Surface Tension

I was never “good” at science. With one exception–biology, sophomore year. I think it was something about the exotic vocabulary and pictures that piqued my interest. Ironically, two years ago I became an ad hoc / extemporaneous long-term substitute teacher for the sciences, ranging from biology and chemistry to physics and astronomy.  Thank God it snowed for the first four days I was supposed to start teaching. I played catch-up the entire time I was snowed in. The last time I studied that hard was sixteen years ago. Note: I was 16 years old sixteen years ago. I just got a little faint.

I still have some work saved from High School. On paper and floppy discs! In one big folder, I tucked away several essays from my English AP classes and notes from bio. The diagrams are labeled and colored with such exquisite detail that it almost seems as if a science person drew them. When I moved back home in 2015, I exhumed my notes and found one section totally dedicated to surface tension. Its definition stuck with me then, and continues to float around in my mind now–

Water molecules want to cling to each other. At the surface, however, there are fewer water molecules to cling to since there is air above (thus, no water molecules). This results in a stronger bond between those molecules that actually do come in contact with one another, and a layer of strongly bonded water. This surface layer (held together by surface tension) creates a considerable barrier between the atmosphere and the water. In fact, other than mercury, water has the greatest surface tension of any liquid.

The more you know.

What gets me about the concept of surface tension is that it can be personified, which is probably why so much of bio makes sense to me. We all know the feelings associated with water metaphors: learning to tread water; feeling like your drowning in paperwork; singing in the rain, when it rains it pours. But surface tension never gets its due in our vernacular. Today I felt so many feelings that the “floodgates opened,” which of course means I cried. Again. But what followed, as is always my way, were the thought bubbles. Why is it so upsetting to be seen upset? How is it that in a very stressful work environment, the less I want to lean on other people the more I absolutely must?

How, I often ask myself, is it possible for other people to handle pressure at work? Why is no one else crying? The immediate answer to one of these questions is that dudes and ladies handle stress differently. The quota so far is for every one cry I have in a two week period, there are three nights where any one of my coworkers slams dishes, lashes out at a cook or decides not to show up for work. The odds are in neither party’s favor.

There are so few of us in the kitchen. We work anywhere from 50-80 hours a week, morning noon and night. We kind of have to work well together. It’s like being marooned on an island. We have to try not to cannibalize each other to survive (all due respect to the profession which, thankfully, requires us to know how to cook enough so that we don’t have to resort to such measures–emotionally or otherwise). Like water molecules, we have to stick together. But oh, the tension. God forbid someone walks into work with a sour mood. We all feel it. I often put a voice to this when it happens, which my coworkers do not appreciate. Conversely, when one or more of us is in great spirits, it can uplift the whole crew. I swear it makes the food taste better.

It’s like a pressure cooker. Everyone is exhausted. I have burns and cuts and aches that just keep happening. Yet it’s part of the deal. The physical burdens of the job are nothing compared to what it feels like to be a complete novice in a world where everyone else seems to know what they are doing. Not to mention the fact that I am hyper-sensitive/critical of any sideways glances, comments or insinuations about my femininity. For the most part, that’s a good thing. Recently a male coworker asked me what it felt like to be one of four females out of 20+ people working in the kitchen. I told him I was excited–it meant I had a front row seat to watch the Patriarchy crumble.

My bark is almost always more vicious than my bite.

What it actually feels like is quiet defeat. I can pitch a fit or become spontaneously combustible, but people still need to eat. SOMEONE NEEDS TO DOUBLE-BOIL THE FUCKING crème brûlée. That’s the way it goes.

As embarrassing as it has been to lose my shit on the regular, I am also relieved. Several of my kitchen mates remind me I am in the right place. Remember that guy, what’s his name, GORDON RAMSEY? That guy loses his shit for millions of dollars a year. He doesn’t cry; he yells.

Image result for gordon ramsay memes

He’s straight up abusive to his staff, but at least he has a sense of humor. I won’t even discuss the parity of positive public opinion on women cooks versus male cooks, but I think you can piece it together. Bad behavior gets rewarded. In any other profession, our vastly inappropriate conversations about literally anything would get us fired. But in the kitchen, you better buck up and shut up or someone will show you the door. It’s refreshing. It’s also brutal and infuriating. But in every job I’ve ever had, no one is above the law of proving themselves. And for someone as impatient, perfectionistic, judgmental and sensitive as I am, time is an imperious bully. I want to be good at everything before the oven timer for the bacon goes off first thing in the morning. Not going to happen.

So there is acceptance. And that surface tension. We are all little water molecules buoying each other up. I had a conversation with Bowie today about it. In recovery and otherwise, this is where I’ve been led. These coworkers and friends are my current spiritual teachers. I pray, as I have on many stressful days, to acknowledge to my Higher Power that I’d be crazy not to follow, follow where He leads.

There you have it: spirituality on the fly.

xo

 

Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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Biased Cut

Now feels like the time to break with tradition: waiting the painstaking hours-minutes-seconds until the clock strikes 12AM on March 17th to blog something–

Instead, it’s 9:16PM on Thursday, March 15th.

I realize that time is but a construct and the day-counting is more like a superstition at this point than an actual measure of my recovery.

So with the grace and pre-supposition of a power greater than myself carrying me over the line, I will turn four years sober on Saturday. This anniversary means everything to me.

And nothing at all.

Year three created a new paradigm of sobriety for me. I married my favorite person. I discontinued my studies to become a teacher. I moved. I started a new cooking job. Saint Bonaventure beat UCLA despite the shadow of a 48-year heartbreak. Any one of the above entitled items, in and of itself, is life-altering (well, most of them). But stats over time don’t really do it for me. I am accustomed to these types of changes. More to the point, I am comfortable with the chaos that accompanies turmoil. I know what it is for my actions to precipitate reactions in others–to my words and behaviors. I have intimate knowledge of the fallout when my ambivalence toward, say, my career, causes confusion in others and panic in myself. It’s tough stuff, but it’s kind of my wheelhouse.

Time is neither friend nor foe. I am the same person I was last year, except a lot more honest. I forgot to doubt myself.  I am at peace. It has been exactly two months since I felt the familiar pangs of extreme anxiety. My brain is neutral and my heart is full. I am still clumsy in my intimate relationships and messy in my day-to-day planning. My 2018 planner and my station at work are nothing if not a perfect reflection of a hyper-active mind.

*

The process of planning our wedding caused my husband and I stress unlike any other we’ve known. Granted, I (technically) caused this stress–I did say ‘yes,’ but then, so did he–asking me to marry him and all. We signed up for it, enthusiastically.

We found ourselves a newlywed nest, but not without months of searching what seemed like every apartment in the city up for rent. I switched jobs two months later on what felt like a whim, but was really a moment of gumption. As a result, we run on opposite schedules like two tired, creaking ships passing in the night. This break in our routine surprised even me–I’m not certain what came over me. Perhaps a smidge of impulse and a little selfishness. I stopped mid-shift and swiveled my Danskos in the direction of my restaurant’s kitchen manager to switch from Front of the House to Back of the House.

I had a lot of nerve this year.

See also: I am someone’s wife. A wife and a prep cook. A former playgirl turned lush for commitment. I did something I promised myself I would never do: I followed a man’s lead. I came home that night with the overwhelming desire to tell my husband his delight and love for cooking to nourish others inspired me–enough to start all over again, again. From politicking to freelance writing to classroom teaching to oyster shucking–I am dizzy from the trip. I never imagined I’d be elbow-deep in condensed milk or grilled asparagus, yet here I am.

My work mentor (second only to my chef-husband-mentor) taught me some kitchen basics, least of all how to make a biased cut. Visions of celery, onions and jalapenos dance behind my eyes, all reminding me to cut identical sharp angles for continuity. My instinct was to scoff at the peculiarities of this new kitchen jargon, but I held my tongue. I remember all too well entering the rooms of recovery, ambling around the confusing vocabulary of hope in my beloved 12-step program. I am humbled by the temperatures and textures I have yet to learn. I have been here before. I recognize the need to know nothing in order to learn something. My recovery has taught me the precise need to know that I don’t know. Every heartening moment of growth is a direct result of ignorance terminated by experience. My higher power has protected me in more uncertain times than these. I’ve made it this far and I am in the company of some greats.

After all, I am a little biased.

 

Featured image courtesy of Get Inspired Everyday