Baking and Cooking

posted Nov 5, 2011, 4:41 PM by jj pionke
You might be asking yourself what the title of this post has to do with library school, well let me tell ya.  The University of Michigan is a pretty high pressure learning environment.  Just recently, as in today, there was a discussion on one of the community lists that talked about whether or not grades matter at all, especially because this program is focused on professional development rather than academic theory.  Having said that, for someone like me, grades do matter, not just because I want to remain in academia but because grades give me a bar to shoot for.  As an undergrad, about a million years ago, I wasn't as diligent about grades, not that I was partying or causing trouble, I just didn't try as hard as I could have and I definitely didn't try as hard as I could have in classes that I didn't like. 

Here, I am trying my hardest like I have never tried before.  It's not necessarily that I want to get straight As, even though that would be really nice, it's more that I want to learn every little thing that I can while I am here whether that is in a classroom or out of it.  Having said all that, the pressure is just enormous, but I knew that coming into this.  I have definitely had my ups and downs where I have just wept in frustration or gleefully hit submit on an assignment that I knew I had nailed.  Part of the coping mechanism that I have developed is the Sunday baking.  

I have often taught the film Stranger Than Fiction and at one point, Ana, who owns a bakery tells Harold that she had gotten into Harvard Law and that "I made oatmeal cookies... peanut butter bars...dark chocolate macadamia nut wedges, and everyone would eat and stay happy and study harder and do better on the test and more and more people started coming to the study groups and I'd bring more snacks and I was always looking for better and better recipes until soon it was ricotta cheese and apricot croissants and mocha bars with a almond glaze and lemon chiffon cake with zesty peach icing. And at the end of the semester I had twenty seven study partners, eight Mead journals filled with recipes and a D average. So I dropped out. I just figured if I was going to make the world a better place I would do it with cookies."  Though I certainly have no intention of dropping out or even of becoming a master baker, Ana's speech has always struck me as important, not just because she's tattooed and a rebel but because she understands on some fundamental level that you can't change the world.  You can only change the small part of it that you live in.  Even the great humanitarians, who are known the world over and who receive the Nobel Peace Prize will tell you that being famous for bravery and resistance, isn't about being famous, it's about righting a wrong, about trying to make their own little section of the world a better place.  Ana makes the world a better place by dropping out of law school and opening up a bakery.  I keep my sanity by baking on Sundays.

Sometimes the baking doesn't come out right, but it's usually still mostly edible so I consider it a victory.  Over the course of a week here, besides reading hundreds of pages, attending lectures, teaching, and sifting through a mountain of email, by the time the week is over, I feel disheartened and baking something, especially when it turns out well, reminds me that it's ok and everything is going to be alright.

I don't eat all my baking of course.  There is just too much of it.  I could freeze plenty of it but that's not the point either.  Mostly, I take the baked goods to school and leave them in the School of Information office as a sign of appreciation.  I've baked for my 501 group too.  Seeing the pleasure on people's faces as they eat my baked goods helps make me feel better too.  It helps me feel less alone and more like even though we are all busy and stressed out, people can still appreciate a scone or a cookie or a slice of pie.  There is still good in this world.  I won't be dropping out to open up a bakery, nor do I think I will ever have the width and breadth of recipes that Ana has, but I don't need to.  Baking just about anything is enough.