I was recently listening to David Sedaris’s “Laugh, Kookaburra” where he visits Australia. In this bit, a person lectures him about imagining a four-burner stove to represent your life. This metaphor has purposes for each of the burners: One for your family. Another for your friends. The third and fourth are work and health. The idea being that in order to be successful, you have to turn one of the burners off. To be really successful, you turn two off.
My first instinct was to reject this idea outright. The over-achiever in me says I can handle it all. But then I got down to really thinking about it. Have I shut some of the burners off?
I can tell you that trying to balance all of my commitments can be daunting. I often get sucked into teaching (my work burner) and when this happens I can tell the other elements of my life are set to simmer (or turned off completely).
I don’t agree that you have to make this a permanent state. Stoves, after all, are meant to be turned on and off. A regular Monday night meal, one or two burners is sufficient. But Thanksgiving dinner. I’m using every heating element in my house — all timed to get the meal done on time.
My life feels like this most of the time. There are periods where certain areas (work or family) seem to slip into auto pilot. Call it setting them to simmer. I can’t keep them this way forever or the flame is likely to blow out (gas stove metaphor — I despise electric).
But there are certainly periods where I seem to have every aspect of my life turned up to high and this can be draining (thus my personal health suffers, so I guess that’s the burner that’s off).
So where is art in this metaphor? Sure, if I were a full time artist, then art would be my work burner and that would cranked to max every damn day. However, the money I earn from my artistic endeavors is a pittance, requiring a full-time paying job.
I feel that if the burners are your day to day life, then the oven is your passion. And often meals cooked in the oven take longer. They cook for hours rather than minutes. Thus our art (at least for those of us working a regular job) is something that bakes over time.
I look forward to the day when I can commit to art full time (baking up lucious word-croissants and watercolor-cookies). But until that time, I have to juggle the burners on the top of my mental stove and keep my passion simmering in the oven.