image from here
But then you begin to think, not a roast, perhaps. Maybe an apple pie. You're pretty sure no one born after 1981 actually knows what a roast is. Your husband might take a bite, say "Mmm, good steak, honey," and then where would you be? You'd be a stupid woman with curled hair in an overly cheery vintage apron, something with cherries on it or fawns, still on your feet pulling potatoes and onions out of the oven and there, at the table, sits your husband in his work socks, distracted by sports blogs and calling your roast a steak. You don't know what this means, exactly, or signifies--a suburban complacency, a homey resignation that you never even wished for--you just know it isn't good. Plus, chefs make good roasts, and you're not going for "good chef". What you're looking for is something homier, something coated in tinsel and more difficult to describe.
So an apple pie, you think. That. Surely if something can be accomplished, it is a symphony of cinnamon and apples. A love letter wrapped in dough and painted in egg wash. Because there was so much that should have been done, and wasn't. The house that should have been decorated by now. The furniture you should have been able to buy. The dance and piano lessons, all the meals you should have cooked over the stove, working for hours and finished by five, instead of darting back and forth between boiling pasta and your computer, between bits of dialogue and gummy canned sauce. The stories were never the thing to trust. They can be finished, but not achieved.
How do you measure the success of a story? You sell it. It is read and admired, or misunderstood and ignored. Either way, it sits on a shelf, tangible evidence that you have done something, that all these hours haven't been for naught, that something that once did not exist now does and you are responsible for that. But none of that is up to you. None of that a thing you can control. You measure the success of a story by waiting for others to nod, to sneeze, to bless their agreement: here is a thing, and it is done.
How do you measure the success an apple pie? You finish it. You might burn the top. You might over sweeten the apples. It doesn't matter because in the end, a timer goes off--a buzzer, alas, and not a decision in your head, murky and intangible. Something that is up to minutes, clocks, to the ticking of the sun and not, for once, up to your own instinct and intuition. You cannot trust yourself, but a kitchen timer is a thing you can live by. The end of the path is clear, it is fragrant with the fruits of the earth and the bounties of your labor. Unlike stories, unlike wishes, the end here is succulent, toothsome, complete. The timer buzzes, it declares for you: you have formed a thing with your own hands. Your work is good.
Your work is done.
*The title of this post was taken from the book by Ruth Reichel.