ExpatLIFE

I've been trying to write about what it's like to live in Seoul, what it's like to be an expat but the truth is, so far, mostly it's pretty boring. I spend a lot of time trying to find things like sponge mops and three-ring binders without page protectors. I still don't know where to get a bucket. My house is only partially furnished because IKEA hasn't opened yet and I sleep on a mattress on the floor and I don't like it. Ada and I go for a lot of walks and she put her head right into the strollers of Korean babies to mixed results of dismay and delight. Four days a week I go to Korean class with Dan before work and three days a week I go to Korean class with other spouses from ten to noon. Mondays I tell myself I'm going to write all day but instead I spend the day walking the dog, fucking around on the internet and mopping. I'm so tired of mopping. It's not that I dislike living here, or that I'm unhappy, I just haven't found my place yet. Haven't found my schedule, my people, my groove. So I struggle. I struggle through my to do lists that are somehow always more than I can get done in a day and never the things I want to do. I struggle with Korean because I've already spent the day doing things I'm indifferent about and have zero desire to study. I struggle because I feel like my priority should be keeping our house in order, not figuring out what I want to do here, not baking, not writing. I struggle because it's hard to explain to other spouses why I don't want a job, why I'm not looking for work here even though I love what I do. I struggle because it's embarrassing in a room full of professionals to explain how little a chef makes, how little it's worth it to me to work unless there's someplace fantastic. I struggle because after spending the last three years primarily with friends made on the internet, it's incredibly strange to be back in a position where I feel uncomfortable saying I'm going to spend the next two years writing. Lastly, maybe mostly, I struggle because it feels weird to be a feminist and be a housewife. It feels like some core part of my identity, of my self-sufficiency, has been taken away and I resent the new identity I've been given while wanting to be the god damned best at it because it's the only thing over which I have control and because I've never learned how to not be the best at something. Every day I feel like I haven't done enough and every day I feel physically exhausted and emotionally drained. Every day I wonder if today is the day I've found the magical formula that tells me what my place is here.

I've been hoping that if I just keep on keeping on, that I wouldn't have to decide. That the way would just become clear. I was hoping that I could just fill my day with mindless errands and that would be enough. But mostly all I've done is given myself anxiety to the point where I feel physically ill, so I think something probably has to change.

Today I decided to ignore most of my to do list and make Sichuan Pepper Peach Jam. It's bubbling away on the stove right now and it smells comforting and familiar though the taste is something totally new. I wrote this post, because the rumor is, the only way to get something written is to sit down write. I'm working on changing the physical appearance of this blog and also, a little bit, the subject, so if it seems a bit messy and scattered for a while - I know, I'm sorry, I'm just trying to pull all the pieces together.

And if you talk to me and I seem a bit messy and scattered for a while - I know, I'm sorry, I'm just trying to pull all the pieces together.

Heads Carolina, Tails California

When the humidity breaks and the rain starts falling, I sleep with the window open. In the middle of Summer it'll stay hot enough to justify the air conditioner even then, but right now I prefer the mixture of warm air and coolish breeze and occasional mist that makes it through the screen. I like the wind and the thunder and the lightning. The weather takes me to places or times that aren't here - India, Thailand, Mexico, Manhattan twenty years ago. I took a Greyhound out of the city last Saturday. It's such a different thing to say you're taking the Greyhound than to take an airplane or a train or even its newer cousins like BoltBus or MegaBus. The Greyhound is for adventure, for escape, for hiding out and getting the hell out of dodge. It's one step above hitch hiking.

I'll let you in on a little secret: Greyhound has wi-fi now and outlets, the tickets are significantly cheaper online than from the ticketbooth at Port Authority and at least one of the buses had seats more comfortable than my overstuffed couch. Don't worry though, it still seems to have an insanely inefficient boarding process, runs a few hours late and is filled with characters that will give you cause to practice your crazy eyes lest you end up with them as a seatmate.

It was my first time out of the boroughs in about a year and my last trip out of New York was only to Montclair, New Jersey. I had my usual leaving the city anxiety, I still think when I leave New York I won't get to come back to it, I still have to reassure myself I live here now. The farther out I got, the more my anxiety went by the wayside. I put away my book and watched as endless trees flew by and felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I had three days where I wasn't going to have to fight with New York to keep living in it. Three days where the only things I had to do was hang out with friends, eat, drink and participate in the marriage of two of my favorite people. Even though the windows were tinted, I put on my sunglasses because we weren't in New York anymore where I would just be another twenty something crying on the train, here I would be that crazy girl crying on the Greyhound to Northampton.

"She was just sitting there reading Infinite Jest and then suddenly she started crying, you just can't tell these days, can you?"

Relaxing to me is always more overwhelming than not relaxing. I can work a ten-hour day fine as long as I don't sit down. Savasana is always the most painful pose as I feel the knots in my back letting go and my shoulders and ribs returning to their correct places. I can operate on five hours of sleep a night until one day I get eight and suddenly realize how tired I've been. I am the queen of soldiering through, of keeping calm and carrying the fuck on.

When I came back my boss asked me if I felt like I had gotten enough time out of the city.

"No," I almost started crying again, "I think it just made me really feel like I need a vacation, I feel really silly saying that because I've had lots of time not working this year but I was just so stressed during all of it."

"Just give me a month or so notice, and will get somebody in and figure it out"

It's both that simple and not. Vacations require money and that is a thing I'm still sorely lacking. Right now I have at least one event in every pay period for the next month and a half and I will not say "no" to hours. For now, I will squirrel away that feeling of relief and I'll keep on keeping on, building back up to the normalcy I'm fighting daily to once again create and hope that come fall I can take an effing vacation.

It always end up making you blue as hell

I feel like a failure most of the time these days. Not the kind of failure where you joke and make self-deprecating comments about how you'll just be buying new underwear tomorrow because ooops you're drunk and the laundromat is closed, but the kind of failure where you don't tell anyone and how bad it is and find yourself on the verge of panic attacks at least weekly, if not daily. It's easy to look at my employment situation for the last couple of years and logically know that I keep choosing to work for small businesses that operate on a slim to none profit margin and the economy is still really shitty. To a certain extent I can justify being poor, because I love what I do because I do something that makes me happy that I'm good at. I know I'm a good chef, I don't feel like I'm a failure at chefing.

I feel like I'm a failure at being the person I want to be. I feel like I'm failing at some very basic goals I set for myself a long time ago. I know how little money you have to make to qualify for food stamps. I know I made just enough not to last month. I know I'm terrified. I'm terrified all the god damn time. I know this situation makes me feel like I've gone back to my early childhood and I have no control. No control. It is the worst thing. It is the thing I promised myself I would never ever ever feel again. I broke a promise to myself and that's the worst kind of promise to break.

It's the kind of thing I can't really explain to anyone because it is so completely illogical but so completely my truth right now.

I'm looking for a second job or another job. I have people who would help me if I asked for help (hahahahaha, like I'll ever learn to do that one). Despite strong temptation to just say fuck it and spiral down down down into bad decisions, I've been spending more time reading and writing and strolling in the park. I'm dating a guy I really like with whom things are easy so far instead of dialing up one that would immolate me. I show up for my kids every Tuesday and I smile and we cook things.

I also know I've been self isolating like a pro. I know I just can't explain getting semi laid off again but then also that I'm about to work 8 days straight. I can't handle anymore people offering to help me find my dead goldfish. I don't know how to talk to my really close friends or family about it because it's painful. And embarrassing. And I'm ashamed. I'm ashamed about the state of my life right now. And I don't know how to talk to anybody about anything else because it's the only thing I think about. So instead I just don't talk to most people. I mean, I have a kitten, so it's fine.

I'm 50% doing all the things I should be doing and 50% deep in hiding.

But I guess 50% hiding is better than 100%. Right?

Existing in All Times and No Times at Once

My world is timeless lately. My schedule is different every week and my hours are different every day. It's my Sunday after working a 6 day week that was four 6 hour days, one 9 hour day and ended with a 12 hour day catering in a museum classroom we had changed into a "kitchen" that somehow had the same amount of lighting the entire time we were there. I have no routine. When I have weekends off, I act like it's the last weekend off I'm going to have forever and try to cram in as much eating, drinking and seeing my friends as possible. But then I have two weekends off in a row and I wonder if maybe I should slow down a bit. As soon as I decide to slow down I have days where I have to get to work by 6am and don't see anybody except my roommate because we ride the 5:37 bus together. I won't know my schedule for this week until I get to work tomorrow and because it's events season, whatever it is will likely change as we get in more last minute caterings.

None of this is really a problem. I worked a six day week but I still got two days off. Tomorrow I'll leave by three for volunteering like I do every Tuesday. The more last minute caterings we take on, the closer I get to my much needed forty hours. Amazingly, I have not gotten sick despite the fact that I'm generally somebody that can only really function with routine and going to bed more or less at the same time every day because sleeping is not really my strong suit. Without routine, I will also forget to eat until I'm basically a cranky, exhausted, hot mess, turning in circles wondering where I just put those cookies I pulled out of the oven. Yes, I realize the irony. Cooking is my strong suit. Eating is a skill I only relatively recently developed and still often forget. Family meal is basically the best thing that happens to me every day.

It's just weird. All times are the same time and all days are the same day because none of them have any attached meaning except Tuesdays. None of them really can have attached meaning. I usually either get to work at 6 or 9 but Saturday I got to work at 11:30. Today is Monday which has mostly been my Monday but instead it was my Sunday so my roommate and I had pizza brunch at Roberta's and later I went grocery shopping.

I think things might be starting to unravel. I have to think hard about days and times and places to which I've committed even though that's always been a thing I'm obsessively on top of. It doesn't help that I seem to be allergic to every tree in Brooklyn and have fog brain no mater how much zyrtec and neti pot I subject my body to. I no longer remember what it's like to have full feeling in my right hand. An OkC message just made my almost start crying, not because there was anything particularly awful about it, just because it was another stupid message with a stupid usage of ellipses and zero real content and it all seems so stupid and pointless even though I have at least one date this week with somebody that understands basic punctuation.

This is, historically, an unraveling time of year for me. I have no idea if it's exacerbated by my lack of routine or if that makes no difference at all. I think it might be routine for me to always fall out of my routine right around now. I am only now realizing that the other night when I looked down and saw a string of beads next to a Mogen David instead of my usual chai (etz chaim, really, I guess) which belonged to my father next to it and had a momentary twinge of sadness that I was feeling the first late April to early May grief pangs. I'm only now realizing that the reason searching for another job and selling myself to new people seems unbearable is because my whole being feels like it's been rubbed raw and every emotion is sand paper. I understand why I couldn't read anything about the Boston Marathon without sobbing.

This will go on for a while, so I will be kind to myself and I will fake it until I make it through and then I will figure out where I hid the pieces of my life from myself and how time works and puzzle it back together.

"My new job both exists and doesn't exist. Like a certain cat in a box"

So my new job has both a cafe and a catering company and my main responsible is the cafe. Or was. It was the cafe. It's not anymore because the cafe's last day was yesterday. The cafe is now closed.

Yes, for reals. I'm basically cursed. If you would like your small business to close/downsize, HIRE ME and it will just happen.

So now that my work is just a catering company, the number of core kitchen employees and their hours have been reduced because catering work is not the kind of thing where you can say "I will always need X number of people for X number of hours". Last week was a relatively light week for me but the savory people worked like CRAZY. This week is a relatively light week savory side, but over on the pastry side we have multiple events requiring hundreds of tiny pastries, some show wedding cakes for a wedding expo and the savory and sweet pastries to go with one of our larger catering contracts that is mainly what the savory people are working on this week.

So. Today I got a raise and this week I'll probably be working over 40 hours but next week and subsequent weeks I'll be down to 24. Unless there's a lot of pastry catering to get done, then I'll potentially be working more. But 24 is all I can count on working.

When our catering events need to be staffed onsite (as opposed to just delivering platters to a conference room or baby shower) staff gets paid $20/hr to work those events and it doesn't take away from your other scheduled hours. So, again, potentially, if we have a lot of onsite events, I could make $200/day for each of them. And the idea behind closing the shop is to focus and expand catering. So POTENTIALLY, I could be working full time again soon and POTENTIALLY I could make enough money with the onsite events to supplement my regular production income even if I'm not working full time. I think there are enough events in the coming month for that to work, but then what?

I like my job. It is challenging enough that I'm not bored but familiar enough that I feel competent and in control. The pastry chef willingly schedules around my volunteer hours and managed to get me a raise and at least some guaranteed hours because she wants me to stay. It is very nice to work for somebody who has an accurate appraisal of my skill level. It's weird working for not food people because all they know is that you know how to do something they don't but not how easy or difficult that thing is. I really like working with other people that speak food and technique again.

But I'm not twenty, you know? I have pretty regular bills I have to pay and a savings account that's dying to be fed some money. I'd like to be able to donate to Planned Parenthood instead of using their services. I'd like to see a neurologist about this whole hand going numb business. I don't even want to think about my ramen addiction having to change from pork belly to chicken "flavor". I'm almost out of migraine meds and my inhalers all have that overly medicinal taste that lets your know you're at the end of the canister. I want to take a trip home because I miss the Pacific so much it aches. And I want to take a vacation somewhere that isn't home, a real one, with no real commitments. My shopping and barhopping ways have already been on hiatus for a while (which is fine) but I'm keeping my daily cappuccino (for now).

I don't know what the solution is. I'm not about to make food I don't believe in but I don't really see the point in hitching myself to another small business wagon. I guess in my ideal world, I'd keep my job and find some sort of supplemental income to hold me through until things picked up again. Or didn't. I still would really like to find a way to teach kids but, not to get all Maslow's hierarchy of needs here, I just can't see myself focusing on researching how to start a side business doing that while I actually don't know if I'll make enough money to pay all the money that needs to be paid and feed myself.

I'm going to check out the onsite events calendar tomorrow. I'm going to hope I can ride it out a month without having to take on a second job. I'm probably going to ugly cry some more. At some point I'm hoping to breath.

If you don't understand him, an' he don't die young, He'll prob'ly just ride away.

When my mother left, when my mother came back. Going to live with my grandparents. My father being arrested in front of me. Visits to rehabs. My father's death. Turning points in my life have mostly been things where I feel no control. Turning me from a quiet controlled girl into a contained, obsessively controlled woman. ***

When I kissed him when I shouldn't have because I was committed to kissing somebody else. The kiss that would turn into months of arguments. Of late night phone calls. Of screaming and threatened suicide if I didn't come RIGHT NOW. Of two hour drives and me leaving the peninsula at 6am to get to high school in Santa Rosa on time. Of spiraling down, down, down. Poor grades in eagerly signed up for AP classes and lies to my therapist. Or at least, not truths. Breaking the trust of the somebody else for, maybe, ever. The first proof that for the next six years I'd always find a way to be leaving.

Until that day when I left.

"I don't want you to move in with us"

"Is that all?"

"And I don't think I can do this anymore"

"I was afraid that's what you were going to say"

And so I drove away in tears from the boy I thought I would marry, who put up with panic attacks and days spent crying and that early mistake of kissing somebody else who would only make things worse. Allowing us both to grow up and apart.

Maybe this was my moment of being cruel to be kind.

***

I sat in the waiting room with my grandmother. I hadn't slept for days weeks and so I was here. Therapy, round 2. I guess that first round, when I was a small child, didn't take. The truth was, I needed it more before my father died. Now I had reason to be sad and reason to not sleep, though both those things had been true beforehand. I filled out the forms with my grandmother sitting next to me and though I was fairly certain she wasn't looking, I lied. I lied about the amount of sad, the crying, the thoughts about death and suicide. I didn't lie about sleep habits because that's why I was there after all. Grief and sleeplessness and dropping enough pounds that my pediatrician asked if I had been trying to lose weight. I lied. And I would mostly keep lying. And after a year I would be pronounced fine.

The therapist couldn't have known then that she was the one doing the lying.

***

That time I locked my heart up when my mother told me it was no fun if I didn't cry. That night child me walked herself home in the darkness of the West Oakland night. That first morning I got myself ready for school and attempted to wake up my mother to get her to take me. The habits of self-sufficiency cemented early and forever unshakeable.

***

When I boarded a plane for India. When I boarded a plan for Turkey. When I chose culinary school over college.

When I left my dream job, relationship and apartment to move into a cabin in the woods.

When I was still unhappy two years later and boarded a plane to New York.

***

I don't know that there are event horizons I haven't written about or beaten like a dead horse. I don't know the moments where I truly changed all. I think sometimes I have been the same forever. The happier version or the sadder version or the more honest version. But my core seems the same. The only difference is how closely I have lived in line with it.

I'm participating in The Scintilla Project, a fortnight of storytelling. One of today's prompts was What have been the event horizons of your life - the moments from which there is no turning back?

Battle Scars

Chefs are inordinately proud of their scars. We all are, in a way, I suppose, but when I say "chefs are proud of their scars" I mean physical ones, not metaphorical. We're the new rock stars, you know - we work hard, we party hard and we burn the fuck out of ourselves with sheet pans hard. Don't act like you're not jealous of our badassery. Chefs without scars are scoffed at, regarded as glorified home cooks. At times my lower arms have been covered with rows of sheet pan burns so numerous and neat they look more like scarring from self harm than occupational hazard. Ice cream making is not a particularly scarring endeavor, so I'm down to three scars right now - an oval where my left shoulder hit a 450˚ sheetpan fresh out of the oven and received a nasty second degree burn, a heart-shaped scar on my right forearm (because of course I would have a literal heart on my sleeve) and my worst, and longest lasting scar, a thin line that travels diagonally from the base of my right pinky and up the inside of my right ring finger, ending just above my second knuckle. A scar that to this day, has made it so I only have partial feeling in said ring finger, either making the fact that that's my finger my carpal tunnel most affects, better (because I'm used to it) or worse (because maybe it wouldn't go totally numb if it weren't already partially?).

I gave myself the injury that would cause that scar six years ago, right before my 21st birthday and about 5 weeks before I was to graduate culinary school. It didn't happen because I was doing some sort of crazy impressive quick knife work or got jostled by somebody else moving too quickly through the school kitchen. It happened at Baskin Robbins. Where I worked as a cake decorator.

Yes, my most badass scar comes from cake decorating. Even for a baker, it's more than a little humiliating.

You see, Baskin Robbins doesn't have premade cakes for every custom flavor you can order, because that would be insane and impossible for stores to stock. They basically make premade cakes in variations of vanilla, chocolate, chocolate chip, mint chip or strawberry ice cream with either vanilla or chocolate bases. For every other flavor, the cake decorators have to assemble the cakes themselves. This is done using a tub cutter. The tub cutter has a metal pole with holes and a metal pin to adjust the height of a curved arm that holds the tub in place and the naked box cutter blade that cuts through the cardboard of the ice cream tub. You spin the tub against the box cutter blade, cutting a neat circle around the tub and then pull a thick wire through the ice cream, slicing off a neat layer with which to assemble the custom cake. Pretty genius, right?

Five days a week, I left my house at 10am to go to work for three hours and got home at 11pm after 7 hours of schooling that was essentially working, it was really only a matter of time before my exhaustion caught up to me. For my first hour of the day, I worked by myself because not enough people bought ice cream at 11am to interrupt my cake decorating. That day I cut off a layer of ice cream from the tub, started assembling a cake and then got distracted by a customer. By the time I got back to the tub to put it away it had started to defrost. The icy fuzz that had formed on the outside had even started to turn to slippery rivulets of water and as I pulled the tub away, my hand lost its grip. Tired, I instinctively pulled my hand away, right along the exposed box cutter blade.

If you have never cut your finger, let me just tell you that even the smallest cut bleeds like a mofo. Two deep, inch long cuts? Yeah. I immediately wrapped my fingers in paper towels and applied pressure, afraid to look but knowing it was bad. When I started to feel faint, I raised my arm above my head in a continued effort to stop the bleeding. Finally, pressing my right hand against my chest to not relent on the pressure, I used my left hand to shakily dial my boss (the owner).

"I cut myself on the tub cutter, I think I need to go to the emergency room"

"How bad is it? Did you drive today? Can you drive yourself?"

"I did, but I cut across two fingers on my right hand, I don't think it would be safe"

He picked me up and drove me to the Kaiser ER.

"I'm sure it won't be too bad when you unwrap it"

I looked at him doubtfully, I was raised by a nurse, I had taken my basic first aid classes, I was shaking and the bleeding still hadn't stopped, I knew it was going to be bad.

I bled through an entire roll of gauze before getting stitched up. Seven stitches across two fingers. Seven large stitches my grandmother shook her head at.

"If you were a hand model, they would've given you at least twice as many stitches"

But I wasn't a hand model, I was about to start my career as a classically trained pastry chef and I had just gotten my first battle scar.

At fucking Baskin Robbins.

I'm participating in The Scintilla Project, a fortnight of storytelling. Today's prompt was to tell a story about your first job.

In Flux

I have a new job. I think I like it. I made pate a choux today for the first time in years and it turns out I still know how to make pate a choux so that's pretty cool. Actually, it turns out every time I'm terrified I've forgotten a technique hammered into me at culinary school, I'm wrong. (please don't ask me to make a sugar show piece because I have a feeling that's when I would be right)

I don't know my new schedule yet. I know have to go in at 6:15 tomorrow and 7:15 on the weekend days. I don't know what my life is going to look like anymore and it's something I'm really struggling with because, guys, despite what it may sound like sometimes, I really like my life. Or liked my life.

It's weird to be under somebody else again. It's weird to know that I'm probably out of the weekend brunch game. I'm probably out of the weekend going out game all together. I hang out in the same places and with the same people almost every weekend. No more.

I'm back to Real Chef life.

My arms are going to be sore tomorrow, because my beefy baker arms are not as strong as they once were but are now back to making quantities they used to make. I am going to be tired tomorrow, because I have to wake up at an hour with which I've only been familiar drunkenly falling asleep in the past year.

Things are in flux and I don't know how I feel about it. I used to be the girl who hated routine and felt stuck living somewhere after six months but after getting laid off two years in a row, after two years of casual relationships, I'd just like things to stick around for a while, y'know? But I also no longer really expect anything to.

So I guess I'm happy about my new job. I get to bake things and they give me money.

And everything starts all over again.

There's nothing more to it I just get through it

I wake up in the same position every morning. Curled on my left side, snuggling a very ragged Wild Thing so tightly it couldn't possibly draw enough breath to roar its terrible roar. I've never learned how to sleep in the middle of the bed, a relic of getting my first grown up sized bed in the middle of a six-year relationship I suppose. Or maybe because it just seems unnecessary, I don't move around in my sleep, I cover a quarter of the mattress, no more. I can't sleep in any other position. I have this thing I do. This thing where I go and go and go and go. I stop when I'm sick and can't bear to uncurl myself in the morning. All on or all off. I've spent most of the last week either at work or in bed. I took a sick day on Tuesday when I woke up barely able to speak and slept and slept and finally woke up feeling well enough to manage going to cook with kids in the evening and a late night date. A third date, with a tattooed, nerdy, Jewy lumberjack who teases me for wearing a watch, who is not as safe and correct a life decision as a nice Jewish doctor who values timeliness, but makes me chamomile tea and asks permission to pay for meals which I find adorable, so I'll take the risk. Wednesday I worked a very short day and then had delicious delicious Szechuan, which tastes like home because I am always surprised by how bland Chinese food is outside of the Bay Area, even here in New York. As soon as I got home I passed out. Work. Sleep. Work. Sleep. Repeat repeat repeat.

Yesterday I kind of got laid off but not really. Lets not keep doing this every year. I am not without a job immediately and really nobody knows how things will work at the shop without me there so things are mostly just up in the air. It did seem a little too good to be true. To have found that sweet spot where I got paid just enough to live off of but also got to pursue outside interests. Maybe this is the time small businesses and I break up for good.

It'll be fine. I'll find another job and I'm not angry. My employers had a hard reality check in terms of what it means to own and run a small business and they are not struggling with all this less than me.

Which is not to say that I'm happy or even relieved like I was when I got laid off last year. I've spent the day sending out some resumes, watching cheesy television and staring at the ceiling filled with existential angst. I don't want to take the wrong job but I don't know what the right job looks like. I don't want to live paycheck to paycheck. I would really like health insurance. I'd prefer not to work more than 45 hours a week. I do not want to hate my life. Or have a job that makes me hate a thing I am passionate about. I'm willing to work day time production hours or restaurant hours but I do not want to work overnight or early morning baker hours if I can avoid it. I am too old for that shit. And too susceptible to anxiety/depression when I fuck with my sleep schedule that way. I'm terrified of having to give up my volunteer commitments. That is the thing I will potentially hate most about this situation.

Things come together and things fall apart.

If I'm not more excited about just having spent an evening with you than I would've been about reading my book, it's not going to work

"I like that you just used the same word to describe your date with Chuck Klosterman and Treasure Island" We were discussing Elise's bachelorette party and I had said "Treasure Island is a fine hotel, it's ok, there's nothing wrong with it" which is word for word what I had just said about my date with Chuck Klosterman's thirty year old doppleganger.

Look, the date was FINE. We went to a french restaurant in midtown. He impressed me by picking a time and location (lets not talk about how this is actually a standard that impresses me these days) and the food was decent french food. I had steak frites. My steak was cooked the way I ordered and my pommes were acceptably frite. It was fine. We talked about music and politics which I'm usually pretty happy to do but it wasn't really that entertaining. I found myself rephrasing jokes so that they didn't rely on sarcasm or my normal deadpan humor because I was fairly certain he would actually take me seriously. Luckily, he found me charming even though I thought I was being pretty effing boring. So. It was fine. We went to a midtown bar with A LOT of beer and when I realized he was making "I want to make out with you eyes" at me, I decided maybe I was done for the evening. Up until then, nothing had gone horrifically wrong so I figured it might pick up and I'd stick with it (again, MY STANDARDS ARE REALLY HIGH THESE DAYS). But I didn't really want to make out with him, so time to pack it in. We walked to the train together and when he leaned in to kiss me...

I kissed him back. Because a) I'm a confusing asshole and b) I'll be the first to admit that I'm really really fucking awful at dating. I've recently realized that I'm really great at kissing people that don't matter but not good at kissing people I would actually like to kiss. Y'know, the people it would be scary to kiss because it would hurt if they didn't want to kiss back, or if they only wanted to kiss back for a little while. So I kiss the people that don't matter so I can't fail at kissing the ones that do. And if you're not 100% certain there's a larger life metaphor there, then you're probably in the same bad at dating boat that I am.

Of course, Chuck Klosterman asked me on a second date the next morning. Having not actually described the date to anybody, I agreed because it had been a fine date and he's not a bad kisser and I am overly generous with second chances. Also, still a misleading asshole. I then described the date to basically everyone I talked to for the rest of the weekend, everyone from people who don't know me that well to people I like more than books (it was supposed to be my down weekend) and every time, as I talked about the date, I realized even more that I had no interest in this guy. Every time the person I was talking to told me I was crazy for going on a second date.

The second date got cancelled, but not because I was woman enough to just tell him I wasn't interested. It got cancelled because I was locked in epic battle with the ice cream machine the day before a fairly large wholesale order needed to go out and I had no idea when I was going to get it working again and, consequently, when I'd be able to leave work. He was incredibly sweet about it, checking in throughout the evening to see how I was doing with the ice cream and basically being the opposite of Gaius Baltar, who, earlier in the week, asked if I'd like to come over and have naked time with him right after I told him I was exhausted and sick. Between those two and the medical assistant that hit on me while testing my urine, it was a really good week for those exceedingly high standards I mentioned earlier.

I will still probably give Chuck Klosterman a second chance because he was sweet about me cancelling our date and he really, genuinely seems like a nice guy. He's probably still going to be boring. He's definitely still going to look like thirty year old Chuck Klosterman. I'm probably still going to send mixed messages.

Tomorrow I have a date with a different guy that likes Ayn Rand and Top 40 music.

I'm definitely doing this wrong.

Bits & Pieces: In Which Everything is Fine

I'm in and out of the bell jar a lot lately.

It's fine. I'm just tired. Always tired. I fall asleep at ten and wake up at 4, which, I'm sorry body, is not quite how this falling asleep early thing is supposed to work.

My life is in a holding pattern. Not a good holding pattern or a bad holding pattern. I don't feel stuck and I'm not in a rush to figure out the next thing. But there's not a lot of passion.

It's fine. Everything is just fine.

I'm starting to feel on the edge of burnout. The culinary world, the struggling small business world, it's rough, yo. I miss health insurance and paid sick days and vacation time. And the cold weather, with ice cream sales slowed, I have no push, no drive. My motivation is non existent.

Right now, I'm by far the happiest when cooking with kids. I couldn't stop smiling as we made cupcakes for them to sell to raise funds for people affected by the hurricane. In the Saturday class I watched the kids' amazement as the yeast bloomed and bubbled for pizza dough. This is the stuff I love. I don't know how to get paid to do that though. I know I certainly couldn't get paid to work with the demographic of children with which I volunteer. I know that I think that's stupid.

I've been on a thinking about privilege kick lately.

I stared at this job again. I stare at it a few times a year. I want it to be in New York. It's not in New York. It's not even near a city I like. But it's what I want to do. This is a constant conundrum.

I guess I'm lonely. I guess that's a thing. I'm the kind of person that usually functions best with a few close friends to hang out with constantly and here I have a lot of acquaintances with which to spend time sporadically.

And guys, I'm so sick of girl's nights and lady brunches. I'm not saying I don't love all my female friends but other than my boss, I basically don't interact with men ever. I work with all women. I live with all women. Every event I seem to go to is all women. Holy shit are there any men in this city? I don't even mean that in a dating kind of way. I just miss having guy friends.

I mean, yes, I also miss having A guy friend. The kind that is mine for snuggling. But I know that's not the thing that's making me unhappy. Or at least that it's not the thing that's going to make me un unhappy. Hello, personal growth.

There's something larger that is wrong. I'm pretty sure of that. But I can't quite put my finger on it yet. So instead it just feels like nothing is quite right. Or maybe nothing being quite right is the larger thing.

But I can't help but feeling like there shouldn't be anything wrong with everything being fine.

Over and over and over again

"I have to have something caffeinated or I'm just going to not function"

"You hit a wall?'

"Well I think I hit the wall like three days ago and now I'm like a roomba trying to get around a corner but instead of going around I just keep backing up at the wrong angle and running into it over and over again"

I've been in the hole. And instead of taking a moment and being kind to myself and saying "hey, slow down," I've just kept going. I've just kept myself all the way on all the time.

To a certain extent, this is how it works, right? This is adulthood. You do the shit you have to do. You keep trying to be the person you want to be. Sometimes you fuck up your priorities and doing the things you "have to do" makes you unable to be the person you want to be and then you find yourself unable to sleep at 2am figuring out the barista schedule for no reason other than your inability to just turn off and let be.

Or instead of walking away 10 times out of 10, it turns into 9 out of 10 and at 3am that 10th person gets all the wrath that should've been doled out evenly. But that 10th person was an asshole and so you're not entirely sure you feel bad and then you feel worse because you want to be the type of person that does feel bad. Because most of the time you are.

I've added 4 to 5 hours of volunteer work to my life each week. It's teaching kids in after school programs/weekend programs in the Bronx, Harlem and Long Island City how to cook. I love it. It's what I wish I could get paid to do.

That's the person I want to be. I want to be the person that prioritizes giving back. The problem is I didn't really think about the commute to those places. I didn't think about 3 hours in the Bronx really eating 5 or so hours of my Saturday. Or another hour getting taken away on Tuesdays to get myself from work to Harlem or LIC.

So I need to sit down, right? I need to sit down and figure out what needs to give for me to be able to prioritize volunteering without going insane. Because this is actually why I went to culinary school, so I could always have a practical skill and do all the volunteer things that I can't turn into a career. That was always the plan. It wasn't that I wanted to be a chef. It's that I couldn't major in the things I wanted to major in and ever be gainfully employed. So I need to make this work. I figure out what gets sacrificed. I figure out what needs to make it in. I stop holding myself to standards that are impossibly higher than I would ever set for others.

I slow down for a minute.

I try this new thing called "sleep".

But my grandparents get into town tomorrow.

So i'm probably not going to try any of that until next week.

And I'm a little bit broken

I've been teetering on the edge for a while. Looking down into the hole and pretending not to notice that I've already started to fall. It's hard, I'm coming off the high of a busy, well spent Summer. A sad Summer but also a good Summer. Life is always tricky like that.

I'm not ready for the Fall. I said I was ready to slow down this month, but I'm not. I'm not ready for indoors and being bundled and real life. It's funny how Summer makes me feel so free even though I don't remember the last true Summer vacation I had.

Today I received my first "Dear John" text, from a guy I let myself like more than I knew I should have. Nothing in it was surprising and at the same time I wanted to vomit and cry and jump on a plane home. I wanted the stars and the dark. I wanted my headlights on a windy country road. I wanted to drink whiskey and shoot at the bottle. I wanted the endessness of the ocean. I wanted to be any and all places other than here.

I'm not sure how much of it even really had to do with that guy as much as just an overflow of frustration with dating (or rather that it's always not actually dating) in this city.

For a moment, everything seemed to be coming together, work, friends, crush, moving into an apartment to call my own. There was a solid twenty hours where I felt like maybe I had backed away from the edge but then the city just went ahead and pushed me all the way over.

So, hello, hole.

Hello, bell jar.

Tomorrow I will put out my two new flavors (Rose sweet cinnamon ice cream with cardamom dough! Honey ice cream with salted rosemary dough!) and work on the third. I will pack up my one room here. Over the weekend I'll move and create a new space and maybe dye my hair and call my mother.

And I'll hope that my bell jar stays behind.

Bits & Pieces (the fourth)

August isn't my favorite time of year. It's well documented. I haven't been writing about it, because there isn't anything to say that I haven't said before.

I had a nasty Summer cold earlier this month, the worst deathaversary sick I've had in a couple of years. I wasn't prepared for it to happen so early. After literally spending 48 hours in bed over the weekend, I was still sick enough on Monday that I would've called in sick if my assistant were actually a baker, not a grad student who knows how to work the ice cream machine. I never call in sick, it's just not done in the kitchen, but I would've called in sick.

I over schedule myself to the point where I even thought I was over scheduled. Over scheduling is my thing. I love it. But this month I looked at the calender and thought "Seriously, Alana Margaret? Are you trying to kill yourself?". Nope, just keeping busy.

Busy busy busy.

My brain is on overdrive. I think I've probably written ten blog posts in my head but never let myself sit down to write them. I got in a rut at work and then suddenly thought of all the new recipes I wanted to make at once. That's how it goes. The recipes leave and come back. It's overwhelming sometimes, I never know how to explain it. Once I'm in that mode, I'll literally stop a conversation to work out a flavor combination out loud. I haven't shut down for a while. Quieting my mind during yoga this week was an extra challenge.

My life, it seems so full of possibility right now. My lease is up at the end of November and I'm constantly thinking about what next. It's crazy that I'll have lived in the same apartment for a year and ten months when I leave, I tend to pack up and move, to run onto the next thing more often than that usually. Do I stay in Astoria? Can I somehow afford Manhattan? Do I give in and move to Brooklyn to be with my hipster people? Do I leave New York? (I'm not leaving New York, I'm too happy with my life right now, but the point is, I could. I'd come back, but I could leave for a while).

I love my job and I really believe in the product, but once again I'm not sure what the next step is careerwise. I think the next step is to do what I've been doing and create a life outside of work while I have a job that allows me to do that. Maybe the next step is just sticking around for a while.

Politics are making me rage-y right now. Just a rage bubbling up inside me that I haven't felt for a while. I told somebody the other day that I had such a hard time taking Mitt Romney seriously as a candidate that I keep forgetting it's an election year. WHEN I WAS IN INDIA I READ ENTIRE DEBATE TRANSCRIPTS ON THE INTERNET and this year I've been like "wait, we still actually need to vote on this bullshit?". At least that's how I was until Republicans started saying really REALLY stupid things about rape and then I mean, RAGE. Just, rage.

I guess I feel like I'm finding myself again with the yoga and the volunteering and the rage. I don't know when I lost myself. Or if that's the right phrase. I feel like I'm turning into the version of myself I want to be. I wasn't lost. I just knew I could do more. There still much more to do, there's always more. But I'm growing again. Growing and stable at the same time.

Happy and sad at the same time.

Lara called to tell me Moxie Crimefighter died today. It finally made me pause long enough to feel the sadness that's been lingering around the edges this month. Sadness for her dad's passing, sadness for my own's and now sadness for the loss of a tiny black cat named after pub trivia had a celebrity baby names round. While Lara's dad was sick, Moxie slept curled next to him every day. You were the best, Moxiecat. The best.

I'm currently simultaneously annoyed with myself for being irresponsible and going out and drinking for EIGHT HOURS last Wednesday and had such a good, crazy time, that I can't be. It was just one of those nights that I think can only happen in New York where one minute it's 5pm happy hour in the UWS and then it's 11 and somehow you've ended up in Brooklyn, developing a small surprise crush on somebody that wasn't even really eligible in your mind before. The crush has stuck with me sober. Have I mentioned how much I hate crushes? It's basically like when somebody tells me they have a surprise for me. Either just surprise me or tell me what it is. I don't do well with anticipation and not knowing. Seriously, I hate this feeling. Will it develope into more of a crush? How does he feel about me? Why am I even thinking about this that much? What's my next move? Do I make a next move? Why did I hide in the kitchen when he came into work the other day? What if he has no interest in moves? WHY CAN'T WE JUST HAVE ARRANGED MARRIAGES STILL?

I'm going to lie in a dark room and just listen to the Good Old Wars and The Avett Brothers endlessly now. Also, the Lumineers, still. And the Milk Carton Kids. I'm back on an alt country kick and a buying all the music kick. I'm still so happy to have gotten back this part of myself. I miss my records, though. I want those when I move.

I think maybe my brain will be quiet for a second now because how can anything be left after that outpouring of gibberish?

I'll be in New York, send for me when you want more

I'm having a very New York month. Overscheduled, overindulgent, overwhelming, overpriced. I seem to be saying yes to everything this month. Pushing myself right up to the edge, dangerously close to teetering over. I'm simultaneously not ready for Summer to be over and longing for the relative calm I seem to think September will bring.

That's the problem with this city, it's easy to blame it for your choices.

Of course I've been staying out until 4am on weeknights, that's just New York.

I'm sorry, sleep? What's that?

But the happy hour was too good to pass up...

I want to stay here. I don't want to move home, I don't want to move somewhere else. If I have a family, I want to raise that family here, in the city. I want my kids to build snowmen in Central Park in the winter, ride the carousel in the Spring and escape into the cool air conditioned halls of museums in the Summer. I still want them to know California, to know the country. I want them to know what it's like to spend weeks running around barefoot and picking blackberries and to spend the day tidepooling. I want them to love the redwoods. But I want home to be New York.

I was hanging out with one of our regular customers and talking about dating and living in New York and he said "It's funny, you can always tell the people who aren't here to stay, it's like they're on vacation. It might be a couple of year vacation but in the end most people here just want to move back home and get married and have kids there. That's what makes dating so awful here, why would you take it seriously if you don't intend to stay?". And he's right. I've gone on so many dates where somehow the conversation has turned into talking about raising kids out of the city and the guy has been like "Well, I always thought I would move home, but California would probably be pretty great," as if that's something that going to make me happy, but it's pretty much an immediate turn off for me.

And while even a few months ago I was still all about regularly staying out until last call, I've now found myself realizing that 4am last call isn't going to go away. That I can be boring and only go out on the weekends and do yoga and volunteer work during the week. I don't have to eat all the amazing food right now this second. For the most part, I've changed my life into something more sustainable than work hard, play hard. A lot of the playing hard I've been doing this month has felt more like an obligation than the service work and healthy eating to which I've been getting back.

I want my life to be in New York, but I don't want my life to be New York.

Next month is for saying "no".

I've been living a lonely life

I’ve been off the whole “love” thing for a while. I think it might be a thing New York does to you. Your life becomes full of rotating cast and crew with few permanent additions. I’ve had three friends move out of the state since December. My schedule hasn’t been the same for more than two months for the last year and a half. I haven’t had a single relationship with a guy I wouldn’t describe as “ambiguous” except for with Trouble. I suppose that relationship was the opposite of ambiguous. Mostly because it was the opposite of a relationship.

Needless to say, if you think immersion therapy is a good idea for dealing with your abandonment issues, come hang out with me in New York. We’ll be great friends until I leave you before you can leave me.

At a certain point, dating just didn’t seem worth it. Sometime around the time I freaked out about a guy wanting to hold hands in public on the second date. A friend pointed out that if it was the right guy, it probably wouldn’t bother me. I was like “yeah, sure” and then proceeded to go on another date with too much PDA dude. I’m not sure what my logic was. I guess I’ve never been much of a “when you know, you know” person. My longest relationship was with a guy that was a goofy 15 year old rocking an awful Prince Valiant hair cut when we first met in 10th grade honors English. I mean, I knew. I knew that while Jacob became a great friend, I had no interest in dating him. Until the next fall when I knew I did. I guess I thought if I went on enough dates with Mr. PDA, he might grow on me.

On that next date we were talking about our somewhat incompatible schedules and he said “Working out our schedules would be hard, but for this, I think it would be worth it,” and I just kind of nodded. And I knew. I knew I had absolutely no interest in dating him. I also knew I had no interest in being friends with him.

That’s when I knew I just needed to back away from the dating for a while. I consoled myself with the 5,000 online articles about how dating in New York is actually impossible for everyone. I focused on my relationships with friends. I worked on getting my food blog back up and running. I didn’t fool myself into thinking I preferred singlehood but I convinced myself it was ok for a while. One day I realized my singleness had stopped being something I constantly struggled against. I even had moments where I thought about losing my freedom and it didn’t seem worth it.

It was nice while it lasted. I guess.

A few weeks ago I fell asleep holding hands with someone. (Hi SOMEONE! FEELINGS. I kind of hope you're not reading this) I had Sunday brunch and lazy afternoon cuddles. I went on a walk through the park after dinner. I shivered each time he kissed me. And before I knew it, my bed that I never let anybody in, suddenly felt awfully big for one. It was all A LOT, very fast (err, feelings-wise, just to be clear) but it didn’t seem too much. And I remember thinking “This would be hard to figure out, but it would be worth it” and then “Fuck!” because my friend was right, because I once again knew what I was missing, because I was fairly certain I had put myself in a situation with high potential for heartbreak.

Because I knew I wouldn’t settle anymore.

Because the heart wants what it mother fucking wants. And my heart is an all or nothing kind of girl.

I thought I was on a “no kissing guys that don’t want to date you” kick but now I’m pretty sure I’m on a “no kissing guys that don’t give you chills” kick.

Which would’ve been a lot easier when I thought I was content with not kissing anybody for a while, before I was reacquainted with the terrifying but sweet vulnerability of kissing somebody you really like or the thought that the risk could be worth the reward.

I want it all.

I kind of hate this feeling.

Fuck.

(P.S. I have a kind of personal meets professional post over on the food blog today, go check it out)

Good at running away

I've been in my head a lot lately. My evenings consist of lying on my bed and staring at the ceiling while listening to albums all the way through. It might surprise you to know that I was out of touch with music for a while. It's only in the last year and a half I've gotten back into this habit. I think I let it go trying to distance myself from one relationship and conform to the next. I guess if I'm thankful for anything in this year and a half (AND COUNTING) break from serial monogamy it's learning what things I value without the influences of somebody else's love or hate for them. So I've become a reader again and a yogi again and a music lover again. Or really, I've just settled into myself. That's how I feel most of the time, settled. Not settled in a trapped way, not settled in my life or location but settled in myself.

The past while I've been unsettled. My body goes through the motions while my mind is lost building castles in Spain. Mulling. I've been doing a lot of mulling lately. Trying to figure out where the discontent is coming from. Which often means trying to figure out where the contentment is coming from or, more accurately, what I've liked enough to feel some vulnerability.

What are you running away from before it can disappoint you this time, Alana Margaret?

I don't know how to find balance. I feel my feelings unabashedly, overwhelmingly, or function wholly on logic. After a few weeks of being intensely feelings-y and letting my heart lead, I woke up this morning and realized I didn't want any part in it. I don't know what happened. I woke up and thought "you want this thing, but the likelihood of this thing being possible is small, so stop wanting it" and immediately felt back in my right mind. I still want the thing, but it's pushed to it's own little corner of my mind until I hopefully forget about it and move on. Compartmentalization. Detachment. Those are my strong suits.

Every boy I've ever dated is right. If it's any consolation, guys, I don't know where I go either.

I terrify myself (I think I realized this when I came to terms with how much I had absolutely no trouble relating to Katniss).

And I'm still not back to being settled.

Struggling

It was Sunday afternoon (East Coast time) when Lara called me.

It was about half a second before I thought about just going to the airport and seeing if I could get on a plane and a few hours until I forced myself to admit that I couldn't really do that.

Five minutes until the break in her voice "how do you deal with father's day?"

45 minutes until I called my grandma

3 more days until the ball of anxiety that's been living in my chest for weeks now finally went away because it was still 3 days until I finally broke down and sobbed. Oh I wanted to before then. I wanted to in the middle of the kitchen at work. I wanted to on the train. But I knew once I started it would be a while before I stopped. So it took three days.

My mental health has backslid ten years at times this week. I guess that's how these things work.

Life seems easier right now with a little something to take the edge off. Or rather, life seems bearable that way.

And I guess that's how you end up lying on your yoga mat on a Saturday afternoon drinking a sauv blanc that was possibly made from grapes grown on your ex's ranch listening to country music (THE MUSIC OF PAIN) wondering what the fuck is wrong with you that you prefer to live where the grapes aren't grown and highway 1 isn't a 7 minute drive away and you actually can't be there for your friends.

This is probably the point where I should turn this post around and give you the shiny side or the learning and growing side. But there's no shiny side today. Because I'm just so sad.

So very very sad.

Exhaustion

Las Vegas and California. Waiting on the plane to get home. Las Vegas was AH-MAZING. I'm still surprised at how little attachment I feel to California. It's familiar and full of things I love but it's not home. Given my constant desire to leave it, I don't know if it ever was. But the people I love are there and there is a very happy thing and a very sad thing happening right now and I could really use a teleporter.

Exhaustion

Exhaustion

I don't even try

I don't know what I'm passionate about right now. I feel hollow all the time. I'm never hungry but also never full. In February I decided to stop fighting everything all the time but I guess in my case that just makes me apathetic. Or numb. I can't even tell which.

I've been trying to learn to sit with my feelings more. Or rather, just to actually feel them. To be able to say to myself things like "I am sad that this boy doesn't like me even though it's not logical to be this sad about it" or "even though I completely understand and agree with the reason I'm losing my job it's reasonable to be sad and scared and anxious". Maybe this is the way you feel feelings all the time. This is not the way I feel feelings. Look, there's a reason Spock has always been my favorite. However, you'll be shocked to know I am not a Vulcan, even though I sometimes often act like one. The problem is that by the time I actually let myself feel things I'm feeling this huge reservoir of feeling and I can't identify where each one is coming from.

So I can tell you right now that I am sad and bitter and disillusioned; that I just suspended my OkC account for the eleventybillionth time though in truth I've been on an online dating hiatus for a month now already anyways; that none of the job listings I've read make me want to send in my resume; that I made out with a boy I had no intention of ever making out with again and I honestly don't know how I feel about it, I want to say I feel nothing about it but I don't think you can actually make out and cuddle with somebody that you like and not have feelings about it and I think it's actually that the feelings are too complicated and too many things and so I'm not sitting with those ones yet* and that I'm well aware there is some major grammatical craziness going on in this post but I just don't give a fuck.

But I can also tell you I've had moments of peace and serenity lately. That walking around in Central Park with the sun on your skin and new friend is happiness. That nighttime rambles with a flask size bottle of whiskey and friend you haven't seen in a while are kind of great even if they unexpectedly kiss you later. That I do have one single job interview lined up and it looks perfect for me. That I spent yesterday at my pastry cook's friend's home out in Fresh Meadows and got to hang out with her siblings and large friend group and remember what it feels like to be part of something stable and solid. That I have a week packed full of social activities with other BiSC goers who are fast becoming my close friends.

I can tell you that I've recently realized that I'm angry at myself for letting go of and being less vocal about things I care about to make myself more palatable or to fit into groups better. That I've taken my philosophy of "pick and choose your battles" a little too far. Hi, I'm Alana and I am a feminist and I probably don't think any of your sexist/homophobic/racist jokes are funny and yeah, I'm generally ludicrously PC and I'm ok with that. JUST SO WE'RE CLEAR.

So maybe it's not that there isn't anything going on. Maybe it's that there's too much going on. Too much swirling around in my head for me to sort through it and feel any of it. Today I decided I was just going to fake it until I make it. I cleaned my room, I did some yoga, I ate an entire pineapple and also quinoa, poached chicken, black beans and avocados. Fine... also an entire bag of cadbury mini eggs.

Baby steps back to caring people, baby steps.

*This is how I feel: I feel sad and a little angry because it was nice and it was comfortable and making out and a cuddle buddy were exactly what I needed this week and it wasn't expected so it was a nice ego boost but it wasn't with somebody with whom I am actually ok with casually making out and cuddling. So, I'm sad that it's not something I get to do in a non-casual way and a little angry with both of us for doing it. And maybe a little angry at myself for not being over him even though I said earlier it was ok to be sad. God I hate feelings. THEY DON'T EVEN MAKE SENSE A LITTLE BIT, CAN I PLEASE BE A VULCAN NOW?