Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Big Fish

I didn't know what real salmon was until I moved to the Northwest. When I ordered grilled salmon for my first dinner in Seattle I was shocked to see the bright pink fish that arrived on my plate. During my three years living there I ate wild Alaskan salmon raw, grilled and poached, but mostly I enjoyed eating it smoked. This was especially surprising to me, raised Jewish in New York City where I had mistakenly believed that thinly sliced salty lox was the only smoked salmon out there. The salmon I discovered in the NW was thick and flavorful and widely available. I didn't eat it with cream cheese and a bagel. I preferred eating it with my hands. So when I visited Seattle last weekend to celebrate the Jewish New Year with my fiance and friends,  I had the perfect excuse to visit the Ballard Farmer's Market where I was handed heavenly samples of wild Alaskan king salmon smoked in brown sugar and garlic or maple and wine. I bought a piece and saved it for my last dinner before heading back to the Midwest, recognizing that it's one of the local foods I'd sacrifice by moving this long distance.

But somehow Seattle fish followed me back to Michigan. Yesterday I attended a school district meeting in a small town outside of Ann Arbor where someone referred to the "World Famous" Pike Place Market and it's "fish" philosophy. It wasn't the first time I'd heard about this. Back in July when I began my rotation in long term care I started each morning by attending the daily management meetings. I learned that the head administrator had started only a month or so earlier and was eager to bring some energy and enthusiasm to what was a pretty drab place. On my first day he asked me to select the winning "fish." He laid out a bunch of folded notes on the table and I selected one. I had no idea what these "fish" were for. He explained that they were complimentary notes that residents and staff could fill out, commending a staff member's performance or positive attitude. "You're from Seattle, you must know the Pike Place Fish Market." I nodded. I thought of the busy tourist attraction where the fishmongers would toss the purchased fish to one another in a call and response manner, every so often throwing a fake fish at an unsuspecting person in the crowd. It was a cute shtick but I had no idea what this had to do with anything. Apparently there was some greater philosophical underpinning, but I wondered if anyone present at the meeting had actually been there. 

After yesterday's meeting I was in my preceptor's office and noticed the Fish! book on her shelf, so I borrowed it and read it last night. It's one of those Who Moved My Cheese? types of self-help for the workplace books that is annoyingly oversimplified, perhaps a total lie but ultimately well-intentioned and a good motivational device that asserts four main ideas: Choose your attitude, Play (have fun while you work), Make their day (engage with those you work with and work for), and Be present. These concepts are all based upon the Pike Place Fish Market, and I think they're pretty good principles to incorporate into the workday.

When it comes to actually buying fish, I'll take Ballard over the Pike Place Market any day. But while I'm living 2500 miles away, turning my nose up at the ubiquitous farmed Atlantic pathetic excuse for salmon, counting down the weeks until I'm back in the NW (8!), these small references to Seattle make my day. Until then I certainly can work on being present, taking time to play and choosing a positive attitude - all good skills to develop when working in schools.

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