Posted in Sourdough

Sourdough, Part 1

A couple of months ago, I read this book – Sourdough by Robin Sloan. I’d read his Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore previously, and I loved it; it was light, feel-good, yet engaging, and Sourdough was the exact same way. It is about this woman, Lois, who is given a sourdough starter, which proceeds to change her life (my best quick, spoiler-free review).

I was inspired, and I wanted to start making bread, but sort of put it on the back burner, just letting it ruminate in the back of my head. Then, about two weeks ago, I saw a sourdough cookbook on the shelf of the bookstore I just started working at. I went ahead and got it, then took a trip to my local health-food store, where I got some rye flour, which the cookbook says is good for a sourdough starter.

I wanted to do this from scratch – no yeast, no one sending me part of their starter – this was, and still is, going to be an experiment to see not only if I can keep this starter alive, but if I can bake something good with it, too.

To start a starter, you just mix about 60g of the whole wheat flour (in my case, rye) with 60g of water. Then, you let it sit for 24 hours.

Next, it’s time to feed. You discard about half of the starter, then replace it with flour and water again. The cookbook says you can use all-purpose flour at this point, which I tried, but my starter has been responding much better to continued use of the rye flour. You are supposed to continue this for the rest of the week, and then the starter may be ready to bake with. Mine was not!

Apparently, sourdough starters are supposed to double in size, have lots of bubbles, and smell like yeast when they are ready. There is also a trick where you can drop some in a cup of water, and it’s supposed to float. By the seventh day, mine had bubbles, had basically doubled in size, and it smelled heavily of nail polish remover.

The smell thing is apparently very common – I just didn’t know how to fix it so it would finally be ready to bake with. I did some Pinteresting, as one does, and it turns out that smell means the starter is hungry – so, I started feeding it twice a day instead of once. Apparently it’s also important to weigh how much you’re discarding and replace that same amount, which I did not know, either – thank you, Pinterest!

The extra feedings made a difference literally immediately – more bubbles, even bigger starter, and it smells like yeast, not chemicals!

So, I started to bake my first loaf last night! The dough was supposed to rise overnight, but it hadn’t quite gotten there yet this morning, so I’m going to go check it in a minute. Stay tuned for how that turns out!

Posted in Thoughts

Community Gardens, or, Why I Keep Going

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.

I’m not going to go in too much detail about my experiences, because this is an internet full of strangers.

Instead, I am going to say why I am alive and why I am glad to be.

Simply put, people make a difference in my life by being there for me. There isn’t some big way they reach out to me; it is the little things, the way a friend would ask me to go for a drive with her, or the time she wanted to go on an adventure, so we walked around campus late at night, at the expense of checking our cell phones for calls from the others at a party who didn’t know where we went. Most of my friends make plans, ask me to do things, actually put in the effort to see me. When I was living in a dorm, I would crash in someone else’s bed while my roommates fought. I got driven around town when I was having panic attacks, and one boy got a ticket so I wouldn’t have to walk home from work at one in the morning. In a more specific sense, I am told I was smart, talented, and deserved better than the way I was treated. When I was really going through it, my family would check in on me daily, and my parents helped me move twice in one week when I decided I’d had enough.

I’m thankful for what I did, too. If I could go back, I would be tempted to make changes. But I like the way I made very specific playlists to get me through the nights, the times I was kind and shouldn’t have been, and the moment I decided, on my own, that I was done self-destructing. I’m proud of how I knew I couldn’t take it anymore, so I asked for help.

I wish more people knew how to ask for help. I wish more college students knew a lot of universities offer free counseling services for them. I wish people were told how much they matter. I wish everyone knew how affected the world would be without them in it. That sounds cliche, but it’s experience. I know how much something similar affected me.

It’s okay to ask for help. I’m not sure what took me so long. I think I was embarrassed. I thought, I have no reason to feel like this. There isn’t always a reason. Sometimes you just hurt.

But it will also stop.

Not right away. You have to do some work. Once you start working, your eyes open, little by little. First, you see the bird that likes to sit on your windowsill. Then, you notice there’s a blackberry attached to a stem the bird brought back for its nest. You wonder, and you go outside, and by the trees at the back of the yard, you find a briar patch and wonder how the bird avoided the thorns. You decide to plant a garden, and every day you weed it a little bit, so it never gets overgrown. The first thing you harvest is a cherry tomato. Just one. But it’s alive, there on its plant, alive because you nurtured it with water and sunlight and love. And you realize–that’s how you came back to life, too, through hard work, weeding out the dead leaves so new ones could grow, and loving yourself a little more each day. You’re a community garden, one in which people poured out their love like water, and therapists sprinkled wildflower seeds that brought in butterflies to keep you growing, growing, growing. It’s good to have a community. But you had to decide to let them in. You had to decide you want to be here.

I am thankful for every person in my life who has told me I am worthy. I am thankful for those who told me I am not, because those words showed me I needed to move my garden plot somewhere sunnier. I love eating strawberries or feeling peach juice run down my arm. Nothing compares to wandering Barnes & Noble with my friends, even if I don’t buy anything. When I do buy a book, I bring it home and put it on my To Be Read shelf, the one hanging honorably above my desk. I get coffee and do homework in the same shop as a friend, because even if we aren’t talking, we are companionably stressed. I write words I think are pretty, even if no one else reads them. I listen to music that’s soft, then loud, just like me. My dogs look at me like I make the sun shine, which is exactly how I look at them, too. There are paintings, books, new foods, and flower petals I haven’t pressed yet.

Here is what I want to do with this life I have. I want to be kind, to help people, to write things that make people cry, not because they’re sad, but because they feel understood. I want to give treats to every dog I meet and love everyone I meet.

I want to get all the time I can to do those things. I hope everyone reading this gets to that point, too.

It’s hard. I know that. But I also know it is so, so worth it.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

Posted in Thoughts

To Take Up Space

Sometimes I get the urge to spill my guts–I have something to say, and I need somebody to pay attention.

The problem with this urge is I don’t always know what I want to say. I just want someone to listen to me. I want to know the words I’m saying or writing are reaching somebody, not just going up into the atmosphere like a forgotten balloon. When I speak, I want it to be important.

I hate small talk. I will engage in it, but I’d rather get to know somebody. I had a classmate a couple semesters ago who didn’t seem capable of small talk, and I envied him for it. Upon being put in a group together, he didn’t just talk about the papers we were reviewing for each other. He asked why. He asked why I chose my topic, why I am an English major, and he listened to my answers.

I have another classmate, a girl. She was talking to me in the hallway once–it was our second class taken together. When she was done speaking, she apologized. “I’m sorry if I’m bothering you.” I wanted to cry. What is it about being a little vulnerable that makes us feel guilty?

I want other women to know that we don’t need to apologize for taking up space, for making people listen.

It’s okay to need things. I’ve been trying to get better about that, telling people when I need something. I went through a prolonged experience where it felt like I was being punished for needing things, so it’s a mental block I’ve had to work on recently. It’s not wrong to need support. It’s not wrong to express your hurt. It’s not wrong to ask a person to fix what they broke. Easier to say than to believe though, right?

I’m also learning I’m not wrong to still be healing from the experience, even though it was a while ago. I can be over it one minute and then hear a song, which will fill me with the remnants of the past. I find that’s what happens most often.

This is why it’s important to find people who want to take up space with you. You should not exist in someone else’s space. But–you can coexist. You can take up space together, like reverse mitosis. And I’m talking about friends (or family), people who don’t mind when you make them watch the Mary, Queen of Scots movie or drone on about how you accidentally bought two planners. In fact, they want you to do those things, because they want you to take up space, to be the best version of yourself. I used to say all the time, “I’m not living my best life,” and a friend would ask, whenever something good happened, “Are you living your best life now?” She would ask this excitedly because she wanted it to be true, for no other reason than she cared about me.

So where do we find these people? I have no idea. I’ve been lucky with the ones I have–they are either family or were just in my life one day. Maybe that’s the way good friendships happen. You don’t know how you got there, but one day you realize you can’t imagine life without them in it.

I think it’s vital to tell people that, that you can’t imagine life without them in it. Other people need things, need to know they’re special, too. If everybody told each other the good they feel, maybe nobody would be worried about taking up space.

There are a lot of things I want for myself. I want to be happy. I want to be heard. I want to be sure of myself. But most of all, I want to be kind. I want to listen, really listen, when people talk to me. I’m working on all of those things.

Posted in Thoughts

Spring is Coming (8/29/2020)

This was originally created as a book review site. However, I’m in such a reading slump, and as I’m sure no one has noticed, I haven’t posted since the beginning of the year. I’ve only read a couple good books since then, including Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen (I recommend highly). It was assigned to me by my bibliotherapist, which, if you haven’t heard of, drop a comment or Google it, because it’s incredible. I actually just emailed my bibliotherapist and asked for help to get out of this reading slump. We’ll see what she says.

So, I may post book reviews when I have the time, but I think I’m going to use this as more of a blog space from now on. Blogging was recommended to me by a new friend today, and I told her about my failed attempt at posting book reviews, but I felt the urge today to get some thoughts out. I journaled for the first time in a year, and it felt incredible. Still, I felt the need to put the thought out there, into the void. I figured, since no one ever really got into this site except for me, I could try out writing about my feelings.

Introduction time: I’m Riley, I’m in my senior year of my English – Creative Writing degree, which I have gone for at two colleges – one in Alabama, but I ultimately transferred back to the university in my hometown in Florida. It was cheaper to switch, and I like the school more, but there were also extenuating circumstances that the void doesn’t need to know about quite yet. Writing is my favorite thing to do, and I’ve been doing a lot of creative non-fiction lately, so blogging is kind of a natural extension of that.

Today, I journaled. I didn’t realize how much I missed it. Most of my journal is from my time in Alabama, when I was extremely lonely, depressed, anxious, you name it. Hindsight is so 20/20 though, and I’m realizing that so much as I get older. I thought the problem was me, that everything bad in my life was my fault, my depression’s fault. But it’s so important who you surround yourself with – I had the option to be around good girls who cared about me, but I chose to devote myself to this group of a couple of people who claimed to care about me. The problem is they never showed that they cared about me. I expressed my regret to one of those good girls recently, told her how much I wished I had chosen that group over the other. I’ve been struggling with that, trying not to be regretful. Now, at 21, I really like where my life is going. So it shouldn’t matter what bad choices got me here, right?

I went through my journal, just to see where I had been. I found some amazing quotes that I’m surprised I had the insight at the time (ages 18 and 19) to write. Some highlights include “How very like society to only be attracted to tragedy,” and “I want to be alive, like, Big Alive.” My favorite though is from just a few days before I packed up and left that Alabama school:

“Spring is coming.”

Now, when I wrote that, it was February, so my timing was correct. That was hope, simple hope, because in February of 2019, my life was falling apart. I had no confidence, no self-esteem to speak of. I had no way of knowing that I would be so pleased with who I am today in 2020. Of course, I still have a ton of anxiety about the future – my latest obsession is grad school applications. I think finding that quote, written in my own hand, was a great reminder for myself that no matter how anxious I get, no matter how terrible my life seems, it’s going to get good again. Even when it seems like it never will. It will.

So, those are my thoughts for 8/29/2020. I will update when it suits my whims. If anybody at all reads this, please leave a recommendation in the comments about how to deal with a reading slump caused by the inability to focus on anything for more than literally ten seconds at a time.