No Apprenticeship. No Master.

Cutting potatoes for a recipe I got thinking about technique. I cut vegetables all wrong, holding my knife poorly, and though I curve my fingers away I'm sure I'm an accident waiting to happen. Sharpening my knife on the stone, I'm less than amateur, almost clown-like. Sorry, clowns. No offense. There are YouTube videos I should watch to help myself learn, but I really want a teacher.

My mother has never liked cooking. Her mother died too young and Mom got stuck preparing meals, feeling no joy at all. I learned to make a lasagna from her and enjoyed our time together in the kitchen. I like to think she enjoyed those times too, but cooking was such an obligation. I learned some from her, but she was no master. No one masters something they hate to do.

My brother enjoyed the kitchen as much as the workshop or garage. He watched The Frugal Gourmet, bought one of his cookbooks, and prepared dishes as he had seen them done. Never one to shy from teaching himself, he went in knowing he could do it and so of course he could. I started cooking with him. He taught me to curl my fingers under as I used a knife and a lot more.

We used Mom's kitchen tools which were no good. Her generation was under the impression that anything would do. Her knives were cheap, dull, and couldn't be sharpened. My brother bought some of his own things and I learned the value of proper tools and technique.

I've come a good long way since then, mostly by trial and error, and while I can put a meal together, I'm not doing things in the traditional and proven ways, and with the level of success I want to achieve. Which is a way of saying that I have a lot to learn.

My friend is a photographer and has taught himself the art and craft. He has worked at it but seems a natural. Polished, practiced people often do. I know it has all come to him over time, that he has tried and erred, but by now it's as if he has magic in him. He continues to work at it and is student and teacher all in one. He is his own school of photography.

I'm not as good at running a school for myself. Ironic, given that I'm a teacher. I wish I was better at it, but it's not my forte. This is why I often wish I could apprentice to some chef or, better still, some writer.

I learned what I could learn of writing in school and college. That was all twenty-five years ago. Since then I've been mostly on my own. That's not bad. I've learned a lot about writing but almost nothing about publishing. A mentor, teacher, guru, or master to whom I could apprentice myself seems like the way to make it all work.

That or I could just dig in and push myself to figure it out. Even if I cut the vegetables with less than perfect technique, the soup will taste fine. I just have to manage not to cut my fingers off in the process. Lucky for me, my pen isn't nearly as sharp.

Good Day, Eh?

My latest newsletter about being sick, I received notes wishing me well and prescribing remedies, which I appreciate. This cold threw me off a cliff but I'm on a slow mend. Today was a day in which my head still felt full — music sounds muffled which is a damn shame because Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers deserve perfect clarity — and I was weighed by fatigue, but mildly enough that I was able to walk and talk with my wife, build something with my daughter, and make dinner to celebrate my brother's birthday. School's out too. You've got a happy boy here.

To walk and talk my wife and I brought the dog. She needs to exercise and poop (don't we all?). Our best talks happen on the move as though we are Aaron Sorkin characters (don't we wish?). The talk was heavy and layered. She has things on her mind, both good and troubling. I work things out by writing. She holds them in a swirling mix, then talks through it all. It's one of my favorite things about her.

The fresh air did me as much good as the talk did for her. She's often labeled quiet by those who don't let her get started. Once she's going, she's an engine of ideas and clear-headed. She knows both sides of most arguments. I relearn that when I fight what I misinterpret as an attack that is really a statement of the way things are and a question as to how we should proceed. This morning I mostly listened and my brain could keep up. The cold really is clearing.

Later, my daughter suggested we build a scratching post for our cats in the way my father taught me. He never had a cat, but had spare lumber in the basement and garage, tools at the workbench. He had screws, glue, nails, and ideas on hand. We made the scratching post without a trip to the lumber yard, hardware store, or craft shop.

There are few things I enjoy more than building things out of wood. The sounds of table saw and chop saw, the feel of a drill, the smell of sawdust, the mark of a pencil held against a square, all of it is just good, good, and good and is better with my girl who says oh-no when I ask her to drill a hole and who leaves the room when I cut wood because the saw is too loud, too loud. We built a great scratching post.

The cats still haven't thanked us, the ungrateful wretches.

Then I made fried rice for the family which tonight included my brother and mother. It's my brother's fifty-third birthday. My wife made carrot cake from scratch (Carl Sagan's: If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.) I chopped vegetables, threw them in the wok, scrambled eggs, made a sauce from honey, soy sauce, and white wine, and mixed the whole shebang. It was delicious.

Everyone at the table thanked me for the rice and my wife for the cake. Take that, you damn cats.

I did what I wanted to today. I felt up to it and now I'm tired. This is what I'm after. That's all I want. I was happy all day, which is a luxury since I was only shooting for content. It's so nice when things work out that way.

Bring on tomorrow.