smoky black bean soup + the art of being beholden to people


We’re in the business of transaction. Every day we do the maths, scheme, calculate, negotiate until the object of our desire is bought and paid for. We covet what we see and we scrimp and save until it’s mine, all mine, and then we want something else. The ocean of want is seemingly bottomless, endless, and after a while we come to believe that everything has an assigned value. Everything can be bought or sold. Money suddenly becomes the end game. We’ll save this much until we have that glinting object on the shelf. We work 10, 12, 15 hour days because we pay our dues, because one day we will make more than we make now. And if we make more we can buy more, and shouldn’t that entitle us to our happiness? Shouldn’t the sheer accumulation of our objects equate to the amount of abundance in our hearts?

When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I said happy. Everyone had a good chuckle and they proceeded to tell me that what I wanted to be implied a vocation. What was it that I was going to do to make money? Somehow this felt false to me, equating what one is to what one does, and even when I was small I knew that just because you waited tables or delivered mail or plunged your hand and fixed a slow-beating heart–all of that couldn’t encompass the whole of a person. What you did could barely make a dent in all that was you, your innards, how you thought and loved.

When I was in banking, someone asked me what I wanted to do. Did I want to trade derivatives? Did I want to try to break into the old boys’ club and go into investment banking I said, quietly, that I wanted to write, and this person laughed (the timbre of which put me thinking to my childhood) and said, didn’t I know that writers don’t make any money?

“She could have wept. It was bad, it was bad, it was infinitely bad! She could have done it differently of course; the colour could have been thinned and faded; the shapes etherealised; that was how Paunceforte would have seen it. But then she did not see it like that. She saw the colour burning on a framework of steel; the light of a butterfly’s wing lying upon the arches of a cathedral. Of all that only a few random marks scrawled upon the canvas remained. And it would never be seen; never be hung even, and there was Mr Tansley whispering in her ear, “Women can’t paint, women can’t write …” –Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse

A month later I was accepted in the Columbia writing program and when I explained to my Managing Director at the time that MFA meant Master’s in Fine Arts, and there was the expectant pause and look of sheer terror and confusion–pity, maybe?–and I immediately followed with, I know I’ll probably always be in debt; I don’t care for money. I only want to write.

For a time I was guilty of falling in love with money and the things it could buy. I thought I could define my worth by what I had amassed. I thought the whole of me was composed of the contents of my closet. Money meant: I have this and you don’t. Money was a mask I was intent on wearing. And then I woke, as if roused from a deep sleep–the sleep of children–and I took inventory of my closet and drawers, all the petty finery, and I wanted of it. Slowly, over time, I gave it all away. It’s no coincidence that during that period of my life I read less, I wrote little.

But really I wrote nothing at all.

If you ask me what gives me joy it’s creating. Writing. And I need a way to balance creation and commerce, whimsy and pragmatism. Because while it’s nice to board a plane, see the world and write about it, there’s the here and the now of student loan payments, credit card bills and this small consideration of food and shelter. So, I compromise. Part of my life I write for work. Companies large and small invite me to think of compelling ways to tell their story. I work on branding projects, consumer marketing projects, digital strategy. I do a lot of writing.

And then there’s the writing, the longer, literary stuff (for lack of a better term) that’s personal. It affords me to explore the world through character and story. That doesn’t really pay. The kind of stories that interest me barely pay for a cup of coffee. And then there’s this space–my virtual scrapbook. A home for ideas, food, photographs. A place that wholly mine. A place that doesn’t require me to clock in at a certain time or adhere to a set of contracted deliverables.

Over the past year, I’ve seen a lot more people come to this space, which pleases me. People may feel I inspire them with the words I write or they may get hungry based on what I’m cooking on a particular day–but, for some reason, more people are here. And when there are people there is this question of money. People inquire whether I’ll monetize this space (no). People ask if I’ll do “sponsored posts” (please stop asking me this). People ask if I’ll ask for donations or find some sort of way to make money off of the fact that more people come by every day (affiliate links?), to which I respond, emphatically, immediately, FUCK NO.

Most of my life is about making money to live, travel and support my cat in the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed. Why would I make this space about work? That would mean I would take the thing that I love to do–create, simply for the sake of creating, simply for the joy in doing it and the inspiration it brings–and somehow reduce it. And then I’m accountable to strangers. It’s as if my blog is suddenly a stock and all the shareholders are clamouring for their say. When money enters the picture it has a way of clouding things, and slowly, over time, what is mine becomes less mine. It becomes yours, and said with love, I don’t want that. I want to be beholden to no one.

Creating something without the goal of transacting isn’t a failure. It isn’t a missed opportunity or wasted time. Not everyone or thing can be placed for bidding on the open market. Sometimes one becomes rich when creating something from nothing, expecting nothing.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Extra Virgin Kitchen
2-3 cups chopped leaks
1 garlic clove, sliced (not crushed)
4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 (400g/15oz) tins black beans, drained and rinsed
1 400g tin cherry red tomatoes
5 cups of vegetable stock
1 tbsp tomato paste
1-2 tsp honey
splash of tamari
Salt to taste
Chopped parsley for garnish

In a large saucepan over low heat, add the olive oil, leeks and garlic and saute for 8 minutes until everything is soft. Add in the paprika and cumin and stir for 1 minute. Toss in the rest of the ingredients and turn up the heat until the soup begins to boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. While the recipe calls for serving the soup as is, I prefer a puree. So I blitzed this in the Vitamix (a blender will do) and added salt and chopped parsley as a finish.


20 thoughts on “smoky black bean soup + the art of being beholden to people

  1. I still remember all these before you started your MFA. I’ve been reading your blog in its different incarnations for so long that coming here and reading your words feel like visiting with an old friend. There’s always something that resonates with me and adds to my own inner conversation. This one is no different. So many yeses. “Creating something without the goal of transacting isn’t a failure.” It’s one of the most liberating things one can do for oneself.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. I’m new to blogging (couple months), always thought it would be cool to get paid for because I always wanted to write a book…and get paid for it. But now, after this and considering the fact that I’m so motivated to write now because of the blog…yeah, I don’t want this to become “work.” It’s too much fun to become work for someone, or something else. I’m using Penscratch also. Somehow my lettering in the header turned black. Can you tell me how do I get it back to gray? I don’t understand the color schemes. And…are you sure you didn’t put a dash of tumeric in that soup?


  3. LOVE this. I’ve gone back and forth sometimes with trying to put in enough effort to make my blog a primary source of income…but that would take all the fun out of it for me. I like my balance of making some nice side cash from it, but having a full-time job, and therefore the freedom to turn things down because I’m busy…or just don’t want to do them.


  4. I have just discovered this blog and I simply love it. Thank you. There are bloggers who really inspire me and amp me and I appreciate them so very much, to the point where if they were to stop (and I have had beloved blogs which have folded) I would feel a real loss. These bloggers add value to my life. I think you might be one of them. So here’s what I want to say: if you ever stop blogging and the reason is monetary, there are people whose lives you add value to who would be willing to fund you to keep going. I don’t think that kind of support makes you beholden. It is proof of your value.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your passion for writing is infectious. Maybe you’ll make a fortune (and I hope you do!), maybe not but I get the sense from reading your words that in the end, you’ll be okay either way. (as will your cat) I too need to create with words but more than that, I simply couldn’t hold in my story anymore so I opened up and out it came. Not pretty necessarily but at least it’s out there. It’s a memoir about family members, some of whom are still alive and none too happy to have the truth come to light and, yes, I knew that could be ugly and no, I just didn’t give a damn anymore. Sometimes we write because we choose to; sometimes we just have no other option. So happy I found your gorgeous blog. I’m in!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s