Cover Your Bases 2

May 31, What a freaking shit show this week has been

This week: A reflection on something personal and reflective. Like sourdough starter. Or the world falling apart. 

My starter and I are on a break

Back in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we became inseparable the moment we met. She wanted attention; I wanted something to care for.  She was a slob; I am orderly. She was unpredictable; I strive for consistency. Together, we enjoyed hanging out,  baking, eating, doing the dishes, and putting everything in the kitchen neatly away.

 It was so beautiful for a while, but then, I had to step back, reassess, and evaluate--was I doing what I wanted? Was she the one? 

Yesterday, after one last fling with some sourdough pizza, my starter and I broke up.  

No longer on the counter in the warm spot near the stove, Florida (for that is her name) has been ladled into a much smaller jar and shoved into the back of the fridge. We are on an extended break, and while I anticipate I may bring her out occasionally to make more sourdough pizza, sourdough waffles, and greek sourdough yogurt flatbread, the romance is over. It took 70 days, but now I see she just isn’t what I need.

The problem with having sourdough starter I have discovered, you see, is that it leads to making bread. That is the point, I know, but then there's the unfortunate corollary that when I made fresh sourdough bread (of any type), I felt compelled to eat it.  And while it may be way healthier and easier to digest than non-fermented bread, it’s still bread. And bread clogs up my digestion like cream cheese jamming an artery and that’s not a good thing. 

My original approach to handling this possibility (which I considered before we got together) was open-hearted: Florida and I would make bread and share it with many people. Eventually, my partner protested that she couldn’t handle eating any more bread, and, all too soon, sourdough became a problem in my primary relationship.

I was getting way too into bread--making it, eating it, waiting for it to rise, the act of dumping flour in the jar a couple of times a day to get the yeast up (called, by acolytes, “getting fed”), then hanging around seeing if Florida looked yeasty and was ready to put out and worrying what I could do about that. 

Waiting for Florida to bubble and hit her peak so we could make “biga” felt like way too much pressure, like running to the bedroom to inseminate when your ovulation clock goes Bing! (Okay, maybe not really like that, but I did worry that I was a poor provider of the right kind of flour to bring up her yeast.) 

And now that we are on a break, I will have time for other things. 

 I can take more Pilates classes via Zoom, and join 5,000 other people in a DJ dance party on Instagram, or finally start watching Tik Tok and figure out why all those cute 16-year old girls in tank tops pretending to sing crunked-out hip hop as they dance in their basement each have 58.8K followers. 

The only way it would have worked out between me and Florida was if I’d given in to her insatiable desire to make bread. Like--All The Time.  

I know I am a better person for taking care of myself, and I will feel great about this decision a few weeks from now, but right now it just hurts.

You know, love in the time of a pandemic is special, even if it just leads to fresh, crusty bread cooling on the counter before worried people gobble it up.

I mean, we needed those loaves. No shit.  But we’re 70 days in, and there is no end in sight, so the best place for Florida is in the fridge, and I am going to move on with my life. 

While I am sad about this breakup, I know it’s for the best.  

Quick takes: So how safe is getting together with other people, now that we’re reopening? Some resources: 

It’s the agreements In COVID CARE: A Way Forward to Opening Up Social Circles, Evelin Dacker suggests framing your family and work pod of people as the container/work/social circle, and then thinking through agreements and mutual expectations around safe behaviors you want to have with these people.  Resonating for me: “The highest risk person or the person with the lowest risk tolerance would ideally set the standards of acceptable behavior for the container.”  

Figuring out the risk for a group, like a family. Knowing how to frame your question is a critical part of decision-making. So is evaluating all your choices--Grandparents & Day Care is an essay that can help us think about both whom to see and when to see them.  Oster is a parent and economics professor at Brown University; after I read this piece, I subscribed to her newsletter.

Going out and about: What are the risks, (And how do you plan for them?)   6 feet away isn’t enough--Vox’s May 22 piece explores how individuals can use health guidelines to make decisions about where to go and what to do.  Like the May 23 NPR essay Is It Safe to Go the  Beach? the Vox piece helps readers rate risk. Given that no one in the government has any definitive advice, this is a must-read.

Another metric: How infected are people in your county?  Pragmatic advice comes from immunologist Dr. William Petri, who says the number of new infections in his area is one of the top data points he checks.  

Related good reads, but you may have seen them:

Bay area food: Shopping small, shopping local

In the pandemic, I am staying off lines and not lingering inside stores. The shortlist of where I am shopping focuses on local small business and curbside pickup.

The Kebabery This little restaurant two blocks from my house is owned and operated by the crew that ran the Oakland restaurant Camino. Allison Hoplain, Russ Moore, and Brian Crookes offer order-in advance dinners for Monday and Thursday nights (order via the web site); my buying centers on the Giusto flour, $20 bottles of French wine, and day-old flatbread, but the food is wonderful.

The Graceful Box Two blocks from my house in the other direction, Grace Catering pivoted when the pandemic hit. Owner Jen McKay and Executive Chef Eric Cross offer weekly pick-up of extraordinary produce boxes, restaurant-sizes packages of steaks, pork or shellfish, and the loveliest avocados I have ever purchased. Orders are online with Mondays at 9 pm as the cut-off for Thursday contactless pick-up.  The quality, quantity, and community are great, prices fair.

Oo2 artisans aggregate  This West Oakland cooperative is up the street from the non-profit arts center where I work. A block of buildings hosting interesting projects, 0o2 recently started a CSA, selling subscription-only weekly boxes that offer a mix of Japanese greens and more standard produce from Central Valley farmers. This is my home spot and I love seeing these peeps every week.

Mandela Market, and the related Mandela Partners These core businesses are West Oakland spots dear to my heart.  The market is a worker-owned coop, centering on black and brown folks in an area that started as a historically black community but that has gone through huge gentrification and displacement in recent years.  You can order online, do curbside pickup, and get wonderful things.

Artwork by Shirien Damra

Parting Thoughts--Civil War, or martial law?  This week: Shit show, burning trash fire, or both?

I had another post planned, but I can’t send this out without mention of George Floyd’s murder, the horrific lies and manipulation from The White House,  and what look like a string of paid infiltrators and agitators seeking to create enough havoc for the President to invoke martial law and delay the election.   Martial law has not been declared since 1941, as this helpful May 27th article from the Atlantic explains.

“If martial law were invoked, the government would be conducted ad hoc by the president or a military commander based entirely on his or her opinion of what was needed to meet the emergency, unbound by any laws and with no transparency or public participation, and probably no accountability afterward.” Atlantic Monthly

This April 10th New York Times article suggests that Trump could “ implement extraordinary presidential authority in response to extraordinary situations.”

Many folks I know have worried that our country is headed towards civil war, but with the events of the past 48 hours, I worry about 45 imposing martial law.

One last must-read:  The brilliant Roxane Gay, Remember, No One is Coming to Save Us

Stay strong and stand up for what you believe.  I welcome comments and ideas at susanmernit@gmail.com.

Best, Susan

Bonus item: As a person with privilege, this is a moment to respect others’ hurting, not ask them to manage my pain, and learn and listen.  This is one place to start. Anti-racism resources for white people compiled by Sarah Sophie Flicker, Alyssa Klein in May 2020.

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS--Maybe you? Who are the friends and readers who might like to contribute occasional posts to Cover Your Bases?  If you’d be interested in contributing occasionally (and there is a loose format and guidelines I’d share with you), please drop me a line with some ideas and possible timing (soon, later, very much later). I have ideas about posts friends and colleagues might contribute, and maybe you do, too.  

Thanks for reading #2.  #3 hits next Sunday.  Subscribe if you like it.