Everything we do is, in some way, a movement toward perfection. Even going to the bathroom: you are cleansing your body and freeing up resources to attend to more important things (digesting, filtering toxins, breathing), and each time you do it, you get better at it. Toddlers only learn to do it properly through practice, struggling for the perfection of leaving diapers and entering adulthood.
Another good example (pooping is a terrible example so this is actually the first good example) is the writing process. The more you write, the better you’ll get. Done. That’s it. That’s all the advice I could ever give another writer.
But the best example is pizza.
I love making pizza. During college I worked in the deli at a natural food market, making stone fire oven pizza, building sandwich masterpieces and serving up cold case gourmet dishes. Pizza is a very delicate art: it is made of crust, sauce, cheese and toppings, any of which could go wrong and ruin your masterpiece. For example: Your crust has to be consistent in its thickness, be made of quality ingredients, and the edge has to rise while the middle stays flat. A pizza dough cannot be flat all across and creating something with raised edges and a flat interior while maintaining the consistency of thickness is a feat of skill and dedication. Not to mention in the cooking process, you must always be wary of wet sauces, cheeses or ingredients turning your crust soggy and wet instead of crisp and satisfying.
My fondest memory of making pizza at the market was an extremely obese man and his wife, who both had big ruddy cheeks and too-small clothes, and somehow had so much money to spend they had a vacation home in Florida. They were very friendly, though a little overly gregarious, and always had one simple request:
Plain. Cheese. Pizza.
Plain cheese pizza is, in my opinion, the hardest pizza to make well because it’s so plain. You don’t want it to be all crust, or all sauce, or all cheese. Personally I prefer big, thick, greasy crusts, but most folks want a balance of each (I guess that makes sense, you health nut). Somehow I had to make a pizza that could satisfy someone with such a clearly distinguishing palette, with very few ingredients. They came every week, and I made the same plain, cheese pizza over, and over, and over again.
What I learned about cheese pizza is there are many kinds of cheese you can use, and each lends a flavor. Mozzarella is filler, but necessary. Parmesan is strong and nutty—but don’t use too much, or it tends to be too salty. Drop in a few sprinkles of a strong cheese to add a kick here and there. Release a small cloud of salt and pepper on top, but not so much as to overwhelm the natural flavors of tomato and cheese. Sometimes you can even get away with a dribble of balsamic vinegar to surprise and please your diner.
Soon I became the obese couple’s favorite pizza chef because each time they came to me, I brought a signature creativity to such a plain pizza. “You make the best cheese pizza we’ve ever had,” they claimed. “There’s just something in it that we’ve never had anywhere else.”
There are many kinds of pizzas out there, and any of them can be perfected. I was good at making cheese pizza, yes; but I also learned how to make a breakfast pizza with fruit and yogurt; how to turn a ruined pizza into a fabulous calzone; how to combine leftover ingredients like unsellable avocados and bleu cheese too far gone to sell on the shelf into something that customers requested over and over and later became a weekly special.
All creative pursuits are like this. From watercolors to hyper-realistic oils, from who-dunnits to children’s books, each form of art moves towards perfection as you flex your creative muscles over, and over, and over again.
AND THEN I’LL EAT IT!