Stephanie Shaver

Sometimes Writer Always Extremely Online

About Me

Hello, my name is Steph. I’ve been writing and publishing since 1988 and I’ve been in the games industry since 1996. I wrote a little bit more on the About Me page. This is my sometimes-updated website. Enjoy.

Watermelon Rinds and the Demons of Burn Out

As I pickle watermelon rinds, I’ve been contemplating how to write about my burn out. Like you do.

Two jars of watermelon rind pickles. One jar is short and has a yellow cap, the other is a full quart and has a purple cap. They are both full of watermelon rinds in a brine. They are sitting on a countertop, on a folded paper towel.

Turns out: Working for your “dream company” for a decade burns you out when your dream ends up collapsing in on itself. You stand on the edge of the pit of a smoking crater, staring down the demon of bitterness and despair, and somewhere along the way you realize you don’t want to cook anymore.

At least, that’s what it did in my case.

Not just cooking for the family. But cooking for fun. I didn’t want to make cinnamon rolls with apple compote filling anymore. I didn’t want to explore the thousand funktastic varieties of kimchi. I no longer wanted to figure out how to can and jam the fun fruits I used to walk around and experiment with at the farmer’s markets. I didn’t want to ferment or fry. It all felt fucking dour and pointless.

Oh, also, we were dealing with a pandemic that forced me to cook.

Eating out no longer became an option during the Pandy. The Doordash options were dire, flaccid, and flavorless. Very often orders were every variety of wrong, flavorless, and messy, and costly on top of that. I think I honestly was starting to grow to hate food in a way that I hadn’t my whole life.

How’d I climb out of it?

I recognized the dream probably hadn’t ever been there. I found a job that made me happy. I recognized that giving into petty bitterness didn’t actually make me happier, it just made me sound like I had no capacity for letting go.

This all seems simple, but I’m editing down two and a half years of progress, three if you count the period where I made the realization and started actively looking elsewhere.

Aaand I read some new cookbooks.

Tamar Adler writes sideways cookbooks. An Everlasting Meal is a great example of sideways writing, not quite a collection of recipes, not quite a running monologue. I highly recommend it if you are an experienced cook who’s bored with recipe books. Her sequel on what to do with leftovers — An Everlasting Cookbook — just came out, and is also great.

Jennifer Reese also wrote a great one — ten years ago. Honestly, if Make the Bread, Buy the Butter had come out right before the pandemic, it would have probably been a runaway hit, and shame on her publisher for not doing a reprint then because it deserved it. It’s conversational, well researched, and I think my only quibble (and thus content warning) is she’s got some clear hangups about weight. I recognize myself in that; it’s a GenX thing, I swear. Also, hard disagree on “buy” for burritos, but I live in the PNW now and the burrito situation is not good.

It’s a good book. Read it if none of that bothers you.

We all break on different lines. We all burn out in different ways. I didn’t know or call it burn out until one day someone asked why I’d stopped posting pictures of my creations.

And it was like…yeah. I’m not creating. This, to quote Laura Jane, is just survival.

Anyway, I’m back to making watermelon pickles. And pickle pickles. I somehow got a basil plant to propagate just by sticking some basil from the supermarket in water; I fed it some fish emulsion tonight, we’ll see if it decides to stick around further or not. I planted tomatoes after doing nothing with the garden last year. We went wildly optimistic and planted a pumpkin, too. I even found myself thinking about spinning up a fresh kombucha SCOBY again.

You’ll know I’m back when I’ve got a SCOBY.