Bleak Joy in the Baking

Given my particular hobbies and interests, I have to at least note the passing last night of George H.W. Bush. I never voted for him, although I didn’t mind him so much. In 1988, I thought I’d had enough of the Reagan era. In 1992, I had had more than enough. I was also attracted to the idea of a young president, in his 40s, and for a while I was a big fan of Clinton .

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So much water under the bridge. If I were to rank the U.S. presidents in my lifetime, Bush #41 would be toward the top, and ahead of Clinton, using my own mysterious criteria but mostly revolving around effectiveness, although I can’t rule out character. Lots of bad stuff could be said about Bush, particularly the slash-and-burn campaign techniques he approved of (odd for such a courteous, respectful person) and his invasion of Panama, but in general, good job. Tough job, tough time, and he did well. It was a long life, mostly of service to the rest of us, and that has nothing to do with politics.

I’m approaching December with as much enthusiasm as I can muster up here. The swift autumn-ness of this year has surprised me; we had such a leisurely summer, slowly winding down, and nothing major happened--it just got darker and colder, and wetter and windier, as it always does, but it still surprised me.

I’m cold all the time anyway. This is fairly new, and I suppose can be attributed partly to age but mostly to this lowish body fat level I appear to have (hard to judge, but I’m guessing around 13%, which isn’t weird or dangerous or exceptional, but on the low side for a man my age and probably as low as one should aim for at this time of life, assuming no special circumstances). So, less body fat, less insulation, big surprise.

I keep this room very warm, occasionally oppressively warm (too warm even for me, but actually I don’t mind so much, and then someone will walk in and start saying casual things like OhmyGoditsburningupinhere and I’ll get the message). But warm is fine with me. Hoping for warm in Texas next week. You never know.

My mood has been teetering, then, sometimes drifting toward the dark side and others more sunny, particularly when I’m around other people. Loneliness kills, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never been quite so lonely (this quarter, with a decreased schedule, my wife has been driving more and taking the bus less to work, which is reasonable but leaves me without a car. I can walk most places, but see notes above about autumn and weather. I’m not taking any treks this time of year, so I’m sometimes stuck here).

But we have donuts. We will always have the donuts.

I won’t rehash all of my experiments, just a little review: Always thought about trying donuts. Not a donut eater, really; it’s never been a go-to snack for me, although they’re wonderful and I’ve had some great ones.

 Sometimes these rise in uneven shapes. I could probably fix this with some work, but really? You want symmetry or pure heaven? You decide.

Sometimes these rise in uneven shapes. I could probably fix this with some work, but really? You want symmetry or pure heaven? You decide.

So I finally bought a small electric fryer, and a donut pan, and I tried baking them, then frying, then switched from cake to yeast, then started looking at Krispy Kremes, the best of the best. That’s all that happened.

It was fait accompli once I discovered the yeast kind. Yeast is right up my alley. Yeast means dough, and I do dough. I just had to figure out why these donuts were different from but similar to bread. I read many, many copycat recipes, as I usually do, finding the similarities and noting the special touches, and figuring out my approach.

And yesterday I nailed it. The trick (and fun part) about these is that they don’t take a long time. Make the dough, let it rise maybe an hour, cut out the donuts, let those puff up a bit for 45 minutes, then fry them, 45 seconds per side (this was a revelation, down from a minute). It’s like a no-knead bread, in fact, just a wet mess in the beginning and then oh my.

The only thing I wish were different is that I don’t have a 3-inch donut cutter, which is more of a standard size. I have 3-1/2 inches and 2-1/2, so I end up with big donuts, 12 instead of the 18 the recipe calls for (although Julie swears the bigger size is typical of Krispy Kremes). I might try smaller ones. I might try to find another donut cutter. I have so many options.

But these were practically perfect in every way, and I was immensely cheered by this simple thing. I had two. Julie managed three bites, since she’d just eaten a big dinner, but John took care of the rest of hers, and I note 5 out of 12 remaining this morning. John is a fan, apparently. This isn’t inconsequential, because while he’s always effusive about good stuff, he can be pretty critical when I fail.

I know what’s going on. I’m baking so much because I’m trying to rev up the holiday spirit that so pumped up my mood last year. But mostly I want that stuff around the house, because I have absolutely no appetite.

This is kind of serious, although not exactly new. But I note it now, and wonder what to do. So lots of cookies and donuts around, as nutritionally questionable as they are, fill in some gaps while I figure out how to learn to eat again. It’s kind of a cycle; I get depressed, so I don’t feel like cooking. I make meals for Julie and John, but they’re on a different schedule (she tends to get home later in the evening than I like to eat, and John eats all the time), so I haven’t figured out what I need to jumpstart this action. Sugar won’t do it, because I get tired of that pretty quickly.

As I told my buddy Sid the other day, I’m just trying to hang on. This is not a dangerous situation at all, weight-wise. It just can’t go any lower, not without wandering into dangerous territory (and even that’s probably 30 pounds away, and there are plenty of people like that who do fine). You can’t really stop eating and expect to live, and then there’s vanity and just comfort. Tired of hiking up jeans that have a waistline (male readers, please take a breath) of 30 inches. Not 31, not 32, not 34s. Not those 36s that everyone my sex and age heads for.

 For some reason, this is the most disturbing picture (although I’m making an ice cream cone). Just seems scrawny.

For some reason, this is the most disturbing picture (although I’m making an ice cream cone). Just seems scrawny.

Now, my wife had a pair of older jeans with a 30-inch waistline and I couldn’t quite snap those closed, and I’m aware that sizes have been altered over the decades (a tape measure gives me a waist of around 31-32 inches, I think). Still, those are skinny pants, and I’m tired of hiking them up or washing them in hot water far too often than jeans need to be washed.

So, whatever. I’m not perfect and I’ve got problems. You too. Let’s hang in there.

...

I can’t write, not really. Not what I want to write.

I can’t get my mood elevated, although sometimes getting outside helps, and definitely the socialization. But I sometimes lean toward anger, irrational and mostly irritation. Sometimes I want to run away. Sometimes I want to stay in bed all day. Most of the time I clean and make the bed and do the laundry and work in the yard and listen to my wife tell about her day, and pretend to listen to my son.

I stayed away from football for the most part, catching highlights or sometimes recorded, speeded-up versions of games when I’m bored, but now my Seahawks are getting some national attention for actually hanging in there. Maybe that’ll be interesting for a few weeks.

But I’m just being honest here. This is depression, I know it, I’m so much more aware of how it insinuated itself into my life early on. How it provides a possible road map to the odd choices I’ve made my entire life. More honesty—if I had health insurance, and a doctor I trusted suggested ECT (electroshock therapy), I’d consider it. I’m not considering harming myself at all, but jeez louise. After a lifetime I wouldn’t mind some relief, and these last few years have been hard.

Last night, though, after the donuts had been made and consumed, dinner had been served, the three of us had wandered off into our social cubicles (with our fourth downstairs in his rented room), I found my eyelids heavy at 7:30pm. I’m an early riser and heading for bed earlier than in the old days, but I can’t bring myself to get under the covers before 10. Just feels bad. Like a bad move.

So I forced myself to shut the lights off, turn on the projector, find a film I own I haven’t watched in forever, and see what happened.

It was Phenomenon, the John Travolta fantasy from the 1990s about the sweet, small-town man who has some sort of neurological insult and ends up super-smart, at least for a while. It holds up, for what it is (the medicine is fantasy). I particularly appreciated Travolta’s performance (he’s always been capable of great work) and his character’s approach to death, as he understood that we’re all, at the subatomic level, just energy, all of us heading somewhere.

I’m a guy who goes to church every week, and I have no idea what will happen when I die. That might be the whole ball game, just consciousness releasing and the world moving on, which makes perfect sense. But I don’t know what the hell consciousness is, or how it relates to the quantum world. Maybe the entire universe is conscious, and I’ll just join it in a more collective way.

Or maybe I’ll see a bright light, and Jesus and Mohammed and some woman I never heard of are all waiting for me, leading me toward eternal bliss. I am a clueless human, as much as I’d like to believe that my lost loved ones exist on another plane, somehow, and someday so will I.

But it was an enjoyable film, once again, and I loved sitting there in the dark and letting the story tell itself, and that seemed like a good choice compared to staring at the walls and trying to stay awake a couple of more hours.

I’m as smart as I’m ever going to get. Pretty sure no bright light in the sky is going to introduce me to telekinesis and the ability to learn Portuguese in 20 minutes.

But who’s to say I didn’t get a little donut inspiration, and that’s the answer. There’s joy in them there donuts, and if I’m responsible, even in a small way, I’ll be able to piggyback on that joy.

And maybe get health insurance. Not so much from the donuts. Maybe if I brought some to Blue Cross. I could add in cookies. I’m doing OK today.

Chuck SigarsComment