My trip back home has convinced me to become a baker again.
I wasn’t big on measuring out the perfect amount of yeast and salt, nor was dough-kneading my forte. But cracking eggs into a bowl, scraping down the butter-and-sugared sides, and running a knife along the crisp top of espresso-twinged brownies makes me feel like a god in the kitchen.
The kitchen in my apartment contains exactly four spices, but back home, my mom’s cabinets are full of flour, brown sugar, a variety of cinnamon powders, honey, and agave. The night I flew in, I browsed through the cabinets for a snack and although my brother insisted they hadn’t gone grocery shopping and the entire place was empty, I snagged a handful of grapes and a few slices of cheese. To eat from your family’s kitchen is a delight you never realized you’d eventually come to miss.
On my notes app lived a short list of KC-based restaurants I insisted we visit and at the top was Unforked. The apple cider and peach drink was simple but I missed sitting in booths with my brother and complaining. I missed not finishing my plate and making food art, much to his chagrin. Bits of kale was pushed into a pile as a privacy hedge to the grilled-chicken mansion with an outdoor pool (dressing).
Aside from the restaurants, I had absolutely nothing planned for my visit home and saw my friends exactly once, too. Takeout containers from our favorite sushi restaurant crowded the table on the patio of a far-out boba spot we also frequent. The discussion is always the same — we catch up, we reminisce, we gossip… we suggest we go for drinks and find our way to Mike’s on Southwest, buying a weekend’s worth of bottles just to end the night with the BAC of a newborn baby. We got close to tipsy though, and had my brother drive us to the gas station where we plucked hot chips, Gatorade, and taquitos off of rollers. What seemed so mundane back at home feels like a treat now. To be embarrassed by my sibling, argumentative over who ate the last what, and why the house smells so strongly of lavender spray.
I made one last food art mess before I came back to LA by sticking slices of pita into leftover hummus–a Mediterranean spiced Stongehedge of sorts.
Then, I stressed about finding another job when all I wanted to do was write. When I was younger, and a little less naive than now, I’d assumed that with age came the ability to be creative. I thought that the perception of time being so limited in the day-to-day balancing whatever kitchen job I had and coursework would diminish and work and play would just blend into one. Then again, I couldn’t have imagined I’d move to the entertainment capital of the world during another writer’s strike (ringing a bell for day 100), and while there are a historically low number of entertainment-adjacent careers. I feel like shit about it but I’m connected with enough people in the industry to see their strongly-worded Tweets about drawing closer to needing to pick up day jobs–and familiarly, feeling underqualified–as the strike continues.
Somehow, in a proper hail-mary move, my amazing (!!) team extended my contract and I’ve been back at it, hashing away at a million different things under the sun but feeling overwhelmingly grateful to be employed and by such supportive people. I’ve no idea how I’ve managed to meet the kindest and most encouraging people in the industry, but I am a lucky girl banking on that luck to continue throughout my career. With, of course, my own efforts in conjunction.
My birthday came and passed in record time, and I am officially 24 and not much less obsessed with retaining the idea of youth. I am STILL reminding myself that the concept of reaching success at such a young age is massively overplayed and while it’s not totally unattainable, it’s masochistic at best to place something like that on yourself. Especially when McDonald’s dollar menu has been eradicated, streamers keep raising their prices by $1-3 a month while decreasing their catalogs, Hinge dates are 9/10 emotionally unavailable, employers enjoy your social media handles but not niche memes and, well, you overall feel unconfident and insecure because who doesn’t?
But there’s something special there. There’s a reason the 2000s indie sleaze movies are still relatable. A reason why the Miu Miu captivated girls still drool over Andrea Sach’s PA job. (Side note: those roles have been historically regarded as entry-level bottom rungs of the entertainment-corporate ladder and are now far and few, require years of experience, your liver and tongue, and a personal relationship to Jon Favreau. That’s where we’re at.) All of this inner turmoil and second puberty–call it coming of age, if you will–over a soundtrack that includes Radiohead’s top hits. With maybe a sprinkle of Dido or Billy Joel.
Yes! These are the Vienna days.
I guess I should come to find solace in them.
At least I’m not alone.
At least this bonds me and my peers.
We’re all holding out hope for a connection, right? We all want to bitch about work over a drunk cigarette and crash a party. Or lay in bed and watch TV with a carton of Ben and Jerry’s, debating on whether or not to send a text to what is now called a ‘situationship.’ The dream of living in a big city in your big girl shoes is not knocking at my door, it’s sitting in my breakfast chair asking for cream and sugar.
I wanted so badly to be an adult! I sat on swingsets listening to New Slang, imagining living in my apartment with my boyfriend that would definitely wear glasses and blue-plaid button-downs. He’d read the paper to me in the morning, and we’d rush off to work and make a real difference, which would be the topic in bed right before we flick off the paper lampshade. Only now print journalism is nearly extinct and we may as well be as useful as buttered doorknobs. That, and I severely underestimated the cost of furnishing an apartment. A studio at that.
So, in proper Vienna style, I let myself look out the window of a moving car and thought up a cinematic montage to make myself feel like a main character. It actually worked out perfectly, since months ago, I convinced my family to drive up the coast to Big Sur while visiting me. I packed my big, clunky headphones and listened to indie on the way up the coast. We stopped a few times near the ocean and I was rattled by the difference in temperature a few hundred miles could make.
When we stayed in Santa Barbara pre-pandemic, the main street was filled to the brim with window shoppers and streetside diners. We went on my birthday and the street was paraded with brightly-painted paper mache creatures, celebrating the return of the summer solstice. This time, it seemed empty and while entirely closed off to cars, the lack of pedestrians made it feel like a ghost town. We split a massive margarita pizza at a hole in the wall and between cheese-pulls, talked about the brightness of the world before COVID.
If growing up was like having someone grab you by the shoulders and giving you a good shake, doing it during a turning point in human history felt like whiplash and rug burn. My brother asked me about my dating life over a beer and I expressed what is no surprise. You’d think at 32 it gets better, but I guess not in his case, either.
On the way to Monterey, we must’ve stopped at three gas stations and none of them carried the kettle chips I was craving. The tiny station in the wooded area of Big Sur had a variety: barbecue, salt and vinegar, jalapeño…but no plain kettle chips. Well, like the chips, standing at the edge of a cliff just near Bixby Bridge was a bit of a letdown. The wind gusts terrified me, and plumes of weed from a nearby group stuck to my thin sweater. I could see how it’d be a good escape for those outdoorsy adventurists and small-town adorers, but I felt like clawing my way back to the bustle of the city. I wonder if I’ll ever grow tired of the noise, hustle, and kitchen-like pace of a metropolis, but thus far it seems unlikely.
But Carmel-by-the-Sea piqued my interest! Not only was it chilly and overcast enough to feel like I was in a Twilight movie, but the YOLO moment between my mom and I made a solid memory. We were stationed on the white sand beach and shivering from the breeze, but she expressed she’d likely never come back “in this life” and figured we’d dip our toes in the ocean. I slipped my shoes off and handed them to my older brother, walked to the edge of the water, and let it lap over my feet. It was freezing and I didn’t jump back.
My little brother dipped his toes in too and cried out in pain. I laughed and peered along the coastline, grateful to exist, grateful to travel, grateful to be annoyed by my family. Between pieces of driftwood, feathers, and broken seashells, I raced up the sandy hillside, tiring my ankles and lungs. I kind of wish I was always that happy and out of breath but then I guess it’d become so familiar and I never want it to lose that specialness.
Over the next few nights, I continued to build food mansions with leftovers. Over conversations of broken politics, ex-girlfriends, newly purchased scarves, and hospitality opportunities, I fashioned pools made of egg yolks, outdoor statues with raw-edged strawberries, and Lamborghinis built from seasoned fries. I missed frustrating them with this. When they left, they all gave me hugs despite disliking physical touch and I knew they were missing me too.
Since then I’ve been properly finishing my plate and gulp down every free strong drink paid for by Hinge men (the single perk of dating in the digital age). I’ve been scouring job boards for new opportunities and schools for certifications and night classes. Nearly every night I head to the gym and lift weights that make me slightly dizzy before retiring home to add too-expensive furniture to my wishlist. I fantasize about the big-girl job, boyfriend reading the daily paper, the chocolate floral cake recipe I have bookmarked, solid script (I actually feel proud of, and has undergone multiple rounds of edits), and return to all things that made me happy and fulfilled as a teen/kid.
All in due time. I should work on having more than just those four spices in my cabinet though…might as well bake the cake.