I’m still fan-boying over my trip to Erin French’s Lost Kitchen last month, a bit of serendipity that comes from having good friends and a flexible notion of how far to drive for a good meal. Beyond the beautiful setting in an old mill building, the wonderfully languid pace of the meal, the gorgeously presented food, and the joy in which the whole place seems dipped, I was reminded how much I’ve learned that less is more.
As a young writer, I focused on quantity—number of words, number of hours—channeling Malcolm Gladwell’s 10000 hour rule probably before he thought of it. I wouldn’t deny myself those four AM mornings, that focus and effort—as Oliver Sacks has said, “We must not condescend to our younger selves.”—but I started to realize that there were limits to the amount of creative energy I could expend.
I heard J. A. Jance say once at a conference that everyone has about enough creative energy in a day to play a good game of chess, at best, a few hours. So I slowly came not to believe in the exhaust-yourself ethic that’s part of the myth of the artist.
These days I’m happy with a daily solid working effort—I still count words, but not so religiously as I once did—that doesn’t exhaust me or steal from tomorrow’s work. And I hope to achieve in that concentrated few hours of effort something like the gift of attention I felt bestowed on me at the Lost Kitchen.
The owner plated as many meals as the kitchen folks, delivered as many meals as the wait staff, and managed to engage nearly everyone, looking us all in the eye as she spoke to us as if we were the only guests she had that night. It reminded me what I aspire to in my work: full effort, an unapologetic focus on the value of what I’m trying to do, but a light touch and an effortless generosity, the kind of attitude that brings you a fresh cool towel at your dinner table on the hottest night of the year.