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Verkadefabriek Photo credit: Karen Kao

Shanghai Noir

The Dancing Girl and the Turtle: publication date 01.04.2017

This is the view from the third floor classroom at the Bakery Institute. Over the course of two days, I made 19 loaves of bread. 3 baguettes, 3 boules blanc, 6 ciabatta, 3 breads filled with nuts and dried fruit, 3 multigrain loaves and 1 gigantic rye. To be honest, the first day I just did what I was told. Mix this, weigh that. My fellow classmates seemed to be equally mystified and some were afflicted with a less than optimal hand-eye coordination. There was a lot of thwacking of dough onto the stainless steel counters (when no thwacking was required) and more than one ball of dough hit the floor.

On the second day, we started taking notes. It wasn't until the third day, after our classes were over, that it occurred to me to draw diagrams, say, of how to shape a baguette versus a rye. But the more I wrote and the more I drew, it became increasingly clear to me that the point of that bread baking workshop was to teach us to think about bread. And so I did.

Bread baking to me is like writing a book. You have only a handful of ingredients: character, plot, tone. Bad ingredients like a cardboard character or a hackneyed plot will ruin any story. But assuming you're working with decent ingredients, it's all about technique.

On that score, I feel like I'm a slow learner. Or, perhaps to say it more bluntly: I don't know what I'm doing. I try things. Narrating my story using the God-like third person omniscient, dropping newspaper clippings into the text, structuring my novel like a play in five acts. Maybe it will work and maybe it won't. But the funny thing is, I don't even know what I'm aiming for. Like obscenity, I'll know it when I see it.

Hence this week's blog post: Late Bloomers. The term always sounded pejorative to me. Late to the party, the gifts of youth tossed away, too lazy or otherwise occupied to develop your natural talents. Lucky for me, I've run into an alternative theory. One that appeals to me as a writer and a baker, too.

I bake with a sourdough starter that I've been maintaining now for about three years. It needs regular feeding
in order to work its magic, just as a writer needs to feed her imagination for it to work. My food for thought comes in the form of books, this week as poetry by Three Poets. May they inspire you, too.

Model Minority
Socialism Is Great!
2017 in Words & Pictures
The Smell of Opium
To Teach or Not to Teach

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