There are few tasks in this life that I both do well, and love doing well. For instance, I love extracting, from a pot, a basket of crawfish, stuffed to the brim. I struggle to lift the forty, or more, pounds — shoulders creaking, eyes squinting from the pungent spices, mouth watering as those bright red mud bugs slowly drain off.
There is a moment, basket balanced precariously on the edge of the large stainless steel pot, where I can’t bear to hold back my insatiable desire to sample. And yet, I have no choice but to wait, for the crawfish are far too hot to eat as they sit steaming.
Even a few moments later, as I spread the bounty from that stainless steel cornucopia across the table, I have to hold back, the little critters far too toasty to consume. And then, after another few moments pass, finally, I get that payoff; that sweet meat, seasoned perfectly, carefully separated from its shell. Cooking, then eating, crawfish can be an exercise in self control.
But, at least for me, cooking crawfish for my friends, family, and myself, is not about the result, but about the process. While I love the colors and flavors, the wooden paddle swirling the rue in the stainless steel pot, it’s the approving grunts, the crack that the shells make when they pop perfectly, that keep me cooking. I boil crawfish for myself, and also for others, kind of like writing.
Indeed, the audience must be considered. My wife likes her bugs somewhat spicy. My mother-in-law, maybe a little less so. My sister-in-law, wants the seasoning so heavy it melts off your face. I can’t hit all those marks, but I can try.
In mud bugs, like in writing, I don’t have a recipe. I don’t have a thermometer. I don’t use measuring cups or scales. To get that perfect crawfish consuming experience, I play it by heart. How much seasoning should I add to the boiling water before the crawdads cry? A lot. How many lemons should go in? A few. How long should I wait to cut the heat after they come back to a boil? Not long. While there is only a little toil and a pinch of trouble, bringing together a dozen ingredients to build this brew requires some magic and a little bit of instinct. Nothing is absolute, nothing written down, nothing is the same from one boil to the next.
Where did I learn to
write, er…boil? From the best boilers I know. Fellow crawfish connoisseurs let me watch them work, ask questions, pushed me to try new things and constantly discussed ideas that might make our boils even better. Mentors, in other words…
I’ve learned to love the process of
boiling, uh…writing. I’m trying to get better at sharing that process with my students. That’s kind of my point. I don’t think I can “teach writing.” I can share my process and invite the kids to explore theirs. I can share mentor texts and moves, encourage their own search, but writing is different for each of us. My writer’s voice is constantly changing and evolving, staying out, just a little, past the reach of my finger tips, making me work for each word.
That struggle is one I want to continue to capture, whether in crawfish or in writing.
Charles Moore spent Sunday morning traveling from Lafayette back to League City. On the way he passed acres and acres of crawfish farms and his mind couldn’t help but wonder at the deliciousness, crackling like potential energy, yet to be unleashed. He’s wondering if it’s too early in the year to decide if this is his greatest year ever in this profession. He’s pretty sure that’s how the jury will vote. Check out his twitter @ctcoach, which wavers between pie-in-the-sky idealism and passive aggressive suggestions.