Lately, I have been obsessed—totally obsessed with Chef Thomas Keller. It is not just the man alone that sparks this passion in me. It is the whole world that he has created and what he stands for: the culinary garden, the finest proprietors, sustainability, precision and doing something that you love really, really well. I have devoured every e-magazine that he has published to date and even made a road trip last week to New York City to experience first-hand one of his restaurants, The Bouchon Bakery and Café at the Time Warner Center. While there, I took this picture (above). It is the door for one of Keller’s finest restaurants–and one of THE finest restaurants on the planet—Per Se. I have been planning my 50th birthday celebration at Per Se for a couple of years now, and I still have two years left to wait. Next week, I will be attending a conference about 70 miles from another Thomas Keller establishment, Bouchon in Yountville, California. I have made a reservation at the restaurant with the hopes of getting a feel for the whole environment. I plan to visit the French Laundry culinary garden and the Bouchon Bakery (west), too.
As posted multiple times over the last few months, I have been trying to find my next career adventure. What has been revealed to me through the writing of Thomas Keller is a passion that has been hiding behind thoughts of what I think I want. Gardening, farms, healthy food, the best ingredients for cooking and using creativity to produce something with one’s hands are the things that feed my interests. When I am not working in an office, this is what fuels me. Actually, I could take that thought one step further and state that these are the things that make up for working in an office all week—a balm to my psyche. The realization and awakening of this passion feels somewhat miraculous. I am not a person that came out of the womb knowing my purpose. Mapping out a career has been a journey and a struggle. Now, acknowledging these interests helps me to see what was in front of me all along.
Yesterday was the three month mark in this experiment. As I was driving to work, tired and frustrated from a bad night’s sleep, I heard the following poem read by Garrison Keller on the Writer’s Almanac. It melted the tension and the need to have answers and I continued through the day on a much happier note.
Report from the West
by Tom Hennen
Snow is falling west of here. The mountains have more than a
foot of it. I see the early morning sky dark as night. I won’t lis-
ten to the weather report. I’ll let the question of snow hang.
Answers only dull the senses. Even answers that are right often
make what they explain uninteresting. In nature the answers
are always changing. Rain to snow, for instance. Nature can
let the mysterious things alone—wet leaves plastered to tree
trunks, the intricate design of fish guts. The way we don’t fall
off the earth at night when we look up at the North Star. The
way we know this may not always be so. The way our dizziness
makes us grab the long grass, hanging by our fingertips on the
edge of infinity.
“Report from the West” by Tom Hennen, from Darkness Sticks to Everything.
© Copper Canyon Press, 2013.
Stopped by Mrs. London’s bakery today for coffee and I could not resist one of my favorite treats—hot crossed buns. Not being a regular churchgoer, I was reminded by these delicious little pastries that it is Lent. The idea of giving up something you desire for a bigger reason is a concept with which I have become familiar. I can’t pretend to have a higher calling like my friends who are practicing the rituals of Lent, but I can at least empathize with their sacrifice, willpower and watching of desire as it comes and goes.
This is also a time of year for waiting in anticipation of an answer, redemption and looking deeply into one’s self. It is the time of re-birth and my actual birth. I was born on Easter Sunday, 1965. Every year, I am drawn to thoughts of what will pop up from beneath the ground and what is waiting to be born—sheep at Shelburne Farms? Cows over at King’s Dairy? Snowdrops in my neighbor’s yard? It is a source of great happiness to witness all of these things.
This year, I am not sleeping much as I watch and wait to see what will emerge from my own inner dialogue and the external opportunities—the forces at work in my existence. I am a bundle of confusion and feel constantly stirred up while trying to make a career decision. I am struggling with choices and looking for the right answer. My job counselor said to me, “When you stop drinking you really have to deal with life on life’s terms.” I understand this completely right now, as I lie awake soberly waiting for a resolution to become clear to me.
I know that this is not a matter of actual life and death (for me). I know that I will come to a decision about the next phase of my career. It is just a time of challenge and unrest before the seedling of truth pushes its way to the surface and show it’s delicate green leaf. For now, I look for ways to quiet my mind and wait. As sure as Easter is coming, so is an answer. When it does, I will rejoice and be glad.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and it was one of the nicest celebrations I have ever had with my husband, or anyone for that matter. We don’t normally make a fuss but yesterday was an exception. When I got home from work, Philip made me fabulous dinner of roasted chicken and vegetables (a la Thomas Keller—Ad Hoc at Home) and if that wasn’t enough, earlier that day, he sent flowers to my office. WOW! I was flabbergasted and totally wooed.
During this holiday that is centered on romance and champagne, I found myself thinking of having wine or cocktails after work. The desire for alcohol comes and goes lately more like a puffy cloud that drifts in and out of my mind. The thought does not seem to hold the same weight that it did last month. There is less of a struggle right now. For that, I am very grateful.
Yesterday there were other gifts in my life above and beyond those present to me by my husband. Twice in the course of the evening I was given the opportunity to gain a little more insight into the reoccurring question of dependency, addiction and habit. Having received the results of the Myers-Briggs test that I took at career counseling, I started to read the summary of my Type—Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging (INTJ). Right in the middle of the page was a little gem of verification that summarized something that I had suspected all along:
When under a great deal of stress, the INTJ may be become obsessed with mindless repetitive, sensate activities, such as over-drinking. They may also become absorbed with minutia and details that they would not normally consider important to their overall goal.
In the last month, it has become clearer to me that my drinking had become a habit and reaction to stress. It has been quiet easy for me to give up alcohol for social events. The real difficult moments have come when I am stressed at the end of the day.
Rushed home from work last night. Tried twice to stop for gas and the lines were too long to bother. The reason for this frantic pace was a phone call. I was scheduled to speak with a career counselor and I did not want to be late. I got home on time.
When I walked in the door, my son Christopher was practicing piano (loudly). He has been home from Juilliard on Christmas break and his needs and my needs often collide at this time of day. It is a time when I need quiet and he needs to practice. It activates the inner dialogue—to speak up or suck it up. Tonight, I sucked it up.
In less than one hour, eight people were arriving for dinner. I had to start preparing for the party, and I thought, “I could really use a drink.” My nerves were frayed, and I could not find my quiet, happy place. This was the perfect moment for experimental behavior modification. (I just made up that term.) I thought if I took the action of pouring a drink, it might be a suitable replacement for what I was craving, a cocktail. I got out the bubbly water and pomegranate juice and poured a tall one. Yes, that helped. I stuck with this option for the duration of the dinner party, never missing the wine that was flowing in and out of glasses.
This whole one-year experiment has taught me some thing already. The difficulty with giving up booze is in my mind. I don’t think that I had a physical dependency on alcohol. I believe it is a psychological need and specific scenarios elicit certain responses. In other words, certain situations create the desire to drink. I notice that this happens even when my mind is wondering in a daydream. For example, if I think about having a nice dinner with Philip, say at home in our kitchen, and I picture it in my mind, there is a cocktail in the fantasy–OR when I picture myself at a Leadership or Board event, I am having wine. The alcohol has a specific association. Relaxation and/or fun = drinks. It is as if I will need to record over old tapes to stop this train of thought and habitual thinking.
One of the things that I thought would be most difficult with giving up drinking is going to large events. There are a few fundraisers that we attend every year. We enjoy the mingling, food and drinks that go on at these kinds of parties. This weekend was one of our favorite events and most of our friends attend. This particular event is a big drinking night. The price of the wine and booze is included in the ticket and you often see people grabbing a couple of drinks at a time because the bar is so busy.
As we drove into the parking lot to meet the valet, I wondered if this experience was going to be totally strange and awkward. Would being completely sober take the fun out of the event? Nervousness always proceeds walking into a big room of people and emerging into the social network. It is nice to grab a glass of bubbly and take the edge off. This year the bubbly was going to be sparkling water for this party guest. Sigh.
Much to my surprise, attending this party without alcohol was not really a challenge at all. It was rather interesting to watch the crowd get more inebriated and while I sipped on my water. I was still able to meet new people…in fact it was a little easier since they were drunk and I was not. I remember this feeling from college.( Not liking the feeling of losing control at the time, I never drank in my early twenties.) Attending parties meant watching other people getting drunk and I found it rather boring. My experience this weekend was the opposite. I felt more compelled to talk with people. Clear headedness and lack of sleepiness prevailed and I felt more connected to the crowd. With no bar or getting drinks on which to focus my energies, I talked with people who I hardly knew and lots of folks I had not seen in a long time.
After the party, we went to another party and the social experience was the same. By then, I looked around and thought about how terrible these drunken people would feel tomorrow. I would be waking up ready to get outside for a hike in the woods. Post party days have become like a “bonus days.” A few months ago, I would have lost the day to a pasty headache. Now, I get an extra day to enjoy my life.
I do declare! The honeymoon phase of this experiment is over. Work is more challenging than ever and every day as I drive home from work I ask myself why I decided to do this. I feel sorry for myself and think this was really bad timing. I ask, “Why am I doing this to myself right now?” Alcohol would sure help me to relax during this period of very tight deadlines and endless frustration at my job. Yes, I see it now. Alcohol was a crutch to smooth out the tension, help me end the day and forget what I needed to face in the morning.
It is not good to be this negative. It is taking a toll on my body and spirit. It is time to turn this ship around, start focusing on the good things and what I gain from this decision—otherwise I think I will give up. Listing the positives seems like a good thing to do right now:
- I have lost a few pounds.
- I feel better physically.
- I have extra time in the morning and on weekends by getting up early, and I am way more productive because I don’t have post alcohol grog.
- I have a clean slate, a great diet and a good foundation to start training for a long race. I am feeling very motivated and excited to start training again.
- I save money by not buying wine or hard liquor for the house or when dining out.
- I feel less guilty when I eat a dessert.
- Fewer bottles to recycle. I am being good to the environment.
- I have better clarity about my unhappiness at work. No covering it up now!
- I have a huge goal to achieve in my life with this experiment–and I really like goals. I know when I get through this is I will feel really good about what I have accomplished.
Every year Philip and I take a trip to Cape Cod to see our dear friends Wally and Sarah Morrison. Since our discovery of the poet, Stanley Kunitz, we also include a pilgrimage to his home in Provincetown. (The picture in this posting is from the front of his house.) Kunitz passed away in 2006 at the age of 101. His writing is timeless and it continues to inspire lovers of art and poetry today. Spending a century in the garden, his work and life’s philosophy reflect a deep understanding of all living things and the cycle and life and death.
Re-reading The Wild Braid, Kunitz’s last book, has brought me peace and happiness on this path of sobriety. The poems, musings and interviews in this book connect me to what feels essential and important in my life (my spouse, my family, trees, flowers, animals and the ocean). Most of all, Kunitz’s book helps me to understand why I am sharing my experiences in this blog. In following passage, Kunitz affirms in me a need to write and gives me hope that I may help someone, someday.
Art must have a social sense, a sense of the society in which we live and thrash.
As an artist you are a representative human being—you have to believe that in order to give your life over to that effort to create something of value. You’re not doing it only to satisfy your own impulses or need; there is a social imperative. If you solve your problems and speak of them truly, you are of help to others, that’s all. And it becomes a moral obligation.
After a long vacation last month in California, I had forgotten how much my job drives my desire to drink. In my last blog posting, I concluded that a lot of my drinking stems from social situation, relaxation and fun. Well, yesterday was a wake up call. Back to the grind, I see the impulse to cover up the negativity and go to a numbed place of forgetting the day by pouring a drink or two.
Next week, I start career counseling. I want to move forward in a positive way. I have given my present situation all I’ve got and at this moment, I see no way forward in my current position. Rather than throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what will stick, I want to be clear about what would be a good fit for me and send resumes to jobs I really want.
I will stay busy and focused in the coming months to manage the feelings of discouragement and frustration and hope that will diminish the desire to drink. With any luck, I will come out on the other side of this experiment with greater prospects ahead.
Philip and I attended a Christmas Eve party at a neighbor’s house. It was illuminating. The gathering was well attended and I spoke with many friends while sharing in food and drink. I enjoyed the usual, Pellegrino water in a wine glass. No one noticed that I wasn’t drinking and I liked that. It was an absolutely enjoyable evening sans vino.
On our way home, we stopped to talk to a new neighbor and introduced ourselves. He was attempting to get this crazy palm tree to light up in his yard. “Hey, why not?” we said, “People celebrate all over the planet.” It was a very pleasant exchange and we made a little more small talk.
When we reached the front door of our house, I realized how sober I was. At first, there was a strange sense of feeling a certain mellowness as if I had consumed few glasses of wine and then PING– I realized it was “all in my head.” Instantly, I became acutely aware of my surroundings and in that awareness, the pleasure of the moment was amplified. The sky looked darker. The air was fresher and the porch light shown brighter.