Traversing the Wormhole of the “Culinary Underbelly”: An Exploration of the Magician

In his book, Kitchen Confidential, chef/author/travelogue god Anthony Bourdain reveals in shocking detail the twenty-five years he spent as a chef and cook in the “culinary underbelly” of the restaurant industry. As one would expect, there are palatable tales: his incomparable dining experience at The French Laundry, for one. But Kitchen Confidential is not a book about food. It is a look into Bourdain’s hero’s journey, a catalogue of his descent into drugs and obscurity and his re-emergence as the head chef of the respected Les Halles restaurant. And as much as I enjoyed his painstakingly crafted descriptions of 15 course tasting menus (I worked for the inimitable Marc Vetri for a time, and by the grace of his conjuring hands was able to dine on food of similar quality), his book ranks among my favorites for the inclusion of a single chapter: “The Wilderness Years”. In these pages, Bourdain admits to seeking out the highest paying gig so he could feed whatever habit he was gripped by at the time. His decline is mirrored by the descending quality of the restaurants in which he works and by the slow extinguishment of his passion for food, ending in a shitty diner and a shittier walk-up apartment and the feeling that there must be more to life than feeding the beast of desire and addiction.

For Bourdain, there was more. Much more. And it was because of a simple shift in his decade-skewed paradigm: he began to believe. To believe that more was possible for him. To believe that he could “choose life”, as Rents of Trainspotting so aptly put it. To believe that life was a choice, and not a tide that tugs us in and out at its whim. The moment he acquired this belief, he changed his direction. He became The Magician incarnate.

When I first read “The Wilderness Years”, I recognized them as my own. I’d been toiling away as a server for the better part of five years, buckling beneath the pressure of short term deadlines and trays heaping with entrees of varying quality. The pressure was enough to break anyone’s spirit and sanity, but we found ways to cope: cigarettes, booze, and drugs, namely. At the end of a body-warping shift, we’d shed our uniforms in cold, dark hallways and emerge in the trendy street clothes our tips bought us and beeline it to the nearest watering hole. When I worked at Amis, that bar was Dirty Frank’s, a dive that’s somehow stayed a dive despite the press it’s gotten over the years. We drank pickle-backs: shots of whiskey followed by shots of pickle-juice. And we drank beers on top of that, but by the end of the night, no one was quite sure what or how much we had consumed. Sometimes the evening ended in someone’s apartment amidst a haze of pot smoke. Other times, it ended with a drunken stumble down 13th Street and a sloppily hailed cab. I’d picked up right where I’d left off in Edinburgh, but this time, I had no straight, studious days to balance me out. Somehow I always got home, but it wasn’t always pretty; one night I walked halfway across the city with sleet slicing at my face because I simply couldn’t function well enough to tell the cab driver where I needed to go. The map was in my blood by that point, so I trudged on, knowing that I’d find my way to my doorstep.

One night, I couldn’t find my way home. The path I walked had deviated so far from the map of my mind that I traveled the streets like a shadow. I wasn’t plagued by darkness; I was darkness. And in that moment of pure and utter nothingness, the world was a microscopic point and an infinitesimal expanse all at once. When the ego is stripped down to its bare essentials, identity is precarious, but possibility is endless. It is from this fiery pit that the phoenix emerges, that The Magician is born.

The Magician is the embodiment of possibility, of new life that has found its agency. When we distance ourselves from our persona, we are no longer governed by it; the expectations we have of ourselves drift away, allowing our true gifts and talents to work through us and manifest in the world. We begin to believe in ourselves, in the primordial concoction of air, fire, earth, and water that dictates the true nature of our souls. Because The Magician has all of the tools at his disposal, he can shape the world as he sees fit. And before he could make use of those tools, he first had to crack through the crust of reality.

A month after I became a free agent, I left the restaurant industry. I look back on the years I spent there with mixed emotions, but I feel that I was fated to make that deviation. Without debasing myself so, I may never have shed enough ego to realize how free we truly are, how our view of the universe shifts the universe and shifts us.  Though my departure happened three years ago, I feel as if I’m finally discovering the usefulness of the Magician’s tools, and with any luck, I’ll wield them with as much power and confidence as that glorious archetype.

Much Love,

Jessi

 

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Releasing the Anchor: An Exploration of the Five of Cups

In 2005, I got on a plane and flew to Scotland. The cabin was cramped and the pressure made me achy; I flooded my senses with artists and playlists, but the songs (dear friends, now) couldn’t distract me from the feeling that I’d left a limb in my homeland. I’d worked my ass off to arrive at this very moment, had sacrificed hours to writing and thinking and strategizing, and now that the fruits of my labour were comfortably nestled in my lap, I was afraid.

I passed the first week mind out of body. As the haze subsided, I began to remember: I stopped at a pizza shop after I handed my fat scholarship check to the bursar. I gazed through the storefront window as I carelessly gnawed on my food, trying to process the curvature of Edinburgh’s centuries old buildings as something real. I went to the pub with my housemates that first night, legally guzzled Stella Artois as a twenty year-old and kissed a boy I didn’t know to make me feel like I existed. The phone lines gave me trouble, so I didn’t speak with family. I mingled with the other foreign transplants, traded stories and cultures, but never touched on what I was missing.

I drank more. Woke up reeling. Looked in the mirror and hardly knew myself. I imagined the deaths of my grandparents and wondered if I’d be able to get back for their funerals. I threw myself into the “uni” culture: studious and straight by day, wild and club-hopping by night. I exposed myself to the city and finally saw what I was; I drank from the two cups before me. Yet, the ties of home tightened and slackened like the ropes of a boat docked at harbor: as soon as I surrendered to the bob of the tide, the anchors of guilt and uncertainty jolted me back. I turned to the tipped cups, became lost in the patterns of their spilled contents. How was my family doing without me? Would I be able to readjust when I got back? Were my unclosed chapters being written by someone else?

The Five of Cups illustrates our fractured heart: unable to move on from the ties of the past, unable to face the offerings of our futures. This strange limbo cloaks us in the darkness of disassociation; our unresolved issues flood into our present consciousness, clouding our vision and influencing our current experience. Meanwhile, we lose the plot of our stories. We keep reading and re-reading the same chapter, never getting to the end of the book.

When the Five of Cups appears, it is a call to face the shadow aspect head on. It is so easy drift through shadow like an aimless traveler looking to an overcast sky for guidance. While looking up, our shadows pass through us unseen, triggering our sorrows in the process. We must look straight ahead and recognize them, and do the necessary work to find the messages they seek to convey to us.

When I returned from Scotland, I found that I’d left half of myself overseas. I’d unknowingly set down another anchor, and the knots I’d tied were numerous and tight. It took years of facing shadows to loosen them, and in the process, I loosened many other ties as well. I feel that the human mind naturally drifts between past and future while rarely taking the time to focus on the present. The Five of Cups warns us against this condition, and offers us the courage to read on, come what may, and finish the book.

Love to All Who Walk the Path,

Jessi

 

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The Fool, the Devil, and the Power to Transmute our Demons

When I begin a project, I approach it with the energy of the Fool–I’m excited and starry-eyed, idealistic about the journey and almost radically hopeful for what it will bring.  There comes a time, however (usually after a few bumps in the road and facing the enormity of what I’m up against), that I’m forced to get down to brass tax and look into my heart to discover my true intentions: what am I called to offer?  How can I contribute to the community in a unique and valuable way?  What is my core self, and how can I convey that through my content?

This marks the first evolutionary stage in my creative process, one that is inevitably fraught with doubts, insecurities, and confusion.  I’ve been through this process often enough to recognize these thoughts and emotions as my ego’s way of rejecting the new and the challenging, so I’m usually able to prevent them from overriding my momentum. But this was not always so.  And despite everything I’ve done to smother the beast of fear and self-loathing, it still manages to rear its ugly head from time to time.

When I can’t seem to quell the negative loops from co-opting a major chunk of real-estate in my brain, I bring out the big guns.  Being of the witchy and woo-woo sort, I attack these destructive specters with my two favorite tools: magick and tarot.  When I shuffle through my deck, I’m met with archetypes and symbols that illustrate the obstacles I’m facing.  When I practice ritual, I commit myself to locating my center and honoring the messages of my subconscious.  If nothing else, these tools help me to put my experience into perspective and to continue the fight against my more depressive leanings.  I’ve been sucked into the vortex of self-destructive thought more times than I care to admit, and nothing useful ever came from those sojourns.  I know how difficult it can sometimes be to avoid the pull, and how difficult it is to climb out once you’ve succumbed to that dangerous gravity.

I may not have a perfect outline of what this particular project is (not yet, anyway), but I do know that I’d do just about anything to make sure that no one has to suffer the damaging effects of self-destructive thinking.  Here, then, is my offering on how to reframe and transform the little demons of negative self-thought into something workable and manageable.  I make no claims to hold the cure to this unfortunate facet of the human condition, but I have figured out a few ways to halt the process of negative thought and build the foundation of a loving, respectful relationship with self.  I wish you all strength and confidence in each of your journeys, and hope that you’re able to overcome the the demon of doubt as it manifests in you.

Many Blessings,

Jessi

 

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