There’s a fine balance between intimacy and oversharing. We live in an era where the two are often conflated and confused, where it’s easy enough to mistake the display of both mundane minutia and overly chronicled major life events for closeness. In our hearts, though, we understand this is not closeness. How do we know? One clue: intimacy doesn’t breed loneliness.
An experience of true closeness with another person, even if only brief, can have a lasting impact. The encounter can render us more empathic, more humane, able to fill out our own skin more wholly. Closeness can change a mood, add an actual spring to one’s step, give us the energy to attempt a more intimate relationship with ourselves. These things feel good, and so we seek out close connections everywhere, from our friends and our lovers and our social media accounts and our writers.
The genres of memoir and the personal essay are an obvious place to look for connection. But they are tricky forms. In my experience, these types of writings can lean toward more ego-syntonic productions than anything else: the author provides anecdotes that paint a particular self-picture rather than relate a true experience, gives graphic details to support that picture without offering thoughtful reflection. Of course, this is not always the case—I have personally read many books written in the first person that have opened my mind and my heart in enduring ways. Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin being one of them.
Laurie Colwin paints herself as a woman you might know. She’s a writer, she works from home, she has a husband and a daughter and likes cooking. She has self-awareness and self-confidence, not to mention a sense of humor and perspective, that reminds me of my female friends I admire most. Her writing is plainspoken but never shallow, acknowledges its own weirdness and occasional dissonance. She shares her thoughts and feelings on a variety of topics—cooking for children, dinner parties, chocolate, baking bread, eating alone—but never crosses the line into sentimentality or self-obsession. She can see her larger surroundings both because of and in spite of her own home and circumstance. She pursues her interests un-self-consciously, shares her experiences honestly but with boundaries: the feelings are shared, not the grotesque details.
In many ways, Laurie Colwin is the antithesis of the contemporary food blogger: of course there are needy children in her life, the bills pile up and the living room gets messy, there are concerns about nutrition and health, friends come to dinner with various allergies and dietary restrictions…but the stresses of daily life are not the narrative motivation for any of her sharing. I never met Laurie Colwin, so I can’t say exactly why she shares her opinions and perspective and experience. But I get the feeling that she shares because these topics are on her mind, and she has something to say about them, and so why not share them.
Home Cooking was published in 1988 (that’s nearly 30 years ago now) and there’s hardly a moment in reading when its age shows. I think that’s because the essays in this book aren’t about food per se; they’re about the cook, the cooking, the feeding, the process. And they’re written with a calm confidence that elevates them out of the moment.
When I read these essays I feel as though I am sitting in the comfortably cluttered kitchen of an old friend. Time feels slower. Duties feel manageable. Resolution feels like a possibility. Closeness and intimacy feel real.