Books and the Bacon Obsessed…

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020. I’m not the success I’ve worked hard over these past ten years to envision myself to be. Nevertheless, I thank the stars whenever I don’t have to wake up and drag myself to a job, working for some asshole at some shitty company, getting bossed around, swallowing my pride, keeping my mouth shut, wasting my life for a paycheck. It’s a privilege to be following my own muse even when it’s a torture to know I’m a failure and that I don’t pay my own way. I work. I work and do my best every day, following my vocations, immersing myself in what I do best, trying my best to professionalize and monetize my work, trying to be mindful and less selfish, less grasping, less of an ass.

I’m forced to glance through the DOP1 entries before posting them and hence I’m forced to endure reexperiencing those states of mind and the ceaseless string of fraught efforts and fiascos. Hell, for fuck ups like me is having to watch the movie of your life play over and over again from start to finish. Blah, blah, everybody suffers in their own way, who cares? Who would get a damn thing out of reading any of this? A shrink, perhaps. Oh, this guy is just like one of my patients; let’s see what he does here, how he behaves there, what he does in response to this or that stimulus.

For the life of me I can’t figure how I can have amassed one hundred some clicks on my Amazon ads (I scored my first two clicks in France the other day) and not a have single intrepid soul buy a copy. You’d think I’d get lucky with somebody on a Friday or Saturday night tying one on and making a drunk buy if nothing else. But no. Nothing. Likewise, a big fat zero response from any of the persons or places of influence that I sent copies of the book to. Not a word. I went to the trouble to post a B&N review for old Robbie’s Surviving the United Nations and damned if the dude half ignores my message, responding with some off kilter comment, “The book was published March 3, so far so good.” Whatever, pal. The point is, I review you, you review me. But I’m not about to send him a copy as, first of all, he doesn’t strike me as a sci-fi reader and secondly, he’s obviously not going to be volunteering to return the favor. So, here’s this new writer with his blustery, self-involved, second career workplace memoir being graced with three reviews within a day or so of publishing and what do I get after all my expense and authorpreneurial struggles, start to finish? Fucking nothing. Zero. Well, he shamelessly solicited reviews and I didn’t, right? Right. I’m not going to shamelessly solicit reviews. F*ck it. I hate to think that the one or two folks that actually tried to read the book are thinking they’re doing me a favor by not reviewing the thing because they hated it or just couldn’t find anything good about it or couldn’t get themselves to finish it. Maybe it sucks and I just can’t see it? No. It doesn’t suck. I’ve been reading and rereading it for five f*cking years and I know it’s good enough to stand against most of the other dross out there. But fishing for reviews is a loser’s game and it will more than likely get me burned instead of properly advertised. Hell, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I figure there’s still a chance Locus Magazine will manage to list me in “Books Received in February” in next month’s issue, April – the March issue listed January’s received for the U.S. and December’s for British titles. A review? A pipe dream. I provided no advance reader’s copy (ARC) nor a so-called media kit – hell, I’m a goddamn indie, what can I say, I’m doing my best to figure all this out and I don’t see the point in sending them a proof and waiting six months or more to see if they get around to acknowledging it. Because what are the chances they’re going to select it as one of the mere handful of covers they print at the top of the page? Which would be the only thing that would motivate a reader to say to themselves, gee, what about this book here, Time Crime? Huh, the little description inspires me to look it up…. Hell no.  

But an image of the cover? Now we’re talking some odds of success.

What will make me want to slit my wrists is if I miss the next list entirely, which of course could happen because, I don’t know, I just mailed in two copies per their instructions to the address provided and what the hell else can I do? Hell and blood, it would suck to have to contact them, inquiring whether or not they indeed received the copies and, well, if not, if they got misplaced or what have you (if they were motivated enough to respond to me), would they please consider accepting another couple of copies which I’d be happy to re-forward, perhaps I ought to put a name on the package, blah, blah. My hat in my hand, again. And money out of my pocket. Listen to me. Does anyone with a future as an author put up with shit like this? If it’s meant to be, doesn’t it happen at least a little less clumsily? Probably not. Again, I don’t know. I have no f*cking idea. I’m an outsider. If you’re reading this and nodding that something similar has been your experience but you somehow managed to persevere and now you get reviewed in Locus and elsewhere and sell books and have a real career as an indie author, be sure to let me know at carnegieolson.com. Okay? Right. Nobody’s reading this, I get it.

My brother-in-law got his diagnosis yesterday afternoon regarding the lab results. A week and a half of waiting and his wife messaged the family, in so many words, It wasn’t the news we were hoping for, his chemotherapy starts immediately, send us your prayers…. Angie’s good at drilling into the web for information on medical conditions and treatments and she had her experience with her dad and, well, if I prayed I’d pray for them both. Because the treatment, as anyone knows, can be worse than the disease. And sooner or later… but it’s not for me to say. It forces me to reflect upon my own mortality, of course. I’ll let it go at that.

DOP1 VINTAGE POST – Pig Trails, et al.

Pig Trails

In June of 2010, deep into my biophycomythological rehabilitation, I was cooking dinner from a recipe in Molly Stevens’ All About Braising. Paging through her book, I noticed her website, logged on and fell upon a reference to her upcoming visit to Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, where she was to do a cooking demonstration as part of “Camp Bacon.”

My wife and I have long been Zingerman’s devotees and we’ve continued to enjoy their food and special brand of food culture even while living in Texas, mail-ordering bread, coffee, olive oil and other life-sustaining goods as often as we can afford to. Zingerman’s is a good example of a guide; it’s a business associated with a certain place and culture that we had always looked to for good things, and it serves to center us within ourselves, giving us both confidence and comfort, like all guides.

I mentioned Molly’s appearance at Camp Bacon to my wife Angie, and she became quite enthused about the idea, even mentioning that we should consider going to “camp” ourselves. The cost of the camp was several hundred dollars each and the logistics of the trip seemed daunting. With me being out of work, it seemed too indulgent to be thinking of a road trip to Ann Arbor just for something like this. I did agree with Angie however that it seemed like an omen that I had happened upon this event that combined two of my guides in a place that Angie still considered her home. Maybe that’s why she stuck with the idea: Ann Arbor was still somewhere to go home to. In the end, she had to convince me to go, and this is where sometimes you need help following your own guides; your habits, your old thought patterns, your ways of thinking, the way you set limits for yourself and set up roadblocks that weren’t there, these things get in the way of your biophycomythological progress even in spite of your desire to overcome them. When I finally agreed to do it, it felt “right” immediately and reserving two spots at camp legitimized our commitment to moving forward, to following our guides wherever they were going to lead us; to not questioning it, to having some faith. Zingerman’s is a very approachable organization; Pete Garner, as camp director, was an up-front presence and acknowledged our participation personally with a return email string that made me feel very connected to the event from the beginning. So much so, that I took it as an opportunity to ask him whether any animal welfare information was to be included on the agenda. He responded in typical Zingerman’s fashion which is to say that despite not having answers to my questions, he was fully engaged in finding them out. He connected me directly with Ari Weinzweig, the co-founder of Zingerman’s, and Ari sent me a brief email explaining how that the proposed agenda didn’t include specific reference to farm animal welfare, but that it may make its way in indirectly as part of the presentations.

I found this whole email exchange inspiring; that I could talk about what I was passionately interested in and not feel stupid, marginalized or ridiculous, (I wasn’t an “expert” after all), legitimized the self-work concepts I was trying out. The ideas seemed to work and I could see that one of the keys to the process of finding your way is accepting the curiously personal nature of the journey; you read about how to go about things, but actually going about them can be disorienting and the results surprising. I was proof that it takes practice to begin getting used to being who you are. I had been so completely in schism that any movement I made towards what my heart was telling me, any action I took, seemed momentous, strange and even a little scary. I now know that your biophycomythology should always be a little scary; your vision-of-greatness, your personal legend, your purpose, your true self, all will tap into that energy within you and it may feel a little like you’ve got the water tap on full blast, that the energy is a little too much to handle. This is a good thing. You’ll learn to recognize this surge of energy as the expression of your true self and as a fail-safe indicator that you’re on the right road; that you’re following your guides and that you’re on the adventure to becoming who you are.

We decided to drive to camp so we could take our dog Cinder with us (and to save money of course). Where would we stay? We could ask Angie’s mom or my parents for accommodations, but it didn’t feel right to me, I didn’t want to stay with my parents and this became one of the key aspects for me about the experience: I needed to follow this camp bacon guide my way, without trying to make it logical or to make it even make sense logistically. Yes, making time to visit my parents seemed like the appropriate thing to do, the conventional thing to do, but it also felt like just “checking in,” it felt like I’d only be inauthentic if I forced myself to do it. So we didn’t. I stayed the first night with my brother, which was a fun night of drinking, listening to tunes, talking and howling at the moon. I woke the next day hung over as hell, but still anxious to get to camp, managing to slip out without disturbing my brother too much. Angie had stayed with her mother and she picked me up that morning. We got to camp and the June weather was perfect, nothing like the typical hot and humid misery so common in Michigan; instead, it was sunny, breezy, and comfortable, a perfectly pleasant day to be spent in the airy tent set up behind Zingerman’s Bakehouse. We arrived, walked into the tent and immediately came upon Ari, whom Angie and I had seen around A2 many times, but had never met. We introduced ourselves, and noticed Molly Stevens behind him prepping some things or her presentation. We mentioned that we were excited to see her and Ari turned turned and said, “Molly, you’ve got some folks here to see you.” Ari’s always been more than willing to connect people and Molly, for her part, accommodated our fan-ness very well – I get the impression that she’s not very big into being idolized (who is?), but she is very nice, sincere, extremely professional and funny.

A buffet breakfast – bacon-focused of course – was presented and we had the opportunity to make a BLT, and enjoy scrambled eggs and various bacons. Zingerman’s coffee was a welcome treat. I won’t go into the details of the event – they’re well-documented in the Zingerman’s newsletter article and in Jane Black’s fun and informative article in the Washington Post. Suffice it to say that Angie and I felt “at home” in a way we hadn’t for some time, and it had a lot to do with being in Ann Arbor, being at Zingerman’s, and everything to do with following our guides. We received more than our share of attention from Pete, Ari and even Jane Black regarding our journey from Texas – it seemed to be a point of interest to see how far folks had travelled to get there. I know Zingerman’s has a wealth of local support and many of our fellow campers were from A2 and the surrounding area, but I imagine that bringing in folks from out-of-state can give a kick to an event like that. It’s not like we were native Texans, but it was fun to have a “platform” so to say that set us a little apart and helped connect us to folks.

The whole day played out like I had hoped: it celebrated bacon, but it also celebrated, like Zingerman’s always does, an engaged commitment to your master passions. All the purveyors had the energy that comes from being immersed in your vocation and they were as authentic as their products. I was inspired by each of them and how they had come to where they were in their businesses and in their lives, live which demonstrated how it’s indeed possible to live the way I wanted to live, which is to say fully engaged. The day was both restorative and energizing – it legitimized the dreaming of crazy dreams and spoke to why the pursuit of one’s master passions, personal legend, biophycomythology, etc. is the most important and worthwhile thing to be doing in life. Ari himself is probably the best example of a guy who’s immersed in his life’s work; his vocation is who he is and he radiates the satisfaction, curiosity, confidence and quiet joy of engaging his life’s purpose; it was great to spend that much time with him and observe how he went about being who he is. He gave on-camera interviews, signed books, spoke to the guests, introduced purveyors and introduced his staff. It was a great day.

Camp officially ended about four o’clock in the afternoon but we were encouraged to stay for a small bacon-oriented fund-raising festival that was to take place in proximity to the Bake House. I couldn’t help but notice that part of the preparations involved the arrival of two pigs to the industrial park. A small horse trailer had backed up to one of the grassy “islands” that divided sections of the parking lot; it was a well-shaded plot of very thick grass – it probably hadn’t been mowed in a week. The pig farmer and his son werer attempting to coax their two pigs – I’m not sure what crossbreed they were – out of the trailer and onto the grass, bound by a temporary, steel-framed corral. Curious, but wary at the prospect of exiting the open back door of the trailer, the pigs stood stubbornly at the edge and looked out, snorting at the unfamiliar air, generally becoming more stubborn towards the idea with each nudge and verbal appeal made to them by the farmer and his son. Their own curiosity may have eventually drawn them out, but they didn’t want to attempt what looked to me like too large a step down onto some haphazardly situated hay bales – they didn’t trust their footing and I couldn’t blame them. A sturdy ramp would’ve made more sense and been more convenient for both the farmer and his pigs, but the hay bales were the unfortunate option. After another minute of increasingly frustrated interlocutions between man and pig, punctuated with earnest squealing and some determined pushing and shoving, each animal decided he’d had enough and retreated, apparently content to root through the straw bedding at the back of the trailer. I was captured by the sight of this little drama and stood at the edge of the make-shift corral waiting to see how things progressed. Hot, sweaty and increasingly exasperated, the farmer, his son and the two pigs shuffled around the floor of the trailer in a sort of clumsy dance before the men, in a show of conserted determination, got firmly behind each pig, their knees shoved into the porcine haunches, their hands swatting at the fat-back in front of them and heaved forward until the beleaguered animals saw no choice but to finally risk the hay-bale-steps with well-voiced displeasure and stumble onto the grassy plat below. The pig’s eager snouts followed their small hooves into the thick, green lawn whereby all previously profuse proclamations, irritations and condemnations immediately ceased and a quiet huffing and contented snuffling ensued. I was impressed to observe these once forlorn animals, overheated in both body and mind, finding welcome relief in the shade and the cool, thick turf and then surprised indeed when with amazing strength and finesse they dug their snouts forward a good yard, tossing aside a swath of heavy sod in the process, flopping their formidable bulk, shoulder first, into the cool and obvious pleasure of damp, black earth. Pigs, being unable to sweat, prefer to cool off in a soothing wallow, and here they had broken ground on the beginnings of a new one, thereby providing us with an authentically pig-centric end to a pork-focused day afternoon.

Jane Black, a Washington Post journalist and food writer, sat at our table during camp, and she seemed particularly interested in our story of having driven from Texas just for camp bacon. In 2010, bacon-lover events had yet to become ubiquitous and it was still something of a novelty I suppose to examine the fervor the product is capable of generating. But she’s an accomplished journalist, attuned to the story behind the story I’m sure, and she proceeded to ask questions about why we’d come so far for this event. She asked about my job and I admitted I was recently unemployed from JCI and BP, which was still in the news for the record-setting oil spill it was responsible for in the Gulf of Mexico. My ambitions were what seemed to interest her most however, and I got the impression that she was also trying to find her way in life. Who knows how many people at camp were in the midst of a life-change, bored with their jobs, frustrated with their lives or otherwise in some sort of biophycomythological schism, like me? And like me they may have been following a guide too, in this case bacon, or pigs, or Zingerman’s, or Molly Stevens, or Ari, or whatever brought them to this place for a day. And it turns out a writer for the Washington Post, Jane Black, was there and interviewed us. The link follows and it by the time anyone reads this, if ever, it doesn’t work, I’ve posted images of the article pages.

[1]

Jane Black, “For the Bacon-Obsessed, a Camp in Michigan has the Cure,” washingtonpost.com, June 23, 2010.

Soon after camp, after we’d returned to Texas, I found Pete Garner’s article in the latest Zingerman’s newsletter. Here’s the link, see page 9, and if the link is expired, again, an image of the article follows:

https://www.zingermanscommunity.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/NL-Jul-Aug-2010-WEB.pdf

Pete Sickman-Garner, “Camp Bacon: A Dispatch from Our First Annual Bacon Celebration,” Zingerman’s News, Issue #221, July-August 2010, p.9.