Creative Risks: Mistakes That You Can Smell

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re making a mistake? As I write this, I’ve the nauseous feeling something is wrong and this morning I can smell the mistake and it’s coming from the kitchen. Like anyone going out on a limb to be creative who finds themselves in the midst of a potential error, I’m wondering if I should stop the madness or continue and see where it leads.

It all started earlier this week when I spotted an “out-of-the-ordinary fish” special while browsing the pages of my online grocery. Choosing fish over the internet has its risks but that didn’t stop me from adding “Salt Cod” to my shopping cart. It was not as much my bravery and willingness to take a chance to explore possibilities as much as it was that I wasn’t really paying enough attention.

The next day the fish was delivered in a plain marked pine box. Before even sliding the lid to exhume the contents, I could smell the “aroma.” It reminded me of strolls through the dried food markets in Hong Kong or like the beach at low tide on a hot day. I’ve learned that to some, the smell of dried fish is like the freshness of baked bread; however, I’ve not acquired this sense and beginning to wonder if even a splash of wine or a squeeze of lime could provide enough cover. The instructions say to rehydrate the fish in a series of water baths for a day and some Google searching revealed testimonials predicting a full transformation into something worthwhile and wonderful.

At the moment, it’s been soaking for 12 hours and the smell is …a little less fishy. Halfway through when trying something creative, when your hopes and your visions aren’t materializing, do you ask yourself: “What am I doing?” Should I go on?? Is it worth my effort? And will this one-pot meal disappoint my hungry audience and lead to the inevitable pepperoni pizza?

At times, our plowing through the chaos and uncertainty is rewarded with an incredible final product. Other times, simply giving up can provide freedom, like playing with the food you no longer intend to eat, or splashing and dripping paint over a landscape you don’t expect to complete – when you have nothing to lose – you have the freedom to start to really experiment.
Is it Portuguese Fish stew or New York pizza tonight? when you get the feeling things are going wrong, what do you do?



  1. I guess the answer is to learn to smell salt cod as if it’s baked bread! The people that have learned to do so, have more options available to them, than to just give up and throw the salt cod in the garbage.

  2. So True. The ability to vision the end result through all the messy clutter is one mark of the truly creative.

    • The Creativity process is often messy with pieces like spokes, crankcases, and greasy chains, laying all over the floor. Knowing that you are trying to make an bicycle can keep you from getting d-railed. Thanks Ken!

  3. In response to your question, I usually finish what I am doing to see if the final result turns out well or badly. But, I guess it would depend on the time commitment involved in finishing it.

    • Yes, time has opportunity cost. If you abandon a project, could you transfer the new skills to another and do something better. And dinner by 6:30 if it goes well, Pizza by 7:30 if not. Thanks Donna!

  4. You have a knack for coming up with catchy post titles, and this one definitely caught my attention. I’m smack in the middle of wondering if my new publishing venture is a big mistake, but just like you and your fish analogy, I could block my nose and continue on, or stop where I am and create something new with what I have. It IS kind of liberating to look at the creativity process in this fashion. Either way, I’m learning a lot and meeting all kinds of new people. And if all else fails, I’ll wind up with a cool new collection of books for my own private library. Thanks for the great insight!

  5. Whether we decide to go ahead or not, for everything we do, we gain experience – and as you said, we meet people and all this can help.

    Unlike cooking fish, sometimes things take time to see if it will work – planting a thousand seeds to see what grows. good luck with you publishing venture Lori!
    David Goldstein recently posted..Creative Risks: Mistakes That You Can SmellMy Profile

  6. I absolutely agree about the baking bread smell of fish to some…I wish I could acquire it, but my bologna and cheese sandwich upbringing stops me from loving the fish smell.

    I hope you make the fish!

    Here’s a little flashback for any fellow children of b-o-l-o-g-n-a:

  7. Your first clue that something was – well – fishy was that it was “delivered in a plain marked pine box.” Other than vintage wine, I don’t want anything delivered to me in a plain marked pine box.

    I have no qualms about someone who says that they are happy as they are but someone who says they committed no mistakes? I find that – well – fishy.
    Curmudgeon-at-Large recently posted..Dream SequenceMy Profile

  8. I spotted a mile away that photo of what to be a Chinese medicine shop? Either way, the Chinese image made me miss “home”.

    Enjoyed the post and it’s hard for me to add anything to it, except to say, that I hope you’re having a good 2013 David…we hadn’t touched base in a while. I hope to more so in this New Year and wish you the best.

    • nice to hear from you my fellow ex-ex-pat! Yeah there is a lot I miss from Asia too – some of the people and especially the food. Wishing you and others a wonderfully creative 2013!

  9. so i caught a few fish today and won’t be eating them soon, i clean them up and going to freeze them. normally i don’t cook freshly caught fish right away, i clean it and sprinkle salt or sqeeuze some lemon juice it, leave it in fridge overnight and cook the next day with much less fishy smell. but what i do if i plan to freeze the fish?

  10. I am new to your blog, and you had me from the start. It was somewhere between, “Do you ever get the feeling that you’re making a mistake?” and “Choosing fish over the internet has its risks … ,” where I made the commitment to read on, with a laugh out loud moment. This is a fantastic post and it reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend recently (who was also my college art professor)… He reminded me that regardless of the outcome, “It’s all about the process of creating” …thank you for the post. – Lynda

  11. In my desire to be a clean, healthy, Primal eater, I’ve decided that I should incorporate more fish in my diet. My problem: I don’t particularly like seafood, and I’ve never liked fish. I always found it to be tasteless, bland, and with a chewy consistency that I couldn’t stand. Plus, fish can smell funny, and as a child, seeing whole fish in the grocery store with eyes still intact used to terrify me. The only way I could stand fish was if it was battered, fried, and smothered in tartar sauce.

  12. ive been taking fish oil and it never did have a fish smell to it. I got a new bottle which expires in 2009 but when i take the pill it has a strong fishy odor to it and im concerned if its still ok for me to be taking it or is something up?