Its been nearly one year since my last post and I thought I would share something that happened to me not long after my last blog entry that’s very difficult to talk about. Mostly because I've worked so hard to hide it. I didn't know it then and it wasn't until last fall when I found myself at my computer googleing the word “Burnout”. Looking closely, it appeared I had all the symptoms. It was hard for me to be enthusiastic about anything to do with food or farming, the thought of even cooking dinner felt like a root canal. Thinking about soil health, seedlings, the farmers market, everything I loved was over demanding, overtaxing and downright dreadful.
I had just finished up a great season of Farm Table Dinners, one of my best. I gave it my absolute all in spite of what felt like a complete crumbling of my total existence. Many mornings I sat in deep contemplation of my next move. Finally my plan was to just examine myself, to shift my awareness to the reality of the present moment and not beyond and to see what would happen. I would try not be attached to any outcome. If I had to give it up I would, but I didn't want to make any decisions quite yet.
Most of the commentary on the subject of overcoming *burnout* states rest and a vacation as the best remedy, both inaccessible to me in my current situation. Burnout is not to be mistaken for depression; even though I had burnout I could still be very happy. I had a great life. An amazing supportive spouse I’m madly in love with and good friends, by all appearances happy. My work had just become simply unbearable. Which, my work was for the most part the center of my very existence.
I started cooking when I was 14, it’s the only profession I had ever known. In Seattle, my home town I had made a name for myself and there 11 years ago I believe is where this Burnout had planted its seed. When I was a young chef my career seemed unstoppable. I experience an unprecedented amount of success, but 11 years ago I had one epic fail, one that pulled the rug out from under me and changed the course of my life. Watered by that failure, unknowingly I was on a slow path that would take me eventually to a farm in Oklahoma, where a perfect storm would produce a bumper crop of insecurity, fear, failure and ultimately full blown burnout. Everything I was in Seattle I wasn’t in Oklahoma. I had no real estate in the community, no history, no roots, I was an outsider.
I found a place here where I seemed to fit in, but I’ve been in between worlds, I was no longer a chef at the helm of a busy restaurant and I hadn’t quite become a farmer either. I really had no identity and felt at many times completely lost. Part of my problem was I kept trying to hang on the old person I was, hanging on to that identity I had worked so hard to establish, Clearly, I had a death grip on the past. Surly, I thought I am still that same person with that same talent, however I didn’t trust myself. I wasn’t sure if I even liked myself. Who was I now? what value did I have?
My first few years in Oklahoma were the most challenging and dishearten experience of my life. Anyone in their right mind would have left, gone home. But I had nothing left there but ashes, the ashes of my mother, my sister, the ashes of my success and the suffocating ashes of my failure. I stayed in Oklahoma in spite of conditions. But in the years to follow I managed to disassemble myself down to my very cells, sometimes intentionally and sometimes simply by things I’ve experienced.
I have experienced profound love and friendships here and I must say the thing I cherish most about living here in Oklahoma are the Oklahomans themselves, but I’ve settled into the fact, and have surrendered to the truth that I am, and probably always will be an outsider. But there is also a freedom in this, one that I have just recently begun to recognize. Without an anchor I’m free to explore the seas, without the kite string I can explore the skies. Without a place I am everywhere. My exploration of food has no boundaries for the places it can take us, even if the ingredients grow so close to us as if right against our own breast.
The skies have cleared for me. Thanks to another perfect storm of events, one being a new farm partnership with a Tulsa restaurant, an entire season of farm table dinners selling out in 24 hours, not to mention three very enthusiastic interns coming on the farm for the season, The “burnout” has run its course. It served a very important roll. It took me apart, down to nothing, stripped me of everything I believed, made me wrong, made me simple, made me empty. I surrendered. I'm never going to fit into any box. I'm always going to be rouge and outside of the norm and now that I'm not trying, I am finally free. I can’t wait to be in my kitchen, my lab, my studio. I can’t wait to puck the earth of her offerings, creating without boundaries, without limits, without inhibition. Untethered, clean, empty and lovingly sharing with you.