I am starting this blog on my 40th birthday, in a fit of yearning, or desperation, to try out ideas, experiment with my public voice, feed my ego, stretch my creative writing muscles, become mildly famous, and that sort of thing. I call it a parking journal, mostly because I needed a shtick to make the effort seem worthwhile to me.
The shtick is derived from a snippet of this interview with Chef José Andrés on the Ezra Klein Show podcast last fall. I can’t say I took away much practical insight on innovative cooking from the hour-plus long conversation I listened to while raking leaves in my backyard. And, anyway, I’m not much of a cook. But its always interesting to hear creative masters attempt to describe ‘how they do it’ or ‘where the spark comes from’; it makes you appreciate, first, the fact that simple, boring hard work is a crucial factor and, second, that the thing that transforms the work into something recognized as special is largely ineffable, or, at least, something that can’t be described in a manner satisfying to the average podcast listener.
That absence of a satisfying answer was the primary spark of the discussion for me. That gap, in the presence of apparent hard work and mastery, can be frustrating, but it can also be heartening. It underscores a sort of magic in the world, or in humanity, that many have likely recognized at isolated moments of their life. Its that flow, things clicking together — having the time and ability to focus on the project, the skills that match, and the dopamine receptors that are specially charged by it. The point is, Chef Andrés, we Know the thing you can’t explain, the creative factor that exists in the spaces between your responses to Ezra’s 4-minute-long questions. The question is, how does one make it the dominant energy of one’s life, rather than a discrete time, a moment fated to be the source of wistful longing?
I did take away something more specific from the interview. Something relatively prosaic and obvious, perhaps. On one of Klein’s attempts to get Andrés to lay out for listeners his actual process and strategy for achieving innovation, the chef underscored the importance of being able to “park” ideas. I sensed a particular level of passion and enthusiasm in describing the act of coming up with an initial thought on a new cooking concept and, then, being able to park it — to let it develop, to let it, forgive me, stew. To give the idea space to find the the right time and elements to be what it should be.
The simple image of parking an idea struck a chord with me. As I see it, the ideal spot in which to park an unformed idea — as with a car — will be sufficiently spacious; it will also be a place you can find easily when looking for your idea. It needs to be a secure place, so everything is how you left it when you return. But it also should be easy to pull out of, so you can climb back into your idea and take it for a ride.
There may have been more to it than what I could glean from Andrés’ comment about parking an idea. Was it the little notebook that the scientist or novelist keeps near at all time to write down mini-epiphanies so they are not forgetten, so they can be captured in original form, for later use? Was their more infrastructure and formality to the process?
One sense I did get, was that while it was not a public parking lot where his concepts sat, it also wasn’t a climate-controlled, security-guarded private garage. It was a space shared with his collaborators. Parking an idea means, in part, giving it space and time for others to react to it and build on it. And, also, it means giving yourself permission to leave something you know is just a fragment, half baked, without worrying about passersby belittling your low- horsepower clunker.
I have some half-formed thoughts, concepts, story ideas, and the like. And I find scrawling them illegibly into a notebook, as is my way, is not a dependable parking plan. I was hoping to secure a few spots around these parts of the Interwebs. How’s the neighborhood?