“Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live…but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I’m living my own life.”
— Parker Palmer
Well, Mr. Palmer, I’ve been listening. Growing up, I could hear it in the kitchen on every family member’s birthday as we all played our own little role in orchestrating something special and beautiful for someone we loved. Whatever it was — the table setting, an appetizer, a specialty cocktail — we all wanted to take part in the creation of the evening. I could hear it as my mom detailed the origin of a vintage family recipe that she made in the same dutch oven her grandmother used. I’ve been able to hear my life telling me who I am since I was a child, sitting at the dinner table with a homemade meal six times out of the week, sharing stories and celebrating every minute of our time together.
When I was in college, I stressed about how I would get a job that fulfilled my truest passions and interests. “I just want to make people happy and feed them in a beautiful place and probably also take pictures of it and write about it.” Okay, Arden. You and every other foodie out there.
The problem was that the greatest skills I thought I had were those I learned from my family, my mom in particular, which didn’t directly translate to a nine-to-five. My upbringing taught me to appreciate the joys of cooking and celebrating life in a beautiful space. I take interest in making all of those things happen: composing beautiful meals, creating beautiful spaces, and above all, sharing those things with other people through pictures, storytelling, and writing.
Since then, I’ve gotten my masters in publishing and writing at Emerson College where I started focusing my interests, which landed me in the world of magazine publishing. Through several amazing classes, wonderful mentors, and a year-long internship at a city magazine in Boston, I realized that my ability to write could be a mechanism for cultivating my interest in the culinary arts that I’ve had my whole life.
Fast forward to the present and I’m staring at a bulging suitcase that’s certainly over 50 pounds, packed for an adventure I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to go on. For the next three months, I’ll be cooking and watching demonstrations from some of Ireland’s best all day long, every day of the week, at Ballymaloe Cookery School on a farm outside Cork. My hope is that my technical skill in cooking will catch up with my enthusiasm for it, and that I’ll become a better food writer along the way.
I’m sitting here writing this four days after watching my beloved grandmother Ooma pass away, which adds even more significance to the fact that my mom (the artist) will be going on this adventure with me. Ooma’s been incapacitated since December and my mom and I were heartsick at the notion of leaving her for so long, knowing she probably wouldn’t make it until we were back. Ooma would’ve hated the idea of us forgoing opportunity on her account, so we made the decision to keep our plans. It’s like she tried to take her leave at the best possible moment for us, freeing us from the weight of leaving her. So she left us instead. Damn considerate of her, don’t you think?
Ooma never reached her full potential. She was as brilliant and clever as Dorothy Parker and everyone who met her could see it. The avid reader that she was, Ooma always told me how proud she was that I was getting a degree in publishing. She could’ve sat at the Algonquin Round Table and kept up with the best of them. I’m so happy this is something I get to do with my mom because I’ve watched just how awful it is to lose your mother and I want to cherish this time with my best friend.
After (hopefully) passing two exams at Ballymaloe, I’ll receive a certificate that would qualify me to work in a restaurant, or do a million other things from food styling to catering to food journalism. You can do any of those things without going to culinary school, but I believe this decision and the knowledge I’ll gain over the next three months will change my life forever.
I’ve always said I was born in the wrong time and wish I could just live my life as an artisan a few centuries ago, so who knows, maybe I’ll put the pen down for a while and open up a little bread shop when I’m back stateside. All I know is this is the beginning of the rest of my life, and I can’t wait to get started.