Good morning, friends and neighbors.
It had been a trying few days.
Emily and I were living in our first apartment here in Oregon. We’d barely been here a year.
My first shot at going into business for myself wasn’t doing so well, and I was back on the job hunt again.
Emily’s job was feeling somewhat bumpy at the time. Her first performance review hadn’t been great, and her teaching hours were temporarily cut. The apartment we’d chosen- though convenient for Em’s job- was expensive. We’d picked it out in the same hurry that precipitated the move itself.
We were living off of our dwindling savings and the distant charity of our parents.
On top of all of that, winter was coming. It was going to be a rainy season, in a part of the city we still don’t like hanging around in too much. Not because it’s dangerous or anything- far from it. It’s very… suburban. It reminded us of all the things and places we DIDN’T like spending time in on the East Coast. Strip malls, highways, nothing decent in walking distance, and barely anywhere to walk anyway.
As we were doing laundry, Emily started crying.
She didn’t like this place. This wasn’t working out. She was stressed out and unhappy. She knew I was struggling. She knew I was essentially trying to start my career from scratch, without any of the connections that had helped me previously.
She was scared that I’d given up my dream of Vienna for her, and she couldn’t abide that.
A little context here:
The Me That Was
I’ve spoken before about the person I was before culinary school- physically, emotionally, and such.
In short, I really wasn’t a happy guy.
After my first year in culinary school, I had an idea of what this career would demand of me- and I was okay with it.
Matt Back Then was overweight, sad, lonely, and generally felt unloved and unlovable.
So… what the hell, right?
Long work days meant more money for ME.
Never see loved ones? WHAT loved ones- I don’t have a girlfriend, and couldn’t really see a grand future for myself beyond some romantic dreams.
No holidays? Well, I’d call my family, but I figured I’d never have ANYONE to rush home to.
My life was mine and mine alone, and I was going to give it over to baking and the restaurant life- I simply never imagined I’d be sharing it with anything or anyone else, and all my decisions, for better or worse, would be on me to deal with.
Starting off, I didn’t especially have a goal I wanted to bend my career toward either. I knew I wanted to bake, and I wanted to travel and learn. After a few rewatches of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations,” I figured that Vienna would be an amazing place to live and work for a while.
Vienna- historically famous for being a crossroads of East and West, for music and composers like Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, and for viennoiserie- a specific sort of a pastry work- as well as it’s chocolatiers.
I decided that would be my goal- somehow, someway, I’d live abroad in Vienna for at least a few months, work at a bakery, and learn viennoiserie from the masters.
"Change is the Only Constant"
Humans are not static, though. We change. We evolve and we grow, and our priorities and dreams shift.
I’m sure it sounds inspirational when someone claims to have had the exact same goal in life since they were a child and never wavered. It sounds wonderful… but to me, it’s also very suspicious.
When I was a child, I dreamt of being:
Life has a way of doing that- it changes your priorities, and your goals can change too.
It’s not weakness of will or character for a person to stop and say, “Why am I still here?”
“Do I still want this?”
“Do I still care?”
It can be hard. It can be terrifying, even- especially if you’ve already invested so much of your life into that thing, or achieving that goal, just to find that- eh… you’re just not feeling it anymore.
Matt Back Then was pleased to work long days, no holidays, sweat his bones out, and come home each night wired out the a** on caffeine and whiskey because what the hell- it was his life.
Now, Matt just wants good pay to work a 40 hour week. I want a job that I can feel good about doing, and that will give me time and space to NOT do it, and where I can spend time with like-minded people who don’t wanna just black out each night after work- they go out and live.
I can honestly say I want that now because I know there is someone in my life that loves me.
She wants to see me happy with my work. She wants me to come home alive each night, and wake up next to me each morning.
She wants me to look out for myself, and demand the things I need to make my life and energy worth it.
She makes me want to be a better person than I was.
I have responsibilities and priorities now that I never thought I'd be lucky enough to have.
"Well, That Didn't Go As Planned..."- catchphrase of young professionals everywhere
So yes… plans changed a lot. I have no idea how I’ll get to Vienna, what I need to do to get there, or who I need to talk to. I haven’t forgotten it, nor can I say I’ve given up.
It’s simply not a priority right now.
My priority now is giving Emily and Cleo a life worth living.
It means keeping back enough of myself at work so I still have something to give them when I come home.
In a way, yes- I did drop my dream of getting to Vienna for Emily… for starting a life with her, I had to direct energy from other places in my life.
I’ll tell you this, though- if someone were to take me back in time, and show me every thing and task I’d have to complete to make that dream come true- every letter to write, every hand to shake- and tell me I could have it all, but I’d lose the life I have here with Emily in Oregon, and maybe never have Emily in my life at all?
I’d tell them to f*** off out of my bakery and let me get back to work.
I’ve never exactly done things the easy way anyway.
I’ll get to Vienna somehow.
And Emily is gonna be there with me.
Life is not always an either/or game. You have to make choices, yes-
but if you don’t like the choices offered, no one said you couldn’t create your own.
About the Author
The Black Hat Baker, a.k.a. Matt Strenger, lives in SE Portland, Oregon as a professional baker. Here, Matt bakes, cooks, exercises, and explores, returning to his wife and their hobbit hole up Mt. Tabor to write about all of it.
Email the BHB at blackhatbakery(at)gmail(dot)com
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