or creative anything and when I just wanted to roll the word ‘creative’ into a little hanky ball in my hand and magically snuff it into thin air. At a time when I was more happy to be hiking and jumping off diving boards. A time when my pursuits of the ‘creative’ and anything about that word once again felt a little pedestrian, cerebral and tired.
And yet here it was. A restaurant book that breaks creativity down into titles such as Association, Inspiration, Adaptation, Deconstruction, Minimalism, Changes to the structure of the menu, and The search for new ingredients along with The senses as a starting point.
A restaurant book with the chapter title ‘Creativity means not copying’.
So, in spite of myself, I am hooked. I am hooked because there are times when I want my life more and more to be about the physical and not the cerebral, more about creativity in the realm of the ordinary, and creativity as a cross-pollination between life pursuits or as the intersection between seemingly disparate things.
It may be why in my ideal dream world a guitar lesson involves a student roping to the top of a cliff before even laying hands on the guitar and then having their playing boomed through speakers built into the rock face wall – Alex Honnold crossed with a Marshall stack or any rock star astride the top of a lighting rig.
It may also be why in my dream world a person can come onto a piece of land in order to play, sift and create, and before they start, they are greeted by amplified wires thrumming as the wind whips through with words and images hidden in the trees they sit in. Or dream-seeing the intersecting point between an accountant who makes wooden structures and a homeopath who knits.
I have not yet figured out how to create my life in a practical way. It feels in every area of my life I am at the beginning. I should have had it figured out by now…so that I could…you know…give back. But Scott Harrison, the founder of charity: water hates that term giving back. It sounds like a begrudging activity, something we do when we have taken our stuff and have some dregs left over to distribute.
I am at the stage where the usual aspects of one’s life ought to be taken care of by now – the relationship, the finances, the house…yet I am an empty slate, a beginner. I am like the restauranteur – having closed down for the winter to regroup, workshop, blend new ingredients, try a new thing. This time I am aware of the blank slate of my life – and more than ever – aware of the intent, the care, and the energy that we need to apply to the making of our lives.
I will go again – launching off the diving board of 2019 – trying new things. I will also create a life in connection with the larger whole – continue to find my tribe, to find intersections with others, to find the ways that I can be and make and give to others at the same time. Any sense of a linear timeline is being substituted for a concurrent one.
I want to amplify those things that unify and energise me and give them to others.
I want to live this year without copying the last.
I want to be the exquisite feast in a sandwich bar.
Love, laughter and light for your 2019 xx