One day last week I had a bunch of overripe bananas, and I decided to make a banana cake. This particular cake has chocolate chips and a cream cheese icing. (Are you drooling yet?) Since the dessert was so rich and decadent, I thought I’d balance it with a lighter, less caloric dinner. Doesn’t everyone plan meals this way—what will go with dessert?
I had some tilapia fillets in the freezer. I thought at first I’d stir-fry them with some vegetables. But since I wanted to prepare the meal in advance to eat when I got home from the gym, that didn’t seem like a great idea. What’s the point of stir-frying only to reheat? So then, I decided to make a sort of Moroccan-style fish stew instead. I was sautéing onions, red peppers, sweet potatoes, garlic, and beginning to add some spices, when suddenly I discovered a can of coconut milk in the pantry, and it became a Thai-style fish curry with sweet potatoes and spinach.
It was delicious. My spontaneous decision had resulted in a truly delectable dish.
Sometimes writing is like that. I start out with an idea and begin typing, but somewhere along the line, something happens. Just as that can of coconut milk inspired me to produce an unplanned but delectable dinner a chance word, article, radio story, or random thought, can change the focus of something I’m writing—whether it’s a book, encyclopedia entry, test item, or blog post.
I think life is like that, too. We go to college with a particular major, but wind up working at something else entirely. Perhaps it turns out to be something unexpected, but wonderful. We make plans for an outdoor event, but it rains, and it has to be moved inside. What we thought would be a disaster somehow turns out to be the best party ever.
A friend of mine said to me recently that she loves me, even if I don’t like to make spontaneous plans. It’s true. I like things scheduled. I want to know who is coming for a holiday dinner and when. I schedule my work around the gym classes I like to attend. (What’s really weird is that I’m not the only one who does this.)
At the same time, it’s not that I never do things spontaneously. I work from home, so my days are somewhat unstructured. I sometimes plan to work on a particular project one day, but end up working on something else entirely—perhaps I’ve received something that needs to be revised. Things happen—a daughter calls with news or is upset; something in the house needs to be repaired, or maybe I just need a break.
Life happens. Sometimes the unexpected happens—and sometimes that’s good. I like plans. I like lists. But I also want to be open to possibilities.
My daughter and her friends who have recently graduated from college are trying to decide what to do with their lives. It’s good to have goals. It’s good to have plans. But I want to tell them life brings unexpected chances and opportunities, too. They should be able to experiment with the different spices and ingredients of life. Maybe they’ll come up with an entirely different dish than the one they planned to have. And maybe it will be more delicious. As with menus though, life should include both the sweet and the savory to nourish body and soul.
Sometimes a moment of inspiration results in something unexpected and wonderful. Heed those moments.
And don’t forget to reward yourself.
My photo of the banana cake vanished. But pie is great, too!