Baking Up a Storm
A reflection on trying (and failing) to take the challenges of the term in stride.
This term has been awful.
Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. There’s no looking at this term with rose-tinted glasses for me this time — yes, there have been good moments, but I think it’s a pretty fair assessment to say that this term has been my worst yet. I write this reflection as I sit on my flight back to Boston, having taken advantage of our Day of Caring to escape back home for a couple days. I’m dreading my inevitable return to the churning waters of the ten-week battle.
I started this fall with lofty hopes, starry-eyed with visions of fall foliage and a fresh start. And for a while, it was exactly how I’d dreamed it up: all-new classes, reunions with my friends, autumn air crisp with possibilities. As week after week seemed to beat me into the ground, though, I lost sight of those original aspirations. But as I struggle to get through the term, I’ve noticed a pattern: I’ve turned to the kitchen for emotional support, attempting to bake some sort of order into my life.
Baking isn’t anything new for me — for years, I’ve used it as my emotional crutch. I grew up on a diet of Betty Crocker chocolate chip cookies baked with my mom on school nights. From there, my hobby took root, giving way to more complicated recipes. Bundt cakes, brownies, oatmeal scotchies: Throughout high school, baked goods were the solace that got me through my chemistry homework or my friend group drama. Whatever turmoil was happening in the outside world was snuffed out by the beep of the oven or the wafting smells of fresh cookies.
This term has been no different: As usual, I turned to baking to try and console myself. When I got cut from my favorite frat at the eleventh hour, I put my heart into a pan of brownies. After a weekend trip to New York failed to relieve the stresses of the term, I whipped up an apple bundt cake in a last-ditch effort to remind myself of home. And this weekend, as I tried to distance myself from fractured relationships, I distracted myself with a loaf of pumpkin cake. Whatever the recipe, baking is my tried-and-true distraction: For the few hours I spend in the kitchen, everything is simple and organized. My outside struggles fade away as I methodically measure out ingredients, building towards a known result — the only messy problems I have to contend with are flour or sugar spilled on the counter.
For some unknown reason, these baked goods just haven’t provided the same solace that they used to. No matter how many times I ditch campus for a weekend, no matter how many times I bend over a recipe and mix together a delicious dessert, I haven’t been able to claw my way out of the struggles of this term.
When I found out I was cut from rush, the first thing I did was walk straight to the Co-op and buy brownie ingredients. I thought I might be able to distract myself from my inevitable spiral of sadness and self-doubt with a couple hours in the kitchen (my brownie recipe is one of my most labor-intensive). But while it was nice to have a fudgy dessert to stress eat, my pan of brownies didn’t do much else. Perhaps it’s because my current problems are a tad more existential than those of my high school self — a batch of cookies might be able to cure academic stress, but they’re hard-pressed to resolve deeper emotional problems.
At first, I lamented that my usual mental escapes just weren’t hitting the same. This weekend, as I returned home, I hoped that putting a thousand miles between myself and Hanover might instill in me some renewed sense of enthusiasm — and while seeing my family provided some temporary relief, the fact is that I have to return to New Hampshire and, with it, the same rut I’ve been stuck in all term.
I’m not writing to bemoan my persistent problems. On a grander scale, perhaps it’s sometimes better to just accept that some parts of life won’t be good — times when not even a steaming bundt cake can sweeten the deal. I can try to sugarcoat the events of the term: Yes, I enjoyed being a First-Year Trips leader, taking weekend trips to the farmer’s market and witnessing the return of the beautiful foliage. But no matter which angle I look at it from or how many plates of cookies I make, for the most part this term has been overwhelmingly bad.
Part of the problem, too, is that Dartmouth asks us to take all these things in stride — the endless march, at once an infinite stretch of time and a constant barrage of activity compressed into ten weeks. Hit by one obstacle after another, I feel like I’m expected to just pick myself up and keep moving. It’s the kind of attitude that leaves me constantly teetering on the precipice of a complete breakdown. This term I think it’s finally okay, and necessary, to accept that that kind of get-through-it mentality just doesn’t always work.
I’ve spent weeks trying to look for the silver lining in a term full of big, dark clouds. Rather than trying to bury the things that have been bothering me, maybe it’s finally time to recognize that they’re just events that I have to accept, not things to be ignored so I can look back at this term fondly. Instead of trying to paint a picture of perfection, accepting that this fall has been less than ideal might be the key to finally breaking through the mental walls closing in.
Who knows? Perhaps I will have the best November Dartmouth can provide — a sudden burst of energy after the malaise of the past six weeks. More likely, I’ll just be limping to the finish line, glad to finally return home for Thanksgiving. I’ll be back in the kitchen this week helping my friend bake cupcakes for a bake sale (baking might not be the emotional savior it once was, but it’s still fun). Maybe the best thing for now is to accept the bad and slog through the present, one batch of desserts at a time.