Come find yourself...

Monday, August 3, 2009

Change, Yu and Enthusiasm

Inga Schnekenburger, " - Enthusiasm - I Ching Nr. 16 ", 1996 Watercolor and Eggtempera on Wood, 130 cm x 130 cm

Last night I consulted the I-ching. The I-ching is a book of ancient Chinese symbols many people use as a sort of emotional barometer of where they are in life. The idea is you throw three pennies. The tails have a quantity of 2 and the heads, 3. You add the numbers up after a series of 6 throws and make a tiny graph based upon the book of translations you have, then you consult the I-ching.

The I-ching has a subtitle: The Book of Changes. It is meant to show where you are now and where you will be at a later date, i.e., 'changes'. The I-ching is considered a great book of wisdom in China and is the basis for the creation of Confucianism, so it's highly regarded and not considered a light fortune-telling device, but a text to be consulted when one needs insight.

My 'throw' of the pennies and the reading came up with this: "I-Ching #16 - Yu / Enthusiasm". Here is the English of the original Chinese text:

"The strong lines in the fourth place, that of the leading official, meets with the response of the obedience from all the other lines, which are all weak."


For over four and 1/2 years now, I've been trying to get my own cooking show off of the ground. Why a cooking show still escapes me. I'm a writer, an actor, a performer - I'm not a chef. I was to have written a best seller, written an Oscar rewarded movie, been an actor on Broadway - but a cooking on TV?

I didn't grow up cooking. I ate burgers at Wendy's with my father before we went to the matinee and my mother's idea of cuisine was stuffing green bell peppers with sirloin, not ground beef. She did make a mean pie and had the audacity to open a container of cottage cheese, shove a spoon in it's center and call it a '...side dish, kinda like a vegetable."

The show is no closer to being realized than when it was 4 and 1/2 years ago. Back then my dear friend, Kim Jackson, shot the first mini-pilot in Bayside, New York. It was directed by a lovey German gay man who disliked drag queens and kept himself at a clear distance from me. I think it's more a German thing than personality. Most Germans I know could really use a very long and very thorough colonic.

I kept the faith back then, worked as a secretary, plugging in long banker hours and tried to convince everyone the show idea (and myself!) were the best things since sliced bread.

I was 39 when we started the first shoot for The Food Therapist.

I'm about to turn 45.

Fast forward November of 2008.

I shot a new pilot with a new producer and new director. The finished disc arrived in my hands last month after nearly a year of work. I have to say, it looks great. It looks like a real TV show. But I am worried everything will think I'm fat in the promo, which I am a bit. I've lost weight since but it's a very sobering thing to see yourself on TV. Makes me wonder if people are right this is such a long shot.

I'm used to being patronized. I don't write that to solicit sympathy. It's simply the truth. I'm very loved by friends and family, but I'm not taken seriously (there is a reason I love the movie Legally Blonde and it's not because I'm super gay). I'm sure it's my own fault for not believing in myself for so long. I've had a very rough time building my self-confidence. Comes with the territory when you have a wacko family like mine. My family would make David Sedaris blush.

So why did the promo take so long to get done? Because my producer and I were literally relying on the kindness of strangers and their editor and camera friends. Except for feeding the crew on the day of the shoot and various food and cab expenses, the producer paid for almost all.

But I'm worried.

The cooking show is about cooking, but it's also heavily about me. I've said from the start I only know ordinary cooks, meaning, people who work all day long and have to cook at night to feed themselves and whatever constitutes their family (and no, cooking something in the microwave in a plastic bag doesn't count). I don't know a single person who has gone to Le Cordon Bleu. I applied but didn't enroll in three prestigious NYC cooking schools for fear I'd fail...and, we couldn't afford them.

What I am surrounded with are people who love food. I always ask them why they cook and their first answer (usually with a blank stare) is, "Um, because I have to eat?" So while the cooking show is about food, it's not a master lesson from Jacques Pepin on how to properly dice an onion or a debate on weather one should rinse or wipe clean crimini mushroom.

I find most cooking shows dull or annoying. The human interactions feel forced. The food may be fun to make, but I find it hard to emotionally connect to the shows.

Which brings me to The Food Therapist. Since the show is about food second and people first, the lead of the show is ME, which means I am the one people connect with and I am the one driving the show. Since I have set it up this way (foolish me), the onus is constantly on me to be present, funny, aware and involved. And let me tell you -- after almost 5 years of being this way in every single communication and interaction with anybody or anyone in any form involved with the show, I_am_tired.

People only see the end result of a great project. When you see a TV show on the air, the trajectory is similar to mine. How those people have kept the faith for so many years when everyone around them didn't is becoming beyond me.

This is what I have done for the past 5 years in preparation for my TV debut:
  • Cooked approximately 1, 400 meals spread over the 1,825 days. This does not include Christmas dinners, Thanksgiving meals, torts, cupcakes, pies, cookies, cakes, breads and endless varieties of breakfast foods.
  • Practiced cooking and talking into an imaginary camera while making the above meals. Fielded three calls from my neighbors who told the police they thought I might be schizophrenic.
  • Schlepped home numerous bags of groceries 5 days of the week for 5 years in dirty, smelly and very cold, wet, hot, windy and busy New York City via subways, cabs and even once, in a buggy carriage with a very hungry horse who kept eating fresh bread I had in a bag.
  • Washed an estimated 8,000 dishes since we have never had a dishwasher. It's NYC. Dishwashers for middle-class people don't exist.
  • Argued endlessly and lovingly with my hubby, Andy, when he said he would rather take his chances jumping off of the lip of the Empire State Building than agree to find a place for one more kitchen appliance.
In addition, there was the --.

Chopping of garlic, onions, red peppers, yellow peppers, scallions, potatoes (red, gold, purple and russet), pearl onions, shallots, endless amounts of broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, celery, celery root, leeks, ginger, ever Mexican pepper known to Western man, both dried and fresh...

As well as the dicing, chopping, grinding, yelling at, pulling apart, peppering, salting, buttering, oiling, butterflying, slicing, filleting, pounding, flouring, coating with egg, coating with Panko, stuffing with ham, stuffing with every French cheese available at my local market, sprinkling with fresh thyme, rosemary and garlic every kind of chicken one can possibly work with in America.

Don't get me started on the baked goods or the sausage or the ground meat or the many pie doughs and fresh strands of pasta we've had hanging around the apartment.

I've been seriously cooking for 10 years, but for the past 5 years I've cooked nearly every single day (much to my hubby's joy and pain). I work my secretary job, I go to the grocery store, buy food, go home, drink wine and cook, feed my wonderful hubby, then stay hunched over the sink washing the dishes, going to bed, getting up, doing it all again. Why? Because I love to cook but also because I prayed this would be also a chance to shine on a show, something I know I am meant to do.

But maybe not. Maybe not.

A bit of last night's I-Ching. Long, but worth the read:

"The time of ENTHUSIASM derives from the fact that there is at hand an eminent man who is in sympathy with the spirit of the people and acts in accord with it. To arouse enthusiasm it is necessary for a man to adjust himself and his ordinances to the character of those whom he has to lead. The inviolability of natural laws rests on this principle of movement along the line of least resistance. These laws are not forces external to things but represent the harmony of movement immanent in them. That is why the celestial bodies do not deviate from their orbits and why all events in nature occur with fixed regularity. it is the same with human society; one such laws as are rooted in popular sentiment can be enforces, while laws violating this sentiment merely arouse resentment."

So, I'm on the right path to have a show about PEOPLE, but I need to find within me a more natural and unfettered enthusiasm. Okay, but there is a problem.

It's hard to keep the faith when nothing happens. Nothing, except the making of the promo which I am thrilled about, but nothing in terms of the show coming to life.

Look, I know I've had a charmed life. I moved from Seattle to New York City. Not many people do that. I read once 45% of American's under the age of 35 want to move to New York, but only 3% do so. And of those 3%, only 1% stay longer than five years. I've been here 25 years and I've seen things other people dream about (dear God, I sound like Rutger Hauer from Blade Runner). So perhaps I have made it already and I don't know it. I work as an assistant to a famous man in TV. Not an easy job and hard to get. He and I work well together and except for a few blips over the years, I take great pride in how honest, trustworthy and kind I am. I'm a friggin' Saint compared to some people. But I have the job and I'm very very lucky and I do love it.

My hubby told me people don't want to read about me or my life. They just want to know about the recipes. I love my hubby, but I humbly disagree. I am drawn again and again to memoirs, particularly those about people who survived a huge life shift. I devour them, combing the words for some hidden, insightful gem about how to navigate my life. I crave insight. But I'm only one person in this world, writing on a blog no one reads, seeking answers. Who am I to share my thoughts? Am I a middle-aged gay man with deep thoughts or have I had too much sausage tonight and are the nitrates going to my head?

Julia Child started her cooking career @ 37. James Beard at 35. I'm about to turn 45.

Here is to Act II, Julie and James. May mine be as amazing as yours.

Mikey B.
Your Food Therapist


  1. Michael, I love you and I love reading your blog. And, I LOVED, as did everybody who saw it, your promo. I would sincerely miss not reading your writing. I laugh with you when I read your writing, I learn about things I wouldn't otherwise think of. Keep the enthusiasm up. I love you! Keep writing and keep working on getting that promo out.

  2. Thanks for being my sole dedicated reader, sis. I love you.