by Erin Humphry
In the beginning of 2020, even before the pandemic started, I began to feel like I was losing my artistic practice. Being an actor wasn’t feeding my soul the way that it used to, and I had stopped putting my usual amount of care into the work. There were the ignorant people and the exclusionary institutions and the harmful traditions that I could no longer ignore, but I also honestly didn’t even know if I liked acting anymore. It initially drew me in as a way to use my overactive imagination, play, create, be witnessed, share. As a way to drop in, follow my instincts, make choices. I loved the collaboration and the idea of telling stories that resonated with 30 people instead of 3000. However, I hadn’t been engaging with acting in those ways for a while, so when I was forced to maintain a non-existent artistic practice on my own during the beginning of the pandemic, an utterly terrifying and uncertain time in which I had no job and little sense of routine or motivation, I began to question why I even bothered. I needed something to ground me, to look forward to, to feed the part of me that craved ritual and rigour. I turned to cooking and realized that the way I was approaching it had become a type of artistic practice.
I began subconsciously creating a step-by-step, repetitive approach to making meals, and through this a kind of ritual emerged. An idea for a dish would nag at me for days. I would do research, take a trip to the grocery store, clean the kitchen, sharpen the knives, turn on some music, don the green apron, and begin. There was room for error and experimentation, tasting and burning, spicing, and sweating, and more tasting. Cooking was forcing me to drop in, be present, and follow my instincts. As a result, my mind was incredibly clear when I would cook and I was always nice to myself, something I hadn’t been towards my artistic self for a while. To make so many ingredients into a meal with the end result being nourishment for my body and others’ felt to me like the completion of the best rehearsal process ever. And no matter how the dish turned out, there was always something to eat at the end of it (with the exception of the time that I attempted to make pasta while hammered, added an inexplicable amount of salt, and experienced genuine repulsion when taking the first bite). I was finally reconnecting with my creativity, with the parts of acting that I had fallen in love with and to the wonderful idea of a smaller and simpler life.
About a year ago, a friend of mine gave me permission to not be successful, to not be talented, to not be perfect. To approach life from a space of simplicity, almost boringness, and see where that took me. I realized that part of the reason that I was no longer enjoying being a creator in theatre and the arts was because although it’s hard to admit, I was tying a lot of my worth to monetary or fame-based success. I was obsessed with the idea of being the best, having the most exciting life, able to prove my artistry in material ways. But putting so much pressure on myself to succeed that way as an actor, especially if it meant at some point buying into ancient institutions that were deeply wrong, was slowly eating away all my joy of the craft. Cooking has been helping me rediscover that joy. I feel the fulfilment of simplicity through the work, the rehearsal, the building of a dish. I enjoy the sharing of it in the same ways that I enjoy the sharing of theatre. In many ways, cooking presents like an art form: a process and an offering, with the expectation that your share will be met with an immediate feedback loop. When I cook for someone it’s vulnerable, it’s my way of showing them that I like them or want to get to know them or am comfortable with them. It feels like such a tiny gesture, and yet it resonates so deeply that it proves that giving myself permission to not be successful in large-scale ways was the best thing that I could have done. Because the smallest, simplest things matter!
I obviously don’t cook in this extravagant way every day. Sometimes I don’t even do it more than once a month. A lot of my meals are dry toast, boring salad, satisfying ramen, about-to-go-bad vegetables, and salty hummus and olives. But when I’ve got the time and the energy, I can usually be found in the kitchen. If I’m being honest, I still don’t know how I feel about being an actor right now, but cooking feels like a reset to me, a chance to start again, a way to express things that are sometimes hard to express and a chance to reconnect to knowing what I really want from my artistry and myself. I want simplicity and rehearsal; I want to discomfort an audience and resonate with 30 people. I want a smaller life; I want a bigger community. I want to try to be happy. Food makes me happy. Cooking and sharing food with people makes me happier. It nourishes me in every sense of the word, and I’m so grateful for that. I look forward to ritual, simplicity, and sharing nourishment.
Erin is an artist who loves acting, devising, and pretending to be a writer.
They can usually be found in the kitchen, making dishes that smell nice and taste nice too.
She hopes that you like reading about food.
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about what you’ve learned from your practice over the last two years, get in touch xo