30 december 2015
This is a feeble attempt to wave a coda to 2015. A denouement—to all the people I want to leave there, and to all the people I want to bring with me to 2016. God bless how they esteem me.
Barry Lopez describes the winter count, a record of time kept by Native Americans of the Plains, as one which “noted a single memorable event…Several winter counts might be in progress at any one time in the same tribe, each differing according to the personality of its keeper.” So here’s to our digital surgery.
Two days ago marked the third anniversary of my signing a lease at the bakery. It was a flurry of activity, a genesis of an entire constellation of desire. It was a gestation for a life bigger than my own, and in my lust, as in the words of Murray Kempton, the revolution killed its fathers. But that’s the coin of parenthood; a catharsis of self in order to give, knowing that all which is taken will somewhere else, somehow, be given. Without water to cross, there are no bridges. And it was amongst this commerce of intent, as well as the take out boxes and cigarette butts, that this heap of a bakery was fleshed-out. But, I think through it all, the bakery was always there. Not only on the literal level, because Gambino’s bakery was in the same building for decades, but on a spiritual footing. In the same vein of the flame being in a match, or blood being in a heart. The bakery, more than anything else, is an attempt at presence. It’s a commitment which fewer and fewer people these days are mature enough to make. Maybe because we do not value time, but only our appropriation of it: we belong to the watch. If we mistrust time, we abuse ourselves. And the willingness to work—the passion to endeavor—is a palm losing callous now. Our success cannot be measured against competition with others; success is scaled by the metric of failure. In the same way that only love can lead from hate, not vice versa; engagement and presence create resolve. And this need, particular in my life, was husbanded the bakery. I have no intent to dress in the rags of a saint or martyr; but my life since adolescence always demanded agency. A sense of right, of wrong, of faith, loyalty, respect—a concrete pantheon of guiding principles, black and white churches, knives against the secularization and capitalization of spirituality. For a while, I tried being everywhere and I ended up nowhere. I got in the way of myself; like most of us do. It was my willingness to know that I was wrong which allowed me the splinter of refraction in the perspective. Enter technicolor.
Doing what you love is like that. It confirms your agency, your free will. We are all endowed with choice, regardless of our gospel. It’s unfortunate that every aspect of life has been commoditized and experiences made transactional. I suffered a love like that this year. The men and women I idolize never made that betrayal; they didn’t walk on water because of it, but in a way they do. When you let go, it lets go too. Confidence derives from strength, and beauty flows through the gaping hole of love, of passion. Soul, duende. The bird belongs to the song.
When I first touched bread seven years ago there was a compulsion. An addiction, a fixation—I saw my hubris in it. The quality of the bread that came out of the oven was dictated by the choices I made while creating it. Agency. I wasn’t waiting for godot, or looking for the ghost in banquo. I was putting sneakers on the proscenium, too. It grabbed me because I held on, and because I saw the consequences of myself. Proteus. Everything an existentialist may attempt to explain away, or anything a bishop may mystify, I reified in a rented kitchen in the Bywater. That was the epiphany and I’ve never had to justify myself since. Some call it god, heroin, business, love—to me, it is grace. The dignity of sharing, of patience, of respect; of self-improvement. Nothing is more wrong than thinking you are right. First lesson, last lesson.
Dreams are the purchase of a sleeping man, Unfortunately for me, I’ve been awake all along. Through the triumph and the vulnerability, the heights and the valleys. Raw nerves, impatient heat. But every labor is an ablution, every task a prayer. And the most hypnotizing aspect of it all is the simplicity of its nature: flour, water, salt. Like a comet coming to earth, the acceleration compounded by proximity to its destination. How could a loaf of bread be so divisive, so tangled, so political? When did they start growing my steak in a lab? I find comfort in comprehension; I suppose it’s a need for control. Deconstruct in order to put back together; cook before serving. But in the case of bread, it’s a fantasia towards purity. How, by undressing this experience to its skeleton, can we learn more about ourselves? How can we change, improve, mediate? How can we find life in the death of bread? By surrendering to it everyday. By keeping our promises.