4 Ways To Face Cringy Memories

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

In case you haven’t guessed, I love telling a good story. It’s the way we tend to look at our lives and experiences.

The good guys win (most of the time.) We love stories of redemption, of overcoming adversity, and underdogs. From our earliest mythmakers, we have seen the “plot lines” in our lives.

Of course, those include plots where we aren’t exactly as perfect and noble as we dream of being.

“Do you ever feel like you’re on Season 5 of your life and the writers are just doing outrageous shit to keep it interesting?”

I felt called out here.

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Contents Under Pressure- Anxiety in the Kitchen

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

I’ve been described a lot of ways since I was a kid.

  • “An old soul in a young body.”
  • Erudite
  • Driven
  • Inventive
  • Conscientious

There are probably a few others- especially from folks that don’t like me, but that’s their problem.
These are the ones that seem to drive recent revelations home for me right now.

The author graduating culinary school

The day I graduated culinary school. I’d been working as a nurse’s aide in a hospital and baking cakes out of my kitchen for nearly two years then.

While perhaps it wasn’t as obvious back when I was heavier, I’ve always been a pretty outgoing and busy person. I always had some new interest to study, a new hobby, a new fascination. if I was interested in something, I’d bite into it down to the bone.

Poetry. Cooking. Baking. Writing. Comparative Theology. Psychology. Model-building. Collections. Storytelling.

I may have been heavier and slower, with maybe a bit less physical energy- but I was always GOING. 

Now that I’m physically healthier and have more energy, it’s even more obvious:

  • “I’m going to write a blog! I’ll do one entry a week. No, TWO a week! One a day!… Nevermind, one a week is good.”
  • “I’m going to write a book! Ooh, I just had an idea for the NEXT book while I’m writing this book! #inspired”
  • “I need to get these eight tasks done by the end of the night. But there’s a list of extra stuff if I have the time? Oh, Challenge Accepted, motherf***er… “
  • “Hey, I bet I can make a living doing this, WHILE I’m baking full-time! Yeah, I just need to find a…”

Even as I’m writing all that down, and knowing I’m describing myself, it sounds pretty great. That’s the kind of person you THINK about when you imagine successful, driven, hardworking people. That’s the kind of person that winds up on book lists and talk shows, or doing lecture circuits.

From personal experience, it’s also the kind of person who knows how to be a neurotic wreck quietly.

Pwhen the prep guy accidentally throws out the best bits of your roast pork...

When the prep guy accidentally throws out the best bits of your roast pork…

“We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

With my work life starting to stabilize, and my attempts at self-care starting to slowly bear fruit (yeah, next step is decluttering my desk), I’m finally trying to turn my attention toward my “side work.”

Finding a therapist, or really any good professional, isn’t as easy as a Google search. You tend to want someone nearby, with hours you can manage, who’s handled issues like yours before- and is either covered by your insurance or has rates your budget can accommodate. My friend Rachel- herself something of a compulsive researcher/listmaker- helped me out by shooting me a bunch of resources. I’ll include some of them down below.

Before you show up in someone’s office, though, it can be a good idea to do a little homework yourself. It takes some mindfulness and honesty- occasionally painfully.
if you’re going to a therapist though- if you want to get better- then you want to dig up those hard truths.

This doesn’t mean you should diagnose yourself. Between being the son of a doctor and getting a B.A. in Psychology, that was drilled into my head well enough:

“You’re getting a copy of the DSM IV. Read it through if you want, but DO NOT try to diagnose your friends with anything, and DEFINITELY not yourself. By the end of the semester, you will think you have every disorder in the book and be demanding commitment to an asylum.” – one of my professors

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Photo by Mubariz Mehdizadeh on Unsplash
So it all starts as the Delphic Oracle of Apollo said- “know thyself.”I knew I was a hardworker… but I could see how not working affected me. I have a tendency to link my self-worth with my productivity.
I knew I was driven and inventive… but I’d always lose steam when things got too tough or challenging.
I knew how patient I could be with everything and everyone (on a good day, anyway)… but I couldn’t reserve any of that patience for myself or my own failures.

I was energetic… but could never really relax.
I was detail-oriented… but with an all-or-nothing mentality. If it wasn’t perfect, it was garbage.
If I wasn’t perfect, I was lazy.

When I was looking for a job, I had to remind myself that I WASN’T a bum or a slouch… and I needed Emily to remind me of that too.

That’s an anxiety disorder talking.

“Oh, Do Your Research…”

PictureBased on what I’ve learned, “high-functioning anxiety” is not a clinical term. It’s more of a self-descriptor for a subset of behavior- people in whom their anxiety propels them, rather than shuts them down. The outward behaviors are extended, lifelong coping mechanisms that- to observers- seem like ordinary and desirable traits.

Imagine having noisy neighbors. To drown out their constant noise, you blast your favorite music as often as you can… and for some reason, everyone else then assumes you’re some kind of metalhead or a roadie for Slayer.

Throughout the day, a mind with anxiety doesn’t stop making noise:

  • “You’re a failure.”
  • “You’re a horrible friend and horrible person.”
  • “Can’t even do that right, can you?”
  • “You’re a hack. No one gives a crap about your writing.”
  • You saw [successful pastry chef younger than me]? THEY’RE good at their job. You? The hell are you doing?”

The “high functioning” anxious mind then decides to try to drown out these thoughts:

  • “Oh yeah? Well I just ran my fastest pace for the 5K yet!”
  • “No I’m not! See, I’m helping this lady with her groceries!”
  • “Well I got this other thing PERFECT!”
  • “Well I’m gonna keep rewriting it till it’s AWESOME!”
  • “Well I’m going to do extra stuff at work, and I’m going to join a professional group, and I’m going to…”

Repeat forever.


The Ring of Solomon- Putting Demons To Work

Let’s be real here. Doesn’t that sound like someone BORN for the kitchen?
A devoted, loyal, driven hard worker. They’re passionate, curious, made of 100% raw, uncut Hustle. New dishes? “Yes chef!” Need this crate of potatoes diced? “On it, Chef!”
Eager to do their best, eager to show off their skills, always laughing and joking. Eager to please.

They seem like they were born for this work. They love it. They’re emotionally invested in doing a good job.

Be honest… that’s the kind of person we ALL want working for us.

After a lifetime of quietly living with negative voices in their mind, these people have become VERY good at putting on a brave face and stomping out those voices with achievement and accolades. They are the Zen Masters of “fake it till you make it.” Without even being aware, they take Tyrion Lannister’s advice. They take their weaknesses and flaws and wear them like armor so nothing can hurt them.

Nothing except themselves, that is. The brain and body are not meant to have that kind of tireless, explosive energy forever… and these people burn energy at an incredible rate. Mentally, they are trying to marshal their thoughts to do what they want, and physically they exhaust themselves so the demons will fall asleep.

It doesn’t last, though.
Eventually, they run out of energy. They are physically and mentally burned out.
Maybe it takes a moment of intense external stress that causes a “snap,” or it’s a slow degradation, but the smiling and joking stops.
They lash out in anger and frustration, at others and themselves.
The work they love feels more like a burden, and they can’t help but express a lack of excitement for their tasks.
They make simple, silly mistakes… which frustrates them even more.

The demons wake up.
The stereo blows out, and they can hear the neighbors again, but now they’re screaming:

You want to help others, but you can’t even help yourself.”

It’s a lie… but they are too tired to fight it anymore. The perfect worker becomes a perfect mess.

graffiti wall painting of a screaming man

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

The Demon Hunter

The worst thing about this scenario is the fact that, well… it seems like so much good comes out of it. The person points to their demonstrated functionality and achievement and goes “Oh come on… yeah, I’m a little high strung, but a mental disorder?! I’m not a loonie, look at all I’ve done!”

Alternatively, if they ARE aware of it and they know something’s wrong, they might say, “Okay, I have some issues, but I don’t need help. I’m not THAT bad. Therapy and meds are for people who can’t function.” Worse, they might avoid getting help because they think it’s the SOURCE of their talent, like an addicted artist afraid to get clean. “Look at everything I’ve done… does this make me a fraud? What if I DO get better… people like me because I’m a hard worker! They keep me AROUND because of it.”

“I’m all about my work ethic… what am I WITHOUT it?”

I’d like to say that I have a perfect answer for this. A nice bright bow to tie up the entry with… but the fact is, I don’t. This is the point I find MYSELF at now.

The research I’ve done has made suggestions that, beyond therapy and possible medication, other answers include things like meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness training, improving sleep habits and decreasing caffeine intake.

I’ll let you know how I manage to work those into kitchen life, and what happens next.

In the meantime, though, at least I know my demons have a face and a name- and that’s the first step to handling them.

Despite the macho-posturing and auteur myths we were all raised with, success does not require suffering.

There are more options than “lose the work you love” and “live in fear of yourself.”

Stay Classy,


Mental Health Resources
 (Thank you, Rachel!)

Finding a Therapist:

  • ​​Psychology Today:  The main search bar for finding a therapist in the US, from a heavy-hitter in the world of psychology academia. You can search by speciality, insurance, or method- but this is just a directory. Make sure you follow up with individual practitioners to make sure they are accepting patients, take your insurance, etc.
  • BetterHelp and TalkSpace: Generally affordable online-only counseling for a bit cheaper than an office visit.

Self-Care:

  • If you have a smartphone, there are apps like Aloe Bud (helps you remember to look after yourself) and Plant Nanny (reminds you to drink water) that can help you build and maintain health habits. Other apps like Daylio include journaling, personal organization for the scatterbrained, and such.

Peer-to-peer Help:

  • There are a number of groups on social media where you can simply talk with others who have issues and find community- Facebook and Reddit I know have them, I belong to a few myself. But I’m going to include a warning here, in Rachel’s own words because frankly they are excellent:

“It probably goes without saying, but just a note of caution when you dip your toes into the peer-to-peer arena: it’s easy to devote entirely too much of yourself to trying to help people who are not doing a great job of helping themselves. Put on your own life jacket before assisting others, and if you need to step back from the shared experiences in order to continue on your own path, then do so. Related to that, and something I’ve learned over time: everyone’s stories are equally valid and deserve space. There is no Mental Health Olympics, and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to win any medal it’d offer. Even if imposter syndrome is telling you that there’s no way your story is as important as that one person’s story who’s spent months in their local psych hospital. Your story is allowed to take up the space it takes up. “

Media:
If you have some room in your day to listen to podcasts, Rachel recommends “The Hilarious World of Depression” and “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I can’t speak for these myself, since my own podcast choices are generally fictional/relaxing/escapist, but they are worth a listen at the very least.

Side Work and Dishpan Hands: The Unglamorous Side of Self-Care

Good afternoon, friends and neighbors! It’s good to be back behind the keyboard. Emily and I had a great time down in Florida, despite a few hiccups along the way- a bit of motion sickness, misplaced forms of ID, you know… the usual. Right?

As I hoped, or possibly feared, Florida gave me a lot of quiet time to think. Of course, my wife, mother, and in-laws were present to streamline things and make sure I didn’t spend the entire time sleeping or lost in thought- but there were plenty of moments when I knew I had to get my head in order, and more than a little worried about what that order might mean.

It’s a very frustrating and disconcerting thing to be afraid of your own thought processes. Here I was, trying to take a vacation that I sorely needed, and I couldn’t even do THAT right. My parents-in-law- who were putting us up in their house in the Lakeland area of Florida- gave us a blank ticket for whatever we wanted to do. “Treat yourself!” they said. “Whatever it is you want to do, do it because you can. You need to relax!”

A wonderful invitation, and certainly something Emily and I availed ourselves of- but self-care is not the same as “treating yourself.” Self-care is often doing things you don’t want to do- or are afraid to do- because they need to be done to make yourself better.

 

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Masculinity: Handle With Care

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

In the process of… “researching” for the top 10 cocktails list, one of my friends from back home asked a very serious and pointed question:
“What, no Cosmos?”

If I’m honest, I’ve never had a Cosmopolitan. Besides the fact I’m not a huge vodka or cranberry fan (outside of martinis and/or scones), I rarely like my drinks too sweet. Those are all good reasons not to get a cocktail. There was also one bad reason- that it’s a “chick drink.”

Dude, go get one. Get good vodka in there, and report back”
Alright, but I bet I’ll get a funny look from the bartender.”
If you do, take a picture. Just get the drink- it’s like cranberry candy.”

So I did. I walked into a new bar that I had just found, bellied-up to the bar, loosened my tie a bit, and asked the bartender for a Cosmopolitan.
The bartender- a woman- didn’t make a face, but she DID pause for a moment before saying “Okay, you want that in a stem or a bucket?”

“Um.. a stem? That’s how it’s supposed to be served, right?”
Oh yeah- but some guys find stemware girly.”

I’d already been conditioned to think of certain cocktails as “chick drinks.” That was bad enough- but STEMWARE? Using the proper drinking vessel for a certain drink is “unmanly?”

Guys- if this is for real, we have some SERIOUS fragility problems.

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Making Time: The Need for Family Dinner

Good evening, friends and neighbors.
It has been months since I have had dinner with my family.
The last time I sat down to dinner with my family was when Emily and I were back in New Jersey for our wedding. Even with just two of us, Emily and I only get to sit down to a homecooked meal together maybe twice a week.
It’s quite a change from when I grew up, one I tend to feel often. It’s no surprise then that when I saw this early this morning, trawling through social media, it struck a chord.
I was extremely fortunate as a kid- I had both parents, one of whom (my mom) didn’t need to work. She became a librarian when my sisters and I were in high school/college- not through necessity, but because she was bored and wanted something to do.
The whole time she was a stay-at-home mom, though, my mother insisted on a family dinner every night, and that that dinner should be homemade. Of course, all stereotypes have a seed of truth to them- some dinners were hits, others misses (my father will tell you stories of black bean burgers, and nuclear-hot buffalo wings where the red color was entirely from paprika.)
Hit or miss, though, the intent was the same. Dinner was when the family talked. It was where we shared our day and our thoughts. Books were forbidden at the dinner table (quite the imposition on three exceptionally bookish kids. A common game when out to dinner was “Guess the literary work from the first line that I’m reciting from memory.”)
Comic books, toys, and any other diversion where likewise banned. It was family time.
Since moving away, I have missed those dinners more and more- not just the food, but the conversation. The experience of eating and sharing together. Living on my own has gotten me used to… well, being on my own.
I do enjoy my alone time. It’s when I do some of my best work, and when I can think most clearly. At home or out on the town though, the most enjoyable of those dinners I remember involve friends. They involve laughing, sharing stories and jokes, and just enjoying each others presence in our lives.
I talk a lot on this blog on the virtues of food as communication, as well as the economic and experiential joys of home cooking. Of all the things cooking communicates, though- the very best is love.
There is something profoundly primal about the emotional impact of sharing with, cooking for, and feeding others.
Looking after your friends and loved ones at this most basic, biologically necessary level communicates- in a way deeper than words can conjure- that you love them, care for their well-being, and want them around.

“The fact is, I love to feed other people. I love their pleasure, their comfort, their delight in being cared for. Cooking gives me the means to make other people feel better, which in a very simple equation makes me feel better. I believe that food can be a profound means of communication, allowing me to express myself in a way that seems much deeper and more sincere than words. My Gruyere cheese puffs straight from the oven say ‘I’m glad you’re here. Sit down, relax. I’ll look after everything.’

– Ann Patchett, “Dinner For One, Please, James”

Four years ago this month, my grandmother passed on- and some of my most treasured memories happened around her dinner table. Holiday dinners- when family would come from afar and gather around her huge dining table with the carved wooden legs- are some of the happiest moments of my life.
The food and drink would flow, the family would laugh and share jokes and stories. To quote Vonnegut, in those moments “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”
In retrospect, that was one reason I became a cook and a baker- I wanted to help EVERYONE find those moments of happiness. Whether I was cooking for them, or teaching people to do it themselves, I wanted everyone to have at least one moment around their dinner table like I did.
You have a busy life, though. You have so many things demanding your time and attention. Dinners tend to be afterthoughts, and lonely ones- or when you are not alone, it is so easy to be distracted.
There’s a club for people that deal with that- it’s called “everyone.” I attend the meetings every now and then.

When I decided that I was going to get in shape, one of the challenges was finding the time. I didn’t know when was best, when I’d have the most energy, when I’d feel the most motivated- “when I’d have the chance.”

One of the biggest lessons I learned from that was “You always have time for the things you make time for.” Thirty minutes I spent dithering on the computer could be spent running. Time in front of the tv could easily be active.

The same applies to your family dinner- “you have time for the things you make time for.”

Pick a time after which you will NOT be disturbed by work or other activity. If that’s too much, pick just one night a week. Keep it open for family dinner, and keep it sacred.

That sounds dramatic, but it really is what you need to do- make that time or that night special, to yourself and the ones you love.

It can be a homecooked family dinner right out a Norman Rockwell painting- or just swinging by a friends place with Chinese take-out.

It’s not hard, or even a really big ask- but it can mean the world.
You don’t need to cook well- or even at all. You just need to BE THERE.
Be there to witness- to listen, to laugh, and to tell.
Be there to love the people you love- they will know.

It’s not that hard at all- and it’s worth it.

Stay Classy,

Where You Find Them

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.

“Things change.”

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“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.”

“Simple Joys”

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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.

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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.

Stay Classy,

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