Friday, June 28, 2013

Killer Taste

If I had to come up with a list of the Coolest People on Earth, I imagine Ira Glass would end up somewhere in the top three.

This short video is on storytelling and creative work.

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

This is exactly where I feel I'm at with my pizza. I know what amazing pizza tastes like — I have that "killer taste," as Ira puts it — but there is a disparity between what I create and what I want. My pizza is good, and every now and then I'll pull a pie from the oven that tastes amazing, but I know I haven't achieved the greatness that I want.

And I don't expect perfect pie at this point. But it still can be disappointing when I do create one that isn't as good as I want it to be. And so I'm grateful for Ira's encouraging words. More so, I'm grateful for friends who come over each week for Pizza Club and support me in what I'm trying to create.

I have a friend whose bucket list includes high-fiving Ira Glass. I think I'd like to add it to mine. Thanks, Ira.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On Foot

"One day Samuel strained his back lifting a bale of hay, and it hurt his feelings more than his back, for he could not imagine a life in which Sam Hamilton was not privileged to lift a bale of hay." — John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Last Thursday I drove north to Utah to spend the weekend visiting family and friends and relaxing. When I woke up Friday morning at my aunt's house, my agenda consisted of two items: find a French bakery near downtown Salt Lake City my aunt told me about and spend some time reading outdoors. I left my aunt's house somewhat early and found a parking spot a block or two away from the bakery. With a book in hand I set out for the bakery. I ordered a pain au chocolat and a Mexican Coke. I crossed the street and walked a block and found myself sitting on a bench beneath a formidable shade tree in Washington Square at the foot of this building:

The Salt Lake City and County Building

I ate my breakfast, drank my Coke, and walked to the Salt Lake City Public Library. But the weather was so nice and I couldn't stay indoors for long, so I made my way back to Washington Square, to another bench under another tree to read East of Eden.

An hour later I was on my feet again, on my way to find a used book store, Ken Sanders Rare Books, a few blocks away. They had the book I was looking for, Illusions by Richard Bach, as well as three Steinbeck early editions I didn't know I was looking for, America and Americans (a first edition), A Russian Journal (a first edition), and Steinbeck: A Life in Letters (not a first edition, but a nevertheless very cool early edition). Not wanting to carry the books around with me, I took them straight to my car. From there I took a scenic route back to the library (I had to use the bathroom) before meeting up with a friend.

During all this time my car didn't move an inch.

I woke up that Friday morning feeling somewhat anxious. About what, I don't know. I can't pinpoint the moment when that anxiety left me, but at some point during that morning I felt free of it. I wondered at that. And I thought about how different this day was from the day before, a day spent entirely within the confines of my car. I thought about how much ground I covered in my car — a good 700 miles — and then I think about how little I covered on foot — maybe a mile or two. Yet, that mile or two, that miniscule distance by comparison, was so much more satisfying — even therapeutic — than the great distance I traveled the day before.

I've always enjoyed walking and running for its own sake. But traveling by foot with a purpose or destination seems to calm me in a way few things can, even if — especially if? — the destination is something simple: a bakery, a library, a bathroom, a tree to read under, a meeting with a friend. A couple years ago I came across an article that cited a study claiming that people who live in walkable neighborhoods are happier, and after this weekend, I'm starting to see why that is.

I consider that quote above by John Steinbeck about Sam Hamilton — "[Sam] could not imagine a life in which Sam Hamilton was not privileged to lift a bale of hay." And I think about how I neglect my body and its purpose. Bodies are made to jump, dance, run, walk — to express love — to take you new and exciting places — to create — to taste, hear, smell, see, and touch — to live. So why don't I literally jump out of bed each morning?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Maybe Even Epic

I don't know why I started following Anthony Bourdain on Twitter. I'm a big food guy and I love traveling — two things Bourdain has mastered — so I guess it was inevitable. So when Bourdain started tweeting about the premiere of his new food/travel show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown on CNN, I figured I'd set my DVR and watch it later. I guess I didn't have much to do that Sunday night because "later" happened to be an hour or so after the premiere aired. I was hooked, instantly.

Bourdain is no stranger to culinary travel television. Parts Unknown, however, is a bit different because, as the name would suggest, Bourdain's travels include destinations that are well off the beaten path, some of which might seem quite unfriendly to Americans, outsiders, and even their own citizens, locales like Columbia, Libya, Myanmar, and Congo. I'm particularly partial to the Quebec episode, having spent some time there as an LDS missionary.

When the newest issue of Lucky Peach — an awesome, well-designed quarterly food magazine — arrived in the mail on Monday the first piece I read was a short essay by Bourdain called "Even The Jungle Wanted Him Dead." The first paragraph really stood out:

As I've come to learn over the last thirteen years of near-constant movement around the globe, travel at its best — and its worst — is a journey of discovery. The destination is not nearly important as the process of getting there, or the friends one makes, or the experience of local cultures and foodways, or the way one is changed by the distance where you started and where you end up.

Not only is that true with traveling, but it's a perfect metaphor for life and for any friendship or relationship.

Here's an example: last August my friend Devyn and I flew up to Washington to help my friend Jeff drive his minivan from Everett to Boston (we picked up Whit en route in Montana). On our first day of the trip, as we neared Spokane, Jeff had me find the nearest Coscto so we could pick up a bag of chips he really likes. I was annoyed. I shared this annoyance in a text message with my then-girlfriend. Her response echoed Bourdain's sentiments, "It's about the journey, not the destination."

I tried to embrace that attitude, but when we left the van and walked into that busy Costco — it was noon on a Saturday — in a dingy part of Spokane, I nevertheless felt it my duty to be sure that we spend as little time as possible inside the store. As we passed the lady at the exit who checks your receipt and walked through the parking lot, my mood softened a bit and I started to appreciate this city in which I had never set foot, surrounded by people who were likely to be as interesting, or maybe even more so, as the ones I knew back home.

Whit on the left, Devyn on the right. At the Little Big Horn National Monument in Montana.

As I look back on that pit stop, I shake my head at my annoyance. What negative impact did that 30 minute detour have on a six day, 3,000 mile road trip? Or yet, what right did I have to be annoyed at any point during a six day, 3,000 mile road trip that spanned 11 states and one Canadian province, with three of my oldest and closest friends, friends that I have known for longer than I have not known them? We had planned and anticipated this road trip — a dream road trip, a trip that I now think about several times a week — for eight months and here I was being a crybaby.

Some famous dead guys.

And still, I have to go easy on myself because I wonder if I didn't know how not to be annoyed. I come from a family whose road trips were very much about the destination. You try driving from Phoenix to Salt Lake City every summer in a sweaty van full of five grumpy kids and tell me you don't want to get there in a hurry. And when residing at the destination were grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles that you didn't get to see often enough, then yes, the destination was a priority. And I do have good memories from the journey of those drives, even if for my family the journey itself wasn’t always a focal point — the park in Kanab, Utah, where we would play at while my mom took a quick nap, and that trip where we listened to nothing but Peter Cetera's World Falling Down because the stereo in our old van could not eject tapes.

There's nothing wrong with speeding toward a destination — as long as you realize that there is life to be enjoyed while on that speedy and perhaps brief journey.

And yet, as someone who has spent a great deal of time trying to speed through life, I look forward to and search out and maybe even ache for those journeys — literal and metaphorical — that are slow, meandering — and maybe even epic.