Personal Project is a week about hobbies and digging into our hidden talents.
At various points over the past few years, I’ve entertained the possibility of becoming a “sourdough person.” How fun would it be to be the type who just shows up to gatherings with freshly baked bread? But every time that quaint image has entered my head, reality has swiftly intruded — namely, the fact that I despise baking with yeast. It’s simply too finicky for me; every time I’ve worked with it, it has failed to produce carbon-dioxide bubbles, which is the fungus’s one job. And yet, a week ago, I found myself succumbing to the new bread trend: I, like everyone else, got a starter, a thick slurry of wild yeast and bacteria that gives sourdough its signature holes and tangy flavor.
Except, I didn’t want to actually bake bread. What compelled me to finally acquire a starter is the same desire that recently drove me to furiously cut apart my pothos plants to propagate them, and to start making kombucha again: I just wanted to watch them grow. I find few things more fulfilling than caring for people — something that’s grown increasingly difficult under social distancing. Sure, I can schedule sporadic happy-hour Zoom calls with my closest friends, but I can’t clink my wine glass against theirs or surprise them with a book I think they’d like. So, I’m finding renewed purpose in tending to other forms of life that I can sustain in my home.
By accumulating all these tiny life forms, I’ve effectively given myself just a slew of new responsibilities. My new morning routine goes something like this: I get out of bed at 7:45 a.m. But before I sit down at my desk and open my laptop, I make the rounds at my apartment to check in on my dependents. I inspect my kombucha’s SCOBY, another mass of bacteria and yeast, for signs of unwanted mold; I lift all my propagated pothos pieces out of their individual vases, checking to see how their roots are growing; I visit my sourdough starter, which I keep in the fridge, not because I’m baking with it, I just enjoy its yeasty scent. I also feed myself and my cat, though I’ve been keeping both of us alive much longer than I’ve been tending to my new slimy bacteria culture and pothos trimmings.
My new tasks don’t exactly feel like chores; if anything, I feel like I’m getting as much from my kombucha SCOBY as it is from me. There’s something inexplicably soothing about the tedious act of caring for tiny, non-sentient living things, whether they be plants or bacteria. It simply feels good to keep something alive. Just wait until the temperature warms and I start my fire-escape herb garden.