The Cooking Blogger's Nondilemma

I began composing this post, including this sentence, in the shower, which both is and is not an ideal place to compose something. It’s ideal because there aren’t many distractions and because there is no actual page upon which what I’ve written is visible. It is possible to crystalize by editing and editing, without really having to edit anything because nothing is set down. But the problem with composing things of any length in your head like this is that they never come out onto the page as you’d hoped. For one thing, it’s very easy to forget what you never actually wrote. Writing in general is not much different; composing in the mind rather than on the page just delays the problem.

Sometimes writing this blog is a pain. It has to be thought about (tragic, I know). It’s not anything like, say, Alicia in “The Good Wife” typing out an additional argument to a Legal Aid appeal in 48 minutes with a crowd looking over her shoulder and talking over each other to give her information. It is at least somewhat believable that one could actually do such a thing because the form and content of the document would be largely, I imagine, determined in advance. (Law students, correct me on this?) This blog, on the other hand, while it has vaguely defined a genre for itself, has not really settled into a consistent form, and its content often comes from intangible sources. Generally I just cook something, take a few harried photos, and hope that something a little bit interesting will suddenly befall me when I finally sit down to write about it. Often coming up with something to say about whatever I’ve cooked means writing in the most over-the-top way.

But what tires me about this blog is not the actual writing. It's that sometimes when I cook I think must I really think about what I’m doing? One of the pleasures of cooking, to me, is losing myself in a nonlinguistic activity. If I’m to post about what I’m cooking, not only do I probably have to take mental notes on techniques and measurements of ingredients, but I have to (well, okay, I want to) think of some way to frame the post other than “I cooked this. It was interesting. Some things went well and others did not.” This turns cooking into a queer experience: I have to create the frame and be within it at the same time. I get tired of being in-frame.

I may be making a mistake in, well, framing the problem this way. While being split between inside and outside, observer and actor may be awkward, is there really any time when one isn’t?

I have experienced the fatigue of framing in another way, through photography, in which there is literally a frame. I always say that I got tired of photography because I didn’t like that my vision was turned constantly into a search for a good composition. The problem as I saw it was that whether I not I had a camera, photography never really went away. Photography was a scene of anxiety: I didn’t want to miss an opportunity for a good photo. This put me in a very odd relationship with the passage of time. While every new moment afforded the possibility of a photo, I didn’t want each moment to pass because even when I took a photo to record the moment I was never sure it was the right photo. But I think what I ultimately ascribed my dislike of photography to was how it demanded that I objectify my visual experience. Things seen were there for one purpose: to be photographed. From inside my photographer’s gaze, I felt that this collapsed the experience of seeing. My complaint was that I didn’t want to see for a purpose, I wanted to just see. I wanted out. There is something paradoxical about this. In the politically naive way I approached photograph y, it was the most purposeless way of seeing possible. It created a fascination with form for form’s sake. But this purposeless seeing, I thought, became unbearably purposive. So I stopped, and considered myself free from the frame.

My idea regarding both cooking for a blog post and photography, I suppose, is that there’s a great blossoming of depth and complexity when I step out of my framing mechanisms. The problem is that this blossoming can only be felt in relation to what I want to distance myself from. So a few nights ago when I made dinner and I thought how sick I was of this blog business, I had a nice, peaceful time cooking. Cooking can be a good time to reflect in a non-deliberate way on things other than cooking. And while cooking my world consists of more than cognition; I feel, smell, and taste ingredients. But because I insist on an ill-defined idea of “the grass is always greener,” I have to wonder if what I liked about the experience was any positive feature at all, but rather what it was not. It was not a cooking experience destined for a blog post. (And here I am writing about it.) I liked the way the distance from blogging felt. It felt like privacy, which is not something that can be felt on its own; one can only feel private from some form of visibility.

Facebook is a massive nexus of transparency. It’s monstrous, and turns its users into monsters. We are there to be seen and to peer at others. Thus not posting anything on Facebook feels like privacy. But if there were no Facebook, I could not have privacy from it. And it produces privacy in another way: you may show all sorts of things about your life there, and yet live outside of your publicity. You may live bits and pieces of a private life because it is so publicized. Similarly, because I write a blog that is largely about my life, I am afforded privacy.

(If I say “privacy” one more time you’re going to kill me, aren’t you?)

27 February 2011