Reading one of Murid’s journal entries, specifically the one titled “Mistake log”, about how they take the time to study their art as they make it to improve their finished piece reminded me of my calligraphy professor when I was younger. I didn’t fully take in and understand what the professor meant until recently.
He assigned repetitions of base strokes as homework weekly to help us improve the attractiveness of our scripts in general, as well as our awareness of the negative space around the strokes. I did the strokes over and over and over again without awareness. My mind was not in my brush; at the brush tip; feeling the pressure flowing from my arm up and down like a gentle, well-calibrated hydraulic pump; twisting and dragging across the page. I wasn’t watching my angles, my closures, my flicks, the stroke’s relationship to the edges of the page as well as the stroke above it in real time. I didn’t stop to look at my work and critique it before doing another stroke, reinforcing the same poor form and general aesthetic. I made the same. Exact. Mistakes. Over. And over. And over. Always out of an impatience to become better through mindless repetition.
I think sometimes, but not always, creation is a form of mindfulness; an intentional hyperfixation. The professor told me, each class, to “think quickly and act slowly”. The problem was, I wasn’t thinking. I wasn’t there. I was thinking about all of the other things I needed to do, and the things that were bothering me, and the people around me, and their breathing, and their movements, and their gentle chatter, and their relational dynamics. He also told me to stop after each stroke, and to inspect it thoroughly before trying again—with every, single, stroke.
I think my impatience—or enthusiasm, depending on the lens I’m using, I guess—sometimes leads me to do great initial rough draft work, like writing an idea down quickly, doing the related sketches and other key developments, storyboarding, writing a melody and finding the underlying chords I want, etc. But it works against me when it is time to refine things, edit them, critique them, get at the essence of the idea to prepare a real first draft. It’s getting easier with practice, but I still end up having to remind myself that once I get to this stage, I have to focus. I have to hide my phone, turn off any music, close the windows, make sure the cat has snacks, and gather all of the minds in my brain office to descend on the piece(s) with a determination like ants to a juice spill.
The three cup tofu recipe I used a couple days ago wasn’t exactly what I was looking for because it didn’t turn out anything like the one from my favorite defunct local Taiwanese restaurant, but I still really enjoyed this iteration and I’ll definitely use it again! We used extra firm tofu because the store was out of medium firm. I also only had time to put it through one freeze and thaw cycle unfortunately, but I’ll plan further ahead next time to get two cycles. As George (he uses this spelling of his name in his "About" section, and "Jorge" as the branded version for the website title) discusses in his recipe, the freeze and thaw cycle creates ice crystals within the tofu that help the tofu develop a chicken-like texture by the end of the second thaw. Everything about this dish had the sensation of meat without a single animal product.
The dish from the restaurant I loved didn’t give their tofu such a crispy skin, nor do I think they froze and thawed it, and the sauce was a little different. It was distinctly vegan without any sensation of meat. I appreciated that “lightness” of flavor of their version of the dish. They also added some roughly chopped jalapenos, which I think I’ll throw into ours at the basil step the next time I use George’s recipe. It gives it a nice, pleasant heat that plays well with the basil in my opinion.
The restaurant was run by an elderly couple and their daughter. I guess their daughter didn’t want to take over the business as her parents retired. I don’t mean to say she had to or should have; sometimes, good things are only available for a limited time, and that’s just a fact of life. It was in the basement of a very small strip mall. There was a laundromat, a movie rental store, and a few other spaces that rotated through different businesses as they came and went on the ground floor.
The space was small, tidy, well-lit, and unassuming with ceilings on the shorter side. Buddhist imagery decorated the white walls. A cooler holding cold starters and juices sat in the back of the seating area, lightly humming. A whiteboard on one of the walls displayed the specials of the day in both traditional Chinese (as opposed to Simplified) and English. Whoever wrote the specials board had beautiful handwriting—lovely negative spaces and attractively curved lines for both scripts.
Hot tea came with every meal as a courtesy at seating. The music was barely ever noticeable—something I greatly appreciated. It seemed to be relatively quiet every time I was there, no matter how many people were seated. It felt like the couple set the tone, and guests respected the space. Throughout the menu, there were short passages about the importance of vegetarianism in Buddhism and how their specific restaurant aligned with their personal beliefs. I never had an off meal there, and I always left pleasantly full. I remember greatly enjoying their eggplant as well; I don’t remember the flavor profile specifically, but the texture was silken and melted in my mouth.
I miss the man of the couple a lot. He did the entire front of house by himself. He was soft spoken, self confident, funny, and kind. He usually wore a light blue checkered oxford shirt, dark blue khakis, and brown loafers that didn’t make much sound. His glasses had a heavy, boxy, black frame and his prescription greatly magnified his eyes. The last time my partner and I went there before they closed, we asked if we could purchase one of their serving teapots because I wanted to keep a piece of the place forever. He laughed and said we could just have it; he didn’t need it where he was going. I hope they are enjoying their retirement.
Sometimes I wish I were more socially quick, so that I could let people know the weight of their impact on me in real time, but that’s probably too heavy, vulnerable, and open for a lot of people. I guess I can pass the good vibes on here instead.
Anyway, thanks for reading! I hope you’re looking forward to a meal you like soon. Seeya next time.