On “Chopped,” Packing, and Apprehension

Your name is Savannah. You are twenty years old and have just ended your sophomore year at Duke, where you recently declared a double major in psychology and women’s studies. You intend on declaring an education minor, but haven’t actually gotten around to it yet. In your spare time, you devour books of all sorts and theatre of every kind. You practice taekwondo, knit, and interact with every animal you come across. You will be     working with Sanctuary for Families at the Bronx Family Justice Center this summer, and you are effervescently looking forward to it.

(from Chopped: open your mystery baskets, folks!) 

It is May 23rd, and you have come off of the end of your killer spring semester. You swallow a full two seasons of Chopped in entirely too short an amount of time, and once you feel suitably lazy and refreshed, you begin packing. Packing is something that you have always enjoyed, though for something as large as the Moxie Project, in NYC no less, it feels almost insurmountable. What clothes to bring, what accoutrements to include in the limited space of your suitcase? What will your apartment have or not have? What will you be willing to buy? You’re starting to envy the people on Chopped who are told exactly what they need to feature in the dishes they create for the judges. Even if Chef Alisha has to cook with bay scallops, braeburn apples, sorrel, and duck hearts, she knows that at the end of the round, a dish must be created that feature those four weird things.

You approach your packing like you might approach Chopped, regardless of your utter lack of professional chef experience. You lay out things that seem utterly opposed in juxtaposition to one another; your conservative button-down shirts, your favorite going-out dress, your huge rainbow wings for NY Pride. You are flying blind, but you know that you’ll get through.

When you’re not packing for the Moxie Project, you’re thinking about it. You have synced the calendar with your own and have spent more than a few minutes running around your house and contacting every group text when you found out the program includes tickets to the Broadway musical Waitress. You have emailed your supervisor and read over all the literature that the the BFJC gave to you about its mission and regulations. “Excited” doesn’t begin to cover it.

(this is you, only with less property damage)

Still, you have been trying hard to sit with some ethical issues that were only enhanced in your mind through the well-intentioned but ultimately unfulfilling DukeEngage Academy (meant as a two-day training for students going all over the world on similar programs). Your program director said something that has stuck with you; she hopes that you will do the least harm possible and that you hopefully will do a bit of good.

You know that as a summer intern, your presence is valued but it is a sacrifice. You have never worked with children of survivors of intimate partner violence before. You have barely even worked with survivors of intimate partner violence before. You are equipped only with a background in developmental psychology, a history of childcare experience, and a passion for the work. You expect that you will be out of your comfort zone, and you are prepared to lean into that discomfort. Still, as with any similar fish-out-of-water experience, you feel apprehensive. Will you be able to relate to the children? Will you have a good relationship with your supervisor? When a child speaks to you in Spanish, will all your years of language classes fly out of your head? There are a thousand possibilities for things to go awry. Again, this is something you have to sit with.

You hope this summer that you can apply some of the theoretical knowledge that you have been given academically with real, on-the-ground work. In addition, you hope to reinforce and grow your relationship to feminism in the context of what you read, discuss, and experience throughout the course of the summer. Less cerebrally, you challenge yourself to budget not only your money, but your mental energy and your time as well.
You are almost, almost, almost finished packing. A few more episodes of Chopped should do it.

2 thoughts on “On “Chopped,” Packing, and Apprehension

  1. I love your unique style of writing, which really allows the reader to feel the emotions that you’re conveying as you pack. I also think that you have a powerful metaphor of packing here. It’s an almost insurmountable task and you have to bring together lots of separate, disparate things in order to be ready (or even not quite). In the same way, you’re having to pull together many parts of your education and life experiences to equip you for an unknown challenge. You can try to learn as much as possible beforehand, but ultimately, you probably can’t fully prepare yourself for everything that you will see and experience. The most that you can do is have a willingness to grow, and “pack” away what you learn for the next challenge you will face.

  2. Reading your introduction reminded me of something a friend of mine would always say when considering candidates for his scholarship program: “Does he have the chops?” The language might be gender-exclusive, but the meaning still resonates with me. Like you, I approach new experiences with apprehension about whether I have “the chops” or have packed the right stuff for the occasion. The experience can be humbling when I realize that yes, there is so much left to learn and yes, I will get there, but it can also be incredibly infuriating as well as unsettling when I consider whether my inexperience, uncertainty, or unpreparedness will harm somebody else. Thank you for speaking the truth with this relatable post, and I wish you the best of luck (or the least of harm).

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