While de-cluttering my office space recently, I came across a couple stacks of old manuscript versions from two previous projects. As I thumbed through them, I was struck by the evolution of my own writing. These earlier drafts pre-date their own de-cluttering, the pairing down, the cleaning house, the revisions.
I am somehow relieved by my reflection of these earlier works. They are long, yes. They are wordy, yes. And, there are passages and entire sections that make me cringe as I read them these years later. But, tucked into the less-than-prestine arrangements of words are a few spicy, sweet, flavorful snippets- a sentence here, a metaphor there, an invoking imagery that makes me smile. It had been painful to send these unneeded flavors to the cutting room floor, but now I see them as a gift. An unexpected nod from my late grandmother.
My Italian grandmother’s primary role in life, it seemed, was to feed people. There was always a pot of something bubbling on her stove. In 2003, when she was 92 years old, she was hospitalized when medical staff made a terrible error, unrelated to her minor foot complaint. Sadly, that error would cost her her life, but that’s a different story.
A couple of weeks before her death, I flew to Illinois to see her. I knew the prognoses was grim and braced myself for what I might find when I entered her hospital room. What I didn’t expect was to find her on the telephone, counseling a neighbor, a relative, a friend, who knows. I entered, balloons in hand, as my toothless grandma uttered these words into the phone, “Remember, Dear, you can eat your mistakes.”
I was taken aback by the audacity of someone, anyone calling her for cooking advice, as her health was slipping away by the moment. Then again, maybe that was the best thing in the world for a woman whose life’s work was wrapped up in feeding folks. And now, here I am, weepy over the memory of her as I stare at these old manuscripts and the little sparkly passages that didn’t fit with these particular projects. There they sit, like spices in the cupboard, waiting to be placed in the right recipe, the right story.
So, here’s a special nod to my Grandma. Though I didn’t inherit the exceptional cooking gene, the writer in me certainly gets the message. It takes a lot of trial and error to concoct a masterful lasagne or a masterful manuscript. It takes creativity and courage to experiment with different flavors and sometimes we learn best by first over-powering the work with flavors that might be better served in a different dish. It’s okay. Without realizing it, we might accidentally stumble upon something new and delicious.
As Grandma said, we can always eat our mistakes.