Tuesday, November 4, 2008

To Love By Way of Cooking

Tackling the abstract is never easy.

One day, a student came to the tutoring center for help writing about love. She didn’t know where to start. We chatted a bit and I learned that she lived with her daughter, mom, and grandma.

I had a hunch. Somebody had to feed all these women. “Who cooks in your family?”

“I do.”

“You enjoy cooking for them?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“You’d consider it an expression of love, then?”

She nodded, smiling. We had a place to start.

Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, gives similar advice on writing about sex—not an abstract subject, but still a tough one. If you feel sexy, she suggests, and you write about something else, like eating a melon, the reader will feel it too, even though you haven’t been explicit.

Any large, abstract, or dangerous subject can be tackled this way. Start with the small, the concrete, the safe as an entry point. Describe the lunch you ate or didn’t eat the day your parents told you they were getting a divorce. Your sudden distaste for bologna sandwiches can help your reader empathize without being hit over the head with your shock and sadness.

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