Can you use a blog post to solve your biggest problem?
It’s too boring to write in my journal. My mind works better when I know someone will critique me. Here goes.
Yesterday was Monday, which means my weekly fallingapartness was due.
I had a dentist appointment (no cavities—take that, chocolate shop!) and an extremely frustrating Planning Board meeting (my god, I’ve learned you can watch PB meetings on YouTube. Can you even believe this! This one isn’t the most recent one, but it was a real stressball, too. I believe this was the one where I was moved to make Various Sweeping Statements:).
Then I came home and whined to Jacob about work for hours, then we watched the premiere of Mad Men. I couldn’t make myself comfortable while watching TV. I felt hungry or not sitting the right way, or something. I slept hard and sweaty, and when I woke up felt panic about work. I am obsessed with feeling like this month’s Chocolate of the Month is a failure, and I’ve spent the past six days and nights tinkering with it, to no real avail.
(I’m not sure why I’m so obsessed with thinking it’s a failure. People are really liking it. I think it’s because I’m vegan and I desperately want to make something that non-vegans have to admit is good. Who knows. All I can say is that if I got paid by the hour and priced my products accordingly, the 300 or so Pig Our Bars I’ve made in the past few days would be the most expensive chocolate bars in history.)
I dawdled around, doing things on my phone to try to make myself feel better,
and went in late, which always means the day is going to be horrible, since I started off on a wrong track. One reason I was late was because, in a last-ditch effort to salvage the terrible day I knew was coming on, I decided to dress like Frida Kahlo and see if that would fix anything.
Nothing bad happened at work.
Then again, I was only there 10 minutes.
I felt stress to get Chocolate of the Month Club orders out, but I feel stress every day, so that wasn’t unusual. A friend came in and asked if he could interview me, as a job creator, for a blog post he was writing about being out of work in the Hudson Valley. I yelled at him that he could have this job because I hated it, that if anyone needed me I’d be sitting in a room of my own, reading Woolf.
Then I went outside and cleaned the windows, thought about what a callous thing I’d just said, apologized when he came out of the shop, and decided I was probably not exactly safe to be around people today. I wrote a note to Maresa telling her I was really sorry, whispered to Jacob that I had to get away, put my arm around Kate and told her she was amazing and I was happy she was there, and proceeded to sit on a bench in the center of town, reading a Japanese manga graphic novel/cookbook, and silently crying in a way that I figured no one would notice since I had sunglasses on. Obviously no one did, because five acquaintances passed by me during the two hours I sat on the bench and all said hello and moved on without apparent alarm.
I thought about driving to Bloodroot, since all I’ve been thinking about for several weeks straight is Bloodroot, but I know that when I’m in a bad mental state driving isn’t the best idea. There’s no public transportation to Bloodroot (well, it takes 5 hours one way, whereas driving takes 2), and I would ask Jacob to go with me, but the idea of whining to Jacob any more about my mental state actually makes me want to vomit, since his patience is legendary, but even it must have a bottom. And there’s no one else I want to see in this world except the Bloodroot women and Jacob, so. I wouldn’t be going to Bloodroot today.
In time I went home, packed my little vintage BOAC bag, and checked into a hotel on the edge of town, by the Thruway. $80 a night. It’s dumpy and boring and stuffy, and it is where I sit right now.
Mostly I have been reading The New Yorker, doing unhelpful Google searches
and marveling at how weird my upper thigh looks when I sit a certain way.
I’ve been doing these three things for six hours.
I have yet to get to the purpose of this seclusion: to figure out my life.
So, starting from a place of knownness and moving radially outward into the edges of what I would like to know, let’s get into it.
PART ONE: A COLLECTION OF RANDOM SENTENCES AND PARAGRAPHS
When one’s name is on the building, you aren’t really allowed to quit.
Not that I want to quit. What I want to do is what the shop does: make chocolates. This dovetailing of interests is nice. But each job is sprinkled with some of what you want to do, and a lot of necessary shit you would prefer not to do. Lately my job seems to be 90% things that make me queasy, 10% things I love.
You can’t go backwards. See previous post exactly like this one.
Even though I have days where I feel fine, and days where I love the womanly comraderie of the shop, I can’t continue to think that despair at having to be a boss will ever get better. A friend of mine pointed out the other day (in much more polite terms) that I have been whining about these issues for nigh on two years now. Perhaps it’s time to take action, instead of whining/blogging.
I’ve been obsessing about Bloodroot because they have been in business exactly one year longer than I have been alive, and they have found a way to be creative people who are also good, firm, effective bosses. Technically Bloodroot is a collective. And it is, in the sense that people naturally find their place in the work hierarchy and are allowed to stay there. But, as with every functioning collective I’ve ever seen, there is a hierarchy, and without it the place would fall apart. It’s shifting and informal, but it’s also the backbone of the place. There is a way things are done, and they need to be done that way. Everyone respects that.
I thought my shop would be like that, too. Through an accident of branding (ironically, Noel Furie of the Bloodroot Collective—and, of course—of Furious Vulvaz fame, gave me the idea for my business name, a decade ago this year. That a radical feminist lesbian inspired me to name my business in such a way that people unfamiliar with my line of work consistently wonder if I am a sex worker is a source of much hilarity to this day) my name and face are all over the shop. If I’d have known it would someday become a place people other than me would work, I wouldn’t have been so egotistical about the whole thing.
I really should have thought this all through a bit more.
But I like the name, and let’s be honest: it’s my vision. It’s not a collective. It’s my way or the highway, actually. And we’ve had to escort a few people to the highway because of that, sadly. I believe in my vision, and I think I have important things to say.
PROBLEM NUMBER ONE:
So one thing I need to get past is my own capitalist and feminist guilt about not running a worker-owned feminist collective.
Look! I’ve actually identified a problem, instead of just reams and reams of whining.
PROPOSED SOLUTION TO PROBLEM NUMBER ONE:
How does a guilty capitalist and strident feminist get past this? Hmm.
- I pay my wimmin $3-4 more per hour than the average foodservice wage in this area (we’re not currently hiring).
- I listen to them. Even when it’s crushing my soul because I need space to think and can’t focus because of the vibratory nature of other human bodies in close proximity, I still deeply believe in the value of listening to them. Because they have good ideas. And because they are human beings, and need to be listened to. And I like them. And their voices are cute.
I need to let these two realizations—that I am not taking advantage of my employees—center me and allow me to move forward.
PROBLEM NUMBER TWO:
Sometimes things are going swimmingly. Sometimes you’re standing around gabbing with a friend who’s come in the shop to say hello and you realize that while you’re just standing there being useless* three women around you are just doing everything so amazingly, you get chills. You realize that you took college kids and women in their 30s with no prior chocolate experience and taught them how to make ganache, how to dip truffles, how to make caramels and toffee—shit that takes years to learn—and they’re doing it with all their hearts, with this careful attention to detail and concern for the process and respect for the ingredients that melts your heart. And half of this shit you didn’t even teach them! Half of it your amazing managers taught them, and they fact that you were able to teach them how to do it so they can teach it to others blows your mind even more.
Those are the good days.
Most days, however, I’m jittery and on edge because people aren’t doing things exactly the way I’d do them.
Most of the time this is because I am seemingly incapable of articulating to them how I want things done. Probably because I hate teaching people things so much that it gives me stomach cramps, I mostly give people vague descriptions of how to do things and assume that, like me, with enough solitude they will master them.
This sometimes works and mostly does not work.
Our women are excellent about asking me to show them again (=really teach them this time, not just mumble some stuff and walk away), watch them as they work, and let me know what I think of their work. This is good, because it forces me to be better at being a teacher.
I suspect that if you asked them, they would tell you I’m much better at this than I think I am.
On the other hand, they don’t see me doubled over in the next room with the stomach cramps and panicky feelings.**
PROPOSED SOLUTIONS TO PROBLEM NUMBER TWO:
- GET OVER IT, LAGUSTA. Accept that you will always be teaching people things, and that their lovely but thought-disrupting bodies will always be in your world. I have been operating in GET OVER IT, LAGUSTA mode for months now (apparently, years) and it is what is not working and why I’m sitting in a hotel room at 4 pm on a Tuesday when we have a wedding truffle order to get out staring at my fucking thighs and and wondering if it would be weird if I moved to another state and lived on the street for a year as an art project.
- Hire managers to do all this teaching so you can do your own thing. This is what we’re attempting to do. The problem is that other people do not share my same brain and thus can’t be expected to teach and do things exactly as I do them.
- I could relax and accept that people doing things differently than I do them is OK. I try REALLY HARD TO DO THIS. THIS IS REALLY HARD. I try not to see it as “accepting lower standards,” but I know deep in my reptile-brain I do.
- Though my day-long daydreams don’t want to believe it, shuttering the physical shop and reverting back to only doing mail-order with a much smaller crew (i.e., my old life) is not a solution because MONEY IS GOD AND MONEY MUST BE MADE NO MATTER WHAT. And because, hey—I’m a job-creator! And because the more people eat my chocolates the less people eat the nonvegan slavery chocolates made by the shop around the corner. And because the shop can be really fun when I’m not terrified of it. Like I have been for months now.***
- Hire culinary student assholes who you can’t stand to be around but who know a lot of baseline chocolate and sugarwork stuff without being taught. <—-least fun and revolutionary path.
- I see no other solutions, nor how these solutions are solutions at all.
RANDOM PROPOSED SOLUTIONS PEOPLE HAVE THOUGHT OF BASED ON MY ENDLESS WHINING
- Closing the shop one day a week so I can be alone. This is the most appealing idea to me. There are three reasons we’re not going for it: 1) MONEY IS GOD AND MONEY MUST BE MADE NO MATTER WHAT. 2) I just got 8,000 printed postcards that say our hours are 12-7 every day. 3) I take a lot of pride in being open every day in a small town when most businesses are infuriatingly closed when you want to go to them.
- Me setting up some weird studio in the back room and working from there. I don’t see how this could work, and it makes me want to stamp my foot and yell that I’M THE ONE WHO BOUGHT THE BUILDING and I don’t want to be pushed out of it, any of it.
- Me learning other hobbies besides work that would make me feel good. When people say this I generally punch them in the face and tell them that no one told fucking Hemingway that maybe the burning pain of unwritten novels inside his soul would be eased if only he went on MORE FUCKING HIKES. I like work, and I want to work, and I WILL NOT BE PREVENTED FROM WORKING.
- Me becoming a better transcendentalist. No one’s proposed this solution but me. I’m convinced that if I just had better mental capacities, I could tune people out better in order to feel more at home in my personal work-world, while also tuning them in enough to be a good boss to them. Everyone else tells me this is impossible. I secretly hate everyone else. Then again, I secretly hate myself for not being a perfect transcendentalist.
I have nothing more to say and haven’t eaten in 8 hours and the laptop is burning my flesh, so I will leave this blog post with, as usual, no real solutions but a promise that maybe tomorrow will magically be better.
Well, here’s something.
Could it be that I’m just in a phase? Do phases last two years? (Really it’s only been a year and a half—for 6 months I was rapturous every single day I went to work at the shop. After 6 months we started to get busy. Then all this shit started.) Remember when I HATED hated HATED Jacob playing tennis? He still plays tennis all the time, and it no longer bothers me.
Maybe I am capable of personal growth.
Who fucking knows.
*= waiting for the day to end and for everyone to leave so you can do your own work in the quiet night kitchen.
**Confidential to NF: thanks for the tip about the aconite. It helps.
**Can I devote a paragraph to how sad it is that I’m so terrified of helping customers lately? It used to be that I didn’t love people but I liked helping customers because I wanted to explain our mission to them—I wanted them to get what we were doing. And I was so amazed they were there are all. Now they get what we’re doing and they come pretty regularly, and now they all just want something from me. Donations or advice or some ludicrous question. Now I just hide my face while spying on them. I am not acting in healthy ways. But when you feel your soul is being stolen on multiple fronts, your only option is to try to be selfish with it.
The only way to survive the bitter stultification and existential terror of this life is to be utterly selfish with your time. Don’t you think?