Flatland takes deep inspiration from my own life. I worked as a cook and lived with sex workers; the neighborhood in the story feels is enriched with small details from my daily life.
When I started the piece, I was in my mid 20s and deeply obsessed with seasonal cooking, yet rubbing up against the constant struggle of trying to survive in the hugely expensive Bay Area rental market on the $12-13 per hour cooks made then (I can imagine they make the same, perhaps a little better now, and the struggle is far worse over there now).
Likewise, my roommates were struggling with inconsistent incomes and the desire to have more agency over their employment while protecting their safety. The whole vibe was something out of a Michelle Tea novel and so it felt like I was living out some meta SF queer rite of passage.
I had just upended my life – starting a cooking career while in the last semester of my MFA program, abruptly moving from Boston to Oakland to work at an artisan bakery for a couple months, spending my free time writing this literary food blog back when blogging was not formulaic and income-driven but done for love. I was lit with this intense energy all the time, doing exactly what I wanted to do, diving headlong into the world of flavor – but it was totally unstable.
At work, I cooked with heirloom produce from this or that pedigreed organic farm, and worked at fine-dining restaurants and boutique bakeries that catered to people with money to burn. Meanwhile I was living on quesadillas and pasta, and spending my free time walking all over the city photographing Cake graffiti tags. That tension made its way into Flatland, where all the characters are constrained by their environment even as they revel in the little moments of freedom they can afford. The story takes elements of my truth, like the backyard flowers or the different families on the block, and exaggerates the emotional impact of worlds colliding.
Like much of my writing from that time frame, this piece was started as it was happening but put aside when real life – early morning and late night baking shifts, city rambles, intense friendships – got in the way. While I write creative nonfiction now, I didn’t then – so the best way for me to work through my reality (as I’ve always done with writing) was to fictionalize our reality, choices, and outcomes – in this piece and in others I wrote about my various cooking jobs ( a later piece was published at Helen – if you read them both you can see the crash and burn from idealistic young writer/chef to wised-up hustler…).
Last year I discovered an earlier draft of Flatland on my computer when organizing files, edited it, and started sending it out. Submitting your work is really a luxury. You need time to contemplate, revise, see the edits that need to be made. Time to find the markets that speak to you. And of course, you need to believe you have a point of view that’s worth being heard.
I’m still writing about food and love and money (currently in a novel about queers in the restaurant industry in SF, which is much more loosely inspired by my experience). I still love cooking deeply, but the youthful burn of it all like Kerouac and his roman candles is something I can’t recapture.