You know the drill: flour, water, salt, yeast. Mix it into a nice dough, let it proof, and throw it in the oven. You don’t really need a recipe if you’ve made it a few times. 1
You can be sure that that amorphous mass in the bowl or dough trough will undergo a divine transformation. It will become lively to the touch and responsive. In the oven, it will transform again, giving off a lovely aroma, gain some loft, and turn gold/brown with a bit of char along the score lines. It will taste heavenly with a schmear of butter or honey!
If only writing were so easy!
What is writing, after all, the task of putting words on a page one after the other? A note, a list, an email, a poem … a story. Just as simple as throwing words on the page as ingredients into the mixing bowl, right?
There is something about the alchemy of laying words on a page, though, that’s different. It’s not just four ingredients thrown into a bowl. If you compare numbers, there are thousands of ingredients for the writer. Words. And they’re floating around in the darkness of the mind, like specks of dust, further obscured by the fogs of mental interference, emotional turmoil, self-judgement, and life responsibilities.
Working for newspapers, I used to marvel at the writers who’d sit down at their typewriters (yes, that dates me!), roll in a page and begin clacking away with little thought and not stop until they had 500 words.
“You’ll never make it in this business!”
One reporter used to chuckle incredulously at how long it took me to generate simple newspaper copy.
“You’ll never make it in this business,” he said. His name was Gordo. He wore a long red ponytail and a self-satisfied smirk on his face. He also used to boast of all the sex he was having with his girlfriend.
Yet there I sat, struggling to find the story in my mind. Toiling over the words, the grammar and punctuation, the sound of the sentences. Is this accurate? Will the editor take it apart? Probably too much artifice.
I’m still that way. And Gordo was right! I never made it in the news business.
Doubt and angst
Sometimes a tub of dough brings doubt and angst. The sourdough doesn’t smell right! The dough is too active, rising too quickly! Maybe I measured out too much flour. Did I forget the salt?
Generally, though, there are fewer variables when making bread. You’re usually following a recipe or formula, following an established process. Any mistakes are from the hands of the baker, and it’s easier to diagnose a problem.
Writing’s always been difficult, yet I marvel at how words and ideas sometimes fall into place. They’ve emerged from the darkness, found light and substance and expressed something even more significant than I was looking for. That’s the alchemy of writing, and it comes more easily to some than others.
Yet I knew I was a writer or desperately wanted to be. Knew when I was a teenager when I began keeping a diary and had the freedom to put down whatever I wanted. It wasn’t just recording events, though that was the jumping-off point. The entries often turned into angst-ridden moral quagmires, self-righteous diatribes, and “poor me” violin dirges.
A strange story
Those diaries have long since vanished, but it would be interesting to see what insights they contained about my teenage self and what still remains in my senior citizen self.
My struggle comes from finding the story behind an image or idea. What gave rise to this idea, what happens to it, and where does it go.
For two years, I laboured over my novel, The Song of Oswald. 2 It started with a dream I had about an English medieval monk. He was full of angst, wrought up about things happening in his abbey. In a candle-lit room, he bade me sit down and listen as he unburdened himself. The abbot had committed immoral acts, my monk said. Many brothers were complicit, and the abbey was defiled.
The poor monk was in a chaos of darkness, and it was my task to remember what he told me, to unearth why so much had gone wrong. He spoke for a long while, but the details were gone when I woke. I was left only with the impression that I had heard a strange story.
A wreckage of shattered glass
“When you’re in the middle of a story,” Margaret Atwood wrote in Alias Grace. “It isn’t a story at all.And only a confusion, a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood. Like a house in a whirlwind or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids and all aboard are powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story when you’re telling it to yourself or someone else.
The making of bread starts with a dream, too. A vision of “the perfect loaf,” tasting of creamy wheat, caramelized crust, and a faint sour aroma. It’s often an elusive vision, but it seems more immediate, more achievable than writing a book.
The bread has a recipe, yes, but the baker’s skill has something to do with bringing the loaf to life. There are ingredients, not words. And baker’s technique: How is the dough folded? When does the baker add sourdough? What about the salt? When do they introduce the additions (e.g. seeds, honey, nuts)? When to shape it, when to bake it?
A book publisher told me recently that the “bread and books connection was laughably obvious.”
Two authors at her publishing house had given up writing to become millers, and the son of one of her booksellers had become a baker on Salt Spring Island.
“That bread and books go together is a given,” the publisher said.
Filling the belly
I haven’t touched on writer’s block in this piece — the inability to write a paragraph, a page, a book. Words fail to express, or their music is flat or monotone. Writer’s block is like a dark impediment, a boulder or a chasm that prevents the realization of the poem, novel or essay. It plagues some writers for years, or so the story goes.
And some believe it to be a myth that the author him/her/self (or they) is creating the block and not finding a way past the dead end. Not standing aside, taking a new approach … whatever the solution.
And I wonder if writer’s block might be why some writers move on to baking and bread! Because it’s a little easier? Results are immediate and praiseworthy? Because you can taste success?
That’s something that eludes most writers in the end! And a loaf of bread fills the belly!
Cinnamon-Raisin bread, an enduring Happy Monk favourite. And here’s proof of Mildrith’s (the wood-fired oven) recent health check, as she just baked 41 loaves of this (and another 40 of Seed Feast) with lots of heat left to spare. Long live Mildrith and long live Cinnamon-Raisin bread!
Happy Monk Tidings - November 2, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; BLOG: A Vancouver Neighbourhood; BOOK OF THE WEEK: The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan [ See LinkTree in Profile ]...
Happy Monk Tidings - September 28, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: This Island of Apples; South Pender Growers and Makers Market [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab...
Introducing this bread, Raven Ring Bread (a take on Hapanleipä, a Finnish bread) a recipe borrowed from @ravenbreads. The stand is made by my neighbour, Ken, a gifted woodworker. See you at the South Pender Growers and Makers Market, if it don’t rain too hard!...
Happy Monk Tidings - September 2, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice : Volkornbrot (German Rye); Blog: The Golden Loaf of Gorsefield Rye; NOTE: We're closing two weeks for Mildrith Maintenance [ See LinkTree in Profile ]...
It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly....
Dog days. The beginning of summer mellowness. Baked in languor. But sometimes it's hard to let go. Shouldn't I be baking something? [See LinkTree in Profile ]
#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
#happymonkbakingcompany #dogdays #dogdaysofsummer #southerngulfislands
#southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #southerngulfislandsbc...
This is James Morton, my father, who would have been 100 years old today if we hadn't lost him 36 years ago. I've surpassed him in living age and spent more years without him than with him, yet he still whispers in my ear and is a great listener when I talk to him. Taken at 14th Ave. and Burgess St., Burnaby, 'round about 1955. Handsome devil, ain't he?...
Always time for a quick selfie at 4 a.m. while the bread puffs up and its aroma fills the darkness. This Friday morning the scent was deep and floral from the Cinnamon Raisin Loaf. Makes the juices flow, rumbles in the tummy, drives you crazy for a hot slice and schmear of butter.
#cinnamonraisinbread #cinnamonraisin #woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bakerslife #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland...