I don’t like eating alone, but cooking alone is another story – particularly on a day like today.
The owner came back from across the sea last night and a storm is already brewing at the Inn. He spent most of the day wandering around with a scowl on his face. Chef and the other cooks in the restaurant were in moods that covered the gamut from anxious to surly. I was in the function kitchen by myself, listening to NPR and making hors d’oeuvres for the wedding this weekend. I was the only one working in a decent climate.
After I was laid off back in January and then rehired, I did some real soul searching before going back. I needed the work (and the paycheck) and I liked it, but I didn’t want to feel owned. I also had to come to terms with the fact that part of the equation was mine: I chose to work in a place owned by a person who thrived on chaos and who did not share many of my values. After I survived the layoff, I realized pretty much all he could do to me was fire me — nothing else — and I could survive that. I also realized I’m at his mercy when it comes to my employment. So I go to work understanding I could come home without a job as easily as I could come home still employed and, somehow, coming to terms with it in this manner has helped me relax and cook.
Today marked the first day he’s been back since the layoff. I did my thing and enjoyed myself, but when I got home tonight I was exhausted. I’m trying hard to stay awake enough to write coherently. The uncertainty that has been mostly hypothetical is now tangible and it makes me sleepy (my preferred means of escape).
Both growing up in a minister’s family and starting off my employable years in ministry, I didn’t learn how to differentiate between who I am and what I do until much later along the way.
When we moved to Boston in 1990, I got a job at the local Blockbuster in Charlestown because we needed money. The store was in walking distance and I liked movies, so I took the job. One night, I was straightening shelves when I noticed a woman looking for a movie and I asked if she needed assistance.
“Oh,” she said, “I don’t usually talk to the help in these places.”
Her comment sent me into an identity crisis. I’d never had to think about where I stopped and the job started when I was in church work, but how could I BE the guy who rented copies of Terminator 2? My time at the video store gave me room to learn who I am and what I do are not the same things. I think I’ve told that story somewhere along the way on this blog, but it came back to me today in a new way because I am a cook – to the very core of my being. In the worst throes of my depression, I can find respite when I’m cooking.
I’m also a chef for a living, yet it’s not exactly the same thing. I still find joy when I’m cooking at the Inn, but when I leave work and come home I find more joy cooking dinner for Ginger. Cooking feeds my soul; I’m grateful it also helps to pay the bills. I’m also grateful that my job is only a segment of what cooking means to me. I love how much I’ve been able to learn at the Inn and for the people I work with. I’ve gotten better at what I do because of my days there. If the rumor mill proves true and he does let us go, I’ll still be a cook. If the rumors prove false and I get to keep doing the functions this summer, I’ll still be a cook.
Who I am is not determined by what he does.