Talking Dollars and Sense

DSCF0180 Back in December, during Duckfest, the seed had been planted….”Why not come to Gascony and study, if you have some time?” I pushed the thought off, thinking of where I could possibly come up with the money, how the chores would get done—in short, how could I possibly escape my everyday reality and take advantage of the offer before me. Soon enough, logistics overwhelmed me and I put all thoughts of wanderlust out of my head as we hunkered down for the long harsh winter ahead.  Meanwhile, I worked on my calendar of upcoming projects, restarted my show and pretty much figured I had a busy enough schedule for the time being, I wouldn’t take anything new on.

Then it happened. It started off, innocently enough with an inquisitive DM. That lead to a flurry of more DM’s and some soul-searching questions. I pushed off mentioning it to my dear, long suffering wife, knowing full well what it meant for her. But, my friend Kate Hill had suggested we collaborate on another project and that I should take advantage of a break in other people schedules and come learn what I could in whatever time I had. I put it to Kathy, who laughingly pushed it back on me. Was I insane? How long did I think I could be gone? Was it really good timing. We looked at the calendar, checked schedules. No, it wasn’t really a great time to go. I would have to miss an important meeting, and some classes I was signed up for. We’re they really that important? Could I make them up?

IMG_3739 I looked at airfares to help myself rule out any possibility of dreaming about a trip to Southern France. Of escape from my frozen world of winter farming. I sneered loudly at the prices. I checked what they would be if I pushed the idea off two weeks, a month, two months…oh, wait….that would be Spring, and I had even more responsibilities then. Besides, there was only a $20 price difference flying any of the possible permutations I had checked. I re-verified schedules with Kate and slept on it. Kathy & I hashed over what needed to be done before I left and what had to be done if I went. I didn’t sleep much that night. A mixture of fear, penury, overwhelming responsibility and excitement gripped my bowels, knotting them like hastily pulled sausage casing. Things weren’t any clearer in the morning, but the flight–the one and only flight I could possibly take if I was going to go at all–was still there, still at the same price, and still had room. Room for me. I took out my flexible friend and made the plunge. I put my money where my mouth is.

I won’t say the time was right, or that I had a little flush of cash from autumn & winter livestock sales. It wasn’t, and I didn’t. But I decided right then and there, that in the realm of knowing and doing there really isn’t a tomorrow, or a later. I have been processing poultry and pigs now for some time. I have been teaching others and writing about it. It was time for a refresher course for myself. Time to invest in my skills. That that investment lead me to Gascony, to the Chapolard’s Farm, to Jehann Rignault’s Ferme Auberge du Boué, to meeting farmers and purveyors who had passion and excitement for what they were doing, made my experience all the richer. This trip has helped to remind me who I am and focus my energies back on where I should be going. It has given me confidence in skills I already have and showed me techniques I need to know. What’s more is, it has reaffirmed the passion and conviction I have for what I do everyday.

Not long ago, I was asked to speak at a conference. The engagement paid nothing other than a modest lunch, and a chance to meet other like minded people. I agreed without really thinking things through. But, Charcuterie despite a busy schedule, I duly prepared a presentation with slides, data and information. I rehearsed it, and dreaded going through it before an audience. On the day of my speech I arrived and met with the staff I was supposed to coordinate with. Imagine my surprise when they presented me with a list of rules for the discussion time after my presentation. Rule number 1 stated, “Everyone is an expert.” I really don’t remember the other 5 or 6 rules. I think they largely had to do with common sense behavior and being courteous and respectful to the other participants. I, however, was stuck on the first rule. I thought to myself, “If everyone’s and expert why am I even here? Why am I giving a talk on a topic others are already experts on? And more so, if everyone else attending is an expert, and I’ve been doing this for over 20 years perhaps I should just sit in the audience and learn from them….” You get the idea. It didn’t really set well with me then and, as you can gather, it really doesn’t set well with me now.

I am not an expert on all things. Perhaps not even on many things. And the things I might be classified as an expert on, I am not even that sure I know all I should about. But damn it, I try. I try hard to know what I know and do what I do. I invest in learning and skills whenever I get the opportunity. Over the last 20 some years I have worked, observed, experimented, learned and failed. That has to count for something, doesn’t’ it? But there I was, in a room full of “experts”. 20 somethings, first timers, dabblers and those who really were experts who’d come to learn or sneer at what I had to say—those who like me, constantly try to reinvest in ourselves. My talk went okay, the questions were good. But the experience has left me questioning this new paradigm society seems to be operating under—We’re all experts, everybody is a winner, and we all get a prize. Maybe it’s me. Maybe time has outrun my values and I have been left behind, but this doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem real. And I am all about the real.

DSCF1085Which is why I found myself in Gascony for nine days. In the midst of reality. A reality which is but a fantasy to most Americans, but makes perfect sense when viewed with a modicum of reason. I was learning  from “real deals”–experts who knew their business, their focus and what worked or didn’t work for them. And I realized something. Amidst the reality of this other culture, a culture which values its food, its farmers, I realized that I am the real deal in my own right as well. I live my life, and I live it with conviction. I share that conviction and the information I’ve spent half of my life gathering freely with those who want to listen and to learn. Sometimes I give it away, other times, in order to live, I have to ask that there is something given in return. Everything has a value. For those of us who value what we do, we willingly spend what we need to, in order to reinvest in ourselves. It take a little reminding at times. It takes a little insight. But, I keep finding it is money well spent.

If you want to find out what this is all about, to reinvest in yourself, to learn from a real expert, consider the Cochon & Charcuterie Workshop.

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4 Responses to “Talking Dollars and Sense”  

  1. 1 avitum

    Dear Neal ,

    Good stuff and from the heart as always.

    You know sometimes we all have questions about our self worth and value, even expertise. Yet nothing beats doing and excelling, and nothing is worth more than personal satisfaction, prosperity and wisdom.

    You have passed the days of Basic education and you must respect yourself as who you are. You have “Flare” Neal (not only expertise) ! This is a gift !!

    Get on with it.
    Br Avitum

  2. 2 janis

    I am so glad that you went. I learned young that life is short and we must never compromise and put off our dreams. I live by this and also by my rule of giving thanks to friends and family and never taking them for granted. Thanks new friend for sharing your Gascony trip with all of us. I felt like I was there.

  3. 3 Sharon Miro

    You are so right–not everyone is an expert and not all of us deserve a prize…nice post.

  4. 4 Stephanie Hill

    what a wonderful writer you are…your words, as are the foods you make, Delicious!!!!

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