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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Legacies- A Baker Looks At 36

“Voice” in writing is one of those things that’s easy to define but hard to describe. It’s an amalgamation of vocabulary, style, tone, cadence, and rhythm. In other words, all the things used to describe someone’s speaking voice but translated to the page in a way that it comes across through silent letters. Read enough of one person’s work and you’ll start to detect their voice in new works, even if they change the subject matter, style, or context.

Since I’ve started writing books, I’ve had several people tell me they hear my voice in every word. They may not know me in person, or not heard my voice in ages if they do. It’s always the same though- “I really love your voice. Reading your book feels like I’m listening to you talk straight to me.”

That means a lot to me because it means that I’ve created something that accurately represents me and who I am. It means I’ll have left a bit of myself behind when I die.

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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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In Praise of Diners

When you come from New Jersey, you know exactly what it means to go to diner. Not just the food or the atmosphere to expect, but what it means– especially a 24-Hour Diner.

This morning, I was walking around Southeast Portland and found myself craving diner food. More than that, I was craving the diner vibe that I thought I’d left behind on the East Coast. Food doesn’t have to be the best or fanciest or prettiest plate in existence for it to be the best food for that moment.

A breakfast on a diner table. An omelette with feta cheese is on top in the foreground. Behind it is a plate with two fluffy pancakes and cups of butter and syrup. Behind that a cup of tea, and a copy of “The Art of Eating” by M.F.K. Fisher.
Late Friday morning after a brisk walk, this was perfection.
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