Today we’re talking about baking. Specifically, sourdough.
Yeah, I know.
In my defense, I was doing it before the pandemic (although not, I note for the record, before it was cool.) I have the marks against my TSA record to prove it from all the times I flew back and forth to Michigan with my little sourdough starter baby in a jar in my carry-on.
“That’s a gel, ma’am,” they’d say, unscrewing the lid after testing it for bomb residue.
“No, it’s my son, and you’d better hand him back right this minute!”
I lost my son somewhere in the chaos of 2013-2014 and I hope he’s happy out there, wherever he is.
Anyway, now I’m starting again because there’s time, and I fucking love bread to an Oprah degree.
This new son is named Stanislav. From his conception until today, he’s been confined to a too-small jar due to a severe jar shortage. Every time I fed him during his growing phase, he would overspill the top by morning. I’d wake up to find Stanislav having crested and overflowed his bounds.
Don’t get me wrong: I like running. Specifically, I like the 47 hours after I’ve done it, when I feel pretty good and also don’t have to do it again yet.
But after a long break from being in running form, my whole body struggles against the levity that is required to yeet myself forward across space and especially up a hill. I’m a bit bottom-heavy, like an orc*, and the physics just aren’t there.
Now we come to one of the most important parts of the daily routine:
At what, you ask?
Not to be rude, but clearly you’re not great at this yet. Don’t worry; there’s plenty of time to learn.
Back to first principles: we inessentials are not going much of anywhere. It’s sort of like being on a ship, if the inside of the ship were your dwelling and also there’s wifi and no rocking (we hope).
Think about it: there’s a lot of time to look at stuff while on this boat ride.
Assuming you are awake about 16 hours every day, my back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that you will spend roughly 90 daily minutes with your eyes closed due to blinking.* Now, what will your eyes take in for the other 14.5 hours?
If you’re anything like me, the answer is roughly 13.5 hours of a combination of laptops, phones, and TVs, what with all the working and hobbying and online workout classing and maintaining every relationship you’ve ever had over video call.
(Does this feel good? Not even a tiny bit. It feels a bit like dry cotton balls have been rubbing against my eyes, or perhaps my optic nerve, by the end of the day.)
So that’s the first kind of staring: gazing into the white-light void about a foot from your face all day. It seems to contain all the world, but it also sort of makes you nauseous and doesn’t let your brain finish any of its processes.
Plus, the allure of Content is fading a bit. Back in the old world when you were always falling behind on television, didn’t you wish something would happen that would require you to stay home for a while? You fantasized about having long uninterrupted stretches to binge-watch this or that, or to play through that one video game you bought years ago. But when it comes down to it, you just don’t even seem to have time for that, or it loses its luster immediately. And aren’t you having a lot of conflicted feelings kind of regretting that wish you once had for a break back when the world felt normal, but also basically hoping you’ll never have to go back to the office?
I thought I’d show you how I whip up something tasty using some unusual pantry combinations.
Did I say “unusual”? Freudian slip. I meant “creative,” probably.
One of my favorite things to make is chili. This is primarily because it’s one of those words with almost no actual meaning, kind of like “sandwich” or “dumpling.” I find that anything between a soup and a solid can legally be called a “chili,” if you’re prepared to keep a straight face and stick to your story when you announce what you’re serving.
Today I’m starting with some beans I soaked last night.** We’ll just set them on to boil. That’s another nice thing about a chili: set it and forget it!
While we wait, here: let’s take a look at one I made before, as a sample.
Okay, fine, I know these are cheese balls. I just really wanted some cheese balls for breakfast. They may be to blame for my burgeoning nighttime ulcer and the scabs on the roof of my mouth but I see no reason to stop.
Let’s walk together today while we chat, shall we? Make sure to keep at least 6 feet away from me. I mean, yeah, due to COVID, but also, because I have an exceptionally large personal bubble that I like to maintain even in normal times.
Why here, why now, you ask? Well, every day around 2pm, I start to literally shake. Is it anxiety? Pent-up rage? Some as-yet-undiscovered illness that I’ve always suspected and darkly hoped to discover that I have, which will require me to live a life of leisure at a faraway seaside sanitarium? We don’t know. But the only solution is to strap on some shoes and head out for a walk.
You’ve heard it before, folks: a nutritious breakfast is so good for your health that skipping it is basically a crime against the body. Plus, what excuse do you have these days to not finally embrace the art of the most important meal of the day?
(If you’re an essential worker, share this post with anyone living in your household, two-legged or four-, and tell them to get to work. You, my friend, need a thank-you omelet).
I’m going to make myself an elegant fried-egg sandwich while we chat.
After waking up, the next thing that happens is work. Is this ideal? God knows. But as we established, in this time it is possible to wake up at any late hour, and it is also possible (even patriotic and good) to stay in bed and just get right on that laptop.
Night bleeds into day, and we clock in.
Here’s how it happened to me:
DAY ONE: I am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I put on clothing, sit on a chair, and open the laptop. I look at the emails. They seem to be written in Greek, or perhaps in some forgotten abyssal tongue. I know some of these words but I have no idea of how they hook together. I don’t know how to do my job. I fake it by moving documents around and using as much jargon as I can muster. There is synergy; there is circling back; there is blue-skying; there is right-sizing. Thusly, like an octopus inking a predator and skedaddling, I buy myself some time to remember what the hell it is I did Before.
Day Two: No need to overdo it. Laptop in pajamas. I could have the TV on. There’s probably no law against that. I could do all manner of things—procrastibaking some brownies, playing a video game, reading all the news, cleaning the counters, reorganizing the closet, lying on the floor for quite a long time. I panic at 3pm and furiously work until 5:30. This reminds me, bittersweetly, of the daily post-procrastination panic back at the office Before, and I am left in a strange funk.
Day Three: It’s a new day. No more of that time-wasting. I have made myself an hour-by-hour schedule:
7-8: draft today’s post
9-10: Work Task 1
10-11: stretching, breathing exercises, staring out the window
11-12: Work Task 2
1-2: Work Task 2 (overflow)
3-5: finish work tasks, close out day
6-?: make homemade hand sanitizer like a true prepper, read a book, free time, contact everyone I know, contemplate existence, plan the next novel I write, clean the floors, etc.
Day Three is basically perfect. I’m thriving. This is living. This is balancing work with life in a sustainable, healthy, human, vibrant way. I can keep this up forever. Eureka!
Day Four: I don’t remember Day Four. Somehow I ended up covered in chip crumbs and it was dark outside.
Day Five: The same as Day Three, but I overslept. I follow the schedule, but in a random order and make sure to switch tasks every two minutes (highly recommended).
And now, somehow it is the weekend again. It feels as though it has been about twenty minutes since Monday, but also somehow, twenty years.
We’ve been told for a long time: routine is important. But now that the metaphorical heavies of fate have kicked the metaphorical scaffolding of structure away from the metaphorical buildings of our daily lives, it’s high time to make some routine for ourselves. I’ll be sharing tips from my own routine-making and -keeping process here with you, in a series that I am tearfully obligated to call:
First, waking up.
Perhaps you are, as I once was, an alarm person.
But during my long walk with pneumonia, it was more important for me to rest and heal than to wake up at my usual time. This meant no alarm. The current social-distancing situation has made no-alarm life basically permanent here.
I recommend it. There’s a thrill that money can’t buy every night when the lights go out, thinking: when will I wake up? Will it be 2 a.m.? 4? Will it be 6:30? 8? 10? We just don’t know! Maybe in the old world that wouldn’t sound too exciting, but I tell ya, at this point it is an unparalleled HOOT.
Now, upon waking, I find that I like to lie there for several minutes bargaining with reality. Perhaps eventually this will successfully result in being able to stay in bed indefinitely and a maidservant materializing to open the curtains and provide a breakfast tray (just call me Lady Mary), but so far my negotiations have been fruitless.
As soon as it feels like another minute without going to the bathroom will result in imminent death, I recommend getting up.
The next few minutes are important. Somehow one must simultaneously put on the coffee, open the shades, remove any sleeping implements (if applicable, as they are for those of us who love grinding our teeth to dust in our spare time), make breakfast, put on clothes that wouldn’t result in jail time if we accidentally activated the video option on our next video call, and log on to work.
Sometimes, in the face of these tasks, it helps to sit in the dark and do the crossword for a while.
Now, I hear that some people have different morning routines involving fifteen minutes of uninterrupted creativity before they check email, or a yoga practice before coffee, or they run a marathon or something before putting on their shoes, but you know what? I find that I just feel a lot better if I drag myself to full consciousness just in time for my post-lunch nap.