Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Ride Itself

     Sunday's shy mid-morning light dapples my drafty kitchen with a warmth so delicious I can almost taste its honeyed rays. Alternately grey and blue, the sky can't seem to make up its mind. Neither can I. What exactly does it mean to be accomplished? Looking around the room, I see my framed diplomas and certificates displayed on the wall, juxtaposed against a painting that's unfinished, books that are half read, and boxes that are still unpacked from our move almost eight months ago. Why don't I finish the things I've started? Why do I reinvent myself every ten years? From my perspective, looking good on paper isn't the recipe for success it's cracked up to be. Sometimes, people with the most brilliant educations and lofty lists of achievements are also the most malignant, selling out every last shred of integrity in their insatiable quest for status and power, all for the sake of "being someone." There's definitely something to be said for simplicity.
     For the last few weeks, I've been baking our bread instead of buying it. Although I'm using a breadmaker, which the baking purist in me automatically denounces as a form of cheating, I find it deeply satisfying to turn a fragrant, brown, homemade loaf out onto my cutting board, ready to be sliced into thick chunks, slathered in butter and dipped into soup, or made into hearty sandwiches. It's like returning to a simpler, less complicated space in time where I get to enjoy both the process and the fruits of my labor with equal intensity. The bread machine isn't foolproof, though. Factors such as ambient humidity, the actual weight of the flour, and the type of yeast all have an impact on the final product, the interplay between which is easier to assess when making bread entirely by hand, underscoring the importance of understanding that technology is a complement to observation and experience, not a substitute for it. I happen to love troubleshooting recipes that defy logic and reason. Suffice it to say, I've tweaked the manufacturer's recipe here and there to achieve results that I consider desirable. If I do say so myself, this bread just keeps getting better.
     A couple of days ago, I received a letter from my brother, Adam. He's spent the last 12 months of his life in a prison in south Georgia, doing time for a non-violent offense which violated the conditions of his previous parole for drug-related charges dating back to 2000. It was a good letter, full of hope, resolve, and determination. "I've made the absolute best of this bad situation...and come to terms with who I am and who I want to be. I can't go back and make a brand new start, but I can start from now and make a brand new end." He's living proof that a few changes in ingredients and technique can transform a recipe for disaster into a happy accident. On December 17, he'll be released, and will start life anew.
     Who we are and who we want to be...can any of us really answer these questions, without categorizing ourselves in some way? Can we cease being who we already are, or become who we've never been? Are we permutations of an original recipe or are we sophisticated fakes, chock full of preservatives and artificial flavors? And, if we start from now, is it possible to remain there? Isn't life as much or more about the ride itself as it is about where the ride is ultimately taking us? Just like my bread--a recipe still  in progress--life, too, has an expiration date. Enjoyed in the moment, however, it always seems fresh.

26 comments:

  1. This is my favorite post from you so far, Kris. A wonderful combination of imagery and words with a powerful message to boot. I think we're all works in progress and it IS more about the journey than the desination, though that doesn't mean the destination should get the shaft. After all, it does determine the roads you set out to take.

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    1. The whole journey-destination thing is a real balancing act, isn't it? Very delicate at times.

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  2. Love this post! Baking bread sounds so good! You may have gave me my own project to work on! lol. Your brother seems really positive, and I'm glad to hear he'll be released soon! Life definitely has an expiration, it's definitely important to live for the day. =)

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    1. Token, if you're not a baker, a bread machine is a good way to go. You don't have to worry about kneading and mixing, your house smells terrific, and when the buzzer goes off, you have bread! Hopefully this time around, my brother will experience life as a ride that's not quite so bumpy.

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  3. You're spot on here, and you've got some great imagery going on. :)

    Most people define themselves as their jobs, which is sad when its their careers but even more so when its not. A job is just a hat you wear.

    Major course corrections are some of the scariest and best parts of a self-determined life. Ultimately, the recipe can always be changed and you can always start again from here, but you have to believe in yourself enough as a baker to even see that.

    So... where's the bread recipe? =)

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    1. Schema Byte, you're SO right about how belief in one's (baking) abilities is essential in reworking the recipe. I love that! I will gladly share my recipe with you, if you'd like.

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  4. There is a very interesting poetic quality to this post. I always love, what I call, a good ramble. Very wonderful way to step back and sum up the thoughts that float through the brain when you just look at the world....

    I have started making our bread from scratch as well. We have SO much flour, I needed to start doing something with hit. Though we don't have a bread maker, nor do we have a mixer.... Luckily I found a REALLY easy recipe on a blog. Seriously, takes an hour. Yum.... Now if I can only get down the ability to make tortillas from scratch...

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    1. Hmm...we might have to trade recipes! Tortillas sound fun! Glad you enjoyed the post, Dan. I thought I'd never finish it!

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  5. I just loved the way you did this post mixing bread with life, brilliant and at times we can improve the ingredients of life to make it better. I like what you said about people with 'brilliant educations' too, my sister was the first to get a degree in our family, and boy did she let you know about it, but we always tell her she has no common sense, ha ha ha.

    That letter was really nice from your brother. It seems he is making a fresh start and letting go of the past. As long as he knows there will always be someone around somewhere just waiting to pull him back into the past, and life is never easy, then I'm sure with you as his sister, he will be just fine. I bet your really excited about seeing him again. Roll on 17th December. Great post Helena.

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  6. I just loved the way you did this post mixing bread with life, brilliant and at times we can improve the ingredients of life to make it better. I like what you said about people with 'brilliant educations' too, my sister was the first to get a degree in our family, and boy did she let you know about it, but we always tell her she has no common sense, ha ha ha.

    That letter was really nice from your brother. It seems he is making a fresh start and letting go of the past. As long as he knows there will always be someone around somewhere just waiting to pull him back into the past, and life is never easy, then I'm sure with you as his sister, he will be just fine. I bet your really excited about seeing him again. Roll on 17th December. Great post Helena.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it, RPD. Good for you and your family, keeping your sister humble ;-) I'm really looking forward to seeing Adam again, and especially to seeing him and his little daughter reunited after this long, long year.

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  7. As always, you find ways to make me smile as well as make me think. For me, I don't really care about the destination, I just want to ride. I will leave you with advice my father gave me the summer he passed away. He said a person can't imagine everything and a person can't regret what he has not failed, all we can do is enjoy this ride we call life. He died doing something that gave him pleasure, flying, and he, I would guess, dies with only one regret and that was not being able to see what the next day had to offer.

    Reinvention of oneself isn't a bad thing unless we don't do it. We all evolve as a person over the years so it makes sense to continuously modify who we are and who we want to be. This was a fabulous post Kris, as they always are.

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    1. Your father was a wise man, IM. Thanks for sharing his profound and timeless advice with me.

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  8. you bread "sound" so delicious!
    lovely and brilliant thought. "Enjoyed in the moment, however, it always seems fresh" --- yes, and homemade fresh!
    good luck to your brother. with his positive attitude, i think he will make a brand new fresh life.

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    1. Yunyi, I have SO enjoyed making our bread again. My bread-making activity seems to crank up every time my life starts feeling a little too busy. I think my brother is off to a good start this time around.

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  9. Kris, even the best bread, the freshest, goes stale in two days. That's how it is with all our memories, experiences, words, ideas. What never grows stale is your unfailing ability to realize this and live each new moment to the full. "Enjoyed in the moment, however, it always seems fresh."

    Another marvelous, spirited post!

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    1. I completely agree with your kernel of wisdom, Marty.

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  10. I love your comparison of the bread with new beginnings and simpler places from our past. I hope your brother is revived anew and goes far in life. Sounds like he has learned valuable lessons although the ride has not been an easy one...

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  11. I love the way you write, Kris! Your first line alone is filled with so much imagery I almost feel like I’m there. Good for you for baking your own bread! I used to make my own bread years ago. I’d even make extra and bring loaves to work for others. There really is nothing like homemade bread, I’ve been thinking about baking again. Yes, there is something to be said for simplicity!

    About your brother, I can relate to that with my youngest brother, years ago, similar charge. I am so glad your brother’s letter was full of hope and I wish him much success starting anew! I wish my brother had taken that approach, sigh. We can only give our loved ones our love and support, the rest is up to them. Can we change who we are, tweak the recipe, so to speak? I think we can but only if we truly want to do that. Life really is about the ride as much as the destination, I agree.

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    1. Madilyn, That's a great idea...taking bread to work...the nurses would go ga-ga over a loaf of fresh bread! I'm sorry to hear about your brother...you guys had such a tough childhood. You're absolutely right...all we can offer is love and support; enabling does more harm than good.

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  12. Fantastic writing, as usual. The language, the imagery. . .very, very cool.

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  13. "I can start from now." Yes he can. We all can. A beautiful piece, from the beginning of the ride till the end. I wish your brother the best!

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  14. It's not the destination, but the journey. Make every step worthwhile.

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  15. There was beautiful imagery and a calming mood all through this post, I really felt like I was there smelling the bread with you.

    I hope everything works out for your brother, that he adds some new ingredients to life and finds a recipe that suits him better. I really only feel dangerous people should be put in cages, and feel sorry for his troubles.

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