In a similar vein to how techies squirm watching the satirical Silicon Valley (or just avoid it altogether), there are times when I find its HBO sibling, Girls, difficult to stomach. Now that I'm navigating post-grad life, many of the characters' predicaments feel a touch too relatable so, for a comedy, I don't find myself laughing that much. Perhaps when I've achieved more distance from my early twenties self, I'll be able to replay events (both the show's and my own) and see the humor in them. But for now, many scenes are #toosoon and #tooreal.
Case in point: season three, when protagonist and aspiring writer Hannah lands a full-time job with GQ's "advertorial" department. The plum office, free snacks and sizable paycheck are all sparkly distractions from the fact that her team exists to produce revenue-generating fodder thinly disguised as passable content. Hannah initially considers herself above her colleagues; she being a "true" writer who knows that the magazine stint is just a means to financially support her real artistic endeavors. Then one day, break time chit chat shatters the illusion she has of her co-workers.
Rather than the schmucks she took them for, they all turn out to have MFAs and/or prestigious literary prizes. They, too, took the position with the men's glossy thinking that it was only temporary, and yet years later they're still there and haven't published anything that they're proud of.
"You guys write, right?" says Hannah, slowly realizing that the job she thought was the express ticket to a stable lifestyle is also a creative death sentence.
Sometimes when I take stock of the things that make the F&B industry simultaneously exhilarating and torturous (by normal people's standards) - the hours, the physicality, the fringe personality types that the work attracts (e.g. felons), the medieval hierarchy imbued with tacit rules like cursing as much as possible in a given sentence, I feel far removed from where I started out as a kid who liked baking treats from scratch and sharing them with people.
People ask me if I still bake at home, and the short answer is no, not really. It's well-documented that chefs hate cooking in their off-hours (when you do something for 9+ hours straight it's hard to muster the motivation to continue in your free time). But also in a professional kitchen we are spoiled by nice equipment, storage rooms bursting with quality ingredients and produce and, most importantly, stewards who wash the tools as we use them. Most home kitchens feel like a downgrade after being spoiled in comparison.
I love what I do (most of the time) and can't really imagine doing anything else, but I do wonder if I've become numbed, both literally and figuratively.
"Want to taste this?" asked a line cook, handing me a skewer of succulent grilled chicken during a lull at the beginning of service.
"I think it's too salty but I'm not sure. My palate is totally fucked."
My own tolerance for sugar and sweet things has noticeably declined since I started working in the industry. As cooks we are encouraged and expected to constantly taste our products, but quite often these days I'm no longer quite sure what I'm looking for when I do.
I occasionally fantasize about what might happen if I tried writing full-time. Would I still show up to film festivals and round table interviews with the same wide-eyed anticipation that I currently have? Or would I be bored and jaded like a majority of the professionals I encounter at these events?
They say that if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life. But as far as my experience goes, it's not that simple.