Sunday, April 01, 2012

Finding Inspiration, Part 2: The Supper

I'm a big fan of ethnic restaurants. With the exception of Soul and Cajun, which, I suppose, is also international food, I prefer off-the-US-border cuisine. The restaurants I've most enjoyed in New York and New Jersey, as well as in my travels as a communication consultant, have called themselves Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Jamaican, Mexican, Salvadoran, Peruvian, Chilean, Brazilian, Colombian, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, Burmese, Malaysian, Indian, Pakistani, Afghan, Spanish, Portuguese, German, French, Italian, Maltese, Russian, Polish, Romanian, Greek, Turkish, Egyptian, Lebanese, Yemeni, Syrian, and Ethiopian. Of these, the non-European foods most capture my fancy, maybe because I was raised with so much Italian food and had had my fill of it by the time I moved from my parents' house at age 21.

On March 22, with theater tickets in hand and two hours to kill, my wife and I were debating where to eat. “Why not Pomaire (Chilean), Delta Grill (Cajun)or Havana Central (Cuban)?” I asked, hoping she'd approve of one of these restaurants we've eaten in several times. But my wife seemed set on Carmine's, a family-style Italian restaurant frequented by tourists. I grudgingly conceded, not expecting much. 

When I'm not in a place that I want to be, I have at least two choices: complain about being there and drag everyone else down with me, or focus on hanging out with one person whose conversation will distract me from my environment. My only choice that evening was my wife, and I am glad she was it. I had a speaking engagement planned in nine days at an attorneys' retreat for Strasburger & Price. One of the talking points for my presentation was going to be how to free oneself from the self-imposed bondage of smartphones. As practice for that event--after all, I should practice what I preach--I decided not to look at my Droid for the entire supper and listen to whatever my wife wanted to talk about. 

I listened for 90 minutes in Carmine's as she discussed a broad range of topics: her previous meals in this restaurant during theater trips into the city with teacher friends, the particular challenges she faces in teaching her sixth grade students, interesting books that she's read on her Kindle, her take on problems and successes that some of our family and friends are experiencing, and the great pleasure she has been taking in seeing how our daughters' lives are evolving. Looking at her across the table from me, I felt so glad that we have stuck it out together for 36 years. I thought about how awful it would be for anyone else to know me as well as she does. I thought about how lucky I am the she does know me as well as she does and still sticks around. When the bill arrived, I realized two accomplishments: I hadn't bored myself with my own talking and I hadn't looked at my smartphone once. Way to go, Phil!  

From a day in which little was planned, I felt a lot of cool things were already happening. And the day was only half over. Writers need to have planned activities for sure, one of them being planning to write every day, weekends included. But writers should also plan for unplanned times, times in which they get a second take on the familiar--their homes, their family, their daily walks, their situation, their condition. For "creative" writers, a richness of detail may emerge; for business writers, a fresh  perspective on a pressing issue may arise.

By the way, we ordered a dish of mixed seafood with penne, which turned out to be excellent, as was the Montepulciano and tartuffo.

[Next post in this series: The Square.]