After getting two really unpleasant work emails this week, both of which made me cry silently and then rage, I feel it might be time to change careers.
I’ve been thinking this for a while, actually, but nothing’s come of it—I can’t really figure out what the next “thing” is, so I continue running my publishing business—it’s provided me and a couple of great staffers with a good living and I have a couple of clients and projects I adore. I like my business because I make things that people like—so in some ways it’s like baking.
I’m putting a lot of résumés in the online ether. Sometimes I get kicked right of out of the algorithm immediately (I’m sure that’s not the right vernacular, but whatever). Sometimes I hear nothing at all. Sometimes I get an email that says the job posting is on hold.
Of course it all feels a bit hopeless right now, when the unemployment rate is what? 30%? The toil of making a great résumé is, in fact, infinitely less interesting to me than roughly a million other things, including cleaning out my email inbox, obsessively and needlessly checking on my sourdough starter, and maybe even folding my laundry.
“What are you doing with this baking thing?” people ask, as if I have a new career mapped out and this is part of it. Mostly I’m just kind of feeling show-offy about my newfound skills. I’m craving those Instagram “likes” on my bread pictures. Recognition for my skills and expertise in publishing can be elusive; posting a picture of a crusty golden loaf that 47 people “like” is more positive reinforcement than I get in five years in my business.
My dear friend/grad school buddy/author Paul told me he smells a book in the works. Another friend asked me if I was going to sell my bread. Another asked if I was going to open a bakery. And so on. The truth is, I don’t know what I’m doing with this baking thing. I do know the following:
- I like giving my bread (and starter) away. This week, I delivered 100-gram jars of Tribble to five households in ABQ, from a nearby South Valley friend to another all the way up to the far end of High Desert (literally the other end of the city). I really enjoyed the process of measuring, jarring, writing out instructions, and driving around. Bonus: I got to see two friends (from 6 feet away) I’ve known for 20 years but don’t see much of these days. They reminded me that at one point I had been thriving in my career, instead of languishing.
- I am not currently working on my novel (about a bakery). But like many creative processes, maybe I am, actually, working on it, in my head. I’ve often told my students that you have to organically absorb the material before you can write effectively. You have to know it to your bones. So perhaps that’s what I’m up to.
- I am not currently marketing my business. I am supremely lazy about that, in fact, and would rather do almost anything, including fold my laundry, than try to “sell myself.” I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I’m damn good at it. Doesn’t the universe just want to rain opportunities down on me?
- I am constantly thinking about baking in-between magazine editing projects, a massive proofreading project, and the writing of emails to collect money I’ll never get. Sidenote: that’s a great writing exercise where I have to strike the exact right tone between desperation and politeness, the undertone of which is: “Are YOU GOING TO PAY YOUR FUCKING BILL?” Then I want to bake. A cake, for my own birthday. A new formula from the textbook. Almond croissants crossed my mind. Maybe another brioche.
- I fantasize about going back to baking school. This time for much longer than the single week I studied in San Francisco. And maybe, this time, in France.
- I have been studying videos of scoring technique.
I have written three books, one of which was considered a bestseller in its category and went into a second edition. Each time I finish one, I swear I never will write another book.
Contrary to popular belief, I’ve made only pennies (and no, that is not hyperbole) on those projects, yet the lure of a bread book lurks nearby, at the edge of my consciousness. If I allow myself to imagine it, just for a second, it has an artful cover, maybe a bread illustration, or a painting, by my friend Natalie (I’d commission her). It would explore the culture of bread. How important it is in our lives, how it’s built a cult following and ebbed and flowed in its importance. It would look at “Procrasti-baking” and “Rage-baking” (I think that one’s taken) and what it means to put your hands in the dough. It would be a deep exploration of the culture and history and traditions and lure of the loaf.
I don’t know—it certainly would not include recipes, as I have yet to make up my own versions of things or experiment at all… I’m not to that “organic knowledge” part of the process, that 10,000 hours. I am at the part of the process, if it indeed is a process, of passing along sourdough feeding instructions to various people, and from that I have new respect for recipe writers and cookbook authors. The details of knowledge are hard to articulate in a cohesive way. It really is about feel.
I continue to plug away and the more I bake the better I get at it. This week’s loaves were epically satisfactory—I don’t know if it’s the new flour or this stiffer starter I’m using or what, but I have, possibly, never made a better loaf. I feel my confidence rising like bread in the midst of oven spring. I’m starting to fool around with scoring art. Maybe I will include some recipes in the book after all.
You know, the one I’m not going to write.
2 thoughts on “Breadder Burque Ch. IX: Bread and Books”
I enjoyed your story and I’m sorry about the emails (not that I sent them!). I know the pandemic has given me plenty of pause to wonder if I might begin a new career. I think you should definitely look into baking schools in France! Sounds wonderful and having an escape plan (however far off) might be a panacea to the lock-down uncertainty. Keep baking! (I’m still at cookies although I might venture into a wholemeal pizza base. How hard can that be?)
Thank you for the encouragement Lucy. In turn I encourage you to give wholemeal pizza dough at try. It’s easy, and it’s fun to make your own (at least for me).