I began my degree in the way I begin many things -- ardently, with good intent and little practicality. I let the glowing prospect of post-secondary billow and percolate for a long while until I settled on literature, and while I tossed around a few career possibilities (I can teach. I can edit? Maybe I'll write!) I assumed I had four years to figure it out and somehow along the way my purpose would just occur to me, like a caffeine hit half an hour in or a car accident or the sound of a heavy boot thumping against a wood plank.
It didn't occur to me.
It didn't occur to me by graduation, as others went off and pursued teaching degrees or padded off to law school or landed odd jobs. I pursued post-graduate work because I wanted to. I wasn't finished yet. I secretly (and somewhat naively) hoped that buying two more years would liberate me of my question, that at the end of the rainbow I'd strike gold.
Instead, I woke up each morning at 6:50 a.m. to make coffee and watch Laura Calder. I roasted a whole chicken for one. Like many others, I had my life changed irreparably in the summer of 2009 by the release of Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and the questions and cuorisites that emerged from my reading of it have never stopped.
It didn't occur to me by the end of my Master's degree, when most of my class had applied and been accepted to post-graduate programs across the continent, dispersed as efficiently as a murder of crows.
The thing about choice is that you are still limited to predetermined variables. What do you do with an English degree? This is not a foolish question. It's petrifying -- but immensely gratifying -- to forge your own path, to be forced through trial and error to discern what your talents are. I'd been an academic; what else might I be?
I enrolled in a post-graduate course in book publishing because I'd enjoyed the bit of editing I dabbled in while at Windsor, but while I put in the time, I derived little satisfaction from the experience. Witnessing the passion others had for books that I somehow lacked only made me loneliner.
I spent all of my time talking about food, reading about it, to the point where a classmate asked me why I hadn't gone to culinary school instead. "I don't want to be a chef," I answered, though the question lingered. Did I? Now that I've worked in a few restaurants and have served for catering companies across the city, I can say with great certainty that I do not want to be a chef. But I wondered at the time if I might want to get involved in food writing. Perhaps I'd move to British Columbia and edit cookbooks for Whitecap -- isn't that the dream? But I didn't do that, either.
As you might expect, I didn't find the answer at Humber, not in the classroom, not in the dorms, not on the sleepy Saturday mornings I spent eating breakfast and watching shoddy television in the communal living area, not in the one-on-one conversations I shared with the director of the program.
Unfortunately, these types of questions don't always inspire confidence in others. My mother in particular seemed a little concerned for a few years, which is mostly a given considering she has me for a daughter. And I've come up against a lot of people who seem very concerned with my career path. As it turns out, "I'm not really sure" is not an acceptable response at twenty-six the way it is at twenty. Nobody will tell you this, so consider this my public service announcement for the day.
Sometimes, as much as you resist things, they come hunting for you. It's your grandmother's voice that casts doubt on your decisions: "Are you sure she didn't go to school for the wrong thing?" It's the book -- on food -- that you submitted before your thesis committee. It's how you worked your way through a devastating break-up (or a few); it's the way you grew a friendship -- trips to the market, conversations over glasses of wine, shared meals; it's the bowl of chili that made a good man fall in love with you; it's the way you made it through four lonely months at Humber. It's the marinara sauce you made your first night in Tallahassee and the enchiladas that followed. It's the pots of beans and rice you lived on during the first few months in Toronto. It's the way you paid for school, the way you paid for New York City, the way you made new friends. You see with your own eyes that while you were preoccupied with trying to answer the question, you were living the answer.
"I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer." That's what Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in Letters to a Young Poet, and I think it's beautiful. Sometimes it is immensely comforting. It is especially comforting when you feel hard-pressed to arrive at the answers NOW, as if the present were the only available time for action, and particularly comforting to someone like me, who is, shall we say, hopelessly neurotic.
You have to love the questions first; you have to let them swim around you for a while, letting them live rent-free in your life until you are comfortable enough to think you could live without a defined answer. I like to walk around the city with a coffee in hand, really paying attention to the architecture and the churches. I like to walk around the market, even when I don't need anything, and come home with the wedge of cheese and container of olives that I bought because I couldn't resist. I love starting off the day not knowing where I will end up, or gasping for air after a long run. Stanley Kubrick proposed that we have to make our own light and I agree. Even if you are born exceptionally lucky, which many of us are, you still have to do the work. You still have to find the switch.
And then there is only forward.
Amazing Lentil Salad (or Best Lentil Salad, Ever) adapted ever so slightly from Sarah Britton, My New Roots
2 ¼ cups (1 lb.) Du Puy (French) lentils
1 medium red onion, diced finely
1 cup dried, unsweetened cranberries (or whatever dried fruit you have on hand)
1/3 cup capers, rinsed of their brine or salt and chopped if they are large
1/2 cup to 3/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. real maple syrup
1 Tbsp. strong mustard (I use Double C from Kozlik's)
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. turmeric
½ tsp ground cardamom
Pinch of cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1. Rinse lentils well, drain. Place in a pot and cover with a 3-4 inches of water, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer. Check lentils for doneness after 15 minutes, but they should take about 20 minutes in total. Most of the water will have been absorbed or evaporated by then.
2. While the lentils are simmering, make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shaking vigorously to combine.
3. When the lentils are cooked, remove from heat, drain and place under cold running water to stop the cooking process. Once cooled slightly but still a little warm, place lentils in a large serving bowl and toss with dressing. Add other onion, capers, dried fruit, and cilantro. Let sit for at least a couple hours so the flavours have a chance to befriend each other. Eat, no question.