“Light ’em Up”- The Envy of Passion, and Why We Love The Weirdos

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

It’s probably a good thing that I’m trying to work my way into being a writer as well as a baker. Since I was a kid, I always loved telling stories.

About anything that I happened to find interesting.

Whether people were interested or not.

Storytelling came to me early. “Reading an audience” took some practice and development.

That’s not a bad way to develop though. Too many people get brought up being taught to rein back something that they never know the true power of, and consequently, NEVER learn its power or are afraid of sharing it when they do.

Passion, after all, is very powerful.

It’s beautiful, dangerous, infectious… and lets us be alive.

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Killing Norman Rockwell

Hello, friends and neighbors.

There’s a lot to be said for (and against) going to culinary school if you want to become a cook or chef.

Most of the arguments in favor of it include a basis of skills, the amount of knowledge acquired in a short amount of time, dedicated teachers, and the connections that come with being part of a community.

The arguments against include going into debt, that school won’t teach the life skills that come with the kitchen (some of which are as necessary as technical skills), and wasted time and money for a piece of paper that, while impressive, doesn’t match up to hands-on experience in the eyes of employers.
To get a loan from a bank to start your own business, that’s arguable.

Both of these camps come from a point of emotionality and pride, and I can see the honest merit in both. I went to a local, excellent, less-expensive culinary school before I had my first cooking job, and I can tell you right now the first thing I learned there:

Norman Rockwell had to die.

Rockwell's

“And The Symbol of Welcome is Light” (1920)

Idealism Breaks Like Bad Custard

Don’t get excited. I love Norman Rockwell’s work, and I’m certain it will live forever. The man depicted the America we wish we could see out our window. The unofficial-official artist of the Boy Scouts of America, I grew up looking at his work with honest love and respect. His depictions of small-town America- the Mayberrys and Main Street, USA’s we all imagined of a “happier,” “simpler” time- are part of the national consciousness.

Even his darker, more evocative paintings had an idyllic serenity to them:
“Yes, THIS is what life should be like. THIS is how things need to be.”

My first visions of being a baker- handing over pies and cookies to mothers and their kids in my own little shop, swept clean and full of clean glass and wood shining brown like a pie crust- had that dream like quality. Like someone who wants to own a restaurant, and dreams of tasting the food, wandering through the dining room and greeting patrons- it’s the end product.
The “good bits.” Getting to that point is rarely pretty.

We got dragged into reality after the first year.

“You are in for it now. You’re not going to be Emeril. You’re not going to be Nigella. You’re not even gonna be Jamie Oliver. When you graduate, you will be someone’s b****. You will be someone’s b**** for years, and if you’re good at being their b**** you might have some little b****es of your own one day.
You may even become the biggest, best, and baddest b**** that the world ever saw- and you’ll still be someone’s b****.”

Understand, no teacher ever said ALL  these words verbatim… but it was understood.
“When and IF you graduate… you are at the BOTTOM. You will STAY there until you demonstrate the ability to crawl up.”

Rockwell's

“Daydreaming Bookkeeper (Adventure)”, 1924

The Pit

We were taught to cook and bake, of course. That was the job. Some teachers were easier than others- to varying degrees of success. We were also told some of the horror stories of the job.
We were taught to write our own.
We were given the “jail, hospital, or the morgue” mantra.

“You want to own your own bakery one day? Strap in, kid- here comes recipe costing, labor costing, suppliers, food safety, OSHA, tax law, local and state certifications…
What, you thought you’d just be baking pies all day? Hah, maybe if you’re working for someone else, and never want to do anything more.”

We got fed the reality. Convenience products. Suppliers. Cost management.
We read Down and Out in Paris and London, Kitchen Confidential, and ​The Apprentice. We mucked out trash cans,. We scrubbed dishes and cookware. The stronger guys had to carry out the stockpots heaped with 100 lbs of bones.

Because of my school’s proximity to the casinos and resorts of Atlantic City, the majority of us figured one of them would be our first gig out of school. For the most part, they didn’t need creative thinkers and dreamers. They needed warm bodies that could crank the recipes out and not mess it up.

Years later, I’d lament to a friend of mine here in Oregon that I did as well as I had at that- that I had pushed to get into some other creativity-based courses, and maybe not simply tried to gather “all the skills I could.”

My friend, who didn’t go to culinary school, disagreed. “Too many kids who graduate from schools leave trying to be artists first in everything, and craftsmen second. They wind up having issues with the menial stuff, and getting repetition and replication down. It’s AWESOME you got used to that first.”

We didn’t work ALL the time though. And some of us still dreamt. Maybe not the Norman Rockwell ideals we had… but something similar. Something NOT what we were led to accept.

Rockwell's

“The problem we all live with” (1963-64)

Rockwell Invictus

Most of us did go to the casinos, and some stayed for a while. Others built our names working for small restaurants and cafes.

Some of us started our own businesses, repainting Rockwell in our own image.

Some of us packed up our knives and began a wandering career, chasing the tides and where life might lead. We had skills, after all. Give us a kitchen and an oven, we could find work.

As I write this, I’m crashed on my couch with an absurdly snuggly black kitten. My wife is sleeping in the next room. We’re two thousand miles from anywhere we FIGURED we’d wind up. I found work in a restaurant, and when I’m not baking, I’m telling stories.

There isn’t any Rockwell hanging on my walls. Instead, I have my awards from culinary school.
A Ralph Steadman print of a man on a bicycle with baguette, wine, and a cold.
A poster from the podcast Emily and I binged on the drive from New Jersey.
Drawings by my friend Lillian, inspired by kimchi.
and an old tourism poster of Atlantic City.

I don’t think Norman Rockwell ever put any of his paintings IN his paintings either.
He painted a reality he wanted. WE made them dreams.

Rockwell's

“Relaxing in Chair”, 1923

How close to reality we can get them… that’s on us too.
That’s the tough bit.

​Stay Classy,

The BHB’s Top 5 Personal Development Books

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

“I really think that reading is just as important as writing when you’re trying to be a writer because it’s the only apprenticeship we have, it’s the only way of learning how to write a story.” – John Green

Back when I was in high school, one of my English teachers used a similar quote that I can’t remember the source of- “I’ve known many readers who don’t write, but I don’t know a single writer that doesn’t read.”

The logic then follows:
If you want to write stories, read a LOT of stories…
and if you want to write books that will help people, read a LOT of good personal development books.

PictureHunter S. Thompson pointing a gun. Caption reads

Great life lesson… maybe a bad role model.

Growing up, my mother had a veritable library of these- mostly about dieting, exercise, keeping calm, and personal empowerment.
I mean, she WAS a stay-at-home mom with three kids and a busy spouse for most of my childhood. So it kinda makes sense.

For a long time, I didn’t really give a hoot about “self-help” books. They had, and to a degree still do, have a stigma about getting them-

  • “Just a cash-grab.”
  • “…for people that can’t handle reality.”
  • “Common sense s***, put in a pretty cover and sold.”

Well I can say that, since growing up a bit, paying bills, and working in blue-collar field where you’d swear common sense was a friggin’ superpower sometimes:

  • If someone is honestly trying to help folks, nothing wrong with making a little money from it.
  • Reality SUCKS, and people who “handle” it maybe aren’t handling it so well.
  • and as distracted as we can get, sometimes a slap to the back of the head- “DUDE, FOCUS”- is needed.

In the last few months, my sister Stephanie Cansian has been on a bit of a personal development book-bender. Between trying to get her own business as a wellness coach going, being a barista, and keeping house, Steph tries to get in at least one hour of quality reading each day. Her husband Kevin, another side-hustler in progress, does the same. Personal development reading in the morning, and leisure reading at night before bed.

With me trying desperately to be a writer, the bug didn’t take long to jump over to me, so here’s a little list of my favorites so far!

1. “Born for This” and “The $100 Startup” by Chris Guillebeau

Chris Guillebeau is no stranger to this blog. I’ve referenced him and his works many times before, and he has the distinction of writing the first development works I ever bought for myself. These were them, and that’s why this is a two-fer:
The $100 Startup is business-minded, and offers the philosophy, concepts, and inspiration you might need if you want to kickstart your own small business. While perhaps a bit light on actionable steps (something he corrected in “Side Hustle”,) Startup  plants the seeds for you, and gets you to ask that all-important question- “Why not?” This is the book that inspired me to start The BHB. What happened afterward, I’ll say was a flaw in execution rather than intent.Born For This is a bit more focused on the personal. Perhaps you don’t want to be an entrepreneur, but you DO want to be more satisfied with your work and life in general. In this book, Guillebeau outlines his “Joy-Money-Flow” philosophy that he finds practiced by people who won the “job lottery”- folks that always seem excited to work, do it well, and make a happy living. You won’t get rich, possibly- but if you’re living a good life you love, who needs to be?

2. “Creative Struggle” by Gavin Aung Than

Gavin is also no stranger to this blog. I’ve loved and followed his main project “Zen Pencils” for years now, and always take joy and inspiration from his depictions of famous quotes.
In this, his third book, Gavin compiles cartoons he’s done about some of the great artists and thinkers of history- Leonardo DaVinci, Stephen King, John Coltrane, Mary Shelley, and more.
His cartoons are on-point, of course- but the additional histories he offers give them even more impact. For example- did you know Tchaikovsky HATED writing “The Nutcracker?” It was a total pot-boiler for him. He hated the story and the work itself, but it was a royal commission. However he “mastered his disinclination” and turned it in. Every Christmas, theaters fill around the world to watch it be performed.
If you just can’t womp up the will and inspiration to get your projects done, this might be what you need.

3. Endless Light: The Ancient Path of the Kabbalah” by David Aaron

I’ve written about my fraught relationship with my faith before, and about other texts on Judaism and Kabbalah. So throw the celebrity, red-string-bracelet, woogie-woogie crap out the door for a minute and get this:
Sometimes what you don’t need is “ANSWERS” per say, or “INSPIRATION”- but a RESTRUCTURING. What helps isn’t specific advice, but more a realignment in how you look at the world that lets you see answers in yourself that were hidden before.
In this book, Aaron offers that realignment through the lens of Kabbalah- Jewish mystical philosophy that bucks some of the staid, moralized lectures we are used to.
With amazing insights into Judeo-Christian thought, and helpful self-reflection questions for each chapter, you can start piecing things together- by removing yourself from the center.
Case in point- in Hebrew, the word “het” is translated as “sin.” In reality though, it literally means “miss”- as in “to miss a bullseye.” Crime, or mistake?

4. You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero

Stephanie SWEARS by this book, and this author. Sincere makes no bones about her personal journey, and doesn’t shy away from the real, weird, and looney moments along the way- going into debt doing self-help programs, jobhunting, impostor syndrome, the works.
With an acerbic wit, engaging voice, and enough of an understanding for the negatives of life that it’s hard to lump in with “positivity culture,” Sincero’s advice- if it doesn’t immediately inspire you- will at least encourage you to look at your stressors in a different way.

Also, Loincloth Man.

5. Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, MD

Remember 20 years ago or so when EVERY businessman and CEO was reading this book, and “well, SOMEONE doesn’t like their cheese being moved” was a decent burn?

Well, there’s a reason for that. The book is THAT simple, and THAT good

A simple fable about mice, tiny humans and track suits, a big maze, and dealing with change- personal, professional, economic, etc.

The power of this book comes from the ease of its parable- and the starkness of the lessons. A reminder to keep on top of things, not to get too comfy with anything, and prepare to move on rather than wishing change wouldn’t happen.

That’s what I’ve got for you right now- what books do you all turn to? Think you’ll read some of these?

Stay Classy,

The BHB’s Christmas Music List (UPDATED FOR 2018!)

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

I had an excellent idea for something important to write about tonight, but then this whole freaking holiday thing happened….

So as a meanwhile, I figured I’d talk about music. While I myself am not Christian, I have been subjected to enough Christmas music in my life to have a small list of favorites that managed to somehow weasel their way into my grinchy, bitter little heart.

So here we go, in no particular order, with

The BHB’s Favorite Christmas Tunes

1. Bruce Springsteen- Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town
Now that I live out here in Portland, OR, I find myself enjoying stuff that reminds me of home a lot more often- and you can’t get much more Jersey than the Boss. All I need to hear is those opening notes and Bruce talking about snow on the beach and wind on the boardwalk, and I’ve gotta smile.“It’s all cold down on the beach… wind whipping down the boardwalk… Hey Dan! You know what time a’year it is?!”
2. Barenaked Ladies w/ Sarah McLaughlin- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/ We Three KingsI’ve been a big fan of BNL for quite a while, and the jazzy thumping upright bass is exactly what these old standards need.“Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain/ Gold I bring to crown him again…”

3. Dan Fogelberg- Same Old Lang Syne
This one is one of my sappy favorites. This is the time of year for looking back and reflecting on everything we were and everything we want to be. Old loves, old lives, old haunts… this is a song that brings it all up.”Met my old lover in a grocery store/ the snow was falling Christmas Eve….”
4. The Royal Guardsmen- Snoopy vs. The Red Baron (Snoopy’s Christmas)
Not only a great song about everyone’s famous World War I Flying Ace, but a splendid reminder of the very real story of the Christmas Ceasefires, and that despite how bleak and dark things can seem, there’s always a light of hope.”Christmas bells, those Christmas bells, ring out through the land/ bringing peace to all the world and goodwill to man!”
5. The Pogues feat. Kirsty MacColl- Fairytale of New York
A bit of an odd choice after the last song, but a good one. My love of Celtic rock/punk aside, this song is excellent as a reminder that Christmas isn’t always a good time everywhere, and not everyone has good memories about it. This song is a beautiful and sad bit of sobriety among all the saccharin sweetness of Christmas music.“An the boys of the NYPD choir was all signin’ “Galway Bay,” and the bells were ringin’ out fer Christmas Day…”
6. The Goo Goo Dolls- Better Days
Another lovely hopeful song, reminding us that whatever last year held, we have a chance at midnight on January 1rst to make things better.“So take these words/ and sing out loud/ because everyone/ is forgiven now/ cause tonight’s the night the world begins again.”
7. Wendy & Lisa- The Closing of the Year
Besides being an awesome part of the Robin Williams movie “Toys”, it’s another lovely bouncy song to round out the year with a lift.”If I cannot bring you comfort, then at least I bring you hope…”
8. Guster- Carol of the Meows
Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow.“Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow…”
9. Jimmy Buffett- Boat Drinks
Not STRICTLY a Christmas song, but when bitter winter weather has you under house arrest and you get to the point where you’d gladly kill to see some sun and sea, here’s Jimmy’s solution:“20 Degrees and a hockey games on!/ Nobody cares, they are way too far gone/ Screamin’ “Boat Drinks! Something to keep us all warm!”
10. Gregorian- O Come All Ye Faithful
I may be Jewish, but this is one of my favorite hymns, especially when sung in Latin (Adeste Fideles.) Sung by the German group Gregorian in the form of a Gregorian chant, it’s absolutely exquisite.”Adeste fideles, laeti triumphantes…”Edit 2018!Since it’s been a while, and I’ve found some more Christmas songs that don’t make me ill, I figured I’d give them their proper credit.
NOT “Christmas Shoes” though. Seriously, screw that song.
11. Little Drummer Boy, by For KING and COUNTRY
One of my ongoing gripes about praise music is how so much feels like it should be sung with joy and energy, but comes out sounding like a dirge. Growing up in the synagogue, it always felt weird to me that the happiest, most inspiring prayers were sung like we were doing chores.
So hearing a song like Little Drummer Boy getting belted out with some friggin rapid-fire percussion? Sign me the hell up.
12. Mary, Did You Know?, as sung by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd
Religions and faith don’t spring up from nowhere. Neither do the stories around them.
Obviously, it’s a bit harder to see stories as… well, stories, when believing in them is a matter of faith and doctrine. I guess the reason this song really gets me is that it seems to talk to Mary as what she was at the time of Jesus’s birth, rather than what she became. Not as mother of a messiah… but a scared, poor, teenage mother far from home wrapped up in things she might not have understood, but accepted.
That’s about all for tonight folks. Merry Christmas, or whatever you might happen to celebrate, have a good one and I’ll see you next week. Till then…Stay Classy,