Monday, January 31, 2011

A Dedicated Two Hours

As I mentioned in my post last week, one of the main factors in my move away from writing was the mere fact that I didn't have any time. When I moved back from Chile and enrolled in culinary school (a running theme, I know. Don't worry, I'll move past it soon), I was working 50 hours a week, going to school for 25, visiting my now wife and trying to catch some sleep somewhere in the middle. I wrote on my days off, read before bed. For awhile it seemed like there was time, but as my job began demanding more of me, school became what I had to do everyday at 8 a.m. and I started thinking more about marriage, something had to go.

In putting writing to the wayside, though, I was able to completely focus on one thing--cooking. By the time I was awake and putting my station together at work, my mind was razor sharp. I knew what was expected of me and I knew I wanted to get better. Every time I had to cut chickens, make potato puree or clean lobsters, I got a little better--just as a writer would when given the time to write everyday. So while I do have a natural knack for cooking, it wasn't simply cooking that allowed me learn and progress at a rapid rate, but rather the time allowed for that development. Time has long been a strong motif in my life.

The reason I bring this up is because in reading over, a culinary-centric blog, last night, I found a post that wasn't at all about food, but about a writer who had died and the impression he had left on Michael Ruhlman himself. Most notable / applicable for me of the advice given by the deceased writer was that in order to progress, one need to spend a dedicated two hours everyday, the same two hours everyday, to the craft of writing. A mere two hours, but a dedicated and focused two hours nonetheless.

To sit here now, at 11:30 a.m. on a Monday morning, writing about cooking and how I'm up in the air on both, I realize that it's nice to have time. If I dig deeper and look back at the reasons I finally decided to quit my full-time job almost a year ago, I can say that I ran out of time to simply cook or get better at cooking. I was constantly juggling peoples' schedules, making orders, managing, hiring, firing, bitching and cleaning up messes that I lost the time to simply cook--the whole reason I had wanted to become a chef in the first place. Even amidst 14-hour days there were rarely even 30 dedicated minutes for me to focus on any one thing. So as with writing, I started putting cooking to the wayside.

On the first page of his novel Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller writes "The hero then is not time, but timelessness." This is a line that has stuck with me since I first read it, in part because I've always longed to be that talented and prolific, but also because I believe it's true. As I read it, the line means that time, as I have here and now to sit and blog, isn't what we need, but for our time to be ours, to do with it as we please and to have as much of it as we want.

Writers feed us in ways that chefs cannot. I'm aiming to do both.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

January 22nd, 2011. What have I been doing?

It used to be so easy for me to write on this blog because when I used to write, I was cooking. I began this blog as a side project to my culinary studies because I didn't want to lose what I viewed as talent as a writer. Culinary school, line cooking, the time it took to learn about ingredients and how to use them--I don't think I ever fully intended to use them as a profession. Though I willingly enrolled in culinary school, I hadn't fully thought through what it meant to be a chef. I just liked to cook. So I created this blog as a sort of flotation device, a reminder of who I was and where I had come from before I gave myself over to cooking full time.

Freshly returned from life in South America, I took time with my studies, learned as much as I could as quickly as possible. I surpassed most of my classmates in technique, out-cooked them when it really came time to perform and moved ahead at a much faster pace than even I had anticipated. If you look at the early posts on this blog, my mood reflected this. I wasn't writing everyday, but I was certainly taking the time to go eat, to explore, and to jot down notes about what I had consumed. I was giving myself a complete education. My second.

Along the way, though, as both school and my job cooking became more demanding, my ability to sit and focus on writing as a hobby, as an equal to cooking, lessened. The inner tube started to lose air. I almost completely stopped reading books in my spare time and when Kurt Vonnegut died I barely took notice.

For people like drug addicts, alcoholics or anyone else that has lost their life due to abuse and dependency, I know the consequences are much more dire and severe. For me, though to barely be able to sit here and eek out a few paragraphs when just five years ago I could fill page after page with prose, I feel as though I have lost a great deal of myself. And what's worse is that I was conscious the whole time.

Things have changed, though and I'm no longer cooking full time. In fact, I don't do anything full time at this point, other than worry about how I'm going to make money to pay next month's bills. In many ways I'm better off, because my time is much more open to chance now. The hardest part is rediscovering not only what it is that I used to do when I had free time, but even worse is relearning how to do those things again because it feels like so long since I've done them.

I feel that, moving forward, the writings on this blog, for those of you that may read it, will continue to revolve around food because I write about my life and my life still revolves around food. What I hope to see in the writings, though, is not simply surviving, as one might with a life preserver, but actually moving ahead as though in a boat. Whether or not my time spent in formal kitchens cooking for money is completely over, I can't say for sure. I know that cooking led me down a path that I've never truly been happy with, though one that has led to a great deal of education and awareness of the world around me. Writing, though, my first true love since childhood, will no longer take the back burner.