Thanksgiving in an American pie shop can best be described as the World Cup and the Super Bowl rolled up together- then stretched out over 21 days. Christmas, remarkably, tends to be less busy, but only slightly. I had to let my writing work slide for a couple weeks there because all my energy was being spent in the shop- physically, mentally, and emotionally.
The experience is always a trying one- I’m not complaining about that. My team and I handled it well, pulling off over 2000 pies in about a week. What it can mean, however, is exhaustion leading to strained nerves and losing sight of why the work we do is important. Not just to the world at large, but to ourselves personally.
You can’t blame a guy for not seeing the glory in the 500th pumpkin pie he’s made in a week, after all.
It’s almost providential then that, just before Thanksgiving, I rediscovered an important insight: “I chose this. I chose baking. I chose love. This is my calling.”Not many of us can say we work at our calling… but how many can also say their day job is their spiritual practice?
The Horse Brass Pub is busy tonight. The cold and wind outside feels miles away when you are sitting at a small table over a hot meal and a pint of cold, dark, heavy beer. That is very much what I’m in the mood for.
My usual “writing table” is occupied, so I’ve found a similar two-top just to the right of the door and around the corner to better avoid drafts. Looking out the window at the darkening sky and swaying leaves, I know I’ve only go so long before I need to head home and eat dinner. I sit myself down, leaning my walking stick against the wall and out of the way, tuck my cloak under myself, and start to write.
I love the patience and craft involved in making what is functionally a poison enjoyable and desirable. I love the various ways it can be consumed, the kaleidoscopic pallet of flavors, colors, and styles that people have discovered over the millennia, and the fact that like any great creation it can be used and abused.
I love the conviviality that can spring up across barstools and beer halls. My wife has told me that I need to be careful where I go to sit down and write because I’m likely as not to lose time just getting into conversations with total stranger.
Not specific beverages or cocktails or places- the confluence of ALL of them with a particular feeling or mood. What times of the day, under what circumstances, do I find myself not saying “Ugh, I could use a drink” but “The right drink would make this perfect.”
Kick off your shoes, fill a glass, and vibe with me for a minute.
If anyone had asked me before I became a writer, I would have immediately marked myself as an introvert. I liked my quiet time, being alone, and going inside my own head.
I still do, for the record. I am definitely have an introverted streak and I like to refer to myself as “running out of people minutes” or having “peopled too much” when I’m ready to go off somewhere for a little peace and quiet.
Then I started writing in restaurants, learned that the best stories come from listening and talking to other people, and now I feel bad if I don’t socialize at least a bit every day.
Humans are a social species. We are not built for complete isolation. Enjoying being alone is one thing… but no human is meant to be lonely.
“You cannot change how your story started, you can always change how your story ends.”
For plenty of people, those are wonderful and hopeful words of wisdom. It is hard, and we often need help to do it, but it is possible to rise above our pasts towards a future we want. That is an empowering, terrifying, and beautiful thing. A hallmark of our intelligence as sentiment creatures is the ability to internalize what we’ve experienced and use it to make decisions in the future.
This can be both a blessing and curse. We learn from traumatic experiences as well, and healing from that is as much a (re)learning process as a spiritual/emotional practice. When things happen that really and truly shake you to your core, you can’t always just dust yourself off and go again. If you think you can, I congratulate you on your compartmentalization and/or sociopathy.
The truth is that, even if you think you’ve recovered from a difficult experience, there is no returning to the person you were before. It’s a “what is known cannot be unknown” sort of thing. Before, you didn’t know you could be hurt like that. You didn’t know you could fail that hard. You didn’t know whatever it was could hurt so much. It’s the price we pay for being thinking, feeling, loving creatures- but it’s a price we never consciously think we must pay until it happens.
When it does, we learn. We learn to wake up the next morning and keep trying. We recover, we hope, and we carry on. We also need to mourn the people that we were- because that is never coming back, and it’s something I’ve been wrestling with a lot recently.