My 4th day as a baker and the emotional and physical waves are still as potent as the first. I did expect the difficulty, but I’m hoping that it gets on with being a comfortable routine sooner rather than later.
Day 1 became such a blur that I’ve confused parts of it with having been asleep. I was reacting to every instruction without thinking about what I was doing, and by the end of the day (9:30am), I was trying not to throw up while I was laminating croissant dough. I wasn’t absorbing information anymore, but in spite of the overwhelming exhaustion, I was unable to fall asleep for almost 2 hours. When I finally did, it was restless and the hurt in my feet and back didn’t let me take much from it.
Day 2 had my energy up and I felt good through most of the day, having remembered things I wasn’t aware I had absorbed. My sharpie was stolen almost immediately after I put it down. I was told “you get one sharpie”; this one was quite shortlived. I was guided by J who gave me a number of pointers that I would later find out contradicted the boss’ advice. If there’s one thing apparent, it’s that consistency in your inconsitencies is somewhat the status quo. I went home and my back cramped up while I tried not to swallow because of the sore throat that was getting worse.
Day 3 was a real crash. I started off feeling totally useless, which unfortunately coincided with M’s notion that I was ready to do the station by myself while she watched. I fucked up more than I had the entire time so far (including the tryout when I had no idea where I was). I flattened morning buns after letting them sit too long to take in sugar, I overcooked the melon bread, the sticky buns were somewhat appropriately stuck to their cooking surface instead of their glaze, the muffins took too long to do and I couldn’t remember what was next to do. I had to get bailed out repeatedly. When I came home, I had a short whiskey at 10 am and slept for 5 hours.
Day 4 was after a break of a couple days and I got in gear immediately. Because the shift began on one side of daylight savings time and ended in another, I lost half an hour of time right when I started. The first half of the day was rather seamless considering how the last day went. I’m losing too much time egg-washing and can’t scoop muffins quickly enough, apparently. I honestly don’t see any other way of getting through this station’s shift than by moving perfectly from one thing to the next while attending 10 oven racks at the same time. I always intend to write more down, but the time taken to do that would start setting me back even further. I did manage to make up about 15 minutes of the deficit, but things began to lose cohesion somewhere after wholesale baking and beginning retail. So many different things to prepare in so many different ways. Different cooktimes, variable proofing times, dough coming undone if you aren’t quick enough…
In spite of M’s constant pointers and assistance, I left on a good note. I had done pretty well. My morning buns had good color.
The truth is, though… I’m not sure if I’m strong enough for this. The shift is intended to only be two or three times a week, but it’s incredibly taxing at even one or two nights. I’ve been trying to decide whether to simply stay up when I get home and then go to sleep early in the evening (which is M’s recommendation) or to continue trying to sleep when I get home in the morning, then have an afternoon breakfast and another nap. The sleep isn’t as hard to deal with, because once I’m at work, the work takes over and it’s hard to even think about being tired. Being away from S and knowing she has to go to sleep alone is the hard part. The other guy who works my shift goes home and stays up til about 4pm then sleeps, but according to M, he doesn’t have a life at all. If I didn’t have a life going on, maybe I’d be more comfortable with this idea, but I’ve had my life falling into place in a way I’m not willing to compromise. I’ve been lucky enough to find a home, which is something I’ve largely been without for the last several years, and telling her goodnight while walking out the door is not easy. Do I think we’re strong enough for it? Absolutely. The ‘us’ isn’t conditional. But I’m not sure I was ready for it to be quite this hard.
I thought about it when I was at work – that if she had a job that required her to go out and begin the day while I went to sleep alone, I’m not sure I’d handle it as well as she has. She has been taking care of me so kindly and I’ve been stupid enough to repay her by waking up in a bad mood because I intended to nap instead of sleep all day. Partially, I’m sure this is because by the time I wake up in the afternoon, I haven’t eaten for 18 hours or so and I’m dehydrated and achy and burned. But I still could hold myself together a bit more – if I were where she was and I saw her suffering because of something that kept her away from me, I only hope I’d be able to support her as unconditionally as she has me. Whoever sent her my way, thank you.
Tonight/tomorrow will be the 5th day, and though I’ve had some misconceptions about what the job would be, I think it’s still possible for me to get the experience I want out of it. I thought I’d be coming in early and working on dough and then putting it in the oven and seeing its creation from beginning to end, but the professional bakery has much more assembly line in it than contemplative artisanal process. As I move on to other stations I will see the rest of this process in its pieces, though, and will hopefully start to get that experience in its own way. Maybe this is a quarter-life crisis and the lesson is simply going to be teaching me that I’ve been too idealistic about work to let less ‘pretty’ opportunities be heard as much as they should, or maybe it really will be a calling for me and it lets me open my own business down the line… Either way, “tomorrow,” M said, “egg washing and muffin scooping. Otherwise, you did pretty good today.”