The Molotov Cocktail

I don’t believe that people don’t listen when someone throws a Molotov cocktail at their own preconceived notions of how wonderful they are.

This quote is from an e-mail reply sent to me when I was explaining a particular problem with which I am internally wrestling to the ground… like I do, in a “hold on, I have to overthink about it” sort of way. It was so astounding in its clarity, such a succinct rocket propelled truth grenade, that I felt it deserved top billing. This is because yes, I can apply it to this situation, but moreover, I can apply it to myself and the journey I’ve taken over the years to become a better version of myself.

I’ve mentioned before that being panicked all the time allowed things to come out of my mouth that never would’ve otherwise, and when someone threw that Molotov cocktail at me, at first I was angry and popped off even more, because in the moment, that’s all I could think to do. But once the cortisol wore off, I did indeed take those words away and think about them, making them a part of my heartbeat and using them as fuel, onwards and upwards.

Things calmed down somewhat naturally, but when I started taking Klonopin,™ the adrenaline I felt during conflict all but went away. It allowed me to shoot water at the (very, very tall) flames. I could sit back and remember the day I wrote that the fire inside me could not be contained with water. I had to bring in a much bigger fire, and then rest and relax in the ash-enriched earth. Before that, anxiety kept my own fire burning, and those words got lost in the middle of the mess. It was a wonderful day when they came back.

In case you’re wondering, I do read my own blog like a stalker ex-girlfriend at 2:00 AM. Mostly because after time has passed, I am so divorced from my own words that they seem as if someone else wrote them. It’s deeper than that, though. It’s about learning to rely on myself and, God forbid, take my own advice. There are some entries where I legitimately say, “that’s so wise. I wish I had written it.” It’s a shock to my system to realize that it was me, just a different iteration.

The truth bomb for me was learning that my anger at the world was rubbing off on people in ways that I both didn’t intend and indeed wanted to inflict the pain I was experiencing. This is because sometimes there were innocent bystanders, and sometimes my yard felt threatened and I went off like a rat dog with a Napoleon complex (at 5’4 and barely 125, the description is apt). I still occasionally say things that have consequences I don’t understand, but so does everyone else. There is no way to predict or be responsible for someone else’s perception of reality. The difference now is that I don’t feel threatened, because most of the threat was my own perception of reality and not external stimuli. It’s my medication, though, that I credit with allowing the anger within me to dissipate, because without the suppression of anxiety’s physical symptoms, I didn’t have time to coolly and calmly calculate my next move. There was no, “I could say this, or I could say that.” It was just the “think it, say it” plan. Sometimes it worked well for me, because for all its faults, it was definitely authentic. I didn’t have time to put on the mask of “everything’s fine.” What really forced me to examine my thought processes was the old axiom that hurt people hurt people… something I knew logically, but hadn’t instituted emotionally. Making the connection between heart and mind had previously eluded me. And while I am still intensely cerebral, I feel that now I am using more parts of my heart than I used to be capable.

This is because once I “relaxed in the ash-enriched earth,” some of the dead spots left by years of emotional abuse as a teenager started to grow back… and I won’t lie, those neurons were at first part of the problem, raising my threat level to DEFCON “OH MY FUCK!.” Though I take full responsibility for my thoughts and actions, I also can’t ignore the context… because as I say often, I won’t make excuses, but I hope I can provide understanding of why something happened, because nothing happens in a vacuum. And that is where writing really helps me, because I don’t generally lay out that context for the people themselves, but on my own. It is not their responsibility to understand. It’s mine.

It is amazing, though, how much pleasure and happiness have come back into my life via self-reflection. People have seen me heal and have drawn their own conclusions, just from trying to explain me to me. I am no longer a tight knot of fear ALL THE TIME, which was my modus operandi for a number of years. Seeing how it was failing me allowed my life to expand, taking a detour when my mother died, but not stopping progress altogether. I just had to find different sources of unconditional love, because it’s the one thing my mother was capable of doing that no one else did (though they do now, because with my friends, there’s a recognition that it needed to be replaced somewhere). My mother was the only person in my life that was constantly on my side, never ever saying “what did you do?,” but “what have they done to my baby?” And this was even after I reassured her I was being a right tool and I deserved every bit of the karma coming around. It just never mattered to her. She was always on my side, no matter how I behaved, and I think that’s a mother’s love in a nutshell.

For instance, I think she’d hate that I don’t go to church anymore, because it’s not a comforting experience. However, I think she would understand, because it’s me. My belief that God is the source of every story ever told, that we are all subtractions of the divine, has never faltered. But when I walk into a church, all I see is her. She’s at the organ. She’s in the choir. She’s sitting in the congregation. She’s pinching my hand hard enough to draw blood when I’m laughing so hard I just cannot keep it together… and if she’s in the alto section and I’m far enough away with the sopranos, she’s giving me the death stare instead. If you’ve never seen my mother’s death stare, you just won’t even know the half of how…… effective it could be. Therefore, every single church service I attend doesn’t feel uplifting. It feels like a knife in my front.

I am sure that as time passes, so this will, also. But I’m not there yet, and if there is indeed a heaven and she is watching, I hope she realizes this… that life is always in forward motion, and belonging to a faith community (or starting one) will happen in its own time.

My theology dictates that there is no heaven or hell, just which one we’re bringing to the life we’re living right now. But that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine it. I can also imagine, as I do in all things, that I could be wrong. It has been known to happen…..

…which often leads to the examination of how wonderful I think I am, and adjusting as necessary, because I listen.

As 41 Approaches…

My birthday has gotten started a bit early. My dad asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I said, “a new phone.” So I picked one out on Amazon, and I am ridiculously happy with it. It’s a Samsung Galaxy, my go-to in terms of new phone purchases (I’ve had three in various versions). This is because I download a LOT, and iPhones fill up fast with no way to add extra space. My current phone is, I think, 32 GB, but I added a 128 GB expansion card. I haven’t added my music to it, but my library of podcasts is extensive. I download them all because most Metro stations are underground and reception is spotty at best. Pro Tip: buy a refurbished phone and pay outright so that you are not on the hook with your cell phone company in terms of paying it off. There are also different variations of the same phone… for instance, you cannot root into mine (nerd alert- no need to carry the nerdiness further by explaining why), but I didn’t want to, anyway. Not my bag, baby.

Back to the cool stuff about extra space. Both Netflix and Amazon Prime will let you download movies and TV shows, which can take up plenty of room, especially if you are downloading a whole season at once. Prime has a limit on the number of downloads in terms of things that are temporarily licensed to them, but you can download anything and everything they produce themselves… For instance, on my last phone I had every episode of One Mississippi and The Man in the High Castle. Invaluable waiting in the ER, the DMV, the Metro during outages, etc.

The only thing is that it is such a powerful computer that you must have a battery saving app to go with it. My former go-to was Juice Defender, but for some reason, the link to the professional version is still live, but it says you need the free version to get it to work, and when I clicked on the link to grab it, I got a 404 error. I got Google to refund my money and bought a subscription to Kaspersky Battery Life: Saver & Booster instead. So far, it’s been magnificent. I highly recommend buying the professional version, because even though the free one works, it is inundated with annoying ads, and it’s not that expensive.

I have only bought two apps in the entirety of my smart phone-owning life. The second is Alarm Clock for Me. It looks like an old school digital clock radio, but it has some amazing features when you unlock the professional version, like waking up to your own music, a gentle lead-in feature where the alarm starts out soft and gets louder over time, weather report in the top corner, and something new- perfect bedtime, which tells you what time to go to sleep in order to wake up refreshed for said alarm. If you hate waking up, might I suggest a military grade phone cover for when you feel like throwing it against the wall? 😛

You would think the birthday surprises would end there, but wait! There’s more!

I think I genuinely frightened Dan with all my burns. They do look pretty gross, to be honest. So, she pulls out a package from Amazon and says, “open it.” Inside are Kevlar cuffs that prevent burns and cuts. I was told specifically to take a picture in the kitchen with me wearing them.

Yes, ma’am.

I didn’t have time tonight, but I will before the week is out. They were actually Autumn’s idea, because she’s worked in a kitchen before. Apparently, they also come in gloves, but I definitely wouldn’t wear those. I would be mortified if my grip on pots and pans was even more loose than it is right now…………… I’m sure they’re helpful for both chopping and taking things out of the oven, but they picked well. They’re yellow, so I look like Wonder Woman.

I was half hoping that I would make a mistake cleaning the griddle tonight and accidentally slam my wrist down like I’ve done a thousand times before (the griddle brick has a mind of its own) just to see my cuffs in action. Alas, tonight went perfectly, so no dice. I am sure I will have other dumbass attacks in the future where they will save my bacon, though.

On Sunday, we had our end-of-summer company party, where the flyer said that significant others and children were welcome. I decided to ask Dan if she wanted to come, because we’re good friends, and therefore, she’s significant to me. No one gave me any grief about it, but if they had I was fully prepared to say that I’d just adopted her.

She got to meet my whole crew, who said some extraordinarily nice things about me, and not just because Dan was there. My lead line cook says every shift that he’s not going to turn me into the chef he wants me to be, but the chef I want me to be…. that inside of a month, I’d be ready to run this kitchen, and inside of two, I’d be ready to run my own. I am growing to accept this praise at my ability, because there were so many awkward and embarrassing moments in my past cooking jobs that I still see myself as a n00b, hanging desperately onto Dana’s coattails. Now it’s time to get on board with the fact that I don’t need to fill her shoes. I brought my own.

In fact, one of my managers brought his girlfriend to the party, and he introduced me as their most dependable employee, and that it was embarrassing how many times I’d bailed them out of a jam. Let me assure you that you don’t even have to be that great a cook for a compliment like that to carry you very, very far in this industry. You can be the best line cook in the entire world, but showing up is even more important. This is not an industry known for emotionally stable, responsible workers. Egos clash. Brown bottle flu happens, as does “I didn’t know I was working today.” But the team I’ve got now has none of those problems. We love working together, and it shows. I am being rewarded beyond my wildest imagination. People have started to call my lead line cook, me, and our most experienced expo “The A-Team.”

It really is amazing how even though I’ve been working on internal validation for years, I’ve grown exponentially with some external praise. It’s not required, but it is definitely changing the way I see myself. I am not sure that I ever want to be a chef, but that’s not the point. The point is that someone believes in me enough to say that I’m capable of it.

Quick aside for people not in the know….. I get called a chef all the time, because people who don’t work in kitchens tend to call all cooks “chef.” But chef literally means “boss,” and there can be only one. For most of us, it feels disrespectful to be called a chef when we haven’t earned it, but we also don’t expect everyone on earth to understand the inner workings of the culinary world. So, we might be a little internally irritated, but we won’t say anything. However, if I do earn the title, you’ll be able to hear me scream from coast to coast. Fair warning.

Because of jumping back into the kitchen, my 40th trip around the sun has been an incredible year of self-discovery, reaching heights I never thought possible. It has allowed me to become less self-deprecating, which you do when you believe in yourself. I mean, I still tell jokes at my own expense, but they aren’t deep jabs. They’re actually funny.

Which has been another hallmark of my 40th year…. giving myself permission to be funny again, after years of grief and loss. Though losing my mother has reworked my version of normal, I am glad to see that with the passage of time normal hasn’t been stolen from me altogether. The only time that I really feel punched in the stomach is when I can’t do things like call her up and say, “you won’t believe how amazing I’m doing at work. I’m even having trouble.” Through our long relationship, though, I know exactly what she would say…. “I certainly can believe it. You can do anything. Just remember to wear your Kevlar cuffs, because those burns look like they hurt.”

Yes, ma’am.

Turned On

When I go a few days without writing, I honestly don’t even know where to start. So much has happened… more than I remember, actually. My job is physically difficult and leaves me spent, so I don’t have as much time to re-live my life as I used to. I don’t have the brain power for it.

As I have said before, that’s the point. Life is meant to be lived forwards, and taking time each day to overthink about what happened is nailing one hand to the past. I intentionally chose this job to get out of my head and back into my body. I feel every cut, bruise, and ache. I wake up completely ataxic, lacking basic coordination because my muscles and bones need time to start working together again, particularly without pain so I can hold myself up. My feet and hands have it the worst, which is why in the mornings, my movements are “wonkier” than usual. There is no cure for this, as I have a palsy in my brain that’s been there since I was born. But I can treat it to bring myself up to almost normal with naproxen sodium and arthritis-level acetaminophen (1300mg time release). I buy huge bottles off of Amazon that are Costco/Kirkland brand, which means I can get (facetiously) 80,000 pills for a dollar. My movements have always been a little off- movements being a lot off is caused by pain…. and not a little bit. You would think that this would make me think this is not the job for me.

But by the time service starts, I am out of pain and my muscle memory takes over, a kind of out of body experience in which I feel nothing physically until we get the all-clear that the kitchen is closed. Cooking and dish washing are also great jobs for people with ADHD, where that type of multi-tasking is celebrated. Being physically tired also slows my brain down enough that I can function without medication, because there’s only 26 channels on instead of 102, all blaring at once.

Although I will say that I have come to a crossroads, even though I don’t know any more than I did last week. University of Maryland did indeed call me back, and they want to schedule an interview. But, in terms of “the road not taken,” I am wondering if I am capable of walking both paths at once, cutting my hours down at the pub and working full time. The money is not the issue here, Dude. It’s that I’m having too much fun to quit, and this company has been more than amazing to me. There is a part of me that thinks I flat belong in a kitchen, and I make enough to support myself. But I will not and cannot ignore a job that, as part of its benefits package, comes with tuition waivers. It’s the type job I’ve been trying to get since I arrived on the DC scene, because I know it’s one of the only ways I’ll be able to pay for school without owing the government or a bank an absolute shit ton of money once I graduate. My fear is that working at a pub makes going to class easier, because I have all seven days free. However, I haven’t even interviewed yet, so I’ll cross that time bridge when and if I come to it.

The feeling of pride I have in myself is palpable and lights me up from the inside. External validation is nice, but absolutely not necessary, a change in my mental state that has made all the difference in the world. For someone with a litany of mental illnesses for which I take medication to correct (which it does), feeling proud of myself goes just as far as popping pills to even the chemical imbalances in my brain. For instance, every time I get paid, I remember just how much blood, sweat and tears went into every dollar.

However, I still haven’t gotten first blood from my knife to make it mine. All of my cuts have come from sharp metal corners on pans, or a mandoline that is of the devil. Every time I have to use or wash it, I’m just like, “not today, Satan.” I’ve also kept hurting myself on the line to a minimum. The worst injuries have come from prep, because my work station is right next to a convection oven that I always hope is turned off, but rarely ever is.

Perhaps I should just turn my energy inward, and hope that I stay turned on, rather than the oven.

It’s working out pretty well so far.