“Once you understand how she is, you start to love her.” -Francis Mallmann, Patagonian Chef interviewed on Chef’s Table
I don’t watch a lot of TV. In fact we don’t even have cable. However, we do find a show from time to time that feels worth it. Last year, we watched the 6 episodes of the Netflix documentary series “Chef’s Table”. This is not your common cooking show. In each episode, they follow a chef and uncover the interior creative life that fuels their passion for cooking. What these interviews revealed transcended cooking and resonated powerfully for me as they illustrated the creative human spirit. When the French chef Francis Mallmann said “Once you understand her, you start to love her.” about living off the land and cooking in a place as obscure as Patagonia, I had to pause the computer and replay the quote. It struck me somehow and I wasn’t sure why.
Last week, spending time up on a lake in Maine I understood. We drive up to Poland Springs, Maine most summers and stay in a cabin on a lake. It is beautiful there with the distant misty hills encircling and reflecting into the lake, the light sparkling on the water at sunset, the loons singing at twilight. Despite its beauty, I have to say that I have never really been able to connect with this place deeply. I don’t really know it very well so it feels almost exotic or intangible. Perhaps it is because I was brought up going to the ocean instead of an inland lake with its dark silty bottom.
This disconnect was starting to bother me, especially because I was hoping to do some sketching up there. How could I be so uninspired in such a beautiful place? I felt myself sort of pushing…trying to pull inspiration out of my surroundings. Asking myself, what is wrong with me? On the 6th day there, after sort of giving up on the whole painting thing, slowly the forest and the distant shoreline started to unveil themselves to me. With soft eyes I started to perceive subtle hints of inspiration…the filtered light falling in golden pools on the forest floor. It is a sort of magic that is revealed to those who don’t seek it.
This experience taught me a great lesson. You can’t force authentic inspiration to happen. You meet it somewhere when you least expect it. It arises unconditionally from your surroundings, from your sensorial world. “Once you understand her, you will know how to love her.” This understanding must arise organically without excessive striving. It has its own unpredictable time line.
It made me wonder, maybe we are already painting long before we pick up a brush? Just engaging with the world around us, trusting that at some point, inspiration will ignite. Until next time, let an unfamiliar place teach you how to paint her, or love her. It is the same thing. CREATE.
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