When I was young I thought I knew how the muse worked. She would visit and I would write. If I did not “feel” her presence, under the ideal artistic conditions, the words would not come. She was fickle and free, and would not be mastered by mundane schedules and practices and anything that even smelled like work.
I’m so thankful that my muse is both more workaday and mysterious than I believed her to be in my teens. Now I liken partnering with the muse to the way I make bread. There is no way around it, that if there are going to be sandwiches and toast, I have to show up with my flour and water and yeast and fat. I’ve learned the feel of the dough, when it is too wet and shaggy, or dry and tough, and what to do either way. I’ve admired the satin sheen of a plump ball, and the swell of the second rise right before I punch down and shape it. I’ve known the keen satisfaction of brown loaves on the counter and a perfumed house.
But what keeps me coming back to the bowl and board is that something in the process remains beyond me, batch after batch. I can measure with precision, proof the yeast, weigh the dough as I divide it, and no two loaves or rolls are ever the same. I know the happy surprise of a lovely, delicious outcome, and I know when to throw up my hands when a stubborn loaf refuses to be shaped, when it is an “as good as it gets” day. I know to bake it anyway. What isn’t perfect can still teach, nourish, sustain.
In wrestling with words, there are the dependable ingredients and the learned techniques, and the skill that grows with handling and blending and weighing. And then there is the alchemy that happens somehow, the mystery beyond my flour-covered fingers. The muse is there sometimes, but not until my hands are already in the bowl.
Gratefully writing along
with other good folks