[Reposted from my NowhereJoe blog]
The extraordinary in the ordinary.
Each weekend, I sit down in the imaginary office of my imaginary restaurant estaminet, La Poubelle Bleue, with the little yellow fountain pen I bought in middle school and a rough list of what’s in my refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, and ponder. I consult my cookbooks and the stack of index cards of favorite recipes I’ve collected over the years and come up with a menu for the upcoming week.
It’s an act of pure pretense, of course, or of pretending, if you prefer that way of looking at it, but it’s my way of finding a path to the extraordinary in the everyday. We get so caught up in lamenting the mundane and in being bored, even though there is still so much in every moment and any gesture that can be expressed in fresh iterations of recombinant experience.
My imaginary restaurant came into being as a way of making humble meals into something worthy of celebration, and the discipline of actually composing a menu is a means by which to chart a course through a number of thought processes that has benefits that range from budgetary concerns to self-examination and motivation. With each new menu, I can look back on the past week and ask myself “What did I enjoy most?” What worked, what didn’t work, and what was an effort that produced the best results in comparison to the wasted efforts—these things are all reminders of thinking of the whole, rather than just disjointed pieces and parts to a life.
There are some purely functional reasons for taking the time to practice these regular rituals, from the way the act of noting one’s expenses has the effect of moderating spending through a more holistic notion of where money goes to how documenting our eating habits usually results in our diet becoming more rational and less emotional. In the instance of living on a tight budget, it’s also an opportunity to sidestep the tendency we have to get into what I’d call the “hair shirt cycle,” in which we strip down to the barest essentials out of a sense of fiscal emergency, suffer through a few weeks of dietary or financial self-flagellation, then crash and go absolutely wild until…shame kicks in and we go back to the hair shirt and the whole cycle starts up again like the old wheel of suffering that buddhists call “samsara.”
When you’re down, or recovering, or recalibrating your place in the world in the hopes of getting closer to what you feel is your true nature, the act of simple planning, with an honest inventory of resources, an investigation into the possibilities allowed by those resources, and a projection of what you’d like to see, generally has both a real, quantifiable benefit and a more nebulous one. In my imaginary restaurant, I lay out where I stand, then make up a list of things that would both nourish and delight, and the longer the list, the better, even though I will not, as a rule, actually prepare all the dishes that I could make for any given week.
We give a lot of stock to the happiness that we see in children, but we start to think those imaginary places and waking dreams are beyond us, an essential tradeoff of adulthood, but the broader perspective and sense of our limitations that we’ve earned through maturity can actually give us room to play, too. When times are tight and the pantry’s not as well-stocked as it was or could be, that’s the time to let the mind play and to sit for a half hour or so with a stack of cookbooks and ask the question “what are the best, most satisfying things I can make with what I have?”
So you take a moment, reminding yourself that, even in times of want or need, that you are worthy of a nice meal in a little restaurant that no one knows about but you, and write up a menu that’s also a plan to stay focused over the next week, and the benefits become clear. Even if it’s just you, dining alone at home, you can lay out a placemat, dishes, and silverware, light a candle, put on some nice music, and peruse the menu for something that sounds good.
Even when money is tight, you are no less worthy of living well, and it just takes a little cultivation to make it all work, and an understanding of how awareness and foresight work together to make the present moment into something more magical than mundane.
What’s on your menu?