My kitchen is not my writing desk, because I actually want to spend time there.
The act of writing is a miserable and difficult except for the days when it mysteriously isn’t. Cooking is usually enjoyable from start to finish. Crush the garlic, simmer the chillies, inhale the frying ginger. Cut the onion finely and dice the carrots into rounds. Chop through bone and wrench apart cartilage, then wash away the blood. My savagery can be transmuted into tenderness and decorated with a leaf of basil.
When I stand at the kitchen counter I can be fairly certain I will make something palatable from the materials I have to hand. The results of my efforts will be ready in an hour or two and I will be able to share them without shame. I will most likely be able to draw sustenance from this act of creation for several nights to come.
The impulse to nurture sits uneasily among my other traits. I am frightened of babies and baffled by toddlers. Being obliged to interact with them is like having someone touch a burnt patch of my skin and ask eagerly if I feel anything. The thought of my child looking up at me with adoration makes me want to drive both of us off a cliff in order to forestall further disappointment. It is fair to say that I am not a natural parent.
But intricately planning, shopping for, then making a meal to feed my loved ones is a kind of care that I am happy to do. It is a skill almost anyone can learn and thus stands outside my failures at womanhood. Checking that I have catered to their allergies, restrictions and preferences is a way to make people feel known. You have shared your time and your thoughts with me and this is how I show my gratitude. I will make you chicken soup when you are sick, I will bring homemade hummus to your housewarming, I will celebrate your birthday with a cake, if you let me. The food I have made with my hands will become part of your body.
I can cook friendship and love and, often, I have cooked longing. If I’m lucky and the timings are right, I might cook joy or consolation. But I cannot serve fear or sadness and expect someone else to eat it, no matter what sauce I dress those in. How do I flavour alienation and distrust and boredom? What wine pairs best with resentment? Try to make a rage souffle, I dare you.
Writing is the home of the otherwise inedible. Those things which are not easily consumed and absorbed. You would spit them out if I put them on a plate, but if you were to encounter them in a story, you might just read on. The writing that has most nourished me has not been sweet or easy to digest. Some emotions will not stay down, no matter how hard we swallow. I am learning that confrontation is also a kind of care, both for oneself and for others.
I might like it in the kitchen, but don’t count on me to stay there.
Leon Craig's work has been published by the White Review, the London Magazine, Another Gaze and 3:AM magazine. She is a member of Futures in the Making LGBTQ writing collective.