Who the heck…?

Yeah, I’m not any one of the usual, charming TSD crew. My name is Jess Adducci and I’m one of the many cheerleaders of the TSD endeavor. Though I started as just a girlfriend of one of the guys in the group (I’ll give you three guesses as to which one), I’ve formed a lasting friendship with Matt and Tony and look forward to continuing my introduction to Jake and Joey. Nick, my husband and oftentimes TSD illustrator, has even been welcomed into the group with open arms and we both were guests on Let’s Try Something New and the TSD Christmas Special.

So what am I doing in the editorial section of TSD?

I’m told this is a safe place. One where things might be confessed, where revelations abound, and… someone mentioned there might be cookies. So here’s goes. Your first taste of Jess Adducci.

I don’t take compliments well. And everything “good” I do feels like it’s what was expected. I’m a fairly intelligent, independent young woman. I got good grades in school. I’ve excelled at jobs I’ve held, which ranged from retail to filmmaker to corporate lackey to surgery center admissions. My other qualities— assertiveness, organization and systems analysis, and problem solving— lend themselves to success in life. And pretty much everyone knows this stuff about me. I was one of the many kids who were told confidently, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” And I took it seriously. It became the bar for my expectations of myself and what others expect of me. Some amount of greatness became the norm. That may sound pompous. But actually, it’s depressing. Because those kind of expectations mean I’m usually just meeting expectations, not exceeding them. Anything spectacular (by anyone else’s standards) I do becomes, “Meh. You know. It’s just what I’m supposed to do.” And since I’m a perfectionist, I also see myself frequently falling short. The bar is sky high and though others might see me reaching it, I never think I do. So essentially, I live my life in the bad and the neutral. Rarely do I live it in the good, the “WAY TO GO JESS!”

On top of all this, I’m a Christian. What does that have to do with it? Well, Christians these days aren’t known for being the most joyous people in the world. And part of Christian culture is an expectation of thankfulness, though often it comes off more as humble brags, martyrdom, and a sort of thankfulness for the self rather than God. There’s an oft quoted verse: “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil. 4:6) Christians are supposed to be a very thankful people, even amidst troubled times and needing things. There are sermons all about it. But I would sit there dumbly, completely disconnected from the concept. I think thankfulness is supposed to be a way of bringing about humility and seeing the good in life around you. But that’s not where I went with it. I’m not going to be thankful for mediocre and/or bad things in life. And just “focusing on the good” left me completely baffled. Because “good” didn’t usually exist in my world. Neutral did. Everything was par for the course.

In the last few years, the disconnect and general cynicism really started to bother my husband and I (we’re very similar), especially since it seemed to be something important to God. We’ve had two kids in the past few years and this really is such a rich, happy chapter of our lives. But we just couldn’t properly enjoy it with this ceiling on the good that kept everything neutral, meh, and just downright blah.

We’d been aware enough of ourselves and our cynical, curmudgeon tendencies that we did what we could to fight those tendencies where our kids were concerned. We celebrate every little thing they do. They seem driven forward by the praise. And it became especially important to reinforce good things with celebration when my son developed a speech delay and we started speech therapy. It would be easy to “just expect” him to talk and take any achievements in stride with a “well, he’s supposed to be talking” attitude. But he needed to hear that the tiniest improvements were things to celebrate. It kept him moving forward.

Somewhere around that time, God smacked Nick and I both with a concept that had been foreign to us personally. Celebration. Yeah, we tried to celebrate our kids. But it was a little easier because we hadn’t formed tremendous expectations for our kids. For ourselves? Mountains of expectations and norms. Celebrating ourselves seemed juvenile and patronizing. Yeah, okay, pat me on the head for a job I was expected to do anyway. But we took a breath and dived into the deep end, celebrating everything we could about each other and, as much as our own cynicism would let us, ourselves. Something happened.

We started being a lot more thankful! This world is covered in a grimy film of cynicism and soul killing expectations. I think celebrating— pointedly fighting the urge to downplay, poo-poo and generally disregard the good in life— leads to thankfulness in a way that can’t just be conjured up on its own. I’m probably getting into semantics, but it’s a little like trying to be thankful for something you don’t even see. Celebrating becomes a means to being aware of the good. And remembering there is something out there bigger than ourselves. Which leads back to humility! And thankfulness! Whoa. Celebrating opened our eyes to the richness of our own lives and actually cultivated a distaste for cynicism that has completely transformed us, our little world and the people in it over the last few months. Side note: You know that verse I quoted earlier? You know what comes right before it that never seems to get mentioned? “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4)

What does celebrating in House Adducci look like? Being with other adults and myself like I am my kids. I celebrate everything my kids do because it brings them joy and a sense of worth and satisfaction. And it helps me notice the little things. I’m looking to celebrate them— to tell them “Good job!! You did that!” They probably didn’t do it perfectly and they might have done it a hundred times before. And believe me, we still push them to strive for something even better next time. But I celebrate them. And my husband. My family’s hearts have grown in response to this intentional celebrating and I see them all so more clearly. And I’m thankful.

TSD is all about celebrating, seeing the good, fighting cynicism, and being thankful for the little things that bring us joy. Nick and I have struggled with celebration but we’re now taking every opportunity to celebrate the moments God ushers into our lives. And that includes TSD. We celebrate the hard work, the stubborn drive, and the heart behind this endeavor. And we’re thankful for a group of people looking to bring a little light into the world.

Do me a favor. Celebrate one thing today. Something small. Something you’d never think to celebrate because it seems so mundane. Revel in it. Glory in it. And feel the fog lift!

Finding a Balance

Last night was nice. We’ve developed a bit of tradition during Tony’s visits to St Louis of watching whatever the newest DC animated movie is of the moment. We watched Batman Ninja, enjoyed some Thai food, and unplugged for a while. It was refreshing.

I’m writing this at the end of a production block. We do these week-long shooting marathons a half dozen times a year. Tony has been here in St Louis for nearly a week now and we’ve been recording more podcasts and shooting new episodes of Cocktail Moment, while trying to catch up on movies, video games, and just life in general. Sometimes it feels like all we talk about is the channel. I don’t mean that negatively. It’s something we both care about and both want to see grow and be successful. But we’ve got to break it up sometimes with distractions. We went to a ball game on Saturday and had a great time, but it wasn’t long before we were talking about the channel and then shooting some video for the channel.

Nowadays our production team has doubled and we are producing original content at least once a week. It’s very fulfilling to have so much great work to show for our efforts, but it’s also very overwhelming at times. I have to remember to take the time to maintain the friendships that led to this wonderful team.

Looking back on the last two years of TSD, things have certainly changed a lot. In the beginning it was just Tony and myself producing a handful of episodes here and there. We got to hang out and do something we love a few times a year and the stress of it was pretty minimal. Jake and I were pretty casual friends at the beginning of all of this, but through no small part of our work together on TSD we’ve grown incredibly close and I count him among my closest friends and confidants. Joey is a somewhat recent addition to my life, but we’ve become steadfast friends so quickly through creative collaboration “in the trenches.”

Tony and I have been friends for going on twenty years now. He’s talked about it in a previous week, so I won’t go into a lot of detail on that. Suffice it to say, our bond of friendship is strong and producing creative projects together just strengthens it. TSD has been, overall, wonderful of us. It gives us ‘an excuse’ to spend time together doing things we love. It’s easy, however, to fall into the trap of making every interaction we have ‘about work.’

The greatest joy of working on this channel is getting to work alongside some of my favorite people-Tony, Jake, and Joey are hard-working creatives and we all do an incredible job of making each other better. In the chaos of production, I’m so grateful to be surrounded by friends. It would be so easy to get burnt out on each other after gruelling shoots and long weeks of production but we still find ourselves wanting to grab a drink or have a soak in the hot tub after it’s all done. The affection for each other is genuine, the bond we’re sharing is strong. Production weeks, like the one we’re finishing now, can be so overwhelming and anxiety-inducing for me, but I’m so glad to have these guys with me to get through it all. Work is something that’s tying us all together right now. Friendship is what’s making it worth doing.

The long way round

There are times when I’m thumbing through the tattered files of my memories, that I come across a moment that is hilariously revealing. As a gay man who spent most of his life closeted and fighting to stay in the closet, these moments are a dime a dozen: making a wig out of my mother’s garden twine, pining for a stunning periwinkle cloaked cape, and choreographing “I’m a Slave 4 U” in my underwear.

Yeah. Totes straight.

Those clues to my true sexuality were about as hidden as an old man’s moose knuckle with his pants pulled up to his nipples. In those old boxes of memories, there are other hidden things I wasn’t expecting to find: the path to becoming an amateur pastry chef, the reasons why other careers never felt “right”, and my proclivity for smartass remarks that make even my loved ones want to slap me.

In my senior year of English in high school, we all had to record and make senior videos. These were videos that included photos of our lives up until that time, our wants and wishes for the future, and who we wanted to be. At the time, I was working at Dairy Queen and loving it. I worked there for five years and had a blast making ice cream cakes, sundaes, cones, and blizzards. Even at home, I was baking and cooking everything I could. I even got into making and rolling my own pasta for homemade fettuccine alfredo. If I wasn’t making the kitchen look like an active crime scene, I was in front of the TV watching the Food Network until my eyes hurt. So, in my senior video, I said I wanted to be a culinary artist. I can still see my teacher’s face when I said that: scrunched up and twisted, like a baby who just decided that their mashed pea puree would look better on the floor than in their mouth. That face made me second-guess just about everything. That same year, I was also one of the top tenors in our state for All-State Choirs.

Music has always been a big part of my life. My mother was our church pianist, my dad played the guitar and mandolin. I started playing the piano in first grade. I can remember practicing hand positions and scales and learning everyone’s eternal jam, “Hot Cross Buns”. I sang in church constantly at our Sunday night services where anyone could sing a song or a hymn. I was nothing short of a diva. Shocker, right? But, growing up in a religious family, these behaviors were reinforced by the idea that talent is a divine gift, ’ and therefore a ‘calling’ for your life. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was told, “If you don’t use the gift God gave you, it’s a sin. You musn’t squander the gifts you’ve been given.”

Therefore, to avoid squandering my “God-given gifts”, I dove headfirst into that musical rabbit hole. I went to college for music. I studied abroad for music. I was in a Young Artist program for a prestigious group,and I performed as a concert soloist with the heads of professional music departments. I had no issues getting work, and by all accounts, I was incredibly successful very early in my journey. This made it easy to feel like music really was at the core of who I am, who I was meant to be, and who I will be. Resting on my laurels, I slid by not noticing the growing storm clouds.

In 2013 I applied to a few Masters programs. I networked, prepared tirelessly, drove hours to schools, and auditioned. I was accepted to all my schools. I was elated. Life was going swimmingly…until it didn’t. No one offered me any sort of financial assistance: no scholarships, no grants, no teaching assistantship. My student loans would not even cover one semester. I begged and pleaded with the departments, prostrating myself like an initiate priest taking their vows. I could not understand why this terrible thing was happening to me. I was MEANT for this life! This was God’s plan for me! Why me, God? Why, me???? *insert torrential rainstorm*

All joking aside, this roadblock, this failure, rattled me to my core. I had a plan. I was a “musician.” What was I to do? The terrible emptiness that followed my final call with the financial aid office is something I can still feel to this day. I was housesitting at the time and I just went to the front porch, sat on the porch swing, and watched the rain fall. All those Simple Plan music videos I watched during my emo-preteen phase had prepared me well for this very moment. As the shock faded and I started to pick myself up, I went into first-aid mode. I dug out all the bad in that wound and tried to find what was left. I dissected “who am I?” as if it were a frog splayed out on a lab table, spread eagle, with its entrails being shown to him. When my depression was at its worst, I probably smelled about as bad as that frog did too.

I spent years in that desperate rut, but finally, the answer came to me. I had been looking at it from a career standpoint, when I really needed to look deeper–people are not careers. We are not jobs. I realized what I love most in life is making people feel a sense of “home,” and in doing so, making them feel loved. There’s a good episode of Friends that displays it perfectly: Monica is trying to get people to hang out at their apartment. She does everything: bakes, cleans, remodels. In the last scene, the gang finally comes back over to her apartment and she collapses in the chair after working tirelessly, and passes out saying “I’m the hostess, I’m the hostess.” Her friends are happy with their freshly baked cookies and everything looks homey and cozy. That’s me.

Following that feeling brought me back to food. With the weight of expectation off my shoulders , I let myself really discover who I was by doing what I loved. I love food. I love the feelings it gives people. I love the power it has to bring back to life those that have passed, those we’ve loved, and the times we shared with them around the table. Is there really anything as caring as a plate full of freshly baked cookies or a pie from a friend?

So here I am today, still chasing my gut. I know who I am now, for the most part. It took me years of parsing through the good, the bad, the painful, and the joyful to get here. Some days, I’m tired and exhausted and I may fail at being joyful, but my hope is that people will always know my love for them through the food I serve.

I hope you feel loved, I hope that you feel at home…and most importantly, I hope you feel full.