It’s dark-thirty, midnight, the house is silent.
And I just had a conversation with a lump of sourdough.
It may not have been as much me conversing with the dough, but the dough working magic – some alchemy of yeast and flour – pulling thoughts from my brain, through my fingers, and soaking them up with each push and turn. Its pale beige innards becoming outards with a twist.
My innards becoming outards in synch.
“Why,” I asked the sourdough, or the sourdough made me think I asked, “do I do this? Why am I up at 11:30 at night, pushing you around, when I could be tucked in bed, asleep with an empty cup of tea and a half-read novel?”
The sourdough said fshhh, fshhh, fshhh, as I mushed it into the granite. Because, you see, sourdough, like a lumpy Zen master pulling the truth from within you in silence, doesn’t talk.
Why, I thought again, and not in a consternated, unhappy way. More like cracking a door into a room in your house that you’ve never been in.
Why do I do any of this?
Why do I bake my own bread? Why do I spend more money in a year on oils and herbs than I’ve spent in the last 5 years on clothing? Why do I while away hours a day, pouring through books for obscure facts on natural healing, most of which I’ll never need in my lifetime?
Why do I have more shirts covered in dough and oil and dirt than I have shoes in my closet? Why do I know my kitchen scale is one-tenth of an ounce off, but I don’t even know what size of bra to buy?
Why did I spend what’s likely the equivalent of our entire summer’s food budget on a rooftop garden that will probably only feed us, solely, for two weeks? And why are there more mason jars in my house than there are things to put in them?
Why, oh why, did I ever have that one fateful moment where I thought, “Hm. Look at all this food. I bet I could put it on my face.”
I asked the dough, whose name I’d never even caught, all of these things. The dough continued to smile its revolving smile, saying nothing, so I just kept talking.
Why, I said, when the truth of the matter is, I don’t have small children to feed, little ones whose health is in my hands.
I live with a man and a 16-year-old who, I sometimes think, would be just as happy living in a tent on the golf course, eating Del Taco nightly in front of their phones, popping over to the laundromat to do undies in Tide. I tell myself that I do this partly for them, but that’s not true. They never asked for it. And I can’t even remember if I asked for it.
I’m 38 years old; I grew up in the ’80s, the womb of synthetic living. I am hard-wired for consumption and excess and, well, everything that’s not real. Lycra and neon. Plastic surgery, perms, and shoulder pads. Margarine and food coloring. Heathers.
Why do I spend my time with any of it?
Why do any of us spend our time baking bread, or blending oils, or growing veggies, or steeping herbs, or fermenting foods, or building anything?
All of these things, we could buy, if we wanted.
Why do we do it? I asked the dough one last time.
And finally, the dough, in its infinite wisdom and glorious, glutenous windowpane beauty – it told me without words. It just looked at me and I knew.
We have every option in the world at our feet. Every easy way out. Every boxed and branded, bagged and finished product you could shake a stick at. It’s slick and sleek, and it beckons us to its shiny synthesized reality at every turn.
It has everything we need, except for one thing. There’s one thing it’s been lacking all along, all this synthetic buzzing of stuff all around us.
It doesn’t have heart.
We’re humans – we’re alive, and part of nature, and there’s this innate pull to create from our hearts – a pull that will not be silenced by television signals and supermarket displays much longer.
The synthetic world, the facade that covers absolutely nothing of substance at all, doesn’t have heart underneath.
But, you see, it’s not just any heart that we’re missing. It’s our heart. We do it to see our hearts made visible, in front of us, in everything we do and touch and create.
The dough, which will go from flour and yeast and water, to a loaf of golden, chewy, fragrant bread, had in it an ingredient that no mass-produced product could ever have.
It had a little bit of my heart.
That, the loaf of bread said without words, is why you do why you do. Because in me, in everything you create, you see a little bit of yourself.
And we are delicious.