Don’t Miss Your Ship: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 4

Roger led the way straight through the castles, kicking them over, burying the flowers, scattering the chosen stones.

“Painted Faces and Long Hair,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

I told you to watch out for Roger! Here he is, leading the way. And what is he up to exactly? Kicking over sand castles that the “littluns” had been building. That’s just wrong, Roger. Being mean to little kids is a special type of evil.

Here’s what’s going on with the littluns in this chapter: lots of diarrhea, stomachaches, and night terrors. And sand castles getting kicked over.

Here’s what’s going on with the bigguns: more blatant cruelty, violence, painted faces, long hair, the thrill of power, and some good, ol’ fashioned selfishness.

Cruelty: Roger and Maurice kick over sand castles. Maurice “still felt the unease of wrongdoing.” Roger? Not so much.

We may not go around kicking over little kids’ sand castles, but are we without cruelty all the time? I’m sure we never think of ourselves as cruel, but maybe we ought to really ask ourselves if there are times that we are. If we’re having an argument with our spouse or our parents or even our kids, are we cruel in our tone of voice? Are we cruel in the things we say to them? I bet the answer is yes. Even if ours is “righteous” anger, there’s no reason to be cruel. Ultimately — hopefully — the objective of an argument is to resolve an issue. Yelling or having a sarcastic tone of voice or bringing up garbage from the past is taking steps away from resolution, not towards it. We thank Roger and the sand castles for this lesson.

Violence: Jack gets annoyed with Piggy (surprise!) and punches him in the gut. Smacks him, too. Breaks one of the lenses of his glasses. (That’s bad. Really bad. Not only can Piggy now see out of only one eye, the boys now have only the one lens to use to start fires. Poor planning, boys.)

Again, you may not go around punching and smacking and breaking people’s glasses, but you might let it happen, which some say is just as bad. You might punch and smack and break indirectly by the leader you vote for, the laws you create or follow or promote, the organizations and people you support, the products you buy, the flag that you fly. Be aware. Don’t follow a Jack. Or, heaven forbid, a Roger.

Painted Faces: “Jack planned his new face.” Yikes. Jack paints a mask onto his face, behind which he “hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness.” Shame and self-consciousness are necessary emotions for Jack (and all people) to have. We can only imagine what idiot moves Jack is going to pull in the rest of the book without experiencing shame or self-consciousness (it’s Piggy’s gut and glasses now; what will it be next?).

Well, well, well. What are the painted-face masks that we have? This is one I think we can all resonate with because we actively choose how we want the world to see us. Some of us might use social media as a mask. Some might use a happy, I’ve-got-my-life-totally-together face as a mask. Some might use busyness as a mask. I could go on. So what is it for you? What is your mask, and what is it hiding?

People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own souls.

Carl Jung, psychiatrist

Long hair: The boys clearly are becoming little uncivilized savages because oh my gosh look at their long, shaggy hair. Yes, Golding, we see what you’re doing there.

Hey. Hey there, Friend. I know we’ve been in quarantine. But that doesn’t mean you have to turn into a savage. If you feel you need to, I encourage you to go ahead and cut your hair. Here’s the video I watched to learn how to cut my own hair.

Thrill of power: There’s a special kid in this chapter. His name is Henry. He is playing down at the beach, dragging his stick into the sand to create runnels for the water and these little sea creatures called “transparencies” to flow into. This may not seem significant, but it is. First of all, the transparencies are said to be scavengers. Just tuck that fact away for later. Second, Henry is enjoying his game a little too much: “He became absorbed beyond mere happiness as he felt himself exercising control over other living things.” This is not about a boy dragging a stick in the sand, creating runnels for the water and the creatures. It’s about absolute power and the thrill it gives.

I ask you this: what or whom in your life do you have unhealthy control over? There’s probably something. Or someone. And there’s a difference between being a parent, exercising healthy control over our kids, and becoming absorbed beyond mere happiness as we feel ourselves exercising control over other living things. *uncomfortable clearing of throat* So, Friends, let’s all take a minute and make sure we’re not being like Henry.

Good, ol’ fashioned selfishness: Jack wants to hunt pig. Jack wants to hunt pig with other boys. Jack takes boys tending the fire away from fire to hunt pig. Fire goes out. Ship comes. No smoke. Ship leaves. Jack realizes what he’s done. Isn’t sorry. But is excited about hunting pig: “We needed meat.”

This is the classic needs versus wants discussion. We’ve all thought about it. Maybe we’ve even talked about it with a spouse or a therapist or a pastor or a friend. Maybe we’ve made a T-chart! Well, good for us! But we need to continue to think about it. Every single day. You never know when you might miss your ship because you wanted to hunt pig.

Takeaways from chapter 4: don’t be like Roger, don’t be like Jack, and don’t be like Henry. See ya next time for chapter 5, “Beast from Water.”

Sharpened Sticks and Tattered Shorts: Lord of the Flies, Chapter 3

A sharpened stick about five feet long trailed from his right hand, and except for a pair of tattered shorts held up by his knife belt he was naked.

“Huts on the Beach,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

The boys are really gettin’ naked now. And skinny. And with longer hair. This book could have taken a wildly different direction if Golding had realized that the boys are basically turning into runway models.

The chapter begins with Jack “bent double” — oh, how very devolutionary, Golding. This is always a special day when I teach. I make sure to wear pants this day, and I definitely get down on my hands and knees on the classroom floor to demonstrate how Jack is “bent double” — so low to the ground, in fact, that he can cock his head up to see the underside of a tendril, polished from the bristly-backed pigs running through and to feel the warmth emanating from the “olive green, smooth,” steaming pile of pig poop. He hears the “hard patter of hoofs” and it feels to him “seductive.” Yikes. (I say that a lot during this book. I feel that a lot during this book.)

The question here is: What weird (gross?) thing in our lives is seductive to us? Maybe for the hunters out there reading my blog, it actually is pig poop … or deer poop … or some other kind of animal poop. But maybe it’s something more socially acceptable and ubiquitous like money. Do we want to get so close to money that we can feel its warmth and see its steam? In this chapter, Jack’s eyes are described as “bolting and nearly mad,” but I don’t know that that’s too far off from our eyes when we become lustful for whatever it is we decide we want. Yikes.

He tried to convey the convulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up.

Whoa. That’s seems pretty deep for 12-year-old Jack. And two lines down from that:

The madness came into his eyes again.

And then he acknowledges,

“But you can feel as if you’re not hunting, but — being hunted, as if something’s behind you all the time in the jungle.”

Just a friendly reminder, Readers, that this is not just a story about boys running around in tattered shorts getting sunburns on an island. This is about us. When Jack senses something hunting him, it hits us that he’s not talking about a literal beast. He’s talking about something intangible. He’s talking about his own evil nature. And, Golding might add, it’s not about Jack. It’s about us — the inevitability of our own evil natures constantly hunting us.

How refreshingly pleasant.

This is where I remind my students that just because we’re reading this book does NOT mean we have to believe in Golding’s philosophy. (I actually hope they don’t!) While we probably all have evil within us, we don’t have to live feeling like we’re being hunted down by it. I believe we have hope against evil. I hope my students believe that. And I hope you believe that, too. (Sucks to your ass-mar, William Golding!!)

But as their pee gets absorbed into the sand, so does their hope. Their clothes (symbol of civility) are in tatters, their shelters (symbol of civility) are shaky at best, their short hair (symbol of civility) is now long and unkempt. Oh, and the adults are still fighting in that war, you know, killing each other. But maybe there is a little hope. After all, hope is the thing with feathers as they say (well, Dickinson, anyway). I’m afraid, though, that the hope-birds flew away a long time ago when the boys hurled a boulder down the side of the mountain in chapter 1:

Echoes and birds flew, white and pink dust floated, the forest further down shook as with the passage of an enraged monster: and then the island was still.

Just to make sure we get the enormity of the hopelessness here, Golding mentions, “Jack had to think for a moment before he could remember what rescue was.” Jack was so obsessed with hunting pigs, he forgot what rescue was. HUH?? How could he possibly forget rescue? It’s literally the boys’ one job. The question begs: What is the “rescue” in our lives? What is the one thing we should be striving for in life? That might look a little different for everyone, but possibly some answers might be:

  • loving well
  • being kind
  • doing good
  • being honest
  • staying humble

All good things, I think. But, like Jack, we get distracted (or even obsessed) by other things. For him it was hunting pig.

But more importantly, what is it for us?

Other things of note in chapter 3:

  • Jack decides they should paint their faces in order to better sneak up on the pigs (here we go with mask symbolism).
  • Simon peaces out. The boys think he’s weird. He probably is. He finds a secret spot surrounded by a screen of leaves. This is a spot he’ll return to later in the book. He seems to enjoy time alone to do some deep thinking. (Remember that critics out there think Simon is a Jesus figure.)

See ya next time. Until then, read chapter 4, “Painted Faces and Long Hair.”

Fire on the Mountain: Run, Boys, Run! Lord of the Flies, Chapter 2

The choir…had discarded their cloaks.”

“Fire on the Mountain,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

UH OH. Remember how I said to watch out for when the boys take off their clothes? And it’s the religious choir boys in their religious choir cloaks. Golding is practically yelling, “HEY HEY HEY HEY, THE MOST RELIGIOUS BOYS ARE THE FIRST TO BECOME SAVAGES — NAKED LITTLE SAVAGES!!”

Well good. Chapter 2, off to a great start.

Chapter 2 begins where a lot of things begin, and that is the setting up of rules. We do this quite frequently in life. Just look at the forming of any nation — rules. Lots of rules. Then when anyone breaks ’em — they’re punished. Fun!

Jack seems to think so, meaning: he’s less concerned with the order rules might provide and more concerned (excited? thrilled? obsessed?) with the punishment he’d inflict on people breaking the rules. Just like our founding fathers probably said, Jack says, “‘We’ll have rules!’ he cried excitedly. ‘Lots of rules! Then when anyone breaks ’em — ‘”

The boys proceed to be excited:

“Whee — oh!”

“Wacco”

“Bong!”

“Doink!”

But here’s the deal: Don’t we Whee–oh-Wacco-Bong-Doink when we get excited about people getting the punishment “they deserve”? I know this about humans: we love judging people. And then administering “justice.”

And while justice is definitely good, I think sometimes we get a little like Jack. A little too excited about the punishment part.

Yikes. (Please don’t be like Jack.)

So let’s Whee–oh-Wacco-Bong-Doink our way to the next part of the chapter: the mulberry-colored birthmark kid. He’s the one to bring up the “snake-thing” — the “beastie [that] came in the dark.”

Jack is quick to dismiss it, saying that “if there was a snake we’d hunt and kill it,” while Ralph has a more thoughtful response as he “felt himself facing something ungraspable.” Ohhhh. Could that “something ungraspable” be the EVIL IN MAN’S HEART?

Meanwhile, Piggy is busy caressing the shell and chiding the kids for being like kids:

“Like kids!”

“Acting like a crowd of kids!”

“Like a crowd of kids — “

“Like a pack of kids!”

Friendly reminder to Piggy: You, my friend, are a kid, too — though you have thinning hair and an Uncle-Vernon belly.

But Piggy is irritated at the boys, and rightly so. When Jack realizes they can use Piggy’s glasses to start the fire (after the “shameful knowledge” hit the boys that they — surprise! — had no matches), the boys surround Piggy, and Jack snatches the glasses off his face — all while Jack is belting out Ariana’s “7 Rings”: “I see it, I like it, I want it, I got it.” (Keep this tune in your head; he’ll be singing it again and again in the book.)

And as soon as the fire is lit, the boys start dancing as Golding describes the burning pile as “so rotten…that whole limbs yielded passionately to the yellow flames.” (Is he talking about the pile of wood … or those rotten little naked savages?? Interesting to note that the first four uses of the words “savage” and “savages” occur in chapter 2.)

And, now, for the most disturbing parts of chapter 2 (tribal drum-roll, please)…

  1. When Piggy is nonchalantly looking at the fire, Golding writes, “Piggy glanced nervously into HELL and cradled the conch” (emphasis mine). Um, WHAT? So Piggy’s staring straight into Hell. Cool cool cool.
  2. THE MULBERRY-COLORED BIRTHMARK BOY IS GONE. Yeah, he’s for sure dead in the fire that the boys let ravage completely out of control, burning the entire side of the mountain. Whoopsie doozie!

And just in case you forget that the adults are killing each other in a war right now, Golding kills two birds with one boulder when he describes the wildfire: “A tree exploded in the fire like a bomb.” Explosions and bombs — sounds like war to me.

The final sentence leaves us with the sound of a “drum-roll” continuing on the “unfriendly side of the mountain.” Welp, sounds like more evil is to come, so stay tuned!

But here’s the question: What are you learning about yourself through reading this? Piggy is obsessed with the adults, but the adults are killing each other in a war. Who are our role models? And should they be? Jack is obsessively excited about punishing people for breaking rules (note: Jack is already changing the rules: “the conch doesn’t count on top of the mountain”). Do we take a dark pleasure in seeing people get punished?

Until next time, don’t be like Jack (or the mulberry-colored birthmark kid, for that matter)! Homework: Read chapter 3, “Huts on the Beach.”

Everybody Poops, but Especially Piggy: Lord of the Flies Chapter 1 Mini Analysis

Within the diamond haze of the beach something dark was fumbling along.

“The Sound of the Shell,” Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Here come the choir boys!! Yes, the “something dark…fumbling” was the choir boys — the religious choir boys wearing cloaks with long silver crosses on the left breast and hambone frill on the neck. Interesting that the most religious group of boys on the island was described as something dark. OK, Golding, we see that anti-religion commentary there. And not only is it anti-religion, but it’s likening religion to evil.

Here’s what to notice in chapter 1:

  • Negative imagery: Broken trunks, creepers, coarse grass, fallen trees, decaying and skull-like coconuts — all of these serve to warn the boys (and the reader) that THIS IS NOT A FRIENDLY ISLAND. GOOD THINGS ARE NOT LIKELY TO HAPPEN HERE. But the boys trounce along, Piggy poops along the way, and all the boys get caught in the creeper-vines at some point.
  • Pink: This is a mix between red (blood-lust) and white (purity), and there’s a good amount of the color pink in chapter 1. Perhaps it’s Golding’s way of asking us what we think — will the boys succumb to their violent natures (red), or will they remain in their pre-pubescent (they’re all about 12 and under) innocence (white)? Also fun to note is that Jack’s hair is red. Hmm…
  • Commentary on humans’ effect on nature: I don’t know that Golding was a treehugger, but his commentary seems to reveal his disdain for humans. The plane crashes down the mountain leaving a “scar,” the boys “smashed a deep hole in the canopy of the forest” by pushing over a boulder (also displacing birds and wildlife), Piggy literally defecates on the island, and the boys claim the conch as theirs immediately upon discovery. The boys want dominance over all the island (and creatures and fruit and water). Dominance over land and all its resources — sound familiar?
  • Piggy is the easy target. The boys are thrilled to have a common victim to bully, and Piggy’s their guy. Described as fat, practically balding, bespectacled, asthmatic (“sucks to your ass-mar!”), diarrheic, and practically orphaned (he lives with his auntie who owns a candy shop, go figure), Golding doesn’t leave anything out. But as you read, think about who the Piggy is in your life. Because there is one.
  • Clothing is symbolic! (As is everything else, really.) Watch for when Golding describes the boys putting on or (more frequently) taking off clothing. Wearing clothes — and especially uniforms, like choir robes — shows civility. We don’t leave our house to go to work or to run errands or even to pick up our mail without first putting on clothes. So when the boys discard their clothes, on a scale from civil to barbaric, they’re scooting (on their bare buns) towards barbaric.
  • Conflict: External with the boys v. nature and the boys v. each other (Ralph and Jack already vying for chief); internal with the boys in conflict with their own fear.
  • War: Don’t forget, kiddos, THE ADULTS ARE KILLING EACH OTHER IN A WAR. That’s why the boys are in this “another nice mess you’ve gotten me into” in the first place!

As you continue in your reading, be watching for these fun things:

  • “a slight furtive boy” — yeah, this is Roger, and HE’S GOT ISSUES. Watch him like a hawk. He’s evil.
  • “insect-like figures” — it’s fun to keep your eye out for all the times Golding describes the boys using insect-like imagery. Remember the title (Lord of the Flies translating to Beelzebub which is basically Satan). Hooray!
  • Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego — could they be represented in the boys? Oh, I think so. (Jack has already brandished his knife and “slammed it into a tree trunk,” thinking “next time there would be no mercy.” Um, YIKES! But also, could Jack possibly be representing the Id nature? His rash, selfish, aggressive behavior might be a clue. And don’t forget that his hair is red. Subtle, Golding.)
  • Go ahead and chuckle every time the boys mention anything about how they should act like adults (you know, the adults who meet and have tea and discuss and what not) because — rememberTHE ADULTS ARE KILLING EACH OTHER IN A WAR. This is irony, friends. The ultimate irony of the entire book, actually. So that’s nice to know.
  • Last, but not least, Simon faints, and will faint again. He’s a weird, quiet, introspective, deep-thinking kid that some critics say functions as a Christ figure. As you read, you can think about that and make up your own mind.

So there ya go. Some fun (non-poop) nuggets for chapter 1.

Please forward this along to all your friends reading Lord of the Flies. You know, the hoards of people buzzing about the book after having read my first post. Ah, the power of being a blogger and reaching the millions. I will try not to let it go to my head. Golding would probably say that the only reason I write is to assert some kind of dominance or power over other humans. Well, I guess only time will tell on that …

And until next time, let’s read chapter 2, “Fire on the Mountain” (run, boys, run).

So You Wanna Be a Human? Read Lord of the Flies. (LOTF Post 1)

(The first in a series of LOTF posts. I hope you enjoy.)

The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon.

So begins William Golding’s famous novel about humanity’s ultimate failure — its evil nature. I first read this book in high school, of course. Then again in college. Then in my first year of teaching high school English.

And every year since.

That puts it at 17 times.

Every year, I tell my students that this is my favorite book to teach because every time I read it, I see something new! I think of something new! I understand my students in a new way! I understand myself in a new way!

I went from mostly agreeing with Golding that we are evil little buggers (back in my recently-post-graduate “disillusionment” days) to later in life realizing that Golding’s got it wrong! We aren’t that bad! (Surely.)

Right off the bat, I tell my students that THIS STORY IS AN ALLEGORY. If we miss this, we’ll get caught up (like Piggy does: “I got caught up”) in the inconsistencies, the illogic, the creepers (which, by the way, are just vines). (And if you’re having a brain fart — happens to the best of us — an allegory is a simple story with a deeper meaning below the surface. Ultimately, the inconsistencies and the illogic don’t really matter because the story of the boys on the island isn’t actually important. It’s what we learn about the human condition from reading a story about boys on an island that is important.)

It’s easy to get caught up in the absurdity of the story: So you’re telling me that a bunch of British boys from all different schools — well, except for the choir boys, who are all from one school — all managed to survive a plane crash in which the pilot died? No girls, no adults, and just a scar down the side of the mountain to show for the plane? Riiiiight.

Its being an allegory can’t be missed. While it is a story about boys running around half-naked on an island with sharpened sticks chasing pigs and each other and pooping wherever they want (near the fruit they eat — gross!), it’s really a story about us.

It’s about what we do when there are no rules.

When there’s no one telling us what to do.

Or what’s right and wrong.

Or where to poop.

So in this tropical-island, full-of-pre-pubescent-boys microcosm, life is magnified, and we see who we really are — naked, except for our tattered shorts held up by a knife belt.

And if I know one thing about being a human, it’s that we’re a touch (a lot?) narcissistic. The story isn’t really about the boys on the island. It’s about us! Oh, well, I’d like to read that!

So I invite you to dust off a copy of Lord of the Flies, and read along with me as I read it again for the 18th time.

We’ll start with chapter 1, “The Sound of the Shell.”

The boys crash land down the side of a mountain on some random deserted tropical island in the middle of an ocean in the midst of some big war that adults are all in a fluster about, hence why the boys are being evacuated. There’s plenty of fruit (conveniently) and a fresh water source (also convenient) and a pair of glasses (I wonder what convenient purpose these will serve…) and a boy who can sing C sharp (clearly this is a sign of good leadership and survival skills) and a bespectacled, asthmatic fat kid nicknamed Piggy (a convenient nerdy-loser-scapegoat for the other boys to mock — “Sucks to your ass-mar!”).

Already in chapter 1, Piggy “waded away from Ralph, and crouched down among the tangled foliage” to take a fat dump. It’s important to note that an all-fruit diet leads to loose stool. The fat kid has probably been stress-eating non-stop since the crash. And as a fun added detail, he grunts while he poops.

And that’s just a little (fruity) taste of the chapter.

Oh, and did I mention that the Hebrew translation of “lord of the flies” is Ba’alzevuv, Beelzebub in the Greek? (The Wikipedia site is pretty fun. It chats about how flies are “pests, feasting on excrement” — and let’s just remember that the boys are already pooping all over the island.)

So you’re telling me that the title of the book we’re reading is basically SATAN?

Yes. Yes, I am.

Well what better book to read during quarantine. Get ready for some introspection. Read “The Sound of the Shell,” and I’ll meet ya back here for the next post. (Don’t have a copy? Can’t get a copy? See if a local bookstore is open — maybe a bookstore near you does curb-side pick-up. And if not, read for free here.)

The story is simple, but its implications about the human condition are not. Reading it forces us to ask the tough questions — of ourselves.

So until we meet again, we’ll start with this question: What would you do if there were no rules?

Learn with Humans (and not just during a pandemic)

Hansu never told him to study, but rather to learn, and it occurred to Noa that there was a marked difference. Learning was like playing, not labor.

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee

Well wouldn’t that make life a whole lot easier. Don’t study, kids. LEARN. It’s like playing, I promise. Writing that Hamlet essay should be like the rush of wind as the swing at the playground carries you forwards and back, up and down.

As a teacher, I find myself constantly selling my class to my students. (THE SHEER NUMBER OF TIMES I’VE TRIED TO CONVINCE THEM OF THE IMPORTANCE OF A DECENT VOCABULARY — it’s exhausting.) I want my students to want to learn. (“I want you to want to do the dishes.”)

So if students viewed learning as playing, not labor, they wouldn’t be so glum, and the Literary Prude English Teachers of America (LPETA) might learn to untwist their panties a bit, too. (Speaking of glum, I took a screenshot of my senior class zoom session the other day, and even though I was very excitedly reenacting Act 4, Scene 3 of Hamlet through my laptop camera, those glum students could not un-glum themselves. One student was showing only eyebrows. Another just a corner of his shoulder. Little screen-boxes of glum faces and glum eyebrows and glum corners of shoulders. That was a tough day for me.)

But something magical happens when we get out of school (I’m a teacher, yes, but I AM GLAD TO BE OUT OF SCHOOL AS A STUDENT). Ironic, really, that when our time is not specifically allocated to learning, we have more of an innate desire for it. (There’s gotta be a way to bottle this up and put it in those awful blue Gatorades that the students are always guzzling.) This pandemic has only heightened this feeling — this innate desire. As we are mostly (hopefully) hanging out at home, with our time not specifically allocated to very much at all, it seems we are getting …

bored.

And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, learning has become fun again. Thank you, boredom. (And thank you, time at home. So very much time at home.)

Back in September of 2019, I lauded the importance of boredom, having no idea that a PANDEMIC(!) was in store for 2020:

Take some things off your schedule (and therefore off your mind). Try for fewer activities. Allow your kids to have open schedules that include boredom from time to time. Allow yourself some boredom from time to time. Put the phone in another room (or — gasp — don’t bring it with you on your errands). When you’re back with your phone, reassess what you actually need (I use that term loosely) notifications for. Maybe notifications for phone calls and texts only.

And then: Go outside. Play piano. Sing. Write. Read. Talk to your spouse. Talk to a friend (not Siri; not Alexa).

Burn All of the Things! (or at least donate them)

On that list of things to do, I should have included learn a new thing. Boredom is often the impetus of creativity. Learning and creativity? Sounds like fun to me!

In an article from The Atlantic (“In 1950, Americans Had Aspic. Now We Have Dalgona Coffee.”), author Shirley Li talks about how in times of crisis, humans become food innovators:

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but isolation and boredom are proving to be close cousins. Cooking is serving as therapy

And later:

Recipes like dalgona coffee, sourdough starters, and banana bread aren’t being associated with limitation or hardship, but with relieving stress and removing uncertainty.

So when my friend Carrie texted me asking if I’d do a virtual therapy session bread baking workshop to help her learn the art of sourdough, I jumped at the opportunity. She wanted to learn! She wanted to learn something I could teach! Suffice it to say, I was excited. And maybe in the process we’d remove some uncertainty and relieve some stress. Because, ya know, BREAD.

I decided to put out the good word about the workshop to see if anyone else would like to join. And people did! I got to work creating a document to share with timelines, directions, recipes, and, of course, the now-ubiquitous Zoom link. The eight of us met several times throughout the day, ending by putting our dough in the fridge for its final overnight proof. The next morning, we met up a couple more times to flip and score the dough and then to show everyone our baked loaves and say goodbye.

We had a blast, and people from California to Florida joined in on the fun. I got to hang out with a friend from college who lives in Pasadena, a summer-camp-counselor-turned-friend who lives in the Bay Area, and some of my Florida homies.

It’s exciting to me that sourdough baking has become, according to Li, a “quarantine micro-trend.” But I hope that we emerge from this life-under-quarantine time with new skills that we use and refine for the rest of our lives.

What if the things we learn right now don’t end as a trend? What if we learn things that make us better humans?

Susan E. Rice has a piece in The New York Times titled “It’s Not Enough to ‘Get Back to Normal.'” And I couldn’t agree more. For many people, this time right now is difficult. Very likely lonely. Perhaps sad. Possibly reeking of despair. Rice asks, “how can we exit this crucible of death and hardship as a more decent America?” She goes on to mention historical examples of how we’ve emerged better (Civil War led to constitutional amendments ending slavery; Great Depression led to the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps; World War II led to the G.I. Bill, NATO, and the United Nations; Vietnam War and civil rights era led to the abolishment of segregation and the opening of voting rights for all Americans).

I don’t know that Trump’s priority right now is to brainstorm innovative ideas on how we can emerge a better, more humane nation.

But there’s one thing I do know.

And that’s bread.

It’s satisfying to make; it’s satisfying to bake. Seeing the transformation from wet-blob-that-resembles-a-gelatinous-tummy to a crusty, crackly, beautiful loaf is the ultimate satisfaction.

My friends and I baked bread together. And it was marvelous. Several of them have baked since meeting together, and that makes my heart happy. One friend texted me yesterday to tell me she had baked two loaves of sourdough, six baguettes, and a pan of focaccia — all in one day. Sounds like a great day! My wish for my friends (and all of you learning sourdough) is many more years of baking delicious bread.

But if it’s not bread for you, make it something. Pick a new thing. Learn it. And enjoy it. Allow it to be play, not labor.

And if it is bread, yum!

Let’s bake life better.

Sourdough Bread Resources:

  • Me! Drop me a line, and I’m happy to share my document I put together with a basic recipe and tutorial videos I’ve made through the years.
  • Bread Baking for Beginners, by Bonnie Ohara: This one is best for beginners who are OK with starting the learning process by using commercial yeast. The book is in order of easiest to most difficult breads, and it has great step-by-step instructions that anyone can understand. I don’t own this one, but I borrowed it from the library and read it cover to cover like a novel. I ate it up!
  • Artisan Sourdough Made Simple, by Emilie Raffa: This is good for intermediate level to advanced bread-bakers. Every recipe in the book uses sourdough starter, so you’ll want to make some or get your hands on some. I own this book, and I’ve been using it as of late. I love it.
  • Tartine Book No. 3, by Chad Robertson: This one is for the bread foodie, the broodie. I’d recommend it for the more advanced bread baker. I read this one like a novel and felt a genuine understanding and love for sourdough after reading it. It has lots of background information on the history of sourdough along with interesting tid-bits about different types of whole wheat flours. The recipes are more difficult mostly because they call for a higher ratio of wheat flour. I felt kind of snobby reading this one. Which was kind of fun for a crisp minute. I own this one and find myself coming back to it every now and again.