Pushing Boundaries

I grew up working in kitchens. After holding just about every position shy of Chef I can honestly say there is not a single environment that I’ve been in since that comes close to a kitchen. The comradery, chaos, vulgarity, harmony, and pride is unmatched. To last in a busy kitchen you need grit. You need to be able to accept that you will be sweaty, bloody, burned, pissed off, and exhausted at some point. At the end of a shift you were spent, but in a way that felt earned. You busted ass and cracked jokes and hurled some of the most vile comments out of friendship and endearment that would make the patrons you were serving fall out their chairs.

With the sudden loss of Anthony Bourdain I’m reminded what a gift he was to those of us who worked that industry. He wasn’t a Gordan Ramsey type who blew up at people or a reserved Bobby Flay type. He didn’t have a catch phrase like Emeril. He was the embodiment of a kitchen environment cleaned up for inspection. Not quite as chaotic as when the officials are gone but not exactly pristine either. He was real.

Bourdain was a unique voice in the world of celebrity chefs. His article for the New Yorker in 1999 cemented such quite quickly. He wasn’t polished or fake. He didn’t give a damn if you found his opinion crass or even if you disagreed. But aside from his anti-celebrity persona, if you can even call it a persona, he was someone who pushed boundaries. More specifically, he pushed his own boundaries. As is now standard with our social media enriched lives, the passing of a public figure prompts sharing quotes and photos ad nauseum. No soapbox here; I’m just as guilty as the rest of you.

Of all his quotable moments, this one will always stick with me the most:

“I understand there’s a guy inside of me who wants to lay in bed, smoke weed all day, and watch cartoons and old movies. My whole life is a series of stratagems to avoid, and outwit, that guy”

I normally don’t like articles that wax on and on about being “#introverted”. In my opinion, if you are willing to whore yourself out for attention on the internet with comments and memes about how introverted you are then you are just that, an attention whore. Nothing more. But again, there’s something powerful about that quote. I feel that there are so many of us that would rather sit quietly at home and just be. There are some who can’t bear the idea of being solitary and need human interaction to feel complete. Then there are those who are on the other side of the coin.

Bourdain’s life was one of experience. Even on his shows that allowed him to travel the globe in search of food and culture, he let the destinations have the limelight. He didn’t try to showboat or play up the travel. He was looking us in the eye and saying “Follow me”.

In my natural state I am a hermit. I find immense joy in being by myself. I don’t need a crowd or an “experience” to feel like I’ve made something of the day. For a time my routine consisted of going to work and coming home. Nothing else. At first glance this might seem like someone hiding or being trapped by depression, but it truly wasn’t. I just enjoy being with myself. But after a while I began to know the weight of being just with myself. See, my period of being a hermit was a reaction to a particularly difficult relationship. I needed that space to recharge. To balance.

Until I met a girl.

I met my wife at a time when looking for a date, a casual fling even, was the furthest thing on my mind. I was on a relationship sabbatical. I didn’t want new friends and I sure as hell didn’t want to seek out a romantic relationship. Our relationship began to develop with a slow burn. We spent the better part of 5 months exchanging quick comments or small conversations before we went on our first date; becoming friends before pursuing anything else. As we became close I slowly began to realize what I was missing. No amount of self-reflection or quite “me time” could come close to what she made me feel. I had to decide that even though I enjoyed the solitude there was so much more waiting in the world. Too much to squander. I had to avoid my inner hermit.

After that first date it was clear that she had successfully drawn me out of my self-imposed shell. And I went willingly; following this wonderfully vibrant woman out dancing and on trips meeting new people in environments I would have never considered otherwise. Our relationship brought a new world and new emotion and I was opened up to a feeling that I had never before had. I was living. Actually living.

I write this now as the husband to a woman who is more spectacular than words could capture and as a new father to a beautiful baby boy. What persists though is that voice. The hermit who wants to avoid doing much of anything except burning through books and TV series. Occasionally I appease the hermit; he gets his dues to bring the balance back.

I think of Bourdain’s quote from time to time as a reminder that it’s okay to admit that we have that voice in our heads. We don’t have to pretend that we’re these perfect social animals. We can acknowledge that we struggle with opening ourselves up to new experiences, but at the same time we should be actively trying to open up. I think sometimes of what my life would’ve been if I had listened to the hermit. If I would’ve stayed home and stayed in my head. The growth I’ve experienced over the past 2 years has catapulted me into a place that I never imagined I would achieve, let alone enjoyed once I reached it.

Anthony Bourdain was always the guy that did it. He stepped away from introversion. He stepped away from addiction. He stepped away from poor mental health, even if was just one step ahead. Sadly, his demons caught up with him and stole him away. I am grateful for the inspiring actions of people like Anthony Bourdain showing us that there is a way to live beyond our minds and primal urges driving us into the ground. And although he may have left early, his perspective and wit will live with us forever. A reminder that there is always a new experience around the corner.

Just go for it.


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