What Making Pizza Taught Me About the Meaning of Labor
I aspire to live off my writing, but there is real knowledge and skill in my dough-spinning hands
Here’s an anecdote: I learned to cook pizza when I was 23, taught by someone two years my junior who’d been making pizza since age 15. She could assemble dissociated ingredients into a cheese pizza in under 45 seconds, beginning by spinning a lump of sticky dough into an airborne disc with a three-foot radius. Next to her I felt old, slow, and stupid. She explained that, to spin, each pizza dough needed to be of uniform thickness with no lumps or crust. The dough stuck to my hands and between my fingers.
The training cook wasn’t concerned. She casually tossed a giant pizza dough that rippled like an airborne jellyfish as she told me, “You’ll eventually be able to tell by feel where it’s strong or not, where it needs more stretch or where it might rip.”
I thought with complete certainty, “I will literally never be able to tell that.” I tried to stretch my dough ball and promptly ripped a giant hole in it.
The cook shrugged. “I rip holes in dough all the time,” she said. She laid out an 18-inch perfect pizza skin. “You’ll figure out the best way to fix them.”
I didn’t understand where her confidence in me came from and I certainly didn’t share it.
Now, by profession, I am a pizza cook. I have been paid to cook pizza, on and off, for almost seven years. Though I’ve taken stabs at moving on career-wise, I’ve relied on this skill set again and again to patch the economic potholes endemic to millennial existence.
Years after my first moments in a pizza kitchen, I enrolled in a master’s degree program in creative writing. During one of my graduate courses, over three class periods, the professor discussed in intricate detail what did and did not constitute an anecdote. And yet, before using the word “anecdote” earlier, I Googled it just to be sure. I would not feel comfortable explaining to someone with 100% certainty its meaning, even still.
My body has learned to make pizza experientially, through trial and feedback, over and over.