I grew up eating only one type of rice: white. When I was young, I thought there was only that one type of rice. Of course, as I grew older I learned about white rice and brown rice, but I don’t think I ventured much further than that. Then, at a point in my food writing career, I was honored and delighted to interview author Naomi Duguid, coauthor of Seductions of Rice. As we discussed the rice of my childhood, the white, nutty, aromatic basmati rice, Duguid said something quite insightful: She called it my “home rice.” She said that for many cultures, rice is an anchor point—it provides a sense of place and belonging. “This is the rice you will turn to day in and day out. It is the one you perfect for yourself,” she said.
That stayed with me. I kept thinking of this concept of an anchor point, a narrative that provides comfort and belonging. I began to see the analogy with my writing career: When I began writing, my home rice was the belief that in order to become a successful author, I had to find an agent, publish with a big house, have my name in big magazines and newspapers. That was how I would belong to the writing community. I repeatedly returned to that anchor point no matter what I faced: acceptances, rejections, good stories, bad stories, good reviews, bad reviews. I knew what my anchor point was. No matter how much I disliked the narrative I told myself—the only way to make a name for myself and get validation as a writer was to be with a big publisher—it was my anchor point and I was afraid to let it go.
Then the world became different, and being with a big name publisher wasn’t the golden ticket anymore (at least, not for me). Indie publishing started to become big. It did not, at the time, fit with my theory of home rice.
And then it did.
Because I cook all kinds of rice now. My kids prefer jasmine rice to basmati; I guess that is their home rice. And I adore the taste of green bamboo rice and Himalayan red rice. In fact, I had to think hard about when I last made white basmati rice. (And this says a lot, coming from a food writer who cooks rice most everyday!)
I realized that my old anchor point was not the only possibility; there were many more options and I did not need to be limited by one way to succeed or belong. So I began to experiment with different types of publishing. I discovered a whole new world of publishing and making money and, yes, belonging.
We can either stay comfortable with our old narrative or we can use it as our strength, and say that we know what we love, we know how it works, but now we are going to try something different. It is all about the story we tell ourselves—this is my home rice and this is where I turn for comfort. Or we can say that this is my home rice, it nourished me when I needed it, and now I need to move on.
Times change, our sense of belonging changes. There is great strength in changing with the times, and knowing, deep inside, that we can always change and yet, we will always belong.
Have you found yourself stuck in a pre-conceived idea of what it means to be successful? How have you kicked yourself out of that rut? What did the experience teach you? Please share your stories in comments.