There are some things I cannot do and will never be able to do. I will execute a perfect entrechat huit. I will never date Morena Baccarin. I will never be the conductor of a world-famous symphonic orchestra. I will never eat balut. The items on this list are there due to my physical limitations, my not having enough talent or time to achieve the goal, or my strong desire to not ever do such a stupid thing. (You can figure out which goes with which.)
There are other things I cannot do and should be able to do. These are things that are not beyond my physical capabilities or mental acumen. These are things I want to do but simply, at this point in time, cannot.
Like cooking the perfect hard-boiled egg.
It sounds silly, but despite years of trying (off and on, of course, not continuously) the perfect hard-boiled egg–uncracked, easily peeled, firm-cooked white, yolk a sunny yellow all the way through–has eluded me.
I’ve tried dozens of methods and astuces gleaned from books and friends and mothers-of-friends across the globe. I’ve varied temperature prior to boiling, length of boiling, depth of boiling. I’ve put vinegar in the water, salt in the water. I’ve pricked the shells with a pin. I even tried baking the damned things in an oven (30 minutes at 325°F–it works, but not well).
Each time, almost every time, something goes wrong. The yolk is half-cooked, three-quarters cooked, or has that dreaded grey ring of being overcooked. The shells crack and I get tumorous ova-blasts that look like props for a Lego version of “Aliens.” The shells are intact but they refuse to part with the egg itself, shredding the white to a leprous lump. On occasion, I’ve achieved it–the perfect hard-cooked egg–but the next time I try the same method, no joy.
Writing is like that.
Sometimes I can write like a man possessed, the words flowing from my pen, the artistry astounding me even as it hits the paper. The next day, I can recreate everything, duplicate conditions to the nth degree, only to sit and stare at the blank page for hours.
I can’t cook a perfect hard-boiled egg every time, but as I practice and note what works and what doesn’t, I cook them more and more often.
I can’t write well every time I take pen in hand, but as I write and study and learn and observe, I write well more and more often.