Don’t Strangle the Cat

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Tuesday, April 21, 2020. A day off, sorely needed even though I only worked two days in a row. I’m still struggling to get my night shift legs under me. But I refuse to surrender, perhaps to my detriment, to laying around sleeping for eight hours after work. Or the alternative; namely, staying up, waiting for Angie to rise, going about for five hours or so before going to bed for eight hours then waking up to go to work, akin to how a normal workday operates. Which sounds about as appealing as dental work. So, I fight through trying to figure out a system that works. The job was painfully dull last night, with nothing to do, time dragging and if not for the computer training I had left to do I have no idea how I would’ve killed the last ninety minutes – horrible!

And it occurred to me that I never received my print copy of Locus Magazine, the issue with Time Crime listed in it, of course, https://locusmag.com/2020/04/issue-711-table-of-contents-april-2020/ and their website makes it sound as if they’re suffering even more than usual (they’re not shy about continually asking for donations) due to their sales outlets (bookstores, etc.) being shuttered. Besides the subscription I’ve donated five bucks twice already and bought a tee shirt since I caught on to them. Anyway, I inquired. I try not to think about the irony of this particular Time Crime related (however incidentally) issue getting buried by freaky bad timing. Then again, it’s not as if this virus debacle is anything like what it must have been like to endure a world war. Talk about eliminating the non-essential! But then, as with all art-craft, as soon as the so-called essential is given unhindered priority and we’re all convinced we’re not wasting time, energy and money on silly things like magazines, art museums or SF novels our craving for such things, such energies, comes roaring back and even in the worst, most tyrannically restrictive times, people find a way to express themselves and maintain a community of like-minded appreciators against all odds. And of course very often the energy is revitalized and refreshed by being driven underground. Who knows, then, what this little cultural blip will perhaps inspire?

Meanwhile, all the fun and energy of life seems in jeopardy of being squashed under the jack boot of Covid craziness. There’s a weird sense of stasis that seems to have replaced the previous enthusiasm (for lack of a better word) for all things virus related. I swear folks are typically so in need of a change from their routine that they attach themselves to virtually anything different as an inspiration, even the idea of a pandemic. Me? I don’t get it. But here we are, supposedly on the cusp of emerging from this silly experiment in group think and legislative insanity at the end of the month, or sooner, heaven help us if we don’t, and things seem dire. The newness, as I predicted, has worn off and folks aren’t out happily walking their dogs for the first time ever and doing family centered things around the house. No. I only see the same old folks as before out walking their dogs now or walking the neighborhood. Most everyone else is likely pining for their sports on television, springtime golf games, bars, restaurants and their otherwise frantically busybody lives consumed by unhindered, carbon footprint heavy, categorically unnecessary travels. When bored the solution is too often one of flying, driving or going for going’s sake. I’m guilty of it.

I suppose, then, that this little job of mine, if it survives the bullshit lockdown, has served to at least, if only by way of it irritating the fuck out of me and wrecking my sleep patterns, keep some energy moving in a positive direction. Earning money, though never an effective end in itself, at least helps fund my dream, keeps my feet moving, literally and figuratively – walking a home improvement warehouse and going up and down ladder consumes no small effort compared to sitting at home. The exercise is a good thing even if the work itself is merely a psychological burden. If I can only somehow manage to get the mechanics of this writing/employment thing balanced for once I might be able to keep things rolling.

This journal entry sucks: it’s as dull and unfocused as my goddamn sleep deprived brain and as psychologically uncompelling as these boring Covid crazy times. What to do? Delete it? Nope. For better or worse I’m sticking to the plan because it would be just like life for the entry that I think isn’t worth posting and edited out of the game is the one that would’ve sparked interest. I’m not here to post mediocrity. But the plan is to post the journal. So, endure. Until the world-of-action makes me stop. Likewise, don’t panic. Don’t do anything rash like quitting the job or dumping the blog, website, Amazon advertising or giving up on trying to find ways to market the novel. Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep editing. Even when I’m finding it difficult to be productive. Be patient with the audiobook process. Continue to engage my other vocations and my guides for support. Even if it all seems futile and my dreams seem silly and doomed and an utter waste of time and money. I know what I want. It took fifty years to acquire my target. Remain focused on it. At the same time, let it go and see what comes back. Don’t strangle the cat. Have some damn faith in things.

DOP1 (2010-11) VINTAGE POST:

Thursday, December 01, 2011. I’m producing headcheese today for the first order from Plum Market – Kellie wants just two small (I call them “baby”) terrines. That doesn’t sound like much, but to me it actually sounds like the whole wide world. Since I hadn’t heard back from her after a couple emails, I was getting prepared for the verbal agreement to fall through and leave me with nothing and nobody interested. Of course just having paid for another twenty-four pig heads. Money’s as tight now as it’s ever been: me and Angie each have two dollars in our wallets. The new hh bank account has a zero balance and we just got charged for a maintenance fee on it because we don’t have any money at all in our personal checking account to transfer over – fucking none. So everything’s going on the credit card. It makes the cart season seem like good times because we at least had some cash flow.

This remains, and I think it will ALWAYS remain, the hardest thing I’ve done, and I’ve done some hard-ass things. But I feel good about what I’m doing, even though it seems like such a tiny fucking small-time operation, such a “hobby” business that’s just costing us money. Starting a business is fucking hard and now I can identify with anyone else who’s done it. It’d be great if I was really on to something – a truly new idea or product who’s time had really come and that had profit margin, blah, blah. I’ve learned quickly however that the VAST majority of businesses just struggle painfully to exist. Ari says most businesses are in a state of going out of business either slowly or quickly; that it’s a rare handful that flourish. It’s true of course and that could make me think that what I’m trying to do is such a long-shot that it’s stupid to pursue it. But Ari also says “Here’s the thing – even if making really, really good, totally traditional food isn’t the most super-lucrative corner of the market, it is most definitely the best place to be in terms of passion, vocation, and positive energy.”[1]

That’s exactly where I think I’ve “landed” in my life and my vocation. It’s not something that’s very productive to argue with myself about anymore, although I swear I still sink into the old habits of doing it; of questioning everything about myself and what I’m doing here on earth. It’s something I’m struggling to get used to – living out my myth, my personal legend, my vocations, my purpose, my destiny, my biophycomythology takes practice. It also takes patience and some money to allow you to be patient.

The day went well – up at 4am to walk to the kitchen and thank thor jay had cleaned up before he left so the floor and tables and sinks weren’t fucking trashed – I figured I’d get there an hour early ‘cause I’d be cleaning the whole fucking kitchen again, but NO! Clean enough floor and sinks to rock forth and just tidy up a prep table top to bottom. Inspector Mike showed soon after six, a surprise, but that’s why I do it by the book because he can show anytime between 6am and 2:30pm and that’s how we roll. I wish to effing Christ I knew how to make money with this gig, but it feels good and right and fulfilling and draws folks in and starts conversation and jazzes people and everyone probably thinks I’m nuts but still respects and enjoys the fact that there’s somebody out there doing this so what the hell, I will just keep marching forth until I take a tough enough bullet to knock me down. I have, at this point, surrendered, money be damned for now at least.

I got a response from zcob mail order for holiday warehouse labor – I’m scheduled for a “skill review” next Tuesday. I never bugged Ari for a job and the timing really never felt right until me and the wife had our one-day divorce. Then I had to think even more intuitively, and a little desperately, from the heart one last time before it got really ugly and I would’ve had to scrounge for any odd piece of shit money-maker. I’m not in by any means and I’m not pulling the Ari card until it seems appropriate, I may not need it – I listed him as a reference along with Mark H. and if that ‘ain’t name-dropping then I don’t know what is. That’s as far as I’m likely gonna need to go. After all, the pay sucks – something $8.50/hour, which just may be minimum wage these days. But I need to stay with the passion and if it pads the pocket with at least some minor cash, then maybe Angie and I can start paying down some debt and who knows what it might lead to? The key is getting out of the future and into the moment. The vog sets the desired future and then you leave it alone – you don’t keep fucking with it – the world does whatever it does to whatever degree; you attempt unattachment while chugging forward, and you be who you are until you die. It sounds almost simple.

Here’s the deal for tomorrow: I drop the h-cheeses at Plum and immediately attempt some unattachment while committing to helping Plum sell it when it looks like I might need to step in – you know, like in-store sample guy. But we’ll give it a day or two and just hope to hell Kellie doesn’t get discouraged right off the bat and punt me back to square one – let’s mix some metaphors shall we? There’s no doubt that it’s a critical day and time for hh and yes, I need to get more customers, but I also need to not panic and try to flood the local area with sales pitches. I need to do what I think is right and giving the best places – the ones with the stellar reps and time-tested chops – some time to come through and see if they can work any magic before I stress out and knock down doors at every ethnic tom, dick and harry deli in town. Let’s get this one customer – the one that stands alone right now with some faith – a great product and see if this dog, or should I say pig? – can run outside of the hh food cart.

December 2, 2011. I’m sort of beside myself now. I delivered the samples to Kellie at Plum Market this morning after getting to the kitchen at 5:45am in case Mike from the USDA showed up. I have to be “in production” to be able to label the terrines which is a little crazy because I need them to set overnight before I turn them out of the terrines to slap a label on ‘em. So, for one hour’s work or less (depending on dish washing, paperwork, whatever) it’s a production day and I could be inspected. Anway, I tracked my temperatures and the cold box keeps the terrines at about 38F.

I’m nervous and full of anxiety over the terrines being at Plum. What if they don’t sell? What if people think they suck? People would only think they suck if they actually bought ‘em. It’s just so fucking crazy to let go of my life’s work and leave it in the hands of others while I wait for life to pass judgment on this part of my myth. But such lack of control isn’t going to change and I need to accept it. I’ve done my very best and I can only be attentive now to the customer – if Kellie needs anything or has questions, then I can help. Until then, I need to let go. Will it be a failure experience? Will it be a quick success? Will it be slow growth to greatness? I need to write a vog real quick for this:

Vision of Greatness

H-Cheese at Plum Market – First Week ending 12/9

Prouds:

I’ve delivered two terrines per Kellie’s request.

I’ve put my whole heart and soul into the h-cheese – I’ve done my very best.

I’m attempting unattachment to keep the pain of my desire to succeed at bay.

I’ve got support from the people that matter to me.

VOG:

It’s Friday morning, 8:05am, December 9th, and I’m driving to Plum Market to deliver five small terrines to Kellie – she sold both of the terrines last week and had more folks ask for it so she wants to increase her order to satisfy demand! She also gave me a check for the first two terrines, so I’ve officially done business with my first wholesale customer! I feel great about initiating the second phase of HH and though the numbers are very small, the biophycomythological progress feels huge. I’m unattached, confident and in-the-moment. I feel like this is what I ought to be doing – I’m being who I am.

There. It’s written down. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to sell two terrines in a week at a big store like Plum. I’m aware that there’s both support from many folks for the h-cheese’s success as well as trepidation and even skepticism as to the long-term viability of my plan. Like Ari said in his GTGL1,

Strange as it may sound, it’s not all that unusual to have a good product but still fail to make a profit. Or, conversely, to get rich by selling mediocre stuff. In fact, my experience in the food world is that there’s probably more money to be made selling slightly better-than-average stuff to the middle of the marketplace than there is by working at the very high end of the quality scale. Fortunately, this doesn’t really bother me anymore. Seriously – I say it without even the slightest tinge of bitterness – I’ve worked through my issues and come out, smilingly, on the other side. Honestly, I don’t worry much about how much anyone else is making; only about creating a positive, caring, and financially sustainable business.[2]

This is why Ari is my number one guide. He’s a mentor. I identify with his words completely; to the point of struggling for however long it takes for me to figure out whether I can make the h-cheese a sustainable business. I’ll try to subsidize it while I figure out how to do this profitably. I’ll keep chugging and keep believing and keep putting all my heart into what I’m making and how I’m running hh. I will not compromise and I won’t flinch. If life “disposes” of hh – if my h-cheese is just not something that the world needs – then I’ll know when that vanishing point comes and move on to the next part of the adventure.

Meanwhile, I think it’s time I officially thanked Ari for his mentorship – it’ll coincide with the “spirit-of-the-season” and the close of the year in which so much good hh shit happened. The only thing I can give a successful guy like Ari is something original from my heart, as I say in the following letter, any material “thing” is going to miss the mark. I sent this letter to Paul S., Zingerman’s co-founder along with Ari as a way to try to add some formality to it. While zcob staff routinely post the kudos they receive as part of their “culture of appreciation” (they’re called “code greens”) I’m willing to bet, having been part of “leadership” before in other jobs, that the co-founders might not appear in the code greens very often because the leaders don’t often, if ever, get looked upon as folks who might deserve a sincere “thanks.” Employees tend to think of leaders as nothing but the a-holes that make all the money and are therefore immune to normal human interaction. Anyway, whatever, I just needed to do something to try to do right by a guy who has done so much for me. I wrote this and sent it to Paul S. to hopefully pass along:

Paul,

I think you’re the man for this job. I want to find a way to thank Ari for all that he does, besides just saying “thank you, Ari” which I’ve already done about a million times. It’s not that I think my appreciations are falling on deaf ears – as you know Ari has a unique ability to listen. In fact I think he’s one of those folks that listens beyond hearing – intuitively – to what somebody is trying to say, even when they don’t understand what they’re trying to say themselves. Maybe you understand what I mean – having known Ari as long as you have. 

I won’t trouble you with the fairly long back-story, but please know that while I’ve known who you guys are for many, many years (because the zcob is awesome!) I only began corresponding with Ari during the lead-up to the first Camp Bacon. When I think back on his reply to my email, I still can’t believe he replied. I figured with super-busy lives like yours, the chance of an email back from a co-owner was going to be “iffy” at best. I suppose it did help that another awesome zcobber – Pete Garner – forwarded my question to Ari that day in June 2010 – (it was about farm animal welfare), so thanks to Pete too.

The happy result of my inquiry was the on-going string of emails I’ve enjoyed with Ari (I think we both prefer to write rather than talk) where Ari has never failed to provide me with the type of guidance, insight, practical know-how and support that only comes from someone who is far more than a friend or acquaintance – he is a mentor, whether he’s aware of it or not. Very simply, if it were not for Ari, I would not now have my own small (very, very small) business. Neither would I have the crazy, unconventional, exhausting, frustrating, demanding and ultimately ass-kickingly rewarding life that comes with entrepreneurship.

I call him a “big-hearted-tree-of-knowledge-guy.” Through his writing, vision, talent, experience and seemingly infinite energy resources, he takes the time to help me become who I am, probably after a long day of helping a lot of other folks become who they are. My long struggle isn’t anything new, and that’s the point. My story sometimes seems too common even to myself, but Ari never does anything but legitimize and respond to what are probably some pretty tedious “demands” from me. There’s a song lyric that has stuck with me: “You can lean too hard on a friend, but I don’t recommend it.” From what I can tell, Ari’s the kind of friend you can lean too hard on, because as much as I’ve tried not to, I think I have anyway, and he’s never flinched. I don’t know many folks like him. Actually, I can’t think of anyone like him.

I get the impression that Ari may indeed consider you one of his mentors, so I trust that I’ve made a good choice in whom to send this to. During this holiday season, since I can’t think of a single material “thing” that I could give Ari without it missing the mark (except maybe another trip to Hawaii in February, but I can’t afford that), I’ll just try saying “thank you” to him by way of a guy whom I think he might really respect getting the info from. Here’s my “code green” to Ari Weinzweig. Make it a double code green. Thanks Paul, and a very happy spirit-of-the-season to both of you guys and your great staff too.

Keith Ewing, December 2, 2011

What Myth?

At the risk of sounding like some kind of Joseph Campbell zealot, which would diminish the impact of the connections I’m trying to make in this book, I need to suggest that if you believe you are in schism, Chapter V in Pathways to Bliss can help you. A powerful paragraph speaks to the essence of personal myth:

Mythological images are the images by which the consciousness is put in touch with the unconscious. That’s what they are. When you don’t have your mythological images, or when your consciousness rejects them for some reason or other, you are out of touch with your own deepest part. I think that’s the purpose of a mythology that we can live by. We have to find the one that we are in fact living by and know what it is so that we can direct our craft with competence.[3]

I’m tempted to transcribe the entire chapter because I believe it so effectively captures the reasons for schism and the way out of it. Or you might think of schism as the opposite of being stuck within yourself – as in fact being on the “outside” of yourself and of life, and of finding your myth as the means of coming back “in” to yourself and “in” to life. It’s just two ways to perceive the same problem – that of our consciousness not being connected to our unconscious. Campbell talks about the “awakening of awe” saying that “…it’s not always easy or possible to know by what it is that you are seized.…”[4] He says, as I think I’ve quoted before in this book, “You find yourself doing silly things, and you have been seized but you don’t know what the dynamics are.”[5] He’s convinced that it’s the mind or “brain” that can both “enable” you to live what I think most of us would perceive as a “normal” or even “successful” life (maintaining a family and obtaining prestige in the community for example) and conversely, “impel you to give all that up because you become fascinated with some kind of mystery.”[6]

Campbell goes on in this chapter to flesh out his concept of “awe” to indeed include the kundalini “cakra” (sic) or “chakras” as I’ve seen it spelled, pointing out it is at the level of the fourth chakra, that of the “heart” that we move beyond the level at which animals exist – they do not apprehend or “hear” the mystery of the universe. The “sense of wanting to understand that mystery is the beginning of the spiritual life.”[7]

That animals are key symbols to many of us, and that they play such a magnificent role in classic mythology and indeed in our own (at least my own) personal myths – PIGS! – is undeniable and it’s interesting that Campbell says this:

Now, to give the animals their due, there is a little bit of this in the animals. Animals, at night when they see a light, will approach to know what it is. That’s the beginning. In their next incarnation, they’re going to be on the human level, you might say. This is the awakening of awe. But the light that we’re now going to try to follow is going to lead finally to the pure, undifferentiated light of transcendence.[8]

In re-reading this chapter in Pathways, I can’t recommend it highly enough as almost a step-by-step exercise in how to escape from schism. It’s not, however, something I think can be “digested” with your bacon, eggs, cup of coffee and morning newspaper, which is to say you have to place yourself in the context of authentic self-work. Campbell is not a writer of self-help aphorisms. You can’t be occupied with your daily machinations of existence and expect to find this type of writing anything more than an interesting, possibly mysteriously dense, curiosity. The phrase “follow your bliss” has been, like so many other ideas of weighty origin, often been tossed around too lightly in my opinion – it’s been too often removed from the context of the extensive and erudite scholarship from which it resides to the far too pedestrian ideas of “happiness” as they relate to contentedness or satisfaction, or lack of misery, (which have their own undeniable importance). He’s talking about true surrender to that which is undeniably “you” in the universal field of “Us.” The difficulty and struggle continues – you don’t just “get happy.” You are self-actualizing at all costs, and when you get better at this, I can tell you, you may find yourself needing to discard some things in your life that you may be absolutely convinced are essential, and do some “silly things” that strain and maybe break connections you have between people you know even love. You might have to abandon, as I have been abandoning, some “paths” you’ve been on that may have required unspeakable acts of exertion and years or decades of time and energy. Tough shit, that time and energy might appear to be “waste.” Maybe you could’ve had your shit together so much earlier and made so much more progress so much more quickly, but you haven’t; your life didn’t happen that way. You can act like a crazy artist, and you can also act like a crazy fucking corporate schmuck and family man. Just believe and know that it’s all part of your myth, and it to be as ugly as it needs to be, that’s your only hope. It hasn’t been pretty for me and I can’t imagine it’s going to be for anyone else. The classic myths, as written, can be interpreted as pretty, as beautiful, in the same way any accomplished creative work is. After all, they’ve been cleaned up over the centuries by folks to better represent the universal, but it’s your dirty little personal adventure that’s going to get you where you need to be. Like Campbell says, those universal, traditional symbols and myths are where you begin – you discover the ones that speak to you and “let them work on you.”[9]


[1] Ari Weinzweig, GTGL1…, 265.

[2] Ibid., 264.

[3] Joseph Campbell, Pathways…, 87.

[4] Ibid., 89.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 90.

[8] Ibid., 91.

[9] Ibid., 97.