I wasn’t feeling well last night, and fell asleep rather early in the evening, but not before I had my nightly dose of Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. So many earthlings must have read this book, raved about it and I must be one of the last ones to be questioning my life after reading it. I’m not done with the book yet, in fact I’m still on the India chapters, but so many questions have been buzzing in my head since Elizabeth’s adventures in Italy, it’s hard to fall asleep and not dream about my life. I wonder if this book will rule my life once I have finished with it.
So I was travelling through the last of Italy with Elizabeth, more specifically in Sicily and she shared this:
“No town can live peacefully, whatever its laws,” Plato wrote, “when its citizens…do nothing but feast and drink and tire themselves out in the cares of love.”
But is it such a bad thing to live like this for just a little while? Just for a few months of one’s life, is it so awful to travel through time with no greater ambition than to find the next lovely meal?
These words hit home. I grew up knowing exactly what I wanted but these days, at a ripe old age of 2x (age is a number and mine is unlisted….so my third aunt quips), I seem to have gotten a little lost. I was used to knowing what I want, in the short term at least, and doing everything I can to get what my heart desired. When we were kids, all that mattered were grades and playmates. I wasn’t acing it at the social front being shy, reserved and a little awkward, but I was a good student. But again, I cringe as I say this, at the ripe old age of 2x and having slogged through most of my PhD, the long-term looms over my head and suddenly, there is pressure to just be a lot more concrete, less about the shorter term, and more about the distant future, more about work and less on play.
Suddenly I feel like I’m back in primary school, where adults bend to look at me in the eye, stroke me on the head and ask ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’. Only this time, they stare me down with an unfriendly curl in their lips, instead of cooing at me and flashing me gentle smiles, the way we all do when we want babies to like us. Babies Aren’t Us, anymore.
Ever since I started this blog, my passion for cooking, baking, eating and writing grew exponentially. I almost live, breathe and sleep Culinary, I say almost only because I’m not half as good as the other food writers out there. Suddenly the ‘serious’ things I have been pursuing take a back seat, and my love for baking, especially, has been resurrected. I remember enjoying my Home Economics cooking classes in secondary school so much that I was horrified when the module took a turn into all things sharp and treacherous in….sewing. And then I stopped baking. We didn’t have a good oven at home, and no one really did encourage me to go against the flow, and nurture my passion and ability to make cakes. Not because my parents were the oppressive, demanding sort who wanted distinctions from me (in fact they were quite the opposite, who let me do whatever I pleased), but because my Singapore-trained mind seemed to take only conformity into consideration. I thought it was okay, to just do well in school or work, like everyone else, and ignore other creative desires within.
Until I fell in love with my husband and moved to London.
Yes I baked a little before making the big move, because the first part of our relationship was spent 6000 miles apart, and when he was back in Singapore, I bought myself a cheap convectional oven and fed him with baked treats. They were edible, but they weren’t very good.
Then suddenly, I had a kitchen to myself in London. I found myself in the crockery and utensils section in Tesco, and before I knew it, I bought myself a hand-held electric whisk that cost only £3.99 (it still works today and is single-handedly responsible for all the treats you’ve read about in this blog), a couple of cheap baking pans, a roll of baking parchment, and I never looked back.
Week after week, I was getting busy in the kitchen, elbow-deep in French butter, hair speckled with flour and icing sugar, donning my cornflower blue apron and making things. These things got better and better, and then I started writing about the things I baked. I dabbled in a bit of cooking with my husband’s help.
Today, the domestic pixie (I won’t say goddess, because I have so much more to learn from other bakers and cooks) in me is almost fully unleashed.
I lead a double life. Doing science in the day, baking at night. Running experiments whenever, and sneaking in time to indulge in the one thing I love most that mostly involves whisking. Some people ask, how the hell do I find so much time to do all that AND write about it? I’m not sure if these are mere questions fuelled by curiosity, or if they were versed to hide a slight hint of accusation (shouldn’t you be focusing on your PhD??!), but sometimes I do feel pressured. To be the kid that works hard in school, the kid who ignores the untold passions within. Sometimes, I felt that I needed to stop baking or cooking or writing this blog, so no one can accuse me of anything, or even more so that I or conformity would stop accusing me of the same thing.
Then I ask myself. What makes me happy? Over and over again. I realised that it was probably something that I would do if no one was looking, because there wouldn’t be any one judging, would there? Why not? We fart when no one is in the offensive vicinity, we pick our noses when there’s something there, and we just have to get it out, we sing in the shower because Simon Cowell isn’t there to judge. And what do we get? Instant gratification. Pronto. I think this is the same key to finding happiness in life. To do something that you really want, something that you would do when no one is looking.
Elizabeth’s prose only reaffirmed that. What is so bad about living only to find her next lovely meal? The only thing that is bad would be the number of fingers that wag at her and go ‘You shouldn’t be doing this, you should be losing weight, you should be working instead of travelling, you should be less self-indulgent.’. The ‘You Should Be’s are the things that kill us, the spark that is waiting to be ignited in all of us. I truly believe so.
And now I ask myself, I am on my way to finishing what I’ve come here to do, what next? What are the things that I WANT to do? I am trying my darndest to answer this question.
What about you? What are the things that YOU want to do, when no one is looking?