Thursday, May 21, 2020. The sham-scam-demic that governments and the clean-freak liberals that support them are propagating, having their little day, as it were, whereby anyone who thinks for themselves and doesn’t organize their day and least of all their lifestyle by way of the direction of the news media which are merely mouthpieces for leftist or rightist agendas, inflames personal and cultural schisms. If the four functions of mythology are (1) a cosmology, (2) a sense of awe that supports that cosmology, (3) a sociology that defines morality and ethics, and (4) a pedagogical, supporting psychology, then the unhinged wackiness, panic and paranoia that has seized far too many morons in positions of authority at this moment in history may be described as an example of a schism with its node of distortion originating within the third function, that of sociology. That is, if you are so damned concerned with me wearing a worthless mask and remaining six feet distant from you as a demonstration of solidarity against a perceived biological threat, determined as you are to describe folks like me as so-called “covidiots” then I’m happy to reverse the accusation. In other words, I consider the control-freak, group-think, radically politically paranoid right to have lost their minds. It is you, dear mask-wearer, who is a covidiot. Your science is Franken-science. That is to say that anyone can find a so-called science to support their theories, sane or otherwise. And PhD scientists, rather than demonstrating the top tier of human intellect and scholarship more often, of course, have simply surrendered themselves to the schism-inducing gamesmanship and self-serving viciousness routinely propagated within their hyper-competitive, all-too-narrow areas of academic interest. They consistently demonstrate themselves to be the most mindless, agenda-laden, self-absorbed and one-dimensional neurotics on the planet. There are exceptions with whom I myself have corresponded.
But what’s new, anyway, about the shitheads running the show? I try to let it go, to wait it out. And those of you out there doing the same, trying to temper your outbursts, to ignore CNN and FoxNews and even the idiots at the CDC who apparently couldn’t find their ass with both hands, I express my solidarity. We will have our day. Or at least witness the self-correcting aspect of Nature of which humans and their politics is merely a part. It indeed comes down to biology. Which does not suggest biological positivism. Rather, it suggests mythology. Mythology, as the attentive reader will surmise, incorporates science and spirit. If our spiritual realities are psychological in origin – if they come from within – then how can they be considered at all real? Well, they are real enough. Origins are, in the end, irrelevant when one lives a mythologically attuned life. The Mystery that I perceive, that I have encountered, may originate within me, outside of me or may be a function of both. Studying the experience of being properly alive or not leads me to believe the phenomenological aspect is the only relevant concern. You do what works or you do not. You possess a more or less fully functional personal mythology and it more or less coincides with your particular cultural mythology. The inevitable schism that exists between the two – between who you are and what the cosmos intends for you – between destiny and fate, so to say, between dream and reality, merely exemplifies and amplifies our requirement to function out of our personal mythology and allow the cultural version to take care of itself.
Politics at its idealistic worst happens when anyone confuses personal mythology with that of the cultural. Personal mythology is exemplified and enhanced and rendered most effective by way of moment-by-moment attention, refined mindfulness and sometimes excruciating attention. It is of the moment. Cultural mythology, conversely, can be said to be geological in temporal terms. My personal mythology plays out within my brief lifetime. The cultural mythologies that surround me, that I’m born into, play out, as history teaches, over generations. So that my reference, my analogy to geological time – eons – isn’t completely successful but at least succeeds in divorcing the zealot’s neurotic immediacy and punctilious idealism from anything practical or pragmatic or worth fretting about. You cannot apply the lean, nimble, quick-maturing precision of personal mythology to that of the flabby, clumsy, slow-growth inaccuracies of its cultural counterpart. Hence, those of us who endure the sense, perpetually, of our personal mythology being at odds with that of our culture.
If that were the only problem we might overcome it, we might find our place in the world. But for too many of us, we don’t surrender to the irreconcilable conflict between our internal (biological) energies, our inborn imperatives, our personal mythology until perhaps middle age, if then. And by then, it’s largely too late to enjoy a life of integration and community and individuation outside of a very personal version.
I’ve said nothing new. I’ve lived like so many other misfit artist-craftsmen who ascribe neither to leftist, rightist nor centralist politics, who rather eschew politics altogether in favor of the salvation of mythology. Who you are resides there, within myth. The way home is there, within myth. The world within and the world without come together as best they can there, within myth. You are living a spiritual life in a material world. And you are living a material life within a spiritual or spirit-world. These are the facts that do not resemble the facts of physics (which too often seem outside of our experience) as much as the facts of epistemology. If mythological time resembles geological time (aeonic) then it might be said that mythological physics (science) resembles geophysics. Your mythology and that of all cultures, in the end, is of this Earth. It is of the earth beneath your feet. Which is inherently cosmic. If we are, as physics reveals, merely spread outward from a cosmic ground, a cosmic origin, a Big Bang, a space-time singularity then it is not otherworldliness that we seek but a hyper-worldliness. The mind knows no distance and its action is superluminal. We are unbound to physics as it is currently described. But only currently. Meanwhile, we are to recognize that there is no distance, galactic or otherwise between us and our essence despite our individual uniqueness. Mythology describes this paradox, it is at home describing it. Hence the expression of self is our freedom from it. I’ve said nothing new.
Meanwhile, I’m compelled to publish a massive vintage post. Why? To begin with, I’m pestered by the idea that I’ve somehow managed to repeat myself – working a low-wage part-time job while struggling to escape the purgatory of personal mythological schism induced by entrepreneurial failure. E + R = O (Event + Response = Outcome), a formula borrowed from Jack Canfield, if nothing else suggests that we not make the same mistakes twice (change the “R” and the “O” must to change). Otherwise, why not sling a zillion words into this website – nobody’s reading them anyway – and then I can at least enjoy the feeling of having confessed it all and in that way gotten past it. I want to arrive at the point in 2012 where I’ve quite ZMO and gotten on with my life. Rather than mirror a version of my unhappy self from eight years ago almost to the day. Perhaps also it’s to reinforce my determination not to succumb to the false sense of purpose working at the home improvement threatens to bestow.
Working a damn job is not my life, it is not my destiny, it is not my mythology. I have dreams, visions and strategies that surpass anything offered by anything less. And I’m tired of trying to ascertain the proper way of doing things. I’m more of a mind to get out of the middle of the road and just push this blog to the limit. So be it, welcome to an entire 2012 season’s worth of journal entries describing the end of the HH food cart, the middle and end of me working at ZMO, the selling of our Texas house (finally) and the beginning of my first (failed) devotion to my full-time writing.
DOP1 2012 VINTAGE POSTS:
Friday, May 25, 2012. So, here I am today fighting both a wacky health problem and my biophycomythological schism. The health problem is just some sort of allergy-induced kidney problem that has now hit me for the second time in a month. Back pain, sweats, headaches, fucked up guts, weakness, mental sluggishness and sensitive skin. It’s stupid and boring. There’s been enough tree pollen blowing around this spring to torture anyone with allergies. Anyway, the only good thing about it is it motivated me to call off from working at zmo today – I was scheduled for all fucking day doing inventory then packing boxes – their goal is to have the memorial day weekend off versus coming in on Sunday for yet another monthly (fucking monthly, are you kidding?) inventory. I’m getting sick and tired of working like a fucking slave at zmo for jack-shit money while the “steady-time” men and women just act like managers, same old story. I’m starting to feel, like Emma Goldman, exploited. Mo F, who’s a nice guy, spends his days doing I’m not sure what in Brooklyn and the two other managing partners are rarely around. The argument for “working on” versus “working in” your business, discussed convincingly by Ari in gtgl2, isn’t helping me figure out why the co-managing partners at zmo don’t get out on the warehouse floor and do some fucking work. Count some bread in the freezer trailer. Yeah, that fucking sucks. Count jars, boxes, bags, containers, whatever the fuck for a few hours in a dusty warehouse every single fucking month. See how you like that. Instead of not being anywhere in sight, possibly because you’re sick and tired of what you do for a living, and having the long-time manager-wannabes just stand around and “verify” shit (which is the kind of work I used to get paid fairly well for), why don’t you immerse yourself in your business. I’ve worked on both sides of the so-called table, more than once and in more than a handful of different companies and it’s bullshit anyway you cut it. I think the only guys that should be working exclusively on the business are Ari and Paul, the founders – everybody else, managing partners or whatever – should be working in the business at least part of each day. I’d even suggest that Ari and Paul should still be doing their time in the trenches. Pick a fucking job – any job in the company – and try your best at it for half a day or so. See if you like what’s going on. That has to be worth more than whatever else you’re up to. I’m going to re-read that chapter in Ari’s book just to try to understand where Ari’s coming from because he’s always been right with this exception.
Anyway, I still think I’m a much better zcob customer than employee and it comes down to the fact that I’m a shitty employee period. I’m not a team player and I can’t work for anybody, it drives me fucking nuts. The hypocrisy, idiocy, game-playing, status-flexing, ladder-climbing, fear-aggression and passive-aggressive bullshit just makes me want to punch something, or somebody. Fuck it. I just want to yell out loud “You people don’t make shit, why the fuck do you act like you care so fucking much!?” – “ZCoB is ripping you off!!” I know the food service biz is a hard-knock shit-bag struggle in which to try to make any money at all, like any other service and commodity-based business, but Jesus Christ zcob pays like shit. I paid my brother better when he helped out with the food cart. $8.25/hour in 2012? It just shows, given the fact that zcob is still, in spite of their shitty wages, only showing $2M in profit after $40M in revenue, that the food biz is just a horribly tough way to make a buck. Of course zcob’s “success,” relative as it is, also shows that it can be done. And apparently zcob has plenty of employees who seem to actually enjoy it, although there’s more than a handful like myself who have a hard time with the demands and expectations in comparison with the compensation. Some of this blab is just me reconciling the customer-versus-employee experience of zcob. If I had to pay any more for zcob food, I wouldn’t, so I know full well that they’re doing their very best to get the sustainable biz model right and part of that unfortunately is wages. But it still grinds me to see owners and “leadership” sitting on their asses and delegating to the lowly, so-called “unskilled” herd beneath them all the work that if I owned the biz, I’d still be helping with. When Tom R. says they can’t, as leadership, make the improvements to the work process themselves, that it’s up to us on the front lines to do that work, I frankly get god-damn rankled. If you’re so fucking busy working “on” a twenty-plus-year-old mail order biz that has two other managing partners also supposedly working “on” it that you can’t work the line, the phones, the kitchen, the warehouse, etc. at least a couple days per week to keep your finger on the pulse of the action, then I’m struggling to understand something. Really. It’s just like the attitude I saw at the stupid food court: owners of the carts were continually trying to hire help they couldn’t afford simply to do the work they didn’t want to do. What kind of fucked up biz model is that? In my world, and maybe I’m really missing something, you as owner do the work until your biz makes enough money to be able afford help. Yes, then that help gives you the opportunity to make more money and hire more help, but the numbers will always be marginal as long as you focus on employing people. Hire very carefully. Not at any chance you get. You got inventory to do? YOU fucking do the inventory. Why pay somebody else to do it? The answer I get is that people will work for such small wages that you might as well let them do it instead of you – they’re willing to sell their time so fucking cheaply that they’ll work like a slave (which you certainly fucking do in the food biz) for jack-shit money. I’ve done it with zcob now since December and I’m getting pretty much fed up with it – I don’t need a job that pays such shitty wages for such hard-ass and demanding work while the fat-cat owners and moron managers (same old story) try to rise above the humble nature of their work. Will higher wages put everyone out of business? If you can’t pay a living wage you should be out of business. Am I more of an anarchist than Ari? I’m willing to be that if Emma Goldman, one of Ari’s heroes, was still around, she’d be agreeing with me.
I don’t like trashing zcob – I believe that Ari and Paul are the very essence of big-hearted-tree-of-knowledge folks and that they are not out to get “rich” by exploiting unskilled labor. But it is damn near impossible, from doing the mathematics as I see it, to run a sustainable food service business without both pricing your shit beyond what any unskilled job could pay and simultaneously paying those unskilled jobs unlivable wages. What to do? Fuck if I know. There’s no practical solution to it. It just gets down, as always, to survival of the fittest and sometimes the only break you get in life is the privilege of living at the poverty line while working for a company who feels bad about it. Is this my indictment of the zcob way? Probably. But really, it’s probably just my own unwillingness to get on board with the zcob commitment. I allow myself to feel exploited. I’ve chosen to work there and as I’ve gained some experience with what goes on, I find I don’t like some shit about it. I don’t get jazzed about everybody reporting on financials when they don’t make enough money themselves to even fucking worry about financials. Ari: who the fuck cares about financial “forecasts,” “plans” and “actuals” when you can’t pay your own fucking bills? Working for zcob still appeals to folks, in spite of the shitty wages, because it’s not a cruel, viscous, heartless pit of hell like most other workplaces. So being nice to folks can get you somewhere even if you don’t pay them well. Zcob’s turnover is, according to Ari, something 25% of the industry average. I’m thinking now that he’s being a little artful with the numbers, but then again artfulness in business comes right out of the artfulness required in the accounting side.
Back to me being a shitty employee. Nobody who’s as impatient for the outcome of his deeds as I am and who expects as much out of life as I do can ever be satisfied working for someone else, even if it’s Ari. I’m not sure why I fight this but I do, almost daily. I looked for jobs again today and proved to myself again that even when pursuing the wrong “dream,” you can achieve it if you work at it long and hard enough. You can force any shape of peg into any shape of hole with enough pressure and time. It might kill you in the process, or at least ruin your health, but you can get what you thought you wanted. Like an EHS job for example. I found one online for Chrysler’s Warren Stamping Plant today. They want the experience, education and certifications that I have. I could apply and I bet I’d get an interview. They might age discriminate, but I bet if I wanted the job bad enough, I’d have a good chance of getting it. Maybe not, but eventually, if I kept trying to re-enter that field, I’d re-enter it, I know that. And maybe I’d end up with that environmental manager job at Chrysler that I thought I should’ve had back in 1998, just to make the irony unequivocally complete. I’d be about the same age as that troubled asshole Rocky S. was when I worked for him at SHAP, which is a sad, sorry biobiophycomythological picture to paint for myself. Why do I consider these things? It reminds me of when I actually did get the offer I’d been looking for – that long-awaited chance to work directly for an auto company in their environmental department. I’m pretty sure I’ve already written about this, but I’ll describe it here anyway. First, there was the interview at the posh General Motors offices at Detroit’s Renaissance Center – the suit and tie formality of it all, like a step back in time. There was the kind reference from Jim W. at Milford Proving Grounds, which I thank him for – he certainly didn’t have to stick his neck out for me. Finally, the several hours of corporate processing one endures – the waiting, filling out of forms, waiting again to be interviewed (more than once); the putting on of your best face, your best act, the persona you think they want to see while at the same time trying to be yourself because you know they’ll see through any inauthenticity. In the end, the exhausting, tedious weirdness of it all that so often left me, as I drove mindlessly home or back to work again, with a sense of “not a chance in hell.” For so many years this was all it ever came to. I indeed left the GM interview as exhaustedly indifferent as ever, with no inclination of having got it any less wrong than I usually did. It was just the end of another interview.
Except this time, incongruously, it all fell into place: I got the job offer. Looking back, it still doesn’t seem entirely real. An offer of employment as an environmental manager with General Motors. It meant the potential for even more career security, such as it is these days, than I had at JCI. JCI was big, but GM was bigger, much bigger. Maybe I’d even have access to a pension. I’d finally made it, I’d finally got an job offer, after all those years of working as a lowly contractor, from an automobile company. I’d achieved my vision, or something as close to it as was strategically sound. It wasn’t Chrysler, it wasn’t even Ford, both of which I’d have preferred, intuitively, over GM, but it was an American automobile company – one of the original so-called Big Three, just like where my father, my younger brother, and various other relatives worked. I could look forward to talking shop at family gatherings for the rest of my life, safe and sound from any of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s interminable inquisitions. The circle would be complete, I’d made it all the way round.
I kept the offer letter, obviously. It meant something to me, it was an achievement. It was legitimization, which I’ve always craved, because I’m so fucking insecure. The comeback from my previous fiasco – the music retail-NYC version – which I’d been working on for fifteen years, was complete: I’d made it all the way back, I’d come back from NYC a failure, gone back to college, earned an M.S., endured the trials of starting your career over, and now, after all that time and energy, I’d made it. And just like me, rather than appreciating what I had in my hand, I instantly chose to use it as leverage with my at boss at JCI for more money, which was always my unspoken agenda. Which I got, fucking yippee.
You see, I didn’t really want to move to the Baltimore area – it didn’t feel right and as yet, Angie and I hadn’t convinced NSF to allow her to work from home and thus free us to move with her job intact. Why else take a relocation and promotion – it’s all about the fucking money isn’t it? I figured the better bet at that point was to stick with JCI, mostly because I really liked JCI and facility management felt right to me. Things continued to go my way because I did, as I’ve written about earlier, eventually get that chance to move within JCI and NSF agreed to let Angie work from home, and we ended up in Friendswood, TX.
That the fiasco of Friendswood is still playing out speaks to the magnitude of it. Today, almost three-and-a-half-years after we bought it, two years after we put it up for sale, and just over a year after we moved out of it, we got an offer to buy our 3409 house in TX. Our beloved, perfect house that was the only grace we ever knew down there, has become just another crazily distorted absurdity in a tragically long string of such stemming from that fiasco. We’ve paid a heavy price around that house, financially and otherwise. The offer, as our real estate agent Alinda said, “is terrible, but it’s an offer.” At this point, whatever it costs us, which will be tens of thousands of dollars, will be worth it just to cut it loose. To let the inessential go. We can’t afford to pay two mortagages, we have no renter lined up and beginning next month, that mortgage will again be ours to pay. Is it financially smart to dump a house for what amounts to a fucking steal for the buyer? Who cares? I used to care. What was always a psychological burden for Angie has finally become a biobiophycomythological burden for me: it’s time to leave 3409 behind, for better or for worse only time will tell. When Angie told me we had an offer last night, I knew I didn’t care about the money anymore. I hope it works out; that it’s not just some predatory schmuck trying to flip houses, if you can even do that anymore in this market. That house just represents so many things that happened, didn’t happen, almost happened and never should have happened, with an overwhelming emphasis on “never should have happened.” Today, it’s bright and sunny, the kind clear blue sky day that never seemed to end in Houston. We used to get tired of it; sick of it actually. I used to say it was like living inside a light bulb, the sun was just so continually and intensely bright. And hotter than hell. Anyway, any fantasies I ever had of somehow keeping that house and using it as a winter vacation home or selling it for what we paid for it are long gone. That ship has sailed into the oil-soaked Gulf of Mexico….
E + R = O. Today, again, in defiance of that formula, I looked up a few “real jobs.” I couldn’t bring myself to apply to any of them. Again. Just like I haven’t been able to apply to any zcob full-time jobs. Why? It’s not like I don’t want a fucking job. In these states of schism, I’ve reached so often to the authors that have sustained me – I grab whichever book that I’m most drawn to in the moment, open it and begin reading whatever’s on the page. Always, it helps me. Today, it was Canfield’s Success Principles and a quote he included from Joyce Spizer, another author:
“No” is a word on your path to “Yes.” Don’t give up too soon. Not even if well-meaning parents, relatives, friends, and colleagues tell you to get “a real job.” Your dreams are your real job.
 Jack Canfield, The Success Principles…, 173.
Oxen & Onions
There’s a cookbook that Ari W. highly recommends by George Lang entitled The Cuisine of Hungary, which was originally published in 1971 by Atheneum. Ari writes at length about it in one of his essays, saying that of all his many food books,
It has long been one of my favorites. If I had to move into an efficiency apartment and could only take, say, seventy or eighty books with me (the “only in there ought to give you some sense of how many food books I actually have), Lang’s would be one of the top picks on my list.
I learned quite awhile ago that if Ari recommends a book, chances are it’s worth reading and this is certainly no exception; it’s exactly the type of food writing I enjoy the most, combining unpretentious erudition with an uninhibited devotion to the full pleasures of cooking and eating. Full of lively history, quirky factoids, academic rigor, an endearing nostalgia tempered with worldly objectivity, charming illustrations and old photographs, it’s as heartwarming an introduction to Hungarian-ness by way of good eating as one could imagine. I’ve never been to Hungary, but now I want to visit – what more worthy compliment could a book with such a title receive?
The book is still in print and after searching on the web, I found that it has in fact been through at least several different publishers and printings, with several different dust jacket designs. Ari is a lover of books, not just the reading of them, so when he mentioned owning an “old green-dust-jacketed copy” I took notice and tried to find one. In general, acquiring first editions and rare books has never interested me. I prefer, for the most part, a clean, updated, corrected copy over any error-filled, dusky old relic that requires delicate handling. After all, since I most often work the books I own – marking pages, bending corners, highlighting, underlining, making notes in the margins, etc.- they end up unsellable let alone collectible. Ocassionally however, as with many reprinted, re-recorded, re-mastered, reprinted, reissued or otherwise re-released antiquations, the original version retains a tangible essence, magic heart or apt presentation that has otherwise been stripped away, denuded, or denatured out of the subsequent versions, usually by dint of financial economy. Likewise, Lang’s book’s original dust-jacket artwork by Seymour Chwast expressed, even online, a colorful and inviting charm I found more compelling than any of the more recent printings, and I was surprised to discover, after noticing its original 1971 price printed on the dust jacket, that I paid less than the original $17.50.
The book is every bit as interesting and engaging as Ari describes and as I had hoped, more so in fact. It’s written in a very friendly, funny, conversational yet intelligent style and it brims over with warmth and just enough enticing exoticness to make one feel like you’ve entered, through a jeweled door, a rich and magical old world. Here’s a 1957 poem, of all things, called “In Praise of a Sow” by Jozef Berda and translated by Paul Tabori:
Your Grace, Your Most Gracious Majesty!
thus I courted the four-hundred-pound sow,
when grunting she approached me –
Love’s passion’s fine work raises us
to human dignity; but a handsome porker
can also be praised by the poet’s art
Hilarious. Lang also declares the Hungarian “holy trinity” of onions, lard and paprika to be so traditional and essential that it would seem to deserve eternal legitimacy beside any French or New Orleans version; I look forward to trying a recipe that uses it. Illustrations and photographs enliven the already energetic text and this particularly entertaining example visually narrates the folk festivities accompanying the coronation of Franz Josef I in 1848 (verify date), including at the very bottom of the picture, the rarely recorded act of “stunning” an ox with a blow from the back of an axe; two assistants can be seen holding the ox’s horns prior to the animal being struck down, the roasting spit and supports at the ready:
Wednesday, May 30, 2012. The Camp Bacon III Street Fair is this Sunday. I’m bringing the cart out for one last appearance. I’d only do it for zcob. I’ve started my food prep for the event today by making beef stock with bones I bought from Niman one year ago this month. It’s the last of them and I’ve seen better – the freezer eventually sucks the life out of shit, so I’m pretty sure now that a year is the maximum amount of time I’d freeze anything. Of course it matters how well it’s wrapped or zip-locked or otherwise freezer-sealed. Making stock always seems to ground me somehow, but not today. I seem to have aged a thousand years just since moving to this apartment, mostly over an absurd battle with the punk manager of Olga’s restaurant below us: we can hear their music through the floor of our apartment, sometimes all through the night. I’ve talked to asshole kid, a loud-mouthed moron, and we’ve found a sound level whereby it’s suitably audible in the restaurant but that doesn’t bother us. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take twenty-four hours before the music is blaring again. This brainless dolt’s name is Joe and poor Joe actually had the nerve to tell me that they play the music that loud to cover up the sound from the kitchen and that I’m lucky it isn’t an Olga’s in a shopping mall because they play their music even louder. (I did say this kid was stupid). The clientele for an Olga’s these days is nothing but families and octogenarians – I don’t think they require the latest pop tunes booming over their conversations or into their hearing aids. Anyway, it got bad enough that I ended up calling the police thirteen nights in a row, after which the cops finally walked through the place and discovered a jam-box in the kitchen that was adding to the problem. They threatened to cite Joe for violating the noise curfew (that begins at 10pm). All this time I’d tried to get help from the apartment complex, but the facility folks seemed inept and powerless. Eventually the music stopped at 10pm, though sure enough at 8am it started up again when the curfew ended. The months went by and we tolerated the noise during the day until one day it simply stopped and I’ve never heard it again since, not even if I put my ear to the floor. Oh, and ‘ol Joe himself eventually disappeared; hopefully they canned his worthless punk-ass but more than likely he’s gracing the environs of another hapless chain-restaurant with his grotesque managerial shenanigans.
I seem to be getting in my own way lately. One risks, as they say, “re-doubling your efforts while losing sight of the goal.” I’ve been thinking too much, pondering, which itself becomes ponderous. I need to do some living, to participate and get out of my own head. I’m strangling my future by being humorlessly obsessed by it – none of my problems are so fucking intractable and immense that I can’t laugh at them. This apartment and Olga’s noise for example; Camp Bacon and my last fling with the food cart; this book; my vocations; being an entrepreneur with no business model. Pressure and time has been a favorite mantra of mine but maybe a I’ve been applying a little too much pressure and not enough time lately.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012. I’m recovering finally from the week-long enterprise of prepping, cooking, selling, cleaning and packing up for our last food cart appearance at the Zingerman’s Camp Bacon III Street Fair this past Sunday. It was a disappointing bust. Last year’s event had far more foot traffic. This year, I think the “Taste of Ann Arbor” event, in which all the local restaurants run sales and put examples of their food into a Main Street food stand environment, impacted people’s interest in the Street Fair. That, and what I think is a waning public interest in the bacon craze. The vibe we had last year was no where to be seen this time – no energy, a complete dud.
I brought all the h-cheese I’d made before getting kicked out of Union Hall kitchen by Mark-the-man-child-asshole. Zingerman’s asked us to prepare for a huge number of people and I was hoping we’d sell out early and get the fuck out. Nope. I probably threw out fifteen pounds of h-cheese, almost an entire tray of mac & cheese (I sold one order) virtually all of the two or three pounds of roasted cucumber salad and at least five pounds of the best faggots and onion gravy I ever made. A waste of great food and a budget-busting waste of money for me and Angie. It demonstrated one last time how the food cart business just plain sucks, at least the way I do it; it’s a hopelessly unsustainable business and the bullshit that other carters will tell you about sales and so-called success is just that: bullshit. The only folks who manage to squeeze a profit out of it have reduced their food costs to below thirty percent (just like that food cart book I bought before I started the cart advised) and therefore sell a lousy, industrialized food product. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: food carts suck. Food costs that low mean you’re not getting any meat, and if you do, it’s CAFO meat. Stale, canola oil-based bread is all you’ll ever get and virtually no cheese will ever appear on the menu because it’s typically at least as expensive as meat. Anyway, I thanked Ari for inviting hh and wrote him that it meant a great deal to me to be able to close out my cart biz with an event associated with Zingerman’s – it was great to be able to exit with class. The great feedback from the foodsters that understand us is something I’ll miss – there are folks out there who get it and really that’s all I ever wanted to do: just connect with like-minded folks, be myself, be who I am and have some connection with others based on that authenticity.
The photograph says it all: no energy, no vibe, no customers. What am I looking at? The void and the death of another dream. I was up at the crack of dawn again that morning, waiting in ZMO’s parking lot for one of the Managers to open the place up so I could get in the kitchen, prep, cook, reheat to temperature, load the food into my insulated transport container, and drive across town in time for my appointment with the County food safety inspector so I could legally sell food. It turns out that the inspector was running late for all her other inspections and couldn’t even wait for me – I was on time and she fucking ended up leaving – Angie said she signed off on the cart as soon as Angie pointed out my truck driving through traffic. But who cares? It was just another example of how much wasted energy I poured into that doomed business. Goodbye and good riddance. Yet, something still feels right about me working with food – it was strange to me that while I was busting my ass much of the week and especially the two days before the street fair event, that it all felt like an end and a beginning at the same time. I can’t say that hh has ever done anything that can qualify as “good business” yet but like I wrote to Ari, it may be that if I keep trying, I’ll zero-in on a sustainable iteration of hh, one that makes a buck while still being in line with my biobiophycomythology. It all seems to move so painfully slowly sometimes. The hero journey that we live out is not, unfortunately, the hero journey we see in movies or read about in books.
Paul from Darcy’s towed my cart away when we were done. He didn’t seem too thrilled about it. I’d certainly never have bought it if I was him. He was off to do some baby shower with it – some ding-bat girl thought it’d be fun to have a food cart serve tacos at her shower. Stupid. You couldn’t pay me enough money to get involved in that kind of so-called business – what a tedious, worthless chore – how much money could you possibly make? Christ, I lost my ass (after busting my ass) yet again just doing the Street Fair one last time. The bone-breaking work involved in it all – the cooking is the easy part – is just un-fucking-believable. The energy equation of the food business, at least the way I do it, is so out of balance that had I really understood it, everything thing involved in trying to sell food and make money at it, I never would’ve been dumb enough to try it. I never got back anywhere near what I gave out running that cart and that’s just no way to live. But at least the cart’s gone – who knows what scrap heap it’ll end up in someday. Anyway, vanishing points allow one to move on. No death, no life….
It’s the end of yet another biophycomythological fiasco. I swear it feels like I’ve been fucking up for forty years. I somehow manage to go down such impossible roads and I’ve only got myself to blame; I’ve never learned how to take the easy road and now I think I should just quit worrying about it, it’s just part of who I am to take the “left-hand path” which so often seems to be the more difficult path. I’m not a restauranteur; I’m not an EHS manager; I’m not music retail manager – I don’t know who or what the fuck I am. Accepting this failure is not an easy thing to do. The strain on my marriage has been significant. The strain on me has been incalculable: I can’t add up the time and effort I seem to have “wasted” on this fiasco and all the others. Like Campbell, I feel so often that I work like an ox on totally irrelevant things. From high-school baseball tryouts to one-way tickets to NYC; from going back to college, to corporate relocations – from Manhattan to Ann Arbor to Texas City and back to Ann Arbor again. From kundalini to entrepreneurship to USDA Grants of Inspection to Zingerman’s Mail Order; from newspaper articles and facebook “likes” to being out of fucking business and making $8.25/hour part-time-temporary at an unskilled warehouse job. All the blood, sweat and tears in between. All the heartache. The money that’s come and gone. The apartments and houses and apartments again and furniture bought and sold. The chasing of my tail. It’s all just completely impossible to quantify and who the fuck would want to? If I had to do it all over again, of course I wouldn’t. In the end, I don’t want to meditate my way out of life, I want to meditate my way into it. Maybe all this is working in some way I’m not aware of right now. I’m whining and crying like a fucking baby about it, but here I am writing. I’ve been an entrepreneur cooking and serving great food to a public that in large part gives back to me what I think I deserve. I have the respect of many food-lovers and the respect of my guides. I listen to music, phycomythologize, walk and generally engage my vocations. When I’m not losing money I earn very little of it, but I might in fact be happy. I’d like to get to the point where I can be sure about that.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012.
These things you keep
You better throw them away
You have to turn your back on your soulless days
That was the river
This is the sea.
In the song, Mike Scott also talks about surrender. That’s how art, in this case music, can “cut-to-the-chase” so to say regarding life’s big questions: all the blah, blah, blah; all the words and mental exertions; the running up and down metaphorical stairs (to borrow again from Ueland) fall away before the plain truth of the lyrics within the music – no more needs to be said, one hears the truth for what it is and in the best songs, we’re both comforted in our inadequacies and strengthened in our resolve to change.
Angie and I spent last weekend in Chicago. Travel always stirs my biophycomythological pot, mostly for the better, though coming home this time, I fell into a funk. The trip was refreshing, but I found the city somehow too familiar, though I hadn’t been there in twenty-five years. So much hadn’t changed and what was new seemed so much like what you see in every other city: chain restaurants, drug stores, glassy high-rises, attractive moneyed people young and old, a skyline. We walked, drank, ate and saw a favorite band of ours – Heartless Bastards – at a free show that was part of a “ribfest” in a neighborhood north of downtown.
We rode the train part of the way to the show. We had only a loose agenda all weekend, and we both took Monday off so Sunday was a full day and night of adventure with no worries about getting home to work the next day. We even stumbled across the annual blues festival while on an aimless tour of the city; it’s now, apparently, a financially strapped city-run event that’s been forced to focus on local talent because they can’t afford to bring in out-of-town acts. Maybe that’s a good thing. But it makes you wonder how a city famous for its blues music – and the third largest city in America – gets in a situation where they can’t afford national acts for their biggest blues festival.
We also stumbled into a so-called “lit-fest” where booksellers we schlepping new and used books from their temporary stands and poetry readings took place in sweltering tents. It wasn’t any fun really, but I got a couple of free copies of Poetry’s recent 100-year anniversary editions, Poetry being a Chicago-based journal (at least before they got rich with a huge endowment some years ago so that now I think they publish out of Florida). Anyway, we ate pizza, drank beer, got some sun, saw some sights and in general did what we always do on trips, which is to say simply did our thing in a different part of the world.
Upon our return from Chicago, I began working more hours at zmo – they’ve lost a shitload of people since I started in December – I’ve no idea how many, but with the attrition, my warm body has become more useful. I applied to what they’re calling a “captain” position in the kitchen, but since the description just sounds like more of the same type of “market place prep” – whereby we primarily make a continuous supply of potato salad, coleslaw, Russian dressing, sliced emmental, and pimento cheese, etc. – I’m not sure it’s for me. I had responded to the posted job in an inspired manner, essentially presenting a vog for the zmo kitchen:
hey folks, this sounds compelling, and i think i have the chops for it. i’d humbly say i’m at the 10 level for kitchen experience including serve safe training and usda grant-of-inspection experience. food passion? how about food obsession? there’s my humble hogs food cart experience and i’m just jazzed about great zcob food. i’ve been pondering the next step within zcob, so this may be a good fit. there’s no mention of employee meals, so it must be production prep, right? that’s o.k. whipping sops into shape, organizing the kitchen so that it gets cleaned better & more often (the work tables should be on rollers so that the floor can be swept and mopped wall-to-wall every day it’s used and all table-tops need to be spotless. a larger or double veg sink that can double as a cooling station (to dump ice into and quickly cool hot pots, stocks, soups, taters, etc. – the health dept. loves cooling stations).
but it’s about the food in the end. the food has to be safe. but the food has to “pop” and comfort you and surprise you and make you think of your grandma. or your grandpa. it takes you somewhere. it has to deliver on the radically better tasting philosophy. it has to be pastured meat with a total commitment to farm animal welfare. it has to be eye-popping local veg when you can get it and otherwise be eye-popping from frog holler. simple stuff that always exemplifies the essence of the main ingredients. no showiness. just piles of awesome chow. banquets. banquets in boxes. if it ever sucks, then you don’t serve it and we order pizza for our employees or mail pizza pies out to our nation-wide customers frozen as an apology. you really can and should be able to tell the difference. heads turn, tongues wag, folks are wonked up side the head with flavor (our customers and our employees) and foks experience food that they can’t quit thinking about – memorable, game-changing kitchen production and pure culinary love that permeates the warehouse. at xmas, it’s an aroma-war between the warehouse with all those stacked-up amazing baked goods and the zmo kitchen with its restorative and mind-blowing aromas of hot food-joy. sandwich kits? sandwich EXPERIENCES. how about better than the deli?
“Wow – what a response! I was really hoping you’d be interested. I’d love to work with you in the kitchen. Can you commit through the holiday?” The commitment requirement forced me to think about what I might be getting myself into, much like the deli porter job, and to ponder whether I was clear on the job and my own expectations. Rather than saying “yes” right away, I wrote back:
lisa, before i commit, i want to get clear on the job to be fair all around with no hidden agenda and no unspoken expectation coming from me. my response was a lot like a vision-of-greatness and though you didn’t seem to flinch at all, it may contain stuff that goes beyond what might be the current prep-captain slot. i’m thinking more like a kitchen manager-type-of-role that implements the stuff you’ve been visioning while not being limited to the markeplace prep. that’s where i might be off-base or impatient – the job as i envision it may simply not be there. that includes the pay-scale. is there anything you feel you can clarify or elaborate on that maybe doesn’t appear in the description? if not, no harm, no foul. thanks.
Lisa’s a great ambassador for the zcob-way. She responded by saying “I hear you” and told me she’d get back with me in person after she consults with Betty, another Manager and the one who “posted” the position. That’s great because now I can avoid falling “victim” to my old E + R = O problem with expecting a different result from the same action regarding taking a job and wanting it to be different than it is. As Ari says in GTGL2,
One all-too-common option is action that’s taken out of a sense of sacrifice, of feeling like one has no choice, all of which are usually directly tied, at best, to helplessness and, at worst, to a severe sense of victimization. It’s the ol’ hidden agenda thing. We think, but never actually say, I’ll do this for you now, but later you’d better take care of me. The expectations are in place, but only in the mind of one of the parties…. Nothing good ever comes out of people going along as if they have no choice – the sense of sacrifice, of being compelled against their will, will always come back later to bite us in the organizational butt…. The individual who has sacrificed for the organization is almost inevitably going to strike back later when their unspoken agenda has not been addressed. This strike may come in the form of anger, resentment, victimhood, active sabotage, or, when someone really gets into it, a rather deadly combination of all four.” (161).
Thursday, June 14, 2012. I’m working more hours at zmo and I just keep ending up in a funk. The pay is so fucking terrible ($8.25 an hour) that I simply can’t see any way out of it: there’s simply nothing here for me long-term. I think my curiosity about working at zcob has just about run its course; I just have to accept that they don’t have anywhere near the amount of money to work with that I thought they did. They simply cannot and do not pay. Kristen, a zcob deli manager we know from her days with the Sans Street food cart (before she quit as co-partner) is leaving the first chance she gets because after working at the deli for six years she still only makes $30K! Zcob is just like every other goddamn food biz in the fucking world: they pay like shit and you work your ass off and there’s absolutely no hope of it ever changing. It’s not like the work is fulfilling either – zcob is so full of ridiculous, senseless obstructions and inefficiencies that sometimes I really think Ari has succumbed to the impossibly naïve condition of being an emperor who’s not wearing any clothes so to speak. In the end, it’s not just zcob of course, but it’s certainly very disappointing and disheartening for me to realize just how much like every place else zcob really is. Unless you own it, forget it in the food business: the idea of a so-called “living wage” is just not part of that world.
Friday, June 15, 2012. I’ve finally begun developing my s&b business “model” (versus plan) per the info that Mikhail was kind enough to forward to me from the internet. There’s nothing new about it except that it’s a method of describing and outlining the segments of a business “proposition” into the nine areas that comprise any business:
- Key Partnerships – you won’t have all key resources nor perform all key activities yourself
- Key Activities –
- Key Resources – describes the key infrastructure to create, deliver & capture value – shows which assets are indispensable
- Value Propositions – bundles of products & services that create value for your customers – it’s what your selling
- Customer Relationships – outlines the type of relationships you’re establishing with them
- Channels – the “touchpoints” btw your segments; how the segments connect & interact; how your business gets done
- Customer Segments – paying customers & other non-paying users
- Cost Structure – the long list of shit you spend money on
- Revenue Streams – the unfortunately short list of ways you receive income
Unfortunately, just by beginning to map this out, it’s become painfully obvious that for my s&b, the primary source of revenue are the farmers, and of course they have very little money to spend. That’s why the slaughter business remains such a low-margin enterprise: you can’t charge more than the customer is willing to pay and farmers for the most part (unless they’re large conglomerates) don’t have a fucking dime – it’s all they can do to scrape by themselves, they’re not going to help you get rich. As far as retailers, they’re also operating under low margins and wholesaling to them at a sustainable profit comes down to volume. It all seems to return to the problem of scaling everything up – way up – in order to show a profit because the small-scale model just doesn’t add up to any money. Making a few dollars per animal at slaughter and a few dollars more butchering them means you have to process thousands or at least hundreds of animals every day to pay for the business. It doesn’t seem sustainable let alone profitable and I see why the meat industry has become what it is: just factory-style industrialization.
But the fact that it’s completely fucked up in this way is a red flag to me that something is wrong and can be righted. The current industrial farming model is not the way – it’s been shown that a small-scale facility can be financially viable but all the details have to be accounted for and you need some breaks along the way in the form of timing and resources. Like zcob, the market has to grow along with your ability to service it. But the catch-22 is that there won’t be an increasing market for humane, small-scale slaughter unless somebody risks starting the business in the areas that need them. Zingerman’s Deli for example eventually helped create more of the foodies that they needed to grow their business, but even the z-deli cold only break even for twenty years until it began turning a profit. Is that the way business must be? I’ll never attract stakeholders for my s&b that way. It would require, like my food cart, my own private finances (which I’m not about to risk any more of), angel investors and government assistance, none of which are forthcoming.
Monday, June 18, 2012. The business model exercise for the s&b has been essential in indentifying and clarifying the “revenue streams” problem. To develop a sustainable s&b is an admirable and noble challenge and one that I think is possible – anytime something good appears impossible by current standards and conditions I think it’s a damn ripe opportunity to tackle it from the ground up and reinvent the issue back to where it should be. The right person could obtain the financial backing – they could sell it in the way that I cannot – it’s not my mission in life to be a fund-raiser. Short-term financial returns would be negligible at best and more than likely it would be decades of hard work to develop an iteration of the s&b that fires on all cylinders and gets the job done until the world catches back up to the idea of humane small-scale sustainable slaughter. The problem I’ve been grappling has been as much biophycomythological as financial: I’m not the guy, (I know this in my heart), to acquire the stakeholders. I’m also not the guy to run any operation, however close to what I believe in, when it means working for someone else; financial stakeholders are the boss and you answer to them like any other boss. Hell, it’s gotta be worse than having a fucking lease to pay for. So, there are three strikes against my moving forward with the s&b as an entrepreneur: 1) I’m not the person to acquire stakeholders – it’s not my skill-set nor interest, 2) I can’t immerse myself in work if it involves working for somebody else, and 3) the revenue streams are a challenge that will require time and talents that I do not possess – I have no flair for the difficult sustainability issues. In this way, I can now indentify with Alex Young’s position in that he’s all for fixing the problem, but not with his own money or energies – his resources are committed elsewhere and so are mine. In the end, it’s part of coming to terms with one’s biobiophycomythology: just as you know very clearly what you’re master passions are and personal legend is, you also know very clearly what they’re not.
None of this means that I need to completely abandon the idea of the s&b. I just need to focus on that part of it that I can add value to in line with my biophycomythology. The work that I’m already doing – the research into farm animal welfare and humane slaughter – is legitimate and compelling, at least for now. I can become a subject matter expert and, as Ari has already acknowledged by inviting me to present at the next Camp Bacon, what I’m doing has some value to others. I don’t have to start a pig farm or a slaughter facility to be legitimately involved in the development of the field and the solving of its problems. A point to note about biobiophycomythology is that is doesn’t have anything to do with half measures and otherwise being good enough or close enough; biobiophycomythology – the study and application of being who you are – is all about getting it all of it right, of surrender to the great and not just the good. It’s the only way.
 zingermans.com, 5.15.2012.
 George Lang. The Cuisine of Hungary. (New York: Atheneum, 1971), 118.
 Ibid., 55.
 Mike Scott. “This is the Sea,” Waterboys, from the album of the same name, Chrysalis Records, 1985.
 Ari Weinzweig, GTGL2…, 161. Ironically and unfortunately, I was to fall victim to this version of victim-hood, which goes to show how insidious this workplace problem is if it can happen to me in spite of being in plain sight of it.
Fine Dining & Fine Tuning
Wednesday, June 20, 2012. I’ve been reading The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat, a biography of Craig Clairborne by Thomas McNamee, published last month. McNamee wrote Alice Waters and Chez Panisse, which I remember reading but for some reason I don’t have a copy of (I must have considered it inessential), The Return of the Wolf to Yellowstone (which sounds compelling) and a PBS Documentary on Alexander Calder which won Peabody and Emmy awards. He’s also an essayist, poet and reporter with articles in The New Yorker, Audubon and the New York Times, etc.
Craig Clairborne is someone I’d never heard of until I read The United States of Arugula by David Kamp, a book that helped explain, at least for me, the development of food culture in America and the major “players” within it. In that book, published in 2006, Clairborne is portrayed along with James Beard and Julia Child as one of the “food elite’s original Big Three.” I found his life, as McNamee describes it, to be a fascinating example of biobiophycomythology in action – he was a man who followed his personal myth only after considerable struggle to find his way, and engaged almost all the classic struggles and triumphs of someone on a hero journey – he lived the pattern of “the call,” the tests and the struggle of the return, eventually, by 1961, creating a vocation for himself, delivering his boon so to speak, that allowed him to be who he was.
The New York Times was the ultimate job of my life…. It was, to me, the grandest newspaper in the world. I am not ashamed to say that there were times when no one knew, in solitude, I was literally moved to tears when I reflected on my association with the paper. As much as I could possibly be, I was gloriously happy.
Later in the book, McNamee describes Clairborne:
Craig’s fiftieth birthday was coming up in September of 1970. Everything he had dreamed of for himself had come to pass. He had created a world, and now he ruled over it. He could do what he wanted.
Anytime I see this kind of thing, it fascinates me; I find it compelling and ultimately inspiring – it’s pure biobiophycomythology. That a person can be who he is and also connect with the world – that he can earn his living doing what he most wants to do, is proof that it can be done. People like this (Ari, Campbell, Hagar, Julia Child, etc.) are guides in this way.
Of course the level of biobiophycomythological success that Clairborne’s experienced – the synchronizing of one’s life and work into a remarkably self-actualizing vision – brings commensurate challenges. I’ve written already about the compelling ideas of arrival that David Whyte presents with such eloquent perspicacity in Crossing the Unknown Sea – that difficulty of living in the “promised land” in which “The actual arrival at a goal always creates a turmoil unconnected to any previous imaginings.” Clairborne appears to have for the most part avoided many of the more predictable pitfalls of success – he remained engaged wholeheartedly in his vocation for decades and when he floundered, as in 1970 when he temporarily quit the New York Times to begin his own food journal, he seemed intuitively capable of pointing himself in the direction of wholeheartedness. For instance, McNamee describes Clairborne arriving, almost inevitably, at a certain kind of exhaustion borne of uninhibited accomplishment: “Here he was, fifty years old, at the top of a profession that he had created, the king of a kingdom he had created, and bored stiff.” The long sought-after arrival so often never seems sufficient. After completing the New York Times International Cookbook, a work that took three years and so exhausted Clairborne that he vowed never to write another one, he left the Times, until an “unexpected romance intervened” with, of all things, Chinese food, so revitalizing him that in 1972 he produced The Chinese Cookbook. According to McNamee, “There is still no better Chinese cookbook in English.” What better example does one need of Whyte’s declaration that the antidote to exhaustion is not necessarily rest, but wholeheartedness?
After working a ten-hour shift at zmo yesterday I came home exhausted, physically and biophycomythologically. I felt an almost overwhelming emptiness and boredom with what seems to be the intractable struggle of making my way towards myself; of being who I am. In what sense is making $8.25 an hour either in the warehouse or in the kitchen of zmo a stepping stone in my hero journey, in my personal legend, my myth? I don’t cook enough, I don’t write enough and I find myself disparaging zcob – the very company that has been such beacon for me through my transformation. Why? I’m not a victim, I’ve made these choices – my situation is one-hundred-percent of my own creation. But I somehow work at zmo instead of my vocations because I feel obligated. Obligated to have a job. Obligated to make at least some money. Otherwise, I feel as if I’ll lose myself in joblessness. I know that my dreams and my vocations are my “real” job, but part of me needs a paying job. Is that a limit? I want Angie to be proud of me and I want to be proud of myself.
I apologized last night to Angie for allowing my exhaustion to keep us from working out at the gym and for me not making any money at zmo. I was glad to not be scheduled to work the next day, but discouraged that it meant I wouldn’t be making any money. I apologized for not having figured out what the fuck I’m doing after all these years. She said it was okay and that she hopes I figure it out someday. We both know that I’m running out of time. I said that I’d just like to have one day before I die where I’ve got it right; that might make it all worth it. How fucking pathetic. Despite life not bearing close scrutiny, I’m stuck with being the kind of person that scrutinizes it. So be it, but what next?
Taking stock of where I’m at – what’s working and not working – is probably a good place to start. I can try to take heart in the fact that I’ve not made any drastic, destructive moves yet. There’s a chapter in The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat entitled “Good at Something” where Clairborne, having found nothing to keep him in the Navy after his tour ended, begins a two-year course of study at the Professional School of the Swiss Association of Hotel Keepers and finally begins to find his place in the world in an atmosphere that McNamee describes as one of “steadfastness and devotion.” A sense of steadfastness and devotion is exactly what I feel like I’ve been looking for.
I’d always suspected somehow that I’d make a better customer than an employee at zcob and so far that’s how things have panned out; maybe I’ve unconsciously designed or envisioned them that way, I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ve not committed to working there and I’m glad of it. I apply to the jobs that I think I want there and I don’t get them – I don’t even get an interview. What I get is offers for jobs that I know will lead nowhere; that will, as I’ve told Ari (who once asked me, at at Deli tasting, if I’d be interested in working the line at the Roadhouse) “simply consume my days with the expression of skills and not passions.” I think it’s one of the most accurate things I’ve ever said to anyone offereing me a job. I’m skilled at many things (like many of us) but I have a long and unfortunate history of letting my skills dictate what I do with my life. For example, I began my venture into the environmental field by choice and enjoyed many parts of it, but over time I allowed my superiors to push me into the health & safety part of it. As I’ve written, the two fields are often combined into a single job, sometimes justified, sometimes not, and that fact should have remained as irrelevant to me as it was when I began, but I allowed the influence of others (who I wanted to please) and the influence of money (which I wanted to legitimize my career choice) to steer me into some of the most horrible fiascos of my life; fiascos that I’m still trying to recover from.
Here’s what I know:
Humble Hogs is not moving forward with the s&b idea because I’m not happy with my revenue sources and I don’t want to become involved in acquiring stakeholders nor otherwise “selling” the biz model to venture-capital types. It’s neither my skill-set nor my interest.
I’m interested in researching and writing about farm animal welfare, handling and slaughter, particularly with pigs. I’ll continue to pursue this as my passion dictates.
I’m interested in cooking and getting better at it. I’m interested in food as what I call a “vocation” (which means as both a hobby and a profession), though I’m not sure what the details are.
I’m no Craig Clairborne or James Beard (gourmands, restaurant critics and cookbook writers); I’m no Pierre Franey (classically-trained professional chef); I’m no Molly Stevens (classically-trained chef, teacher and cookbook writer); I’m no Julia Child (television food personality); I’m no self-taught genius cook; I’m no restaurateur (hh taught me that); I’m not a USDA-inspected food producer (h-cheese didn’t work); I’m no purveyor (I don’t like retail) and I’m no farmer (raising pigs isn’t a master passion).
My six vocations: cooking, writing, walking, audiophiling, biophycomythologizing and entrepreneurializing, remain true and applicable and I want to find a way to get paid to do these things. I’m not afraid of turning my hobbies into jobs because they’re already my vocations – they’re the work I have to do. However, if I were to be paid for any of them, my heart tells me that writing and cooking are the two vocations in which I possess the most talent and from which I have the most to offer the world – they provide the greatest opportunity for me to express my strengths, connect to the world-of-action and deliver a boon. Writing feels ancient, food feels new, yet they are both calls to adventure that for most of my life I’ve suppressed or otherwise refused. It’s been said that the shadow aspect of our unconscious contains both negative and positive energy and here, possibly, are examples of repressed positive energies that I’ve been fortunate enough to release.
What about my job at zmo? The best thing to do, since I don’t have a clear answer yet, is to keep it, keep it part time and keep it as focused on food as I can. If I get an opportunity to work in the kitchen developing the next great zmo recipe, or if I get a chance to serve the occasional expensive employee meal, then hell, I’m going to run with it. Give the kitchen prep job to Rachel, she likes doing it, she’s good at it and she wants the job desperately. Otherwise, if I can’t steer my job within zmo or zcob towards cooking and tasting great food, then I need to be working on moving on – I can’t allow myself to become inexorably drawn into another half-baked but growing commitment within zcob while trying to nurse an unspoken agenda. I need to get busy conquering the world.
A recruiter contacted me for an EHS technician job I applied for – I’ve been sending the occasional resume out, especially when I get frustrated with myself. I’ll call tomorrow but only if I can feel good about it. Why would I feel good about it? Do I really want an EHS job? Didn’t I just get through writing about how I’m not this or that and what I really need to be doing, which doesn’t ever seem to include being an EHS dork? Can I work in EHS and still engage my vocations? The trekking and audiophiling would benefit from some cash flow, and maybe even the entrepreneurship if I planned on dumping some money into another start-up. Even food, seeing as I’ve become a customer of the finer stuff, would be easier to enjoy if I had some more money coming in. My writing would suffer and likely cease, maybe permanently. Phycomythologizing would take a big hit – I’d be in danger of yet another schism and another fiasco. My heartmind would suffer and probably my health too – no amount of kundalini would get me through the mind-numbing dullness and frustration of such a biophycomythologically worthless job. But my rational fucking mind would do back-flips knowing that we’re compromising ourselves into the mass hypnosis of corporate money-grabbing and careering – the whole messy fucked-up living death of working for the man and sucking it up in order to pile up money (which I’d spend anyway) and fit in with everybody else who’s at least semi-miserable in the world. Where would my vision-of-greatness go?
Listen to me backtrack and babble like I’ve not just spent almost an entire day writing dutifully about my need to hold my head up and stick to my biophycomythology because it’s imperative. Is EHS an inessential thing that I need to damn well let the fuck go forever or not? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ME – IT’S LIKE I’VE GOT TWO INCONGRUENT MINDS. The slightest nudge from my miserable past and I’m back to the same old R in the E + R = O equation like I have learned NOTHING. I can’t pass even this small test of my biophycomythological resolve? Is the communication line I’ve worked so hard to establish with my heart that fragile and tenuous that a $50K job in my old shitty field can snap it like a twig, tear it all apart like a cobweb? The answer unfortunately is “yes” when I compare some career dignity with the un-dignified bullshit of my latest zmo experience. Instead of getting called to greatness in the zmo kitchen, mo f. – one of the three co-managing partners – asks to have some bullshit bed put together (the one I helped carry in to the place last month) in the z-haus, a dumpy downtown abode that he uses for office space and overnight stays when he drives in from New York. I also have to put some drawer handles on some drawers. Real skill-set-and-master-passion-engaging activities, right? What the fuck? It’s one of two things: either zmo leadership thinks I’m a worthless moron or they’re trying to slide me some hours because they think I need them, which is what they do for everybody they want to keep around. I guess they know that most of us are bound to leave for so-called greener pastures if we don’t at least get some lunch money out of the work. I’m stuck saying “yes” because (and Ari would hate this) – I feel like I have no choice. I do have a choice, but since I’ve got nothing else going, why would I say “no?” What the fuck else would I be doing on my day off? Well, for one thing, I’d be writing or researching, or both. Or neither, who cares what the fuck else I’d be doing because at least I’d know I don’t want to be doing EHS work. How can I even consider doing a job I don’t respect? Well, I seem to do them all the fucking time, that’s why. I’m a fucking walking fucked up contradiction and I drive myself fucking nuts.
Thursday, June 28, 2012. Work at zmo is pulling me away from writing – it’s interrupting my writing and I’m finding it more and more difficult to tolerate the distraction. However, the very thing I hate about working for someone – the compulsory, unfulfilling chore of it all – somehow also provides exactly the platform in life I don’t yet have from my writing. If I didn’t have a job, then I couldn’t write about anything legitimately, right? Sam Keen, who wrote Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man, would probably have some things to say about that last statement in terms of my fears, guilt, shame and shadows. His book is not a favorite of mine – I don’t like his blustery, exaggeratedly confessional tone that seems to assume more than it demonstrates – but he hits on the themes that I’m interested in, namely the guilt we can feel for not measuring up in life:
Men are supposed to make it happen. So if it is not happening, or it is going wrong, it is our fault. The psychological consequence of being the gender that has taken charge and assumed the responsibility for ordering and controlling the world is that we unconsciously feel we have failed when things are in a mess. Think of the male psyche as the defendant in Kafka’s The Trial. We are vaguely charged with an unnamed crime; we feel we are probably guilty, but are not sure what we have done wrong, or left undone.
As always, the battle within must be resolved before any advancement in the world of action can effectively take place. How else to lower the risk of biophycomythological fiasco? Without self-knowledge and surrender, we’re destined to leave the “R” and therefore the “O” in E + R = O unchanged. In the film Finding Joe, Gay (sic) Hendricks says,
So, slaying the dragon is really coming to terms with that inner part of yourself that you think is bigger than you, and in doing that then you grow a bigger sense of yourself. However, I think it’s loving your dragon that’s the much more efficient thing to do – it also feels a lot better.
Robert Walter, Director of the Joseph Campbell Foundation and one of Campbell’s former editors, also appears in Finding Joe, declaring:
When you do that, frequently whatever the dragon was hiding, hoarding; they step away and give it to you…. When you’re no longer fighting yourself, then you’re no longer engaged in the fight, and you’re open to what might come to you.
 David Kamp, The United States of Arugula, Broadway Books, New York: 2006, p.6.
 McNamee, Thomas, The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat: Craig Clairborne and the American Food Renaissance, Free Press, New York: 2012, p.100.
 Ibid., 141.
 David Whyte, Crossing…140.
 Thomas McNamee, The Man…, 162.
 Ibid., 164.
 Ibid., 165.
 David Whyte, Crossing…, 132.
 Thomas McNamee, The Man…, 31.
 Sam Keen, Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man, (New York: Bantam Books, 1991), 144.
 Patrick Takaya Solomon, director, Finding Joe….
Wednesday, July 4, 2012. It’s the time of year at zmo where, as it was explained to me, they typically make decisions on bringing any of their temporary or occasional help on as “permanent part-time.” Temporary employees can be let go at any time based on the work load obviously, but already, at the beginning of July, zmo and the rest of zcob, a company of ostensibly Jewish origin, are thinking about xmas. The zmo management suggested that now is the time to take vacation because in September, business begins to pick up again and by October, they consider themselves in “holiday mode” and have begun hiring and training the three-hundred or so extra folks they’ll eventually bring on to help with the holiday rush. Indeed, it’s such a rush that it’s a crush – I learned that zmo ends up earning 75% of their annual revenue within the several weeks leading up to Christmas with the rest of zcob’s fiscal year pivoting on seasonal sales also. I suppose I should’ve known that the so-called gourmet food business was seasonal, but I didn’t. Here I thought everybody was doing what I did, which was eat as well as I can all year. I guess not….
Anyway, it’s been over six months since I started with zmo and all this time I’ve been a part-time temp along with a handful of four or five other temps that they kept after last Christmas because of the combination of better-than-average post-holiday business and their desire to keep some folks they like; at least that’s what they said. It’s good to think I’m one of those folks. We were each of us pulled aside during the work day on Monday by Betty or Lisa and given the official “good news” that we’re no longer temporary and provided with a so-called “training passport” whereby you’re allowed to take the handful of classes – from customer service training to sanitation and knife safety, etc. – that zcob requires of permanent employees. After completing the requirements, none of which would tax anybody remotely interested in the zcob ways, you receive benefits not available to a temp: a zcob-wide 20% employee discount (versus just a zmo discount), paid-time-off (pto) accumulation, the ability to enroll in their more formal training programs (the U of Z program), money towards safety shoes, what they call “mo money” which is something like $10/month of “money” you can use to buy zmo stuff; there’s even a free BAKE! Class coupon. It’s nothing earth-shattering by any means, but for me the company-wide discount is great – we spend a considerable portion of our annual food budget at zcob, especially the bake house and deli.
More importantly, this kind of commits me to zcob at least through this next holiday season – Lisa asked if I was on board with committing to as many hours as they need from me as those busier months approach and I agreed. All this right after I had another bought of biobiophycomythological schism last week and thought I should just dump the zcob and the food biz and get back into EHS or something else that “pays.” It’s been a theme since starting with zcob that whenever I pull back, they approach me and whenever I approach them, they seem to step away. It’s this odd biobiophycomythological cat and mouse type of thing where we’re both trying to commit but only on our own terms. I’m convinced that if I was non-white, I’d have a few more options within zcob because they’ve made more than a little noise about their “diversity” program, but that’s just speculation. In the end, I don’t think they communicate very well, especially for a company which Ari likes to declare as exemplary in virtually all aspects of leadership. Still, they’ve done their tentative best with throwing me opportunities: Ari, as I’ve said, once asked me during a deli tasting about being a line cook at the Roadhouse restaurant and there was the deli manager job that Toni (zmo co-managing partner) recommended me for, and which I turned down.
Becoming permanent part-time also coincided with me being asked by Betty, another zmo manager, if I’d like to be what they’re calling a “tasting champion.” They want someone to work on creating a more integrated relationship between the folks in the zmo service center, who receive all the orders and deal with customers, and the warehouse crew. It’s obvious to anyone working there that the big difference between working in the service center and working in the warehouse is the food knowledge – service center folks are required to be well-versed in and committed to the food zmo sells whereas the warehouse crew just needs to learn how to get the boxes out the door as efficiently as possible. It’s an unnecessary, inefficient and ineffective way to organize zmo because the division of labor walls off, literally, the two aspects of the company; we’d all be better off being able to move more freely in and out of both worlds. Knowledge is power and so is diversified training – you never know who might be in the warehouse crew that would make a great service center person and vice versa until you start cross-training. Here I am thinking like an owner again but so be it; I think cross-training strengthens a company and I’ve long been baffled at the rigid segregation between “us” and “them” that permeates almost every company in regard to unskilled versus skilled labor. I was please then to see folks from the service center out in the warehouse, training at the various stations on the line, and we’re beginning to see initiatives to get the warehouse folks into some of the activities of the service center, if only to observe a customer service rep take telephone orders for example. It’s good stuff and it also plays into Ari’s 1 + 1 vision.
The “tasting champion” thing is a small but meaningful step for me to connect with zmo while figuring out where I fit in the zcob long-term, if at all. I had applied for the kitchen captain position with a balls-out vision-of-greatness which impressed Lisa and put me in the running against Rachel, who captained the kitchen on the holiday late shift that I worked last year. Before I accepted the captain job, which they essentially offered me, I wanted to clarify the position because it seemed too geared towards warehouse production and not enough towards doing the employee meals (another division of labor they’ve maintained for quite some time where there’s an employee meal cook, who rarely works in the warehouse, and the warehouse food-prep person who’s in charge of supplying the assembly line; the two very rarely, if ever, mix. For warehouse production you’re stuck cranking out pimento cheese, potato salad, coleslaw, spice packaging, cheese wrapping and pickle vacuum-packing – all the components of their “sandwich kit” which are the mail order versions of the deli’s famous reuben sandwiches – and re-stocking some of the meats and other perishables for the line. My request to clarify the expectations of the job slowed everything down and as the weeks passed, I resolved in my mind to go-for-greatness, not compromise, and to turn down any version of the kitchen job that didn’t fit with my vog. To me that meant Rachel was a better fit for the captain job and as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened. Lisa told me they need a longer-term fit for that position and while I’m figuring out where I belong in zcob I’ll need to stay at the “thousand-foot” level to keep the perspective I need. I couldn’t have said it better myself and I told her I was relieved to know that Rachel would get the job because she’d be great at it (she’s done it before after all) and she really seems to like it.
So, on to bigger and better things. Again. But I’m learning to be okay with the unconventional work life and to see its biobiophycomythological advantages. I cannot commit to selling 40+ hours per week of my priceless time to anyone or anything until I’m convinced that it’s directly connected to my myth. In fact, I’m suspicious of any full-time job in which I’m not in charge. Entrepreneurship proved to me that I’m at my best as my own boss and it’s up to me to figure out how to engage that. It may be that writing and trying to get published is the angle that works, or that I someday, somehow start an s&b, or I get paid to be a consultant, whatever – I’m not giving up on entrepreneurship just because the outcome or iteration isn’t clear yet.
Back to the “tasting champion” gig: I’m going to implement the “bottom-line-change” (BLC) process that zcob uses. Ari has a lengthy essay on how to do it. There’s even, of course, a class offered at zcob for it. There’s a fucking class for everything at zcob and it’s a strength and a weakness I think – there’s too many classes in general and it dilutes the importance of the concepts as far as I’m concerned, but they’ve got so much fucking turn-over that they always need to be re-teaching everybody everything. Also, they try to keep their leadership involved with the front-line employees that way too. Anyway, here’s my BLC document:
DRAFT – All-Staff Daily Tastings
- Clear & Compelling Purpose for Change: There are advantages to including both the service center and the warehouse staff in daily sessions that we can truly call “all-staff tastings:”
- Such “cross-tasting” brings the service center and the warehouse staff together often and strengthens our work relationships.
- Most warehouse folks haven’t tasted all the food ZMO sells even though they handle it everyday – our food shouldn’t be a mystery to anyone working here.
- For some food-loving employees, it’s in line with the “One-Plus-One” concept.
- For others, it’s just fun and interesting to taste what we sell.
- The more ZMO folks who know as much as possible about the food we sell the better – it’s great for our three bottom lines:
- Great Food – tastings generate useful non-customer feedback on what’s great (and sometimes what’s not-so-great) about the food we sell or are considering selling.
- Great Service – at tastings the warehouse crew can learn from the service center crew about customer service skills and how we market food to our customers.
- Great Finance – our employees can be our best salespeople and our best customers.
- Such “cross-tasting” brings the service center and the warehouse staff together often and strengthens our work relationships.
- Vision-of-Greatness with Leadership Agreement:
It’s “tasting time” again at ZMO. The warehouse and service center crew are shoulder-to-shoulder anticipating the food selection for today and the friendly conversations and salutations have quieted as the food gets passed around. Sometimes we taste product right out of the bottle or package, other times the item has been prepared as it would be used in a meal, but we always sample food in the context in which it is meant to be enjoyed. That “you really CAN taste the difference” is an idea that we’re all getting very comfortable with and that we believe in because our palates are now getting spoiled with the good stuff. We’re learning together about the provenance of the food – where it comes from and the story behind it – and why it costs what it costs, even if it seems pretty expensive.
As we go through the tasting protocol, the energy goes up and the feedback starts flowing onto the tasting documents. But sometimes the food is so good (or so unusual) that somebody just can’t help shouting out what they think about it before they write it down! Or a ‘couple great questions get blurted out because we all feel confident and comfortable with saying whatever comes to mind regarding the food – we all know there’s no wrong answers and no dumb questions.
We complete our tasting documents, sometimes on our own and sometimes with help from our fellow tasters – this isn’t a test, it’s fun and a learning experience. Time has flown, as usual, and we’re getting back to the rest of the work day still tasting, talking and otherwise thinking about what’s on our tongues – now the food is in our hearts and minds (and we might just make something for dinner this week with that new ingredient).
The tasting data gets immediately reviewed and compiled and leadership (and anybody else who’s interested) can quickly tap into the growing knowledge base that we’re generating about all the food we’re selling. It gives the service center great info to use when working with customers and its even helping the folks involved in purchasing get jazzed about discovering even more great products that ZMO might sell – it’s bringing food confidence to the whole company and allowing us to take chances and stretch our limits because we’ve got the whole staff involved in knowing why the boxes are flowing out the door in ever greater quantities!
- Microcosm – the folks we ask to help us disseminate the info
- Tell everyone who’s impacted and develop implementation plan
- Use the plan and implement the change
Saturday, July 07, 2012. So what now? Angie occasionally gets together with the folks from the food court and when she does, we inevitably spend time afterwards lamenting about what a fucked-up, unrewarding hassle it all was and that “whew!” we’re so glad we’re not doing that bullshit this year. It was back-breaking physically and financially. But I guess like war, it forged some friendships that linger on well past the battle. In the end, I don’t get jazzed about hanging out with anyone from that time period and I really don’t want to trade war stories – I feel I predicted just about every outcome and now I’m busy negotiating my way out of that dead-end.
That said, the food biz, like any high-energy endeavor, gets in your blood and under your skin so to say and the heat tries to pull you back in. It’s seductive to be the big man in your own biz too – making all the decisions, ordering supplies, buying equipment, learning how to get more and more efficient in the kitchen, learning how to make better food that connects with customers, feeling intensely engaged. It can’t be denied that it’s a thrill to survive and try to thrive in the food service business. I’m glad I tried it. Looking back, I hate just about everything about it except the little victory of getting through each day. In the end, there’s simply more to life than successfully working another lunch crowd with the same old food – it doesn’t jazz me to cook that way nor deal with customers that way – I don’t really care if people I don’t know like my food. I’m still trying to turn my ship into the wind and take off with what I really ought to be doing.
These last few weeks have been volatile – my confidence and resolve has swung as wildly as ever and I’m drinking like a rock star and then regretting it, all signs of biophycomythological schism, but also signs of change. I’m making my way towards myself and I’m bringing my personal myth, legend, purpose, destiny, what have you, into being – I’m bringing my true self into being. At least that’s what I’m telling myself. So often it seems like I’m not accomplishing anything worthwhile, not moving forward at all. Yes, I’m engaging, to some extent at least, my vocations. Should I abandon this “book?” After all, it’s just a journal and while I fantasize that it’s leading me somewhere, that it’s possibly a player in my hero journey, that it’s at least part of what I have to offer the world, I also wonder if it’s holding me back somehow, like a crutch I don’t need. Maybe at one point my writing was a strength but now, like all strengths, it’s in danger leading me directly into a weakness. Why am I compelled to place my thoughts on these pages? Of what use are they besides therapy for me? How much fucking therapy does a man fucking need? When will I translate or otherwise direct this energy into something worthy and worthwhile? Whatever happened to hh and the s&b?
Sunday, July 8th, 2012. Angie and I walked to the zcob 30th anniversary party at Cobblestone Farms, five miles in a southerly direction from our apartment. I would say we enjoyed ourselves, although I wouldn’t have thought it worth it to drive down. There was plenty of good food of course: pit smoked whole hog with Alex Young’s “red rage” sauce, cheeses, salads, gelato, candy bars and cupcakes. There was lots of nineteen-eighties music. Ari, Paul and a few of their long-time associates and friends talked to everyone briefly, though Ari for his part seemed out of sorts and somewhat aloof. Then again, that’s not unusual for him. Photo booths are a trendy thing that seems to show up everywhere these days, but we tried it out:
Attendees got a t-shirt and although it wasn’t a very festive atmosphere, especially since the alchohol option was apparently voted down in meeting, it was a generous gesture with about five-hundred people passing through at one time or another. I was inspired to send this email:
hey folks, i’m sending this to the leadership i ran into or saw at the party (knowing there was probably a big handful of other employees who gave their time to make the party happen and other leaders who got there earlier or later). my wife angie and i had a good time, enjoyed the food, thought is was great to receive a t-shirt, and in general felt privileged to be there. i got a sense of some emotion regarding the long road, especially from ari who was at a loss for words and that’s o.k., paul had his back. i can’t know all that goes into building a 30-year-old food biz and it must be damn near impossible to articulate it fully and after all, it’s not like getting to thirty years was ever on the minds of anybody i’m sure. time just goes by. and as david whyte says, “almost by definition, any real arrival always seems to occur too soon.
that current and former employee’s children now work at zcob is a crazy and poignant thing. that the “canvas” and “mosiac” that ari and paul mentioned is vital and not moldering in a corner of sentimentality somewhere is impressive and sort of remarkable. zcob is at least as odd as anyplace i’ve worked but somehow the oddness is heartfelt. there are the visions, the guiding principles, the training, the mission and that other thing i’ve never been able to define (as a customer or an employee) which may be related to the fortuitous resources of ann arbor and of the people who work in the food biz despite the “scut work” and the low margins. nobody’s getting rich and glamorous and probably never will and we’re all probably better off for it. there’s the wealth of great food that drives it all i think – food that makes you stop and take notice – it always says “somebody gives a sh*t” about what’s going on here besides piling up money. in the end, i guess it’s good not to know everything about why it’s working and to just trust your intuition and heart. and your guts. ari turned me on to david whyte some time ago and i think mr. whyte’s thoughts sum things up for me at least:
To live with courage in any work or in any organization, we must know intimately the part of us that does not give a damn about the organization or the work. That knows how to live outside the law as well as within it…. With a healthy outlaw approach, we are outside the laws of predictable cause and effect and inside the intensity of creative originality. We have a gleam in our eye; we look to the edges of things; no one really knows what we are up to. We see with the eyes of those who do not quite belong. We are dangerous again, and glad to be so.
Thanks for being a place where such things make sense. Keith.
Some zcobbers seemed to like it. Amy E. wrote back to say she’s actually the one who introduced Ari to Whyte – she gave him one of Whyte’s books as an xmas present a few years ago. It’s not a surprise to me that Ari doesn’t sweat the Hanukah vs. Christmas thing, or at least he doesn’t seem to. After all, so much of zcob’s business comes at the holidays that having a problem selling xmas would be suicide for business. Anyway, Amy E. told me she’s saving up to attend one of Whyte’s walking tours.
Friday, July 13, 2012. I’ve been busier with zcob stuff lately. Since getting the permanent part-time status, zmo keeps scheduling me for more hours and at the same time I’m trying to knock out the training classes required for completion of the training “passport” – many classes are offered several times throughout the month, but a couple are hard to come by, especially the “Welcome to zcob” class, which is taught only by Ari or Paul and usually only every few months. On top of that, Alex Y. invited any zcobber who’s interested for a tour of the property he just purchased: eighteen more acres of farmland with a house, so I immediately signed up for that and Betty G. was gracious enough to volunteer to cover the beginning of my shift just so I could attend – very cool and a unique-to-zcob type of servant leadership example.
In a moment of inspiration (or desperation) I had sent an email to the folks making the documentary “Abattoir Rising” describing my interests in farm animal welfare and humane slaughter in particular. I had already sent them a donation of $100 towards completion of the film, but that just didn’t seem to be enough somehow, so reaching out to them with my story and an offer to volunteer my time – no task too small – felt right. It also felt a little crazy – after all, who the fuck am I and why would they be interested in my amateur research, writing and general earnestness? I was was surprised to receive this response:
Thank you so very much for your wonderful email and donation to the film. It’s nice to know that people can come across the website serendipitously when looking for other information about farm animal welfare. Your work and experience is quite impressive and it would be great if we can come to visit you in Ann Arbor to talk about the film and how you can contribute. In the meantime, perhaps we can set up a conference call with David Tames, co-director. What are your availabilities for a chat in the next couple of weeks?
I appreciate that you sent information about the film to both Ari Weinzweig and Alex Young. I look forward to hearing from them. Since you have met Paul Willis and have been to his ranch and processing facility, do you think you could facilitate an introduction to Paul and maybe even a possibility to film the C02 stun system at Siouxpreme? We believe that transparency about harvesting animals and humane slaughter are essential for public understanding and for consumers to promote farm animal welfare. And I’m sure we can all learn a lot from the Humane Slaughter Association. I’ve yet to become a member – but you’ve inspired me!
I would also love to read your Farm Animal Welfare User’s Guide. Can you send me a copy?
Again, I appreciate your interest and commend you on your work. I look forward to hearing from you.
Audrey E. Kali, Ph.D.
Framingham State University
I mentioned my “unpublished” FAWG with some trepidation – I didn’t want to seem self-serving in any way but hell, it’s pretty good shit, (though probably getting outdated by now after two years), it says a lot about the work I’ve been doing thereby lending me at least some semblance of a “platform” and I figured someone there might actually find it useful. Anyway, I sent a copy of Audrey’s reply to Paul Willis, Alex Young, Joanie H. and Ari to see what their interest might be in possibly getting involved in the film. Paul quickly responded with the “o.k.” to pass along his contact info to Audrey, and Alex sent her an email so I hope that’s moving along already between them all. Joanie H. wants to talk about it when we do the tour of Alex’s property, so maybe we can connect it to Camp Bacon IV in some way. Who knows if anything at all will come of this, but it’s biobiophycomythologically awesome to connect with folks who share my interests. “Niche thyself” is sound advice and I think we can all do this to help our biophycomythology along – we all have some more or less “quirky” interests that are narrow enough to provide opportunity for “getting a hook in” to the world (to use Campbell again) – to bring your boon to the world, however modest a contribution it may be.
In the meantime, I need to keep my biobiophycomythological “feet” moving – I can’t depend on any particular person, event or activity to keep my myth in motion. I need to keep trying to bring in more money – that necessary distraction – while I make my way along – it’s all part of being in this world. None of these recent developments – whether it’s getting deeper into the zcob or connecting with Audrey – have any obvious potential to generate income for me, but regardless I must pursue them – they’re fundamentally, biobiophycomythologically important, I know it. What sense do they make from a career perspective? In what way are they any substantial form of recognizable success? None, really. But in the context of my myth and the unconventional life, they make perfect sense. I feel active, alive and full of energy regarding all this stuff. Ari’s been sending me emails about food-related stuff I might be interested in – he never did that before, so maybe he’s figuring out where I fit in what he’s doing too, who knows? It’s just great to be able to immerse myself in my vocations – there are days now where I feel like it will all “work out” – our tx house won’t be a burden, my income will increase to help us out more and I can just continue to expand myself into the universe according to my personal legend.
It’s Sunday, July 15, 2012 and I’ve been trying to gain perspective on what my personal VOG should be – I need to re-write it again and this time I want to remove the impatience and over-driven ambition.
- I’ve been hired as permanent part-time by zmo (which means I won’t lose my job at the drop of a hat and I’ll get a zcob-wide 20% discount).
- I’ve been requested to be the “tasting champion” at zmo and to drive a bottom-line-change process to bring the warehouse staff into the daily tastings that the service center is already doing.
- I’ve established some good ideas for the zmo kitchen.
- I’m getting better at sticking to my biobiophycomythological guns which includes saying no to things that I don’t see as moving me forward. I can see opportunities, albeit very small, come my way as a result of this self-knowledge.
- Ari asked me to speak about slaughter at Camp Bacon IV and it gives me a reason to keep chugging with my s&b research.
- Audrey Kali, co-director of the documentary “Abattoir Rising” asked to read my FAWG, to set up a conference call with me, and to visit Ann Arbor to talk about how I might contribute to the film.
- I hooked up with Alex Y., toured his new farm, wrote about it and I’m reaching out to see if anything about my s&b can get more traction as a result.
- I cooked my first zmo employee meal (EM) and got kudos – it felt good to do it.
The 2012 holiday season ends today and 2013 begins.
I’m engaging all six of my vocations, sometimes all at once! I’m involved with the breadth of zcob’s food offerings, most especially from the products they produce themselves, farm to fork. My tasting sessions are comforting, exciting, curious, dangerous and unpredictable. I’m immersed in my heritage bistro food concept: connecting to people with food that pays tribute to the animals and ingredients by cooking as simply as possible. People are restored, comforted and emboldened by my food – it brings them home and gives them courage to move ahead with their lives. I’m cooking like a peasant, but not living like one because people are so often willing to pay for the pleasure of the food and the sense of community that comes from it.
I spend time with pigs as I see fit – they continue to ground me and inspire me – they remain my mentors too. Ari is bringing me more and more great food connections and we’re working towards publishing my first book through zingerman’s press! My vocations are leading me out into the world through my myth, and I’m learning and doing so much that feels biophycomythologically right. My opportunities financially are allowing me and Angie the space and time to pursue all of our vocations. We’ve got an adventure travel trip planned for 2013. I’m involved with Audrey Kali’s documentary film and it’s doing so much to help promote humane slaughter and to drive my entrepreneurial ideas. I’m seeing where hh belongs in the world: it helps people and brings financial sustainability to us because what we have to give is heartfelt – hh is the vehicle to engage all six of my vocations. We’re getting so much back from life – it seems like even more than we put in and I’m talking about energy, good times, knowledge, adventure and FOOD – all our vocations are rocking the vibrational energy.
I cook meals for zcobbers or the public when I’m inspired and my hh USDA-food-production strengths are fully engaged with production of the hh line of pork products. It’s transcendent eating when the pigs are well cared for, humanely slaughtered and the pork is passionately prepared.
Wednesday, July 18, 2012. I cooked my first “employee meal” today at zmo. Here’s the menu:
Guest “Chef” Keith
– The “White Gold” Lunch –
Featuring 5 white or gold-colored ingredients from the
Zingerman’s Mail Order Catalog!
Leaf lettuce with arugula, fennel bulb, radish, olive oil &
Agro Dolce White “Balsamic”
Polenta (coarse) cooked in vegetable stock with heavy cream & Parmigiano-Reggiano garnish
Allergy Alert: Onions
Vegans substitute olive oil garnish
Paesano Bread Croutons with La Quercia Iowa White
Vegetarians substitute butter & olive oil croutons with roasted garlic garnish
Vegans substitute olive oil croutons with roasted garlic garnish
The brutal day of cooking and cleaning sent me back to the hh cart days: the kitchen was jammed with personnel because a local produce-packager uses the zmo kitchen a couple day per week – her four employees were in there taking up half the kitchen space; the unfamiliar layout of the kitchen meant I wasted time setting up, finding stuff and otherwise getting organized; it was a first time menu which always takes much longer to make than anything you’ve cooked before; all the warewashing and kitchen clean up. The only thing I didn’t have to do was clean the fucking bathrooms. I did the work, as unattached to outcomes as I could manage to be, with high intention and all my heart. I had some doubts and struggles, but it felt like what I ought to be doing. Most folks seemed to like the meal. I got to talk about it a little – I had my food “factoids” prepared and that was fun too and I think it helped explain to people where I’m coming from. I focused on the “peasant food” aspect that Ari talks about in his Guide to Good Eating. After coming home zonked, I checked my zcob email and was surprised and revitalized by the following:
Thank you so much to guest chef Keith for one of the most truly splendid EM meals I can remember!
The polenta, bread, and salad were remarkable and tasted as though they came straight from a fine Italian kitchen. I loved the touches of fresh fennel bulb and radish in the arugula salad. Once again, thank you so much for a delicious lunch!
It was from Rikki L., one of the zmo service center employees – the folks who answer the phones and email orders and know a great deal about the food because it’s part of their everyday job. They have tastings of the products every week (which I’m working on transforming into a warehouse + service center “all staff” tasting event as part of the “bottom-line-change” process). I got to talk food most of the day and folks really connect – one guy zmo just hired, whose name is Spike (sic) to do corporate gifts actually ate at the hh cart last year and we talked about his interest in sourcing sustainably-raised meat! It’s all very easy stuff for me to immerse myself in and it works on the other side too I think – folks enjoy straightforward, traditional food and zcob has been proving that for thirty years. Now I’m a part of it and we’ll see where it goes. Steve, the regular employee meal cook asked me if I was ready to take over for him (he’s interviewing for a job at the z-deli as sous chef). I told him, wiped out and half out the door, that, “I’ll think about it.” He said, “Don’t think about it too long.” I’m pretty sure he was anxious to check out whether I could hack it and I’m glad he was around to help get me set up in time today.
I received some more written feedback on the zmo lunch:
Congrats!!!! on your lunch today, heard it was outstanding. Wouldn’t expect anything less from my HERO!!!!” – Belinda A.
Just want to ditto all that was said. Truely enjoyable Keith!” – Tara S.
I’m not putting this stuff into the dop to brag about it, but I’m proud of myself. After all, the folks commenting mostly know me, I work with them, and many of them know how difficult cooking for a group can be (Belinda has family in the catering biz). Plus, they’re supportive as hell and they go to the trouble to put it in writing, which means a lot to me. It’s also a damn fine example of how biophycomythology works: if I’m connecting to the world with food, and I’m fulfilled by doing it (no matter how physically demanding and financially unrewarding it is) then that’s just the way it is and that’s what I should be doing. I need to listen to this “give back.” It’s part of the return on my investment so to say and it’s legitimizing. It’s part of answering the “call” and being who you are. I need to keep not ignoring this stuff. Disregarding or diminishing positive feedback as irrelevant is the type of bullshit I’ve been guilty of over many decades and it’s contributed mightily to the ten-years-gone problem I’ve been coming back from. Of course part of being generous is accepting generosity, so truly accept it when it’s offered. I thanked them back:
riki & tara, a heartfelt thanks for putting such nice thoughts in writing, i do cherish these things and it keeps me going, especially when i know your palates are so knowledgeable. it makes it all worth the risk of failure. there’s a line in an old movie where an old french guy is on his death bed and somebody asks him what he’ll miss most about life. he says, “lunch.” ’nuff said. – Keith
Keith, you’re so welcome! Seriously, lots of great praise circulating around for your meal. Sooo enjoyable. Hope there are some polenta leftovers today 🙂
In the end, I’m trying to demonstrate, mostly to myself, that biobiophycomythology works.
 I’m commenting on this in retrospect, from the vantage point of 11.13.2013, and I don’t like what I see at all: it’s painfully obvious that I’ve again allowed myself to get carried away with changing a job into something that it isn’t, something that I want it to be but that nobody else has any vested interest in. I blab away with my ideas, get patronized by the management and otherwise allow my inherent drive to change it, fix it and make it better blind me to the dull realities of the impossibly static workplace. What a waste and I’m embarrassed to leave this BLC in the dop, but so be it, it’s part of my punishment to make it “public.”
Friday, July 20, 2012. We sold our Texas house today. The absence of an explanation point in that sentence is intentional. 3409 was for sale for almost three years; we bought it for $298K and sold it for $219K; it was a beautiful, great house and we loved it. But we lost our ass on it. Angie took out a $50K loan from her 401K so we could cover what we still owe on it, thereby making it feasible for us to finally fucking sell it. Brutal. Unfair. A blow from which I don’t think I’ll ever completely recover because I can’t assimilate, fully, how something can start out so right and end up so terribly wrong in so many ways. At $850/month it’ll take us five years to pay off the loan on a house we should of, in a normal housing market, made a profit from. We had some good times in Texas and met plenty of good people. I’ll always remember the excitement and sense of adventure I was riding when I first got the opportunity to work down there – I really believed that things were going to be great, that I’d found a way to fulfillment at work and that I’d finally got my life going. It sounds naïve and corny now, but I’ll remember driving that blue mustang rental car around, with the windows open and the stereo blasting, in the beautifully warm weather in the middle of winter. I felt free and new and spectacularly alive. I also felt scared, exhausted and out-of-place. That it was the beginning of an enantiodromia and an adventure that would transform into one of the biggest fiascos of my life couldn’t have been farther from the outcome I believed in. The best of times become the worst of times and it’s got everything to do with fucking up your biobiophycomythology, ignoring your heart, getting caught in desire, grasping at outcomes, projecting what one desires onto people who do not share those desires, not living in the moment and otherwise not being who you are. It catches up with you. There’s no one to blame but myself – 100% – and if I try to think it was just bad breaks, bad timing or bad luck, I’m fooling myself. It took about thirty years of hard-ass mother-fucking work to fuck myself up as bad as I did and that’s why turning things around can take a good amount of time and maybe the rest of my life.
Now that 3409 is finally gone, I can admit that there was something about having that house still down there that made me think one day I’d be able to go back and make things right; that’d I’d be able to keep something about those crazy three years – something tangible like the house – and somehow bring things back in line a little. Letting the house go forever feels like letting a part of me go forever too. Afterall, there’s always something good about an adventure, no matter how shitty things turn out – nothing in this world ever seems to be all bad or all good – it’s always a trade off. One trade-off or “cost” of the Texas fiasco is that I now no longer see Ann Arbor the same way – it’s no longer my sanctuary and my city – I don’t feel like I belong like I once did and I don’t cherish it as much either; it’s no longer my home. In fact I don’t know where my home is anymore. Maybe A2 will become my home again over time, maybe we’ll move again to somewhere that feels right, maybe I’ll never feel home like I once did ever again; maybe that’s another price of trying to live your myth. Taking stock of things, or otherwise listing my “prouds:”
- We’re free of the burden of paying for two places (though we still have the burden of paying off the house debt). We also don’t have to be landlords ever again.
- I’ve got a part-time job at zcob that fulfills many aspects of my biophycomythology and, though it pays like total shit, pays me in other ways that make it worth keeping and seeing how far it takes me. Meanwhile I can help pay the bills a little.
- Humble Hogs as an entrepreneurial endeavor seems to be neither dead nor alive right now – it hasn’t seemed to reach the vanishing point yet, though there’s nothing going on that I can point to and say “we’re in business doing this or that.” I think it’s smart just to let it ride and keep my biophycomythological “feet” moving – I don’t want to force it in or out of existence yet – I need more time and information. I’m making inquiries to folks that share my interests and that may help provide ways to move forward.
- I like where we live – my space & place needs are being met (except when Olga’s pisses me off with their bullshit noise).
- I’m engaging my vocations, albeit not with the emphasis I’d like. I’m not making what I’m worth at zmo, but I’ve never felt like I’ve made anywhere near what I’m worth no matter what or whom I’ve sold my time to. Just like everyone else I guess. Meanwhile, while I work for peanuts, I do feel more confident. When I began at zmo last December, I could hardly talk to anyone let alone get in front of anyone and play work. I’m relaxing into myself; feeling more like myself and I have the zmo job to thank for it, there’s no doubt.
Yet I wish something would “happen.” I’m anxious again for the outcome of my deeds, whatever they are. After over two weeks of no response, I emailed Audrey K. asking if they’d made contact with Paul Willis or Alex Young. I also mentioned my proposed field trip to Lorentz Meats in MN, my scheduled outing at the 4-H livestock auction with Alex Y, and my discovery of Dr. Madonna Gemus-Benjamin, a large animal science professor whom MSU just hired: she’s a “leading authority in swine health” with a Masters degree in animal welfare. I haven’t received any responses and what’s more troubling than that is my impatience – what am I grasping at?
To make matters worse, I’m getting more and more “wrapped-around-the-axle” so to say at zmo: instead of blossoming into the employee meal cook or a tasting champion, I was asked to be the cheese room “captain.” Not because I was the first choice, but because nobody else applied for the “posting.” I guess they figured I’d apply since I’m into the food, but as I explained to Lisa and Betty, I’m into the cheese, but I don’t like the cheese room (it’s nothing but a fucking walk-in refrigerator for Christ’s sake). Nor do I appreciate, at all, the “C&H” monthly project whereby we stand around wrapping and then packaging a zillion fucking pieces of hand-cut yet entirely mediocre cheeses and ship them out to another vendor’s customers – a fucking drag. It makes me feel like a distribution whore. The cheese room captain is responsible for a lot of the C&H (which stands for, incongruously, “Celebrations & Holidays”) process and though it’s only a Monday through Wednesday gig now, it will become a week-long futureless grind come the holidays. I got the hard-sell from Lisa and Betty, who were apparently anxious for me to take the job. I never applied for the job, told them “no” when they pulled me aside to ask if I’d do it, then wilted under their pressure, explaining (dubiously) that, “All the managers started out there and it’ll be good for your progress through the zcob, blah, blah. None of this sales pitch involved any increase in pay of course. I could’ve asked for more money, but it never occurred to me – my pay is so fucking low that asking for a little bit more just seems petty and fucking silly. To add further aggravation, I found myself scheduled to cook the employee meal on Sunday (during inventory, another piece of shit way to spend part of a day) and Lisa shot down my awesome Thomas Keller green bean and potato salad (with figs & sherry vinegar) in favor of what she thinks is more “brunchy” viz.: French toast, eggs & bacon. So, like Shalette (who works there) said, “She asked you to do the employee meal and then told you what to cook?” Yep. Just the type of shit that kills my buzz. But I’ll do my best.
So after spending today doing “projects” like painting walls and fucking around with handy-man shit – repairing storage racks, moving stuff from here to there, etc., then getting home and seeing an email request from Mo F. via Lisa about me doing more handy-man work at z-haus – this time hanging blinds and putting up a clothes rod in a closet, etc. – I’m starting to feel like I’m really spinning my wheels. I’m starting to feel exploited, to borrow a theme from Emma Goldman. At the same time, I do see some good in it for me: besides keeping me humble – really fucking humble – it keeps my feet moving and a trickle of money coming in while I try to figure out where my biobiophycomythology is taking me and where I need to apply pressure and time. In the end however, I can’t get around the deep-seated feeling that whenever I’m working for someone else, I’m fucking wasting my precious time; that it’s just a bunch of chores created by some other guy with a dream that doesn’t have anything to do with mine. I’m definitely spending too much time there and committing too much energy that I think I should be using to further my own specific myth. A job just ends up distracting me from my own myth and if I’m going to get off track for a time, then I at least want to make some worthwhile money doing it. Maybe I’ll be like Kristen H. and end up quitting the zcob because they just can’t pay.
In the end, I don’t know what’s really bugging me, though selling the TX house probably has something to with it. I feel like another adventure has been cut short by failure and fiasco – it’s just another huge pile of time and energy that I wasted. I never wanted nor expected to have to return to A2; it’s not my home anymore, it’s just the place I ended up and just ending up someplace runs counter to everything I’m about biobiophycomythologically. Yet here I am. Doing some things I want to do, yes, but just not with the return on my energy investment that I’m looking for. I’m perfectly aware that the outcome of my deeds is not the point and that I need to try to stay in the moment with high intention and low attachment but today, right now this fucking moment, I’m frustrated with what I see as more mediocre and less-then-notable progress through my myth. If I were to die tonight, I would die happy with my last couple of weeks – they seem to amount to a hill of beans so to say. It’s not the money nor the work really, it’s that I’m feeling like I’m not putting all my energy where it belongs – I’m allowing myself, again, to become distracted by the work-a-day slog – the slog into the dull oblivion of tasks and the application of skills – “running up and down stairs” is what Brenda Ueland called it when you’re too busy just mindlessly doing.
4H Livestock Auction
Friday, July 27, 2012. I went to the county 4H livestock auction yesterday and registered as a bidder so I could get the auction documents and generally try to act as if I’m in the pig business in some way or another. I guess it’s still my little fantasy to be small-holder insider or something. Anyway, besides just checking things out and getting to see some pigs and other farm animals, I wanted to get contact information for the transporters, stockyards and processors that were listed in the 4H newsletter. Apparently as a bidder, you can pick up your animals yourself (and take them back to your farm), you can have them sent directly to a local (“custom,” not USDA) “processor,” or you can re-sell the animals, which means they go to a stockyard to await another sale. I wouldn’t know where else to look for information on transporters and stockyards but this way, attending the auction as a so-called bidder, I at least got a list of the processors – I’m interested to see the quality of welfare they receive in transport, handling and slaughter.
4H is a national organization with a goal, per their website, of “a four-fold development of youth: head, heart, hands and health.” I’m most familiar with 4H as an animal husbandry club for adolescents and teenagers. I have two cousins that grew up in the semi-rural area of Dexter, Michigan and they belonged to 4H when they had some animals on their parents’ property. I also ran across 4H as part of the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo when I was down there. I don’t know much about the organization except that it accepts sponsors who help offset the cost of getting kids started in farming. Everything I saw yesterday at the auction reinforced my impression that the organization walks what it talks – the fresh-faced and healthy looking kids expressed everything good about the hard work and responsible care they obviously put into their animals.
Alex Y. had told me about the event when Angie and I were eating at the RH last week and it struck me as a perfect thing for me to do to engage my interest in animal welfare, pigs and the zcob. Alex says he buys about $20K worth of sheep, pigs and cattle at these events – he’s been doing it now for a few years I think – since he got Cornman Farm started with zcob, and I was anxious to see how it all worked. I followed the advice in the auction newsletter and got there early, about a half hour before the auction started, and an hour or so before Angie could get there after work, so I’d have time to walk through the barns where the animals were penned before they started showing. Each stall had the exhibitor’s information – the child’s name, the name of their sponsoring farm (often their parents), awards and “thank you’s” to buyers from last year – all posted with colorful and expressive banners, signs, posters and ribbons. It was a very pleasant and heartwarming place to be with just enough commercial and marketplace vibe to make it exciting too. It was much smaller of course than the massive Houston show, but now that I know more about how it works, I wish I’d have attended the auction there, though I remember the midday scheduling of it made it almost impossibly challenging to justify the long drive into downtown. Anyway, this little show in Ann Arbor Township had plenty of animals: I counted about one-hundred pigs and there were plenty of sheep, cattle and some goats, rabbits and even turkeys.
You can see how the pigs sometimes nestle together like they must have done as piglets, requiring varying degrees of interaction and proximity to each other according to their species and breed. At this stage they’re probably about seven to nine months old and they can weigh about 230-274 pounds, which is typical market weight. I spent almost all my time in the swine area because I continue to be fascinated by pigs – it’s inexplicable, but I believe everyone, given time and exposure to farm animals, will gravitate intuitively towards a particular species. For Temple Grandin it was cattle, and for me, pigs. I made my way to a place in the auction grandstand and tried to see if Alex and his wife Kelly were there; sure enough, they arrived right as the auction was about to begin, taking their seats across the way from where I was sitting.
The auction began and it wasn’t long before the auctioneer recognized Alex’s bidder number – 888 – exclaiming “Sold to 888 – that’s ZINGERMAN’S again, thank you!” each time Alex was high bidder. He bought a handful of sheep and about ten hogs before Angie and I left – it was getting dark and we couldn’t stay to see the cattle. I found Kelly as I was leaving and asked how many cattle they planned on buying. She laughed and said, “I don’t know, we have to ask our accountant – I’ve been calling him and he’s been saying it’s my job to reign him [alex] in!” You could tell they were having a good time.
I’m not going to ask myself too many questions as to why I enjoyed it so much – it’s something many people enjoy, connecting to life in this way. There were plenty of folks like me who were obviously just there to take it all in. They may have been farmers themselves or used to be, or had kids in the auction or were just curious.
How all this pig-related stuff fits into my myth isn’t obvious, and sometimes I think I’m nuts and just spinning my biobiophycomythological wheels. I’m forty-seven and getting nowhere fast if you look at the numbers. My income is less than most high-school kids with a full-time summer job. Anyone who’s made shit money knows it’s no badge of honor to be “poor.” If you’re lucky like me to have Angie’s income, then a shitty-paying job can help keep you humble, but it’s nothing to be proud of. If I could make my $85K/year back again and still live in service to my heart, I would. I still aspire to that. Money’s just a tool, not an end in itself, we all learn that lesson sooner or later. I have no idea if I’ll ever be an entrepreneur again – where would I get the money and what would I be doing if I had it? I don’t know.
The following images are from a Bruegel painting entitled Flemish Proverbs from 1559.
There are three proverbs relating to the pigs in this scene (translations and explanations from Wikipedia):
- “One shears sheep, the other sheers pigs.” One has all the advantages, the other none.
- “To cast roses before swine.” To waste effort on the unworthy.
- “The pig is stabbed through the belly.” A foregone conclusion, or what is done cannot be undone.
- In another part of the painting: “Where the corn decreases, the pig increases.” When one person gains, another must lose.
- Finally, “The sow pulls the bung.” Negligence will be rewarded with disaster.
That the pig is featured in five of the many proverbs depicted within this painting is interesting because it reveals the level of commonplace integration of the animals into the lives of these Europeans; enough that they had become a part of their humor and folklore. Also interesting is their physiology – their “razor backs” (the ridge of long, thick fur running along the spine) – their long legs, and the color of their fur and hides, which is typical of depictions of swine from the period whereby breeding had done little to diminish the physical traits of the original woodland boar (see “Days of Mast and Pannage”). Another example of the proverb “what is done cannot be undone” appears within Bruegel’s “The Land of Cockaigne” (pig in upper right). Per Wikipedia, the pig may also be interpreted as roasted with a carving knife at the ready (the painting represents a fictional world where gluttony is satisfied leaving one spiritually empty):
Finally, within “Fall of the Rebel Angels” appears this perplexing, perhaps dubiously porcine image:
Tuesday, July 31, 2012. I’ve been trying to stay focused on my personal legend, but the world seems determined to exert its influence in ways I don’t understand. I spend time and energy developing my biophycomythological plans, often seeing my commitments bearing fruit only to have the world intrude and threaten to appropriate my self-work, seemingly bending it to its own ends. For example, I’ve allowed myself to be convinced to accept the job of Cheese Room Captain (which sounds fucking ridiculous) by Betty and Lisa, managers at zmo. They posted the job and nobody applied for it, for good reason: you spend all day in a fucking “walk-in” (a 12’ x 20’ refrigerator) at 41 degrees F in 80% humidity with the condenser fans blowing and nobody to fucking talk to while you’re wearing winter clothes in the middle of summer. You spend your time literally “cutting cheese” (an impossibly unavoidable turn of phrase) to order, within acceptable tolerances, with a crude cheese-cutting device and a scale, then wrapping them and getting them out to the “line” so they can be put together as an order. You’re responsible for keeping an eye on the condition of each cheese, scraping mold off, participating in weekly tastings and recording inventory each month (a laborious chore whereby you record quantities and weights of each cheese). But by far the worst aspect for me is a one-a-month event in which zmo provides a pack and ship service for some schmucky food mail order service that sells middle to low quality cheeses and chocolates in “club” formats similar to zmo. The entire harried day is spent standing around wrapping thousands of individual cheeses, cut one-by-one by the cheese room captain and two other capable cutters, combining the cheeses with some shitty chocolates in a box and getting it all done and cleaned up before days end. It’s an all-hands-on-deck spastic, harried, boring nightmare of tedium and semi-panic handling mediocre product zmo doesn’t sell – you’re just an assembly line for hire. The owners of course are nowhere to be found during this lousy work.
Cheese is somebody else’s myth. I didn’t apply for the job and when I was pulled aside and asked about it, I initially said “no.” Then I gave in to the hard sell, e.g. “it’s what every manager has done,” “it’s a good thing to have on your resume as you make your way through the zcob” blah, blah, blah. I’m not disparaging Betty or Lisa – they need somebody to do the work. It’s just not my myth and now I’ve committed, like I have in the past with other non-myth-related work in my life, to something I neither like nor have the time for. The $8.25/hour isn’t worth it. So why did I agree to it? To please people. Argh. Now I need to either make a hasty retreat and backpeddle my way out of it, or just roll with it through the holidays, which is the length of time I committed to it, and forget about it until it’s over after xmas.
Thursday, August 02, 2012. I cooked another employee meal this past Sunday – French toast, scrambled eggs and bacon with yogurt, preserves and granola. I provided soy milk and soy yogurt for the vegans. People seemed really jazzed by it and I got lots of compliments – breakfast for lunch makes people happy. The eggs sold out and I got several comments on how good they were despite using a shitty GFS milk/heavy cream blend versus my preferred 100% heavy cream. I had fun and felt like myself while doing it – all good biophycomythology. I even sprung for my own maple syrup because I wouldn’t use the fake shit the kitchen had and indeed one of the long-time employees made sure to thank me and even “appreciate” me in a meeting – he said he knew that real maple syrup is a “budget buster” but he really liked having it for the meal. That response is why I do what I do.
Has zmo or zcob become one of my vocations? I can now begin to understand what used to perplex me: how anyone can find the energy to wake up early and write or run or whatever before heading out to spend the day grinding out their regular job. I find myself doing that with writing. I think it’s a combination of surrendering to a master passion and having a job that doesn’t destroy that passion. If like me, you’ve found yourself choosing to work a job that takes all your energy – mental and physical – and gives you nothing in return (besides money which is never adequate), then you’re fucked.
Friday, August 03, 2012. Zmo posted the employee meal (EM) captain job again. Steve G., their previous cook has moved on to a position as a cook at the deli. I’m not sure if he was pressured to leaved or what, but I do know that it seemed like a bad fit on both sides. You don’t have to tell me what that’s like. So, over the past ‘couple of weeks, my future at zmo seems to have been kicked around a little. It’s gone from remaining check captain through the holidays, to being the EM cook, to being the cheese captain through the holidays, to just being one of the cheese captains through the holidays, to maybe being the EM through the holidays. Lisa sent out an email requesting applicants again:
Hello Everyone, Steve will be transferring soon to the Deli and we are looking for a new EM Captain until January. Come January we will be posting for this position in the Zcob.
Primary tasks: menu planning and managing the weekly EM budget.
EM is a warehouse station and the position is PT. You will be scheduled as an EM chef as well as in the warehouse. EM is your home station but you can expect to be scheduled where you have been trained.
Emphasis on farm to table menus featuring locally grown vegetables and farm raised meats. Menus built around what is available seasonally. Weekly menus should also feature Zingerman’s products as an opportunity for ZMO employees to experience our products.
The EM Captain will manage EM’s through the 2012 holiday.
All interested parties please email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a little about why you want to be the Captain of EM’s and what makes you the right person for the job. Deadline for this is August 8th.
So what does it mean for me? I’ve already set them on their ear with my previous vision-of-greatness for the job. It seems they may in fact be at least sort of on board with what I want to do, although I’m the kind of cook that could break anyone’s budget. I don’t know.
Thursday, August 09, 2012. Ari W. quotes Wendell Berry:
Implicit in this idea is the evidently starting possibility that we might work willingly, and that there is no necessary contradiction between work and happiness or satisfaction. Only in the absence of any viable idea of vocation, or good work, can one make the distinction implied in such phrases as “less work, more life,” or “work-life balance,” as if one commutes daily from life here to work there. But aren’t we living even when we are most miserably and harmfully at work? And isn’t that exactly why we object (when we do object) to bad work?
Folks like me who are searching, desperately searching for answers, trust in the words of a few others to lead us into the promised land. Maybe that’s not right; maybe that’s another mistake on my part – to believe that I can find answers in books. But I believe that I find them nonetheless. Ari writes,
Good work, by comparison, is great. It’s life altering, fulfilling, and actually fun. Good work is about learning, laughing, growing, all the while earning enough money to make your dreams come true. It’s about collaborating with people you care about and who share your values, contributing something positive to the people and the community around you. It’s fun, not something you flee from. It’s a place you want to be, even if you rightfully have other places you want to go. Good work is about positive energy—both feeling it and building it. Good work is about doing something you believe in, work that you care about in a workplace that cares about you. It’s endlessly-sustainable, not energy-sapping. While people might certainly, on any given day, go home tired after doing good work, they’re rarely spiritually exhausted. When we’re into what we’re doing, giving it everything we’ve got, learning and laughing even under duress, the experience is likely to be energy building, even if, in the moment physically tiring.
 Ari Weinzweig, GTGLII…, 23.
 Ibid., 25.
Change Comes In the Fall
Thursday, August 09, 2012. There’s plenty of summer left, but it’s always sometime in August when I feel the season shift towards the coming change. It hasn’t rained worth a shit all summer – yards and boulevards are toasty brown – Guy, who’s a friend from zmo (he’s moving on to a job at the zing-creamery) is from Australia and he says it looks like Australia here because it’s so dry this summer. Anyway, it rained all day finally and the temperature dropped fifteen degrees to the low seventies. It looks like it’ll rain more this weekend and frankly I hope it stays overcast and cool. We’re on the down side of summer now. I’m not sure why it matters to me.
I had a phone interview with an employment service that has an EHS job in A2. It’s with an automobile supplier, what else? I couldn’t care less about it, which of course allowed me to do a decent interview. It’s just preliminary shit, “why did you leave your last job, blah, blah.” It’s not worth talking about except that I’m considering what it might be like to make some coin again. Another omen of change if nothing else. I’ve mentally shifted to engaging my vision – I feel better about pursuing my own thing and it just involves taking steps like visiting a slaughterhouse, maybe volunteering to work in one, maybe not, maybe who fucking knows what? But I need to pursue my thing. The em job at zmo is officially anthony’s – I didn’t apply for it. I feel a tinge of regret, a part of me wanted to prove that I could be successful at it, yet I suppose it’s nothing compared to the regret I’d feel after grinding out meal after underappreciated meal within a tighter and tighter budget. The clean up alone would be enough to break my bones. Biobiophycomythological fiasco diverted….
Friday, August 10, 2012. I am fucking struggling. The zmo job is not cutting it biophycomythologically yet I cannot seem to commit to pursuing any hh options. In desperation, I showed Mikhail, a guy from work who enjoys studying business, my s&b business “model” or outline or whatever it’s called. He sent me a link to a group that promotes themselves as experts on biz models and the stuff was helpful in mapping out the components of what I’m trying to do. Just getting it out in the world is something that you need to do sometimes when you can think of nothing else to do with something. It’s like scrubbing biobiophycomythological floors and Mikhail advised getting more detail – data really – from the folks in the biz that I think can provide it. I need to know what some of numbers are like in more detail – what are the costs and revenue that a place like Lorentz Meats in MN deals with? If they’re truly horrible, like my food cart biz, then I have to quit dreaming and accept that it’s not a biz to attempt to create – it will be a money pit just like the cart. Maybe being entrepreneurial won’t involve owning a business, but I feel compelled to pursue something of my own creation. Working for someone else, even zcob, is stifling and smothering me. Yet I can’t zero in on what will satisfy my drive, and I wonder about why I continue to pursue interests in vocations that no potential for financial sustainability. It’s either because I’m subconsciously guaranteeing my own failure, sabotaging myself, or that I’m just not courageous and patient enough to view my intuitive interests as viable over time.
The more I learn about being in business, the less attractive it looks. Statistically, nobody makes it. Being in business is some sort of ongoing test of your will. It’s deceptive too because people will want you to exist – there’s always some contingent of folks who believe in what you’re doing and want you to be there for them, regardless of whether you make a dime or not. They want to know that somebody hasn’t sold out; that somebody cares about making life interesting. People want art galleries, restaurants, musicians, artisans, writers, filmmakers, farmers and dreamers. Except too often it seems they don’t want to pay for them. At least not in any way that allows the dreamers to thrive.
Sunday, August 13, 2012. I’m feeling a routine develop that I don’t like. My hours at zmo, since taking the cheese job, have become essentially 9-5. Ugh. Like a regular fucking job. Even with the slower summer business, they’ve often scheduled me five days a week and my hours approach forty some weeks. They’ll make sure to keep me part-time, to save on benefits and stuff (which I’d never use anyway), but it doesn’t matter – I’m not interested in a full-time job making $8.25/hour. Who the fuck would be? If I’m going to work full-time for someone else – if I’m going to give up on my biobiophycomythology, then I’d better be making a fuck of a lot more money.
Am I indeed giving up on my biobiophycomythology? I can’t shake the feeling that I’m giving up on something. It’s been less than a year and a half since we moved back here from TX. I began my self-work – my biophycomythological work – two and a half years ago, in the beginning of 2010 after getting fired from JCI. I changed the “R” in E + R = O, not pursuing another job in EHS and instead trying to follow my heart. My heart led me back to cooking, which led me to some fork-to-farm research (writing the FAWG, etc.), an interest in pigs and ultimately to entreprenuership. We moved back to Ann Arbor, leaving our TX house behind, only to end up selling it for seventy-five-thousand dollars less than we paid for it in a busted housing market. I started and failed in business within eight months, lost about twenty-thousand dollars doing it, wasted all that precious time running around, learning new things, getting a USDA Grant of Approval, getting my h-cheese into my one and only retailer, living in a rental house we did not like, and in general trying things out and ending up back where I started: in A2, working for the man, making less money now than I did twenty-five years ago. I’m not happy at my work – I have no interest in warehouse work or the cheese room at zmo. Although I feel I’m working for one of the best companies one could work for in the food business, there is no worthy career path for me that allows me to express my strengths, at least not until I pay what looks like years of “dues.” It feels like the biobiophycomythological end-of-the-line, another vanishing point, another fiasco.
It’s important to be struggling. It means we’re reaching far enough – for something we need to develop the experience for and to transform our talents into strengths in order to achieve. I believe this. But there’s a sense of “give-back” of return on your emotional, physical, intellectual – biophycomythological – investment during the struggle that indicates you’re journey is that of the hero. I believe your heart will be filled by the struggle alone – not fulfilled – but at least sustained by the journey. This isn’t revelatory but it feels like it can help me now, in the schism I’m in. I’m not getting the give-back – I’m not feeling anything but an outpouring of my efforts into nothingness – into the void. I’ve been here before – every job I’ve ever had has ultimately, even if it didn’t begin this way – left me essentially in state of biobiophycomythological exhaustion; the type of exhaustion that, as Whyte has written, can only be answered by wholeheartedness. That’s what I feel now, working in this job at zmo – like my heart is not in it even though my mind tries to convince me otherwise. It’s a paycheck, it’s zingerman’s, I’m a foodie working for a foodie company, it therefore has to make sense; it has to be right. But it’s not. At least not yet. And not unless I can get more information on my future there. I need information. It’s the same problem I’m having with my s&b business model: I’m not doing what I need to do, not asking the questions I need to ask in order to get the information I need to move on. If I want to know more about the slaughter biz, then I need to do the research – I already know a lot about what to do next. At zmo, I need to ask about my future instead of letting others dictate it or create it without my knowledge.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012. The zmo cheese room continues to piss me off. The process of doing cheese tastings while everyone stands in the fucking walk-in is absurd. What the hell, who the fuck started doing it this way? Of course we have to taste all the cheeses at once too, like my palate isn’t dead after two of them. I have an intuition about who’s responsible for this debacle, but I’ll not say and I’ll drop the topic after I finish by saying it’s stupid enough to spend your day in a walk-in and even more stupid to stand there for half an hour or more tasting one chilly dab of cheese after another when your nose is cold, you can’t smell anything, you can’t taste anything and it’s just as easy to cut samples of decent size, set them up in a conference area, let them get to room temperature and then taste them.
In Through the Out Door
Saturday, August 18, 2012. I’ve just read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I was suspicious of its journalistic breeziness and emphasis on the sensational, yet half-way through I began to like it, especially the “The Three Lessons of Joe Flom” chapter.
The sense of possibility so necessary for success comes not just from inside us or from our parents. It comes from our time: from the particular opportunities that our particular place in history presents us with.
“Outliers,” according to Gladwell “are those who have been given opportunities – and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them,” and, “It is not the brightest who succeed. On their own, such ideas are less than compelling, yet he does well to offer many compelling examples of how it proves true.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012. Money is freedom for some, a prison for others and a tool for most of us. The figuring out of where you “stand” with money is important, especially because it’s not the main engine of your life, despite how much it always seems to feel that way; it doesn’t have much to do with your myth. It’s only a component of your biobiophycomythology – it factors into your “success” the same way the place you live or the time in which you’re born does. I think we can only influence how much money we have access to – envisioning the million-dollar lifestyle doesn’t necessarily make it so because it’s not necessarily what you really want. For those that get it, sometimes it has fulfilled the vision; for others, it’s some troublesome add-on to the fulfillment of their myth and it brings torment, struggle and suffering. In my case, I still don’t know how much money I want. I’ve always felt like I’ve had the same amount of it available to me no matter what our income has been – my wallet usually never has more than twenty or thirty dollars in it. When I finally had enough of my own money, back when I was still at JCI and with Angie’s income we were making about $200K annual, it still didn’t seem like my money – half of it was Angie’s for one thing – so we spent it together and I always felt I needed to justify what I bought, whether it was cds, books, beers, whatever. That’s probably not quite accurate however, now that I’m thinking it over: it wasn’t having to justify spending money – Angie has never once hounded me about what I spend money on – as much as just needing to be mindful of the family resources before I bought anything. There was never a sense of complete financial freedom is what I think I’m trying to say and it’s that pie-in-the-sky idea of wealth, the kind of wealth that means you never have to think about money again, that somehow we all aim towards. And we all learn the inevitable lesson, whether we get that wealth or not, that money is always a consideration; the requirement to manage it never goes away, even if you’re wealthy enough to delegate your financial management to someone else.
We squandered most of our larger sums on home goods: furniture, fences, decks, window “treatments,” landscaping, bathroom fixtures, carpeting; for thor’s sake it never ended and anyone who’s owned a house knows what I’m talking about. In the end, it seems my financial life has been no different than the way I lived while growing up – never having quite enough of money to feel independent and secure – and that’s been a disappointment to me. I’ve had everything I needed with some nice things thrown in depending on the job I had at the time, but never everything I wanted. While at JCI, it seemed that we were “rolling” for awhile – able to pile up some money here and there, including saving into our 401Ks, while at the same time spending more than enough of it to keep up with the joneses so to speak. We were completely sucked into that suburban lifestyle of acquiring things, mostly for the house we owned, with the subtext of showing it all off to someone somehow, to an unknown, indefinable group of somebodies – all the while becoming more and more aware, with some sense of insidious desperation, that the shortening list of friends and family that would ever be interested (or feign interest) in admiring our stuff had begun to dwindle precipitously: who the hell were we thinking we were spending all this money for besides ourselves? It’s not like Angie and I were ever convinced that we needed three extra bedrooms, two of which were fully furnished, set up for guests that never came, existing for the most part as little home-decorating vignettes, little demonstrations of what our real estate agent started calling our “Pottery Barn Style.” Now, ironically, in this middle-class apartment in the northeast corner of A2, with just slightly more funk and cool than the suburbs, I feel as much at home as anywhere else. The lifestyle is very familiar – it’s the same quality of furnishings I’ve always lived with, which is to say just about everything – from door knobs to the dishwasher – is of good, reliable quality while visually aspiring to an image of something higher and more sophisticated, which is to say some price-prohibitive original version, by way of imitation. The trend of recent years has been towards Ikea, a Swiss company that sells cheap home goods, disdaining the pretense of imitating the finer things in favor of celebrating how function can dictate form. This too shall pass, in a generation or less, just like every other example of “improper art,” as the cultural gestalt ebbs, flows, begins, ends and rebirths itself, as it has for millennia, a Campbell-esque mythos of aeonic cycling of human taste. I digress, but then I’m more and more perceiving everything in its mythic context….
I’ve worked very hard, but maybe not hard enough, or at least not hard enough in the correct way. I sometimes wonder whether my biobiophycomythological struggles are part of life paying me back for fucking around with my time so much when I was younger – a form of mythic justice – or whether it’s the struggle of learning something new, of being new at something, of growing pains so to speak, examples of the toil of learning a new craft of living. Strangely enough – I have the sense of it being strange at least – it’s not like I’ve not been paying attention; on the contrary, I don’t ever remember not being intently focused on who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do and in fact, as described here in the dop, there have been at least several times in my life where I felt like I’d finally “found it” – the thing I ought to be doing. But, almost immediately after having found it, that “thing” seemed to fall apart like the perverbial house-of-cards. My longest run was with JCI, maybe because it was closest not to my heart, but to what I already knew: it was familiar, in line with some of my habits and at least explainable to some extent to my father, his peers, my relatives and friends, the people I felt compelled to legitimize myself in front of. I still find myself trying to explain myself to such folk, to no avail of course – I’m finally realizing that there isn’t any explanation that will suffice, mostly because nobody’s ever really, authentically, been interested in an explanation. The only reason I suppose that I ever was under the impression that anyone cared, in any meaningful way, about my life was because I somehow convinced myself that I cared in a meaningful way about the lives of others, which in fact I didn’t. Which is to say it’s all a form of immaturity I think: you only slowly begin to shed the group-think, contrast-and-compare, compete-for-attention, try-to-fit-in, get-in-with-the-cool-crowd bullshit that as a youth I never understood anyway. I was never a complete rebel – that would have meant I’d have been more authentically something, if not exactly true to myself, at least then to an image of myself. No, as miserable as I was as another disaffected youth, I somehow still wanted to please the folks I was trying to convince myself I didn’t want to please. Father atonement; the Meeting with the Goddess; I was light-years as they say from any understanding anything about the nature of my mythic vacuum, any substantive self-knowledge other than a continually painful recogniztion that I was failing to be properly alive. I was already, as my parents, or more probably more accurately just my mother understood when they started sending me to a shrink when I was barely into my twenties, living in full-blown schism, precariously making my across the yawning gap of neurosis.
Fathers and mothers are the main players in our stories for such an unfortunately long time and of course we never completely atone with them, the exceptions to this universal condition only proving the rule. Like Joseph Campbell writes about: that part of you myth where you confront and are tested by your father (and you test him too), making amends and establishing your adult relationship with him – assimilating the wrongs you’ve both inflicted upon each other, leveling the patriarchal forces that have moved from leader and lead – father and son – to a balanced respect, if possible, for each as individual; thankful, appreciative, loving if you will, but no longer beholden to the dynamic of the past. You’re supposed to pass through the trial to atonement with him – some practical and intuitive understanding, including, at least for me, respect for who and what each of you are to one another as men. I thought I had achieved this when I worked for JCI, I’ll always remember the sense of stepping into the line of life, into some sort of legitimate place, that some eternal key and lock had finally come together, activating the future, but it must have been either an illusion, a false atonement, “built on sand” because it crumbled so quickly and dramatically. My father and I, I think we’re perhaps both perplexed by what’s important to each other. How often is this the case between father and son? Yet there is some respect. Love, in the sense of compassionate awareness between father and son, is not something I’m really interested in – I don’t find parental love useful as cold as that may sound. Rather, I’ve found it smothering and not occasionally suffocating. But here I am regressing to an adolescent combativeness. The older I get, the less the details of the past and present seem to matter – we just haven’t come together in the end, but not for lack of trying. Although I must admit to not trying at all lately – I still allow the idea of being around my parents to somehow threaten me – I take my place as the wayward son struggling to explaind why I’m so fucked up.
Why hasn’t anything been enough? Why have I made things so difficult? Any difficulty seems to come back to the idea of career. Not necessarily vocation, because I don’t think a vocation, the way I use the word – as the work of your life, that work you biobiophycomythologically must do – is important to my parents. They’re not passionate people in the same way that I am at least; neither in terms of their work, their vocations, or anyone else’s for that matter: they don’t have heros besides themselves. My father and mother have worked, on the job or in the home, like they’ve always worked: to assume responsibility, to not rely on others, to make your own way, and their success in those things have been more than enough for them, I’m sure. They seem proud and happy with their lives. For them, any perhaps most of their generation in this area of the country, biobiophycomythology – self-actualization, being who you are, being open to transcendence, is not so much the point. It’s not a completely foreign idea of course – everyone knows something about what it means to authentically be who you are – but history and geography places upon each generation, in each part of the world, its own limiting architecture, its own trials to be overcome by the hero. For my parents, one went to work and came home to another life, to the life you could control. It was never so much about Gladwell’s “autonomy, complexity, and connection between effort and reward” at work so much aspiring to all that at home, in family life: the expression of yourself, of who you are, of who my parents are, was meant, I think, to be demonstrated – the myth lived out – in the context of a family life outside of and severed from a job: the job was to pay for the life and the more money you made and the less time you spent at work, the better the life; these are the simple lessons I allowed myself to learn, regardless of whether they were the lessons my parents aspired to deliver.
In fact, I don’t remember my father really ever talking about work. Looking back, I don’t remember any discussions, either at the dinner table or that I overheard between him and my mother, at all about what he did all day: who he worked with, who his work friends may have been, what his boss was like, who my dad liked at work and who he didn’t, what was pissing him off or what he felt good about – all the shit that everyone else I know always talks about – he never did. He still doesn’t. It’s as if that whole aspect of his life – all that time and effort – was either so effortlessly integrated, so perfectly categorized, so appropriately placed, that he found very little need to ever bring it home with him. He could’t have despised his work like I always did because then he’d have somehow carried it with him, worn it all over him so to speak like I always did, so that us kids would see it somehow, wouldn’t we of? I write this out and it gets more mysterious the more I think about it, which tells me I’m making too much of it, I’m convinced he’d tell me that if I questioned him. I don’t see work like my father does; he’s a man in his seventies, still working (as a contractor for about twenty years after “retiring”) for Chrysler. For over forty years, he’s worked for the same company. He’s told no stories of his workplace, at least to me. There’s never been a single dramatic event within the family that had anything to do with my dad’s work. I remember he drove us around the proving grounds in Chelsea one time, driving us up and down the hills of different “percent grades” – the first time I encountered that term – and standing on the accelerator on a straightaway test track – we were in some enormous sedan – until we reached 110 miles per hour, which to this day I hold in my memory as my personal top speed in an automobile. This was in the nineteen-seventies. Another time, in the nineteen-eighties, when he was re-assigned to the brand new, architecturally progressive facility in Auburn Hills, we all toured his workplace, admiring the expansive atriums, the glass-walled offices, the shopping-mall-esque openness and brightness to it all. Having worked myself in innumerable examples of the dingy, dark, grimy hovels that used to make up most of the automotive industries version of office space, I can identify with the sense of relief and achievement he possibly felt at working in such a university-style campus environment, and it speaks to something ineffable about what my father found worthwhile in his work. All that time spent at a place, at work, at jobs that have affected him so little? Could he be affected and just not reveal it? Isn’t he torn, disappointed, enraged, discouraged, kicked-in-the-crotch, diminished, and exhausted like the rest of us? Perhaps not. Yet its obvious to me that neither was he uplifted, energized, actualized or enthused by his work. If he was any of these things, wouldn’t he reveal them, if not consciously, then wouldn’t something, in spite of his reticence, leak out that his own son could pick up on as meaningful? There’s been nothing. I’m forty-seven-years-old when I write this. Work to my father, from what I know, means working for a good living and taking as much time off as you can get. Perhaps I should ask him about it?
When Wendell Berry writes (and I took this quote from Ari’s gtgl2), “Only in the absence of any viable idea of vocation or good work can one make the distinction implied in such phrases as ‘less work, more life’ or ‘work-life balance’ as if one commutes daily from life here to work there.” My father has always been a big fan of dividing work and life, despite never once, that I know of, grumbling or grousing about his job. That’s one important thing I learned from him I guess – that time away from work is to be cherished and that more time away from work is better than less. Then again, I know nothing about why my father may have indeed, at times perhaps, preferred to be at work, out of the mayhem of a young family, busy doing his own thing. Again, if I want to know these things, I try asking him. In the end, maybe the most influential difference between how my father and I interpret work relates to how we each were raised. It’s interesting to read Gladwell’s description of the two major environments, generalized as “rich” versus “poor,” in which children are most often raised:
- “Concerted Cultivation:” the child’s life is highly scheduled (lots of organized stuff to do) and a sense of entitlement is fostered. The downside is the child is bratty.
- “Growth by Natural Order:” the child receives food, security and love, but there are no adult-organized endeavors and neither is there any fostering of the sense of entitlement. The child has more time of their own, and creates their own world more readily. The downside is a sense of restriction in society and powerlessness in the face of authority.
I would wholeheartedly agree with the existence of these two major categories and I come from the first and Angie comes from the second. I’m convinced I’d have been better off, given my biobiophycomythology, having grown up in the second, but maybe not.
When I finally discovered for myself, while working through my initial struggles with biophycomythology, that my father was not my guide, it was revelatory. Disappointing, but immensely helpful, as such things are. It explained so much that seemed to be holding me back, which is to say that I think we both may have assumed in an unspoken way that he was my guide. It makes intuitive sense that a father guides the son, especially when there is shared respect and for that matter love (whatever that adds to it). It also unfortunately is proven time and time again that this is a false understanding: the father attempts to guide; the son attempts to follow, and they both end up in the wrong place – both attempting to do a “job” that they’re not suited for. To be a guide and to be guided requires a biobiophycomythological chemistry – that’s the only way I can describe it. It cannot be manufactured, it is innate. It can also come and go, changing thorugh time. Anyway, that my father is not one of my guides is an essential realization within my biobiophycomythology and, despite not having translated that realization into any obvious external result, except perhaps this journal, it’s a formidably large “rock” that I’ve managed to chuck from my biobiophycomythological “back pack.” It can’t help but bear biobiophycomythological fruit at some point.
They’re just pigs. I’m energized by their presence and I don’t know why. Of course not everything requires an explanation in order to be useful and the best things in life certainly don’t. The Rolling Stones sang “It’s only rock-n-roll but I like it.” The things that drive you only become problematic (I’m living proof) when you don’t engage them, when you refuse “the call” of those things in your life. Answer the things that call you. Find a way to answer them in some way that feels legitimate – that answers them in a way that is commensurate to their level of importance to you. Match the energy of the call with the energy of your answer. Don’t hedge your biophycomythological bet. In answering them, they may come to no longer call you – that’s part of it. Surrender regardless. I’m trying to talk myself into this stuff as I write it. I guess that’s been the essence of this whole mess of a journal. The sense of being poised, or more accurately “stuck” on the threshold of my life exhausts me. What is holding me back? Am I in fact not held back? Am I living my personal legend – am I in the midst of my hero journey without knowing it? If so, then why does it feel like I’ve yet to even begin? The sense of purpose that should override the doubt seems absent.
When I’m engaging my vocations, when I’m around pigs for example, or when I’m cooking and eating and reading and writing and listening to music, or walking, I’m living my life in a way that feels intuitely proper to me. Angie and I recently went to a so-called “farm dinner” – this one organized by the folks of “Outstanding in the Field” – an organization that’s been around since 1999 to promote farm-to-fork connections. Bringing people to the farm to eat the products of it, connecting the local consumer to their local farmer, is no longer a new idea to food-focused people in 2012. In fact, the picture of a long wooden table set within a grassy green field with a hundred or more chairs and table settings awaiting non-farmer guests is romantic but already a cliché. But when you do it, it feels good, so there you go – there’s no need to criticize what might be a sentimental interpretation of what the farmer-consumer relationship might be. It’s an incredibly contrived way of bringing the message home – it’s like a catered wedding reception at $200 a plate and it’s got to be a holy pain in the ass logistically: all that food and drink transported, cooked, and served in the middle of some farm acerage that’s typically quite a distance from any utilities. After all, no farmer eats duck rillettes, “pork-in-hay,” basil ice-cream and drinks a wine and beer course while tucked up to a white tablecloth in the middle of his property. It’s all fairly absurd I’m sure from the standpoint of the farmer. Nevermind the charming, intelligent and earnestly wholesome young waitstaff who can describe the provenance of all the ingredients. But it works, somehow, which explains why it’s still happening. People like me pay for the experience of eating in an environment that we typically have no access to. Most of us understand something about the basics of what goes on at a farm, and we’ve all been to restaurants – we can all then understand the farm-to-table or farm-to-fork idea at least in principle. But this attempts to foreshorten or more accurately reverse the experience – we’re not experiencing farm-to-table so much as table-to-farm. Put the restaurant table literally on the farm, in the context of both at the same time, and the result is unique. It might rain like hell – it apparently did last year at the Backforty event. Or it may be, like the event we attended last night, a picturesque late August afternoon and early evening – all close-cut green grass, rolling green fields, a pond, stands of trees, old barns, golden sunlight and cooling breezes that chased the heat of the day away as we strolled back to our vehicles along the dusty farm road.
What the fuck am I supposed to be doing? It can’t be this. Plunking around with this “book” and plunking around at zmo. I should mention that I cooked some so-called heritage-breed pork chops at zmo for a tasting that one of the employees wanted to do. Lisa had mentioned this red wattle tasting and it stuck with me such that I volunteered to come in unpaid (yes, you read that correctly) to be a part of it. She then took it a step further to me cooking the chops and getting paid to do it. The pay is not a big deal – at $8.25/hour, it’s not even worth talking about. For me, it was all about the pork. It turns out that they didn’t have anyone who wanted to cook – Anthony, who took over employee meal duties, is a vegetarian, not comfortable cooking meat, and on top of that he’s pissed at the situation with his new role; I would be too, but that’s another story. Suffice it to say that not enough clarity on job expectations always results in employee frustration. I was suspicious of the job and that’s why I didn’t apply for it. That and the fact that Anthony, being a long-time and full-time employee should’ve gotten it over me anyway. The problem as I see it is simple: zmo won’t allow enough time to properly cook high-quality meals and won’t pay for the skill-set required to do it. They should know better – it takes time and money to make food and meals special and memorable. Anyway, I went in early to brine the chops for about an hour (I would’ve liked another hour) unpaid. What does it mean that I’m happy to jump into work unpaid? It means it’s something I should be doing more of. But how?
It’s not about wielding chef knives, pots and pans and working in a professional kitchen. It has nothing to do with cranking out mediocre food as quickly and efficiently as possible. This unfortunately describes even Zingerman’s. All I seem to know is what I don’t want to do, which is to work for someone else. A mental exercise: if I indeed made a $100K salary at zcob, what then? What the fuck then? Would I be finally fucking satisfied with my life and work? Could I finally, and with cataclysmic relief, find some fucking biophycomythological PEACE?!! Of course not.
I’m compelled by the idea that someone – even someone now living – is living the life that I more or less want to live. My guides do many or all of the things I would like to do. They live lives that I admire or aspire to. In many ways I can imagine myself being Ari W. or Joseph Campbell. I can see myself as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall: same age, similar culinary, animal husbandry and literary interests. I’ve often imagined myself as any number of the rock musicians I’ve listened to over the past three decades. Artists, writers, cooks, businessmen and of course earlier in life, athletes. The life that makes sense to me is being lived by so many others. Why is it that I cannot zero-in on my version of it? I’m just not doing it. I’m wasting time, wondering which step to take, which tree to go round, which direction in which to apply my prodigious energies. What is my myth? Again, am I in it but failing to recognize it? Has the movie started filming? I find it very difficult to believe that my myth is made up of nothing but a series of failed myths – as if I’m here as nothing but an example of how not to go about it.
I have not always felt as if I’m in transition or in between major events and undertakings in life. I’ve had vogs and focused energy. I’ve achieved goals. It’s just that all of my achievements seem incorrect, off the mark or in some way wrong-headed; like they turned out to be perhaps somebody else’s goals. I just haven’t been able to settle into anything. The shit that others seem to want me to do doesn’t seem to have anything to do with what I want to do. I begin, after much forethought, intuition, encouragement and minor heroics, only to suffer failure at my own hands. My powerful motivations seem always to be betrayals of my heart, despite working so hard to listen to it. The failures are my own, 100%, and are a result of my errors in listening to my heart. I have refused to surrender, I have heard but refuse to listen, I have refused to consider all options. I fall into my habits and fall back to my skills in order to add familiarity and comfort to the concept of my dreams. My visions-of-greatness are therefore not entirely my own – they retain an aspect of inauthenticity – and therefore fail. If I continue to betray my heart in this way, I’ll never get along. I’ll never fully engage my myth and therefore I’ll remain in biobiophycomythological purgatory – stuck between worlds – as in a form of hell. My life will not come to me and will remain that doppelganger, refusing to take my hand. Of course looking for my life from the outside in, as if it exists “out there” somewhere is exactly the mistake I’m trying to avoid. What I’ve read about the answers being available within, I believe because it rings true, it feels true. Why then must I continue to sift through falsities, dupes and mirages? My life marches forth without me, in spite of me.
If one must, as Gladwell says, put at least 10,000 hours into something before you put yourself in position to experience so-called “remarkable” success, or as Ari might say, to put yourself in a position to go for greatness (he puts it terms of several years), then the self-work I’ve done over the decades – the search for my vocational self – my biobiophycomythology must be fucking coming up as somehow due. But here I am grasping at outcomes. What kind of fucked-up attitude is that – that I’ve earned my due or my reward? What the fuck? I know there’s no pay-off. I’ve seen the movie and I believe the words. But maybe I’ve got the wrong movie. The wrong Bill Murray movie. Instead of The Razor’s Edge, maybe I’ve been following Lost in Translation? I’m at least half serious.
Reproducing someone else’s life, or combining aspects of other people’s lives, even those of my guides, is not a genuine way to live, I know this. Not only is it impossible, but even contemplating how they went about it is losing, at this late stage, any compelling value to me. I look at what others have done and how they’ve done it and it doesn’t click with me. No surprise. So I don’t want what they have nor do I want to do their work. I want to be myself and to live my myth. It just doesn’t seem to me that this clumsy, on-again-off-again biophycomythological stopping and starting is a personal legend, myth or destiny. It seems, always, like I’ve not begun or that I’m trying to begin again. As if my whole life I’ve been running only practice races, or I’ve been stuck in the starting gates, running in place. Pushing against impossible resistance and squandering the force of my energies. Like Sisyphus pushing the rock to the top of the hill, watching it roll back down, and starting again. There’s a hell of a depressing myth to live by. Holy hell.
I’ve been floundering lately as only a man without a vision-of-greatness can flounder. Why haven’t I been living according to my vog? I wrote one recently and it appears in this book somewhere but I’m not using it. I don’t re-read it, I don’t reference it and it’s not a part of my life. So it must not be a very authentic vog. The last several attempts I’ve made at creating one have failed – none of them have seemed to tell the story. So, instead of pushing so hard, trying to go over, under, around or through the “problem” – the thing that’s blocking or limiting me – I’ve tried not giving a shit for a while. I’m trying everything so why not that? Fuck biobiophycomythology, the hero journey, business books, Campbell, Canfield, and everybody else and let’s see what happens. Or doesn’t happen. But I’m really only acting “as if” I don’t care and it’s all I can manage. It does work, the “acting as if” stuff that Canfield writes about if only to set your attitude – to set your shoulders so to say – towards life in a more confident way, to try on some hats so to speak. I’ve said this before, but “faking” it is sometimes all you have to work with. I agree with Canfield that this can be a tool to getting where you want to be. You can have accomplished or acquired virtually nothing towards your goals or your myth – you can be almost biobiophycomythologically barren – but you always have the ability to fake it – to act like an actor in your own life if nothing else, to try the life you want on for size, if only through the imagination and play-acting of it. I agree with Canfield again, though I’m not a scientist, psychologist or psychiatrist that our brain can’t distinguish between the reality and the fantasy. More precisely, I think our intellect can – that rational, survival-oriented part of us – but our heart cannot. The heart is blind to the distinction because the job of the heart is to connect to the “soul of the world” (Coelho), the transcendent “welling up,” (Campbell), (also insert something from the anarchists?), the eternal, the truth, the Self, Truth, Life, the Cosmos, the collective unconscious, whatever you want to call what it is that causes us to come to be, do the work we have to do and pass away, always with the ability to carry us past grief towards a more complete understanding. What in fact does the cliché “Love is blind” refer to except that overwhelming flood of emotion, joy, love, desire, etc. that “blinds” us to much of what takes place in the world of action, at least for the brief time we remain enamored of our beloved in that hyperbolically devoted way. We become blind to flaws, problems, inconsistencies, illogical impossibilities – it’s all possible when our heart is blinded by its connection to who you are. [editing entry Wednesday, December 18, 2013: consider referencing Campbell’s discussions of Love-Death and amor in masks vol.4 & goddesses?]
Now how do you explain the error of the heart’s ways in this condition? The joy of the blindness is the classic double-edged sword: it slays dragons, but cuts you too. It carries you forward in the world, yet it also holds you back. You become attuned to the transcendent and at the same time you tune-out from reality. Your heart tells you that the girl you just met is the end-all and be-all – she’s your destiny. Your mind might be registering the facts of the situation: you don’t speak the same language; you don’t even live in the same country; she’s half your age; you really don’t like the way she’s rude to nice people; she’s pretentious, she’s too this, she’s too that, she’s rich and you’re poor, whatever the scenario – there are so often the hard realities that make consummation and long-term success of that blind “love” doomed. It will crash on the rocks of reality. Why? Campbell speaks specifically of the phenomenon of “being in love” in Pathways to Bliss and attributes such a mental state to a projection of the self onto someone else – you’re not seeing the other person for what they are (with all their flaws) so much as a projection of what you’ve always wanted your love to be – something about “the way her eyes are set” as he says, causes you to be attracted to her, but you’ve not really connected to the truth, you’re projecting a part of yourself, something within yourself that is unrealized, maybe from your shadow – that part of you that you won’t acknowledge. You’re blinded by love. So love has this error, this flood, this overcompensation, this overreaction, this blindness associated with it and it’s here that you can betray or be betrayed by your own heart. But only if you have lost touch with it first by not listening, maybe for years, maybe for decades. Because it you know yourself and have tune into your heart and have practiced living in accordance with it, then I don’t think you struggle with such blindness and betrayal. At least not as often and not to the same dramatic, enantiodromia-style degree that some of us experience.
I look at how I met my wife and decided to marry her. In writing this I find that I might finally be able to explain to myself why I’ve only ever “fallen in love” once in my life – it’s just not something that I ever recall happening except in one crazy, unfortunate circumstance. I did not “fall in love” with my wife when I met her – it was more the building up of a bond, based on attraction, yes, which I’m not interested in trying to explain (I’ll leave the attraction between the sexes as the work of someone more qualified than me). I remember (and I’ve described this to her) doing a sort of contrast-and-compare exercise in my mind – thinking about all the women I’d been attracted to and trying to figure out why, and if it was just physical, and why I hadn’t met “the one” and all that garbage. I don’t like writing about this by the way, but I’m going to get this out. When I initially contemplated this woman whom I married, she was with a group of other girls that she knew – we were all taking the same graduate class and, as everyone tends to do, we fell into a routine of sitting in the same general area of the classroom, with me always behind these three girls. At first, I just found them all relatively attractive, of my age group, and contemplated liking Angie instead of the other girls, because she seemed different than the type of girl I usually was attracted to. I was attracted to her, but it took more thought somehow as to why. Of course there was the inititial physical attraction – there has to be that (the first three chakras) but I was was twenty-eight-years-old then and I’d seen some things, I had some life experience, it wasn’t, as they say, my first rodeo. I could be attracted to a woman without the adolescent cloudiness of being at the same time enamored. I could contemplate what might be a beginning, middle and end to a relationship and why. It’s always a mystery, but not as much so the older you get. In the end, I’d have done nothing to get us together; I may have had some experience, but I still lacked confidence and that self-possessed quality that allows a man to speak comfortably to a woman he doesn’t know, without any clumsy pretense. It’s always been a struggle. But she eventually recognized (whereas I already of course knew) that we not only had a class together but that we worked for the same company, in the same area of the building. Anyway, one day at the end of class she suddenly turned around from her friends and asked me, point blank, if I’d like to ride to work together – this scenario still surprises me to think back on it – stuff like this just doesn’t happen, except in the movies, but it happened to me this one time (the exception proves the rule) and here we are, married for sixteen or seventeen years now. I’m not diminishing the struggles either – but that’s the point I guess I’m trying to make: the fact that I was not “stone in love” or “blinded by love” – I hadn’t “fallen” which implies all that out-of-control chemical urgency and compulsion. Our relationship moved ahead quickly, but not at full-throttle. It picked up speed and kept going versus soaring, crashing and burning, which explains something about knowing yourself and the benefits of following your heart in its true contemplation of who you are – its true expression of you, which is never a blind flood of unrestrained passion, nor a “fever.” It’s true, sustained, heart-mind-supported biophycomythology. Maybe it’s a form of Gladwell’s success requirements – talent, timing and the 10,000 hours.
This could be nonsense, but I think I’m trying to describe again how the heart is never truly blind. Love is not desire. Desire is not lust. Compassion is not pity. The larger sense of these words, these concepts, move towards the transcendent, the unattached contemplation of things being as they should be, and doing the work you need to do, unperturbed by grief. Getting caught up in the world-of-action and being anxious for the outcome of our deeds, of not surrendering completely to our biophycomythology, of not being prepared to do what we have to do to be who we are, of not being prepared to discard our plans and live the life that is waiting for us is what prevents us from living our personal myth and bringing our “boon” back to the world.
It’s been said that including as much detail into your vision, your preferred future – all five sensory experiences that might be associated with it – empowers the mind to comprehend it as “real,” thereby vastly improving the odds of your success towards that vision. Just writing that took me to a place in my mind (or heart-mind) that I hadn’t been in awhile. It’s the place I’m trying to get back to, like when I was starting humble hogs – that leap in the heart, the energy, the power of connecting to the world-of-action, of envisioning what I want; of nice things happening that mean a lot to me; of me succeeding in being who I am and enjoying life in the moment. That’s bringing your boon to the world.
It strikes me that most of this book will not appeal to anyone. It will likely irritate almost everyone, at least those that feel they have no time for this shit, which is essentially everyone I know. Why then do I carry on and on about these things; why do I write what I write? It’s my myth apparently to funnel myself down into the most unmarketable, unsaleable, odd and non-value-adding enterprises I can find. Zmo’s definition of “value-add” includes “transforms the product, can be repeated accurately, and the customer is willing to pay for it.” I think I have a flair for the first two requirements, but none at all for the third. It’s worth noting and it relates to the stuff in Gladwell’s book that rings true to me: success involves all the right things coming together. It absolutely does not involve turning a blind eye to empirical knowledge – that which we can learn through observation and testing. Your heart empowers the vision and the mind evaluates the soundness of the strategy. Ari’s written that your vog has to be strategically sound if it’s to be a true vision-of-greatness; otherwise, as he says, it’s fantasy. This is a razor’s edge to walk: you risk snuffing out your vision with concerns over the practicality of it – over concerns about its strategic validity. You must retain belief in Hugh Macleod’s so-called creative “crayons” – you can’t allow them to be taken from you because it makes no sense in the current disposition of the world. Change the fucking world. But here’s the rub: you cannot deny your time and place, which is exactly what Gladwell would advise. You must “couch” your vision in the context of the world as you know it. You can’t know everything you need to know before you start to engage your vision – nobody would ever get started if they waited for all the information to come in. Ari references his anarchist guides when he talks about this [insert ari’s gtgl2 regarding an idea appearing to be dead, visionaries going forward before all the information is in….] It’s risk management. If you believe in something you’re almost obligated, in an effort to maximize the odds of biobiophycomythological success and to minimize the odds of failure – to get Stryker’s creation equation set up to your advantage, which is to say maximizing your energy input and minimizing the resistance to it. Don’t do it like I have my whole life which is to say fight with all your heart and mind against overwhelming odds just on principle, just to make a statement. You go out of business. Hell, you go out of business even when you’re not making that mistake. David conquered Goliath – the myth of the remarkable outcome – only because he had the tools and talent to accomplish the task, the proper circumstances – timing – to do so and the personal drive.
I’ve never engaged a dream with a vision of doom – it’s always been with the dream of success, of vanquishing all resistance. Yet I’ve vanquished very little in my life. I’ve had only little victories. I’ve won battles but never the biobiophycomythological war. That’s because, as I’m learning, I’ve gone into “battle” unprepared. I’m the first to question the value of earnestness and passion at the expense of talent. Now I’m thinking I need earnestness, passion, talent and a better fucking strategy. I can’t predict markets, public acceptance, what people will pay for, etc. any better than anyone else. I need to go for what I want, but I need to be more clear about what I want. The fucking hh food cart is NOT what I wanted. The hh-headcheese production business is, however, what I wanted. And I very nearly made it work. If zcob would’ve tried to sell it, I’d probably still be doing it. I just may have been right about what people were ready for and what they weren’t and zcob just may have been wrong. We’ll never know now because I quit on it, and that quitting, in the end, felt like the right thing to do. But that’s also part of life. Part of destiny, part of learning the details of your personal myth. It’s part of what Gladwell describes as “the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages that today determine successs – the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history….” For some, and I think it’s for the same crowd that accepts the outcome of a bad call in a sporting event as “part of the game,” these lucky breaks, arbitrary advantages and happy accidents of history are indeed part of “the game” of life. I don’t agree with this, I never have. I believe there are fucked up bullshit outcomes in life (and sports of course) that probably left a better future behind right when we had the chance for getting everyone right: justice, fairness and things as they ought to be in the world. For me, it’s always been about fix it, change it, make it better. Fuck the Buddha and his things are as they should be philosophy, at least in this instance. I don’t think accepting everything as it is is the same as allowing yourself to be satisfied, fulfilled or otherwise realized. I agree with Campbell’s argument, proposed at length in his Baksheesh & Brahman journal, that what’s unique to the West is a sense of heroic tragedy – that we have, as empowered individuals, the opportunity of the hero journey – that there can be a successful going out and coming back with your boon, or conversely, a fiasco, a tragedy. Calls can be refused, hearts can fail, bad things happen and it’s not okay, it just is which, in the end, is of course what the Eastern contemplative traditions, at least the ones that don’t refuse or deny life but, rather, affirm it, express. Have the referee go back and review the fucking video – I love that – and get it fucking right. No, we’re not on planet fair, but it’s our duty to make it as fair as fucking possible while we draw breath.
After all the above bullshit, I’m returning to what the fuck I originally wanted to write: my new vog. This one makes a lot more sense than the over-driven dribble of my last two or three versions and may actually be stragically sound for once. It’s certainly brief if nothing else:
Vog – New Year’s Eve 2012:
- I know myself and what I want to do next.
- I awake with purpose.
- I’m mindful and present.
Saturday, August 25, 2012. Letting the inessential go. Sometimes the only thing you’re certain of is what you don’t want to do, and I don’t want to:
- Be a hog farmer.
- Start a slaughter & butchery business.
- Be in the food production business.
- Be in the food service business.
- Work more than part-time at zmo.
- Work at any other job within zcob.
- Be a food writer.
- Be a journalist.
- Be an EHS rep.
- Teach cooking classes.
So what else is there that could fulfill the requirements – autonomy, complexity, commensurate rewards – of meaningful work? I still think it has something to do with being entrepreneurial. But the “business” must be more than sustainable – it has to thrive. I’m not interested in struggling to get by and being yet another perpetually struggling business that’s going out of business slowly or quickly. I’m not interested in the uphill battle of trying to establish an exemplary version of an existing business – like a hog farm or an s&b. A hog farm is an incomplete and unsustainable way to farm because, as Joel Salatin has aptly described, animal farming is about grass farming – you need to implement the entire “circle of life” so to say that takes place on a viable, income-generating farm. That means growing healthy grass on hundreds of acres, grazing cattle on it, following the cattle with mobile chicken coops, using pigs to turn over the wintered manure and straw in the cattle barn, maybe breeding rabbits and ducks, etc. and marketing and selling the meat yourself. It’s a hard, lonely life on the farm and it might be worth it if I had access to suitable land, strong backd to help run it and thirty years taken off my age so I’d have time to learn how to make a profit. I need all the things that Gladwell writes about – I need that “perfect storm” of place, time and opportunity to farm properly and I can’t attain that in my lifetime.
My business must also add value to the product or service. I’m not interested in struggling within a “commodity trap”: same perceived service, the only difference is price. Neither am I interested in attempting to compete in a mature market, trying to steal market share as they say. My business must:
- Pay me $50K (personal income) in the first year.
- Increase my personal income by $10K per year for five years – establishing my personal annual income of $100K minimum.
- It must have the potential to pay me $500K/year within ten years.
- It must provide autonomy, complexity and rewards commensurate with my efforts.
- It must engage all my vocations or, if it engages less than all of them, it must allow me the freedom to engage the others outside the business.
As such, it’s possible that my biophycomythological boon does not involve being an entrepreneur. But how else to engage the world? Working for someone else will continue to fail in this regard for me because the autonomy will always come up short – I need to be in charge. It feels like an odd form of progress to write this out. Odd because all I’ve seemed to effectively spell out is what I don’t want and can’t do.
Monday, August 27, 2012. I reached some conclusions about the choices I’ve made about work, how I’ve ended up where I’m at, which is a disappointment, and how to move forward without making the same mistakes. E + R = O. Canfield’s equation and some ideas from Gladwell’s Outliers have helped a lot. I’m not proud to admit that I think Angie’s right: I lack practical intelligence as Gladwell describes it. Essentially, practical intelligence comes from a combination of street smarts, charisma and social skills wrapped up in a sense of entitlement. You’re born with the charisma, you can learn at least to some extent the street smarts and social skills, and you’re raised or otherwise brought up from childhood to believe that you’re empowered to get what you want in life. I don’t think anybody is completely lacking in any of these things, but Gladwell’s point hits home with me because he describes situations where people of equal talents might experience completely different levels of success in life, success being described generally as the three components of fulfilling work – autonomy, complexity and reward commensurate with effort.
How, (and I would bet that my long-suffering parents would be interested in the answer to this question), does a guy with at least average intelligence, work ethic, social skills, ambition, drive to be happy, education and opportunity end up at the age of forty-seven with an $8.25/hour part-time job that he doesn’t like and with no plan for the future? I don’t desire to be jobless and poor. I understand what good work can be and how it’s directly connected to my biobiophycomythology. I’m not the person who refuses “the return” from their hero journey and, to paraphrase Cambpell again, buys a pipe, a dog, allows the weeds to grow around the gate and tells the world to go fuck themselves (although I’ve certainly considered it). That’s not my myth. But why do I continue to fail? It helps to extract what I now see as a glaring technical error of sorts with the way I’ve been working. Campbell, Canfield, Gladwell and ZCoB have all combined to help me here. If I look at the following I can figure it out:
- Patterns that have made up my work life (Campbell)
- The E + R = O equation (Canfield)
- Practical intelligence and the requirement for autonomy, complexity and commensurate rewards (Gladwell)
- The definition of “value-add” – specifically the requirement that “the customer must be willing to pay for it” (ZCoB)
All my failed careers have shared something which I’m in danger of repeating once again with my interest in starting an s&b business: whether it’s been music retail, environmental management, health & safety, or the food service business (hh and zcob), I’ve attempted to demonstrate the “right” and “best” way to so something in the belief that I’ll be rewarded for it; that on the basis of being exemplary, I can flourish both biobiophycomythologically and financially. From selling compact discs, managing EHS programs or producing food, I’ve been trying to “change it, fix it and make it better” (my work mantra). My critical error? Assuming that the folks who’ve hired me want to change it, fix it or make it better too. Typically, they simply don’t. They’re not interested in doing anything that may threaten their job, and being an agent of change, as everyone knows, eventually gets you too much of the wrong kind of attention. Unfortunately, by the time you worm your way into a position with the authority to make change by fiat, you’ve compromised yourself to the point, assimilated the self-preservation attitudes that may once have only been projections – useful falsehoods and advantageous deceptions – so that you’ve become, at least in some neutralizing sense, exactly what you initially hated.
We aim for a marriage, a partner, a house, or a garden, and work and sacrifice for that future vision of loveliness, until sometimes the very nature of our struggle disqualifies us from the garden we have so long desired. We may imagine a place in the hierarchy of our organization where we will find safety and security, from which we will then speak out, but find ourselves just as unsure even as we pace the supposedly safe upper floor of the building.
Also, authority necessarily begets distance from the core work of a business – the leaders never know what the fuck is going on day to day. None of them did any of the jobs that they’re now in charge of. It’s horrible all around – the employees have a boss that is incapable of identifying with either their needs or their achievements in any way beyond the most cursory understanding, and the boss himself is often equally miserable, except now in isolation; neither can properly add the value they’re getting paid to provide. It happened to me being an EHS rep: I had to oversee work for which I was untrained and inexperienced, and would remain so; despite the herculean effort I put into trying to acquire that knowledge – shadowing mentors, listening, taking training classes and tests to acquire certifications – I was never going to become an electrician, a plumber or an HVAC technician, the knowledge of which, at least to me, seemed imperative for anyone required to evaluate the H&S risks involved in the work. The only credit I allow myself is that I knew enough about all those things through my intuitive interest in facilities and by way of my hands-on experience performing repairs and remodels on my own homes (as well as some formal education in mechanics and electronics in High School) to know plenty about how much I didn’t know about those fields. As such, one of the most difficult things was having to learn all the work that went on that I never did myself, and most of it is technical enough that you don’t just pick up on it from watching it being done. But I don’t believe this separation between leader and line worker so to speak need exist, it’s not inevitable that the knowledge gap be unbridgeable, yet I’ve seen the gap everywhere, including zcob. Ari doesn’t work in his business and couldn’t do nine out of ten of the jobs in it anymore. Curiously, at least to me, I think he’d be happy to admit that, and so would all of his co-managing partners: these are people who’ve assimilated the hierarchal predispositions of the working world they matured in. For folks like them, being the owner means being the boss in the sense that if you know a lot about the daily doings of your company, then you’re working too hard, you’re lowering yourself unnecessarily into the beehive when you deserve to be the bee keeper. Ari’s written an entire section of his second book on being the beekeeper and not the bee – of the difference, and advantages as he sees it – between working on your business and working in your business. I don’t agree with him: to me, if you’re not working in the business, then you have no business working on it. Otherwise, you’ve slipped into the same flawed logic that justifies the need for CEOs, Presidents, COOs, CFOs, Vice Presidents, blah, blah, fucking blah. It’s just a goddamn business, not your fucking kingdom. You make shit that people pay for, or not. That’s all there is. It’s not a career, whatever the fuck that is. It’s not a life’s work. It’s not self-actualization for anyone but the fucking owner. Get your hands dirty and spend time doing the work – stay in touch with it. I think a so-called CEO should be doing nothing, if they want to work “on” their business with any effectiveness, but rotating themselves through each job. Yes, that means spending most of your day doing at least some portion of the jobs that actually do the work the customer pays for. That means production, customer service, maintenance and sanitation – all of it. What’s a CEO after all except a typically well-spoken mouthpiece for investors? There’s no need for a job position higher than supervisor and that job need only exist to organize and structure the work – who does what and when – train new workers and otherwise deal with the unending stream of personal problems they have. Does it sound like fun?
I’ve created a poisonous pattern in the way I work: I’ve ignored the success equation that describes how to generate the outcomes I desire and I’ve misunderstood the idea of “value-add” in the context of business. I’ve also misunderstood what those in authority want from me at work. It’s partly their fault and partly mine. First, they never explained clearly what the fuck they wanted from me; mostly because they don’t know, and then at partrially because they obviously don’t care – they’re not thinking about me, they’re thinking about themselves. They certainly don’t want the best, because they typically interpret the word “best” to mean “most expensive.” They just want what’s good enough. This is a remarkable realization for me and demonstrates my weakness in practical intelligence: why couldn’t I see that what I was doing was not wanted and never could be? Because I was so caught up in my self-expression – my biobiophycomythology (long before I knew what that was); I was blind to the intractably practical aspects of what I was doing.
Yes, I’ve known for a long time that it’s wrong-headed for me to try to make a job into something that it isn’t and that’s why I piss off my bosses (and myself) and eventually work myself out of a job. Why do I keep doing this? Because I keep thinking I’ll run into folks that think like me in the careers I’ve chosen. But it’s not me and it’s not them – it’s the dynamics of the doomed relationship, it’s the fucking careers I’ve chosen – they all share one frustratingly disappointing aspect: they aren’t worth improving because nobody wants to pay for their improvement. The music retail business, the EHS field and the food service business are mature businesses – there’s nothing new about them and they’ve all collectively learned what the customer wants – what the customer is willing to pay for more or less. With very few exceptions, these businesses are giving the people what they want. I’m often loathe to learn anything more about the publishing business; I know that writing as I am will never have much at all to do with the business of getting oneself published and commensurately paid, and if that’s my goal – to get published and paid for it – then my odds, given what I write about and how I write it, are even more terrible than those of a novelist; better to simply blog my work and look elsewhere for money. The rub of course is that I can’t work and write – working for someone else has always depleted my motivation to write and especially prevents me from writing well, of writing towards mastery.
People aren’t willing to pay for what I’ve got to offer in the context of the career paths I’ve chosen, whether it’s working for somebody or working for myself. I’m not stupid – I haven’t pursued selling umbrellas in the desert for example – and this is the fine point that having more practical itelligence may have helped me to figure out earlier: that many if not most careers – most mature businesses that employ people – mislead you by claiming an interest in being the best, in improving, in being leaders in their field, in doing the right thing, etc. – all the high-minded stuff. Artistic integrity in the music or publishing business would be another example. Government regulations in EHS. The best-of-the-best in farm-to-table food. Such inherently worthy ideals are unfortunately all entirely tangent to the plot of business, which is to produce a commodity or service that people are willing to pay for, unless you’ve somehow managed to convince them that that’s what they want to pay for (which takes an inordinate amount of time, patience and pedagogic stamina – translation: money). So yes, I’ve allowed myself to be misled and I’ve tried like hell to impose my will at work, subjecting those who’ve hired me to a weight they can’t be expected to bear. Again, I’m not claiming that I’m a victim, it’s just simple ignorance on my part. I really don’t know where I obtained this vision of the world that sees an underlying greatness driving everything because it’s clearly not reality. I just haven’t had the practical intelligence to choose jobs that effectively engage my vocations – my six vocations – in the way that will fulfill my biobiophycomythology – my personal myth. A part of that involves being rewarded for my efforts in a way that makes sense to me, which disqualifies any of my ideas about trying to start up an s&b when I know that all the energy and passion I’d put into raising, handling, transporting, slaughtering and butchering animals would go unpaid: I care, but most folks don’t, or not enough to be willing to pay for it, at least not yet.
Why hasn’t more of a hue and cry arisen from the lack of small-scale slaughter? Why does a co-owner of a slaughter & butchery that demonstrates my values –that serves as a guide for me, not support, in his words, “the idea of small-scale slaughter?” Because like Mr. Lorentz himself said, “It’s a difficult way to make a living.” Translation: there aren’t enough people willing to pay for that service to allow the business to thrive, let alone make it lucrative. The finest slaughterhouse in the world, which is what I want to run, isn’t something that anybody is asking for. Sure, some folks are asking for it. But even the few folks who aren’t satisfied with the slaughter business the way it is, aren’t likely to be willing to pay for the facility and service that I would run. Just like every other job I’ve ever had, I’ve be over-achieving so to say, and providing services and products that are unsustainable form a business standpoint.
Can you create the market – “build it and they will come” type of thing? Maybe. But at $4M required to start up what I want to do, the odds against it are incalculable. That’s why it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe there’ll come a day when the time and place present themselves as the perfect storm for such a biz opportunity, but from my analysis and my understanding now of myself – of my biobiophycomythology and my little improvement in practical intelligence – it’s not going to be my myth. It can’t be and I know this in my heart. It’s somebody else’s path. This realization hasn’t diminished me – I’m disappointed sure – but I also feel relief and freedom in my heart. My counselor from TX might say – “that’s because it’s real” regarding the feeling I have inside – whether it’s a nadi or chakra or whatever – I feel that “turning” sensation at the level of my heart; it’s physical and that means it’s also biophycomythological.
Here’s an email string between my brother and I – we started bloviating after he read Gladwell’s book:
Kevin: Burned through Gladwell book. Skipped all the damn charts, and large sections were so tedious I sped through them. In fact, his writing, which can be tedious and dull, almost kept me from getting through the first stages, which sucked outright. Finally came alive when he was talking about plane crashes – ironic – then I read in the back he’s still obsessed with them. Easily the best part of the book, and doesn’t really have anything to do with outliers other than certain countries crash a lot because people who aren’t from Western cultures don’t communicate directly and as such shouldn’t fly planes.
Anyway, some little gems amongst the snooze material. Bill Gates; “I was really lucky”. Damn straight you were. Been trying to explain this idea to Dad for years, and lo and behold some guy writes about it. Not even original, as the idea that you are defined by your upbringing and where you grew up is not new. As I always say, history is so much more important than Americans, and most people, care to acknowledge. He explained precisely how southerners can simultaneously be so deferential and then so aggressive. Curious why Texans are so hardheaded – obviously a certain group of hardheaded Europeans moved to Texas.
The thing that stuck with me, other than the fascinating nature of plane crashes, is the Chris Langan genius guy who can’t connect his genius with world. The line “he knew he needed to learn to do a better job of navigating the world, but he didn’t know how” is exactly why I ended up where I did in academia and the art world. I’ve actually used the sentence “I’ve had a hard time navigating through academia as it relates to getting teaching jobs”. Ignorance and ineptitude in communication skills and working within the preconceived structures. Like Langan said about not putting as much effort into finding publishers for his writing; “I haven’t done it, and I am not interested in doing it”. I have said literally the same thing in regards to trying to boost my credentials as an academic, or even trying to find another job where my experiences would get more respect.
Here’s the problem with books like these – all they do is validate one’s own internal thoughts, and having validated them, help in no practical way whatever. This book reads less like research and more like another self-help book. The reader gets out his/her highlighter, like I did, and you did, and goes, “ah, I completely identify with that statement.” And then life goes on the same way as it did before we read it, regardless. It’s a variation of the “misery loves company” nugget.
What you wrote about Dad and work I think I agree with. I also learned, and he’d probably deny this, that you shouldn’t do any more than you have to to keep your job – Kurt also learned this. One of Dad’s greatest failures as a Dad was to fail in differentiating that work isn’t supposed to be like football practice – that is, even he didn’t hate going to work as much as we (or at least I) hated going to football practice. That he didn’t do much of anything he didn’t at least sort of like, even at work. Though Dad is one of that generation who value money (security) over all things – so it’s distorted in that to Dad, if you’re making good money at something, it can’t be all that bad to begin with. Which is why he’s, even now, giving me leads on jobs he knows I hate, as if after enough years of poverty I will finally give up. He still, even now, even though he has made small strides in comprehension, does not truly believe that money cannot solve all problems.
Which is why there remains an insurmountable canyon between me and him regarding how we approach life and what gives life value. Which has always depressed me. I always try to communicate this idea in a deferential way by saying things like, “dad I wish my interests and talents lay in hedge fund management, or investment banking, or venture capitalism, but they’re don’t – they’re in art. Through no fault of my own, I am good at something that is one of the hardest things to make a living at.” I can’t make it any more plain than that, yet he still gives me leads on “Costco Hiring” or “Home Depot Hiring”.
Whatever. Bottom line is we play the cards we’re dealt, and like Langan, I’m really not interested in navigating established structures and hierarchies – I simply want to do things that interest me and get interesting things done. The rest I couldn’t give two shits about. Which is why you, me and him can’t get where we think we want to get to. Or maybe we’re already there and don’t know it. The two things I do right now are teach and cut grass – two jobs where nobody ever tells me what or how to do something. I do both my way, and am allowed to do so. I just need some health care and another ten or fifteen grand a year. Which is what I woulda had if I didn’t blow the profit on my house acting like the character in The Alchemist for the last twelve years.
Me: great stuff. can’t get enough of hearing people’s path through this shit. i skipped shit in there too. you’re impatient with seeing yourself in somebody else’s writing because you feel you haven’t learned anything you don’t already know – the guy’s wasted too much of your time. he doesn’t provide answers or tools to fix it. i agree that large parts of gladwell are worthless, off target and he doesn’t provide a tool kit, but he’s a journalist – a fatal flaw in writing in my opinion – he tells stories and doesn’t do enough analysis. journalists try to solve problems just by reporting them, as if it’s up to other’s to finish the job once it’s communicated. he’s no campbell. but, i needed to see myself as lacking “practical intelligence.” it’s the thing i never understood about my plight. now you may think seeing it on the page doesn’t help you, but for me, it captures the concept, makes it manageable for me in size and now i can work on correcting the error – avoid repeating the mistake. because the mistake is crystal clear. it’s no longer “an expanding error” to use my own words. i’m not a slave to it. it’s not my destiny to be victimized by my circumstances. i just have to find a way to get past them. i’ve stopped the bleeding to say it another way. anyway, he describes work in a way that finally makes practical sense to me: autonomy, complexity, commensurate reward. if we avoid wasting time in the wrong system, we can get somewhere. you’re in the process of evaluating academia. it may or may not be the right environment. gather your info, reference what you know, make corrections, don’t try to make it into something nobody’s asking you for (my mistake). value-add = transforms the product, is repeatable, the customer (or your boss) is willing to pay for it. very simple, very important lesson for me. i’m just telling you what i’ve been telling myself – writing, not to preach at all. it’s part of what i do. still working on how to get paid commensurate with the effort.
Kevin: Pay matching effort is a slippery slope. Who is worth what? But I agree that understanding that we lack practical intelligence is important, it’s just that I already knew that, I just don’t know how to fix it. By fix it I mean change my ways. I find even the thought of all that so repulsive, just like the Langan guy, that I’ll live a miserable life instead of spending any time trying to change. I know exactly what he’s feeling – it’s like, if i have to spend time chasing down publishers, then this thing I’m interested in and writing about then becomes something that causes me anxiety and grief instead of what it is on its own while he’s writing it, which is joy. Having to put it in a consumerism box destroys it, kills it, for him. So what he’s doing is protecting it, and himself, from being ruined, or tainted by proximity. There are things I wish I could do that would help me, say grant writing, for example, which even the thought of sends me into a kind of allergic shock. Or schmoozing with certain kinds of people, etc. The sad part is, like Gladwell mentioned, is that for many that’s the easy part, and which is why so many people with less actual talent go so much farther than those with more. Bullshitting and ass-kissing are more productive skills in this shit world than true value-added stuff. Langan couldn’t even communicate to his math teacher, mostly because he was smarter than the teacher, who was some insecure, defensive tit, which I find in my field as well, who blocked him because he was intimidated by him. The pathetically mediocre late middle-aged twit bitch who (barely) runs the art department at Scraft is exactly the same way. But Langan sucked because he can’t communicate even that he liked math, so it’s both their faults, but mostly Langan just as it is mostly me. I identify completely with this scenario as it has happened to me over and over. I intimidate, or at least annoy people I want, or need to befriend. Like Ray Katz at OCC, who subtly emits, if not hostility, then overt defensive tactics against me, undermining me, like watching a fish flounder on a dock and refusing to simply kick it back into the water. This has happened with faculty at Wayne, who I used to admire – one day they turn on me because of some perceived issue and all doors become shut. After I had a show at Oakland during grad school, a third of them stopped talking to me, for example. As if I was actively seeking to fuck things up, or attack them, when in fact I was trying to do the opposite. This has even happened with chicks, where I like someone and the first encounter is so bizarrely off-kilter, all attempts at connecting are so misread, that they end up not only not being interested, but actively upset at me or outright disliking me, or even aggressively hating me. The Cranbrook administration (clan) found me intolerably ignorant and naive yet also strangely intimidating, I could feel it when they came to Wayne for a collaborative show. The look on their faces when talking to me was like they were looking at some sort of circus freak, their faces contorted, their body language defensive, as if I had done something to them personally, when in reality we had never met until that day.
This is the essence of the loneliness Gladwell talks about with this Langan guy, the isolation of his life. He lives his life without being able to interact, even communicate, with the very people who are interested in the exact same things he is, and instead lives his life surrounded by people who assign zero value to what he is passionate about, like ranch hands, or whatever. This describes my upbringing exactly. That’s why I wrote that manifesto in desperation and called it “Pushing Mud” while subtitling it “In The Land of Engineers”. Because that’s what I felt I was doing my whole life – pushing mud up a hill and watching it slide back down over my shoes while the All Powerful Engineers gazed on.
I have always found this incredibly demoralizing. It’s the same feeling as if you said hello to someone you liked or admired for the first time and they responded by punching you in the face.
Me: all worthy gripes. I have them all too. feel free to delete the following groaning epic before you start:
for me, it’s the empowerment provided by free choice. The ability to choose is what saves me. If I choose, like langan chooses, to nottry in my own way to do what I think it takes – for whatever reason including the tarnishing of the creation – then I’ve chosen and I’m free and in control of my destiny in this world. I can choose to live with the isolation – like Campbell says, “tell the world to go stink, buy a pipe and a dog and let the weeds grow around the gate.” Take your crayons and go home, is how I think hugh macleod talks about it. however, I think it’s a state of schism, fantasy or even neurosis when we choose one way and still demand that the world finds us anyway – plus the energy wasted by flipping the perpetual “middle finger.” That’s what I start doing.
There’s only three ways it happens according to Campbell and I believe him – it’s inarguable what he’s worked out: when you attempt to bring your “boon” (your art, science, whatever) to the world, they say yay or nay and then you counter with a) fuck off, likewise, or b) “what do they want?” And fuck your boon and try to give it to them. Or, attempt to teach them about what you have to give. campbell says “you can always do this, but it requires a good deal of compassion and patience.” No shit. Like sometimes more than a lifetime.
Sometimes you can bear anything when it’s your decision versus somebody else’s decision. Like death. Or life too. That story about the dude who was burned so badly he wanted to die but the doctors wouldn’t help him commit suicide. Stuck in a form of double misery – hates his life and can’t die. The jack kervorkian stuff. Then they give this guy the chance to kill himself – to go home and do it. it’s right then that he decides to live, to battle it out, because of the choice. He was empowered.
I feel empowered by the idea from gladwell that my way of getting what I want, work that is fulfilling by way of my “vocations,” depends on my arbitrary situation in space and time. There’s some shit I want to do, like start up a humane slaughterhouse, and get rich writing books, that contains only two out of three of the requirements – it can provide the autonomy and the complexity, but not the reward. Slaughter doesn’t pay and neither does writing like mine. Those are the fucking facts today. It doesn’t matter if they’re different tomorrow, because I’m interested in today. For someone else, grinding away at something like the food cart is enough reward. For now, but I bet not for very long. Apparently paul k. and jay and ji hye find it sufficient. I fucking don’t. I want to do something where I pay myself $50K the first year, and double my personal income in five years. Fuck this shit about the food business where you don’t ever pay yourself or it costs you money to do it right. That the only way is campbell’s second way, givin’ ‘em what they want: tacos and pizza unless you’re a food-biz outlier like ari – he got lucky. THAT’S THE SECRET KEY. I am not in a position to get lucky. To deny my lack of luck is stupid. Like we talked about – you can’t plan to be lucky. It’s not a biz model that makes any sense but there’s plenty of folks like me who try it.
so, where the fuck are we? me, I’m choosing to say “no” to trying to reproduce what others only achieved through fortunate circumstance. I’m saying “no” to desperate acts of fantasy in business. I don’t have the money or the time. I’m not willing to ask for other people’s money. It’s not my myth. Just like langan, I’m not complaining about it now. He really wasn’t bitching at least from what gladwell wrote – he was sort of o.k. with his circumstances. I’m not giving up on my boon because I still haven’t figured out what it is completely. I know something about what I’m here to bring – it’s got to do with my six vocations and I’m thinking the most bang I’ve ever got for my buck has been from writing and cooking. Just like a lot of folks. but how to do it? you can look at it like a compromise, like campbell’s #2, but I like to think of it as campbell’s #3 because it only works when you’re tuned in completely to what you’re supposed to be doing. For you, I keep suggesting that yes, you’re supposed to teach, but maybe not in academia. You know the situation with these fucks. The odds of them changing in your lifetime are slim. It’s not a bill gates scenario – you’re not offering a value-add to them that they’re ready for – you’re really good at teaching art and they just need someone to be good enough. Or to do it exactly like they do it. that’s what they’re telling you. they’re refusing your boon in the way that you’re choosing to deliver it. Nobody wins. There has to be another way – what are you prepared to do? I’m not pointing the finger at you, I’m just bloviating and thinking it out as I write it.
but that’s my problem in all the careers I’ve had – they’re not willing to pay for what I bring to the table in the way that I bring it, yet I’ve tried to convince them by sheer effort, quality of performance, and loads of impatience, that they indeed do need to accept it, like it, and pay me for it. o.k. they just said they don’t want it in myriad ways, yet I stick to it. E + R = O. I’m over-achieving so to say in all these careers and expect to enlighten people by it. it’s not the right environment to be passionately committed to greatness. It’s the right environment to be unpassionate, incompetent and biophycomythologically dead. It’s not the time and place in any of my career choices and biz ideas in which to be happy. There’s another way. I need to create it. and if I indeed want what they have, then I must change the way I deliver my goods – take the #3 option and teach them and it will take however long it takes – there’s no room for impatience – it might be the last day I’m alive or sometime after I’m dead, but somebody will get it and give me some part at least of what I want. You’re getting some now. But is it enough?
This is one of the things I do. I write this shit out in emails, back and forth, until I wear the other person out. I’ll pretty much write as long and hard as people will let me when it comes to biobiophycomythology and finding your way. Am I obsessed with it? I don’t know – who cares? “Get obsessed, stay obsessed” is a phrase I’ve heard and you can live by that. It’s just another way of saying “follow your heart” because your heart is anything if not obsessed with expressing itself in the world-of-action. So let it be. What’s it worth and where’s it getting me, this pouring out of my wondering and wandering? It’s something I must do, that’s all I know right now. I have inklings and intuitions about how to connect this “boon” to the world – there’s a chapter in here I think about me sending out the manuscript back when it was a third this size. I know how to do that. I know that it could be blogged or otherwise posted on the internet, chapter-by-chapter if I so choose, edited or unedited. I could just plop it out there whole, first draft, and let it sit in the middle of the big ocean of everyone else’s writing, waiting. I’d be lucky to get somebody to read it for nothing, which is the situation for blogging in 2012. Hugh MacLeod, whom I’ve trumpeted fairly often is this book, would’ve advised blogging, at least under the same circumstances of 2009 when he published his book. That’s what he did: blogged his work on his web site and some publisher noticed him. But as he describes in that book, Ignore Everybody, when he and his publisher “found each other,” he didn’t need them – he already had income streams from his other work; he wasn’t looking for a book publishing deal. Today, blogging is ubiquitous; so much so that it’s probably the best thing to do if you don’t want anyone to read what you’ve written – whatever it is, it will surely disappear into the tar pit of unrecognized history.
I cooked again today at zmo. Another batch of red wattle pork chops. I used my own half-bottle of vermouth to make a pan sauce. Anthony and I worked together well – we’re both amateurs as much as professionals, neither of us having been formally trained though here we both are getting paid to cook. The previous employee-meal chef, who cooked in the military, seemed to sort of hate the work. Coming up with meals didn’t jazz him at all – he seemed miserable when trying to create a menu. Of course cooking army food, like the young guy who was my USDA inspector did before he got a job at the USDA, probably wouldn’t inspire anyone. Anyway, it was a scheduled day off for me and I accepted the offer to come in and help Anthony cook the chops. Then I spent more than a few hours at the z-haus again doing handyman work – installing sconces, clothes hooks, a door latch and adjusting a wonky shade I installed last time. It’s all in Mo’s (a co-managing partner who lives in Brooklyn – remember what I said about working in your business?) bedroom at this house that zcob owns and now stands empty. It used to be office space for a handful of folks including Ari and Paul – Paul up until last week or so. Now it’s just Mo using it and any out-of-town v.i.p.’s I guess. I don’t care anymore about such stuff. It used to be that inside-info like that regarding zcob jazzed me. I was a fan. Now, I couldn’t care less. The work I’m getting into with the kitchen is just too damn back-breaking for the pay. I sweated through a shirt in two hours in the kitchen and then again working in z-haus. It’s honest work, but not worth it. If an electrician was doing what I did, he’d get commensurately paid. I need a new job, but what?
Thursday, August 30, 2012. Today we close on the sale of 3409 Volterra, Friendswood, Texas. It was the perfect house – perfect floor plan – for us and the place that held some of my grandest dreams for a short while. It was where everything I wanted was going to happen. Instead, I got myself fired, and our dog died there. I almost wrecked my marriage there. My enantiodromia occurred there. So be it. Very hard lessons very painfully learned. But, being thankful, it’s also the place where I found the pigs, and began my wholehearted participation in being who I am, in my biobiophycomythology. I uncovered my vocations – my master passions – and began to surrender to them. Here we are then, in Ann Arbor again. You can’t go all the way back – I’ve written about how this town is not the home it once was for me – the many travels, physical and biobiophycomythological have left their mark. I’m figuring out, painfully and frustratingly slowly, how to go about being who I am in my place and time. There are some paradoxes to work through. I want to do my own thing for example – be my own boss – and yet I’m a pleaser too. I want to live my hero journey, live out my myth and approach transcendence, all while having a cup of good coffee (and maybe some eggs, a tall waffle, maple syrup, bacon and orange juice) in a comfortable, inspiring kitchen with a nice view and generally in surroundings that jazz me.
My work at zmo is not a strategically sound part of my vision. They don’t have work there that can fulfill me. So what to do next? I always feel like working for someone else is simply a trade-off – I give up this to get that – a quid pro quo – and a distraction, tangent to the plot of what it means to be properly alive. E + R = O. I get a job, enjoy parts of it, then learn more about it and realize I can’t fix it, change it or make it better, get frustrated by that and get fired or quit. At zmo, I don’t have autonomy, complexity or commensurate reward. It’s too much to ask for many of the world’s jobs maybe. I don’t think you should be in business if you can’t provide all three, but it depends on who you are – it seems that zcob has no shortage of folks who need nothing more, although I think there are more than I initially realized, as a fan of zcob, that are pretty beaten down by their situation but just feel they have no choice; even whilst in the midst of a company like zcob who coaches us to believe that that is never the case. We always have choice, it’s just often a challenge to see the choice that gets us to where we want to be. For example, how can taking a more typical “corporate” job (if I could ever get one now) for better pay be a choice in favor of my biobiophycomythology? At the same time, how can working for $8.25/hour part-time be a choice in favor of my biobiophycomythology? The corporate job denies me the time and space to follow my heart. The zcob job denies me complexity and the money to make a respectable living. It’s clear that each choice is incorrect for me. So here I am at the beginning again, after hundreds of pages of bullshit.
Angie borrowed the $50K out of her 401K to pay for closing on our TX house. It was my fiasco, yet she’s paying to fix it. It’s sort of like my parents covering my ass for all my fuck-ups: it’s not a good feeling. That’s another reason that working for zcob is starting to feel like a bad fit – because it doesn’t pay for my life. It can never pay for my life: $30K as a manager is not paying for my life and that’s the most I have to look forward to. There won’t be any significant business opportunity from them – their 15-20 new businesses by 2020 may happen, but they’ll be micro-tiny bullshit food biz start-ups or some other dinky endeavors mostly run by “non-whites” as they call them (they’ve implemented a diversity program, ugh). So be it, it’s Paul and Ari’s show at least for some time to come. Times were different when they started the z-deli. For example, I’m not at all sure how Ari and Paul were able to acquire both a piece of the Fish Market and the deli building and the other start-up money with Ari’s $2000 bucks from his grandmother. There had to have been some other source of financing.
 Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, (New York: Back Bay Books/Little, Brown and Co., 2008), 137.
 Ibid., 267.
 There’ll be a time when Pottery Barn, a well-known, upper-middle-brow home décor business that mailed out thick, artfully photographed catalogs and held down prime locations in all the middle-class shopping malls will be just another faded footnote in retail history, a memory of the generation – my generation – that established a new awareness of home style over artless utility. What begins as unique and compelling always, in business, ends up as ubiquitous and then commonplace. The once formidable Sears Roebuck for example: in its prime, perhaps the nineteen-sixties, it was a uniquely comprehensive shopping experience for the home owner and his family: a vast cathedral of what was then considered top-quality quality home goods and from which you could, at one early point in its history, not only acquire everything you’d need for a house – from tools to tape decks (another anachronism) – but actually order the house too (albeit unassembled).
 Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers…, 149.
 Air Weinzweig, GTGL2…, p.?
 Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers…, page ?.
 Gladwell, Malcolm, Outliers…p.???? – page CITATION!! – was a fucking drunk when I wrote this!?
 It’s December 18th, 2013 when I’m editing this and it’s a little remarkable to read this – love slaying dragons for example – and how all this indeed directly relates to what I’ve been immersed in reading these past weeks, namely Campbell’s discussions of love-death, amor and the myths of Tristan and Isolt, Beowulf, et al.
 Ari Weinzweig, GTGL1…, 117.
 Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers…, AGAIN with the no page citiation – argh!!
 Joseph Campbell, Baksheesh & Brahman: Asian Journals – India (Novato: New World Library, 1995), 172.
 David Whyte, Crossing…, 140.
Great & Terrible
Friday, August 31, 2012. It feels like a great fucking relief to have quit zmo. It also feels terrible. Yes, they have folks who’re interested in what I’m interested in, but there’s no avenue within zmo to establish the autonomy, complexity and reward that I need. I need those things and I want them now, not twenty years from now. What sparked this change? Why did I find myself standing outside of zmo’s warehouse, after working there for eight months, intending to talk to my manager about the employee meal duties, and instead found myself, almost unconsciously, describing my general unhappiness with the whole fucking zcob and my need to quit? Well, as I’ve tried to communicate in this chapter, it was my heart “talking.” My heart knew something that my mind did not, or that it did not want to accept, so my heart took over the conversation. My mind is full of willingness to compromise because it’s job is to ensure my survival, but my heart wants to thrive and the next few months at zmo would’ve driven me mad again with frustration and biophycomythological impossibilities. My heart knows this and it’s always way ahead of my mind, but its communications are more subtle – stronger and more sustained in the end – but often initially more difficult to accept. Let’s face it: the heart more often than not initially appears irrational – the antithesis of what the mind is all about. The heart knows what it knows and never needed to learn it – your heart is the part of you that just is.
Another “trigger” that inspired me to make a change is having “closed” (I hate that fucking term for some reason) on the sale of our Texas house yesterday – the same day I had my heart-to-heart with my zmo boss. Is it an overreaction that I quit? Hardly. First of all, I never should’ve allowed myself to get wrapped up in the idea of working for zcob. Secondly, it’s not like I had any control over what happened: – my mind finally allowed my heart to do the talking; it hasn’t happened often. I can remember finding myself asking Angie if she wanted to get married without consciously intending to ask that question: it just came out of me. At zmo, talking to my boss, hearing myself say the things that meant I was done working there, I remember thinking also that I wish I’d shut the fuck up. The impression I made may have been one of lunacy, but zmo and zcob have seen so many fucked up people come and go – so many lost souls just like me – so many unfortunate folks in transistion points, that there’s nothing they haven’t seen before. I like to think I’d have handled it better than my boss – she just expedited the process when she asked me if I wanted to leave. But they can see it coming I guess.
Signing away that 3409 house affected more than I expected. I was pretty sure all the accumulated anger and frustration and bitterness and disappointment was passing away, that selling that house would be a relief. Instead, it brought it all back and actually served to increase my internal biobiophycomythological “pressure” so to say. My heart took it as an opportunity, perhaps, to act, before it lost the chance, before my mind took over and dispruted the opportunity for wholesale change for the better. I need to get back to pursuing my myth – all my energy and talents are needed – all hands on deck is how I feel about it now. Working for someone has always been just an incredible waste of time for me, such a distraction. Learning skills is not living life.
Sunday, September 3, 2012. We’ve discarded, finally, any vestige of an idea to buy land and farm it. It’s seems strange now that we ever considered it. Watching the progress of folks like Joel Salatin, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Alex Young (Cornman Farms) and Larry Doll (Backforty Acres) is the closest we’ll ever get. It’s a door that had already closed some time ago I think, but I had my foot stuck in it. The next steps will revolve I think around working with the tools I have at hand versus trying to create buy-in and support from others. I’ll return to learning about food and cooking my best meals at home – it’s always provided the most satisfaction. Angie can look forward again to good eating when she gets home from work instead of us both trying to enjoy home cooking in between other commitments. That’s what it’s about isn’t it? Comitting to your heart – surrendering to it and fully engaging. I’ve had one foot out the door of everything lately, from writing to working to cooking to biophycomythology. I’ve been feeling sorry for myself, lamenting my near-misses and also-ran endeavors – living in the past and fearing the future. As a result, Angie and I have been at each other and growing apart. We need to tackle life together or get out of each other’s way entirely – we need to be present in the relationship. I still think we’re better together, so we’ll keep at it.
There are only two options for me now:
- Give up on my hero journey and my biobiophycomythology as a way of life and try to return to full-time, better-paying work related to my education and EHS experience, allowing my vocations to recede and diminish into hobbies.
- I can get out of the middle of the fucking biobiophycomythological road, shuv my engine into gear again and hit the fucking gas. If I want to write full-time, then do it.
Tuesday, September 04, 2012. We watched Fitzcarraldo, the 1982 film by Werner Hertzog. It wore me out watching the incalculable effort expended by a man to obtain an almost indecipherably ambiguous result. “Conquistador of the Useless” was how the protagonist was described and how Herzog described himself during the filming. Hauling a three-hundred-ton boat over a small mountain in the jungle. Absurd. It’s based loosely on a true story of a rubber baron who had to traverse some jungle by dismantling boats (apparently much smaller than the huge hulk in Herzog’s film) and reassembling them on the other side – just what Fitzcarraldo should’ve done, then he could’ve got back and forth from his rubber trees. Anyway, a story of the indomitable human spirit. Also a story of redoubling your efforts while losing sight of the goal. An epic effort that teaches epic lessons. A biophycomythological fiasco. Why didn’t it work? It represents much of man’s folly as he tries to manipulate the world to his own ends. The natural world (the jungle & the river) and the native population have a stake and a claim in the game of life. So to blunder forth in a destructive manner begets a price. Also, to pursue something higher doesn’t justify employing lower means to get there: just because the man wanted to bring opera – what symbolized, to him, what is highest in man – to the jungle, the wilderness, the “bare-asses” they called the natives, doesn’t justify ripping a swath through the jungle, exploiting the native population to do all your heavy labor and then exploiting the rubber tree forest, all to grab loads of cash and then build your opera house. The end in this case didn’t justify the means, which of course describes much of man’s entrepreneurial endeavors.
Man imposes and the universe disposes – the natives ended up ensuring Fitzcarraldo’s fiasco – once they finally, incredibly, got his boat overland and into the other river, they cut it loose in the night, while the white men slept, to be swept down the rapids, wrecking the boat and Fitz’s plans forever. The natives, as primitive cultures do, did it to appease the river gods who they believed to be angry over the work they did. Crazy? Well, they fucking wrecked a swath of jungle and killed two of their tribe trying to get the fucking boat over the “hill.” Nature’s retribution? God’s retribution? Justice tends to work itself out, although usually not according to our timetable. The biophycomythological angle shows up in Fitz continuing to fail to make the money he needs to establish his opera house because he continues to pour his energies and talents into the making of money – endeavors tangent to his plot so to say. Yes, it’s in the service of his dream, but he’s living his life – living in the moment – in a state of schism. He’s a man divided (like I’ve always been) by attempting to live both in the moment and in the future. Instead of postponing his plan for an opera house until he can aquire enough money to do it his way, he should just maybe try to begin with the means that he has – fuck other people’s money. This is essentially my story – you get caught too far out into the future and too far into other people’s wallets and your own story gets lost. Your energies are wasted trying to give people what you think they want, so they’ll give you their money which you think you need to realize your dreams. By the time you get that money from folks, they and the world have likely exacted a cost from you that’s too great to overcome or it’s distorted the plan and the result so much that it just may end up completely unrecognizable to you.
I can completely identify with Fitz’s struggle to play at another man’s game in order to escape that game. You try to get in and come out the other side – you see that as the way. But as in this movie, there are problems in life with such a plan:
- Being a money-making industrialist has to be who you are or you’re destined to be shitty at it – it has to be your biobiophycomythology – it has to be your flair. You betray your heart at the risk of it betraying you. You stop listening to it and it stops talking to you, at least clearly. I’ve lived this.
- The act of attempting to conform to someone else’s biobiophycomythology, to follow a path that already exists – by definition someone else’s path – even temporarily, distorts your own to the point that you may end up in a “fever” – doing things you’d never thought you’d be doing, or want to do. It invites enantiodromia. You can lose your guides and then “god help you.” I’m speaking from experience.
In the film is the character of a rubber baron who almost can’t help making tons of money – he feeds hundred-dollar-bills to his pet carp, he employs thousands of “bare-asses” whom he treats with disrespect, yet his business continues to grow – he even fantasizes about how great it would feel to lose all his money – he can’t even gamble it away. Tellingly, the man is happy, a free spirit, inhabiting an absurd world to be sure, but nonetheless happy. The rubber baron’s myth is to be ridiculously rich, to make money in spite of himself; Fitz’s myth is simply to enjoy opera, not proselytize for the art form.
What should Fitz have done? What was the answer? We see his error and it’s my error, but what’s the answer? How do I fix it? What do I do? What correction do I make? I can see why Campbell says bringing the boon back can be more difficult than the hero journey you undertook to obtain it. I’ve always felt this way – that the going out has been easier than the coming back.
Friday, September 07, 2012. What follows is a lengthy passage from Pathways to Bliss and rather than transcribe it here, I’ve decided to simply scan the pages. A reader might ask why I find it necessary to quote from Campbell to such an extent, and I likewise question the purpose of inserting so much of someone else’s work into my own, however properly cited, yet when I read through the following, I’m convinced again of its importance to me; it somehow helps to explain what I’m doing, better than I can explain it myself. So be it, I’m not going to criticize myself into editing this out; I’m doing the work I have to do, no matter how silly it appears to me or anyone else. Campbell discusses the difficulties of writing what you need to write versus what you feel you perhaps ought to write and in my case, especially whenever I combine an overly-self-critical eye with an attitude that I’m writing for a reader, a paralysis creeps in and I find myself either staring at the screen for long periods, unable to begin – the so-called “writer’s block” which Campbell disusses below – or writing in a voice that isn’t true to me, with the inevitable result that I delete, eventually, whatever I’ve written.
Yoga Journal (YJ): How does self-compassion encourage transformation?
Kelly McGonigal, PhD (KM): We think we can escape our own self-criticism by improving ourselves and fixing what we’re doing wrong. But self-criticism is such a painful state for the brain that the brain convinces us to abandon our goals so we don’t have to feel this pain. Self-compassion does the opposite: it turns on the security and care-giving systems of the brain so that we can feel safe enough to remember our goals and keep working to achieve them.
YJ: What should we know about making change in our lives?
KM: People think that the way you make a change is that you wait for it to feel natural or easy. But transformation comes from being willing to be uncomfortable or uncertain. You have to dive right into not knowing. It’s hard at first, but the process gets easier over time.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012. My last day at zmo – a relief to me, but a source of stress for Angie and disappointment from the folks at zmo. But the chances of me ever fitting into to a low-paying, low-potential career after all I’ve been through were slim. As such, I appreciate that I had a chance to get back in the working world for a time and stay somewhat busy while I “recovered” from my hh failures.
Today, there’s the view out of my window, the window I can’t afford to pay for myself. There’s the cup of coffee that tastes good and is comforting. There was a kundalini session using Maya Fiennes video – the seventh chakra – that Angie was inspired enough to wake up early and get us into. There’s the tunes. There’s me sitting here, with an hour left before I have to get ready to go to my last day of work, writing. I’m not paying my way and haven’t been for several years now. I’ve cobbled together some cash from TX unemployment, which is just another form of humiliation in the end and from my part-time impossibly low-paying zmo job. I’ve remained humble and been humbled further. I’ve had some good times and I’ve believed (at least I thought I believed) with my whole heart in what I was doing – I believed that I surrendered to my master passions. I’ve chucked a career in music retail, which I thought I wanted at one point. I’ve chucked a career in EHS. Now I’ve chucked a career in the food business. Maybe I’m a fool in search of fool’s gold, but I feel better, that’s got to count for something – it’s got to mean that I’m listening to my heart. I’m at least not doing what I don’t want to do and to me, that’s been a way to work towards discovering what I really want to do. I want peace. I want to know who I am. I want to be who I am. Maybe that’s already happening, but it doesn’t feel “right” yet. Will it ever feel “right?” Daphne Zepos, Ari’s friend in the food business who died recently at the age of fifty-two, after a brief struggle with lung cancer, said she “owned her life.” Ari talked to her a few months before she died and wrote a tribute to her in ZCoB’s October 2012 newsletter. “Daphne told me with great strength,”
“I’ve lived my life! I’ve really did it in an unconventional way. It was completely my own way…. I went against the grain of success in many ways. But I have no regrets. I’ve lived a good life. And in a completely satisfying way, I owned my life.”
Thursday, September 13, 2012. Done with zmo – what a relief! The last day was another flurry of activity and hard-ass kitchen clean-up along with helping out at a bunch of other stations. It was a taste of almost everything at zmo that I really couldn’t give a shit about at all and it reinforced like a hammer to my head the necessity of getting the fuck out of there – now I feel free! Life – my dreams and goals – feel revitalized and I can feel the energy returning. Below is a photograph of a piece of artwork my brother bought for me from a local show that took place at Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti – it’s nothing great, but it captures something about what I’m talking about:
Angie pointed out something about me that I’ve felt all along: I throw my entire self and passion into any job I undertake and get pissed and disappointed when I don’t get rewarded for it. This is a manifestation of the unspoken agenda that I think a lot of us carry into a job, whether we want to admit it right away or not. So, I’ve done it again with zcob and it almost really burned me down, but I think I got out just in time and I have the strength of my heart to thank for it – it spoke for me when my mind was going into some sort of “override” mode again. I don’t need to survive, I need to thrive and now my heart is taking charge subconsciously of what I’m doing to move forward. Stepping away from something – call it quitting if you need to – can be one of the best moves you can make in your life. It’s a legitimately empowering form of saying “No” to something that is not true to you. Sometimes it’s an easy and obvious thing to do – maybe you already have another job lined up, or perhaps the job itself is so obviously worthless that even the other folks working there identify with your decision (zmo for example).
 Karen Macklin, Yoga Journal, “Reviews – The Neuroscience of Change,” Interview with Kelly McGonigal, PhD, October 2012, 95-96.