Tag Archives: writing

Get to Know Me: COVID-19 Edition

Why not take a break from COVID-19 and learn about each other… Hat tip to all the people who’ve filled it out on Facebook and I shamelessly stole it because I had nothin’ for today.

1. Who are you named after?

My name was originally supposed to be Amanda Jane, and my parents were going to call me “AJ.” Then, my mother was sitting in a church service and the organist was listed in the bulletin as “Leslie Diane.” The rest, as they say, is history.

2. Last time you cried?

Two weeks ago, when I attended church through Zoom at Bridgeport UCC in Portland, Oregon (link is to the service, 10:30 AM Pacific). I saw some of my oldest friends in the world, and heard their voices. It was magnificent, and I was crying because I was filled with grief at my mother dying, and how long it had taken me to get back to the place where I was comfortable going to church again. For the first time in three years, I have now gone to church two weeks in a row.

3. Do you like your handwriting?

Absolutely not- it is a carpal tunnel pile of garbage that keeps getting worse. I use Evernote/Microsoft OneNote to keep track of my thoughts because if I write them down in a notebook, I can’t read them later.

4. What is your favorite lunch meat?

It used to be the disastrously unpopular olive loaf, and now it is the plant-based version of honey-baked ham (made into sandwiches on bread infused with maple syrup with Swiss “cheez” and margarine). I’m not sure olive loaf is even made anymore, but when it was, the grocery store never ran out…………………

5. Longest relationship?

I’m sure my dad wins this one, but if you mean romantically, seven years and change.

6. Do you still have your tonsils?

Yes, but I’ve had tonsillitis enough that they probably should come out to avoid recurrence. It is so unpleasant. It’s a good thing antibiotics work fast.

7. Would you bungee jump?

It depends. I probably wouldn’t do it on my own, but I’d never turn down a dare.

8. What is your favorite kind cereal?

The brown puffed rice at Whole Foods with real chocolate.

9. Do you untie your shoes when you take them off?

Mostly yes, because I wear Converse All-Stars high tops more than anything else.

10. Do you think you’re strong willed?

It depends on who you ask. I don’t think I’m particularly obstinate unless I’m standing up for someone else. My friends think I’m stronger than I do.

11. Favorite ice cream?

Every flavor of ice cream I’ve had with plant-based milk is my new favorite. Almond milk with almonds and chocolate is probably at the top of the list right now.

12. What is the first thing you notice about a person?

Whether they like small talk or not. I’m not attracted to the small questions.

13. Football or baseball?

If these are my only choices, it’s Baltimore Orioles baseball. My real favorite is soccer of any kind. Doesn’t matter the gender or the league. I collect national team jerseys, and interestingly enough, I don’t have the United States. Oh, and I have one MLS jersey… DC United, of course. 🙂

14. What color pants are you wearing?

Uniqlo Extra Warm leggings and lounge pants made of grey t-shirt material.

15. Last thing you ate?

A Nutella and strawberry jelly sandwich.

16. What are you listening to?

  • Miles Davis
  • Lots of podcasts- too many to list, but if you want recommendations, leave a comment.

17. If you were a crayon, what color would you be?

Dark grey or Cornflower, the colors I use the most often in HTML. The grey is #333333, and the blue is #336699.

18. What is your favorite smell?

I have two- tea tree oil and lavender anything…. although I had to take a break from lavender while reading the Outlander series. It turned my stomach for a while.

19. Who was the last person you talked to on the phone?

My sister, Lindsay. She’s cooler than you are.

20. Married?

I used to be, and it would take an act of God for me to do it again.

21. Hair color?

Brown, with a little grey and white mixed in…. which is such a blessing because it stops me from looking like a ten-year-old.

22. Eye Color?

Espresso… well, brown, but I’m being, ummm….. creative.

23. Favorite food to eat?

Anything I’ve cooked myself. I’m good at it, and I get immense satisfaction with that kind of accomplishment.

24. Scary movies or happy ending?

Why choose? My favorite scary movie is “Get Out.”

25. Last movie you watched in a theater?

This is one of the funniest things that has happened to me in a while. I went with my friend Jaime to see “Jojo Rabbit,” and since I’d already seen it, I went about halfway through the movie before I got ridiculously thirsty. I leaned over to Jaime and said, “I’m getting a Coke. Do you want one?” She nodded and I left. So I come back and it is the most heart-wrenching part of the film and here I am stumbling in the dark to my seat while the rest of the row would have murdered me if it wasn’t illegal.

26. What color shirt are you wearing?

White. It’s not my color, but it’s warm.

27. Favorite holiday?

Any that involve a three-day weekend.

28. Beer or Wine?

Not much of a drinker, but I love anything Belgian.

29. Night owl or morning person?

It depends. I have a lot of energy at both ends of the spectrum. I also enjoy when I can’t sleep, watching the sun come up when I’m normally “not there” to see it.

30. Favorite day of the week?

None right now- they all blend together.

31. Favorite animal?

I am absolutely over the top crazy about Fiona the hippo. When it’s nice outside, I like taking my tablet and Bluetooth keyboard to the zoo and sitting in front of the giraffe enclosure.

32. Do you have any pets?

None of my own, but there are several dogs that live in my house. It’s the best of both worlds- puppy love and no responsibility.

33. Where would you like to travel?

I am consumed by the Middle East, both in terms of “walking the Bible,” and seeing things in movies I’d like to experience for real, like the Blue Mosque in Iran, the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon, and the mountains of Afghanistan. My mom and dad went when I was very small, because it was safe to travel there for tourists (at least to Israel, Jordan, and Egypt). I’m not holding my breath in terms of my lifetime.

 

Sacred Ground

Yesterday contained a mountaintop experience for me. I experienced a high that I hadn’t felt in years, and I am so grateful. It is carrying me through the rest of my week, as mountaintop experiences are wont to do.

Last week, my old church in Portland announced that they were going to be livestreaming from Facebook and Zoom. Because Zoom has a native Linux client, I downloaded it and got it running. At the appointed time, I logged in. Instantaneously, I was connected to faces I’ve looked to for love for almost two decades. I was reminded of the days when I was preaching, the days when I showed up for church so low that everyone couldn’t help but notice, and the days when a hug from them meant more than anything in the world. And, as a Virgo (an earth sign), I am deeply tied to setting.

Looking at the sanctuary made me flood out, and I looked at the ceiling so I could stop crying. Right in front of me was the banner Sash and Lisa made for our performance of John Rutter’s Requiem, s-l640intense colors and “Out of the Deep” written in their own “font.” It was a blessing remembering the day I truly became a singer, instead of a trumpet player who faked it. I was the soprano soloist for the Pie Jesu movement, and I don’t think I would have gotten the chance to spread my wings anywhere else… as was the chance to pinch hit for the pastor.

I was lucky in that my very first sermon ever was well-received, so I got to preach more. I wasn’t always the best at it, but when I was on, I was unstoppable.

The service started and the people connected to Zoom weren’t shy about singing, and I heard voices I hadn’t heard since I moved away in 2013. It was exactly what I’d hoped would happen… that I would find myself wanting to go to church for the first time since my mother died, focusing on what was mine there instead of what had been my mother’s domain. I was not so wrapped up in grief that I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t feel comforted, couldn’t breathe…….. Waiting for the service to begin was one of the great Shatner ellipses of my life, and I was changed by it…………………………

God and I have always had a tight relationship, but church and I have been at odds. When I was little, my mother was everything in the church, from choir member to accompanist to children’s choir director. There was nowhere I could look that didn’t feel like a ghost rising, and I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t feel my own joy at everything I’d accomplished on my own that didn’t have anything to do with her. I think it was because I wasn’t in my element. I hadn’t lived in Silver Spring very long, so I didn’t have a connection that reached two decades down and had the ability to grab my hand.

I cried quietly, tears running down my face when Karen read poetry, Wendy sang, and Stacey’s mic was hot in the chatroom. I also laughed with delight, the kind of laugh that lights up your whole face and you can feel it with your whole body.

I realized afterward that it was also important that I was in my own room, with no one else to witness what was happening to me as I fell apart- and my congregation put me back together. I didn’t have to feel shy about anything, didn’t have to feel embarrassed. I could take it all in, letting the power of the Holy Sprit run unimpeded.

I do not think I am finished with this particular journey, but it was a step down on sacred ground.

Blogging Isn’t Writing

Especially because of the pandemic we’re experiencing, I thought it would be fun to watch movies that deal with them. The first one I watched made me laugh so hard I almost choked and died (no lie). Jude Law plays a blogger/journalist [Alan Krumwiede] who wants to break the story, and LaurenceMV5BMTY3MDk5MDc3OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzAyNTg0Ng@@._V1_ Fishburne as Dr. Ellis Cheever provided me with this gem: blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation. One of the best movie quotes about blogging of all time and space. #fightme

I tend to think of it as emotionally vomiting all over the Internet, but what do I know? 😉

The movie has an amazing cast, and held my attention. When I watch movies, they generally run in the background as I do a hundred other things, but I actually sat down for this one. I am a huge fan of both Jude Law and Matt Damon, and love it when they work together. The Talented Mr. Ripley is a masterpiece. I also love Laurence Fishburne’s voice, and I could listen to him read the phone book and be extraordinarily happy with it. The movie itself is great, but what really pushes it over the top is the actors chosen.

I am sure I will keep watching disaster movies, because they are timely and generally have great soundtracks. I am a sucker for a well-composed score….. and isn’t it interesting how life imitates art?

Speaking of which, no show in recent memory does this better than Homeland. For instance, two or three weeks ago it was about negotiating a cease fire with the Taliban. Truly, with the exception of a Bipolar I case officer, this show is the most realistic I’ve ever seen.

Why would a Bipolar I case officer be ridiculous? The CIA would never let it happen. I think it’s probably a little unfair to discriminate against mentally ill workers that don’t leave Langley- with the exception that they have to be in treatment at all times- but field work would end in disaster, and not for the reasons you think.

If a Bipolar spy was captured in a third world country, they may not even have access to your medication. If they do, how likely would it be that they would actually give it to you? It didn’t even occur to me until Carrie herself got made, and descended into madness from lack of medication after getting captured by the GRU.604px-Apple_logo_Think_Different_vectorized.svg

That being said, a Bipolar analyst might be a good thing. Mental illness isn’t fun, but you gain a tremendous amount of ability at being able to see things others don’t, because you’re always thinking outside the box. Carrie’s murder boards are absolutely insane in terms of always being spot on. She can make connections that no one else can or does. That part is amazing in terms of mental illness visibility, because she highlights all the bad and the good. The problem comes in when analysts are required to be forward-deployed. I have no idea how that would work, but it’s a balance of pros vs. cons. I don’t have an answer, I just think it’s something that might come in handy, especially when Think different. becomes a thing….. because trust me when I say no one is better at it.

There have been a lot of people saying that Homeland has gotten predicable and boring, because Carrie is brilliant and then has a breakdown every season. The producers’ response was amazingly kind (at least to those who have it). Carrie doesn’t get a break from it. Why should you?

In terms of my own mental health, Carrie and I are very different. Bipolar II does not cause such extreme variance between depression and mania. The depression is full strength, but the mania is basically the Bipolar I Diet Coke™ counterpart. There’s only one time in my life that it’s gotten out of hand, and it was so memorable that if it ever happens again, I’m locking myself in my room and air gapping my computer. I will leave you to your own devices as to what happened, but it cost me more than I’ve ever spent… in fact, it reached into my five dollar life and made change… the scary part was that I was on my medication when it happened, and I thought I was going to have to start a whole new protocol.

The reason that’s always scary is that changing your medication is often trial and error, so I could have been through the wringer several times before getting right again. But as it turned out, my doctor added Neurontin™ & Klonopin™ for anxiety and left the rest alone. It thankfully, blessedly worked miracles. That was four years ago, and I haven’t had a recurrence, mostly because I’m so afraid of it that I will go to the doctor at the drop of a hat.

Nothing has really changed in terms of always feeling better, but nothing has felt worse, either. I think my ups and downs are just life, not my brain causing them. For instance, my disorder didn’t get worse when my mother died. I just experienced grief like a normal person (or as normal as I get, anyway). I walked around dazed and confused for months, not getting out of bed unless I had to. I’m guessing that particular reaction is common for people who have lost a parent or a spouse, and not an indication of something worse. Although I knew that the grief would be bad, I truly didn’t expect a fog to settle over my brain that would make me constantly feel as if I was on a heavy sedative, forgetting what and who was around me…. such as putting ice cream in the refrigerator. I leaned heavily (and still do) on the friends who have also lost parents, because they can tell with one look how I’m doing that day.

The thing is, though, now that it’s been three years I am still grieving, but over different things… like losing the sound of my mother’s voice in my head, or forgetting things I should probably remember, like childhood memories. As I get older, my first decade fades. Grief is an interesting balance between being grateful for the years you got and being cheated out of the ones you were supposed to have. It is a totally different thing when your parents don’t die in their eighties.

And, to be frank, you get irrationally angry at people who say the wrong thing, because they don’t mean any harm. They’re trying to be supportive, they just don’t know what to say. The people that do know what to do become precious- the ones that just say “I’m sorry,” because they know there are no words in the English language that will make things better. Bonus points for hugs or an arm around your shoulder. I don’t think I got enough affection at that time, because I just didn’t have as big a support system then.

The one exception was Prianka, because it was so amazing to have my best buddy pick me up at the airport when I landed at DCA from that particular trip. It was nice to relax on the way home rather than having to struggle with my bags on the Metro as I got lost trying to find my way home because I couldn’t think properly. If I had been driving, I would have realized I was going the wrong way at about Richmond.

All that being said, it was really nice to know that I was having an objective experience rather than subjective, because my feelings were so universal. Deep grief is not a club you want to join, but there is an amazing community to receive you……..

Especially other people who also graffiti the Internet.

ADHDDB

For years there was a running gag between Argo and me, called “The Argo Daily Briefing,” or “The ADB.” I thought it was funny, and if it’s funny once, it’s funny a thousand times. The bullet points ranged from agony to ecstasy- an entire spectrum of emotion. They jumped around so much that I finally started calling them “The ADHDADB.” The reason I thought it was hilarious is because the subject line was so #dclife. Now, you’re getting the same update, it’s just that the second A is missing (don’t you hate it when your A is missing?), and don’t think I’m not sad about it. At this point, it’s neither here nor there.

Let’s move on.

A few weeks ago, I had a “coming to Jesus” meeting with myself. I’ve been ADHD all my life, but the fight within me every day, the fight where my spirit and I wrestle without keeping score, is how to get it handled. 514r9aJ33SLIt affects everything, from my relationships to taking care of myself…………………………………… poorly.

I searched Amazon for a Kindle book that might help, and I bought “Queen of Distraction” (it was free with all my digital credits). There is a seminal work on ADHD that’s recommended by most therapists called “Driven to Distraction,” by Edward M. Hallowell & John J. Ratey. If you’re ADHD or related to someone who has it, it’s the first book you ought to buy, but it’s not the last… particularly if you are or the person you know is female.

ADHD presents differently between genders. Girls and women often go undiagnosed for years on end, simply because they’re not as prone to hyperactivity. Therefore, no one notices how differently their brain works except them. The difference is that when they notice, the internal fight is not “my brain is different and I have to develop coping mechanisms.” It’s “why am I so shit at everything? Why can’t I get it together?” This is because no one has noticed that they’re ADHD and it didn’t occur to them on their own.

I realized I needed to read some more books because I refuse to live a life on Adderall,™ even though I severely need it at times (severely). If Strattera™ worked for me, I’d be golden, but it doesn’t. I need more skills and tools, because the longer you’re on stimulants, the more disastrous the side effects become. For instance, my teeth aren’t much better than someone who’s been doing crystal for five-10 years. Actually, all of my medications cause side effects, and I have to choose between tolerating them or remaining sane. I will always choose mentally well over physically sick, but it’s annoying at best.

In fact, a lot of my therapy has been about frustration over this very thing. Until they started making several different brands of generic Lamictal,™ there was only one pill and I called it “The Blue Diamond of Death.” I think Dana might have come up with it originally, but too much time has passed for joke attribution. No matter who named it, I was still so nauseous that I felt like I’d been pregnant for over a decade.

I have done a trial run with going off meds at least twice, and it has always ended in disaster. I’ve just rendered myself useless, so down I couldn’t function. I will never be able to get off of depression medication, but ADHD is this whole other thing that requires management. I have tried to go off meds for it before, and I was unwilling to admit how bad it got, even to myself. I can’t “adult” properly when I can’t find anything. I can’t work in piles as effectively as I try to convince myself I can.

I am desperately hoping that it is because I haven’t done intensive cognitive behavioral therapy, and that I can develop habits that will help. As of right this moment, I have no habits to speak of (with the exception of habitually turning my room into total chaos), and it no longer serves me. If this doesn’t work, I will resign myself to medication. I think I’ve mentioned this before, that I like to do short courses so the side effects don’t catch up with me. But after years upon years of this, I had to admit that it doesn’t work. I am truly having a last-ditch-college-try moment.

Why hasn’t it worked in the past? Well, part of the problem is that with ADHD, you really have to develop enough drive to want to get better, because your willingness to actually sit down and read the book falters. As with all things, the first chapter gets read along with promises to read the rest later…… and later never seems to happen. We’ve started another fifty projects.

In fact, one great way to tell whether you have ADHD or not is your start to completion ratio. If your TO DO list looks anything like mine, it is chock full of things that are half or mostly done.

And one of them is getting my ADHD under control. The difference is that now I know this is a top priority so that the rest of my life can sail more smoothly. Up until now, I don’t think I had a stark clarity about how much it affects me. Trying to get by pretending to be as neurotypical as possible while also suffering alone doesn’t cut it anymore. Trying to manage myself with caffeine is far less effective than I used to think it was (it was a good start, though, and doesn’t give me appetite suppression). However, any medication I would take is much cheaper than a Starbucks habit. I tend to sip on coffee all day long rather than having a huge dose of caffeine all at once. I don’t need to get wired, I just need to keep the bus from going under 50.

I’m hoping I can eventually get my house in order- both literally and figuratively- without having to change my blood type to Folgers.

Redacted

The bassoon solo from The Bourne Identity main theme is ringing in my ears. People ask me all the time why I’m so interested in intel. Well, if you’ve been reading for a long time, you already know. For those just joining us, I had a great uncle in the DIA who died when I was very small. The mystery of how has stayed with me since I first heard the story. The public one is a helicopter crash, but I don’t know if the public and private match……… It is possible that his identity died, but he didn’t. The only reason I think that is that his personal effects weren’t sent until over a decade later. I’ve also always loved Bond (well, all intel) movies, and a huge part of it is the music.

So to me, it’s no wonder that I ended up being fascinated by spies, but I don’t have any interest in being one myself……… which is good, because I don’t think I’d make a great one. I’d be excellent at interrogation, especially if I had language skills equal to English in Russian and Arabic…….. crap at nearly everything else. I would probably make it a life goal to drive my IT guys crazy, but I’d have everyone’s back. Well, except for the part where I’m 5’2 and 125 and the added bonus of when in a war zone, a terrible shot. I mean, truly exceptional at being bad. I have even less desire to be a desk jockey at Langley. Oh, and even though I take medication for it so it’s not generally an issue, I’m Bipolar II and I don’t think The Agency would take kindly to it.

So here we are.

I go to The International Spy Museum and collect signed books like baseball cards….. and as I told my friend Jaime,IMG_0025 “since it’s clandestine, you never get their rookie year.” The last lecture/book signing I went to was The Unexpected Spy, by Tracy Walder. I was particularly interested for two reasons:

  • The book is about to become a TV show, called The Sorority Girl Who Saved Your Life produced by Ellen Pompeo of Grey’s Anatomy. Why they couldn’t call it “The Unexpected Spy” is beyond me, because the name is ridiculous. But still.
  • We were both born with “floppy baby syndrome,” which was the precursor to my CP diagnosis. It is fundamental to who we both are. She said in her talk that she takes spills all the time. It made me feel much better about myself, because I’ve never seen a movie spy that moved like me in any way. But a real spy does.

The reason it’s redacted on the autograph page is that I asked her to do it. The Publications Review Board at The Agency blacked out a lot of her manuscript, and the style choice to leave it all in was pretty badass.

She took it seriously and wrote the comment, then scratched out one word. Then, she decided it wasn’t black enough and went over it with a Sharpie. I was laughing so hard I was crying when she handed it to me and said, “there. Now no one knows WHAT I told you to do to the world.” And then she laughed, and at that moment, she was the most beautiful, kind person in the world to me. Literally awesome.

Which only made me more angry at her treatment by the FBI, but I won’t get into it because it’s a large part of the book.

If there are any people who hire spies reading this web site, she also said in the Q&A that she might be approachable after January (who could possibly tell why?). For now, she is doing the work of angels- teaching high school. For the record, it wasn’t me who asked the question.

She had said during the lecture that she wished she had spoken up more at the FBI, possibly taken them to court. I told her that I had a comment and a question. She nodded and I said, “I’m a writer, too, and I know that while you may regret what happened at Hoover, you are more powerful than you can possibly imagine. You’ve taken ‘I’m telling’ to an international level.'” I then asked her about hypotonia- what limitations she had, how she overcame them, etc. She said that I would be surprised, that being in the CIA wasn’t as physical as she thought. That didn’t come in until the FBI, and even then, it was at Quantico where it really mattered.

And then we shared a look between us that was so intimate I will never forget it. Just the complete understanding of someone who knows what it’s like to be the other one.

Because there are no pictures and I don’t think anyone in the room noticed (and maybe I’m projecting and wrong [I don’t think I am]), in years to come I will smile to myself and say, “that’s redacted.”

 

Dish

This was originally posted in response to a first time dishwasher in the dishwashing subreddit, and got a lot of karma. Reposting it here:

If you are offended by anything, don’t work in a kitchen. No joke is off limits. Being in a high pressure situation leads to dark humor. There has to be a release valve somewhere……

As for the work itself, you will come home some nights feeling like you aced it, and some nights feeling like you are one step away from being fired. Because your schedule is going to be different than 99% of your friends, the kitchen will take over your whole life. Anthony Bourdain said it best…. “a tribe that would have me.”

You will never be more tired in your life, but you will often feel a sense of satisfaction that can’t be found anywhere else. And lots of cooks, perhaps even the chef, will let you work on other projects when it’s slow and you can up your cooking game as well. Dishwasher is basically the only position in which there is forward motion. You might want to be promoted someday to a prep or line cook. I loved both jobs equally- working on the brigade was just as enjoyable as being queen of my own domain.

Before you start, know that you have to have a strong backbone and be able to take a lot of criticism… but it’s not just that. You cannot be afraid of yelling at a line cook if he/she puts knives in a full sink, etc. Sharps under the water is probably the most hazardous part of the job. Don’t ever do it, don’t ever let anyone else get away with it, even the chef (in my restaurant, dishwashers didn’t even touch sharps- we made the line cooks wash and put away their own).

If you get fired for standing your ground, dishwasher jobs are a dime a dozen and none of them are worth deep, permanent scars on your hands…. and before the scars, possibly great big infections because you’ve been cut in water containing “used food.”

Being a dishwasher is not for the faint of heart. You will have to show up on time, every single day, and absolutely bust your fucking ass. I promise that the simple act of showing up on time, every single day, will win you more brownie points than you can possibly imagine. Kitchen folk are not necessarily the most dependable, reliable people on earth……………

Your work ethic also means a lot, because anyone else in the kitchen could walk out at a moment’s notice and the kitchen would still function, except you. You are the key to the whole operation. Take pride in that fact. The motherfucking chef doesn’t mean as much as you do, and most chefs, if not all, know it even if they don’t say it. I’ve been lucky enough to have chefs say that out loud.

In some restaurants, you’ll get tipped out at the end of the night. In some restaurants, you won’t. You’ll make a fourth of what the servers make, but it’s worth it not to have to deal with customers. Bet on it.

You’ll know within one shift whether the job is right for you. Don’t stick around if you can’t hack it. Not everyone can. But you’ll gain an immense respect for everyone able to take the heat, as it were. Don’t walk off- finish out your shift and tell the chef you just can’t do it. There’s a 19 year old Salvadoran who is 80 times better than you waiting in the wings if you’re not capable.

And if you have any negative thoughts about illegal immigration, cut that shit out before you even apply. Illegal immigrants have been the backbone of every restaurant in which I’ve worked. Literally the people keeping it running. I find that most immigrants in kitchens speak Spanish (although where I live we also have a huge African immigrant community as well, so no promises). It won’t hurt to learn a little, and you’ll pick it up on the job.

Also, I love working in kitchens because in my former life, I was the IT person connected by the umbilical cord to my work phone and laptop. In kitchens, there’s none of that crap. When you’re off, you’re really off. People ask me why I’d rather work in kitchens than make more money in IT. That’s easy. Being in a kitchen gives me energy, being in IT sucks my soul every damn day and I am too exhausted to take on anything else. I’m not cut out for it- I’m a writer, and I need the calm after finishing a shift to write late into the night. I joke that Anthony Bourdain stole my career- or at least I did until he died. After that, it just wasn’t as funny.

If you have never, ever worked in a kitchen before, do yourself a favor and watch the episode of No Reservations at the Texas border. Read Kitchen Confidential- it will tell you everything you need to know about whether you are capable of taking on this lifestyle. You’ll become a night owl if you aren’t already, you’ll sleep during the day, and you will develop a sense of humor that would make Andrew Dice Clay blush. Over time, you’ll realize that you don’t quite fit in with your friends who have “normal jobs” (I have often forgotten where I was and who I was talking to and jokes landed with a thud and “what’s WRONG with you?” :P)

Once you leave the kitchen, you may not want to go back, but you’ll most likely remember it as one of the best times of your life, because there really is nothing like it on earth. Good luck.

What They Made Me

As I was cooking breakfast, I was reflecting on everything I’d learned while being a professional. Though I feel I can’t return to the kitchen, I do feel it is part of my soul. My last gig convinced me (though not a unique experience, by far) I have the heart of a chef, but my body just won’t cooperate. I do not mean that I have earned my stripes to be a chef already (which literally means boss, and too many people call everyone who cooks “chef”), I mean that if I didn’t have so many physical limitations, I would have bagged all my other ambitions and gotten the experience I needed to run my own kitchen.

It’s not just the work that calls to me, it’s the lifestyle. I would finish in the kitchen around 11, then come home and write late into the night. I’d sleep until noon or one, then do it all over again. It fits my circadian rhythm perfectly, because truly working overnight just about killed me (I once worked at an IT help desk with customers in the UK, so we were open 24/7). I was fine until about 0400, but even if I napped my entire lunch hour, staying until 0800 made my body scream for mercy.

What made cooking different is that it never drained me. It gave me energy rather than taking it. Putting the perfect plate of food in the window to give to a customer always made me smile inside, and it showed. 1d3d025b-e006-47e8-a9b7-8bd71b0ce971_screenshotMy coworkers literally compared me to SpongeBob Squarepants…. and I’ve worked in three different pubs, so the comparison is not unfair……

But my chef’s heart didn’t start beating until I got some menu control over the brunch program at the first one, and then did Cajun fine dining for a while, where I worked with higher caliber ingredients and people (in the professional sense- everyone has personally been fine). At Tapalaya, both the chef and the sous had been to culinary school, and were impeccable about teaching everyone else.

In terms of what my chefs made me, it is that I wouldn’t even be the same person today….. and also jambalaya, which Chef would present me at the end of a long shift with an Abita Purple Haze. He found out on the first day that I liked it, and the moment the restaurant closed, one would magically appear. It was just one of the ways that Chef showed me he cared, both as a boss and a friend (we were friends before I worked for him and still friends today). There’s also one moment between us that will seem so small that it is insignificant, but even thinking about it makes tears come to my eyes.

Working in the kitchen is a meritocracy. You start at rock bottom and work your way up, even if you’ve been to culinary school. If you have been to culinary school and think certain jobs are beneath you, it is literally the quickest way to get fired. The moment I’m recalling is that Chef asked me to taste something and tell him what it needed. I took a bite and closed my eyes. “Salt. It needs a little more salt.” He dropped some in. No big deal, right?

It was everything. Absolutely everything. It was the first time in any kitchen that I’d won enough merit to have an opinion, like getting into a doctoral program, because that’s generally when you’re allowed to think for yourself (in publishing, anyway). And if you ask Chef, he’d tell you that you were right. It was no big deal.

Yes, it was. It was the moment I realized I was really good at my job. Where the problems start happening is technique, never palate. With enough time, I can do anything, and in a professional kitchen, it’s the only thing that’s never on the menu.

I’d worked with my ex-wife, Dana, and she allowed me to have plenty of opinions, but never because she was compelled. At work, I deferred to her judgment, because she had been to culinary school and I hadn’t. It was that she had seen me cook for years, both at home and at work, and trusted me. Our joke was that with my palate and her technique, between us we had a complete culinary education.

For instance, she would often start a soup and then come to me and say, “fix this.” And it wasn’t that it didn’t taste good originally. She just knew I would “put it up to 11.” Those moments were fantastic, but I can’t put them on the same level with Chef. It’s not that I respected Dana less, it’s that she was my family, someone I didn’t see as having as much objectivity as someone unrelated…. like not believing I was actually a good singer until I was well-received by people other than my mom. Everybody’s mom thinks they’re a good singer. Everybody’s spouse thinks they’re a good cook if they think they’ll be sleeping in the backyard if they don’t. 😛

I made the connection early on that cooking was like driving a car with a manual transmission, and that analogy carries me, because it applies to nearly everything.

For instance, let’s start with mayonnaise. You put three egg yolks and one tablespoon of acid into a bowl (doesn’t matter if it’s citrus or vinegar), and then whisk it until it turns white (called the sabayon stage). After that, it is like the balance between the clutch and the gas, the egg and vinegar mixture vs. the oil….. the stallout being the sauce breaking (that means that the acid and oil have separated). Usually, this is caused by adding too much oil at one time. Three egg yolks and one tablespoon of acid will stretch to accommodate quite a bit, but it has to be added at a drizzle while you’re whisking like mad. Sometimes you can save it by continually whisking and adding a tiny bit of water, but most of the time, you’ll have to get the starter to turn over……………..

[As an aside, if you’re a home cook, you should really learn to make mayonnaise, because it’s the basis of every salad dressing ever. If it’s ranch or bleu cheese, mayonnaise is the base. If it’s a vinaigrette, there’s no mayonnaise, but the concept of balance between acid and oil is the same. Also, at home there’s no chef barking at you that you’re cheating if you use a mixer or a blender so you have a free hand to hold the oil steady. You can also make Hollandaise quite easily, extrapolating the concept by using melted butter instead of oil and lemon juice for the acid.]

The same stick shift analogy can be used with other balances, like adding an acid if something is too salty, or adding more sugar/fat if something is too spicy.

Once I learned the concepts behind palate, it didn’t matter what type of cuisine, down to the dish, that I was making.

Like jambalaya.