50. My orb cries for other orbs
[The title for this newsletter, the 50th (!!!), comes courtesy a friend from a WhatsApp jam session to generate short story titles. Thanks, Chris.]
I baked something recently, for the first time in about three years.
During lockdown as everyone was birthing sourdough starters I went in the opposite direction. Since I mostly baked for coworkers, when the whole coworking thing stopped (and then never started again) I sort of lost the drive.
Then M. and I went to a bread event and had an outrageously moist rosemary and orange loaf. Polenta may have been involved. It was bonkers moist. It reminded me of something I used to make, so I found the recipe and went to the kitchen with yogurt and a cup of olive oil.
A lot of my strongest memories revolve around baked goods. My mum’s Betty Crocker apple pie. The first time I had a croissant in Paris. Warm bagels from St-Viateur in Montreal.
Baking makes me nostalgic.
In particular, the act of measuring out ingredients can bring me to tears. It reminds me of the times I’ve watched someone bake for me, which is, in an embarrassment of riches for one life, a lot of times. As my hands portion out flour and sugar and butter and eggs I can picture their hands doing the same, and I’m moved by those dedicated actions to create something I would enjoy.
I must be getting old.
Yogurt and olive oil are probably not the first things you think about when you think about baking. The trick with this recipe is it uses these fats instead of butter, which gives the loaf a denser, richer flavour and texture.
The trick with this recipe is despite delivering a very plain product as baked goods go it stays inside your head for days and weeks and months.
The trick with this recipe is you fold the olive oil into an essentially finished batter, forcing the oil to integrate even though it seems impossible it ever will.
The first time I made it I dumped all the olive oil in at once, a half cup of oil just sitting on top of the batter. I stared at it in disbelief. How could this (gestures at oil) ever integrate into this (gestures at the rest of the bowl).
I eventually learned to add a bit at a time and mix constantly. Slowly, gloriously, the olive oil works itself into the batter and you’re left with a beautiful shiny dome of hope.
When I made it this time, I’d forgotten how odd the oil looks at first. And as I worked to integrate it, and teared up a bit, it struck me how much trying to mix this oil into the batter is like trying to fit in when you’re the new person at work.
I swear to god I thought this.
And not just the new person at work, although I had just started a new job so it was top of mind, but the new person in any group situation. For a long time you sit there like a half cup of olive oil, wondering how on earth you’ll ever mix in with the rest of (gestures broadly at existence).
This is the kind of thinking that drives people to LinkedIn to curse the world hyperbolically with half-baked business wisdom yanked kicking and screaming out of life’s banal activities. I follow an Instagram account that posts the worst offenders. Believe me, I know the dangerous waters where now I tread.
But as I turned and folded—the trick to this recipe is to turn and fold—I couldn’t shake the feeling I was looking at a bowl of us. Or at least a bowl of me, and every time I’ve been faced with the task of working my way into an established paradigm and felt super weird about it.
Which has been every single time.
Remember when you were a kid and your parents signed you up for some camp where you didn’t know any other people and they just told you one day you were going and you spent two weeks without any of your friends trying to fit into groups where all the kids already knew each other and you thought I can’t wait until I’m an adult and this will never happen again and then that’s basically just all of adult life?
80% of my mental space is thinking about how to fit in.
The trick to breaking through into established groups is to try really, really hard. This isn’t a humble brag. I’ve always had to try really hard to get to know people.
Sometimes I try really hard and nothing happens and you better believe I feel bad about it.
I’ve worked for eight companies over the last ten years, and one year I was made redundant twice. I think about people being laid off right now who have never met another coworker in person even once. That kind of stuff gets in your head. Were you even there?
Eating at a picnic table and no one asking if you want the knife to carve your name.
I’ve been reading about possible solutions for the mess we’re in, and I mean all the mess, and the common theme between them is communities. Want to support voters’ rights? Donate to a community organisation. Abortion? Community advocates. Climate crisis? Action at the local level works, is sustainable, and costs less than pretty much all the carbon footprint crap people still try and peddle.
And I think in the future, by which I mean last week, we’re going to need communities built by people who actually care about communities, and not, ahem, people who wanted to monetise our interests. Because to quote David Foster Wallace, monetising interests is to communities “as video porn is to the felt reality of human love”.
Maybe the sourdough starter people were responding to a longing for our community oven past. At home ovens are a relatively new phenomenon. We used to bake in shared ovens (or in the ovens of our feudal lords), gathering at the same place to make food.
M. liked the loaf. The trick with this recipe is it’s a way to say I love you.
Like I said, nostalgic.
Which he said about watching Roger Federer play tennis on TV.