I have this fantasy where I come home and knead handmade dough while jazz music plays and a candle burns in a hurricane vase, with a glass of wine nearby to sip should I so choose. I dream of being able to “whip up pies.” I wish I had elaborate cake recipes memorized. I want to make batches of cookies to burn off negative energy, then bring them to friends in Tupperware containers lovingly lined with grease-stained paper towels.
I have this fantasy of being someone who bakes, but as it currently stands, I can’t stand it, and for a while I found that infuriating.
People who bake, to me, are people who have their shit together. Or they’re people who have their shit together enough that they can set aside a block of butter and time to make something with their hands. I let both melt by accident, by staring at my phone, by needlessly worrying, by — I’m not always even sure, honestly.
People who bake have something to show for those hours. They feed others and make apartments smell good and make guests feel satisfied and welcome. They are choreographers of sweet ingredients, problem-solving chemists, magicians who make scones from dust and water, methodical thinkers, deliberate movers. Most impressively, they do it all in the spare corners of the day that no one has, really — not after work and life and cooking dinner, but they’re able to squeeze themselves into it, block out the chaos, and make something.
Or so I imagine.
What I’ve told myself, for a while, is that the reason I don’t like baking, even though I love the thought of it, is that I don’t yet have all the tools that make baking enjoyable. After all, my kitchen is too small. I don’t have one of those endless marble tables that television pastry chefs use to lay out each of their ingredients. I don’t have a proper mixing bowl. I don’t have the patience because I don’t have the time.
Or maybe — just maybe — I don’t bake because I am not yet the best version of myself, and am therefore not equipped to handle large wooden spoons and raw eggs in a way that calms me. Surely once I figure all this stuff out, then I’ll love baking. Then it will be the thing that relaxes me. Then, then, then.
It wasn’t until recently that I even bothered to consider a pretty obvious idea: Maybe I don’t have to be someone who bakes.
(Who else but) my therapist suggested it. I was talking about wanting to be “a person who bakes,” partially as a metaphor, to get to another point about my longing for that eternal and elusive feeling of being put-together, of having my shit together. It’s a concept I’m always grasping for but never grab.
And you know therapists: She went back to the sideways thing I said. Wrote it down in her notebook. Told me without blinking that it’s okay to not be a person who bakes. Not now, at least. For now, maybe baking could be one (pretty arbitrary) pressure I eliminate from my never-ending quest toward shit-together-hood.
Her statement initially frustrated me. It felt like admitting defeat. But later, as I thought about it, I realized she was right. An item had just been removed from my endless Self Improvements to-do list. An aspirational hobby to revisit later, maybe, but only if I actually felt like it.
My mom has this template-saying: to “like the idea” of something, but not the thing itself. For instance, you can like the idea of those roasted candied nuts on every midtown-and-higher New York City corner, but not the taste of them. You can like the idea of being a person who runs, but not the actual running.
The saying used to annoy me (if I like the idea of something, why wouldn’t I like the action of it?), but turns out, acknowledging these seemingly insignificant truths can be freeing. Doing so can release you from the self-assigned expectations that come with personality-adjacent statements. I am good at X, so I must do Y. Realizing that you don’t like to run, for example, and then saying that out loud — even if you’re a quarter through training for a half-marathon with a whole new drawer of fitness gear and a best friend who expects you to jog in the rain with her — means that you get to accept a fairly benign truth, go home, and take a bath instead. Accepting that I don’t like to bake, or at least accepting that it stresses me out, as opposed to my dreamed-up fantasy that it’s what end-of-the-day relaxes me, means I sidestep a layer of self-layed molasses and keep moving forward. It’s the smallest deal, in life’s grand schemes, but aren’t they always saying it’s the little things?
Photo by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.