Get over it!

Why is it that in this day and age we can’t allow ourselves even a moment of self pity without someone jumping in to tell us to stop whining or worse, telling us what we should do about it? Why if I’m having a bad day or I’ve just had a lousy thing happen – no matter how trivial – I’m not allowed to feel the feelings that come along with that until I’m ready to not feel them any longer? Why do I have to “buck up” just because someone says I must.

I’m heartily sick and tired of people telling me how I should feel about something. I’m not okay with another individual, I do not care who that person is to me, setting limits on my emotional responses. If I want to be sad about something that makes me sad then why shouldn’t I? If I want to throw a mini temper tantrum because something didn’t go my way then who are you to tell me how to behave? How is me lamenting this thing that has just happened to me impacting your life in a negative way? If you don’t like it then hang up or change the subject but don’t tell me how to feel and for all that is holy do NOT tell me how to fix it.

Now, if I ask your advice, which I will if I need said advice, then by all means fix away but until then don’t … just don’t. Now don’t get all huffy and “I never” right now, if we are having a conversation about something and you want to share your opinion or your position on this I’m not unreasonable and I will listen and often it will help me to change my perspective on something, this is not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is uncomplicated, simple, basic human response. If I tell you something has happened to make me sad then what sense does it do for you to tell me “Don’t be sad.” Of COURSE I’m going to be sad or angry or frustrated or whatever and *NEWSFLASH* I HAVE THAT RIGHT! I’m a grown ass woman in a grown ass world and sometimes stuff happens in that world that are going to elicit a response. Sometimes … wait for it …. it won’t even be a big deal but right here right now it is a big deal so just be a friend and let it run it’s course.

I am a pretty happy person in general. I’m a hippy by nature and all about living a very simple existence. Sometimes though things get in the way of that pursuit and “harsh my mellow”. Am I not allowed to have an emotional response? Why does it bother you so much that I am having a bad day or a bad moment? You have them all the time and I’m there to be supportive and encouraging and give advice when asked (okay sometimes when not asked but I’m working on that I promise) and it’s okay for you but not for me? Think about that for a minute. If this thing that has happened has put me in an emotional state – anger, disappointment, sadness or whatever – do you really think, knowing me as you do, saying “well have you tried ………..?” is the way to go? I mean yeah it is a way to go but don’t you see how that is going to feel to me? Don’t you know me well enough to know that this is the OPPOSITE of what I need?

Yeah yeah I know you were just trying to help. Here’s the thing though. It is the exact wrong thing.

What has happened to empathy? What has happened to saying “Oh no I’m so sorry this has happened to you, what can I do?” When have we become a society that expects no emotion? Does my emotional response make you uncomfortable? Well that’s too bad because it’s not your decision how I respond to something.

Here is what I want … what I need. I need to be supported, not laughed at or lectured to or belittled or told what to do. Just be there. How hard is that? Am I not there for you when you are suffering or struggling with something? I don’t need that kind of support often and it’s not your place to determine if my response to the issue is appropriate or not. Just let me feel the feelings and express the emotion and when I’m done I’m done. I don’t dwell and I don’t drag it out and I don’t pull you into my drama, I just feel the emotional response, address the issue if I’m able and I move on. Is it any wonder I don’t trust you to protect my emotions? Is it any wonder when I’m feeling down or sad or angry I don’t reach out for comfort? Why would I when I know what I will be met with? I just feel it’s safer for me and everyone around me to just pull the welcome mat in and lock the door.

Have you ever seen a six year old collapse into a pile on the floor in hysterics because you just told him his shoe was untied? What do you do? Do you say to yourself “oh he’s just having a bad day” or “oh poor kiddo is tired” and then gather him up in a hug? Or do you say – in that moment while this kid is buried in your arms in obvious distress – “Well if you double knotted your shoe laces like I told you this wouldn’t happen?” Now, don’t get me wrong, there will be a time and place for that conversation but why on God’s green earth would anyone in their right mind think that the appropriate response while you’re mopping the snot off this child’s face should be to tell him what he already knows? Then you expect him to stop crying, stand up and brush himself off and say “Oh you’re so right mother, why didn’t I think of that? My crying was silly so thank you for making me see the error of my ways”? No ladies and gentlemen that is not going to be what happens. He IS going to cry harder and longer because what he really wants is for you to hold him and tell him it’s okay and to let him cry for a minute until he’s done because maybe it’s about the shoelaces but maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s about something else, bigger and stronger and more upsetting than you are able to fathom or he is able to express but he knows when you hug him and you listen to him that it’s going to be okay.

Just tell me that it’s going to be okay.

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Do you know THINK?

Is it True?

Is it Helpful?

Is it Inspiring?

Is it Necessary?

Is it Kind?

I was just talking with someone tonight about this. I try to use this when I speak because I think it’s important. I don’t want to intentionally or unintentionally cause someone else pain. I work hard to use compassionate speech and to respect other people’s rights to a dissenting opinion. Sure I joke that I’m always right but right or wrong I know everyone will not always agree on everything. 

I know I’ve written about this before but I think it bears repeating. Social media has taken away our compassion. It invites us to release our dark side and use memes or article links to personally attack people with whom we do not agree. I’ve taken a break from a lot of it in large part due to exactly this kind of behavior. 

I met a man about twelve years ago. He was very nice and quiet and would do anything for anyone. Everyone loved this man because he was genuinely good. He was shy and soft spoken but mighty in his faith in God and his love for his family. He was one of those people who you would say “Oh let’s ask ***, he will help” whenever there was a need. 

The internet broke him. Honestly I know you’re probably chuckling and that was my intent but I absolutely feel as if that is what happened to this man. He’s an angry, sad, mean-spirited person and he has completely lost his empathy. For a long time now I have been making excuses for him. I’ve been telling our mutual friends that it’s not his fault, he has been misled. 

Today reality set in. Yes, he is a lemming and has always been but the internet conspiracy theorists and the meme patrols have stolen his compassion. They’ve rotted his soul and he is no longer kind. I used to worry about him but I have decided, as much as it pains me, that I must walk away. I hope only the very best for him but I don’t see this ending well. I tried to help him with gentle guidance and reminders of how words can hurt. He doesn’t care any more. He’s broken. 

I think what took him into the land of no return was this election. Like a lot of other religious zealots (and I think this is a fair assessment of him) he is a Trump supporter. I, big shock, am not. He calls me and people of my ilk names like demons and liars and has no remorse even when I try to call upon him to ask if what he is saying is really what he meant. 

He did. He does. He feels that I, because I believe in the right of a woman to choose and I believe that everyone regardless of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation deserves to be treated the same and I believe that college should not cost $100,000 and that taxes should not be a burden on the poor and middle classes and allow the wealthy to keep their millions safely tucked away. I believe that we should take care of people who can’t feed or clothe themselves or who are unable to afford housing, health care or child care. Because I believe these things I am less than he. I am a demon and I should be vanquished. I’m not exaggerating, truly I wish I were. 

The thing is, I’m just a hippy. I want peace love and understanding. I want no wars and love for everyone. I want farms in empty lots in food deserts and I want to see us find ways to educate our children so they feel like there’s a future. I want us to pay attention to people so much smarter than we when they tell us we are destroying our planet. All of these things are part of who I am and I am not going to be embarrassed or sad about that. I know when I place my head on the pillow that I have tried to be a good person today. 

Here’s the worst part. So does he. He uses God as his shield and says things like “God knows” as though that will somehow make his venom more palatable. Spewing hatred and calling people names in the name of God is reprehensible. I’m an agnostic and I even know that. Don’t call me a Libtard out of one corner of your mouth while you’re drinking the blood of Jesus Christ who died on the cross so we could live.

He broke my heart today. I told him so but I don’t think he cares. I think he is so broken that he has lost his sense of proportion and his compassionate side has left the building. I wanted to believe he was just confused and maybe he is but when someone who genuinely cares about him tries to reason with him and show him how his words hurt and he just pushes them away – he is lost. 

So today I chose to walk away. It is with heavy legs and a pain in my heart but I can’t fix this. I will just have to hope that someday that nice man inside comes back and he can be happy again. 

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Bad dreams and life

Have you ever had a dream so real that you can’t shake the emotion it evokes upon waking? I had one of those last night. I’m a pretty social person and I like to talk to people but I am finding myself wanting to pull my head into my shell today and just be quiet within myself. This is a bit difficult with what I do but I’m going to just try to look busy and push through until I can leave and go home.

I know what caused the dream and why I had it. The participants were a bit of a surprise. It was a combination of three things that caused the dream – a story I re-read from this blog last night, an excerpt from a TV Show called “This is Us” and a conversation I had with someone at work yesterday.

In the dream I was high school age and a popular boy had shown some interest in me. That in and of itself should have sent up red flags but just like when I was in school I fell for the cute boy only to find out that it wasn’t genuine. I found out when I went to a math tutoring session and one of the participants in the session told me – being kind – that he had made some unflattering comments about my appearance. There were some anomalies – Abby from “The Eight is Enough” was the tutor but then she left and Muhammad Ali (post Parkinsons) took her place for one. The kind sort of acquaintance was a girl I used to work with and the popular boy was a guy I used to work with, to whom I can absolutely guarantee you I was never attracted. All very odd. I wasn’t able to do the math Muhammad was trying to help us with and I realized that I was completely unprepared for the math we were learning so when I woke up I was trying to figure out how to extricate myself from the tutoring session without letting the other people know it was because I was out of my depth.

It wasn’t hard to figure out why I’d had the dream. The boy represented the boy I wrote the story about – someone I met when I was right out of high school. He was charming and funny and cute and he ended up being kind of a jerk in the end. The math was because I had a challenging (good challenging) day yesterday at work and I had a couple of things thrown at me that I was unfamiliar with but I’m determined to learn them! I have no idea where Abby or Muhammad came from – that is a complete mystery. The “fat girl” feelings evoked upon learning that the boy was not for real come directly from the show. In the show there is an overweight woman and they show her both as a pre-teen and an adult with all of the trials and tribulations of going through what we go through, including a pretty, slender mom and siblings that don’t have the same issues. It’s no ones fault but my own that I look the way I do and I take full responsibility for that but it happened and every day I have to figure out how to deal with that.

Because of the way I look people make assumptions about me. I know some of you are shaking your head and saying “No that’s not true” but I live it every day and it absolutely does happen. People look at me and they assume I am unhappy, slovenly, undisciplined, uneducated, unintelligent and lazy. I have to work twice as hard to prove what people would just assume about me were I a size fourteen. Yesterday I met a new person here at work with whom I have been interacting for six months on the phone and via email. He wasn’t at all disrespectful in any way but I saw the look of surprise on his face when he met me and I know that look. People underestimate me when they have a visual first but if they “meet” me over the phone they don’t have a pre-conceived idea of my capabilities and they respect my abilities.

Am I projecting because of my own insecurities? Absolutely that is a factor. Over the years I have developed an armor of protection to stave off that judgment. I use my intellect, my abilities and my personality to change their stereotypical minds and force them to see me as I am. I am a person – not just a fat person. I’ve said this before in other ruminations and it’s not something I’m proud of but it is my reality. I strive to be the smartest person in the room because I have something to prove. I can’t allow people’s pre-conceived ideas about who I am based upon my appearance to stand unchallenged but, being this is polite society, I can’t call them on it, so instead I work extra hard to make sure they see ME – the complicated person that is me. I can’t allow them to see my insecurities because that would defeat my purpose. I need them to know that I’m completely capable and to trust that I can take care of business.

This sensitivity to other peoples’ image of me does spill over into all aspects of my life and I can say beyond a doubt that my shyness and reticence at large events or places where I will meet new people is due in large part to this. I know I shouldn’t care what other people think but it is my reality that I do. I put on a good front mind you. I had a very close friend tell me last year that she was shocked to know that I lack confidence. This is a good thing because it tells me that my mask is firmly in place.

I feel very protective of the vulnerable person inside of me. This isn’t a “poor me” statement but the truth of the matter is that on more than one occasion in my life I have allowed that mask to fall and have shown my vulnerability only to be hurt or taken advantage of, which no one would ever feel great about. I’m not blaming the other person or persons in this scenario though because I’ve made choices to allow those people to be in a position to cause me that pain. I’m less likely to allow that now as I get older because frankly I don’t have the time or energy for all that nonsense. My life is good. Simple.

Anyway, the dream has stuck with me today and it is impacting my reactions to things. I’m finding myself feeling defensive and that automatically makes me build more armor and my responses are clipped and intolerant. This morning a co-worker was speculating about a companywide meeting we are having tomorrow. As usual the rumor mill is hard at work and half the company thinks they’re going to lose their jobs. It’s illogical and silly but it’s not fair of me to negate their feelings. People stress about this stuff and after going through four lay offs I can understand it but the reality is that there are too many mitigating factors that make their concerns unfounded. Most of the time I would just listen and nod in understanding and move on with my life but today I find myself wanting to snap at these people for creating unnecessary drama in their lives. I know this is mean spirited and that I should be supportive of their need for reassurance without validating their concerns but I’m just not in the mood.

So today I’m going to just work hard and keep my own counsel and avoid any in depth conversations as best I can until I can get home and meditate or whatever and pull myself out of this funk. The best thing about today? I’m having an amazing hair day!

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I’m tired. I’ve had a really emotional day today, lots of ups and downs. I watched a young man I love very much graduate from high school today. I met this boy when he was a toddler and he couldn’t even speak English. I cried happy tears as I watched him walk. His tiny body tense, his shoulders thrown back, hands opening and closing reflexively as he inched his way in line to receive his diploma and shake hands with the principal.
He was scared but he did it. He sat there beforehand and listened to all the speakers politely, barely fidgeting and trying to look all grown up. My heart burst with love for this complicated boy and pride in him and his Mama and Papa who I have had the pleasure and privilege of calling family for more than half our lives. No one has any real idea what’s in store for this boy. Nothing comes easily to him. He did this though, he did what he needed to do and even full of nerves he got through his graduation ceremony. 
As we all did the hugs and “I love yous” and “See you soon I mean its!” I smiled and, not for the first time, thanked my lucky stars that this crazy new kid hippie chick sat down next to me in the commons and told me a story those many years ago. We all grew up together, raised our kids together, fought and cried and laughed and taught and learned and talked and sat in silence and listened to music and argued about it on occasion too. We’ve shared our hopes and our dreams and our failures and our accomplishments. We’ve bragged about our children and asked for advice and given unsolicited advice on occasion as well. We’ve told our deepest darkest secrets and trusted completely. We stared off into the distance together remembering and trying to forget. 
When we were teenagers we used to fantasize about buying this big house and all of us living there in this commune like place. I know now that it was fear of the future and of losing our way. Over the years we’ve all wandered a little bit and occasionally lost our way but we never dropped that tether. We are linked by our souls and by our love for each other and our children. I know that my best friend would go to the ends of the earth for my child and she knows that I would do the same for hers. She is my warm place, she is in my heart, she has invited me into hers as well and I could not be more grateful. 
Thank you my friend for so much. For trusting me with your children, for loving me even when I’m not that lovable, forgiving me when I make mistakes, forcing me to be accountable when I’m wrong and empowering me when I’m right. You’ve made me a better person and I cannot imagine what my life would’ve been like if I didn’t have you in it in some capacity or another for the last 38 years. 

Congratulations to our sweet, lovable complicated boy for graduating today and congratulations to his amazing parents for getting him there. I love you guys. 

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Re-written and edited as requested. I agree it’s much more reader friendly.
The ability to laugh at one’s self is paramount to living a life of contentment. Recognizing our own weaknesses only makes us stronger. Knowing our own strengths is necessary to our survival. Allowing others to see those weaknesses or to utilize those strengths thus making ourselves vulnerable is sometimes difficult but should be considered an opportunity for growth.
Allowing someone, even someone we love, to steal our power, to douse our light, to turn our vulnerabilities against us or make us into a joke, dinner fodder for their friends or someone to look down upon, is unacceptable. 

So here is my advice that which I have embraced for myself. 
You are no one’s clown unless you choose to be. Don’t live in fear of losing something or someone that has become toxic or makes you feel badly about yourself or your choices. You know who you are and what you are capable of in this life. You know what kind of person you are and what kind of friend/co-worker/lover/family member you want to be. Surround yourself with positive loving like-minded people who laugh with you – not at you. Spend your time growing and learning with people who care about what you have to say. Make time for the people in your life who, if not build you up, at least support and respect you and your beliefs and choices. Show the world that your light is worth shining by gathering those around you who don’t want you to douse that light. Be strong, be caring, be loving, be compassionate, be vulnerable and be powerful. Love yourself and be the person you know you can be. Let the negativity roll off your back and remember that there are people who will embrace you as you are and not expect you to change to please them. Don’t waste time or energy focusing on the negative but instead find the positive in everything you do.
You are no ones punch line. Good nature and kindness are not signs of weakness they are signs of a self-aware, self-confident individual and should be lauded and applauded not belittled or taken for granted. These qualities are now, have always been and will always be signs of strength and character and not as some would have us believe signs of weakness or malleability. Be strong in your convictions and be happy with who you are and what you have to offer. Love yourself.

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Fear and Doubt

When it comes to my writing I’m a coward. My reticence to share my deep dark secrets and feelings holds me back. I know that and I want it to be different but I am afraid. 

I’m afraid of a lot of things. If that box is opened I will never be able to close it again. If I share some of these things people that I love and who love me may be hurt or angry. No actually, will… Will be hurt and will be angry. I’m stronger now than I have ever been in the knowledge that I am, albeit flawed, a good and honest person. There are people who I’ve known for most of my life that do not believe this and never will. With a lot of self appraisal, therapy and private journaling I am learning to accept that I cannot change that and more importantly, as taught to me by one of those very people, it’s none of my business what they think of me. 

I listened to a podcast segment this morning from my favorite radio show called “This American Life”. The show was dedicated to telling the story of an eighteen year old girl named Marie. She had been a foster child and at eighteen was doing her very best to become an adult. She had a job, a subsidized apartment and family in the form of former foster mothers and friends. She was outgoing, silly, flirty, loud, obnoxious, attention seeking, inappropriate – all the things a teenage girl is. 

One night she left her patio door unlocked in her apartment and was tied up, blindfolded and raped by a masked intruder with a knife. He photographed her nude with her ID on her chest and told her he would publish the photos if she went to the police. She did call the police and two of her foster moms and told them what had happened. Long story short, her demeanor was so unexpectedly odd that the people she trusted came to believe that she had made the story up. Her caseworker at a local non-profit even went so far as to force her to stand in front of a group of young people like herself and tell them all that she had lied. The police charged her with filing a false police report after brow beating her into retracting the entire story. She was harassed on social media and in person. 

Like something out of an episode of Law and Order, a serial rapist was later arrested after raping numerous women with the same M.O. and they found those photographs! The people in her life who didn’t believe her and the police etc were mortified and remorseful and apologized to Marie. She has gracefully accepted these apologies and has moved on with her life, settling out of court with both the police and the non-profit. Her foster moms are still part of her life even though it could be argued that their disbelief, and their audacity in sharing their doubts with the police, may have been the catalyst. 

At the end of the interview one of the foster moms was recorded as saying that Marie should take some responsibility for the things that happened to her because of her odd behavior. I was furious! I literally had to pull off the road because I was shaking with anger at this woman for blaming this teenage girl – who incidentally it should be said was sexually assaulted as a child in her own mothers home – for her own rape and subsequent public humiliation. She was victimized countless times for something for which she had no responsibility. Her rapist even told her that she shouldn’t have left her patio door unlocked. 

When I had just turned fourteen and was a Freshman in high school I was ridiculous. I was loud and goofy and, like a lot of girls that age, trying to forage my way through a sea of awakening sexuality, confusion, frustration and fear. There were people my age and younger who were already way advanced. They were already well on their way to becoming young men and women and much more savvy than me and most of my friends. 

I was still kind of a tomboy, hadn’t gotten the hang of dressing like a girl yet and I wasn’t allowed to wear make up except for lip gloss. I was shy around boys I liked and rough and tumble with the boys I was friendly with. I don’t think at that point anyone saw me as anything but a silly immature girl. 

There was a boy. He was beautiful with long blonde wavy hair, a gorgeous mouth, tanned skin, long legs and fingers and the swagger boys then got from wearing big bell Levis and Colorados. He was my lab partner in Biology. He never spoke to me or acknowledged my existence outside of class and I was ok with that because I understood the social hierarchy that was our school. He was a popular kid and I was not. 

One day in the fall right after school had started he gave me a note in class asking me to meet him after school at Walker School. I was scared to death. I’d never been so nervous and excited in my entire life. This boy, a popular boy who I had a huge not so secret crush on m, wanted to see me outside of class. I lied to my mom and told her I was going to my friends around the corner and I dressed as girly as I could and went off. I think I even stole some of my moms eyeshadow and mascara. 

We met at 4:00 and it was sunny and warm. He took me to the side of the school that was hidden from the street and most of the classrooms and he sexually assaulted me. I was not raped but it was a non consensual sexual assault nonetheless. It actually took me many years to even recognize that. 

I was completely out of my element. I had no idea what to do. I mean I knew what was happening because I wasn’t an idiot but I didn’t know how to handle it. I tried to say no, I tried to push him away but he was persistent and I was … So many things … Scared, confused, hopeful and curious (I know those last two sound awful but I’m being honest here). I can tell you one thing I was absolutely not and that was sexually intrigued. I knew girls who were okay with this behavior and he kept telling me it was okay. At one point I saw two boys I’d known since kindergarten run by and I called out to them. These were athletes, another group I was not a part of so we didn’t interact at all. I was hoping that they would be curious enough when I called out to stop and walk over and discourage this boy from continuing. Instead they innocently teased me on the bus the next day for having a secret boyfriend. 

When it was over, rather quickly as these things tend to be, I ran home. I remember feeling like I couldn’t breathe and I just wanted to take a shower and get the smell of him and his cologne off of me. I can still smell his stench now. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to lay down on my bed and cry. There was another part of me though that still was hopeful and I wanted this boy to like me. I was confused about my role in this. I wanted to be  the girlfriend of a popular boy. I knew because I was not completely oblivious that this would probably never happen but with the optimism of youth I saw myself forgiving him and him professing his undying devotion and promising never to force me to do anything like that again. 

I told someone I trusted right away what had happened. The initial response I received was disbelief. I was asked if I was making it up so I wouldn’t get in trouble for being at the school when I wasn’t allowed or for being late for dinner but that changed fairly quickly when my behavior seemed appropriate to the situation. My father wanted me to report it to the police so I lied and told them I didn’t know the boys last name or where he lived. I begged them to let it go and they did, reluctantly. 

I was barely fourteen and had just started high school. I had to see this boy every weekday. He was my lab partner. More importantly he was smoking area royalty. He and his friends had a lot of power in my mind and I was very afraid of the ramifications if I told my story. Socially I would have become more of an outcast than I already was. A pariah. A prude. After all I was in high school so what’s the big deal right? Girls and boys had been doing what we did for centuries and we girls understood that boys couldn’t control themselves and if we let it get farther than we were comfortable with, well wasn’t that our fault after all? 

I could have kneed him in the groin or screamed bloody murder when I saw those boys I knew. I could have asked Mrs. Miriani to let me in when she spotted us from the school and opened a door to tell us to leave. I could have done a lot of things I didn’t do so didn’t that make me responsible for the outcome? Some of you even now are nodding your heads as you read this saying “shame on her”. 

Here’s the thing though. He wasn’t a boy with no control over his body and I wasn’t responsible for his behavior. I said no. Not just once but multiple times and he pushed himself on me and forced me. Do you know that even as I write this thirty years later I still hesitate?  

What happened to the boy? Exactly what you’d expect. He stayed my lab partner and acted as though the awkward situation had never occurred. He went on with his life ignoring me. I accepted that though because … High School … I went on with my life and wasn’t traumatized or anything I don’t think. I was pretty reticent and moved a bit slower than a lot of my friends when it came to relationships but I don’t know if that experience or that boy had anything to do with that. I mean I didn’t even have my first real kiss until my sixteenth birthday  (sorry Craig hehe) Mostly though my hesitation to go down that path was probably due to my lack of maturity, fear of reprisal from my parents and maybe wanting to stay a kid for just a little bit longer.

So I skipped my water aerobics class today to write this in a parking lot before I lost my nerve. I cracked open that box for just a moment. I don’t know if it feels good. Right now I just have a lump in my throat and my stomach is one big knot. Exposing myself like this is not easy and I don’t know whether it’s therapeutic or whatever because I reconciled myself to the bad shit in my life a long time ago. I guess maybe this is an exercise in bravery. 

Writing is among many other things a chance to share a piece of ourselves. It’s a way to be relevant, to feel alive or discover the meaning of things. Writing is a way to open up dialogue and maybe change the world or maybe just one person’s mind. We are a product of everything that ever happened to us and we can allow it to destroy us or make us stronger. Most days I choose the latter although it must be said that some days I feel the former. So this is all part of my journey I guess. Maybe I will share something else personal another time soon. Or maybe not. 

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The “Art” of Artisan Bread

I’m no chef nor am I a baker. Honestly. I’m learning as I go and I end up eating a lot of mistakes. I keep at it though because I like to get things right. I love the process so it’s not a hardship. Other members of my family are extraordinary cooks and phenomenal bakers and I can never compete with that so I just do it for the love of it. I didn’t always enjoy cooking and baking. It’s a fairly new development and one I am embracing wholeheartedly. Scratch cooking and baking is a somewhat new experience for me too. In my pursuit of 80/20 “clean eating” I am teaching myself how to do these things. It’s also a cost savings in most cases which is never a bad thing. 

Artisan bread baking though is about more than just clean eating and saving a few pennies. When I bake it’s a full sensory experience. The echoing splash in the dough bucket as the warm water hits the bottom. The shimmer as the salt pours from the measuring spoon and sinks into the warm water. The foaming sound as I stir in the yeast with the dough whisk. The soft texture and coolness of the flour as I scoop and sweep from the wide mouthed bowl into the dough bucket. The earthiness of the dough as I mix the ingredients, lowering my face to smell the sweet fermented yeast as it mixes with the flour and salt. The feel of the sticky dough as I immerse my dampened hands into it to combine the ingredients and complete the process before allowing it to proof. The excitement every time I check back and find the dough has risen another mark on the bucket. 

Each batch I make is slightly different in taste, texture or rise time. Baking artisan bread is more than just a recipe – it’s a science experiment wrapped up in that recipe with a beautiful artistic bow on top. It makes me happy giving me a solidity and a feeling of accomplishment as I watch these simple ingredients grow before my eyes as the yeast devours the sugars and metabolizes them into carbon dioxide. 

After the first rise the dough is soft and stretchy and still very sticky with bubbles on top and holes where the gasses have escaped. I dig my hand in and break off a grapefruit sized hunk, stretching it in my hands to make a “window pane” before pulling it all together into a tight rounded ball. Creating a gluten cloak, I lay the newly formed ball of dough onto the parchment paper and let it rest for a while for the second rise. 

Once the ball of dough has proofed and it bounces back when I push at the side gently, I can slide it into a warm oven and I know in 35 minutes I will have a stunning, oven risen, golden brown, crackling loaf. Pulling it from the oven using my new beautifully simple wooden bread peel I slide the loaf onto the cooling rack and breathe deeply smelling the fresh baked bread and feeling the moisture on my face as it finishes baking on the rack. I know that inside that beautiful dome is a gorgeous open crumb and when the serrated blade slices through the crunchy outer layer the inside will be soft and slightly chewy. 

Finally, after it has cooled I can take that loaf and wrap it carefully in a brown paper bag and a tea towel and present it as a gift to friends, family or neighbors. When I give someone a loaf of my bread it’s not just sustenance but a piece of me – of my heart – a small offering of my affection and appreciation of you. 

Now I can add memories of the first time I saw someone try my bread and the look of surprise and pleasure at the complex flavors and textures that came from such a simple process. When I mix a batch of dough I can smile with memories of the first time I taught someone else the art of artisan bread baking and find joy in their shock at the simplicity and the goodness and the sense of accomplishment that comes from pulling out their own creation. 

All bread baking is an art form and I know I have just scratched the surface with these beautiful simple artisan loaves. I have so much more to learn and explore and I am excited for the experience. Everyone should, at least once in their lives, sink their hands into a fresh warm batch of bread dough, it might change your life. I know it has changed mine. 

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