Particularly this one.
I discovered Gavin Aung’s webcomic Zen Pencils some time ago, since I am rather fond of collecting adages, parables, snippets of wisdom, etc. and Gavin has an elegant, inspiring, and lighthearted way of bringing them to life. This particular comic, based on the poem “Ithaka” by Constantine P. Cavafy, is one of my favorites.
I read this shortly after catching up on an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show “Parts Unknown.” Anthony Bourdain is something of an icon of mine- not just because I’m a sucker for great travelogues (putting him in the company of Kerouac and Steinbeck), but because he has a very human way of approaching great figures in the culinary world. So many times I read his work or watch his show and find him talking to people like Marco Pierre White, Fergus Henderson, Fernand and Albert Andria, and others- people who have figuratively shaken the world with their work. All in a field that I am barely more than a neophyte in. I look at Bourdain’s work, or Whites, or the Andrias, and sometimes I can’t help but feel absolutely impotent. In a field with people of this genius, creativity, and caliber- many of whom rocked the world with their works when they were around my age- what hope can a small-time baker in Southern New Jersey have of making an impact?
How can I even imagine that, someday, somehow, I might step out of their shadow and cast my own?
That is when I remember two things:
1. I remember the poem “Ithaka.” The idea that it’s the journey, not the destination. I am not Marco Pierre White or Albert Andria. Their lives were not mine. The goal of anyone should not be to be the facsimile of someone great, but to be great in one’s own way. Where we end up doesn’t matter nearly so much as how we got there, and what was learned along the way. If I want to be great and famous one day, I will be- but I am in no rush. I still have a lot to learn.
and 2. I remember the following poem by Robert Service.
The Land of Beyond
Have you ever heard of the Land of Beyond,
That dream at the gates of the day?
Alluring it lies at the skirts of the skies,
And ever so far away;
Alluring it calls: O ye yoke of galls,
And ye of the trails overfond,
With saddle and pack, by paddle and track,
Let’s go to the Land of Beyond!
Have ever you stood where the silences brood,
And vast the horizons begin,
At the dawn of the day to behold far away
The goal you would strive for and win?
Yet ah! in the night when you gain to the height,
With the vast pool of heaven star-spawned,
Afar and agleam, like a valley of dream,
Still mocks you the Land of Beyond.
Thank God! there is always the Land of Beyond
For us who are true to the trail;
A vision to seek, a beckoning peak,
A fairness that never will fail;
A proud in our soul that mocks at a goal,
A manhood that irks at a bond,
And try how we will, unattainable still,
Behold it, our Land of Beyond!
The samurai of Japan had a saying- “The only opponent is within.” The culinary industry (indeed, the world) is rife with competition, and there will be winners and losers. There will be people that get the trophy and victory lap at the end, and there will be others that just pack up and leave quietly.
In the end, however, no matter what it is, your only real competition is with yourself.
“Can I do this faster?”
“Can I tweak this formula and make it better?”
“Can I fix how I work so I have more time?”
So I as much as I might dream of one day being like them, I am not Anthony Bourdain, Marco Pierre White, or Albert Andria.
I am me- and my goal is to learn and be the best baker I can, the best person I can, and the best me I can.
All in due time.
Stay cheerful, and