Why baking, you ask? I mean, cooks get all the love. Chefs get groupies. They’re the improvisers, the “dash of this, touch of that” sensual sweethearts of the culinary world. Bakers are kind of the equivalent of the super nerdy girl who does the chef’s homework in the hopes that s/he may someday notice that without her glasses she’s kinda sexy (totally random side note — I want to make a movie where the super hot girl puts on glasses and the man goes “why Ms. Murple, you’re smart!”)
And yes. I have a touch of OCD. Like, legitimately. The more anxious I get, the more organized my sock drawer is (another side note, we must discuss bullet journaling in another post!) Baking appeals to the part of me that likes cause and effect. Especially when the world feels out of control. Here is a hobby where, when certain principals are applied, the outcome is fairly predictable. There are moments of surprise — like yesterday I discovered that when an oven is hot enough, a sheet of thin parchment paper will ignite rather rapidly. Like, rather dramatically burst into flames. So that was fun. And sometimes the surprises are un-fun. Like the cake that sort of sunk under the weight of too much frosting. It was salvaged. I almost always find a way to salvage — with yummy baked dough and chocolate flavored sugar butter, there’s going to be a way to put it in your mouth even if it’s not pretty. But more often — because SCIENCE (which is mostly real, Mr. Trump) — there are principals at work that yield good to great results.
And the truth is, the better you get at understanding those principals, the more you can play with the bits that don’t make things rise, brown or melt. You can riff. You can be all jazzy and sexy with your baking, damnit.
But I think the reason I love baking so, so much is that it is the opposite of writing in a lot of ways. What I do for a living is try to make something personal and unwieldy fit into a corporate model. I work for big money-making entities that don’t just want something good, they want something good that sells and connects with as many people as possible. The problem is, what’s good to me may not be good to you. For instance, the older I get and the more I write, the more I love ambiguity (see my post on same) and the less I like exposition (I was never a big fan but now I’m almost allergic to it.) I love mystery and letting the audience take different things from what I do. The film I am finishing now — the first I’ve ever both written and directed (!) — is called To The Bone and it’s a kinda funny/serious movie about an anorexic young woman (played by the luminous baker and also actress Lily Collins) and her journey as she tries to get better. It’s very loosely based on my own experiences. Some parts are pulled from my life directly, other parts are made up. I bring it up because I love that people watch it and have quite different ideas about what they saw and what it means, depending on their lives. And men and women seem to experience it very differently. The world of disordered eating is much more familiar to women. So they are more oriented. But I really encourage people to see what THEY see in the movie. To take their own meaning from it. In that way, I want it to feel more like a yummy stew made by an improving cook. The viewer is an active ingredient in it. What they take away depends on what they put in.
But big money making corporations aren’t as fond of improvising. For good reason. In the new world that is “content providers” as opposed to the big 4 networks, every channel or streaming service is marketing to very specific audiences. They do “demos” and “optics” and they want to make something that appeals to those folks — oh and everybody else in the entire world if you can. So as a creator/showrunner, I answer to them. I try to wrangle the creative process and provide a product that is “good.” But again, what does “good” even mean?
Last season on Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce (season 2) I wanted, very much, to show Abby go through a hard time and kind of lose it. This, by the way, was influenced by Bravo’s own research that affirmed my experiences and those of my friends — women are feeling on the verge of a nervous breakdown too much of the time. We’re pushing ourselves to be our best selves in every fucking area and we’re about to break like brittle sleep-deprived twigs (can twigs be sleep-deprived? Note to self: google that shit.) That’s why women could relate to Hillary Clinton pushing through an illness and nearly collapsing. We’re all about to collapse, sister! And we feel like we can’t afford to stop either. Last year me and two other female friends with big jobs and big kids fainted. All for different reasons but the common thread was — we were pushing it and not listening to our bodies. So Abby’s dilemma felt real and relatable and funny to me. But according to the “demos” and the “optics” some of the audience found Abby too unlikable and too sad. She went through too much hard stuff. I got the experience for my character that I wanted, but maybe I didn’t give the audience enough sweet with the savory. So was it “good” or “bad”? In the end, it depends on what you’re watching the show for and what you bring to the table. I mean, I definitely make mistakes, and more is revealed the more distance you have from something. But the bottom line is, the experience of art is highly subjective. Even commercially made art for big money-making entities.
Know what’s not nearly as subjective? Cake.
Most people like cake. Maybe not carrot cake. But most cake. And cookies. And pie. It fills the house with warm, comforting smells. I share what I bake and it makes people happy. It feels like handing somebody a slice of love. It’s simple.
So baking is the yin to my yang. I love them both. I need them both. They each teach me daily about being a person. And they help me reach out and connect with other humans. Which is what it’s all about.
Love, words and cookies.