Voices Carry


Friday, April 3, 2020. I’m impatient to move forward with the audiobook. I feel as if each day that passes my chances of securing the narrator lessen and things will change and I’ll lose the advantage, the fortuitous coming together of things, the golden moment. This is the nature of my particular form of impatience, of course, namely, my struggle to loosen my sense of imperative, my intuitive sense of urgency and to temper my intuition itself. For those observer types who are keen to identify what works versus what doesn’t; those driven to fix it, change it and make it better – we are a type, of course – we suffer delay as if it’s a physical pain. My psyche understands how to engage the world and to be held back feels like chains, like a prison, and I  feel as if time is slipping away, that precious little grains of sand are trickling through the hourglass, that uniquely advantageous windows of opportunity have winked open, poised, providing a pass through but only briefly, only as long as the energies are properly additive versus conflicting. Life is timing, we have this sense. The what’s the hurry perspective is, as I’ve learned, usually the wise one because, again, somehow destiny seems a real versus imagined thing: if it’s meant to be, as they say, then it will be, it will come to pass despite every perceived obstacle or threat.

Meanwhile, tick, tick, tick. Argh. I’ve always endured this sense of continually seeking what I want, of discovering what I sense is veritelically correct and of not tolerating well enough the dynamics of how what I want meshes or interplays with what the cosmos wants, or how the world-of-action remains in large measure in charge, how it retains the authority to obstruct, modify, distort or cancel my initiatives. We know what we want when we see it, too often only when we finally see it, the psychological and sometimes economic price of which is to indeed suffer a delay in implementation, what seems to people like me a pernicious weakening of the synergies I perceive as paramount.

Again, as always, the idea that we lose our centering within the principle of eternity when we become anxious for the outcome of our deeds is pure wisdom.[1] The wording is apparently from the Indian sphere – J.C. happens to be discussing the Bhagavad Gita and Krishna and his appeal to Arjuna to surrender his desires, hence his suffering, in favor of the work itself, in favor of the process, in favor of dharma (Krishna supports dharma above all, even honor, honesty and ethics, just read the Mahabharata). Surrender the fruits, lay them at the foot of the god for time is an illusion and everything has already happened, block universe style. Your own perception of the imperative, purpose and effect of your actions disrupts and interferes with the expression of them which is all. Eternity is all. Yet, confoundingly amongst all this wisdom, we endure the sense of the passing of time and the effect of our influence in conflict or cooperation with that of the cosmos. It takes work to release oneself from this continual predicament of perception that somehow, to our dismay, falls short of ultimate awareness.

How, then, will my employment at the home improvement store function properly as my work? For it seems impossibly tangent to the plot, as employment for me always does. Yes, it pays. And money provides for the getting the audiobook made; it secures the narrator and allows for progress towards my vision, on behalf of my aspirations for the novel attaining its place in the world. Versus enduring its obscurity. But what’s the difference? For I’ve written it and even published it – it’s there for all the world, literally, to see and read and experience if they so choose. It some sense, then, the work is done and I ought to move on, I ought to let it go. A month ago I had no interest in audiobooks. What’s changed? Well, I see that the novel in print and epub is a flop and has virtually no chance of being read unless I manage to publish at least the next book and more than likely a trilogy. Yet I see a possibility, having encountered this dynamic and learned more about how the early indie publishers managed to get read – namely by way of timing, of being available during that brief window, ten years ago, when demand outstripped supply and folks were forced to consider buying books of lesser quality just to have a book at all. Ten years ago e-readers were starved and more readily consumed the wheat with the chaff. Get hungry enough and you’ll gnaw on shoe leather. I’m not aspiring to sell shoe leather – TC is better than that – but the desperate need to overcome the resistance to its proper welcome, its proper level of participation, drives me to leave no stone unturned. Argh, outcomes again. Is my work merely to write as an end in itself or does my work include marketing and sales? Right livelihood indeed includes compensation in economic terms; not necessarily cash but commensurate reward in all forms, I get it, but where do I draw the line? I have only my heart, my intuition, my sense of bliss or the lack thereof as a reliable reference.

How to proceed? I’m compelled to resolve this nagging frustration for fear of it derailing my commitment to the ten weeks of earning. I can imagine myself on the job, frustrated beyond measure at the dull idiocy of the tasks and the time it takes to get on with my proper work. It all diminishes itself. That is, when I’m on the job the tick, tick, tick threatens to set me against the audiobook and my writing as a whole – I wouldn’t be required to suffer this lousy job, I tell myself, if I’d just not write and have dreams and desires to get read and paid for it. I begin to resent my own proper work and the vision of my best life. That said, I’ve been through all of this before: I’ve let go of the TCT and my writing, even my journaling as recently as when I took the Blasco job. And I made a pile of money and never connected with the work and the writing, like gum stuck to my shoe, wouldn’t leave me alone and indeed for the first time infiltrated itself into my workday in spite of me being paid for something else. For the first time in my life I blew off my job in favor of writing during it. This is simply an expression of how devoted, if only unconsciously, I am to my proper work. So that the accepted protocols and compliances of a job become simply beside the point. I refuse to spend my day bundling bananas, Ramakrishna is to have said; I will not do it, he declared, no matter that his family thought him a failure, an embarrassment and perhaps mad. I’m paraphrasing the man, of course, (elsewhere in the DOP I cite a source for this anecdote) but my point is made: some of us are essentially useless outside of our proper work and it manifests itself as a gift in the guise of a curse. That is, if you can do nothing else but what you do best then you are blessed. Those of us who can acquire skills and better fake a pedestrian occupation, who can succumb to employment, suffer the damn employment and diminish the odds that they will manifest their dreams.

But there is strategy versus fantasy. A fantasy is me thinking I can do what I’m doing now which is journaling and blogging before lunch, preparing lunch for Angie and me, walking, listening to tunes, working on TC2 (which includes editing and reading/researching) and otherwise immersing myself in my chosen vocations. Because it takes money. That three-thousand dollars seems an irrelevant amount of money to me is just me. It has to come from somewhere and for whatever reason it is the tipping point between what I’m worth as a writer and home cook and companion and my transforming myself into a burden. So be it. Hence, the little job that pays. And the enduring of the time it takes to collect the coins. I absolutely, one-hundred percent get it. Earn the money to get the things you want, audiobook publication or whatever it is. Until the writing manages, if ever, to finance itself, it’s the only way to move forward. The sense that things ought not to be this way, that other seekers get paid to seek so why can’t I? – comprises the bittersweet nature of existence for perhaps most of us. I wrestle, then, with time and become uncentered.

What to do? I considered contacting the narrator himself, directly via his email that he publishes on his website and letting him know that I admire his work and that I consider him the perfect fit for TC1 and the only reason I haven’t engaged his services via Findaway Voices is a temporary financial hardship. As if he’d care. Money talks, as they say, and bullshit walks. Compliments are just that. Show me the money. But it’s as if I need to connect so as to secure, to prevent my vision from flitting away like a nervous bird on a branch: there it is, what you seek – act, or the opportunity shall fly away forever! That, and he might lower his rate if I skipped the middleman. But I’m not interested in sidestepping things like that, mostly because I don’t mind paying for the convenience of the distribution services attached to Findaway. Yes, I could likely self-distribute, get a deal on the recording but then pay, in the end, to gain access to the required distribution. This is how my brain works: I have only so much tolerance for the DIY requirements. I do quick cost/benefit analysis in my head and move on to what’s most important: getting it done and getting it out there. Turnkey solutions become attractive in this way.

What to do, what to do, what to do? Take action. Write it out. And if that doesn’t work, do something else. So I just went ahead and asked Angie on our morning walk what her opinion on the timeline for paying for the audiobook. To haul what’s on my mind out in the open if nothing else. We chatted, it comes down to bleeding out the fee over a month or two, so the scheduling of the payment matters. Which is what I figured anyway. I don’t want to be the guy who spends his paycheck before he earns it. Then again, there’s always going to be an expense that serves to delay this expense – truck repair, house fix up, what have you. And I’ve got this job lined up to cushion the pain. So, I prepped dough and sauce for the homemade pizza Friday Angie wants and dug through some more information on the process. Nothing came up specifically involving payment schedule except that they don’t do payment plans and payment is required at the conclusion of the process so as to indeed conclude it, per the contract you sign with the narrator. This all tells me that you pay when the job is done or you pay perhaps half up front, akin to my editor and book designer policies, or by way of some other reasonable schedule versus all up front and just went ahead and clicked “schedule project” or “initiate production” or whatever it was. It just felt like the time is now. And I figured if they needed money up front, taking the next step would force the issue. It turns out that some step by step occurs that is clearly going to take some time:

  1. We’ll get in touch with your selected narrator to confirm availability and production timing.
  2. Then we’ll send you a simple electronic contract with key details about the production.
  3. Once all parties have signed, we’ll send you a production notes template to fill out. The narrator will then perform an extended sample of your book for you to review.
  4. Once you’ve reviewed and approved the sample, the narrator will begin the recording the full performance!

The getting in touch with the narrator and getting back to me they say can take five to seven business days. Then the sample and back and forth comments, I’m thinking two weeks minimum, likely more, before the thing goes green in the studio. So there you go, I’ll be working by then, earning the money. Otherwise, the details are very thoroughly broken down elsewhere on the website and there’s even a video from an author who went through the process. His choice of narrators happened to be booked through whatever month and Findaway contacted him to see whether he wanted to wait or choose somebody else. That could happen with my choice but I figure as long as the guy hasn’t retired I’ll wait for him. The more time to pay the better. Perhaps, too, each narrator has some idiosyncrasies in terms of payment and work process. Who cares? I’m confident now that it will all work out. These things do. And then nobody will buy the audiobook, either! Ha! And I’ll feel a fool again for being so anxious about any of it. So be it, I makes me feel jazzed to get in the game, to keep driving, to keep the dream alive. It gives me a reason to tolerate the damn nightshift.

DOP1 (2010-11) VINTAGE POST:

August 13, 2011. The first week of selling Molly Stevens’ book, we sold three copies – I think that’s great. Now I have to consider ordering another fifteen copies – the minimum order. With three copies/week selling the cost would be easy to recoup.

The USDA inspector, Tom G., turned out to be a cool guy and in fact seemed jazzed to help me out because he needs one more plant in the area to be able to hire another inspector, which he feels that he needs. He helped me out with my HACCP already and is sending more material to help me get through it. He says HACCP seems to prevent folks from moving forward with their meat operation plans – he gets inquiries, but never hears back from them once they find out about the HACCP crap. I can verify that because Blake R. (co-owner of EAT) said he got the application materials too some time ago but gave up because the process seemed like such a hassle. I’m used to regulatory hassle. It’s just pressure and time.

Anyway, Tom G. said there may be a regulatory hurdle to get over involving “multi-tenant” kitchen operations, i.e. the fact that Union Hall has more than just me working in there. Technically, the food safety risk might be increased if I can’t maintain complete control over the process of a multi-use kitchen. But Tom said if we get shot down, it’s not the end – I can appeal to Omaha, and he thinks the USDA needs to get up to speed with rental kitchens because it’s part of the future. One step closer and I’m not letting paperwork stop me from attaining my dreams. Doing the one-day vog seemed help – those things are like magic – you can take control of your future by envisioning it.

We hit $15K in cart food revenue last night. It seems like a lot of money, but of course we’re not making a dime on this adventure and never expected to. But the financials are turning out to be in line with our projections and biz plan. It’d be nice to vog a big profit and see it happen, but that’s thing about vogs – while they need to jazz you and even freak you out a little with their ambition, they also have to be attainable – they aren’t “wishes.” I agree with Canfield that visioning must activate your subconscious to begin working on making reality coincide with your dreams/visions – you do “tune in” to all aspects around you that can help drive your dreams forward, and in my case it seems to work. Whether it’s tuning into one’s proper place in the world, or indeed having your subconscious mind working overtime to overcome the schism one creates between dreams and reality is a question. But if it works….

August 14, 2011. Crazy crap going on as a result of my inquiry to a supervisor who will remain nameless at the Washtenaw County Health Department: I simply asked for the letters that verify proper sewer and potable water at Union Hall Kitchen and instead of just doing it, or contacting me with questions or concerns, she calls Mark H. and describes some fairly crazy concerns she has with the idea of Union Hall getting a Grant of Inspection for my process. As if it’s any of her business. Mark told me this and then Ji Hye elaborated on it and it appears that the fussy-pants at the Health Department have their underwear in a bundle over this and whatever else the carters are doing with changing menus and not completing bullshit “cooling charts.” So there’s going to be some sit-down “meeting” with whomever at the Health Department and Mark H. and even Paul Saginaw from Zingerman’s. This is all fine with me, the more heavy-hitters involved the better I like it – Paul Saginaw has probably got the experience and clout to make anything happen in Ann Arbor and if it affects his Sans Street cart, and by extension all the rest of the carts, and he can grease some wheels and calm some nerves and provide some guidance for the blind, then that’s what I’m looking for.

Just like with my experience in EHS, there’s always a bunch of yahoo ego-maniacs and power-trippers that get their fur up when they think somebody’s doing an end-around. Well, the USDA trumps any state authority, so too bad baby, if you fight me, then you’re going to have to deal with the feds, who are on board with this and you’re going to be embarrassed. Lead, follow or get out of the way.

USDA-FSIS-inspected HH Head Cheese production out of Union Hall can’t do anything but help everybody involved: I’d be paying Mark rent for kitchen space through the fall, winter and spring months when he wouldn’t be getting ANY rent from carters, Ann Arbor gets another artisanal food producer based in the city, Michigan gets a small biz expanding (however infinitesimally) in their crappy economy, money flows, good food gets eaten, visions-of-greatness come to be, everybody wins. So next week might get a little bumpy – hopefully USDA doesn’t shoot down Union Hall as my facility right off the bat and hopefully whatever the local Health Dept. needs to hear gets said at their meeting. Let’s just get on with the good stuff.

August 15, 2011. A really good day – lots of biophycomythological mojo. Technically a day off for me, Mondays always are but I seem to spend a lot of time in the kitchen anyway. But good stuff – I cooked another batch of pig heads; started ‘em about lunch time, went for a walk through the arboretum, then home to check email, which there was quite a bit of because Tom Gallagher (USDA) is now sending me a bunch of stuff to help out with the HACCP plan I need to bang out. My first attempt was quite incomplete – I had virtually no idea what I was doing – but I’ll nail it now and get this Grant of Inspection rolling. At least on my end. Also ordered another fifteen copies of Molly Stevens’ Braising and more signed bookplates from her – I’m impressed with the expedited response on her part and W.W. Norton – very speedy. I ordered more Clancy’s Fancy – cool folks to deal with. I got thirty pounds of pig liver and five hearts for $1.00/pound from Larry at Back Forty. So my freezer space for the big Niman delivery tomorrow is fucked. I’ll have to make room, get it stored, then cooked, then sold and in the bank! All fun. This is the life I’m meant to lead – I just have to keep finding ways to lead it.

I can’t wait to complete the Grant of Inspection thing and start finding places to market my H-Cheese: Zingerman’s first, then Plum Market, Whole Foods and the local Morgan & York, just to name a few. Zingerman’s would be the first choice.

I can see the cool packaging – maybe little wood crates with the HH logo “burned” into them – printing could reproduce that and the logo has always had a “branded” quality. Who knows? Initial packaging will be a challenge but the beginning of things is always the times you remember the most fondly anyway, so, in the spirit of Hugh MacLeod, I’m going to try to enjoy obscurity.

Me and Angie continue to have our issues – HH puts pressure on some of our “buttons” and I’ve got to get better at keeping my cool. She’s doing well – it’s not her vocation but I expect a lot from her and sometimes she just gets fed up but we’re still together and moving forward. I’ll always remember, and so will she probably, the time we got so pissed at each other some late night in the kitchen, very early on in the start-up, that I lost it and whipped my plastic water bottle across the fucking kitchen in frustration, busting it on the storage racks on the other side of the room Total hellish relationship drama but we both were on the edge of a fucking breakdown – so tired, so stressed – happiness and horribleness all at once I’ll never forget it. Looking at myself in the mirror one late night again after a few beers, knowing I’m getting up again in a few hours to cook, sell, clean, order shit, pick shit up, whatever – I literally started fucking crying. Not sobbing and wailing, just weeping with complete fatigue and over-stimulation with new shit and craziness.

The Decemberists just started playing from my Rhapsody play list – their latest record “The King is Dead” is something me and Angie really like and every time I hear it, I think of PDX, where they’re supposedly from, at least as a point of operation for the band. The album cover and the sound and just the pacific northwest of it all – it came out around the time we made our last trip to PDX – it may have been February 2011, I can’t remember – it seems like a million years ago. But it was the last time I remember having any type of ease to our lives. We walked, sometimes in the rain (that trip was extra rainy), we looked at property to raise pigs on, we ate out and enjoyed the food and drink; we saw a Winterhawks hockey game, we even saw a film and talk at an art gallery, very cool. Good, good times and it’s been many times during this hh adventure that I wonder if we should’ve moved there. I miss it. It feels like one of my cities – I collect cities and PDX is way up there on my list. I even miss Houston. And once or twice I thought kindly of Galveston since I’ve been back. The Houston walks we had, with Cinder especially, I remember fondly. I’ve always liked the bigger cities, though I do better in medium-small ones. In Houston I was free. Free from family which, even when they’re not around, puts a strain on me biophycomythologically. Except for Kev – he’s in the same boat as me – trying to get life right and willing to pay some considerable price for the privilege. I notice I’m at 370 pages with this “book” pictures included. A big block of bullshit, but it helps keep me chugging.

August 16, 2011. A damn good day. Biophycomythologically and just in general. Good weather, not too hot but summery with a hint of coming fall. It’s amazing how fast the summer has come and almost gone – it’s not over yet, but being in a college town you see the changes that fall brings more quickly I think: students beginning to come and go – finally moving out if they’ve been chillaxing all summer on mommy and daddy’s dime and the foreign students coming in first because they start by getting pampered and it just goes on from there. Anyway, I’m glad I’m not a student, though I enjoyed the freedom of college life away from home. I fucked up the potential available to you in the education system more than once – biophycomythological “fiascos” all. Or call them learning experiences. A good day, to define it better, seems to simply be walking to and from the kitchen, cooking well, setting up the cart without a fucking panic, learning something, doing biz and talking to customers. If we do good money, that’s great because that means I can cook more of the food I’ve spent money on and can keep the process going: cook, sell, order food, cook, sell and so on which is now one of my chosen vocations and a good one. I get to shake things up by ordering some other stuff (like I received today): the lamb legs, lamb sweetbreads, ground lamb, oxtail, chickens, as well as pork butts and picnics. I’ve got some cooking to do.

I also have work to do on the HACCP for Tom G. so I can get that out of the fucking way – I need to complete my updates and I’m thinking by Friday so I can send a decent version of the stuff to Tom and I know he’ll find things wrong with it, but as long as the back-n-forth is also moving forward, I’m good. This will happen, step by step.

Two weeks left in August. Students yet to invade town for another new school year. Some of the musicians and kitchen help taking off for other college campuses this week – the jazz group that has played many afternoons in the court had their last show today – they return to their colleges and other lives, maybe never to be seen again in town, who knows? The passing of time has always seemed most palpable as fall approaches. Change has so often come for me in the fall. Major, memorable change. The summer can seem so soft and lazy, even when you’re working your ass off like me. I miss my dog today, she died just over a year ago. Sometimes the coming and going of everything in this world seems too much to bear; too much to take; the passing away of living things, whether they are returning to the vastness, the dust, the space and time where they exist in some other form, some other conscious state, or simply as nothing but the scattered molecules and atoms they came from, simply does not make any sense and it just doesn’t seem right. Every good person and animal should live forever.

I’m tired today. Mentally as well as physically. I don’t have the energy to tackle the HACCP shit. I’m going to braise lamb legs tomorrow – Molly’s seven-hour-leg-of-lamb recipe – I’ll do two legs at once. It’ll cook while I’m selling (hopefully) the last of my brisket and belly. I’m trying my best to not throw food away. All the carters got invited to a fundraiser (horses for kids with cancer) in Ferndale. ‘Not sure it’s right for hh – the crowd may be expecting fair-ground food. We might do it – I like to test the waters outside Mark’s Carts. My ambitions go way beyond setting up every day in the food court for the rest of my life.

We’re trying to get back to doing five things per day to get us towards our goals, Canfield-style. The rasping of the cicadas has given way this evening to a delicate background of crickets, playing behind the jazz on my audio system. A chorus of crickets can sound much like sleigh bells I just thought. I’m rambling and writing crud right now, so I’ll stop. Just tired. Sometimes the summer wears you out a little, even when the weather is nice.

So this Saturday we had a customer order the headcheese terrine, which is to say the cold version and an order of the brisket. I had a fairly heavy accent, which turned out to be French, and he sat quietly by himself eating at one of the tables in the court. After some time, he came back up and I figured he needed a fork or knife or napkins or whatever and to my surprise and delight, he ordered another terrine. We talked to him a little and though he lived and worked in Ann Arbor, he was indeed from Paris. He really liked the headcheese and inquired as to whether he could purchase it in larger quantities from me and how much time I’d need to prepare it. I told him $20/lb, which may have seemed like a lot, I don’t know, but it’s the price I need to start with, and that I’d need just a day or two to prepare. I’ll send him an email just to touch base – he gave me his card (I didn’t have any of course) and I gave him my email, but folks don’t seem to want to email me. I’ve only ever received one email from a customer – the girl who didn’t have cash and wanted to assure me that she’d pay back her food loan soon.

Anyway, that the headcheese is a hit is obvious now and it’s an important development in the future of hh – the grant of inspection must happen and I need to get going on marketing HH Headcheese retail. Artisanal. Small batch. Hand made. At a sustainable price. Made by me (until employees seem appropriate). Marketed exclusively to exclusive food stores. Exclusive in terms of pinpointing the market for my headcheese – I’m not trying to pander to the well-off customers at places like Zingerman’s, Morgan & York (here in A2), Plum, Whole Foods, Dean & DeLuca – I know that my working class folks are just as interested, if not more, in this heritage food. But that both rich and poor like headcheese makes sense to me – it’s damn good tasting food. It takes you somewhere – home or abroad; back to your past or into a pleasant future. Certainly it makes for, as I say at the cart “a nice chilled lunch” if nothing else. “Good food for good people” as Maynard Davies wrote.[1] So when I say “exclusive” I should really say “selective.” Because I just want to be very selective regarding where my headcheese goes – the retailer has to understand it, like it, and enjoy the hell out of selling it. The heritage and quality and granularity have to be not just respected, but embraced. That’s what I want for my headcheese in the world. Nothing represents the essence of what the pigs provide for us like the headcheese. At least to me. I love to make it. I love to serve it. Of course I love to eat it. It’s refined and it’s rustic at the same time. Pigs are like that. They, like many animals, seem to made of something higher and something closer to the earth at the same time, and the headcheese is just my humble expression of that.

That people seem to like it so much has been one of the most joyfully surprising “successes” of this adventure. I can’t fully express what it means to cook directly from one’s heart and soul, or the heartmind, and to have it reach people and mean something important to them, in maybe just a small way (a good lunch). It connects me to the pigs, who remain my guides – I can see them in the fields as I write this. We all connect with all things when we eat well, I think. Good eating seems like a good place to start your hero’s journey, your personal myth, your purpose. It has been for me.

[1] Maynard Davies, Adventures…, 157.

[1] Joseph Campbell, The Hero…, 206.