When I was 9 years old, my mother started teaching a class one day a week. “Alison,” she said, “you are going to cook lunch for us on the day that I am teaching.” My young heart fluttered. What responsibility! What crucial life skills! What power I now held in my 9 year old hands! My culinary horizons suddenly opened, vast and thrilling. We quickly settled on a repertoire: scrambled eggs with tomato and banana bread. This I cooked, week in, week out, refining my technique, honing my skills and boring my family. Eventually I mastered it. As my mother’s class ended, so did my tween sojourn in the kitchen.
In high school, my mother required me to cook dinner once and make breakfast twice each week. During this period, I spent time exploring the world of tomato-based entrees, transversing the distance from tomato-based spaghetti sauce to tomato-based meatloaf. Inspired by a circa-1960s Betty Crocker cookbook, there was a regrettable chicken loaf that, sad to say, made more than one appearance. (The cookbook also offered helpful Mad Men-esque advice to housewives.) For breakfast: more banana bread, a spice loaf, a coffee cake. It was a chore, and one I was happy to escape.
If only I'd had this recipe in high school! From the Encyclopedia of Creative Cooking, Vol. 5, Fish Cookery
Let us now draw a veil over the college years, where my diet consisted of Captain Crunch Crunch Berries, blueberry muffins, Pop-Tarts, oranges, baked beans and breakfast burritos.
As I moved into my 20s, my skills improved on a pace more typical to natural selection: months of quiet punctuated by a rare but transformative event. Pesto, for example. Broiling fish. Risotto. Chocolate pudding from scratch. But mostly it was the same routine: cereal, salads, sandwiches, dinners out or ordered in.
Then one day, the big change came. One or two of my friends with hospitality skills that still far surpass anything I can offer suggested a grand idea: a supper club. Once a month, 6-8 of us got together on a Sunday evening, bringing dishes we’d spent the day preparing to spend the evening eating, drinking wine, regaling our adventures tracking down obscure ingredients (good luck finding fava beans in New York!) and complimenting one another on our quickly improving gourmet cooking skills.
This was what I had been needing, that push out of the dry wastelands I’d been wandering, revealing the horizons my 9-year-old banana bread baking self had glimpsed. The twin motivators of community (wine, girl-talk in the kitchen,) and competition (these were difficult recipes) engaged me in the challenge of learning to cook and host well. Suddenly the dishes I was cooking! Thomas Keller’s leek bread pudding!Celery root soup!Beef and black bean chili with toasted cumin crema! And seeing what my friends were making was inspiring. If they could do it, I could do it too.
We kept it up for a couple years, meeting every month or every couple of months. People moved apartments, moved away, changed jobs, had babies, breakups and dietary changes, but the community and friendships – around food – are now some of my great memories of life in New York. I can’t speak for everyone else, but my cooking skills have permanently improved. Now I get home late on a Sunday and whip up a quick rhubarb snacking cake. I still go to brunch on occasion, but it’s much more fun to have friends over for arugula, bacon and gruyere bread pudding. Sometimes it takes an evolutionary leap, but it’s a leap well worth making.
1. Get a group of friends together – any cooking skill level will do – who are willing to give this cooking thing a try.
2. Pick a night that works. We liked Sundays – plenty of time to cook. Once a month was enough to get practice without feel too overcommitted.
3. Set up a host rotation. Each month, a different member of the group “hosts”. The supper club may or may not happen at his/her apartment, but they are responsible for selecting the theme and recipes and assigning them to the other members.
4. Go forth and cook your assigned recipe.
5. Figure out how to carry a very hot 10lb Dutch oven on the subway to your friend’s apartment. Give up very quickly and take a taxi. Burn your hand at least once on the Dutch oven.
6. Open a bottle (or 3 or 4) of wine, show off your culinary masterpiece and eat, drink and chat into the night.
My esteemed colleague and fellow Wheelhouser, Alison recently wrote a brilliant piece about the way that girls have shaped our culture by introducing new forms of slang into the lexicon. It is true that prefacing a statement with “I feel like…” is kind of the new “this might be a stupid question, but… .” It’s used as a way to disarm and also perhaps soften a blow. It can be used as a way to preserve relationships, something that our culture unfortunately views as a “chick thing.”
Saying “I feel like…” is also evidence of a particular worldview. As any pastor, economist, parent or person who has interacted with other people will assert, humans are irrational. We are much more driven by our feelings and desires than we like to admit. Yet, Western cultures prize objectivity and certainty more highly than subjectiveness and faith. So when we say “I feel like…” I perceive that as a much more honest way of communication than “I know that… .” And I feel like when women get the entire culture to say “I feel like,” we are subverting a power structure that needs to be toppled.
Full disclosure: I am an ENFJ. For those of you not familiar/obsessed with viewing the world and people through the lens of Myers-Briggs Type Indicators, this is one of 16 personality types developed by Carl Jung and Isabel Briggs Myers. So much of what you will read is textbook ENFJ. Certainly an E or ISTJ will search for and most likely find flaws in my reasoning, which doesn’t bother me.
Have you ever seen MadMen? It’s depicts the funhouse world of sexism and mild forms of racism from our all too recent past. Relationships are not prized–at least not overtly (Spoiler alert: Don’t click that link if you didn’t see Episode 11). As a woman, if there is one thing that drives me batshit crazy, it’s when people tell me that I care too much and that I should focus less on relationships and more on getting things done. As a member of the workforce for the past eight years, I can attest that people are more creative and productive when they care about their work and their colleagues when they feel that they’re valued. There’s probably a study about that somewhere, but since researching it right now isn’t the type of work that I care about, I’m not particularly motivated to find it for you (it’s probably in Harvard Business Review and also I think I just proved my point). And as someone who has had to manage volunteers and colleagues, preserving relationships ensures future collaboration.
That men have now adopted the phrase “I feel like…” is a great thing. The fact that women are socialized to prize community above individualism is not news. We are more relational. This gives us both the vocabulary and the space to feel and to process complex emotions. Men typically don’t have those opportunities or that lexicon in their relationships with each other (and often, they barely have that in their relationships with women). Looking at the world and expressing an “I feel like…” statement subverts the more traditional and transactional, “dog eat dog” culture (I think we’d all prefer a doggy dog world but maybe not always a Doggy Dogg World). It has the same disarming effect and it shows a humility, even if it’s not consciously done. I hope it means that as we’re moving toward a society marked by knowing and being known and valued, rather than being seen either as a tool or an obstacle. And it’s this focus on communication and relationships that will give people an edge in the new workforce. That’s a long way from Sterling Cooper Draper Price and their pimp factory (spoiler alert: I just ruined it for you if you didn’t see Episode 11. Sorry, can we still be friends? Do you want a hug?)
I’ve often felt that, as an ENFJ, I freakishly perceive the world through extroverted feeling and introverted intuition. Granted, that outlook must be tempered with logic and objectivity or else I go batshit crazy. However, I’ve become increasingly convinced that as humans, whether consciously or not, we often make decisions as much (if not more) with our hearts rather than only with our heads.
We see this dynamic play out in economics: people are irrational about their futures and their desires and often don’t make the most rational choices when it comes to spending. We see this play out in choices about jobs or relationships: we often make choices based on our feelings rather than what is objectively best for us. The theologian James K.A. Smith in his book, Desiring the Kingdom, posits that humanity is not comprised solely of thinking or believing beings, but also and primarily as desiring beings. He describes “person-as-thinker” and “person-as-believer” as reductionist models, writing:
“…by that I mean they fail to honor the complexity and richness of human persons and instead reduce us and our core identities to something less than they should be. … In partictular, both of these models remain narrowly focused on the cognitive aspect of our nature and tend to reduce us to that aspect (whether in terms of thoughts or beliefs). As a result, significant parts of who we are–in particular, our noncognitive ways of being-in-the-world that are more closely tethered to our embodiment or animality–tend to drop off the radar or are treated as nonessential.” (Chapter 1, Page 46)
Smith argues that “we are essentially and ultimately desiring animals, which is simply to say that we are essentially and ultimately lovers.” To be human is to love and it is what we love that defines who we are.” (Chapter 1, Page 50-51).
He goes on to write that many of our decisions and actions arise from our perceptions and feelings about what constitutes the “good life.” So yes, we’re irrational consumers, because what we feel to be “good” is tied up in something deeper than what we know to be good. And we sometimes make poor choices about relationships and careers because we feel that the “good” that the person or position offers, fits into our deeper desire for the “good life.” Whether we’re conscious of it or not, what we feel and desire influence our actions and our words as much as what we know and believe to be true.Yet, as George Michael Bluth so eloquently states, “well, you know the Torah tells us that the larger wrong is to put our own feelings before the commitments we’ve made. You know, towards the sick, aged and gross.”
So when we say “I feel like…” I believe that we’re expressing something about ourselves that goes beyond intellect and reason. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s that to deny that our feelings about the world, about the particular moment, does an injustice to humanity. Though it would make us better at running and using our arms as bulldozers, we’re not cyborgs. And even then, when cyborgs cry, do their gears not rust?
I feel that couching my thoughts in an “I feel” statement is my way of expressing something deeper: I feel like I want to open a dialogue about x or y. I feel like I want to be careful about what I’m about to say because our relationship matters more to me than being right. I feel like I want to say how I feel, because I don’t want to live in a world in which feelings are extricated from decision-making. As Tobias Funke would say: “here comes John Wayne. ‘I’m not going to cry about my Pa. I’m going to build an airport— put my name on it.’ Why, Michael? So you can fly away from your feelings?”
Finally, tying together the benefit of being relational with the human desire to love and be loved, one of the best arguments I can think of for using “I feel” rather than “I know” is that “being right” is not always the right way to be. One of the biggest barriers to fostering and preserving relationships is a need to be right, coupled with smugness. As someone who has worked with and lived with a variety of people during my young life, putting relationships first is a more surefire way to preserve peace and harmony in the living or work space than being “right.” And as someone who comes from a faith background that has often failed in its mandate to be known for our love rather than our theological correctness, I can attest that an insistence on being “right” is unattractive and often hurtful to both those in and outside the church.
If we go back to Don Draper and the crew and SCDP, we see a world in which certainty is deteriorating. What is truth? Do we seek our own truth? While I believe that there are some objective truths, I think and feel like it’s important to have a “modest doubt” even about what we believe is true. Admittedly, even expressing this modest doubt is a truth claim and a faith position. Faith that “now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12). I think it’s fitting that this verse is in a chapter about the supremacy of love for others over our knowledge and our faith. If someone insists on always being right in the boardroom/bedroom/living room and they act like an asshole about it, chances are after a while no one will be around to hear it.
Potent Quotable #3 by Faith McCormick
So yes, there are often times when I may employ “misdirection” and take the winding road in communicating how I feel about a particular situation. Sometimes that’s not the best approach; and it causes me to learn and recalibrate for the next time. But often expressing a feeling rather than a fact allows room for dialogue and consensus building.
Is this behavior coming from my particular view of the “good life,” that healthy relationships are the most important thing? Of course it is. Let’s have a dialogue about that. You won’t hurt my feelings if your view of the “good life” is personal advancement over emotional health (actually in that case, you probably will).