On the rise
Bubble bread is a buttery ball of doughy goodness that bakes in our oven every holiday season. Although I don’t recall when or where it melted its way into our family’s feast, my children have gobbled it up every Thanksgiving since they could rip it from the loaf.
As much as this seasonal treat brings smiles and happy tummies, bubble bread has a history of being an epic failure in my kitchen.
Rise yeast, rise! This mantra screams in my head as I hold my breath waiting for the single-celled fungi to wake up and eat the sugar I’ve lovingly fed it. I’ve learned to have several packets of yeast in the wings after too many holiday attempts left me scrambling to find a grocery store that was miraculously open on Thanksgiving or Christmas. No longer a problem in today’s commercial world, I still feel a tiny nervous pang every time the yeast hits the tepid milk.
Baking is truly an artform, and frankly, I have struggled with it my whole life. Here’s the thing, though: without every failed attempt, and the push to try, try again, there would be no tradition of bubble bread in our family. Honestly, it is the process of kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down and rolling tiny morsels of yum that keeps me coming back, even when the yeast decides to take its own holiday.
Basically, bubble bread is exactly how my art practice tastes. It is the product of failed attempts that has allowed me the humility to stumble, the courage to get back up and the sweet reward at the end of a winding road of discovery.
I think it’s time I share some of my failed ingredients. Move over yeast!
Mounds of trouble
Reflecting on the past year, I am not only grateful for some incredible creative opportunities that have bubbled up, but also thankful for all of the bumps along the way. And, let me tell you, there have been more than a few.
To read the definition of failure, you often see it referred to as the ‘opposite of success’. But, if you dig a bit further, failure can be described as simply a condition of not meeting an intended objective (thanks, Wikipedia!). Sounds pretty benign to me, and it is predicated on the assumption that there is a goal, which in my book means you got your ‘stuff’ together.
As an artist, each one of us knows the complexity of translating vision to action, from mind to hand to paper (or substrate of your choice). Most of my creative musings are never realized in a final piece, and what I’ve discovered is what I see in my head and heart is only a tiny sliver of the artistic puzzle. I have to try every piece out, move them around, see if something links together, and use every ‘failure’ as guidance for the next step.
Note to self
One year ago, I decided to throw a few of those puzzle pieces around. To be exact, I chucked a bunch of ice across the elfin land of Iceland. My intended objective was somewhat fuzzy, but I knew it was time to see what that gnawing creative vision was all about. Let’s just say the first pitch was a curve ball.
But what specifically did I learn from that icy first day?
It’s cold, wet and windy so pack the right clothes, and don’t forget to wear them.
Not all installation locations are equal, so be prepared to lie face down in snow, dirt, mud, and sand, or better yet, look for placement at eye level!
It’s okay to feel scared, stupid and foolish because you are stumbling (and most likely slipping and falling) into the unknown.
The perfect storm
One of the warped puzzle pieces of social media is that I can choose to create a façade of perfection. No need to show the 17 attempts to capture one decent photograph of an installation gone sideways or the stack of rejection letters from galleries, grants and publications.
Trust me, the heap is huge on this artist’s studio table. However, without crawling through each one of those failures, I would not have pushed through to secure my first international gallery installation in Mexico next year. If at first you don’t succeed…
We should celebrate it all, the good, the bad and the ugly, and wear each one proudly like a badge of honor for all to see.
In the spring of 2018, I applied to an artist residency on a local farm in a big leap of faith to honor a newly revealed intention so proudly displayed on my first vision board. My proposal was to gather natural materials from the farm and create woven installations throughout the property.
Although I landed in the Top 10, I was not selected for the next round of interviews because there was no history of weaving in my background. The ‘rejection’ did not keep me from requesting feedback which I would not have otherwise received.
Nope, it was this critique that allowed me to strengthen my next residency proposal: forage natural materials from the wild land of Iceland to make natural dyes for installation.
Guess where I will be in February? Hello Westfjords, Iceland….
Two weeks ago, my daughter Zsofi made bubble bread twice for the holiday, and only once, did I mess around with the yeast. Maybe I stirred it too vigorously or it was that ‘back-up’ pack from last year, but it just didn’t rise to its doughy potential.
Reaching into my bag of tricks, lessons learned from every botched job of yore, I placed it into the microwave above the toasty-warm oven working overtime to cook our Thanksgiving feast. No…I did not turn the microwave on…but left the dough, knowing maybe, just maybe, the ambient heat would give the yeast the gentle nudge it needed to rise.
Guess what? Success.
Tell me about your recipe for success? The box below needs a new trick or two!