Confronting the Better Writer

Let’s see. Me as a…golfer. Pah. Husband and father: good, not flawless (better check with the audience on that one). TV reporter: was good, not Cronkite. Lawyer: skilled but frustrated. Cook: adventurous, often successful, but not immune to blunders. (Ask my friend Mike McGarry, whose family watched in horror as a fire inside the grill consumed six heretofore thick, juicy, beautiful, and un-black veal chops).

I have been a lifelong try-er, if not always succeed-er. Not sure what clicked, or when, to make me this way, but comfort zones get stale real fast for me. I step out, even into the pouring rain of defeat. Often, I step out not knowing how I’m going to handle the storm. Sometimes I have to come in, soaking wet.

About the only thing I have attempted in all these years without trepidation has been writing. Thanks to a parade of good teachers and my own native ability, my fingers have never trembled in hesitation over a keyboard. Sure, I’ve written bad stuff. But I’ve written a lot more that’s good. I just…have no fear. I can be edited, revised, rejected, ridiculed, ridiculous…and I just keep coming back. TV script that needs to be polished in time for a voiceover in 10 minutes? I got that. Sixteen hundred words on deadline with sources double-checked? I got that. Ideas organized and emotions tugged on cue?

Kill the smirk, Jazzbeaux; your'e on my blog now...

Kill the smirk, Jazzbeaux; your’e on my blog now…

Bitch, please.

Yes, I am arrogant about my writing (but not afraid of criticism! Hi, you literary agents out there!) But the point of this column is not to tell you how well I write. No, what I’m blathering on about is one of those writers who is better than me. And I gotta deal with it.

Anthony Bourdain. That punk. That lowlife has my life! Foodie, graying and wrinkling but still bad-boy handsome, traveling the world in search of the next oyster and the next adjective. Gnaws on chunks of snark as a cocktail snack. Never met an opinion he didn’t have an opinion about. Voice ain’t bad either.

When I first saw Bourdain on TV, I was annoyed. Because he was annoying. But it didn’t take long to realize why: the guy was like me! Or what I wanted to be like. What was it? His Culinary Institute of America training? The childhood summers in France? The fact that I’m just too danged nice sometimes?

Anyway, he singes me. Recently, though, I contributed a little to a college professor friend’s journalism program. For this, I got a chance to win tickets to see Bourdain talking in his recent road show (Talking! To people who pay to listen! While traveling! GRRRRRR.) I didn’t win the tickets, but as a thank-you gift, I got a copy of Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential. In it, he swings wide the door of the inner sanctum and shows the back of the house, broiler, sauté station, crazy owners and all.

And….you got it….dude can flat write. Check this:

“Personally, I’d prefer to eat food that tastes good and is an honest reflection of its ingredients than a three-foot-tall caprice constructed from lemongrass, lawn trimmings, coconuts and red curry. You could lose an eye trying to eat that. When a [chef’s] job applicant starts telling me how Pacific Rim cuisine turns him on and inspires him, I see trouble coming. Send me another Mexican dishwasher anytime. I can teach him to cook. I can’t teach character. Show up at work on time six months in a row and we’ll talk about red curry paste and lemongrass. Until then, I have four words for you: ‘Shut the fuck up’.”

That crackles like a steak on a sizzle platter at the height of the dinner rush. Dude has got it goin’ on.

Seriously, arrogant as I am about my own writing, I don’t really mind that Bourdain is better. I learn from people like that. And after all, when there’s no one left to beat, why play? I’ll still come to the keyboard wielding ideas like machetes. And I’ll give Bourdain and anyone else who surpasses me their due.

Probably better for them not to turn their backs, though. Hey Tony, pass that bowl o’ snark.♦

© 2013 Adam Barr. Excerpt © 2012 Anthony Bourdain.

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4 thoughts on “Confronting the Better Writer

  1. k8efitz says:

    I’ve read his books – they’re pretty freakin’ awesome. I envy him, too! I also – can hear his voice every time I read something from his books. No Reservations (IMHO) was probably the BEST produced and written show on TV – his new one on CNN (which, of course I watch) is pretty much the same thing but a little less eating. He’s kind of all sorts of cool. AND btw, don’t sell yourself short, you are too!

  2. “Kitchen Confidential” was a homer in his first big-league at-bat, and he’s been very solid ever since. Like you, Anthony Bourdain is a good writer because he READS and acknowledges good writers. … His recent episode from Morocco on CNN’s “Parts Unknown” was more a tribute to William S. Burroughs than travelogue or foodie news. … His TV scripts are very literate, which sets him apart. … I want to see a snark-off between Bourdain and Dennis Miller, who has lost his big-media roster spot but plugs along in the minors on craft, guile and wit.

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