Be Loyal to the Nightmare You’ve Chosen

Lately, I’ve developed a bit of a fixation with Anthony Bourdain. You may know him from either of his television shows, No Reservations or Parts Unknown, or possibly from his memoir-ish book Kitchen Confidential, which is lauded as an expose into seedy underbelly of the restaurant world. Really, it’s an expose into the seedy underbelly of Anthony Bourdain’s restaurant world. But that’s not really the point.

The point is that Bourdain is a chef who wrote a book (several actually, including two novels) and the suddenly, even though he seems to consider himself a chef still, he’s also got two television shows where he gets to eat and witness his way around the world. He’s grumpy and kind of an asshole. And he has my dream life.

bourdain_2If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading and watching a lot of Anthony Bourdain lately, is that there was no real way to plan how to get where he got. He was a screw up and a drug addict, and then he wasn’t. And even though he’s known as a chef, he’s still managed to do something I’ve been struggling to do all summer.


This blog post is getting away from me. I can’t tell if I want to write about how watching Anthony Bourdain travel all over the world is driving me crazy because I want to travel all over the world but I don’t have the money. Also traveling while female and alone isn’t exactly the same as traveling as Anthony Bourdain with fixers and interpreters and the weight of CNN behind you.

But it’s also about how Anthony Bourdain calls himself a chef, but he managed to get up in the morning and write in a way that I haven’t been able to all summer. About how he, with all his foibles and flirtations with addiction, has more experience with the world, more tastes and smells and sounds and sensations than I’ll ever have. For the most part, that’s pretty okay with me. I’m down with not trying heroin. Or cocaine. Also he doesn’t appreciate wine nearly as much as he should.

But there’s a sense of abandon there, a commitment to life and an ability to get through the day without analyzing and questioning everything, that I really wish I had sometimes. I wonder too if that’s somehow related to my inability to sit down and write, even though I think about it all the time. I wonder if there’s a knife-edge that some people start out on, with wild abandon on one side and playing it too safe on the other. Another set of extremes I worry about in myself is that I’m so afraid of losing myself in the wild abandon that I don’t go anywhere near it.

In the Congo episode of Parts Unknown Bourdain quotes Heart of Darkness: “Be loyal to the nightmare you’ve chosen.” There’s something to that, I think. Not just in saying that you have to commit to your choices, even when they get hard (which is certainly what Bourdain was saying even if it might not have been what Conrad meant). But also that you have to make the choice in the first place.

Just write, goddamn it.

But first, Anthony Bourdain is going to Peru, so I’m going to go watch that.

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