high weir

January 9, 2009

Failure *is* an option

Filed under: Uncategorized — jstreed1476 @ 8:52 pm
This one looked pretty. But it tasted *wrong.* I forgot to add the salt.

This one looked pretty. But it tasted *wrong.* I forgot to add the salt.

Merlin Mann at 43folders has a great post about “courageous sucking,” which is the flipside of fear of failure:

Nobody likes feeling like a noob, especially when you’re getting constant pressure on all sides to never stick out in an unflattering way. And, in this godforsaken just-add-Wikipedia era of make-believe insight and instant expertise, it’s natural to start believing you must never suck at anything or admit to knowing less than everything — even when you’re just starting out. Clarinets should never squawk, sketch lines should never be visible, and dictionaries are just big, dumb books of words for cheaters and fancy people. Right?

I think finding your own comfort with the process (whatever that process ends up being) might just be the whole game here — being willing to put in your time, learn the craft, and never lose the courageousness to be caught in the middle of making something you care about, even when it might be shit and you might look like an idiot fumbling to make it. What’s the worst thing that could happen?

Emphasis mine.

He’s talking about taking up photography. I can relate by way of my recent passion for bread making.

I started making bread earlier this year for a lot of reasons, but mainly because I love eating good bread and watching others eat it, too. Making bread is an ancient craft, and people have been doing it successfully under all kinds of unhelpful conditions far longer than history can record. Honestly, making a passable loaf isn’t very difficult.

But it’s tempting to experiment, so a hobby that starts with a basic sandwich loaf or trendy no-knead artisan bread soon expands to all the variations of water, flour, yeast, salt, and everything that can be added to dough. That’s when failures start to pile up.

(Oddly–maybe typically–a plain old baguette, which is among the simplest breads in terms of ingredients, is one of the hardest to master.)

A bad or just insipid loaf is hardly a disaster, but it’s no fun to watch it languish on the counter because nobody likes it. And since bread is made to share, it sometimes feels like a failure to deliver something larger. Also, because it’s such a basic skill, doing it badly seems double-bad.

But in truth, even average homemade bread is about 10 times better than anything the typical supermarket offers.

Funny: Merlin’s wife rolls her eyes when he can’t dash out of the house on a five-minute errand without slinging a camera around his neck. I know I’m driving the people around me nuts with my incessant baking, and it takes a real effort of will to resist working bread into casual conversation. It’s an almost irresistible resource for someone who likes to speak figuratively.

Anyway, doing something badly, or at just boringly, is part of the path to mastery. So is hanging out at breadmaking communities like The Fresh Loaf, and checking out library books, and watching Alton Brown do his thing. Getting through the repetitious stretch and dumping a few doorstop loaves will, I trust, be worth it.

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1 Comment »

  1. for my part, i sure enjoyed your baking!

    Comment by Sean Meade — January 26, 2009 @ 3:57 pm


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