By Gabrielle Hamilton
NY Times Magazine 11.25.18
Gabrielle Hamilton is one of my favorite food writers. Or, maybe I should say one of my favorite short essayists. I don’t always love her recipes, but consistently enjoy her writing; the naturalness of her storytelling, the glimpses into heartfelt vignettes of her life. She makes me feel like I want to be her new best friend.
In this essay, she speaks of the advantages of taking the time to enjoy the process of making quiche. “Some say it’s really quite simple to make; the phrase ‘set and forget’ is often used,” Hamilton writes. Then goes on to question this easy, less than thoughtful approach: “Maybe for some, but while I was putting our lunch menu into place”, (she owns the restaurant Prune in New York) “I made three quiches a day, and I, myself, never achieved anything worth crowing about with such a laissez-faire approach.” She goes on, in exacting detail, about “all the pains with every step” to create “the platonic ideal” of quiche. And, yes, the steps are arduous, as are the rewards. “If you enjoy working with your hands as much as I do, the sensory and tactile pleasures are immense … I am lucky in that I like work more than I like food.”
That is the sentence that especially resonated with me; “I like work”. I, too, like work. Actually, I love work. Can’t say that I would love to work in Ms. Hamilton’s kitchen. I’m one of those home cooks who is much better off with a sous chef; someone else to do what to me feels like mind-numbing chopping and dicing. But that’s why she’s a chef and I’m a psychotherapist. I thrive on the sometimes excruciating work of opening a closed heart or walking with another human being through their trauma. This work can give me satisfaction, and eventually immense pleasure.
She writes, “I know that there is very little argument left for doing it the hard way, and I might be its last champion on earth.” I would counter that there is a colossal argument for doing it the hard way. Because for me, the effort is one of life’s great pleasures. True, not all achievements require Herculean intensity, and also true, some folks make life harder than it has to be. But when it comes to the crunch, when life feels overwhelming and unlivable, the effort of staying with the other’s pain, the effort of tolerating the intolerable, is what reaches a part of me that is so real that it defines why I am alive.
Hamilton says that “I’m making a case for building a tart, step by arduous step, stone by stone, with a song in your heart”. That is a marvelous metaphor for the process of building a life whose foundation was once trauma; a new foundation must be built, step by arduous step, emotion by emotion. If I didn’t have a song in my heart, I could not do the work, let alone love the work. May we all find the work that creates a song in our hearts.