Can a grill cook become a master chef? Can a short-order writer aspire to more as well?
I spent a summer in college working as a short-order cook, which taught me how to operate in auto-pilot. There’s no time for reflection when you face a row of clipped order tickets from cranky waitresses knowing their tips are riding on your performance; when each order is from a four-top and the order items need to come out at the same time; and when you need to keep your ingredients prepped and your grill surface (relatively) clean.
The rush would begin around 11:30 am. Moments later I would find myself with a respite, and I’d see it was not a moment later. The clock would read 2:30 pm.
Working as a wire and daily reporter was like working as a short-order cook. News would break, and I would write it up. News events known of in advance involved prep work. Instead of lining up sliced meat, cheese and condiments, I’d line up background graphs and “reaction” quotes gathered before there was something to react to.
I wrote a heck of a lot of words during those years, just as I grilled a lot of burgers at the restaurant. But even the fanciest dish I made at that diner — a grilled ham-cheese-and-pineapple sandwich in which the sourdough bread is coated with grated Parmesan cheese — would never compare with anything from a top-rated restaurant.
I don’t need my writing to win the equivalent of a three-star Michelin rating. But my cross-country U.S. road trip, meeting inspiring creatives from all walks of life like musician Rochelle Smith and painter/photographer Amy Buchheit — guided me to the path to an art-committed life. As a result, I do aspire to writing that creates a more lasting impression on the palate than that sourdough sandwich (and goes down smoother than the diner’s most popular item, a greasy bacon cheeseburger).
In June I’ll be away at a writing residency, beginning an MFA in Creative Writing. Fortune smiled upon me, giving me a choice of programs, and it appears I’ll be going to the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
I suspect I will have had more words published than many of my classmates. But I also suspect nearly all of my classmates will have had more experience with “creative” writing than me.
That should make me nervous. But instead it makes me excited.
I want to learn from skilled faculty, and I want to learn from sharp classmates. Part of the path to an art-committed life, for me anyway, is learning, learning, learning. One thing I’ve learned with this blog and with Twitter is that the writing community is very supportive, so I know my classmates will be patient with me as I try to catch up to them in the art and craft of creative writing.
Is it June yet? I’m ready to step into a new kitchen.