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This prompt was posted on Poets & Writers the 8th, but I only just saw it and would like to tackle it.

It’s been said that the difference between a master and a beginner is that, “the master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” Whether it’s brewing coffee exactly the way you like it, or earning your black belt in a martial art, learning something new takes focus and dedication. Think about something you have mastered and write about the process you underwent to add this new skill to your repertoire. 

Sometimes I feel as though my life is just a series of scattered non-events. Ideas that seemed great in theory but never even made it past the second or third attempt, let alone in practice. Hobbies and talents that never came to fruition–a messy room filled with collage materials, ukuleles, roller skates, unfilled notebooks and piles upon piles of unread books and comics. I get discouraged when I look at the mess, but it’s much easier to throw something else on top of it then to stab away at it, like a team of cleaning specialists on an episode of Hoarders. Like those, my mess of unfinished work means something to me, too, all hobbies and ideas I swear I’ll one day make a reality, before the mice settle in and the cats eat away at my bones.

I don’t like to consider myself someone who gives up easily. I’d rather not think of myself as lazy, but sometimes when our brains work in hyper-speed it’s hard for our bodies to catch up. I think of all the projects I’d like to begin, and my mind begins to race just looking forward to all the possibilities–then the anxiety and paranoia sets in, making the fantasies seem much more worthwhile than the actual projects. This isn’t to say I don’t care about these tasks I’ve laid before myself–perhaps it’s instead the extreme opposite.

When I stare at the wonderful array of greens, blues, pinks and purples of yarn, all tangled up around two needles that were angrily thrown to the floor after what seemed like my millionth attempt at learning a basic continental stitch, I find it hard to believe I’ve ever had the ability to teach myself a new skill. I was one of the last in my Kindergarten class to learn how to tie my shoes, I couldn’t go in a pool over two feet deep without swimmies until I was 9, I couldn’t blow a bubble or whistle until I was 10 years old. And, the one that still stings the most… I never learned how to ride a bike,

Sure, I could ride a bike with training wheels, but the minute I was left to balance on the lone two wheels the fear of tipping over was so crippling I wouldn’t dare move more than a few inches. After a few failed tries and the growing impatience of my mother and grandmother, I ditched the notion of ever mastering a two-wheeler and just prayed that none of my friends would ever invite me out on any bike riding play dates. Eventually, scooters became more popular and I was able to deftly tackle that new trend in hopes that the want or need for bikes would be long gone. While that was obviously not the case, I still managed to evade ever needing to sit atop the hard, uncomfortable seat of a bicycle for the next 15 years, save for gym equipment.

Between the ages of 16 and 25 I discovered myself falling victim again to those feelings of mobile inadequacy I faced in my younger years. While almost everyone around me got their licenses before college, I was still trailing behind, hitching rides whenever I could or waiting out in the damp, cold weather for the train or bus. “You need to get your license, it’s incredibly important for a woman to know how to drive,” well-meaning adults would tell me, making me feel incompetent not only in my driving abilities, but also as a member of the female sex. (Later, upon finding out that Tina Fey does not drive, conversations in media and society would shift, making the choice to not drive an empowering one instead of playing into a subservient role.) It wasn’t that I didn’t want to drive, I just was scared to. Not scared to drive or even to try, just scared to fail again.

My senior year of high school I took my first road test on a blistery, snowy day after the first large snowfall of the season–a few months after successfully completing school-provided Driver’s Ed. I failed, fairly miserably, and my mood was in conjunction with that miserableness for the rest of the day. Having to admit to everyone I knew–especially all my already-driving friends–about my failure was almost worse than not having a license. I took some time before starting up some more driving lessons (another round of payments from my mother), before embarking on my second road test a year later at the same driving test area. Again, a day just after a mighty snowfall. Again, a miserable failure. This time, I didn’t tell anyone and just let my inadequacy eat away at myself from within, being constantly reminded of how I couldn’t pass not once, but twice, every time someone would remind me of how hapless I was that I couldn’t drive or that I couldn’t afford to live away from my family (of whom I also tried to be an active member of in terms of helping out with things people outside our four walls wouldn’t know about). And so I continued the role of the fiercely co-dependent, incompetent damsel in distress that everyone assumed of me–though that wasn’t my ideal situation.

Finally, a few months after my 25th birthday, while working full time and feeling like too much of a burden on family and those close to me, I decided to face my demons and try–just once more–for that elusive laminated card. I sat through the excruciatingly painful 5+ hours of DMV hell to retake my permit exam, and later, on a spring day, signed myself up for driving lessons (all paid for on my own), and then, for the next 5+ months I went for weekly driving lessons. I never mentioned my past failures to my teacher and just hoped he’d never have to know (he never did), and endured his lessons which were extremely helpful and, without his tutelage, I would not have had the confidence to even think about taking the much-maligned road test again, but were also extremely uncomfortable and unsettling, as with every lesson his remarks would be come more and more intrusive and offensive and his hand would slide higher and higher up my thigh and I felt stuck as a woman who was treated as less than such for not driving, but also having to endure being made into an object of unwanted desire, a patriarchal wet dream of which I wanted to be no part.

And then–on a cool fall late afternoon, same spot as the two times before, I took my driver’s test for what I already deemed would be my final time.

I passed.

Part of it was confidence, part of it was fear of being stuck taking more classes with said teacher, afraid of what liberties he would take next. In embarking on this journey again I got what I had worked hard for, but also lost a sense of self in my inability to speak out about situation. Two months later I bought my own car (and months later another car after an unfortunate hit-and-run) and got my own insurance (without the help the teacher kept promising me, yet putting off in favor of more “lessons”) and just got out on my own. The freedom of having a car was twofold–the usual sense it brings and freedom from having a near panic attack on a weekly basis trying to prep myself for whatever disgusting thing the person who held the key to my freedom would try next.

But I did it. I mastered what I thought would be impossible for me and he–nor anyone with their sly comments or suggestions about my life–could take that away from me. Third time was a charm, and in succeeding it reminded me that just sticking with something until the end can be worth it–but it also taught me that keeping my mouth shut and just accepting typical authoritative structures is no way of life. And now I feel as though I have the ability to smash any of those ideals instead of being subservient to them–or mow them over with my car that I purchased on my own.

Now, looking back to those piles of unconquered dreams and ideas, I realize that if I could weather the storm of the dreaded road test and all of the unforeseen roadblocks that came with it, I can too conquer these–once I acknowledge that the biggest bump in the road is myself. Only I hold the key to my own destiny and, even if I fail, trying again is always an option. Who knows? Maybe now that I’ve conquered an automobile, maybe the ever-dreaded bicycle will be next.

Maybe.

Speaking of unfinished ideas, remember when I tried to update this blog often with these writing prompts? Maybe once a month will be a new goal for me…

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Think about your life in relation to the seasons. What is your favorite season and why? During which season were you born? How did you feel as a child about each season? Have significant events happened during one season over the others? How do you see the world around you change at the start of each season? Use these musings to fuel an essay about one or all of the seasons. 

As I’m sitting here writing this, I’m in a quaint park on a residential street. It’s close enough to the main, highly trafficked road to be distracting—but just enough to serve as a reminder that my time here is temporary. Not like my time on Earth or anything existential like that, just that I have about 45 minutes to write this before my lunch break is over and I have to return to the office.

But as for now, now I’m in this park—just close enough to reality to keep me grounded but far enough away to let me live in my own fantasy world, if only for a short while. I’m perched upon a stone stool, situated in front of a matching stone chess table, created for someone with all the time in the world to just sit, play, enjoy—not for people on borrowed time like myself. Not for many at all really, since no one ever seems to be in this park. The sun is beating down upon me, but there’s a breeze just cool enough to keep it comfortable. There’s a bed of vibrant pink tulips to my right. There’s a child singing in her front yard just across the street. Birds are chirp, chirp, chirping away… all of that good shit. Spring has arrived… and about two months too damn late.

Ok, maybe that’s a bit unfair. Technically spring equinox is on March 20th, which means that spring is really only just over a month late. And sure, the weather never really changes in accordance with the seasons on the first day of their supposed arrival. And yes, there’s also that pesky climate change to factor in—but screw that noise—I’m getting older and more and more impatient in my advancing years.

I don’t think of the seasons in terms of dates and meteorological facts and science—I think about seasons and weather in relation to years passed. Last year, spring “arrived” around the second or third week in March, and then stuck around for a while. The same goes for the spring the year before that. And, come to think of it, the year before that too. Right now it’s the first week of May and the month of renewal is only just barely, cautiously approaching—like a middle-aged woman slowly dipping her toes into a just-a-tad-too cool swimming pool. But for me, it should have been out there, past the kiddie pool, and wading around in the 4’2 foot section by now. (Are these pool references indicative enough of my yearning for summer?)

Sure, we were “due for” another snowy, long, “bad” winter, but that doesn’t mean I have to be cool with it (forgive the pun). I remember analyzing a piece of poetry in the first literature class I ever attended in college—I don’t remember the poem itself, but it prompted a discussion of the “rhythm” of the seasons. Spring is a time of rebirth while winter is a time of death. Death doesn’t have to be taken in the most literal sense—it could also mean a stoppage of creative thought and expression. To me, winter is a time of stagnancy. The cold air and obtrusive, dirty snow forces me to retreat, cowering under my fortress of blankets, cut off from any outside creative influence that might be trying to break in. A time of idleness.  A time of waiting… and my God, do I hate waiting. With each passing year, the “winter blahs,” as I affectionately call ‘em, get me badder than the year prior. The cold, the grey, and the wind hits me harder each time.

So the fact that it is May and it still feels as though winter hasn’t quite left the building, the fact that it’s bitter chill hasn’t yet been found keeled over on the toilet, means that I have a harsh pile of excuses to fall into and make lie-angels in instead of creating. The humid, bitter rain is only just approaching—even  the April showers are late to my pity party.  Summer seems so far off that it feels like the only option is to create my own “summer,” or even my own “spring” for that matter. Albert Camus once said “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” That absurd bastard. But I do suppose he has a point… imagination is my tool and my pen and paper is my broken toy that needs repair—it will just take envisioning the perfect season I want to experience and creating it myself, even if only in writing.

…Hey, that’s not a bad idea. Maybe I’ll start working on that when Mother Nature stops being such a bitch

I’ve been pretty down on myself lately. In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t really been following up on my resolution to post fiction, non-fiction and poetry based on weekly writing prompts. That’s no one’s fault by my own. I’ve got writing prompts from weeks and months ago saved across multiple computers, email inboxes and USB drives. I return to them every now and again and—if I’m lucky—maybe add a sentence or two to each piece. If I let them go long enough with few enough paragraphs, I lose interest in where the piece was going, or forget the genius idea I had for it because I forgot to make note of it because didn’t have a pen on hand, or whatever. In the 21st Century Digital Age of iPhones and tablets and mind-to-walkman transmissions (that’s a thing, right?), I’m not even certain if that’s a viable excuse anymore. (EDIT: No, it’s not.)  In short, I’ve been coming up with more creative excuses to not read or write than creative words to pen on paper.

I recently read a wonderful post on Looking For Pemberley on writing even when you don’t feel like it by Miss E. And just a few minutes ago I read another excellent piece on continuing to write after your work has been rejected on The Rumpus. And I soaked in every word. “I get it…” I thought. “I sooo get it…” Especially in regards to Miss E’s post. I read it in the car on my iPhone, and just let the sentiment resonate with me. But what did I proactively DO after reading it? After reading it on this magical technological device where I can not only READ but also WRITE? Nothing. I did nothing. I thought about how true it was and how, no matter what, I must push through and write, but I only thought—I did not act.

I guess a big part of my problem is that I WANT to be writing. I want to be writing a lot, actually. I’m just NOT. I’m thinking A LOT but writing A LITTLE. And again, the only person to blame for that is myself. I’ve found myself in a rather strange predicament lately where I feel a bit unsettled and uncertain of some things in my life—nothing too earth-shattering, but enough to leave me feeling sufficiently… bummy. And I’ve been coming down pretty hard on myself and my place in the world because of that. My only resolution has been to do some things on my own accord—mainly get back to writing regularly. Finish pieces of prose I’ve been dying to finally cap off and edit. And read voraciously—finish the three books and zines I’ve started reading but can’t quite complete. Stop over-analyzing why I haven’t been able to finish them and just DO it instead.

Today after reading that wonderful post on the Rumpus, I decided to search in my backpack for my notebook instead of just numbing my mind with Facebook games (sorry, Disney’s City Girl!) and actually work on one of the six or seven pieces I’m “in the middle of.” And in my search, what do I find? Two notebooks, one novel and a Poets & Writers magazine. That’s not that bizarre, but it made me realize that I have the tools at my disposal, with me on my person, literally every day of the week. And what do I do? Let them sit in that dark knapsack waiting. Being unused. Adding weight to my back but very little else. I also found at least three different blue pens. Why so many? Because when I start writing something it bugs me if I start in one pen type/color and change to another. It also creates a good excuse for me to NOT write “Ugh, but I started this short story with a blue fountain pen—I can’t finish it with a black ballpoint!” (Again—creativity wasted on excuses and not on actual writing.) Well, I’ve got both blue and black fountain and ballpoint pens AND even some pencils on me right now, so that solves that tremendous dilemma.

What’s ironic is, now that my lunch break is winding down, I won’t have the actual time until after 5:00 PM to get back to writing with those utensils and those notebooks I found. But you know what? It’s ok. Because while it may seem like I instead decided to procrastinate by posting on here, I did it by writing. And that’s at least something. And hopefully a sign of good things to come.

Cheers, and keep those pens and pencils (or styluses and fingers!) working and your creative waters flowing.

Write a story of 1,000 words from a main character’s perspective about the moment his or her life took a significant turn. Keep the description about the moment sparse, focusing on what happened versus how it happened. For an example, read Denis Johnson’s short story “Car Crash While Hitchhiking.”  Poetry & Writers.

 

Architectural Digest

“Don’t you know that he’s gay?” Mallory’s words struck me like lightning, even if I wasn’t entirely sure what they meant.

“S-so…” I managed to stutter.

“Gay—you know what that means don’t you?”

I guess my blank stare answered for me.

“He only likes men. Like, loves men. He’ll only fall in love with another man. That’s what gay means—when a man loves a man,” Mallory stated, matter-of-factly.  She was so worldly, she had learned so much more in her twelve years than I had in my seven.

“B-but… but he’s married… to a lady… how can that be?” I felt not only saddened, but betrayed. How could he be in love with a man if he was in a caring and affectionate relationship—not just a relationship, a MARRIAGE—to Carol?

“Jeez, Louise! It’s only a TV show! They’re not married in real life. Just on TV. You know that TV’s not real life…right?!” Mallory was getting impatient with me. Suddenly I felt so small, so much younger than my cousin.  Even though I was aware of our age difference, she always felt like my peer. Someone I could confide in and know that I wouldn’t be judged. Someone who could teach me things without talking down to me or making me feel like an inferior being. But now, they playing field didn’t seem so level any more. I felt like nothing more than a stupid, little child.

“Like, did you think it was on now? It takes place in the ‘70s. It’s not the ‘70s. Jeez, don’t you know ANYTHING?”  Her words got more and more biting and with each syllable it felt like a jagged knife being pushed slowly into my heart.

“…I know…” I managed to whisper sheepishly.

But I didn’t. I didn’t know anything. And in that moment, I became aware of the vast amount of nothing that I knew. A few minutes ago we were engaging in our normal summer routine. Every Wednesday afternoon my cousin would come over while her mom went to work and we’d watch TV together, then we would go to the park with my mother, come back for lunch, and then watch some more TV. When Aunt Karen got home from her job at the daycare center, she’d pick up Mallory. This happened every Wednesday now that stuff was different in Mallory’s house. These were all things I knew, they were all certainties.

I also knew that every day at 1:35 pm The Brady Bunch was on TBS. This was something I could count on. Mallory and I sat on the floor in my living room with the lights off to keep cool. “If we sit on the floor we’ll be cooler since the AC’s broken—I learned that in science class this year!” I informed Mallory. She just shrugged and plopped herself down on the floor next to me. She became infatuated with picking the polish off her nails while I remained infatuated with the person I thought—no, KNEW—was the man I would marry someday.

There was just something about Mike Brady; so tall, so handsome. He wore groovy threads, had the best perm I’d ever seen and was just the perfect husband and father. I knew it was wrong to fall in love with a married man—that’s something I learned in Bible studies—but I couldn’t help it. Part of me wished I could be adopted into the Brady family, but I wasn’t sure if I would be a daughter or a wife.

“People in the ‘70s dressed so badly,” Mallory stated, disinterested in the drama unfolding before us. Will the ever decide on the right wallpaper for their bedroom? “Clothes today are so much better. And ugh, look at their hair.” I liked their hair, but I guess I was wrong. “But I mean Greg’s still kinda cute,” she added.

“I like Mike Brady,” I blurted out. I didn’t mean to say it, but I automatically felt so much cooler and more grown up for having done so. “He’s really cute.” I looked to Mallory for some kind of response, but she just kept playing with her nails. “I’d like to marry him someday,” I meant it.

Mallory finally looked up and stared at me, wide-eyed. I thought I had said something that impressed her—until she started laughing, that is.  “Don’t you know that he’s gay?” I didn’t know what “gay,” was or why it meant I couldn’t love Mike Brady. The rest of the episode ended in a blur, and I never did find out what wallpaper they finally chose.

“Hey, Louise, are you going to watch Beverly Hills 90210 later?” Mallory asked me after the show was over. I shook my head “no.” I wasn’t allowed to watch that show—I was too young, there would be too much I wouldn’t understand. “Lame. Dylan’s such a cutie. I’d marry him someday,” Mallory said proudly. I guess Dylan wasn’t gay.

Mallory and I didn’t really talk for the rest of the day. I was just too ashamed. But before she left I figured it was as good a time as any to ask her that one last thing I didn’t understand, but wanted to know anyway, “Mallory, why doesn’t your dad live with you anymore?”

“Cuz him and mom are getting a divorce.” She said, taking a sip of her Hi-C Ecto Cooler. I supposed that “divorce” meant that two people who are in love stop falling in love. I’d heard that once on TV, but I still didn’t really understand it. Was Mallory’s dad gay? How does someone just stop loving their wife and daughter? It seemed like something Mike Brady would never do. But I guess I was wrong about that, too. I wanted to ask her more, but I held back. The only thing I really understood that day was to never ask a question you don’t really want the answer to.

I promise I didn’t skip/forget a week of prompts! It’s just that the fiction prompt I chose to work on last week actually turned out to be a bigger undertaking than I had anticipated. Usually, I’ll post a piece even if it’s unfinished, but for that one I’d really like to flesh it out even more and see where it goes before I throw it up on the old ‘Press. So I’m continuing on with this week’s prompt instead. This time I chose poetry—which is pretty odd for me. I’ll come right out and say it: I hate poetry. Ok, that’s not entirely true; I just don’t consider myself to be the strongest “poet” or poetry writer. It’s a form I struggle with, and even if I sit down and write out an ok one, I’m still never “satisfied” with it. I mean, I’m usually never super satisfied with most things I write, but sometimes my blood just curls when I look back at poetry I’ve written. It always feels so forced and overly formulaic. And no matter what form or rules I follow, it just feels wrong if I don’t make it rhyme. So I figured I’d give myself a little challenge and try out this week’s poetry prompt. And the end result: I’m not too thrilled. Maybe I’m being too harsh because it’s poetry, but I feel like I really can never get the hang of it. Maybe it’s just this prompt, or the word and definitions I chose, but I’m just not feeling it. I’m still posting it because there’s always going to be not-so-awesome stuff: a truth that needs to be realized for any writer. And any writing exercise is good, even if it yields less than stellar results. So here’s my poem: I’m more than willing to accept any and all criticism—it will actually be more than appreciated!

…………………………………………

Choose any word from the dictionary and read its definitions. Write a poem using only the language of these definitions. Try repeating them in different combinations and using line breaks to create unexpected phrases. Experiment with how far you can push the limits of the language you’re working with. Use the word you’ve chosen as the title of the poem.

in·teg·u·ment

n.

1. A natural outer covering or coat, such as the skin of an animal or the membrane enclosing an organ.

2. Something that covers or encloses; especially : an enveloping layer (as a skin, membrane, or cuticle) of an organism or one of its parts.

3. The protective layer around an ovule that becomes the seed coat.

4. The outer protective layer or covering of an animal, such as skin or a cuticle.

……………………………

Integument

Skin is natural, enveloping animals and their kin,

Are we really more than breathing organisms?

Or just layers of membranes and skin,

Divided, cut, broken into different schisms

How different are we from seeds?

Our coats provide warmth from weather

What varies us from weeds?

Ovules protected by skin, cows enveloped in leather.

Kill the cuticle on the nail

Prick, prod, stab, cut, pull

Make them luscious, make them frail

Cut the leaves before they’re full.

Coat the skin, enclose the membrane

Cover the organism, the cuticle of its parts

Protective seed, surrounds the brain

Pistons, stamens, grunts, yelps and farts

We’re all fragments, mechanisms working in rhythm

Layers upon layers to peel away

What does it mean to be in a kingdom?

What difference does it make?

We each have our own approach to writing stories—some writers compose quickly and broadly, leaving the sentence-level refinements for later, while others labor over each sentence until its worded just right before moving on. Identify which kind of writer you are. Then revise a story you’ve been working on, applying the approach you don’t normally take. — from Poets & Writers

I stepped away from this piece for a while, not for any real reason. I decided this prompt was a good way to jump back into it. Normally, I write everything very quickly, very often using incorrect words and spelling and then wait until I’m finished before I go back and edit it. To change it up, I decided to look back and make edits on this before continuing, then labor over each sentence and paragraph before jumping into the next. I’m sure this could stand another round of edits, but I’ll do that later. Right now I’m focusing on each paragraph as it comes to me. This piece is unfinished, but this is the start of it. I started writing the conclusion to this awhile ago (something I also don’t really do) and I plan on piecing it all together when the time comes. But for now, this is what I worked on and came up with. I call this “Belle’s On the Boardwalk,” (giving something a title before I start writing it is an approach I also never usually take!).

Belle’s on the Boardwalk 

Most people don’t fantasize about the mundane, the ordinary, the common. Most people would much rather dream of Lambourghinis and diamonds and TVs, not of corned beef hash and eggs sunny-side up. I would not consider myself to be the likes of “most people.”

Growing up I had Barbies, I had Cabbage Patch dolls, I had Nintendo video games; I had everything a little girl could ask for. Above all of those fancy material goods, however, my favorite toy by far was my Fisher Price kitchenette set I had from the age of 5, and kept until I was about 15. It was molded, crusty and on its last legs when I finally sent it to the Children’s Toy Junk Yard in the sky—but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear when I finally sent it on its way to the otherworld. I remember seeing it rolling down the hill, landing on top of the giant heap of junk, mingling with other children’s toys of yesteryear, all conglomerating at the bottom like a plastic orgy a misfit island. But instead of second chances and new beginnings, their future would only go up in blazes. I walked back to my dad’s pickup truck, playing it cool like it didn’t bother me, all while stroking the plastic fried eggs I saved from the set in my pocket, which now hold a special place on the kitchen wall in my apartment.

While never-ending marathons of Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous played behind me, I viewed my future through a greasy spoon. The whimsical did nothing for me, and while other little girls dreamed of being princesses and fairies and sang their favorite lines from The Little Mermaid, I was content with parking myself on our red plaid couch in the basement and idolizing my own personal fairy goddesses—Julia Childs and the Two Fat Ladies. I’d write down every minor detail to every fricassee, every quiche, every flambe. Unfortunately, my rather lower-middle class upbringing left a lot to be desired, as our big family dinner outings would mostly be to White Castle or Wendy’s.

However, there were those few times when we would go out for special occasions, be it my brother’s graduation or my sister’s communion, when we would venture to the fantastical world of culinary heaven—Sally’s Diner. Sally’s wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill diner, oh no, it was THE run-of-the-mill diner. Think of every diner you’ve ever seen depicted in a movie—pastel colors and checkerboard details, busy busty waitresses in pink often ill-fitting dresses and matching hats. The whole area was built like a train-car, while old men with newspapers focused on the horses guzzling down strong black coffee, and worker men stopping by for hash in the morning, or turkey triple deckers in the evening. It was busy, loud, and full of movement. It was perfect. I knew from the first time I ever stepped into Sally’s that slinging hash was in my future, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I pursued a culinary arts degree in college—much to the chagrin of my parents’ paychecks. I always planned on paying loans off myself, but even I had to think realistically about it: chances were I’d be waitressing for a long while before managing a place of my own. And if the shirts were tight enough, the tips were higher—but even those couldn’t pay rent and tuition all at once. So I pressed my nose to the grind stone—then used said grind stone to grind coriander for masala—to make sure every penny was well worth it. I was determined to get the best “college experience” possible, academically, that is. My school was voted the number #1 party culinary college (Princeton Review offers some interesting sub-genres), but I wanted none of it. I wasn’t there to party and I sure as hell wasn’t there to bond or to engage in any hobby and culture-based extra-curricular activities. I was there to learn, to cook, to work and to “experience” everything I needed in the “real world,” not the so-called “fun-filled” entertainment most people my age were engaging in. I had regular dates with my textbooks, my friends were my notebooks, my social circle consisted of my professors and chefs, and the only experimenting I did was in the kitchen. And I loved every damn minute of it. And just to ensure that I wouldn’t have to deal with anyone else’s nonsense: I opted to pay a little extra for a single. No roommates, no suite mates, no late night visitors, no parties. Anything that could be detrimental to my studies was a no-go for me.

When I was a senior, after years of working in bakeries, bagel shops and cafes, I finally saved up enough money for my own 1-bedroom apartment, complete with a reasonable-sized kitchen with a spacious stove top. Sure, the rest of the apartment was pretty cramped, but I wasn’t planning on spending any time there anyway. I threw out any books I had acquired over time in favor of nothing but family meal recipe books. I knew my space was temporary, so I kept decor to the basics and instead splurged on kitchen appliances and cleaning tools. Who needs a carpet or curtains when I could have the perfect rust-proof polishes for my spoons? I tossed out old Disney movies in favor of cooking DVDs. Sorry, Ariel, Lidia Bastianich was my new idea of a heroine. I worked graveyard shifts, early morning shifts, prix fixe brunches and dinner rushes at a variety of hoighty-toighty restaurants all within the vicinity of my school. I slept about three hours a day and my zzzz’s were filled with dreams of the food groups. Despite my hectic schedule, my studies never took a backseat and my grades never slipped. Some might say I was a Wonder Woman, if I ever stuck around anyone in a social setting long enough to hear it.

Needless to say, I graduated at the top of my class with job opportunities nearly drowning me, dragging me down to the ocean floor and begging me to shake hands with the bottom-dwelling sea life who would one day grace a dish I created, coated in a creamy garlic butter sauce. The listings bombarded me: Management position available in NYC. Seafood head chef position open in DC. Entrepreneur looking for upscale cafe co-owner in Seattle. All of them were at my fingertips if I really wanted, and all of them were oh so glamorous. That in and of itself was the problem: they were glamorous. Sure, when it got down to the nitty gritty of the work that would be going on many would beg to differ, but still, you had to look and present glamour if you wanted to make it in the fast-paced world of the culinary elite. Sure, I was best in class, magna cum laude with a double BA in restaurant management and the culinary arts. Sure, I could bake a flambé the likes of which you’d never seen before. Sure, I had enough schmaltzy restaurant experience both in and out of the kitchen that most people don’t achieve before the reach the age of fifty. But those to me were all stepping stones, small ripples leading to the big kahuna. They were money makers, and good ones at that, but they weren’t ideal. No, I didn’t graduate with truffles placed on a pedestal, and I’d take corn beef hash over creme fraiche any day. I despised the thought of serving the fru-fru with a food budget higher than my rising student loan bills. I didn’t want to make tiny portioned meals of exclusive, exotic foods for people whose taste buds were marred by money. I wanted to serve the working man, the tired man, the hungry man. I wanted to run my very own run-of-the-mill diner, like the Sally’s I had grown up with and loved. And not only that, I wanted to literally serve the patrons, complete with pink dress and matching hat. That, to me, was glamour.