Cooking Up Joy: A Meditation On Life’s Smallest, Greatest Pleasures

Earlier this week I read a piece in Refinery29 by famed former Vogue Paris editor and authoress Joan Juliet Buck. Titled “Advice To My 26-Year-Old Self”, the work was a reflective letter from a wisened woman who saw much in her life and found clarity as a result. Perhaps because I am the age cohort that she is writing to, I felt her points were particularly salient—but the one pertinent to my Saturday morning thoughts was this:

“Find things that are good for you, that aren’t work, romance, social life or shopping,” she advised.

Reading that initially, I grimaced.

I pondered: what is it that I do besides work, shop, socialize and manage a confusing but fortunately very private romantic life? I supposed that I went to the gym, but that was less for the “good for me” joy of it and more because without an outlet to jettison my restless energy, I would not be able to work, or socialize. And, if I’m being honest, the world is cruel even when you are conventionally attractive; I have been told that I am beautiful and would like to agree, but I recognize that I am far from conventional in mind or body, and staying fit has long been a manifestation of my desire to give myself another chance at being treated with respect in a world that is not currently set up to respect me. It’s a neurotic thing to think, I realize. It’s also realistic.

Thinking about it all, I realized that there was at least one thing in life that I did simply for the joy of it—besides illustration and music, both of which I recently took up again after a period of thinking I could never call myself a “serious” artist (I no longer care about such a distinction).

I like to eat. In particular, I like to eat what I come up with and cook myself.

Let me explain.

I grocery shop a lot, and take a simple but meaningful sense of pleasure from it. I like to stop in at the local grocer I’m lucky to live across the street from New York, because most people live only by bodegas and restaurants or in food deserts of other kinds, and too many New Yorkers avoid cooking at home.

I used to love saying that food wasn’t important, that pleasure wasn’t important. I wanted only to be lean in mind and spirit, and focused solely on the work. I work much more now than I did then, and couldn’t imagine thinking that today.

I cook for myself almost every day, use every ingredient I have to the last drop, and dream up new recipes and possibilities during my daily commute home.

Doing this makes me feel grounded, in a way. It is a healthy thing I do, a joyous thing that is not the exciting but stressful swirl of work (endless), study (endless), romance (perpetually bemusing), or my now-limited but still-storied social life.

It is meditation, this purchasing of produce and bread and beans and oats and seasoning. It is stillness of the mind, listening casually to the news or making conversation with my mother while I chop and sautée and braise. In these moments I feel like I come into my real self—unburdened from life’s pressures, un-skewed by other people’s expectations of me that I’ve allowed to shape my self-understanding and expression.

It’s just me and my vegetables and my seasoning and the quiet joy of making decisions for yourself, by yourself, with only your wellness and pleasure in mind.

I might never figure out my love life, and I will probably work until the day I die because I have never known a day without pacing or drowning in a sea of my thoughts and energy… but I can at least enjoy a delicious meal cooked by hand while I’m at it.

What small pleasures do you have in your life, that you do solely for the joy of it?

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