I confess: I don’t go to Master’s Teas much. It’s not that I don’t like them — I do. But like most undergraduates, I seldom take advantage of the chance to meet an actor I admire or hear about the latest development in global health. I don’t have the time, and, frankly, I don’t care enough.
I’ll see the posters, and I’ll sometimes even program the date and place into my Gcal. But in the end, I never go. On the rare occasion that I’m free at 4 p.m., a dozen other things clamor for that blessed hour: reading to catch up on, that problem set from last week, a Blue State skim latté, sleep.
But for some reason — my newfound interest in writing, perhaps, or last week’s weird weather that seemed to replace my work ethic with an uncharacteristic and somewhat worrisome spontaneity — I found myself in the Saybrook master’s house on Thursday, sipping from a china cup and nibbling cucumber sandwiches while listening to Gabrielle Hamilton talk about writing, cooking and failing.
Hamilton talked about her memoir, “Blood, Bones and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef.” I had not read the book, but this was one of those rare Yale events where I found myself not feeling pressure to pretend I had. Approaching the talk more like a conversation than an interview, Hamilton simply told us her story. She talked about wanting to be a writer her whole life and finally giving up and opening a restaurant in the East Village instead, only to fall into writing when she was offered a food column in The New York Times. This led to articles, essays and, finally, her 2011 memoir, a bestseller.
Dropping out of college to backpack around Europe, getting married and, later, divorced: To Hamilton, these things made the road curvier, but they also made it more interesting. This was awesome to realize, as I sat there listening to her, because I’ve been feeling pretty anxious watching my brilliant classmates speed on past me in one endeavor or another.
I was surprised by how endearingly awkward Hamilton seemed in a setting where one is expected to gush not only about oneself but also about every trend and controversy surrounding one’s industry and experience. When asked for her thoughts on women in the restaurant industry, Hamilton shrugged. “I don’t study that,” she said. “Anything I have to say would just be anecdotal.” In her book, when she describes feeling out of place on a panel of well-known female chefs, she’s more direct: “I slumped in my chair, dying,” Hamilton writes. I hope her hour in Saybrook was slightly less painful.
She didn’t preach, but her message was clear: There’s not just one way to do it, whatever it may be. It’s not worth stressing out or freaking out or even sticking it out if, deep down, now is not the right time for it. To me, that made a lot of sense.
I’m not saying that Hamilton’s suggestion of dropping out of school and backpacking around Europe is right for everyone, as appealing as it sounds. I guess what I’m saying is slow down. Take a moment to feel the sunshine before checking your phone when you leave LC. Read a book for fun outside instead of doing work. Stay up late to write a piece that may or may not get published — or get a good night’s sleep for once instead. Throw a Frisbee. Be bored.
I’m being sentimental, I know. I’m also being hypocritical. I’m kind of like Hamilton, who said that even though she knows she got to where she is because of messing up and breaking down, she still can’t refrain from working nonstop, worrying about what’s next and getting stressed.
The point here is that we’re going to be okay. Whether you’re a graduating senior or a second-semester freshman, you don’t need to freak out. Work hard, make plans, but don’t worry too much if they fall through. You’ll get there eventually.
Sure, a B on your transcript might last forever, but so will your memories of that crazy winter when it never snowed, your fateful friendship with the cutie you’ve been eyeing for weeks at Slifka or the photos of your week in Myrtle after your last finals at Yale.
As a good friend of mine says whenever I complain about my workload or life’s uncertainty or the inevitability of failed plans, stressing out is overrated. And it’s no fun. So let’s stop telling each other to calm down and start doing it ourselves.
I’ll start … as soon I get this paper done.
Sarah Maslin is a sophomore in Trumbull College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.