The perfect recipe. So different from the myriad recipes tried once or twice for novelty but that languish on completely untarnished cookbook pages; the favoured sides inevitably greying from floured fingers. They are like the helpful principles to be exercised in life, practiced and consciously returned to until they become a matter of course. Life is so clear, in principle.
Complications arise in the conflict between fundamentals and stories. We can see such tension in this thoughtful review of passages from Hippolytus, which gathered together some of the thoughts I further here; we can also see this tension in the self-described struggle of psychiatrist Robert Coles, author of The Call of Stories, who claims to have been too much of a theorist as an early practitioner, reticent to give precedence to stories, lacking as they do the crisp, methodical ring of professional diagnosis. Except that we have seen that the better the recipe, the messier it may appear on the page.
One of the recipes I wish would become habit is Epictetus' Wait semblance, let me try you. In both his letters and discourses, he argues that we are to ask an appearance what it is, what it "represents." How could this last word not summon associations to literature? Life as book, as story. Useful lessons are dog-eared and handled because interpretation changes as the man grows: the same form may take on new meaning with experience. Such may be the experience of a postulate like love, for example.
As experience is gained, one has more to bring to the new experience: more tools and background information to fill in the blanks of what is not being said, what might not be apparent. In this respect, we may think of living well as a special kind of cook's temperance, described in part here, as having arisen: "from the Old English temperian, which meant to bring something to a required condition by mixing it with something else. In so doing, the temperer is in need of a modicum of moderation, skill, and foresight – which are all perfect qualities for a cook." (Emphasis added.) The author quoting that definition points out that cooks were often stereotyped as inebriated in Medieval times when that definition was concocted, indicating that associations of the word temperance with cooks during that period was sarcastic.
We may add that humanity as a whole may be viewed as drunk - on the ideas of the day, lacking the temperance to step out of the picture, to reference in previous meanings, and not just list them but reflect on them.
To reflect is to see one's own connection to the subject matter, to see one's own implications, where the word is loosely synonymous with incrimination - involvement, entanglement. If our interpretation of life changes with experience, it follows that our reading of it with less experience may frustrate us, where the word also means disappoint, deceive. But this does not have to be the end of the story, so long as one is alive. There is a famous passage about how deception can lead to the good. Similarly, it has often crossed my mind about how many good things can come into fruition from something that had a bad beginning. Just the other day, I watched the beginning of a film about this: a man saves a woman's honour by pretending to be her husband though they had just met, and she was expecting, and guarded by her jealous father. Talk about entanglement. Yet the man got out of the tangle and won the woman to boot: through conviction, hard work, and most of all the ever elusive love, which is represented in such an ersatz, saccharine and unrealistic way today that one almost hesitates to use the word.
There is no love without getting dirty. I appreciate so much a passage in Sir Arthur Helps' Cloister and Crowd where he writes, "charity requires the sternest labour and the most anxious thought ... it is one of the most difficult things in the world, and is not altogether a matter for leisure hours." Charity isn't just remedying material accounts, but something more. One is reminded of that old aphorism that begins, the road to hell... Indeed, one might know all the maxims, but without having tried them out, one can know nothing for, and this is a favoured theme on this blog, the application of the lesson is a lesson in itself.
With "no loss of psychological nuance and subtlety" we may immerse ourselves within the stories of this experience, we "can make our own guesses, indicate our sense of things, without succumbing to overwrought language and overwrought theory." Yet this advice (in Coles' Call of Stories) is given to one who already knows, intellectually, the lessons, and - at least theoretically - the problem of complexity.
The recipe for life might be just such awareness - and the rest of lived life, the revision of those principles, the attempt to exercise them in lived experience. To be more material about it, we might consider this Top-Ten Recipe for tart crust. To read through the comments is to see all of the various uses to which the recipe may be put. I used it, with a circle mold, to make mini pie shells for what is known in some parts of the world as Russian Salad, here made with légumes, gherkins, and a small granny apple. The recipe is the lesson of the assorted ideas presented here as salmigondis, possibly corrupted into Solomon Grundy, the poem of the life of a man.