Sorry about the very late and frankly short blog post this week. For a number of reasons, this weekend got away from me.
This post WAS supposed to be a review of a new restaurant in town that I’ve been enjoying very much. I wanted to have one more meal there, and Emily and I made reservations for their Valentines Day brunch. A fun night out with the wifey AND fodder for a new blog post? That’s a win-win right there.
Then it decided to snow. A lot. Portland is famous for Not Handling Snow Very Well, given the fact that it’s fairly rare and all the hills and steep roads make driving treacherous with even a light dusting on the ground. Heavy snow, nearly wrecking while trying to drive the car for groceries, and finally an ice storm last night meant that those reservations were cancelled.
We were both bummed, of course, but we wound up sharing dinner and a bottle of wine at home along with a cake I had made as a surprise. Making the right decision doesn’t always feel good, but it’s not as bad as making the wrong decision.
You can’t control the weather, but you can control how you’ll weather it- once you stop wishing it was something it wasn’t.
I’m finally attending to my side work, and not a moment too soon. It’s starting to get a bit too real out here.
For reference, “side work” in this case doesn’t mean I just decided to start cleaning down my tables, scrubbing floors, and organizing the walk-in in the bakery. That’s an expectation of kitchen life. I use the idea of “side work” as a metaphor for self-care. The stuff that isn’t necessarily anyone’s job, but it needs to get done or things get pretty gross pretty fast.
In everyday life, “side work” is things like making dentist appointments, cleaning your house, balancing your check book… and in my case, getting myself back in front of a psychologist.
Lately, my stress levels have been a bit higher than usual. A large contract is coming the way of my bakery, and my team is central to completing it. Over the time we’ve had to prepare, there’s been delays, meetings, and higher priorities left and right. Then, in the final week we have to prepare- we don’t have enough ingredients, and won’t till the end of the week.
I’m frustrated, I’m stressed, I tried to avoid this situation happening. In the end, it’s going to be me working extra hours trying to make the deadline- and I’m more pissed about not making the deadline than I am the extra work.
Not long ago, I decided I was going to go on a bit of an Eastern Philosophy bender and read all the texts I could get my hands on.
It may have been my state of mind at the time, or just a desire to spend more time reading interesting stuff and less time trawling social media.
In the past, I’d read and re-read several Buddhist texts- a couple sutras, the Dhammapada, and the Buddhacarita. I’ve also previously read (and love referring back to) the Tao Te Ching and Dogen’s “Tenzo Kyokun.”
In this latest push, however, I decided I was going to tackle some of the more well-known works: Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”, and Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s “Hagakure.”
It was… a lot, and it got me thinking-
“Why do we look to books on war for lessons on life?”
Good evening, friends and neighbors.
It’s 5:15 in the morning. My alarm just went off, but I was up at 4… and at 2.
Since coming home from the wedding, Emily and I decided that for the first few months of 2017, all we wanted in the world was to be boring. No sudden moves. No job changes and hunts. No weddings, no big events, no nothing. For just a few months, all we wanted to do was wake up, go to work, come home, maybe eat out every now and again, and catch our breath after the last year and a half.
Things keep changing though, and the world comes knocking.
“All things change, and we change with them.”
Since I was a kid, I loved folk stories and legends. One of my favorites was a story about the Magic Ring of Solomon. In short, the famous Biblical king seeks to humble an overly-proud servant of his by giving him an impossible quest: finding a magic ring that will make a happy man sad and a sad man happy. The legendarily wise king is astonished when the servant returns, claiming to have succeeded. The ring is a plain silver band, with the Hebrew for “This too shall pass” engraved on it. Immediately, the king realizes all his riches and success will one day be ashes, but that a man NOT fortunate enough to be king would take the message as a promise of good things to come.
According to the legend, Solomon rewards his servant handsomely, takes the “magic” ring, and it gives him balance and wisdom the rest of his life.
We do not all have magic rings.
We do not all realize how things can-and must- change.
We do not all know that nothing lasts forever.
I promised myself long ago that this blog would not get political- and I plan to keep to that promise. We are in a time of upheaval. There are those who would say we always have been, but don’t really pay attention.
So maybe this blog can be like Solomon’s ring- not everything to everyone, but SOMETHING to everyone, maybe everything to someone.
If nothing else, I offer a counter cliche to “things change.”
I spent the last year or so in what felt like a constant state of flux. I travelled across the country, and set down roots somewhere far from everything I’d known before. I was jobless, job hunting, and hired several times- then fired for the first time in my life- so I officially started my own business, got hired again, and got married.
More than once, I felt burned out. More than once, I wanted to rip my hair out and scream in frustration. More than once, I collapsed in a sobbing heap and just wanted to pull the earth over me.
More than once, it really goddamn sucked.
Through all of it, the things that kept me together were not great gestures. They often weren’t expensive, or expected, or even “things” at all. Simple joys- by definition- usually aren’t.
Baking and cooking (though mostly cooking recently, as baking is my job.) The meditative prep and emotional lift of good flavors and smells- and feeding someone else- can’t fail to ground me in some universal truth: that all people eat, and being one who feeds them is a gift. Back at the casino, I told my friend Karen that when life gets really frustrating, I find myself looking forward to going to work because that’s where I know there are things under my control. I remember her chuckling and nodding and saying, “That’s absolutely it… and no one else will ever understand it.”
Warm Society. As I write this, I am sitting at the bar of the Liquor Store on Belmont in SE Portland. The bartenders and kitchen staff know me here. No one is really bothering or talking to me- and sometimes that’s how I like it. All the better to write. It’s a splendid thing to, every now and then, be wrapped in the ambivalent embrace of the public and carry on my day as a spectator to theirs. Perhaps they feel the same way about mine.
Books. I read and reread my favorites, the ones that inspire and make me smile. Certain stories wrap me in their lessons and words, reminding me that there is still hope in the world. There are always heroes, and who knows where they will come from- but when I read these books, I feel for a moment that I can be one.
Exercise. It does more than keep me healthy, it makes me feel ALIVE. It forces my body out of torpor, and so forces my brain to quell whatever it is that’s bothering me for the time being. With the sun on my face, weight in my hands, and sweat pouring, my mind can move in different directions. All of my best ideas come to me when I am exercising- it’s one of the few times I can go completely, perfectly blank.
Calls from old mentors and friends.
A good book and hot tea on a rainy day.
A smiles from the old lady you helped at the grocery store.
HELPING that lady at the grocery store.
Whatever you feel like are your rocks in the stream, your anchors on reality- they are wherever you find them.