May 5, 2014

Unwinding

By: Ryan Hodros, Pastry and Culinary Arts Student

I suppose last week could be considered a long week for me.  Four blog posts, an article about Southern Sun, two chapters in the book I’m writing—A grand total of somewhere over 10,000 words in five days.  I like to think of myself as something of a prolific writer, but when I break into five digits, it’s usually because I have nothing else to do and Tressa is out of town.

But last week, I also had 30 hours of class plus who knows how many hours of reading/studying in order to be prepared for class.  I also had a crisis-laden trip from Longmont to Littleton for a beer festival I had to report on.  On top of that, it’s Springtime, so seasonal allergies have been doing their best to cram my sinuses with unpleasantness for the past several weeks.

In other words:  Come Sunday morning, I was pooped.

Let me stop you right there, because I can hear you through your computer screen.  “Aw, poor baby has to drink beer and write in the comfort of his own home.  Boo-<censored>-hoo.”  I’m aware that writing about beer is a dream job—that’s why I’m doing it.  I’m aware that writing isn’t a 16 hour shift in the kitchen.  I’m aware there are harder jobs out there.  I don’t care.  I know what pooped feels like, and I was pooped.

A great amount of students that attend Auguste Escoffier also work.  One of my classmates in Pastry, Rose, was working two jobs and going to class full time for the last month and some change that we were in school together (I have a great deal of respect for her, if you can’t tell).  And racking up hours like that takes its toll.  And those fortunate enough to “only” be in school aren’t magically exempt.  Other stressors—family, a social life, hobbies, other pressures I wouldn’t know about—all add up, and it’s important to know when you need to decompress before you fall apart.

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This is why I slept eight hours Saturday evening and spent almost all of my Sunday watching movies on the couch.  I don’t think I got out of my PJs until well into the afternoon, and that was only because Sunday is grocery day and I like to pretend I’m an adult when I go into public.  I took two naps.  I ran my cats around the living room with our laser pointer.  I took a long bath.  I read a lot of Batman.

But I didn’t do any writing.  I didn’t do any brewing.  The only cooking I did was to make sloppy joes for dinner.  I didn’t drink except to close out the night with a brew my friend Nick had brought over on Friday.  It was a day of total leisure, and it’s exactly what I needed.

I find that leisure is something that is generally looked down upon in American culture.  If you spend an entire day doing very little, it’s considered a waste of time.  Even television, which used to be the last bastion of leisure, is something we do aggressively.  We don’t lay around and watch the tube (a date reference), we run “TV marathons,” settling into the same show for hours and hours and hours as some kind of endurance contest.

A study conducted in 2007 by Claremont University pointed out a number of leisure trends cropping up in America, foremost of which is the rising cost of many popular leisure media, including live shows, video games, and movies.  What I found most interesting in this study, however, is that many leisure activities seem to be treated “seriously.”  As in, people don’t go to concerts for kicks, they do it as a massively important event.

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In my own, completely lay opinion, these events don’t qualify as leisure.  Sure they’re a lot of fun, and I’m not discouraging people from doing the things they love, but I don’t think they help people decompress.

I personally only consider something leisure if:  a./ you don’t consider the activity to be that important, b./ it’s something you enjoy, and c./ the activity isn’t incredibly physically taxing.  I understand that I am basing this on nothing scientific, but I know what leaves me most refreshed after a rough week/month/year, and the above three criteria are the most important.

Time in the kitchen takes its toll on your body.  Your feet will hurt.  Your neck might go stiff.  Your fingers might ache.  Your brain might just achieve that fun state of fatigue where you have to concentrate really hard in order to remember your phone number.  Any small problem brought to you by a friend or loved one might be treated like an assault, and you might start biting people’s heads off when they don’t deserve it.

When you’re close to burnt-out, you have to recharge yourself mind, body, and soul.  Everyone does this differently depending on their own wants and needs—in other words, I’m not trying to say what Escoffier students should do to unwind, only that they should do something.  If you burn the candle at both ends long enough, eventually the two flames meet.

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Hard work is important.  Nobody who is going to be successful, in the culinary industry other otherwise, will get far by being lazy.  But if you don’t plan some leisure time into your schedule, you will keep an impressively quick pace as you sprint right off a cliff.  Force time into your schedule for leisure so that you can continue working hard at a brisk pace for a long time.  You’ll be more productive overall, you’ll be a better leader in the kitchen, and you’ll be a much better member of your team.  And, let’s not forget the most important reason:

You’ll be happier.