I love walking into good kitchen and cooking stores. I always discover a beautiful looking stainless steel gizmo for delicately coring the stems from tomatoes, or a clever wooden box with slats designed to catch breadcrumbs. I always look, I always turn devices like this over in my hands, and I always put it back on the shelf. Inevitably I wander over to the knives. The better stores have endless rows of knives. The thin, strangely curved grapefruit knives; the long, pointy fish filleting knives; the cleavers. These all strike me, however, as museum pieces. The real measure of a knife set depends on the heft and balance of the chef's knife, and the paring knife. The rest? Nice, but not essential, just like the missing verb in this sentence.
Naturally, I already have a terrific chef's knife. My little paring knife––the one that came with the chef's knife as a wedding present many years ago––has a cracked handle, and I plan to replace it someday soon. But here's the reality: in concert with a sturdy cutting board and a few basic pots and pans and a reliable source of heat, I can make you whatever you like.
I love to cook. I love to cook all sorts of things, complex and simple, easy to pronounce and exotic and obscure. As I get older, however, I find that the tools I require to keep up with my expanding skills ironically narrows. You just don't need that much to do a great job.
Don't misunderstand. There are plenty of widgets and gizmos and specialty items that make life a whole lot simpler, or simply a lot of fun, or even in some circumstances absolutely essential to get the job done. But if you're honest with yourself, there aren't too many. It this is true of the moviemaking experience. Hollywood movies may utilize extraordinarily complex tools and techniques to deliver their goods, but plenty of stories, and indeed plenty of scenes inside even the largest Hollywood spectacles, hit the screen with minimal frippery. You need huge crews and vast special effect teams for some things, but I bet you recall the intimate dialogue scenes even more. Those were made with only a handful of people.
Now listen closely. Not for a second do I reject using state-of-the-art equipment when the opportunity avails itself. It's not only a pleasure to use a great tool, but a great tool can enable qualitative differences that lesser tools cannot. Why do you think Stradivarius violins are still so highly regarded? But at the same time, I often find myself looking for the leanest solutions to deliver the best results. Unless absolutely necessary, a deep toolkit can consume precious time, distract from the job at hand, and inhibit your best intentions. It's a tricky balance. Those who skimp on their tools inevitably suffer the consequences, and can never aspire to the full potential of their vision. Those who live for their tools are no longer living for their art.
Ah, Microsoft Word: I hardly knew ye. Once the dominant player, in fact the 800 pound gorilla of word processors, I find that good old Word no longer holds my attention. In the earliest of it's days, I assumed I'd need to learn all of it's cool and promised techniques for turning my words into professional looking documents. As the years went on, I accumulated certain skills in the program where necessary. But the thing that always held me in thrall when using Word… were the words I tried to string together on my blank screen, trying to say something, trying to reach an audience. Word didn't matter; words mattered. And where the program tried to seduce me with its fancy formatting potentials, I've regularly chafed at the tedious distractions is imposed while I was trying to figure out a phrase.
I need it from time to time, but I find I need it less and less.
Of course give me the chance to shoot with a Red Epic camera and a knowledgable data wrangler and I'll gladly tell you how essential it is for my craft. I'll tell you with a serious straight face, and I'll be happy, happy, happy for it.
Tools matter. They just can't matter too much.
I'll have a little more specifically about Microsoft Word next week.
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