The monkey and the panda in all of us

A dish simply called Beans! (Photo by Katrina Woznicki)

Last Wednesday, Kate, Anna and I went to a great little restaurant in the East Village called Dirt Candy. It’s a vegetarian place and, while I am most certainly an avowed carnivore, the food was truly awesome. As in go-back-in-a-heartbeat awesome. Seriously, if you plan to be in New York, get on Open Table and get a reservation now. Not just ’cause it’s awesome, but also because it’s tiny and really well reviewed, and tables go faster than the Jets’ chances of winning a Super Bowl any time soon.

The chef, Amanda Cohen, not only does great veggies, but she also has a fantastic cookbook, one that she did in collaboration with graphic artist Ryan Dunleavy. Yes, it’s a cookbook/graphic novel, with all the greatness that implies. Chef Cohen, who once took on Morimoto on Iron Chef America, was kind enough to personalize Kate’s signed copy for her, and also served us dessert. I mean, seriously, that’s cool.

So why am I mentioning this?

The Dirt Candy cookbook is really informative, focusing not only on recipes, but also technique and a big dose of humor. It includes a great comic wherein the chef explains how she feels about cooking and running a restaurant — and compares it to having a monkey and a panda inside her. Which, you know, is not your typical metaphor for anything.

I won’t do the comic justice, but to paraphrase, the monkey is the screaming, neurotic perfectionist part of her, the one that alienates others and causes her blood pressure to spike. The panda is the mellow, Zen, abiding part of her, one perhaps a bit too willing to cut corners now and then (according to the monkey, at least).

This honestly sounds like nearly every writer I know.

Amanda basically understands that the monkey and the panda will never see eye-to-eye, but that living with these competing forces is important in order to do the best job she can. And I would venture to say the same goes for writers.

The monkey inside a writer pushes the writer to get better, even if it drives him or her crazy at times. The monkey wants one more crack at revision, questions the need for that exposition and generally casts aspersions on everything a writer tries do to. The panda gives a sage nod when a given bit of writing is good enough (because the monkey, unchecked, would never stop revising) and urges the writer to take a break and watch Star Wars for the 324th time when burnout occurs — and even when it doesn’t.

Writers need the monkey. But we also need the panda. We need to balance those two critters in order to produce the best writing we can while still staying sane and (mostly) socially acceptable.

Really, you can say the same for any creative types, but I thought Amanda’s tale of the monkey and the panda seemed apt. Plus, seriously, her food is freakin’ amazing. Go try it!

And I’ll leave you with the book trailer for the Dirt Candy cookbook. Because it, too, is excellent.

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Filed under Books, Food, Geek, Writing

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