The Difficulty of Doing Nothing

When faced with the struggle of others, doing nothing can be the best- and hardest- thing to do.

The willingness and desire to help others is one of the most beautiful things I see in people. It doesn’t get a lot of (the right kind of) press, but our capacity for empathy truly is one of our strengths as a species. When it comes to helping others though, it’s hard to keep your desire to help from overriding whether or not you are helping.

I got a very object lesson in that in the last few weeks, and a dear friend of mine has reinforced it.

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Don’t Save Rest For a Rainy Day

“I’m not a mapmaker. I’m a traveller, making this trip just like and alongside you.”

– Brene Brown

The last few weeks have been more than a little frustrating and chaotic at the pie shop, and I’m having a little trouble “getting comfortable being uncomfortable.” Over the past two weeks and the one coming, just because of timing, I will simultaneously be:
1. Preparing the kitchen for me to not be there for a week while Emily and I finally enjoy a honeymoon in Ireland.
2. Filling wholesale orders- including brand new contracts- for the coming weeks,
3. Making sure catering orders are in a state that my team can manage them in my absence,
4. Retooling our entire production system to be geared toward retail and catering and away from large wholesale contracts as we look toward warmer weather and possibly returning to farmers markets.

It’s all more than a little overwhelming, and as someone who starts to get static in front of their eyes when they stare too long at a crowded spreadsheet, one of my more toxic coping mechanisms starts creeping out: “DO ALL THE THINGS.” As late as last week, my boss essentially had to collar me and drag me out of the kitchen saying “No, Matt- you CAN’T do all the things. We are going to sit down and plan and work this all out.”

All the same, old thought patterns are hard to break. Intellectually, I know that I am just one person. I am not a machine, I am a squishy human that has limitations and gets tired. Regardless, my thought patterns start to run in circles like this:

“Ok, I can do this. I always figure it out. I always get the job done. I’m the only one who can do it. I need to do it. If I don’t, everything is ruined. If I don’t, people will think I’m unreliable and a flake. I won’t belong in the kitchen anymore. I’ll be worthless. I need to be the strong one. I need to get the job done. I need to show I can handle it. I need to show I can hack it- that I still belong here.”

I am so tired, but I can’t rest yet. I need to get this all done. I’ll rest when I’m done. ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ Hahahahaha…”

Did any of that sound relatable? If so, I am so sorry… and we both need to admit when we need breaks and that not everything is going to, or NEEDS to, get done.

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Don’t Work Toward What You Don’t Want

I try not to miss weeks in writing this blog. If I am an Actual Professional Writer©, then that means showing up when I agree I will, putting out the words I’ve decided I will, and not making excuses about it. I think it was Ursula K. LeGuin who said she knew was a professional writer the first time she sat down to write something without really feeling like it and having no ideas.

In my case, I missed last week because I literally had no energy to do anything after a 60-hour week in the bakery. I wanted to write, I had ideas of what to write about… but the tank was on “E” and I was running on fumes for the downtime I had.

It’s a fairly common situation for folks in my industry right now- the Covid Culinary Brain/Talent Drain has hit everyone, and people are flocking to jobs where the pay is better, benefits more secure, and pockets are deep enough to possibly take care of them through the next crisis. That means that applicants for small Portland pie shops are few and far between, and it’s up to the folks who are there to keep the wheels turning.

I don’t blame anyone for wanting to get out of a field that is effectively lying in the bed of intransigence it made and now dealing with its legendary well of desperate labor suddenly running dry. A lot of my older friends and colleagues are staring down this situation and realizing that “the free market,” capitalism, and truthfully any economic structure looks great until you find yourself on the underside of it.

So why am I not part of this grand exodus? With my skills and experience, I could march into nearly any job fair run by one of those hospitality giants, lay down my resume, and conduct a bidding war for my services. More money, more benefits, fewer responsibilities (at least to start), and a clear career trajectory for rising in their company. Sounds like a no-brainer, so why not go for it?

Because I refuse to waste time working toward what I don’t want.

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com
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Sitting In Others Sadness- Depression and Connection

If you want to know how strong a person is, see how they handle feeling weak.

Last week was a long and miserable one, not least because when I woke up on Monday morning it felt like the color had drained from the world. Nothing tasted good, I had no energy or will to do anything, but all the guilt of doing nothing. As I dragged myself around the house in the early morning, half-coasted my bike to the shop and turned on the ovens, I knew that I was in a depressive episode.

I reached out to others- not for help, or even for pity, but connection. Lots of people responded, and I was grateful for that- but not everyone knows why or how to be helpful in those situations.

How do you help someone manage depression? You just be there.

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The Craft of Living As a Baker

The other day, one of my bakers and I were chatting while putting together some savory pies. I’d been filling and crimping Spinach Feta Pasties, and she was filling up crusts with Lemon Chicken. In short, it was the exact type of repetitive work that lets your mind wander while your hands move. It can be dull, but also meditative.

My baker had graduated from culinary school two years before. She’d worked at a couple places, but the environments and cultures there had left a bad taste in her mouth. She loved baking though and was dedicated to figuring out a way forward in her career. We discussed why we loved this field, and- most importantly- our attitudes toward working in general.

I go to pieces if I don’t have work or something to do. Not that I’ll ever be able to retire, but I have a feeling that even if I was I’d wind up only being semi-retired and working until the day I died. I just need to work.”

People need passion in order to work in fields like this.” my baker continued. “If you don’t have passion for the work, you won’t be able to get out of bed to do it.”

“Yep- and what’s more, you need to have the right attitude toward that passion as well,” I said, crimping away at my pasties. “I don’t think of myself as an artist doing this, you know. I’m a craftsman, and this is my craft. There’s a craft of baking, and the craft of living as a baker.” She froze and looked at me a moment then said, “Wait, go back… what do you mean the craft of living?”

The author is wearing an apron over a black suit vest and white button-front shirt with the collar open and sleeve rolled up. He's smiling at the camera and leaning against white cabinets.
Following your calling isn’t always easy or profitable, but it’s always worth it.
Looking stylish while you do so is just a plus.
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