the cutting board

I have several bosses at my academic institution. I lose track of exactly how many I have, but they are above me in various layers and also pointed at me from different directions. I live in two different sections of the organizational chart, and it’s interesting to study my own existence in the two different ecosystems. I’m not sure what my biospheric equivalent is, and I suspect there might not be any. It’s a bit unnatural in many ways.

Anyway, the point isn’t really that I have several bosses, but that one of them has the tradition of giving out a thoughtful, homemade holiday gift that’s actually interesting and useful. Last year, for example, it was homemade vanilla paste, some potent combination of crushed vanilla beans hydrated in alcohol. It’s three times the concentration of regular bottled vanilla, and smells ridiculously marvelous. Looking at it makes me want to scoop out a finger of it and slurp it up, but I’m wise enough to know better.

This isn’t about the vanilla, either, or even the act of the gift giving. Not really. It’s about this year’s gift, even better than last’s. Yesterday, while I was out, a homemade loaf of dessert bread was delivered, complete with a knife and a homemade cutting board. It was the cutting board that particularly struck me, although the bread was delicious as well. This smooth piece of hardwood was oiled, and complete with instructions for its care. It’s just the right size for small snacks, cheeses for example, and classier than the plastic cutting board I am just as apt to use camping as I am in the kitchen.

But this isn’t about the gift, either. Not really. It just now struck me that there could be insidious, secret messages sent via what would otherwise be considered a simple, thoughtful, useful gift. The vanilla, for example, might have been offered as a way to help ease pain killers, muscle relaxants, and antidepressants down one’s throat. The added alcohol is just a nice chaser. This year, things are more desperate, perhaps. Here’s a cutting board, the gift that is a tool and a metaphor for the upcoming year, perhaps. And a knife. And something delicious to practice with. Cut yourself another slice, the cutting board tells me. Once you get used to it, cutting bread, or cheese, or budgets, or staff, or programs, or your own salary, or . . . well, it all seems kind of pleasant, almost, with the right cutting board, and instructions for its care. Just follow with the alcohol soaked antidepressant with a delightful smackering of vanilla.

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