Undefeated

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Wednesday, April 15, 2020. I had to look up what day it was, getting home after 5am this morning, taking my six hour braise out of the oven that I started when I left, crashing for ninety minutes then up and the wife being told her salary is being slashed by fifteen percent and her 401K match is cancelled until further notice! I got my two weeks of Covid handout – didn’t ask for it, would prefer the Governor and every other Henny Penny that is contributing to wrecking the economy would snap the hell out of their group-think hypnosis, oh well, every man for himself now. The home improvement cut their hours of operation, no paint or lawn and garden sales allowed, blah, blah, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to keep this job as long as the two months I damn well planned on.

The job itself? I couldn’t get in the door, they’d locked it despite supposedly having been told by the personnel chick that I was arriving for the midnight shift – I stood there in the cold, ten minutes early, jumping up and down to keep warm (it had snowed) and peering inside to try to catch someone’s attention. I gave up when my clock in window expired and was driving away, oh well, destiny, I thought, when I recalled a phone number for the store they’d given for calling in and damned if right at the last ring before I hung up one of the managers answered it, let me in, yadda, blah. Then I never saw him again. I spent the night – five goddamn hours – on the computer doing training. I didn’t even take my fifteen minute break. Tonight (tomorrow a.m.) I assume I’ll get on the floor, but who cares? I’ve been through all this shit so many times, it’s just money to me, just like the unemployment emergency bullshit handouts. I have my work and it’s the novel and this blog and my non-fiction, my scholarship and my life. But now with Angie’s job getting impacted – she spent the morning having to break the bad news to all her employees, the team she’s worked so hard to establish, who knows who will bail out? – here we are in contingency planning mode: the treadmill got paid for (we’re cancelling our gym membership) with my handout and now I’ve just got to earn the $3,000 for the audiobook and we’re otherwise committed to not giving up on our dreams, on thriving instead of just surviving and times like these – none of this had to happen, it’s just influenza, argh! – are going to make it challenging. But we’ve agreed not to panic like everyone else has with this virus boondoggle; we’re sticking to our visions of greatness and going for the brass ring in the midst of the storm, the economic cluster fuck that isn’t our fault, that we cannot control. I will not give in, I will not give up until the last knot of the rope of success has slipped through my bloody, white knuckled hands.

Meanwhile, I did get a form letter response from the Governor but she’s just lost in the idea of the handouts. And this morning I signed a petition (there’s more than one) to have the Governor impeached. They need 75,000 signatures and they already had 73,000 with people signing as I was reading. Is it legit? Is it just smoke and mirrors, this petition stuff? Who cares, what else can a man do except evaluate and do something to influence things even if it’s futile. I tried. Now I can continue to bitch.

My dreams. I emailed Findaway Voices, cheerfully inquiring if the long-time-no-talk-to was just because they were so busy and whether my narrator was perhaps still considering my project and they responded soon thereafter with an “I’m so sorry,” explanation that they’d indeed contacted D.S. and were in the process of “concreting” (their phrase) the logistics (my phrase). It’s all the  back and forth and contract write up and scheduling that goes on, I get it. So, I’m taking them at their word and assuming I’m still live and likewise I’m assuming I’m going to work this job for the money and get the thing out there. No book sales but my ad is getting hammered – I had to up the daily budget to keep it active but I’ll be monitoring this to keep from just wasting coin on what may be bored Amazon surfers clicking on stuff with no intention of buying while the economic bad news pours in. I don’t know. I’m just doing my best to manage our risks in concert with our dreams. Who says Time Crime can’t take off during this covid craziness? That is, I’m not giving in to the lunacy, I’m not locking down my life, I’m not succumbing to immobility until the mathematics becomes unavoidably impossible.

DOP1 (2010-11) VINTAGE POST: Rereading this part of the adventure, seeing myself still so game and in it to win it and inspired, it sucks to know it all came tumbling down so quickly thereafter. But, man, I was certainly going for it. The money being lost and the pressure on my life, on our life, just got to be too much, too impossible to overcome, we just couldn’t afford, literally or figuratively to endure the crushing mathematics.

Granted

October 17, 2011. Last Thursday, Oct. 13th, the USDA gave me my Conditional Grant of Inspection. There aren’t fifty exclamation points after that statement only because I’ve been proclaiming my joy loud and clear across the universe for several days now and I’ve come down to earth a little bit. Wait, I’m feeling it again: “THE USDA GAVE ME MY CONDITIONAL GRANT OF INSPECTION!!!!!” There. Fucking YES. There have been a handful of pivotal moments in my life – everyone has them – and this ranks right near the very top, along with college acceptance letters, job offers, buying houses, that sort of shit. There are biophycomythological “nodes” that if someone were to review your life, would stand out as critically important forks-in-the-road, or moments of destiny, whatever. Most of our days can seem ordinary, and it’s a challenge sometimes to appreciate those ordinary days as some of the best, but there’s nothing wrong with cherishing and enjoying the brilliant sparks of victory. Especially when they’re hard-won validations of successfully following your personal myth – the biophycomythological work CAN and DOES produce the results you want, all the more so when you start getting more and more clear on what you want.

I’ll just include a couple of the emails I’ve been generating these last few days:

On Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 1:39 PM, Keith E. < keith@humblehogs.com > wrote:

ari, it’s a great day because i received my conditional grant of inspection from USDA this morning!! i just finished up some last items the EIAO guy wanted, so I’m on cloud ten. much hard work, some dark days, doubt, angst, hell and blood, etc. But i DID IT – Establishment 989 is live! AND, i did it without having to compromise anything about the headcheese ingredients or quality – no changes!! i’m so glad i stuck with it and didn’t give in to adding “anti-microbials” or cooking black peppercorn or leaving out the fresh parsley – you know the drill. in the worst moments, when it looked bleakest for hh headcheese, i thought about what you would do, and you would not have compromised the food. now my work starts to market it. if Polcyn doesn’t have a lock on zcob headcheese already, i’m looking to get a shot at the next deli tasting for my cold and/or hot version. I shot another email to sean hartwig.

oh, and UNBELIEVABLY GREAT that Molly’s book is out – it’s MAJESTIC! – (she said i might be the first to sell it, very cool!) and that she’s lined up for a March RH dinner – i am already spreading the word, like i told her and it’s a guaranteed sell out! i’ll clean union hall kitchen this afternoon, then celebrate HH EST. 989 this evening. I hope you’re well and good and having fun. keith.

congrats!!!!! that’s fantastic! and that you made it happen without cutting out half of what makes it good is outstanding. really happy to hear that! you rock!

i’m going to email rick and marshall at the deli to let them know!

and yes, molly’s book looks amazing!

talk to you soon!

ari

“hey keith!

“how are things? basking in the afterglow of usda approval :)?

“hey, question . . . . a while back you sent me a nice note about one of the essays from the next book that included a line that’s stuck in my head because it was so nice. ‘the espresso shots of intelligence, vision and heart.

“i keep thinking about trying to use it on the book or in the marketing with your name on their and get you guys a bit of exposure. would you be game? if you want to read through the (at the line editor now) manuscript I’d be glad to send it your way. it just was a great line and you’ve been such a great supporter and i like sticking something from a humble hog in there near mario b and bo burlingham, et al.

“what do you think? ari”

Ari had asked how long we’d be running the cart, since we’re coming to the end of the season:

Sat, Oct 15, 2011. ari – ‘not exactly sure how much longer we’ll slug it out at the court. Two weeks maybe, then weather might really make it hell and not worth it. sans st. seems to be hitting stride, good to see out there. thanks for manuscript draft, super exciting to see this all together. oh, first time with the “meat cone” this afternoon at deli – holy crap amazing. like an oxygen mask with meat – the aroma alone… keith.

“i think you should start your own midwest version of meatpaper! you’re a very good writer! hope the day goes well! ari”

My brother Kevin, who’s been the other solid rock through this adventure, wrote a good email too and it’s interesting to see all the biophycomythology he spontaneously generates – he doesn’t like reading about the stuff like I do, maybe because it’s more intuitively obvious to him, but here it is:

“All good, the excitement abounds. Instruct folks this is how life works for big dreamers and people trying to live large – it’s really really REALLY REALLY REALLY super hard and scary – YOU DON’T MAKE A MILLION DOLLARS BY FRIDAY WHEN YOU STARTED THE BUSINESS ON MONDAY. And THERE IS NO SAFETY NET – some things lead nowhere financially, but are invaluable in terms of KNOWLEDGE. Many times it takes years and years and years and years to find success, many times long after any of your friends and relatives have stopped believing in you. And many times the path forward is not straight, it winds, curves around obstacles, changes direction, sometimes sideways, sometimes even backwards – but if you follow what you believe in, not what people tell you to believe in, or what they tell you MAKES MONEY you’ll probably, at least when dealing with sellable products like food (compared to esoteric entertainment like art) the money will eventually follow. That you’ve reached this stage so quickly, ready to sell fantastic product – hell you just figured out how to run a food cart which you started from scratch – with no previous experience – six months ago! – says a lot about the quality, plus your investment, plus your knowledge and enthusiasm for what you’re doing. So kudos to that!”

So it feels good and makes sense to me to include that stuff in this book because that is just the pure energy of accomplishment and the heart singing, as corny as that may sound. There’s also a few great things jumping out of those emails besides the obvious success of the Grant (after all, getting the grant doesn’t mean I have any fucking wholesale customers yet):

That Ari said he’d email Rick (Co-Managing Partner) and Marshall (who organizes tastings) about my new status means I’m getting a damn good shot at making ZCoB my headcheese customer. Even if they don’t choose to sell it, I’ll have been given more than a fair shot amongst their global line-up of “wanna-bees” – don’t even want to know how long that line is. Being sold through ZCoB has got to be one of the most coveted accomplishments in the food retailing biz not just nationally, but gobally. Ji Hye says, that if I don’t get in, it won’t be because of the taste, it will be because of other things related to the Deli business. I trust that she’s right about that and I can take comfort in knowing that a failure there just means I have to work harder and that my first customer is still out there; that my headcheese was worthy and just not the right fit.

That my brother is biophycomythologically active and close to where he wants to be, even though he often lacks confidence, more in the world than in himself. You can see in his writing that he still has a biophycomythological “fire” – his heart is still in-it-to-win-it, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he starts hitting his stride in his myth.

Ari mentioned that I write well. Meatpaper is a publication I checked out last year and it’s sort of an omen for him to mention it – it’s like he knew there was something interesting in there for me, and there was: a little call for 300-word essays on “What does pork mean to you? How has it shaped your identity?” So I submitted the following yesterday:

Pork Story

Pork means pigs. My identity, like that of many people, is linked to my vocation, and my vocation has been completely transformed by them. Two years ago I was toiling miserably in the corporate world where I ultimately turned a promising promotion and corporate relocation into a desperately frustrating and hurtful fiasco that ended my career and almost my marriage. Food and cooking had been a comfort, yet I was feeling uncomfortable with my food. I began to work my way back to the farm, like so many recent writers, beginning with a newfound concern for farm animal welfare. I wanted to reconcile my enjoyment of eating meat with the source of that enjoyment.

Given the opportunity, however briefly, to study farm animals in any capacity, it’s my belief that all of us will arrive quickly at a preference for one type of animal over another. My preference became pigs. I read and studied and researched and wrote and visited pigs in their pastures, followed them to the slaughter plant, beheld their last moments, and the butchering that followed. I followed them all the way back to where I had come from and spent a fine summer day at a camp called “Bacon,” where we learned from experts and dreamers about bacon and pigs and being an expert and a dreamer, while the pigs just remained their calming selves. It made my nut spin. That day, I received, for what seemed like the first time in such a long time, rewards commensurate with my efforts. Not money, but self-knowledge and the beginning of a vocation.

I own a small food business now, making headcheese. It connects me to the world like nothing has before. It’s become part of my identity, and I have pigs and their pork to thank.

Keith Ewing, Owner

Humble Hogs

The here is that I just need to keep chugging with my vocations, all of them. Writing is one of them and it keeps my gears turning, just like it does for many folks, Ari and my brother among them. It’s great to begin to know how this works – how being who you are, mindfully, and with some degree at least of “un-attachment” if one can manage it (it’s a difficult aspect of kundalini) continues to connect you to the world, giving back at least what you put in, so that life doesn’t seem like such a war, both internal and external.

The USDA Grant was indeed a “watershed” accomplishment for me because I watched myself struggle with how to move forward. I experienced and struggled with my external “triggers” and my habitual thinking and actions all through the HACCP work and then the waiting. Looking back, I don’t think I did very well; I’m disappointed in my damn near graceless performance under pressure during this critical time in my life – I wish I could tell you that I shone like a kundalini diamond and was a model for others in how to gracefully negotiate a major biophycomythological challenge. But I fought with my wife, gossiped, drank too much, and howled at the moon. Same old Keith Ewing shit. I doubted myself and considered “going back” – getting a job like I used to have, chucking the whole fucking thing and seeking comfort in the familiar. But I feel like I did make it across the finish line with this Grant, albeit stumbling instead of striding.

Here is my vog for the Zingerman’s Deli headcheese tasting (I need to put it in here to help solidify the energy of it – it’s as jazzy as the old “Kick-Ass Corp” internet news wire but scarier because it seems so close and far away and awesome and wild at the same time):

Humble Hogs

Vision-of-Greatness

End of October 2011 – The ZCoB Headcheese Tasting!

Prouds:

HH cart revenue has exceeded $21K as of October 17, 2011!

HH obtained our USDA-FSIS Conditional Grant of Inspection – Est. 989 is live!!

Keith has received great support from Ari regarding the Est. 989 – Ari has contacted the ZCoB deli on our behalf to be involved in the next tasting.

HH food is getting better and better.

HH was the Michigan Daily’s “winner” in the Le Creuset Cook-Off at Mark’s Carts

3409 is leased and bringing in cash.

We’ve continued to refine and focus our phycomythologies.

We’ve maintained mindful healthfulness.

We’re using our guides.

VOG:

I’m shaking hands with Ari, Paul S., Rick, Marshall and the other tasters at ZCoB – we’re all very happy and excited over the results of October’s new product tasting: HH headcheese has earned a new place within Zingerman’s Deli!!!! Quadruple WOW! What a DAY!! It feels like a combination of a blast off and a homecoming for me and Angie and even Ari, because I know he feels good about this new part of our relationship and about how far his help and his writing have gotten us. We all feel like it’s a good fit and that it’s so effing fun to be doing this with each other – ZCoB + HH!!

We’ve of course discussed pricing and we’re happy all around on the structure of our “agreement” – the ZCoB folks are just as warm-hearted and considerate and fair as they always have been. HH and ZCoB have a square and fair deal that will be sustainable for each of our businesses. Ari and the Deli co-managing partners and staff seem really amped to sell the terrine and also to put the locally famous Headcheese Hoagie on the sandwich board so HH can kick-ass right through this fall and winter and into next year keeping HH fans happy and acquiring thousands of new headcheese fans.

Angie and me walk out into the Deli courtyard and just breath in the fresh fall air and stand in the sun amongst all the happy noshing folks enjoying Zingerman’s food, and we just feel amazingly energized, joyous, thankful, legitimized, fulfilled, complete and at home with our food now a part of the ZCoB family. Some of our customers even recognize us in the courtyard and the deli and say “hello” and ask what’s going on, and we get to tell them that they’ll soon be able to get an HH Headcheese hoagie here at the Deli, because Zingerman’s has just agreed to sell our wonderful product. Our small little group of fans and appreciators seem as happy as we are! The connection I have to the pigs can continue on in this way – I don’t have to depend on the cart to sell headcheese – I have what feels like a real full-time year-round business in HH now. What joy and expansiveness we feel – I text the big news to my brothers and Angie calls her sister and her mom and Nikki and then I call my Dad and Mom – they all rejoice in their own way with us and we arrange to celebrate at the RH on the weekend for dinner. My brother Kev feels empowered and great because he contributed so much and has seen the action from the beginning – it makes him feel like good things are coming his way too.

Meanwhile, me and Angie grab some Zing’s bread, cheese and salami, then walk to Casey’s for beers – we’re so excited but we feel embarrassed just standing around the ZCoB and we want to celebrate on our own just a little – what’s happened is just so damn amazingly great! We’re now scared shitless in all the best jazzy ways possible – boy have we got work to do NOW!! AWESOME, JUST COMPLETELY AWESOME – Ann Arbor has indeed been so good to us!!

I’ve often thought that Ann Arbor has provided the only grace I’ve ever known. Before Texas, I felt very much in tune with A2 and believed it was my home – I’d accepted the grace it bestowed on me and believed it was a key part of any successes or advances I’d begun to make in life. The city always welcomed and restored me. It still does. But I’ve struggled to feel completely integrated with the city, even given all the good things that continue to happen, especially with HH. There’s a price to pay for getting more worldly, and sometimes I know it’s coming “home” and not necessarily feeling that much at home anymore, or at least not seeing your home with the same uncritical eye. I had developed a strong motivation to try PDX after the third visit, and it’s maybe not so odd that Travis from the Sans Street cart and now the recently established accordion player, who calls himself Tommy Spaghetti, both spent time in PDX and I can tell they liked it and maybe wanted to stay, like me.

But, as Stryker pointed out, we impose and the world disposes, which is to say that we impose our will and desires in the world, but fate, destiny, the natural world, your personal legend, your myth or chance – whatever you feel drives this universe at all – “disposes” of your energy as it sees fit. You may not get what you want and even if you do, it’s not exactly like you expected. So I’m learning, very slowly, to understand this “un-attachment” thing. Stryker points out that pain comes from attachment to our desires, not the desires themselves. Like I told Ari in the feedback I emailed him regarding his new book “Guide to Good Leading Part 2,” where he talks at length about “acceptance,” it’s a delicate and difficult idea for most of us to understand. That we can be both driven to obtain our desires, yet remain un-attached to them, so that we are not broken by them when our desired outcomes don’t manifest themselves (broken dreams), nor obsessed by the attainment of them to the point of distraction, isolation and otherwise unhealthy living and thinking. This is truly, at least for me, extremely difficult. I tend to go “all-in” and then shatter when the results don’t match up with my desires. Then I lose faith in myself and the world, so that I begin to retreat into what Ari would call “victim status.”