Why Is Making Plans So Hard Right Now?

Welcome. Before the pandemic, Cookbook Club, a group of friends and friends-of-friends who gathered at one of our homes for informal potlucks at which each dish’s recipe came from the same cookbook, met monthly or monthly-ish. We did “The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook” (Southern comfort food) and “Ottolenghi Simple” (the honey and yogurt cheesecake!). I made lychee boba tea from Shelina Permalloo’s “Sunshine on a Plate” and Pippa Middleton’s roast rib of beef from “The Really Quite Good British Cookbook.” Our last gathering was for Toni Tipton-Martin’s “Jubilee,” on Feb. 9, 2020.

When things closed down, Cookbook Club took to group text. It wasn’t the same as meeting in person, but the photos kept us connected: elaborate work-from-home lunch tartines and counter-cultivated scallions, stuffed pumpkin and pies for Thanksgiving, what felt like every new NYT Cooking recipe, innumerable extreme cakes.

We discussed a video meeting, but it never got off the ground. A handful of people who felt comfortable got together in the park once, during the summer of 2020, but other efforts to reconvene have fizzled.

Whenever I talk to a member, they inevitably say, “we need to get Cookbook Club back together.” I’ve tried to figure out why we haven’t and one answer is logistics: Even prepandemic, organizing a meet-up involved choosing a host and a book, finding a date that the majority of a group of 15 people could make, creating a Google Doc for dish sign-ups.

But I think there’s something else at work. Quarantine has slowed many people’s social metabolism; it’s certainly slowed mine. After a year and a half of limited social interaction, a big dinner party attended by, as my friend and fellow Cookbook Club member Christa described it, “a bunch of new friends who are all insanely good cooks and aren’t afraid to show it off” sounds intimidating. One of the aims of Cookbook Club was to widen people’s social circle, which once felt novel and refreshing. Now, a dinner with people you don’t know well feels exhausting. Add the performance element — everyone introduces their dish and talks about the process of making it — and it’s no wonder we’re dragging our feet.

Ongoing relationships and gatherings benefit from momentum, from the promise of the next meeting in each farewell. Not knowing what’s next makes each get-together feel isolated. Energy invested to initiate and follow through on a date or dinner might, depending on infection and vaccination rates, be a one-off expenditure. Episodic socializing is exhausting! I don’t want just one meeting of Cookbook Club — I want one every month. I think of the Eugène Ionesco line, “Why was I born if it wasn’t forever?” Before 2020, we didn’t necessarily think we’d live forever, but many of us assumed that our social lives, our customs and traditions, would generally be continuous, cumulative, serially accruing depth and meaning.

The challenge: Keep making plans, keep expending the energy, keep getting together even though the promise of the next get-together may be iffy. I’m resolving to reconvene the Cookbook Club while it’s still nice out. What about you?

Elizabeth Anderson Lopez from Lake Forest, Calif., has a show for you to binge (reader recommendations are edited for length and clarity):

My husband and I watched all nine episodes of the Korean series “Squid Game,” on Netflix, in two days. The best way I can describe it is as a tapestry made with threads from “The Hunger Games,” “The Purge,” “Rounders” and the creepy elements of Willy Wonka.

  • I recently reread some of Gertrude Stein’s writing on punctuation and encourage you to check it out. One choice bit: “A comma by helping you along holding your coat for you and putting on your shoes keeps you from living your life as actively as you should lead it and to me for many years and I still do feel that way about it only now I do not pay as much attention to them, the use of them was positively degrading.”

  • Paul Thomas Anderson’s film “Licorice Pizza” is coming in November. The trailer looks pretty great.

  • And here’s Lil Nas X covering Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” in the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge.

Do you find there are people you were excited to see, gatherings you were excited to convene, that you’ve had a hard time making happen? Why do you think that’s the case? Tell us: [email protected] Be sure to include your full name and location and we might feature your response in a future newsletter. We’re At Home and Away. We’ll read every letter sent. More ideas for passing the time, wherever you are, appear below. I’ll be back on Friday.

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