Stirring Up Stories in the Kitchen

Cloister. I like to say the word aloud and dream about a sanctuary in autumn; a simple white walled room with an ample window for sunbeams to pour in so thick, dust particles form into tiny fairies that slide down the beams. The only sound I hear is birdsong, wind song, or ocean song. A writer requires this kind of room to be shut away in, sheltered, and quieted; a place to withdraw from the world to create new worlds with words and storytelling. “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” Virginia Woolf said. Yes, please! I can imagine a sequestered luminous and peaceful writing room, but in reality, I have never had one. I can also picture myself in one of the private writing rooms at the New York City Public Library, or perhaps squirreled away in a cozy cottage at The McDowell Colony where one fortunate artist described the person delivering his picnic lunch basket as the Angel Gabriel. Oh, the freedom to create in uninterrupted time! I yearn for unadorned and easy days to meander deep down into the abyss of the past and dig out story relics to restore to some original shine. I pour over Poets & Writers’ magazine’s conferences and residencies section and dream of a studio in a rustic medieval village in Italy, or being on an idyllic Greek Island only accessible by boat. I especially like the Brittany writer’s rental with the setting in a 19th century stone house with five fireplaces and only a few miles from ocean beaches.
I dream of these places, but I have never had my own special writing room. I have always written stories in the sundry places available to me. The office, bedroom, parlor, living room, dining room, kitchen, public libraries, bookstores, diners, cafes, bed and breakfast inns, beaches, cars, buses, trains, airplanes, the back porch, friends’ homes, hotels, and even in the woods. I know there must be more rooms where I have taken my yellow legal pad or lap top and then put one word in front of the other. Sometimes choosing a room to write in reminds me of putting one feeble step in front of the other, like after I had major surgery and was forced to walk the next day. Alas, I have learned to write without the one unique charming room of my own. I’ve learned to capture my undisciplined mind that flits and flies around ideas and worries, and cage it temporarily so I can hear it sing a story to me.
When words aren’t hunted, honed, and placed on a page, I can write in my mind and heart. Ideas and outlines for stories form when I am showering, walking, cleaning, exercising, baking, and working on a painting in art class. I also write when I dance, the music infusing my brain with visions of grandeur. It happened that the entire premise for my first children’s book came to me while I was Irish set dancing in a pub. Writing for me can’t be condensed into one small room with a shot of light, but if it comes that way, like a much needed vacation to the tropics, I take it and splurge. Mostly, my writing experience isn’t like the narcissus bulbs forced to grow in January. I do require time for the right light for the right story, whether in my head, home, or a public place.
But a favorite room to write in is when I am in my kitchen and my hands are stirring, kneading, and molding. I call this writing love play writing because it can be a prelude to a story, acted out in measuring cups and spoons. It is the preferred room for when I write without my laptop or legal pad. The act of baking is full of unique and often simple ingredients with the potential for something delectable to be shared with others. Likewise, fiction writing is full of characters coming together in plot and suspense, culminating into a story that satisfies the hunger of readers. Story ideas, chapter scenes, plots, and endings often form and rise in my head while I mix, shape, and bake scones, breads, and pies. I can create magic in the kitchen because in no time at all, I whip up a pie, a cake, or cookies. And while doing so, I’m spicing up my writing already mixed up on a page or two, or even concocting ideas for a new story. Unlike baking however, I am unable to whisk up good writing quickly, no matter how many ideas or epiphanies come my way in the kitchen or elsewhere. Writing requires plenty of time for characters and scenes to baste, simmer, cook, boil, bake, and sometimes even chill, before it can be partaken of in a digestible, flavorsome, and entertaining story. But when I go to my kitchen to bake, I can create and complete something tangible and scrumptious to share with others in an hour or so. There is immediate gratification and success in baking, unlike writing done in many rooms day after day, week after week, and year after year (and sometimes without success). Becoming a seasoned and palatable writer is a slow cooker process. The outcome, if all the ingredients work, can be delicious. Yes, Virginia Woolf, I suppose I do have a favorite room of my own to create fiction in. It is in my kitchen where I face the empty pages of the stories in my head and fill the empty tins, pans, and cookie sheets with scrumptious possibility. And there is utmost comfort and satisfaction knowing that there will be acceptance and little rejection of the oven made pastry I make in my kitchen.

About cynthianeale

I am the author of The Irish Dresser Series that includes The Irish Milliner and Norah, The Making of an Irish-American Woman in 19th Century New York (Fireship Press), two young adult historical fiction novels, The Irish Dresser and Hope in New York City (White Mane), and Pavlova in a Hat Box, Sweet Memories & Desserts. I’ve written a screenplay, The Irish Dresser series, adapted from these works and I’m ready to sell! My historical fiction novel, Catharine, Queen of the Tumbling Waters, a story about a real life Native American/French woman set during the French and Indian War and American Revolution in Pennsylvania and New York is being released in April 2023 by Bedazzled Publishers. I write plays, screenplays, essays, and short stories. I am a native of the Finger Lakes region in New York and reside in New Hampshire. I enjoy reading, writing, Irish set dancing, waltzing, walking, learning about nature, traveling, painting, baking fanciful desserts, kayaking, creating events for food, dance, and fund raising, invisible volunteering, laughing until it hurts, and dreaming about possibilities.
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