Sunday, May 20, 2007

Culinary School Application: Personal Statement

Personal Statement:

Please attach a personal statement of 250 words or more, in which you discuss who you are, your background, training or experience in the culinary arts, special interests, goals, and reasons for applying to this program.

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Cooking is something I never expected to love. I alternated between bland stir-fried veggies with pasta and rice with poorly spiced stir-fried veggies for countless weeknight dinners--and occasionally threw in a dinner mix from Trader Joe’s for a little variety. A few years ago, health reasons forced me to re-evaluate my eating habits, and I realized a simple fact very quickly: most health food is incredibly boring. That’s when I started cooking for myself and started to learn that food could be more than something that filled you up. That's when I started to fall in love with good food.

Honestly, I never expected to be here. This is not a place I expected to arrive. It’s not that I didn’t believe it was possible; it’s that it wasn’t ever something I even considered.

When I first started thinking about going to culinary school last fall, I looked for every reason not to go. I kept waiting for my friends and family to tell me what a ridiculous idea this was, how I was wasting my time and my money, how just because I liked cooking didn't mean I needed to go to culinary school. Unfortunately, none of my friends did this. They were incredibly supportive and had nothing to say but good things. So I had to face the fact that the only voices of dissent that I was hearing were those in my own head.

Ok, forget health food; this post is boring me.

Here's the thing: I want to tell you what's been going on with me these past few weeks. I have to. I feel like I have to write this post and get everything out in the open before I can move on. I've been working on my application to culinary school this past week and while I was writing my personal statement, I found a lot of emotions coming up that made me think that a faux-personal statement might make a good frame for talking about everything--in true MFA creative non-fiction memoir style. But instead, it looks like I'm just going to have to blurt everything out because this coming at it sideways and cat-like thing just isn't working tonight.

So.

Ok, I've been sitting here staring at the computer screen for about five minutes. This is going to be harder than I thought. I know that once I start talking, I'll be ok. It's starting that's hard.

About a month and a half ago, I came back from a business trip and the Engineer (ok, coy nicknames aren't going to work right now. His name is Scott. I will call him Scott.). I came back from a business trip and the next morning walking to get coffee, Scott asked if we could think about pushing the wedding date back a bit. Because I know Scott, because we've been together for four and a half years, because we've been through a lot together, I knew immediately that there was more behind that little query than might first appear. And because
I know Scott, because we've been together for four and a half years, because we've been through a lot together, I knew that Scott himself didn't necessarily realize how much was going on behind those few spare words.

And there was. A lot more. The past few weeks have been...oh, a slew of tired metaphors come to mind, all of which I've used at one point or another when talking with friends and family. It's been like peeling an onion where exposing each layer only approximates getting closer to the core of things, but never quite does. It was like a snowball picking up speed as it bumps it's way down a hill, gathering ice and twigs and dirt and debris in its passing. It was like catching sand in your hands, like trying to hold water. It just kept getting worse and worse until I thought my life couldn't fall into any more pieces, and then I realized that the pieces themselves were blowing away and I was left standing on a street corner in a foreign city where no one spoke my language. My head has been a bleak and dark place.

We decided to separate about a month ago (saying that we "broke up" seems too...small...to really describe it). Scott left for his reasons, and I left because I realized that I'd been working really really hard for a long time to convince myself that the relationship I had was the relationship that I wanted, and I had finally realized that it wasn't. I loved Scott. I still love him. But the relationship we had was done. It was good for that time of my life. It was what I needed--what we needed. And it was time for it to be over. And so, I let it go. It was that simple. My hand had been clenched for so long trying to hold on to this thing, and I just opened my fist and let it go. It was both one of the hardest and the easiest things I have ever done.

What I didn't realize at the time was that when I opened my fist and let go, I was letting go of a whole lot more than my relationship with Scott.
All the pain and the hurt and the anger that I'd been feeling--it was like a great tidal wave swept through my life. I found myself stripped of everything I had been clinging to for longer than I care to admit. All my pretenses, all my dreams, my whole idea of my reality. All that was left is...me. The real me. The past few weeks really forced me to start new. It hurts like hell--I feel completely naked. I am questioning everything--my job, going to culinary school, my blog, my relationships with other people, my idea of my true calling, my true self. Everything. It felt--it still feels--like I lost everything. I lost faith in everything I thought I believed in, in everything I thought I knew to be true. I lost faith in myself.

I know--I know--that some of this will come back. My desire to do things like cook and write and love will all come back. I will apply to culinary school, even if I decide not to go this fall. I will start writing again. I will eventually recover faith in myself. My ability to trust again will be the hardest (and likely take the longest) to recover, but I know it will come back. On my rational days, I know these things. But on days when my head feels like a bleak foreign place, it's a lot harder to remember this. On those days, I fear my ability to tell the good from the bad, the healthy from the unhealthy. I feel so distanced from myself and my own needs that it feels safest to block out everything and everyone.

I do know beyond all doubts that things will be different. I cannot go back to the way I was. I don't want to and I can't. Even you, some of my closest friends and family, may not have known how lost and divided I felt within myself. That post back in February (HERE) barely scratched the surface, honestly. I wanted to believe so badly that everything was ok. I wanted so desperately to truly be the person I was trying to be--that image of myself was so...appealing and perfect. But it just wasn't me. These past few weeks, by talking with friends and working with a therapist (yes, I started seeing a therapist) and just...sitting quietly with myself, I've only just started to understand how all of this came to be and how I can move forward. It's a start.

I think this blog has been one of those places where I tried to cling to this...idea of myself. It's been a good place--I love this blog! But I also think that it's become a place where I could avoid facing some real issues and keep pretending like this strong, peppy, 'together' person was the real me. That person is/was really just a part of the real me, and I think I'd like to start getting to know some of the other parts of the real me. Don't worry--I'm not about to let this blog become one of those confessional tell-alls. Lord knows there's enough of those out there. I still want it to be the same blog--about food and books and knitting. It's just...I want it to be written by me. The real me. And not the person I was trying to be. This won't be easy, I think, or happen right away. I hope you'll all stick around and see where this goes with me.

Scott and I started talking again a week or so ago. I thought about not telling you this bit, but it felt dishonest to leave it out. We miss each other. I miss him. Specifically him. There is still a lot of love there. We're talking. We don't have a plan. Neither of us wants the old relationship back. Neither of us has an idea of the future. It's enough right now to just be walking beside each other in this foreign landscape and speaking the same language.

The hardest thing for me right now is not knowing. Not knowing the shape or parameters of this new relationship with Scott or the direction of my own life or where to trust or having a plan (any plan at all) or being in control. This is a real challenge for me. I've done a lot of thinking about the idea of 'living in the now', but it wasn't until this point in my life that I truly understood what that meant. When I try to see into the future or make plans, it's like trying to touch smoke. All I have is right now. That's all I can do.
And I think that's enough.

4 comments:

Angelina said...

I don't know whether this will bother you, inspire you, help you, or hinder you, but regardless...I want to tell you that in all the time I've been reading your blog there have been three posts I truly loved, I mean that I related to and could really feel I was coming away with something beautiful and personal. Those three posts were the ones where you wrote about what you were really feeling. Where you wrote about things you were afraid to write about.

I like your recipe posts a lot, I enjoy your book reviews, but none of those have come from a place that feels genuine to me the way your posts do when you are taking risks.

When you write about what's going on with you-personally-you let out the most beautiful prose. There's the writer who's going to turn heads. This post today was wonderful. I don't enjoy that you are having to go through this tremendous painful change, I'm not happy to hear that you are struggling so much.

But I've been there, I relate to this passage of yours and you write about it so well I get lost in it like a good book.

It seems to me that you are going to come out of this so much better than you were. It doesn't matter what you choose to do-I mean, it does- but the greater thing that's happening is that you are becoming what you need to become.

Now I'm going to shut up. I will keep checking in. I want more posts like this one. I want to know more about you. About Emma. You are really interesting and I think if you stay in better touch with the real you you won't be able to help but do amazing things in the unknowable future.

Anonymous said...

No, Emma--
It's not right to do this publicly.

Recipes and book reviews are for the blog.

ljmax said...

You don't know me but I have enjoyed your blog for a while. I agree with Angelina that this post is especially compelling. It is personal without being hurtful or overly detailed.

I know it can be tough finding the balance of how much to share of yourself on your blog. I wish I could be as brave...I generally censor and water down my feelings on my blog in order to avoid offending friends/family who might read.

Still, when I manage to be honest I think it really helps me to work through those feelings. And the benefit of doing it publicly is that there are others out there who may be going through something similar and find help from your ability to articulate what they are feeling.

I'm sorry for what you are going through. It sounds a lot like grieving and the best advice I could give for that is just to keep on going, as cliche as it sounds, one day at a time.

Emma C said...

Angelina and ljmax--thanks so much for your comments here. It's so nice to hear from you both and to feel your support. Anonymous--thank you, as well, for your comment. I hear what you're saying, and hope you'll stick around to see how I spruce up the place.

These past few weeks have been full of extremes and it feels very grounding to be back here with my blog. A little place of quiet. Talk to you all again soon.