If you know me at all, you know that I’m not good at doing things I’m not good at. I’m naturally inclined to be capable, accomplished even. I like to be praised. I don’t necessarily have to be the best, but I like to be perched near the pedestal.
If this is you, too, you probably also know that this is self-defeating if left unchecked.
First off, to get good at something, you have to start from the beginning. To play roller derby, you have to start by strapping on a pair of skates and wobbling around and falling on your ass. To make latte art, you have to practice on every single drink you make until those half-formed blobs begin to look like hearts, then feathers, then flowers.
To bake an edible cake, you start with butter, flour, sugar, and eggs, and try not to fuck it up. You will. Fuck it up, I mean. But each time you do, you will get a tiny bit better.
The point is this: if your fear of being bad at something keeps you from ever trying, you’ve already lost. In order to start something new, I have to get around this desire to be automatically good at it.
This week I baked soufflés–a dessert known for being difficult to pull off. Even before I started, I was sure it wouldn’t turn out right; the center would be too cooked, or it wouldn’t rise, or it would be too dense. But I tried anyway. It couldn’t be much worse than last week’s debacle, right?
I gave myself some advantages. I used my dad’s superior kitchen, including his stand mixer, which brought me closer to that damned ribbon stage than I’ve gotten so far. Sometimes I wonder, if I do attain it, will I even recognize it when I see it?
The ingredients were very simple: bittersweet chocolate, flour, eggs, sugar. This apparent simplicity made me even more wary–it’s often the simplest things that are the most deceptively complicated. It didn’t make me feel any more at ease when I realized I had to freeze the soufflé batter for two hours in their respective dishes. I’m very bad at remembering to read the whole recipe before I start.
Here’s the thing: I was hoping to finish this bake in a timely manner because I had plans to hang out with someone that night, someone I thought I could be interested in. Due to all sorts of factors, I haven’t been interested in dating or “hooking up” or even being touched by anyone in a really long time, so the fact that thinking of this person gave me prescient belly flutters was promising and gave me hope. I wanted to see where it led, even if it made me very nervous. Again, it was about trying not to say “no” to something before it even started. So I wanted these soufflés to bend to my time-crunched will.
On the other hand, however, I needed some self-prescribed baking therapy. The day before I had come as close to breakdown as I’ve come in quite a while. I had overlooked a small detail in a grad school application that made it impossible to complete on time and, instead of trying to find a way around this (which it turned out was totally a thing), I shut down. So many negative, crushing emotions hit me at once that I felt physically ill. I couldn’t speak or breathe or think. My mind was working so frantically and at such a high pitch that there was only a fraught silence, a colorless absence of coherent thought.
I mustered all my energy and dragged myself to my bed. I stared at the wall and I didn’t move for several hours. I think I slept.
And then I got up and got back to my life.
But my reaction to being thwarted unnerved me. It made me question my ability to deal, something I’ve always relied on. I needed something, anything, good to happen.
I needed these soufflés to rise. I needed to feel something.
When I finally got them out of the oven (two hours and some change later), they looked as perfect as I could have imagined. They tasted like anything I’ve ever had in a restaurant. The texture was perfect, like chocolate-coated air. I really couldn’t have asked for any better.
I ate so much of it that I felt sick as I drove to meet up with the person who was responsible for the butterflies currently vying for space in my uncomfortably full stomach.
We hung out. We saw a movie. The butterfly-maker didn’t touch me in the slightest. But I decided I wanted him to, and that, my friends, is huge.
I made something perfect.
I took the first step back towards people and love and light.
Everything worth doing is worth being bad at.
Current Means of Escape:
(Dudes, this shit is dense, but soo mind-blowing. If you’re into art or myth or ancient history or sex or any and all of the above, read it.)
Current Auditory Therapy: