On Bourdain and Also Why I Write and Talk So Much – A Personal Essay
To my family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances (and perhaps some of you) – the question arises – why does he write and talk so damn much? He has a full time job and makes his billable hours, he’s in court all the time, he does all that stuff with their son, and yet he cranks out 2,000 words every two days, and he’s all over FB and Twitter on both his thing and the “Exes and Allies” thing. Even when he says he’s taking a social media “vacation” or “leaving” for good – he never does or not for long. What gives?
I don’t think anyone who knows me really knows the answer. Even Vanessa. It probably goes back to when I was a kid, a teen and young adult. Last night, in the process of writing a little reflection on Bourdain on my personal FB, I unexpectedly excavated some of my own “stuff” – that material that I write about here in the context of communication and divorce and parenting.
In recalling what ‘Kitchen Confidential” meant to me approximately 20 years ago, it took me back to that emotional memory of how 20 years ago felt. Do you ever smell or taste or hear something and it transports you (not literally, but sort of in some ways) back to a time in the past?
Anyway, I had such a moment last night and I had actually semi-forgotten (or was semi-consciously ignoring) most of what life was like between 18 and 28. A wilderness decade of sorts. It was via a very non-traditional way that I wound up in law. Eschewing the HS-BA-JD circuit, I tried some other things. Explored other options for life. At that time, the last thing I wanted was to be a lawyer.
But a lawyer I became. Refusing to give in entirely to the beige-ness of such a career, however, I chose divorce – an area with real people with real lives. I had enough by way of good marks in law school that I could have chosen a different path that would have meant more money and less worry about all that debt. But I chose one of the most human areas of law because I needed (for myself) to keep a toe-hold in humanity.
Now, I am no Bourdain. On any level. He had some real gifts. But sometimes, we all sort of do this thing where we relate to or see ourselves through others we are not. Lebron or Kanye or Hillary or whomever. I get that and it makes sense. For me, the way in which Bourdain chronicled food and travel and its mysteries, difficulties and beauties – it became not just a food and travel thing – it was bigger. More important. More relevant. More spiritual, even. But always, deeply human. He showed us a way to drop our pretensions and prejudices and go out there into the world to find quality experiences, foods, tastes and lives – all of which were also REAL.
And that brings me back to the question at hand. There is so much I (like you) do not control in life. And I, for one, bristle at control: in any form and in any way. It is sometimes not a good thing. Whether at the grocery store, the doctor’s office, at work, in Court, anywhere – I have a hard time with being subjected to limits, rules, management, or boundaries. Mostly because they are arbitrary and never applied uniformly.
Sensible 42 year old that I have become, I abide by these written and unwritten limitations – in the main and most times, however. There are bills to be paid, deadlines to meet, things to be done.
But the one thing that I do control is what I say (in certain settings). And so, I write. About things I think or things I care about.
My own expressions are another way of keeping that small flicker from 8 and 18 and 28 alive. That thing that made me want to act or write or design or create. Whether it is the “Noir” series here or tweets or projects or whatever – I do these things because I need to do them. Because, my “real job” (understandably) allows for only so much margin in creative and/or expressive areas. The divorce lawyer is not a very creative person (at least under the form of creativity I refer to here). There is a form of creativity in crafting settlements and drafting written product and all of that. And it is very fine and good stuff. But I mean something else - the creativity that I cherished as a kid and young adult.
The “through line” - that connecting theme of the play/story/etc - for me, has always been engaging deeply with the messy stuff. Not just the happy stuff. But exploring, respecting and examining the messy and tough stuff of life because of what it really is and what it can actually be or become. What it teaches us.
This is why I am interested in Buddhism, in Noir, in theatrical performance, in divorce, in resurrection/rehabilitation/2ndchance stories, absurdist literature and film, in non-utopian philosophies and politics, in satire/sarcasm/irony, in tabloid materials, in edgy or dark humor, in jazz and funk, and in schools of analytic or depth psychology.
As an outspoken and weird teen plus only a few years - with pimples, awkwardness, huge near-sightedness and a social anxiety issue (the latter of which remains) - the book “Kitchen Confidential” was like my moment’s “The Catcher in the Rye.” It was this weird and cool thing. A guy from NY told a straight story through a lens of food. He put it out there. He let it ride. He wasn’t afraid to name the bullshit.
I was in college at that time (after some detours for “living”) and dealing with some things myself. I had wanted to go study theatre in full and dive deep or go to Parsons and try design. Or even try to do oriental medicine. Or to cook even. His words were like manna. It all resonated. “Bigly” - as we say now.
Then “life” came. I left my pre-twenties moment. After my near-thirties. And after my half-hearted hand/try at a full life had ebbed. I then forgot him. College. Law school. Lawyer. Marry. Kid. Divorce. Life. I never returned to him.
Then yesterday this. That guy. From back then. Gone. Our son found him in 2016-2017 afresh from either Vanessa or myself.
Yesterday morning, when the news hit - Vanessa texted me - “how do we tell him?”
I had no answer.
Bourdain was a stone cold Truth Teller with a capital T. He rubbed all the right people wrong and did his thing. It is sad that his own hard stuff led to this. It is a sad thing he’s gone. He shared with us his passions (good and bad). He brought us food and travel “Noir” – and he really brought us what all noir brings us – sometimes hard, inside views, the grit and grime and beauty of the darker shades. Of humanity. He found majesty in shitty places. Like any noirist.
I’ve always liked that. I grew up in a shitty place objectively speaking. I grew up feeling always at cross-purposes from so much around me. I now have developed a keen interest in the murky. I am not a big international traveler. I like out of the way greasy spoons and dingy dives. I like road trips through forgotten places like the one I grew up in. I also like the human equivalent of that. When we strip away pretense and posture and get to real stuff.
Before CNN and all the huge fame and focus - Bourdain reached me profoundly with his words. In a book. Back when we read them. Often from a library. Before screen time took over. And that was, in the big picture, only a few relatively short years ago. He was for me an engaged and mixed up guy in a mixed up world talking straight about “Stuff” that mattered to him. We’re all mixed up by the way, but I liked the way he owned his backstory and his demons and his troubles. We all have those too but don’t like to talk about them.
Anyhow, He’s gone. The man surely had some heavy material that he bore for a long time and that ultimately took a final toll it seems.
Here’s to all folks that bear such stuff. To bold voices. Trouble makers. Shit stirrers. People who try to tell a story and bring people a new experience or view. From a position of honesty and a position of fuck you. Bourdain was for me a sentinel and sentry and signpost. He’s now gone. By his own hand. That’s a shame.
When I first read Anthony Bourdain, I hadn’t yet chosen a path.
Looking back, Well... Life is what it is ... I guess I write here to share some things I believe in deeply, talk about things I have experienced first hand or discuss that which I have learned in my job. I care about divorce beyond just “doing” divorce law. I think there’s a lot that needs to be said and that can be improved so that people who go through it can do so in less damaging ways. There are a lot of voices that can add to that conversation – whether that is other lawyers, other professionals or you.
I also do this for myself - obviously. I write to keep my head on straight and keep my hopes alive. It is good to “keep hope alive.” To express and speak and maintain a relationship with my own hopes and my own dreams from a long time ago, back when a bombastic, eccentric and nerdy kid from a small town in Indiana with a penchant for odd things found inspiration and comfort from the honest and frank words of a guy in New York who cared a lot about food.
RIP Mr. Bourdain. You reached me when I needed it and you reached our son more recently and so many more besides. I hope there’s something beyond this all for you. A messy place with real food, real people, and a lot of fun, love and life. You deserve it and, more importantly, earned it the hard way. Safe travels on the journey.