Icarus or the Phoenix Fire? – All In All Over Again

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Saturday, April 18, 2020. I have a day off but I’m so wiped out and sleep deprived that it seems as if I’ve been slaving away at a forty-plus hour week, as if I’ve been living this job and in actuality I’ve only tallied twenty-three hours of work. But I know it’s two things (1) my age so that I just don’t possess the physical endurance that I used to, and (2) the endurance I still have access to hasn’t kicked in yet. So that next week my body will have recovered, the sleep thing will be more of a habit and the routine will allow me to conserve energy on the job and separate myself from it both physically and psychologically as I’ve probably already discussed.

But I need the money and I’ve got new motivation to acquire it because yesterday I heard back from Findaway and it was to ask me if I’d accept a higher rate from D.S. – he’d raised his fee since I’d selected him by sixty dollars per hour. So my audiobook would go from an estimated $3K to an estimated $4K. Ouch. But I accepted the hike without question because he’s the man for the job, no question, and then just for shits and giggles I reviewed the original narrator casting selections that Findaway had sent me and D.S.’s new rate as posted there is actually much higher even than that: he’s now charging $425/hour which shifts him from among the lowest priced to the singularly most expensive of the lot. Perhaps he’s in demand and is exploiting his opportunity, perhaps he doesn’t want the work – his website indicates otherwise – but it’s a crazy increase which he attributes, per Findaway, to production costs.

Hey, I get it, you charge what the market will bear. While I don’t like to think he’d rather not take the job or that he’s otherwise too busy to do a good job (I began to suspect that my book designer, for example, as talented as she is was getting more business than she could effectively handle, I could be wrong), I have to take that into account. That is, especially for the entrepreneur and sole proprietor it can be tough to say no, to leave money on the table. You try to find a way (pun!) to get it done. But your success can drive you right out of business if you don’t get it right – you stretch yourself too thin, keep doing all the work to maintain quality, don’t hire help (and a narrator can hardly do that) and suddenly you’re missing due dates, your fatigue affects the quality and customers aren’t happy. They go elsewhere. And akin to Icarus, you’ve melted your wings by way of coming too close to the sun.

Meanwhile, Findaway seems pretty sensitive to price point, what with their “share” program (whereby you split the profits with the narrator for a fifty percent savings in production costs) as well as avoiding the perception of the so-called bait-and-switch sales experience which is also a quick way to ruin your reputation and your business. Findaway offered to pursue other narrators if I thought D.S. had become too pricey. But, as I said, D.S. is the man for this job so it’s a moot point. Although $425/hour would’ve sent the costs towards the $5K mark, yikes. Let’s just say that I’m keen to make this happen. Despite Findaway also saying that due to the length of the manuscript and D.S.’s schedule he won’t get the thing done until early August. But the time frame only helps me with getting it paid for without resorting to credit and possible interest fees – you pay on delivery of the finished audiobook. Hence, I’ll need another 2.62 weeks at the home improvement which will put me more or less at the beginning of June before I could quit. But I like contributing to the family income, especially with Angie’s decrease. And I like that things appear to be coming together, step by step. One thing at a time, then. Getting too far out in front of things risks frustration and disappointment. And D.S. has to countersign the agreement, yet, too, or I’ll be back to the beginning.

I didn’t sell any books this week and the three print copies have yet to appear as shipped and therefore sold (versus cancelled). Ugh. I have to let that sense of impending doom go. But it’s damn near impossible not to fret over things. Sustainability. Viability. Legitimacy. Right livelihood. These are my dreams for the book, for my writing. Private writing is not the goal. I seek authorpreneurship and that means, as noted, $12,500 in annual sales, minimum. If it takes the rest of my life, goddammit I’m going to get there, I’m going to have that definitive year.

DOP1 (2010-11) VINTAGE POST:

The Pan Within

November 9th, 2011. “The Pan Within” is a Waterboys song that seems to speak to a kundali-esque heart-mind journey – a “journey under the skin.” I was rained out today with the cart, but we’ll finish the season out with better weather and be done on Saturday. Meanwhile, I’m dropping headcheese samples all over town and even have leads out of town thanks to Ari – he’s of course got an amazing “rolodex” after almost 30 successful years in the food biz. He’s very graciously been recommending retailers that might be interested in marketing the h-cheese – all discerning food/wine/charcuterie/cheese places of the kind of quality that Ari would be associated with. Very cool and priceless help for hh.

Today I delivered samples to:

  • Kelli C., the deli buyer at Plum Market, one of our favorite places to get groceries (they have lots of zcob stuff too!)
  • Sherry at Knights meat market (per recommendation of Mark H.)
  • Bob S. at Sparrow Market (he already has a “hog head cheese” in his case, but it was a crazy dark-colored thing that I couldn’t get myself to try – yikes.)
  • Zingerman’s Roadhouse (also yikes because THAT’s the vision-of-greatness again – Ari suggested it in so many words and he asked that I let him know when I “dropped it” to Alex & Kieron)

I’ve now got to get cold-pack shipping supplies (yet more hh expenses) to get a sample to Marion Street Cheese Market near Chicago (Ari suggested them). He also gave me contacts for:

Dorothy Lane Markets in Dayton, OH

Pastoral in Chicago

Fromagination in Madison, WI

Fromaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA

But I haven’t heard back from those folks, just Marion Street right away which was cool. It’s a lot like looking for a job – you sell yourself and get turned down again and again, and get comments that are helpful and not so helpful and you just keep chugging, keep applying pressure over time, and see if someone connects with you.

I can say that dropping off the samples today was very stressful for me – surprisingly so – I didn’t expect to be so nervous about letting the headcheese into the world for what might be a series of “failure experiences.” I put so much into it, and it seems like what I ought to be doing, like who I am, at least for now, and with the cart sales and interaction with customers, it really seems like the h-cheese jazzes people, like it jazzes me to make it. But this retail salesmanship is certainly nerve-wracking because it’s an entirely different thing to be doing this – it’s not just a sandwich from the cart. The h-cheese is a piece of my own handiwork, my craft; I wanted to somehow not let it go and explain more about it, but it’s not like you can do anything more than be as professional as you can be and honest and then just let it go. You impose and then the universe disposes – it’s not something I’m in control of once I put it in the hands of others. The “boon” I’m bringing back from my hero’s journey, the playing out of my personal myth, will fly or fall now, based on the opinions of just a handful of people now – buyers and shop owners. I can’t rely on the forgiving A2 public who’s been so open to trying hh food at the food court. Now it’s “go time” in the big show with no quarter given.

I did get a “no” from Tommy Y. at Morgan & York – he said it was “high quality meat, clean and porky, not enough seasoning or spice, and the parsley was chopped too coarsely.” I responded with:

Tommy, thanks so much for being gracious with your time and tastebuds! I’m sorry you didn’t prefer the seasoning or the coarsely-chopped parsley – the “personality” of a headcheese as you know varies widely and those traits are intentional, so another batch will be quite similar, I don’t customize the terrine. That you found it “clean and porky” is high praise for me, thank you, that is exactly my goal – it is to be “of-the-pig” vs. other styles which may de-emphasize pork in favor of spice, herbs, wine, cognac, vinegar, etc. Additional salt and pepper is of course subjective and meant to be adjusted after slicing per personal preference or pan-frying – it’s my own palate that finds most restaurant food over-seasoned. Let me know if you change your mind and again, thank you so very much. Keith.

I’m not in “bizzness” so I don’t have any compunction to try to pander to individual micro-critiques of what I’ve put all my heart and all my talents into. It is what it is – take it or leave it. Tommy responded with a “thank you for being so professional and I’m glad that you’re sticking to your vision.” I like that he mentioned “vision” because that’s what has been such an important part of this, thanks to all those folks I’ve been reading including Ari most of all.

Unattachment. I’ll need it to survive this phase of the biz – I can’t let the disappointments drag me down. I’m in it to win it, and we’ll see if I can’t get a “hook in.” If I don’t, then something as great or better will come along and I’ll be ready. Wile it seems like this is my whole life playing out now, with my ass hanging way out in the wind, I need to see the h-cheese not as something that must, at all costs, “succeed” in some way that I can accept or understand right now. The myth may involve a “headcheese” empire (as Mark H. jokingly called it) or the dream may reach a vanishing point, and I’ll have to be prepared for the rest of the adventure or a totally new one.

Sunday, November 13, 2011. Cart season ended yesterday. We did $338, which is at least one thing that came true according to our vision of greatness for the end of the season. I’m tired. We sold fifteen pounds of headcheese in the last three days. Which sort of doesn’t jive with the silence from all the retailers I gave samples to. ZCoB deli and roadhouse, Plum Market, Knights Market, and Sparrow Market. I think it needs to be pan-fried to get people into it, like at the cart and I can tell this idea is not connecting with retailers because in general they don’t have the means to make a hot sandwich out of it. To them, perhaps it’s just another deli meat. Anyway, it’s a bittersweet end to the cart season; I’m proud to have given it my best shot – I gave it my all. Here’s our menu on the last day:

Cart season is over: the last HH menu

Trying to get a hook in is how Campbell would describe it, as I’ve talked about previously. I need to look at the food cart as a legitimate foot in, although it’s not the success I was looking for and this type of thing is where one can get lost – some success in something that you’re not committed to or that you haven’t fully engaged with. A customer came to us on the last day and talked about how she was at Morgan & York a couple weeks ago and asked them if they were going to carry my h-cheese. It’s great that your customers believe in you like that – that they’d help you be successful. I know I like doing that for zcob, but when the shoe is on the other foot so to say and I’m the recipient of that thoughtfulness, it’s very cool, or should I say warm? Anyway, it’s heart warming. Shit like that can keep you going. It does make me wonder even more why ‘ol Tommy Y. didn’t seem more receptive – I had kind of assumed it was just because he didn’t know what the fuck the carts were or who the fuck I was, but here it seems he did and still stiff-armed me hard, not even agreeing to fucking try out a single baby h-cheese.

For whatever reason I do not “see” the cart as the way. It’s always been just a step. I can sell food that folks will eat. But I don’t feel like I’m here to entertain people with food, as many restaurants try to do. Nor am I here to comfort them with pleasing lunches and dinners, or even breakfasts. Maybe like Julia Child or Molly Stevens, I’m not feeling a connection to a restaurant space – it feels limiting. Food cost craziness. Being a slave to people’s lunch hours or dinner hours or whatever. The relentless grind of prep, cook, serve, clean, clean, clean. I suppose it’s no different with h-cheese production but it feels different and better doing that. There has to be a link between the pigs and the food. The animals and the food. Such a link is too remote with all other food besides h-cheese. I cannot fully explain this. Where will the pigs and my own heart take me now?

I’m sticking with what feels like something great. That I can’t explain to anyone else why I’m doing what I’m doing or why I’m NOT doing this or that, has got to just be the way it is. I attempt to explain things at least to myself in this book, which has simply become a diary for better or for worse now. It’s a record of how this shit is playing out and maybe it’s just tedious and fucking boring. Maybe this writing is really just therapy. Whatever it is, it’s one of my vocations that I need to practice to be myself; to be who I am. I’m thinking about the out-of-state retailers and they feel more jazzy to me than all the local places besides zcob and plum. This is all intuition now and I’ve become better at listening to myself. I’m just not able to explain myself. Sometimes I feel like a can’t even talk to other people from my past. Family and people I’ve known, or even know now, seem disconnected to me, like I’m preoccupied with some mission or destiny and maybe I’m just taking things too far, getting obsessed, trying to prove something, I don’t know sometimes, I’m just trying to keep following what guides me. It must seem strange to others, I come off as a dick certainly. There’s just a focus. I need to relax the intensity though sometimes – at least I think others might suggest that. However, I’m not sure that’s a benefit to me right now. I need to do some things and I feel like for once it’s going to be my way with no compromise until I get tired of being a hard head. My lack of experience with doing what I really want to do is a weakness and causes me delays and I become an impatient prick. Angie can tell you that.

I do know that I don’t really like being stuck in Michigan. I was done with Michigan a long time ago, and being back here isn’t pleasant to me. My family might think I’m a fucked up dick, but I do not (and never have) felt like this is my home. Where is my home? I don’t know. Ann Arbor used to be as close to my home as anything ever was, but now I feel distant from it. I’m going to stop struggling with that though – I can’t force the zcob retail connection – it may be better for me and hh to be selling out of state – I just thought of this. Maybe I don’t need a home so much as just a collection of places. I’ve said before: I collect cities. I just feel this energy that spans out into the other places of America. Maybe I should think about Europe too? I need the great, not just the good.

I’ll be needing a job as it looks like the h-cheese empire is going to take awhile. If we go back to the cart court next year, it would only be for the purpose of promoting the h-cheese. I’d sell mac & cheese and shit, but that’s no way to be in biz – it has to be an expression of who I am – it has to be a means for me to be who I am. I can’t imagine going back to EHS. Maybe just waste management and environmental shit. Maybe I can do it part-time while I do h-cheese. Hell, it might be a vanishing point soon, but maybe not. But I have to start helping to pay the bills instead of just racking them up. We need to get the credit card down and I’ll just have to find a way to make some cash that doesn’t drive me nuts. No, that’s bullshit. Not driving me nuts was my old way of looking at a job. I need to listen to my heart and guides and we’ll see where this goes. It must be, will be, GREAT, versus good, let alone shitty. I really need to not allow myself to shut down our slide back towards Michigan expectations. I need to keep looking way in and way out. Anyway, the 2011 season is over and the hh cart is parked in front of 1433:

The HH cart is parked