yours, tiramisu

hotpot and imposter syndrome

For lunch today my family went out for all you can eat hotpot. If my memory serves me correct, this was my first time having hotpot at a restaurant. I'd never been particularly motivated to go out for hotpot because we eat it at home in the winter and it's usually a bland affair of cabbage, lotus roots, noodles, mushrooms, tofu, and brisket boiled in an open pot of tap water. I don't care much for boiled vegetables and meats, healthy as I know they are. I'll eat them without complaint, but when I go out I want flavor, health be damned!

Restaurant hotpot was better than I expected. You get to choose a soup base from a variety of proper broths — Szechuan, Thai tom yum, Korean seafood tofu soup — all of which are improvements on the tap water we use at home. The broth tastes pretty good to begin with (nothing beats MSG) and only gets better as it absorbs the flavors of the meats and vegetables. There's a wider array of meats and sauces to choose from, too: you can have squid, clams, lamb, pork belly, brisket, quail eggs and dip them in chili oil, peanut sauce, and ponzu. (I don't recommend some of those combinations, but you're free to make them if you so desire.)

One of my favorite parts of lunch was watching my brother break every food safety guideline known to mankind. I laughed and my dad put his head in his hands as my brother ate undercooked fish and cross-contaminated his plate with raw meat (rather than directly in boiling broth). I haven't been so entertained in days, and the best part is that I might still be treated to an encore if one of us gets food poisoning.

It's been a long time since I've had any all you can eat meal either. As kids we frequented Golden Corral, Sweet Tomato's, and Stevi B's, later graduating to Korean barbecue, sushi, and Chinese buffets as our taste buds grew in. After my diagnosis in 2021 (and subsequent dietary restrictions) I haven't been able to let loose nearly as often, but to tell you the truth, today's lunch made me realize I don't miss it as much as I thought I did. Buffet food safety practices (or the lack thereof) spook me now, and I'm not young enough to be able to eat whatever I want anymore. I can still stuff a good deal into my stomach, but more often than not I have to pay for it twice — once when the check comes, and another hours later when I start feeling awful.

I've been keeping myself busy by preparing for my first tutoring session. I haven't met my first student yet, but I've been told it will probably be a tenth grader with a focus on creative writing. I'm nervous! I feel not only imposter syndrome creeping in — I'm used to feeling that way at work, anyway — but also a more unfamiliar feeling: the pressure of my job actually mattering. My students are counting on me to give them good advice! I don't really get a do-over with these lessons if I mess up. And their writing and love for the written word will be directly influenced by how I connect with them.

I know I'll likely never be able to shake off this imposter syndrome completely, but I'm comforted by the fact that for maybe the first time in my life, I'm getting paid to do something I love to do. Reading through these documents doesn't drain my soul. In fact, I'm having fun seeing how the founders drew up the teaching materials and picking out the quirks in their writing styles. I don't have the most experience, talent, or accolades compared to the other tutors, but I do finally have passion on my side. I hope within my heart of hearts that it'll be enough.

One of the drawbacks of teaching something I enjoy is managing my strong opinions. Take the following excerpt from our training materials on creative writing:

yours, tiramisu

I'm a big fan of the showing vs telling concept too, but I don't like that the example of "high quality showing" is the purplest sentence I've ever seen. No writer worth their salt would pen a sentence like that. We shouldn't teach students that the pinnacle of writing is cramming as many sensory details into a single sentence as grammar allows.

Perhaps as a former purple prose abuser I'm more austere than the average writer, but I can't let sentences like that fly. How much of that should I let my personal philosophy color my lessons?

I also don't love that I have to reinforce the nonsensical writing structure taught in schools: the five paragraph essay, topic sentences, and transitions. I know mastering this format will help students with their classes and competitions, but I wish we didn't have to perpetrate these untruths. Writing is hard enough without them. I want to give each of the students I get a copy of Verlyn Klinkenborg's Several Short Sentences About Writing and let them run wild. They'd be better writers for it, that's for sure.

#english #food #life #wordvomit #writing