From the Ivory Tower Kitchen: When Your Mind Laps Your Body

Get off my lawn, you punk! Bah!

I can run circles around everyone in my kitchen. These days that means, in my mind, I have mentally lapped everyone in the kitchen, multiple times during dinner service. Well, why wouldn’t I? I’ve been grinding in that kitchen for eight years straight and in as hands-on a capacity as one can imagine for a professional cook. And then I aged another year. I seem more irritable in the kitchen now, although employees from years past may disagree. I think my mind is sharper than it used to be largely because it is more efficient.  Experiences, anticipation, consolidation of tasks, a keen sense of time, and general paranoia are all contributing factors.

Out of habit and compulsion, I find it difficult to permit moments of nothingness. Consequently, I am perpetually filled with thoughts of next steps. This isn’t multi-tasking as defined by physically doing more than one distinct thing at time. I cannot really do that. Sure, I’ve seen segments of Stupid Human Tricks where someone is twirling a basketball and eating ice-cream at the same time, but I’m not sure how many folks can physically multi-task. Instead, I am alluding to the state of doing one thing, physically, but faced with a seemingly ever-growing laundry list of tasks, small and big.

This brings me to the point of this piece. My body, which ultimately has to execute the tasks conceived in my mind, has joined the rebel forces. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still getting the shit done, as many chefs do. But, physical recovery times are longer. Irritability caused by perceived distractions which allow my mind to race ahead of my body, seems more frequent. I think I’m performing at a high-level by some standards, but naturally, never high enough by my own. Growing up, I was the lazy one. I was the day-dreamer. So, what happened? I blame (and thank) restaurant life. I get why the burn-out rate is so high. I get why the substance abuse rate is higher than normal. Of course, I could have backed-off a few years ago, engaging in a more managerial style of execution. I’m not sure if that, in and of itself, would have alleviated matters. If anything, I think my self-imposed need to have my hands literally and figuratively in most matters I’m involved in, would have caused more anxiety than good. My mind is always ahead of my body. Maybe that was always the case, but that state didn’t cause the stress I feel now.

As we grow older, there is so much more we want to do or at least think about. I am at the age now where often, I am easily the oldest in a room, and even though I supposedly don’t look my age, my body shoots me the proverbial finger, periodically, often. Barring my friend Geoff Byrnes who helped me open Cress, kitchen-wise, I’ve been the oldest person in the restaurant since Day 1. But I’ve never given that much thought. Of course, I’ve made light of individuals more than half my age struggling to keep up. Now, I have a young man who is a third of my age and I feel guilty for asking him to do a bit more physically after service, than I do. But I shouldn’t. A healthy wage aside, I seem to forget that at his age, I thought I was immortal. I still think I’m immortal, but not because of my body. My mind, which laps my body multiple times a day, is functioning as efficiently and speedily, as I can recall (memory, now that’s another issue, altogether). Part of it could be a sense of self-imposed urgency to bring meaning to a life I could have never planned. More importantly, wasting the opportunities I’ve been presented to live a meaningful life would be a gross insult to my family and my definition of a human existence.

So, I’ll count the laps, while remembering to breathe along the way. Maybe that’s another application of my alternate training as a Mathematician.

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