Friday, May 20, 2011

Impending Journeys, and Self-Promoting

Two weeks to go, and I'm suddenly freaking out at the commitment I've made. I'm flying out of New York on June 3rd and making my way to the West Coast to start this project as soon as the kitchen can take me. Unfortunately it's a 3-hour drive from the Seattle airport to the ferry docks, and when you get in on a Friday night, I wouldn't find my way to the Inn until well-before dawn on Saturday. So instead, I'm scrounging around to find a place to stay in Seattle that night...
Insert lovely stock image here. Memories from childhood vacations aren't nearly as well-lit.
I haven't been to the city since I was twelve, but I've been surrounded by enough hipsters and literary folks to know that it's a destination. Right now Seattle seems like a marvelous Pacific wonderland, where everyone carries around hardback novels in their repurposed-leather messenger bags, nibbles on organic locally-grown apples, and rides their vintage Schwinns to their holistic, expressive, imaginative workplaces. Of course, I'm pretty sure that's how some people think of Brooklyn.

But there's something aspirational about Seattle--and the West Coast--that is calling to me. I look out the window and see a city in which there are limitless amounts of ambition and enterprise. There's also constant competition, one-upmanship, and millions of people who are willing to run the rat race. They can schmooze at cocktail parties, pass out their business cards like sticks of chewing gum, and generally self-promote in a way that makes their career skills look like turquoise bracelets in a flash sale on the Home Shopping Network. I don't begrudge them their great networking skills--I admire it. I wish I had more of it. I have been known to turn up the chutzpah from time to time, but generally you know I'm insecure when I'm bragging, because otherwise, I'd be really hesitant to do it. When I wrapped Josh Kilmer-Purcell's wonderful book The Bucolic Plague last week, one quote in particular really stood out to me: the boys both find themselves out of jobs, and stuck with a gorgeous but basically unknown farm. After all their hard work in just bringing the farm up to speed, they suddenly have to deal with the reality that they have a second project to take on--telling people about the damn thing:

"If we're going to save the Beekman, we're going to have to sell harder and smarter than ever before. it's obvious that the last thing this 206-year-old farm needed to survive was another farmer--and especially not two gay New York City ones. Maybe what it did need was a good PR agent, a decent ad campaign, and more blinding sparkle than a drag queen under a disco ball."
You can just hear the pained sparkle in that quote. After getting dirt under your fingernails, it's hard to see things like press releases and promotional emails as relevant or even desirable. It doesn't have the ooomph that comes with making something through genuinely hard work.

If the quality you prize most in yourself is sincerity, it's really hard to muster up the energy to sell yourself with enthusiasm. But I never have any trouble pushing my food. Having people over for dinner is the most natural and impulsive thing I can do.

"Have another piece of pie!"

"Come over, I just made biscuits."

"We have all these tomatoes and no one to eat them..."

I have no trouble loading up a spoonful of stew and leaning to a unsuspecting friend, saying "Taste this, see if it's terrible." I know they'll tell me right away if it's good, it's bad, or if they think it needs just a little something more. I believe in the sincerity of making and eating food--it's maybe the most natural thing we know how to do. And it's the one kind of pushing I'm completely comfortable with at any time of the day.

Printing out the schedules for the flights, for the ferry, and a list of cheap hotels in the area, I'm starting to think that the appeal of Seattle isn't so much that it's new. It's more that it's not New York. Who I know, who I work for, what blue chips I may or may not have, doesn't matter as much when I'm faced with a cutting board, a pile of ingredients, and a hungry diner. Can you cook? is the only question that ends up mattering when the onions are all peeled and the check is paid...

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