Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Letting it Rest

I'm thinking about metaphors today. Sailing is full of them. Give me some leeway, set your course, show me the ropes, change tacks, go against the tide, give me a wide berth, get stuck in the doldrums, take the wind out of your sails, and, of course, keel over...from being forced to read too many sailing metaphors.

Over the weekend I snagged a copy of Beard On Bread at Rabelais, and I've been reading what James Beard had to say about baking the perfect loaf. It struck me, about three recipes into the book, just how much of bread-baking is about waiting. Not just waiting, but going about the rest of your life while the dough takes care of itself.

You proof the yeast and wait. You add the liquids to the flour and wait. You knead your dough and wait. You punch it down, knead it some more, and wait. And you may even punch it down, knead it some more, shape it, and wait yet again before putting it in a hot oven and, yup, waiting some more. It's an act of engagement, trust, and letting go.

We've created no-knead recipes and bread machines that do the work for us, but there is simply no way to shorten that waiting time. As much as dough needs to be kneaded (sorry, couldn't resist), it simply will not survive if you don't give it enough quiet time to rest, rebuild, and grow.

This morning, I was struck by how much of writing is like bread-baking. You hatch an idea and start kneading. But at a certain point, that idea will need to be left alone. And if you don't, it you just keep kneading and kneading, it'll ultimately die.

I have an idea for my next book, and each morning I take several hours to work on it. But this morning I opened my notebooks and couldn't connect. In a flash, my hands felt the dough from yesterday's bread-baking and I thought, "Let it rest." A collision of mental metaphors, but they did the trick.


sarah said...

Thank you for this post. I kneaded (ha!) to read this. Especially today. Today, I will rest.

Mel said...

I'd never made that connection before, but it's so true. The forced waiting is one of the things I love about baking bread, but of course I need to knead and prefer that to the "improved" methods.

My writing, even though I don't do it for a living, is very similar. I often need time to let the words ferment in my mind before I can commit them to the page/screen.

Stephen said...

If I may extend your metaphor a bit, when working the Tartine Bread recipe, I feel imprisoned by the four or so hours where the dough demands a few minutes of manipulating every 30 or so. I want to go on about my life, the way one can with the 18-hour rest period in a no-knead recipe (even if it's an overnight sleep).

Perhaps the tethering to the kitchen that I feel is an important actively engaged waiting that I need in life. Instead of an out-of-sight, out-of-mind period, maybe our lives, friendships, dreams and goals need more presence while giving them space and time to germinate.

Jane said...

These are words that suit my day, too.

Mary Ellen said...

A great and necessary Insight. Thank you!

Deborah Robson said...


WonderMike said...

I actually didn't realize that several of these metaphors were sailing related. Now I want to take a bread and play with the OED.

Lovely post for this (somewhat) restful day. Thx!

WonderMike said...

And when I say "bread", I mean "break". DOH!

Mel said...

Stephen: Maybe part of it is trying to looking at that waiting period not as "tethering" so much as a structure within which you can build other productive activities. Noam Chomsky has pointed out that language needs structure to have meaning - i.e., without rules of grammar, words in and of themselves are incapable of conveying complex & coherent meaning. I think that observation serves as a useful metaphor in many other areas of life, as well.

akabini said...

Next book?
NEXT book!?!
Be still my heart.

Happy to wait for as long as it takes,
for lo I shall devour it as I do a slice of new bread, dripping with butter and honey.

Thanks for the post.
A good reminder for those of us who are driven, driven, driven at every hour of every day.

Merah said...

Wonder Mike -- when you say: And when I say "bread", I mean "break". DOH! -- don't you mean Dough!? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
Another wonderful, thoughtful post. And another book? Exciting!

Liz said...

Oh, to give everything the patience it is due! I am always rewarded when I take the time to pause. Happy writing - something else to look (patiently)forward to!

blogless grace said...

I, too, use the "let it rest" with projects that are just not going well. Toss all the pieces in a basket and not look at it for a few days-week-two weeks. When I go back everything seems to work.

erica anne said...

Your post rested with me all afternoon yesterday.

I love that you mixed in a sprinkling of chicken metaphor. This idea of combining ingredients, kneading, letting rise, letting REST aligns well with the notion of incubating, hatching.

If too little time is spent in the shell, if incubation is cut short, the result is the same: what would become a living, breathing being instead becomes something unrealized, something interrupted.

Earlier today a friend posted a link to Tom Waits' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In the video clip, Tom Waits likens the creative muse, maybe the creative process to fishing:

"you gotta be real quiet sometimes if you wanna catch the big ones."

Marilyn Reed Thomson said...

This analogy really speaks to me. I have been sitting on a couple of blog posts lately that aren't quite ready. Thank you for helping me see that they simply need to rest a bit. They'll be ready when they're ready!

Love the Tom Waits quote, too!