Monday, December 23, 2013

Lessons from Pad Thai

I made Pad Thai for dinner a few nights ago, which was surprising because I had only made Pad Thai once before, subjecting our wonderfully willing friends to my culinary experiment, and for some reason which has now escaped me, I remembered the process of making Pad Thai as arduous, difficult, and not a feat to be repeated.

Feeling uninspired last week, however, I asked Aaron to tell me what dinners he wanted for the upcoming week, and he requested Pad Thai. Inwardly I groaned, but I agreed to make it since I had enlisted his help in the first place. When I went to the store, there was no tamarind paste to be found in the teeny tiny Thai Food section, which only added to my growing apprehension about the dinner. Further, I had slated Pad Thai for Friday, and after coming home after a long day at work, I quickly ditched those plans and made pasta instead.

But on Saturday I could avoid Pad Thai no longer. I had saved the recipe on my computer, so I opened up the document and scanned the recipe, preparing to put in an hour or so to make the dish. As I read through the document, however, I found myself a little perplexed…Pad Thai seemed so easy. What had been my big deal? And after I made the dish, even without the tamarind paste (I substituted the juice of one lime), finding that the process was absurdly easy and the results were delicious, I wondered again why I had deemed Pad Thai a difficult, never-to-make-again dish.

The answer lies in the lesson that began to dawn on me while working on an article due for an online magazines. The idea for the article was solid, approved by my editor, and all I had to do was write up a brief description for each item in the list format, but I found myself plagued by an uncanny, unusual case of writer’s block. Of course I was totally capable of writing the piece, but an unknown something inside of me held me back. I struggled as I worked on the piece, and slogged through truly horrific sentences and descriptions in the hope that I’d be able to edit it into something vaguely readable.

It’s this feeling inside that I can’t quite name, a mental block that prevents me from living a full life. It was easy to overcome this mental hurdle with Pad Thai – either I made the dish or we didn’t eat dinner, and the latter is not an option for a girl who cheerfully likens herself to Bombur, the grotesquely obese yet charmingly jolly dwarf from The Hobbit movies. And once I had made it, and we enjoyed it so thoroughly, I was eager to add it to the Cooke Family Canon of recipes to be eaten over and over. It was a concrete object lesson in not letting my own mind get in my way, a lesson harder to grasp when it comes to the abstract domain of writing.

Empowering ourselves can be so difficult! Some days I think I have all the answers, as when I tasted the perfectly chewy and spicy Pad Thai noodles, and other days, like today, I spend hours in fruitless mental meanderings, unable to string simple ideas together. The main issue at stake, however, is to stop harmful mental dialogues and just empower myself. I am totally capable of writing the article, even if it takes me longer than it should, just as I was capable of making the Pad Thai. The only thing that holds me back is my own mind. So today, I’m going to say no to that doubting spirit, and strive to do something that scares me instead, especially if that which scares me is actually being successful.

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