The Man Who Once Made Soup

…or why there are things we simply are not cut out for and it’s smart to stay away from them and focus on what we do well.

A million years ago when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and I was 24 I broke my ankle. I’d had a little bit too much semisweet white wine celebrating 1st of May Romanian style — by going on a picnic — and I’d tried to reconnect with my childhood when I could run up and down hills like a goat. Long story short I ended up in hospital for a week and was released with improvements including one shin plate, two nails in the ankle and one bigger, thicker nail across the ankle to hold it all together. The sentence was one month of no walking.

My father arrived immediately to make sure I wasn’t developing gangrene and he tried to cook, once. He made rice with mackerel on top. It was edible but that’s about it. Then my then-boyfriend of two years decided to make a soup despite my protests. You see, I’m the cook in the house. I am master of the stove and guardian of the gas burner. I enjoy cooking and I’m relatively okay at it. But no, he said, you rest your leg. That was a few days after I got back home, so I thought he deserved a chance. And he took it.

I still don’t know what went wrong. He used a recipe book I think was meant for culinary students: the measurements were so exact and the style so dry and boring it had to be a textbook rather than a recipe book for normal people. Anyway, it was supposed to be chicken soup. What it ended up as was a quite tasty mixture of boiled drumsticks, carrots, and noodles.

The soup aspect was absent, which we attributed to an error in the water measurement in the recipe, but we ate it all and I made a point of saying and demonstrating how good it was. He never cooked again, which is just as well because otherwise we may not have survived together so long. I’m a bit dictatorial in the kitchen.

The moral of the story is, of course, don’t waste time on something you don’t enjoy even a little bit even if you feel compelled to do it to help a loved one (who doesn’t want this help). I’m all for trying new things and developing new tastes but sooner or later we all need to accept not everything we think is interesting and fun is actually interesting and fun.

This includes every activity from cooking to writing and to designing websites and hadron colliders, I guess. I, for example, find electricity fascinating. I really do. I don’t have a clue about how exactly it works but it’s fascinating. Do I play with cables? Nope. That’s the job of the one who knows how electricity works and his daughter who’s showing promise in the area.

Back in 2002, I suffered my well-meaning father a total of three days, I think, before I sent him back home. It was the cooking attempts. I also put my foot down (gently) on my well-meaning boyfriend’s idea of eating takeout until my leg healed. I resumed control of my kitchen throne and I only had to relinquish it temporarily last year when I sprained my wrist and the doctor sentenced me to a month in a brace because he wasn’t sure it wasn’t cracked.

That time, I played the chef: I gave the instructions and my husband carried them out. We cooked together, sort of. It was fun while it lasted (cluelessness can be so cute), which was until I found a way to wash foods without getting my brace wet. He didn’t offer to cook again.

I think the world needs more people like him, the Man Who Once Made Soup. The reason I think we need more people like that, people who know when they’re not good at something and stop pushing it is that we so often imagine one or another activity is fun and interesting, and cool, and even glamorous, perhaps. And we could be great at it if we tried hard enough…

Until we do try¬† and the truth hits: fun and cool take a hell of a lot of hard work and not all of it is either fun or cool when you do it. That’s when you find out if you’re cut out for it, whatever it is. If you’re ready to do the ugly, boring, hard part, then you must be. If you naively — but endearingly — convince yourself someone else can do the hard stuff while you stick to the fun parts, then maybe it’s not your thing. Nothing, repeat nothing worth pride and joy ever comes easily, without effort.

Right now, I’m editing the first draft of a novel. I hate editing wholeheartedly. Well, almost wholeheartedly because there is a little piece of my heart that actually finds it fascinating when I try to pretend I wasn’t he one who wrote the draft. The crap, as I call it lovingly.

I will do my best to de-crap it, however many revisions and edits it needs. It will probably end up being a stew when I started it with the idea to make a soup but this happens often with novels, I suspect, unless the writer is an exquisite planner. I happen to like writing even more than I like cooking, so I’ll make sure it tastes well, as well as it can. And it will because I put my heart and soul, and brain in it. If I didn’t, why do it at all? It’s not like it’s easy.


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