I worked so hard, I worked so long, I worked all the work out of me.
I worked until work ended and I ended work.
The last week before the work ended I spent 92 hours in that rectangular kitchen, and not in one of them did I ever get a chance to mop the fucking floor. All I wanted was to mop the floor, but each night just as I put away the broom and started to reach for the mop I felt my body imploding on itself and I told myself I’d mop it tomorrow. In the cold clean morning light the floor looked worse than ever, but by that time the panic had stepped in and wouldn’t let me do anything but wash my hands and get to it.
The work wasn’t the problem—fundamentally I loved the work. But too much of a good thing is sheer torture.
I hired amazing people to help me out, but the truth is the truth and the truth is: I needed the money. I’ve got the student loans and a car payment and the mortgage and all the taxes and all the utilities for the house and also remember how we bought that beautiful land? All that too, our little future-plans that one day we’ll be so happy we scrimped for. But there’s taxes on that too, and oh, all the kitchen expenses—the rent and the lights and the internet and the propane, always and endless the stupid propane.
Nine years I’ve done this job. By the second year I was working full-time for myself, by the third I was making so much cooking illegally out of my house that I would go out to restaurants on my days off and order whatever I wanted—restaurants as many times a week as I wanted (!!!!), never having to feel guilty if I wanted an appetizer and an entrée. When my sweetheart didn’t have a lot of work, it didn’t matter. I paid off all my cooking school debt and all my college-era credit cards. Then we bought a house, and I started renting a kitchen, tentatively putting distance between my life and my work. Then I spent thousands of dollars fixing up my astonishingly neglected teeth, even though the added expenses of renting a kitchen were beginning to hurt.
Then something happened with the economy, and things got lean for a while. Things were never exceptionally fat, but those years when I worked from home and the meal delivery was soaring were the only times I’d ever not had to worry about money—I was happy, and not ashamed to admit that money bought that happiness. My money, earned with my hands, from my ideas, from my skills. I was working 60-hour weeks, but I was free. My life was mine.
When things got lean and the margins shrank and I was still working 60 hours a week and adding a second little baby-business—a business I adored and lavished attention on, the new favored child—I realized, dully, that I was getting Tired. The tiredness that old people have: tiredness that has a twinge of mortality in it.
And along came 2010: a stupid asshole of a year, bookended with fat ugly zeroes. By the end of January, I already hated it.
We began the Big Project (still not far along enough to announce! Can you even believe it? I’m perpetually dying with having to hold something in, so not my style!): a businessy, money-heavy project. Slow going. Razored with setbacks, frustrations, Hail Mary passes. Everything was either exhausting, terrifying, exhilarating, or rage-making.
I began sliding down inside myself, furiously scrambling for footholds. Everything in my body suddenly and frantically screamed “NO” all the time. This was new. I’d be working or driving to work or driving home from work (these three activities constituting 90% of my life) and the NO would rise up inside me, violent and terrifyingly powerful. There was a wild rebellion happening in my soul, and I had no idea what to do about it.
On paper (sentences that start out that way never end well, do they?), my life was pretty damn perfect: the perfect relationship, perfect house, perfect cats, amazing job. I owned my life, I was my own person. I had won.
I woke up every day in a rage and spent the majority of every day suppressing it as best as I could.
The perfection, that word itself a giant source of my stress, hung on one very slender peg: me keeping all the balls in the air, letting my fear of failure guide my life and allow me to keep up the heartbreaking pace.
All you have to do is read this space backwards in time to see the assorted strategies, pep talks, and meltdowns I assiduously employed to keep everything going. I put in a valiant effort, until one day I turned to Jacob and said, “It’s done.” He nodded. We talked. I hadn’t been very fun to be around in this year, I’d been a giant asshole myself, actually. We were both worried about what this decision might mean for our financial lives, but we decided we couldn’t care. Something had to go.
So, in December 2010, after nine years of running a meal delivery service providing fresh, healthy, gorgeous, glorious, organic, local, secretly vegan, back-breakingly handmade, artisanal meals to New Yorkers, I shuttered Lagusta’s Luscious Vegetarian Home Meal Delivery Service.
And then I went on vacation.
So here I am, on the little chunk of rock people of my complexion stole from browner-skinned people not very long ago, this most beautiful place anyone has ever been, where my sweetheart’s father lives lightly on land so gorgeous he can’t bear not to ever leave, and where we yearly visit him, and I pay not-good-enough reparations for stolen property in the form of educating myself about Hawaiian history and trying as best I can not to be an asshole tourist.
Our sabbatical, our retreat, our treat. 1/12th of the year to belong to ourselves, not our jobs. To remind ourselves that our jobs are not ourselves.
I’m up early with the chickens, so happy the churning, sickening seas of this stupid year have crashed on this placid beach. Quiet time. I’m not good at not working completely, though, so I usually use this time of year to catch up and get ahead—a schedule of 80% fun and 20% computer work and projects—plotting, planning, organizing, accounting—suits me just fine.
So here I am in the morning sun, putting some things to bed, bringing others to the forefront. My heart is happily pounding thinking about all the opportunities 2011 will bring. It hasn’t pounded like this in months and months–joyous excitement instead of exhausted rage making my cheeks flush feels amazing.
Bluestocking Bonbons by Lagusta’s Luscious is my full-time baby now. I introduced myself to some people last night not as a vegan chef but as a chocolatier. It felt good. It had the ring of truth. It even got oohs and ahhs.
Then I got on the plane and started scribbling down ideas. I’ve got so many ideas, my friends. When I started the Chocolate of the Month Club, I worried I was going to run out of ideas, but within a month I had a few years of them already stockpiled, and when those didn’t work I found that my friends had amazing ones too (I can’t forget to constantly credit Farmer Erin for thinking up the Rosemary Sea Salt Caramels, which I’m beginning to think will be my greatest contribution to the world).
Not one idea involves onions [though someone did just suggest caramelized onion caramel to me the other day! I can see it!]. Onions are central to my savory cooking: rich in umami and depth, they’re the secret ingredient of every good vegan chef. I went through 50 pounds of onions every 2 to 3 weeks for nine years. I’m taking a break from onions. I’ve got two freezers full of Seitan Bourguigonne, Phyllo Triangles with Roasted Winter Vegetables and Miso Gravy, Stuffed Cabbage Rolls with sauerkraut and apples and Dill Soubise Sauce, Puttanesca sauce, Marinara Sauce, Chermoula Sauce, Harissa Sauce, Garlic Sauce, Black Bean Sauce, Pesto, pesto, pesto. We’re here for a month, and I’ll make us dinner from the farmer’s market every night, then we’ll go home and I won’t chop an onion for months. My head is full of caramels and the hard-crack stage, vegetable-derived food colorings and where to get recycled-paper truffle cups.
Money will be a concern for a while. But when I shine my laser focus on building up the chocolate business as I did with the meal delivery, things will be OK. I’m no good at patience, which I guess is good—it will make me work harder to make the business better and better.
The business stuff will work itself out, but I know my real work is undoing some of the habits I developed while running the meal delivery: a panicky selfishness (because when there is no time, you have to use the time you have for yourself), constant low-grade nervousness, obsession with perfection and tantrums when I felt things were falling short…there is work to be done. I’ve got a few more whiny blog posts planned to dive into those wrecks a bit more.
How lucky though: work is what I’m best at. Play to your strengths, people say. I threw everything I had at my job for nine years. I started with negative capital (lots of debt) and ended with no riches but a sustained growth and sustainability that could easily have kept growing forever, if my soul hadn’t bottomed out and my love for the tidy world of chocolate—so much better suited to someone like me who loves cleanliness and tiny marvels—taken over.
My sweet sous chef, Maresa, said to me the other day, when I was discussing the change and wondering aloud if I’d failed: “You’re not quitting the meal delivery, you didn’t get fired from it—it was doing great. You’re just moving on to something you love more.” Wisdom from friends. Something I’m looking forward to listening to more in the future.
Speaking of: friends! Come over to my house this winter, let’s eat pesto and pasta and drink cheap wine. Let’s get drunk and not wake up until noon the next day, let us ignore email for longer than we ever have before—gather around my old bones, let’s live a little. Taste this new chocolate, listen to this new business plan. It’s time.