S.I.P. Issue #0 – Return of the Bottom

I have really got to fix this shit. No, I really mean it, I’ve got to get my shit together.
[And for an early preview of what I mean…. this relatively short post was 90% done a week ago. It just needed 5 minutes of work and it was ready for primetime. But it took a week for me to get to it, not out of being too busy, but because of the obstacles I have in my head. We’ll be going into more detail on all of that as this project moves ahead.]
There are a lot of things I want to do. I’m not talking about anything huge and lofty, either. I’m talking side projects, little ideas of things that I think would be neat to work on. Several writing projects – scratch that, a LOT of writing projects, since the ideas have built up over the years and never lived to see a page or screen. Some notions for websites, or apps; I’ve sat on a few ideas so long, what would have naturally been a website would now fit best in an app as our use of technology has changed. Some fitness goals, such as eventually completing another marathon, despite how much I hate running and how grueling the first one was.
There is a lot I want to do, and I haven’t done squat about it. Well, that’s not true. I’ve had intention, which is a requisite I suppose in any endeavor. And I’ve made plans, brilliant and detailed plans. I’ve even registered a few domain names and started some Word files and folders for the writing. And they very quickly evaporated into the ether.
So, I need to fix this. And it has to start from the inside.
I am a lovely little ball of neuroses. It is all standard, off-the-shelf components that were used to build my brain… depression, anxiety, ADHD. A little soupcon of OCD in there, as well (more the ‘don’t step on a crack’ kind than a maintain an immaculate apartment kind, unfortunately). So, unfortunately, none of my writing project ideas is some brilliant autobiography of dealing with some rare condition and how I overcame it. I think a lot of people – possibly nearly most – would ID themselves as having some symptoms of that mix should they look it up on WebMD. Psychiatry tends to have to view these things on the spectrum, and the general idea is that it’s not a “diagnosable” condition unless it is negatively affecting your life. And this shit is.
So, if I want to do what I actually want to do, what I think over again and again and again in my head while I work, I need to get this shit right. And by this shit, I mean mind and body…. more the mind, because I need that to fix the body.
This time, I mean to make some real change. Step one – no hard plan. When I take a trip, I check all the details. And by that, I head to the airport not only knowing exactly my seating, where the charger is near my seat, what the available onboard entertainment and meals are… I usually have seen a picture of the plane I’m taking. Not “oh, this is the type of plane I’ll be flying”, I mean the actual goddamn plane with the actual registration number that will be making that leg. a) Yes, if you cross reference enough websites, you can find that information and b) did I mention the OCD thing?
Historically, I plan out each step ahead of time. And I think that’s been an issue, where I make a plan that’s really detailed with the idea that it will guide me. The problem is that the more narrow a path you make for yourself, the easier it is to get off of it, and when you have my head, that’ll derail you very quickly. Therefore, no plan. A guideline of where I need to go, and steps to take to get there.
So… [for the record, I appear to use “so” a hella lot; it may not appear in this finished product, as I stopped and edited, but dang, I certainly have my verbal/literary tics]
So, goals to fix my foundation:
– I need to regain control over my depression; it ebbs and flows, so I have good days and bad days. But I need to get that fixed.
– I need to better manage my anxiety so I don’t miss out on things because of it.
– I need to reestablish a healthy relationship with food.
And that’s actually just about it. At least the foundation of it. Taking a pad of paper, I can list off all sorts of things that I think I need to do, should do, want to do. But they are either part of the solution to one of the items above, or need one of those items dealt with to clear the way. I should exercise more? That’s both a component to helping with depression and eating, as well as something that will come easier when those are handled. I should work on X project I’ve been wanting to do? Clear up the above and a lot of the friction and mental inertia that I find to be such an obstacle will be lowered, if not completely removed.
So, here’s where I’m at – attempting to do these things, yet again. Scratch that, and scratch that “yet again”. I’m continuing to work on those things. I just got sidetracked a few (dozen) times, and am getting back to it. And it won’t go smoothly, there will be stumbles, and I am sure to get sidetracked quite a few times as I go. The key will be to keep going on this Self-Improvement Project (SIP for short).

Boiling it down to three words.

We have gotten a lot of stories of people being killed without any real consequence lately. But let me tell you of one case that really hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.
In this case, we have 4 people killed – two initially, two more trying to save the first victims. There was a third person who was only injured and not killed, but that was largely by luck. The investigation showed exactly who was responsible. Not only that, they had killed someone a few years before in nearly the exact same way.
What is the punishment for such a crime?
How about a quarter. Not a quarter century behind bars, I mean the little coin we used to use to power video games that had George Washington’s face on it (he must be proud).
How the hell are we not hearing about this? Where are the protests. Because, this is a case of DuPont Chemical, not a human being. DuPont is a company that is valuated at around $60 billion, with $35 billion in revenue. A worker was hit with a component in a pesitcide in a dosage enough to kill her almost immediately. Two coworkers, not knowing what happened to her, tried to save her and died themselves. One of the rescuers brothers, who also worked there, tried to use a gas mask to get to his brother, but died in the effort. An investigation found that DuPont had not taken the steps to protect or train its workers enough around such a deadly chemical.
And, after the investigation, what was the penalty? $99,000. Less than 25k per life lost. And when you are a company that makes $67k a minute, 24/7, that is just a minute and a half of your income.
Maybe it seems unfair to try to analogize a huge company to a person, to try to equate things they do to acts of people. But, lest you forget, corporations are people.
That what we’re told, that’s how they should be treated. I’ve considered that for a few years, I’ve had my rebuttals, but in light of this case, I think I have a much more succinct way to rebut that argument.
Fuck… that… shit!
Perhaps the choice of language seems a tad harsh, not the sort of thing for a proper debate on that argument. But really, what reaction can we really have other than, “fuck that shit!”
If corporations are people, they are sociopaths, creatures who are built not to act out of any empathy or concern for anyone but themselves.
In the DuPont case, they did exactly what they are supposed to do. Not only that, but really what they are legally required to do, at least legally required on the people making decisions for a publicly traded company. They went the way that was going to save them cost, allowing a maximization of profit. If it would cost $10 million to make sure all their plants have the proper safety equipment in place, and another $10 million in training of their staff… well, that’s 0.4% of their profits in a year. Paying off OSHA and if they can settle with the families for $4 million each, well, they are still bringing a few million more to the bottom line. It makes perfect sense. They can afford 4 deaths a year, easily.
And is the mentality of a sociopath. Not only that, but they demand – and we are giving to them – the rights of an individual. Give money to the politicians willy-nilly, as if they didn’t already have enough of a voice with them. But with that voice, they are securing the rights of a person, but none of the responsibility of one. Which allows them to act without concern for the consequences of their action. It’s the same thinking Ford used back in the 70s, but I suppose it was the 70s man, who’s going to remember back that far.
That points to the “S” word, once again.
Now, here is the thing. Wanting the right to do stuff, without any responsibility to anyone… that’s getting pretty commonplace nowadays. I hear it regularly, particularly from friends who have a job where they manage a lot of people. There are some, and it seems a growing group, who’d prefer to get paid, while not doing any work. Or at least, as little work as possible. From an economists POV, this is actually a rational position. As a manager, though, my job is to ensure they are doing their work. They need to be held accountable to do their responsibilities, and play nice with the people around them, or they won’t continue to get a paycheck.
So, it may not be surprising that corporations would want to have all the freedoms they can with a minimum of responsibilities. It is, as with an individual, an economically rational position to take and push for. But they do need to be responsible, they do need to be accountable for their actions.
What should the penalty be? I don’t know. What is the equivalent of jail time for a company? Of a death sentence? Corporations are corporations for one reason – the government says they are. Perhaps a penalty of rescinding their Articles of Incorporation? Small companies go away, bigger companies are forced to break up into smaller ones? A fine of 1 years’ profit, or even more, grosses? Something that would really hit the stock price, making the shareholders who vote for the board have an interest in having smart businessmen who can manage real risk, rather than just maximizing profit for the next quarter, no matter the cost to anything not categorized as “money”.
Maybe none of those are workable. But who knows? No one, because we’re not having that conversation. Rather, we’re taking an entity which is predisposed towards sociopathic behavior, and allowing them to run without boundaries, without any real danger that their actions will be more harmful than not. Sure, that’s what they’re asking for, but so does a four-year old, and we wouldn’t let them run without some sense of consequences. And at least a four-year old can feel sad about what they did. No, we’re letting this behavior go on because corporations make campaigns run and give politicians places on the board when they retire or get beat. So they’re not holding the corporations feet to the fire to just act a little bit human. And we’re doing the same with politicians, who have no fear of consequences pushing for an environment that openly allows such behavior.
Four people die, and the “person” responsible is fined just enough to get each family member a Honda… not the fanciest one, just a middle of the road Honda, no add-ons. Though, one family can get 2 Hondas, since they lost two brothers. And that’s just considered normal. The “cost of doing business”. Not enough to make a headline on a news site.
So, I have to ask myself, is this how it should be? And the only answer I can think of is, “fuck that shit.”

Trying not to kill with food.

There are tragedies that hit families around the world every day, though some seem more tragic than others. One such case is the recent passing of Scott Johnson in Minnesota from an allergic reaction after eating out. I imagine only a pop-culture definition of a psychopath wouldn’t be horrified for such a loss, but it especially caught my attention. Such a thing is my absolute nightmare, but not because I fear for my kids – I don’t have any – but because I am a chef, and actually harming people can be a constant threat.
This is a case that is going to court, so we can’t say for certainty what exactly happened at this point; the summary is rather brief. In the end, this could be a case of gross misconduct by the restaurant – they were wrong about the batter, either because they didn’t double-check the recipe; the server didn’t properly notify the kitchen which table it was, a cook grabbed the wrong batter… there are plenty of reasons the restaurant would be at fault and those responsible need to face consequences.
However. However, I do want to say this as a general lesson to be taken away from this loss. Having severe allergies, especially to a common ingredient, dining out carries risks, and one should really consider the risk before eating out in those cases.
Take a look at boxes of food or just ingredients at your local grocery store. They’ll almost always note which major allergens are in the packaging. ALLERGENS: SOY, MILK. That sort of thing. But on many, you’ll also find something along the lines of “This product was processed at a facility that also processes tree nuts.”
We are used to lawyer speak and over-warning of dangers. But this is one to be sure to take note of, because it is telling us something. No matter what precautions we are taking, food contamination can happen, and it is very difficult to swear to 100% certainty that none occurred when items are in somewhat close proximity.
Take Gluten-Free items. I’ve worked places where the pastry department made their own gluten-free items. They scrub down the area well and work with freshly cleaned equipment before baking. But I’ve always been slightly nervous about it, because there is flour used in the kitchen. Pre-packaged gluten-free items? I’ve felt much more secure about that, and it has nothing to do with extra precautions or the like. It is because those companies that produce that do not ever use flour – there is no reason for it to be anywhere in the facilities, and thus, so, so much harder to cause any contamination.
With a dairy allergy, in any of my kitchens, there are a lot of the products – milk, cream, butter, cheese, sour cream, pastries and so on. Tell me there is a dairy allergy, and I will double check the recipes. Even if I created the recipe myself, I’ll look it up to be sure. And I’ll check with the cook who made that batch to be sure they didn’t use any. And I’ll ensure only clean, non-contaminated equipment is used. And then I’ll say one more thing – “I cannot absolutely guarantee it.”
I suppose saying so is, in a way, covering my ass legally. But at the moment, I really am not thinking that. I’m simply stating that I can take a lot of precautions, but there is no way I can state that there is no way anything bad can happen. I’ll be open and honest about it. Peanut allergy and ordering a pasta? “Peanuts are not an ingredient on that station; in fact, the only peanuts in the kitchen is peanut butter, and that’s always kept about 70 feet from where the pasta is cooked.”
I am dubious of cases where such trace amounts can cause such problems – if I had to put money on it, something happened where dairy contaminated the young man’s dish. But that is a real risk one is taking. Cooks are human. We have not been replaced by robots, much less robots with some sort of spectrometer that can check for any allergen contamination. Doing a task enough times, a mistake will be made. The key is to limit those risks.
If one is dealing with such a severe dairy allergy, consider when eating out bringing one’s own product that you know is safe from experience at home – not just because the product is known to be safe, but handling it in the kitchen will get even more attention and have much less chance of being contaminated. Or consider vegan establishments. As with the mass-produced gluten-free items, dairy is something that wouldn’t even make it in the back door of such a place, again reducing risk of contamination.
In the end, those in white will do whatever we can to ensure when told of an allergy that we provide a dish that is safe and tasty. But none can really say it is 100% guaranteed, unless the allergen never comes into the kitchen. We are human, and mistakes go get made. The key is to do everything you can to limit both the chance of getting exposed, and the fallout when you do.

My Foundation Doesn’t Require a Foundation

I am, I am told, a heathen.
Immoral, directionless, doomed to burn in hell for all eternity.
Because I am a – gasp – atheist.
And the thing we atheists get told by people who, frankly, don’t really know us, is that we simply cannot have morals. I’ve tried calling myself a “secular Christian”, since I do believe in the philosophical teachings of what I believe was a historic figure, Jesus of Nazareth. But that just seems to piss everyone off, and I’ve been told flat-out, if you don’t believe in the divinity, if you don’t believe Christ rose from the dead or that a cracker is a slice of his flesh like it was cut off in the Andes mountains, then nothing else matters.,
It is an attitude I find puzzling, though seems to fit in with some of the more vocal Christians I know or see as public figures – as long as I believe in the divinity, the actual message is secondary. Though it seems to me that we’re losing the real message of the alleged resurrection (I’m sure using “alleged” is going to piss people off, but I’m talking about an event I don’t really believe happened as if it did, so… there we are). It wouldn’t have been the message that Jesus was bringing to the people, it was the underline and exclamation mark, the “See? Kind of a big deal, here, perhaps you should pay attention to what I had to say!”
But while they’ll put the moral code he teaches in a secondary category of importance, they also assume that without it, I must be completely immoral. Which has a certain circular illogic to it – I believe in the moral teaching’s but not the divinity, which means I’m not a true Christian, which means I must not be following the moral code he taught us. How heads don’t literally implode on such sort of reasoning I will never understand.
But I have a moral code. I do not lie; I used to, but found it too troublesome and never worth it – honesty is easier. I do not believe in harming other people; no one should be harming anyone and doing so is wrong. And especially, I don’t believe in killing others.
Now, are there exceptions? Certainly, I do not think any rule or moral holds up in black and white in every single situation. In defending others, doing harm may be necessary, though I believe in quick, contained action to do so.
This is where I tend to get tagged with a “relativistic morality” label, that I can’t hold onto any rule firmly, so I must not have any rules at all. But that is, frankly, a complete load of crap. Because while I have small exceptions to it, the people who chose to judge me tend to have much bigger ones. How many Christian leaders openly have called for military actions in the past decade? How many find excuses to find the death penalty morally correct?
This past weekend, when SNL did a parody of a Toyota commercial of a dad dropping his daughter off at the bus station for college, but it turns out she’s going off with ISIS, many people complained about the immorality of such a joke and those who found it funny. “When so many Chrisitans were just killed over there.” Fair point, I suppose, but in my book, MANY people, mostly Muslim, have been getting killed in that struggle, and my personal outrage over the atrocities that are going on have to do with PEOPLE getting killed; whatever their religion may be is a secondary concern. But that’s the sort of person I’m supposed to be listening to that I don’t have morals? The ones who open the Bible to “Thou shalt not kill” and see a dozen asterisks after it for all the exceptions they’ve imposed?
There is such a thing as a moral fact. Nearly every religion can be boiled down to a simple caveat – “be nice to each other” (even the Church of Bill & Ted). They may differ on who brings us that message, on what their tale of how the universe came to be is, etc. But the underlying moral message is the same, because they are based on truths that we have found as self-evident. But people lose focus on the message, get caught up in tribalism, and act like those who don’t follow THEIR book in the way that THEY think it should be done, there is no way we heathens can have any moral framework.
To quote the comic Rick Reynolds, “Has anyone really flipped through this book, ‘Geez, I wanna fuck my neighbor’s wife, don’t know if I should!’?”
The real key is to be open about the world, and your place in it. If you only see yourself as part of a WASP tribe, that you identify as white, as Anglo-Saxon, as Protestant (or other Christian sect), then suddenly the “rules” you are told to follow suddenly only seem to apply to your group. Other people, since they believe differently than you ((and look and live differently, too), it seems alright to treat them differently.
Even though there is no indication that Jesus ever saw a white person in his corporeal form. Or that his message was for a small group of people to only apply to each other. No, in word, many Christians will say that Jesus’ message was universal, but in their implementation, act like it was very narrow lesson.
There is no need to worry about my morals. I won’t lie to you, cheat on you, steal from you, hit you, kill you. I hold those morals to be self-evident, and I didn’t need a book to tell me that. To those who want to question my morals, you can go ahead – it will be a waste of your time. Perhaps that time would be better spent looking at your own morals, and your book, and questioning if you are really following what you preach.

On Chefs as Artist

“With my food, I’m really trying to tell as story.”
Ugh! There is probably no sentence that will make me cringe nearly as much as that one. From cooking shows to newspaper articles, that seems to be the phrase every chef is expected to say, and say it they do. And many, I suspect, believe it.
I’ve long rejected the notion of the chef as an artist. An artist makes a one-of-a-kind work. Sure, it can be reproduced endless times, like postcards of the Mona Lisa, but DaVinci only created one, and that’s the one people clamber to see. No, I’ve tended towards likening chefs to artisans – skilled craftsmen who know the material they are working with, and can create something beautiful out of it. And do it again and again as demand warrants. It is a comparison I first thought of in culinary school, 7 years into my career and already with a lot of impressions.
But, firm distinctions do soften as one ages. Two things led to me making an exception – I dated a girl who was into art, so I was re-exposed to it in a way that was much better than the required “appreciation” classes in high school. I started to see art as often just posing a question or a challenge. Take the famous Campbell’s Tomato Soup print Andy Warhol did. It was an ordinary object, something people passed day-in and day-out in the aisles of their grocery store. By blowing it up and putting it on a wall, a challenge was posed to reconsider this item, its look and aesthetics. He is posing a question. (of course, we’re dealing with art here… that’s my interpretation of what the artist was trying to do, I’m sure there are those that will disagree).
And then I saw “Decoding Ferran Adria”, an Anthony Bourdain special that was filmed to be part of a series that was canceled, and later incorporated into his “No Reservations” series. He was, if not the father of, then the popularizer of, molecular gastronomy, using science and techniques and chemicals to manipulate food into whole new ways. We’d seen some version of that trickle over to the United States, people like Wylie Dufresne and Grant Achatz who popularized it State side, and were followed by hundreds of copy cats. It seemed like a nice trick with the food, but nothing more than that.
Then, in the middle segment, Adria took Bourdain to his lab, where he would work for 6 months on ideas and concepts and try to make them workable in the kitchen. And one that he was working on was with a peach, trying to manipulate it to create a sensation very much like foie gras, the fatty, rich duck liver. And he explained (through a translator there and my memory here), “If I can make this work, then the question is why is foie gras ‘better’? If I can take a 10 cent peach, and make it just like a $100 lobe of foie gras, is the foie gras better just because it is more expensive?”
Bingo! That was the moment. He was posing questions, trying to use his food to challenge the preconceptions of the diners about what it is they are consuming. I finally found it, the chef who was an artist.
It also made me appreciate the whole field of molecular gastronomy, or at least see it in a different light. When Adria and Achatz and Dufresne create something, they are posing a challenge. But like with Warhol, once it is out there, it is out of their hands, and many, many people try to copy it without fully understanding. Putting up a giant Progresso Chicken Noodle soup can is in no way doing the same thing as Warhol; a can of soup wasn’t the point. But that’s the sort of thing the imitators end up doing. They take the cool trick they see one of the leading chefs do, like apple “caviar”, and redo it over and over again, not with any real thought behind it than “hey, look what I can do.”
And so, there are a couple chefs, the highest-of-the-up-on-high chefs, who I might call an artist. But that list is slowly being added to, not because more people are cooking like Adria et al., but rather I find my vision for what is a challenge growing.
Currently, the big names, the trend-setters, are Scandinavian chefs. As a half-Swede, this certainly catches my attention. One I’ve been fascinated with is Mangus Nilsson, through Anthony Bourdain’s “The Mind of a Chef” PBS show (there he is again, A.B., pushing my assumptions about chefs). His restaurant, Faviken, is on my bucket list, an overnight trip up to the northern areas of Sweden. Everything is as local as can be, from the farm or down the street. Some from a little further, but all of the land where one is eating. And he’ll create a dish of crab leg, a touch of butter, and a burnt cream, and that’s it. Or baby new potatoes boiled in water flavored with leaves that had been decomposing under snow all winter, with a touch of butter. Pick it up with your fingers, crush the potato and eat. The aromas and associations from the dish are the challenge to the guest. The food is of a time and a place, very separate from the way people in the modern world acquire their food and consume it.
Hopefully this will be a trend that keeps on growing, or at the very least sustains itself. If this, this surge of chefs who really think deeply about their food and how they can use it to change, or at least challenge, the thinking of their guests, if it is all just a fad, that would really depress me. I’m not one to have a lot of faith that people will gravitate to items that are challenging, especially with food. The vast majority’s focus, in the West at the least, is on immediate gratification and satiation. And there are plenty of chefs out there who make a good living giving people that very thing. But hopefully, there are enough of us out there who can, on occasion, see a chef as and artist and put ourselves into their hands. To say, show me what you have to say, I’m open to it.
Just so long as what they’re saying isn’t called “a story.”

A Lesson from the Life of Nimoy

“Knowing he is no longer around makes things feel a little… less”
That was part of my initial reaction to the passing of Leonard Nimoy, a memory catalogued for posterity since such moments are, as mine was, shared on Facebook. It was a strange thought in a way. I didn’t know the man, beyond the public view of him. Spock, “Three Men and a Baby”, his autobiographies, even his photography (was not as familiar with his musical work, save having once heard “The Legend of Bilbo Baggins”. There have been people who I’ve seen on a near daily basis who have passed, and I didn’t have the same reaction. So, what gives?
I think a big part of it is found in stories people have shared in the past day. One, such as the one about when Nimoy was told that Nichelle Nichols was being paid less than other supporting actors, he used his weight as a lead to get her more money; others of casual interactions with people when he was open and friendly and interested and a genuinely kind fellow. And if you look at the quotes attributed to him, there is one conclusion – he was a genuinely nice guy.
And that seems like something that comes in shorter and shorter supply – genuinely nice people. They are out there, either famous or obscure. But it isn’t something we seem to care about anymore.
Now, there certainly was never that idealized time in America where everyone tipped their hat at passing strangers, all men walked on the street-side next to a woman to take the hit should there be a splash, where people would stop what they were doing to help someone else out just… because. Because it is the right thing to do. There were always bastards among us.
But now, it feels a bit different. In America, many like the idea of objectivism, that selfishness isn’t just alright, it is the better path (the fact that many public figures who speak kindly of objectivism also wear their religion on their sleeve, one of the greatest humor-by-irony cases one will witness). Capitalism isn’t just an economic system, it is treated as a religion, and those who might suggest something considered a hair less capitalistic are deemed heretics.
We live in the era of Kim Kardasian, someone who starts out with access to millions, gets slightly famous for being friends with a more famous person, really blows up on her own due to a sex tape, and parlays that into even more millions. “When someone asks me, ‘What do you do?’ under my breath I want to say, ‘Ask my f*cking bank account what I do.’” That sums up her attitude – I have money, it doesn’t matter how I get it. The money is the end, the means are secondary.
But it isn’t just her, because one thing she’s been able to do is parlay her fame into millions of fans, a cadre of people who look to her and her life as an example of how to live. Who buy into the story that the ends justify the means, as long as the end is cash. Though perhaps it comes off as a little unfair to specifically target KK on this; as I said, she isn’t the first one to do as she does, and for those following many Wall Street leaders during the collapse a few years ago, the notion of making-a-profit-justifies-everything isn’t exclusive to reality stars.
But it just seems like a stark contrast to the feeling of losing Nimoy. Because he was an example of a person who put out to other people with faith that it would come back to him. It is an attitude that seems to be becoming rarer and rarer. But it is one I want to hold on to, a standard I hope to wave until the end.

Choosing among three not-quite-evils

One can’t be perfect, as hard as we try.
But I would have hoped I’d make it a week before I missed a daily essay. It was going to happen at some point; while my goal was to do write something-a-day for a year, that was going to be pretty lofty and knowing myself, completely unrealistic (though my secondary goal is 365 somethings written in a year, so I’ll have to double it up at some point to catch up).
So, the question I am asking myself is, “Why?” I know the circumstances; I’d worked a third long day in a row, and was a bit tired. But I didn’t go home and crash right away. I was at my computer, and thought that I should write something. I just didn’t
I’ve written in detail in another blog attempt about my adventures in psychiatry, so here’s a quick summary. Nearly two years ago, I finally went to see a psychiatrist, after years of thinking I should. I had been having the occasional suicidal thought for years; it was an involuntary voice that was completely irrational, and I could recognize that so it was annoying but didn’t seem like that much of a threat. But with added stress and a loss in my life, it was near constant and I didn’t trust my ability to ignore it. So, I decided to see someone.
Just seeing someone alone was enough to take a large amount of that weight off my shoulders. We worked through some issues, and I was on a few medications. The diagnosis was depression and anxiety. And through my sessions, I got more insight about my own personality, which is definitely an introvert.
I eventually realized I fell into the trap of the “double dip depression” – once the big problem was solved (suicidal thoughts), it seemed things were solved. But that was a surge in the depression, the underlying baseline was still there. I was talking in one session when we seemed to be wrapping things up, with everything honky-dory. But I mentioned one thing that was bugging me, my inability to get things done that I wanted to do; actually, having a hard time to start them. I talked about one day where I was off, all I planned to do was get a haircut, and the place I go was so close, I could see it from my window, a 4 minute walk away. But no matter how much I thought, “I need to get up and do this,” I just didn’t. Spent the whole day “vegging out”. I mentioned how it makes me upset when I’m that way, that there is a lot of things I want to do and just… don’t. No other way to put it.
My therapist put her notebook down, took off her glasses and looked me in the eye. “THAT… is the depression.” It was a moment of realization, because depression isn’t, as people seem to think of it and talk about it, feeling sad. It’s a depression of all sorts of emotions – joy and pleasure, desire and drive.
This is all mentioned because, as I said, I wonder when I don’t get something done, what was the reason. And depression certainly could have been a cause. But my introversion could be, as well.
One short-hand I’ve heard that seems to hit the nail on the head – introverts gain energy by themselves and expend it with people; extroverts expend it by themselves and gain it with people. In other words, as an introvert, my mental energy levels are spent when with a lot of people, and it takes some time by myself to recharge. I’m a manager in my job, I oversee two dozen people directly, and interact with about a hundred others in the course of a day. And as I said, I’ve had some long days lately – 14 hours surrounded by people. That is pretty draining. So, after three days, without a lot of time to recharge myself, the tank was a bit low.
Perhaps that was the reason for the lack of a drive. Because I’m finding that it not only takes a little bit of mental energy to come up with some thought, as asinine as it may be, and spilling out some words about it, but it is also a bit like being among people. I’m not actively sharing this, but it is out there, so there is an aspect like talking to someone. So, maybe depression? Maybe introversion?
Then again, what about anxiety? OK, that’s not the case here. But in terms of things in life I don’t go through with, that one certainly has appeared. That one is a bit hard to describe, but this is how I think about my experience – imagine a first time parachuting, sitting in the open door of the plane, ready to jump. You have that moment where the base animal instinct in you is telling you to pull the hell back, that you are not actually suicidal. There is a hurdle you have to get over in your mind to go through with it. Some have a much easier time to do so, the thrill seekers in life. When anxiety rears up, it means that same fear of jumping out of a plane hits me when going into a new restaurant or some other public place. I’ll pull up in front, but suddenly that feeling of “are you fucking nuts?” hits, at a level that I can’t get over, and I pull away.
Anxiety, depression, introversion…. pretty much have a lot of the bases covered in the realm of not getting things done. And I finally understand that now, after 25+ years of kicking myself for it. Though just because I know what may be causing these issues does not mean I feel I can use it as an excuse. There are a lot of things I want to do still – cookbook projects, website projects, plays and movies and short stories and so on, all in my head waiting to get out. And I need to do it.
No, knowing it might be one of the Three Horsemen of My Neurosis does not excuse the behavior. But knowing allows me a path to overcome it. Once I have a grasp as to what’s causing things, I can attack it and get going. The key is to figure out which problem is causing the problem.

Ping Ponging as I Age

“… but I’ve very immature for my age.”
It’s the line I use when asked my age. As I get old, in many ways I haven’t felt it. Waking up on my 30th birthday, it wasn’t like the whole world was different, I was exactly the same. Well, in a few weeks, I would find my metabolism had hit the brakes hard, something I still try to overcome to this day. And the same when I was 40, though such milestones seemed so monumentally… old.
Aging is a bit like looking into a mirror every morning. You don’t notice changes day-to-day, but they happen. Those who don’t see you for a while notice the changes better than you can yourself. Both physically, and mentally and emotionally. Were I locked away from the rest of the work, a proposition that the introvert in me finds tempting, I’m sure I’d still consider myself 18.
But we live among other people, and other people are what are making me feel old. At least as frequently as my “immature” line, I find myself saying “F-ing kids.” (If you watch “Clerks”, there is an old guy who says it in the inflection that I say it in). And I never use it to refer to tots or toddlers or pre-teens or teens… I love kids, and while those groups can be trying at times, it is understandable, so they get a wide pass.
No, the kids I refer to are adults, occasionally older than I am. I work with them, I manage them, I’m occasionally their customer. And I just don’t get them.
“In my day…” I can’t believe how often I at least think that term, thought in a cracking old-man voice. In my day, you went to work, were told what to do, did it, and got paid for it. If I didn’t do it in a satisfactory way, I didn’t need to be employed by them. If I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t have to keep working for them. It is the magic of capitalism.
Now, it seems people want to be congratulated just for showing up. Do their duties as they were supposed to? That’s a future Employee of the Month right there, at least in their mind. Paychecks are deserved before anything is actually done, and doing more than you need to is a fool’s game (and then you are asked why they aren’t getting the promotion or shifts they want).
It leaves me nostalgic for a time I never experienced, a time like the ’40s, when people did their job because that’s what you do. You work in order to get paid. You want to make more, you work harder or do extra. Same if you want to move ahead in a career. Of course, I may be falling prey to the old trap of idealizing a time that didn’t exist exactly like than, such as when Republicans talk about the ’50s as Glory Days for the US, while ignoring what the tax rates were.
So, I find myself bouncing back and forth throughout the day. Talking about Batman; sighing that I found work I was told was done wasn’t. Hoping to get home to play a few minutes of Xbox; cleaning up after adults whose propensity for messes make me fear visiting their homes; cracking up uncontrollably over a well-timed “That’s what she said!”; wanting to clear out the whole staff in the hopes that I can get the right people by rebuilding. Feeling like the dorky kid I was; complaining like a crotchety old man. Frankly, it gets tiring.
There is not a lot to be done about it. I’ve watched people in my business slowly lose any sense of personal responsibility or drive, so it isn’t a particular individual. I can try to cling to the good ones, the ones who are old school in the sense that they want to do their job, but their drive gets sucked out by the slackers just as mine does. Nope, there is no sign the whole of the talent pool, as it were, is going to change, and I’m just going to have to accept that.
The one thing I can do, though, it to hold onto the kid-like nature. Have those moments of goofy fun when I can, and when I can’t, try to get back there as soon as I can. The game of Ping-Pong back and forth can be tiring, I’ll just need to try to make it fun.

The Chaff is Ruining It for the Wheat

Alex Gallo-Brown wrote a piece in Salon called “Why do you care whether I’m really gluten intolerant?” It is a fair enough question to ask the public in general. There are bits like from Jimmy Kimmel, asking people on te street if they follow a gluten-free diet, and following up with the question, “What is gluten?” Of course, we aren’t shown the ones who got the answer right, and people not understanding a basic part of a diet they say they follow is where the humor lies.
At the end of the day, what difference does it make for the people in the Kimmel audience or at home? It is somewhat the same thing as mocking someone for being a huge Nickelback fan, or even for who they are dating. The difference is, people do put a lot of judgment over someone based on it, though they have no dog in the fight. It is people making decisions they feel affect their health, and while that argument is also made by people who are anti-vaccers, this has no consequence on the health of those that are doing the judging.
But I do have some concern about it. Because as a chef, this is my job, feeding people in a way that they have a good time and not make them sick. And the truth of the matter is, there are a lot of people out there screaming “No Gluten!” that are ruining it for those who have a serious health concern.
To begin with, the very real “Gluten Allergy” is called Celiac Disease. It affect less than 1% of the population. And what it does is not pretty, and I’m glad I’ve not experienced it or even seen someone else experience. In simplest terms, it shut down the small intenstine, so one cannot absorb nutrients. Not a pleasant thing on a system or cellular level.
Now, as a chef, when someone says they have Celiac, it is Red Alert time. Just as when someone says they have a shellfish allergy or the like, every aspect of the dish get scrutinized. What they are actually ordering, is there any chance it was next to shellfish? If so, grab new ingredient to be safe. Use cleaned and sanitized utensils and equipment on that dish, which can be a lot more work for a cook who is working a half-dozen dishes along with the Celiac patient’s dish. Want French Fries? We’ll fire up a pot of fresh oil since we fry chicken wings that have some flour on it in our main fryer. The chance of cross contamination is minimal, but why risk it?
And even if it is just the question of ‘is this item safe’, I am grabbing the recipe book of recipes I created (and use flour products rarely if there is a non-gluten equivalent) just to confirm – and specifically asking the cook whose initials are on the container to be sure they didn’t vary it at all.
In short, it takes a lot of work to make sure we’re 100% certain the dish we make is safe. Because one big reason I am in this business is to make sure people are having a great time. Sick in bed or even having to see a doctor, that is a huge no-no, the sort of mistake that I personally would not want to live with. And that’s not counting the possible legal liability of making someone sick in the restaurant or banquet hall.
But then we get into people with gluten intolerance, which, as Gallo-Brown acknowledges, may not even be a disease. It may be another item in the food causing it, so that we can make a gluten-free dish that still has the same effect on our guest.
And then you have the people who are simply on a ‘gluten free’ diet because an article somewhere said it would be healthier. I am fairly well convinced that the term “gluten free” has replaced “low carb” in people’s diet requests, with them seeming the same thing in people’s minds. Gluten? That’s like bread and pasta? That’s the same as Atkins, I guess.
So, professionally, we get requests for gluten-free, which you later realize wasn’t a real issue. After a while, it does wear on one’s perception.
I’m sorry, we can’t do the crab cakes gluten-free, there is some breading as a binder. “Oh, that’s fine, a little won’t hurt me.”
The fish has been marinating with soy sauce. “I’ve never had any problem with soy sauce before, I eat sushi twice a week.”
And so on, and so on.
I have no issue with Mr. Gallo-Brown or anyone else who need a gluten-free diet not because of serious health risks, but because it makes them feel better physically. The issue is the people for whom it makes them feel better mentally, because they’re smart enough to self-diagnose, or be on the latest trend. The people who have no idea that saying “gluten-free” is like crying out “Fire!” in a crowded theater… when the fire brigade comes, they better see some flames, otherwise, not only are they going to be upset, they may not be giving others the attention they need.
We cannot, for lack of a better term to describe this gluten situation, the wheat from the chaff. The chaff ends up making the whole group look bad, makes every claim seem suspicious. I would never stop taking all the steps I need to in order to ensure safe food is served, but it does make me grumble about it a bit. Until the fad of the diet passes, and we’re left with the people who truly need to limit their gluten intake, someone asking for “gluten-free” will naturally get a suspicious eye. And a gluten-free plate.

I Wanna Know What Love (of America) Is

One can’t be surprised that Rudy Giuliani goes out and makes some asinine comments about the President, and double-downs on the asinine-ness in trying to explain them away. It has been the only real means he’s gotten any attention for years, saying something provocative so people will talk about him, trying to still coast on the image of “America’s Mayor” from 9/11, surviving on the support of people who refuse to read the post-attack investigations that showed how many times he chose wrong in preparing NYC for an inevitable attack.
But he goes after Obama for a supposed lack of “Love of America”. Whatever the hell that means. In the context of what Giuliani says, it means having a different philosophy on how to move forward than Giuliani, or any of the Republicans who flash the flag as a means of distracting from the actual political actions they take.
It means their view of military action as the ultimate answer to foreign policy is right, anyone who thinks different is surrendering. It means claiming that America has by far the best healthcare system in the world is right, any anyone who cites the actual data and looks to counties with better systems for solutions are socialist bastards bent on destroying our economy. It means that since 1964, race relations would be fair and level if it weren’t for the problems African-Americans bring on themselves, and anyone who acknowledges that African-Americans are perceived as “less American” that whites, or that there are less opportunities to advance to that same population and wants to try to fix them, is a race baiter, looking for America to fall in a race war.
No, none of those are signs of people who hate America, who want to see it go away, who wants to harm the citizens. It is, indeed, different from the love Giuliani and his supporters. The question is, what is the real difference?
When we are kids, we love our parents, unconditionally. When we are grown up, most of us are lucky to still love our parents and have a better relationship than when we were younger. But the nature of that love is quite different.
As a kid, one’s dad or mom can do anything. Arguments erupt in schoolyards over whose dad is better than whose. My dad can beat up your dad. Oh, yeah, my dad can dunk a basketball standing still? Oh, yeah, my dad can jump so high he stands on the rim when he dunks. And so on, and so on. And as kids, we say these things out of an innate love for our parents. But there is no basis in facts. In fact, as kids, we ignore anything empirical that might tarnish our superhero parental image, calling those who dare bring that up crap-head or some other creative curse.
As adults though, we can see our parents’ faults. Some you just accept. Oh, that’s just how Mom is. Some might be a matter of contention. But when we love our parents as adults, we do it fully recognizing the areas where they fall short. We may even appreciate more the things they were able to do even with their faults.
Obama has repeatedly mentioned in his books and in speeches about the opportunities the United States provided him as the son of a single mother. He’s talked about the promise of America, how it has acted as a beacon for nations and peoples around the world. But he’s also mentioned where America has stumbled, where the deeds have fallen short of the words of her promise. How the echo of 400 years of racist policy still affects people’s day-to-day lives, how not everyone is born with the same opportunity as everyone else, how we are a prosperous nation that is an outlier in making people go without proper medical attention.
To say those things is not to hate America, but to love America and want to see it live up to its potential. To recognize that like everything else in the world, nothing is perfect, but we should keep striving to be better and better.
The alternative is to pretend that America is the most awesomest nation in all things. America, as a country, is better than your country. America can beat up your country. America cannot only dunk a basketball, but jumps so high that it stands on the rim when it does so. That when faced with the data that shows our health system ranked in the mid20s in many major categories, to give the rhetorical equivalent of “Nuh-uh! Shut Up! America is the bestest!” That’s the behavior that Giuliani and his supporters want to see.
That is still a love of America. But it isn’t a very useful one. If we don’t stop and assess what is wrong, beyond the fact that there are politicians who disagree with us so they must be evil, we cannot get better. We will not improve. We will, in fact, atrophy, because as long as we stay in place and the rest of the world adapts and changes and moves ahead, we’ll just fall behind.
So, unlike Giuliani, we shouldn’t turn the tables and say that it’s really him that doesn’t love America. We need to recognize how much he really does, just as a 5-year-old loves his dad. And if you don’t agree with him, well, you’re just a poopy-head.