My partner bakes bread every week. He’s no amateur at this kneading and raising business, as he owned a bakery and cafes for quite long time. His bread is made with a sour – the sour is simply wild yeasts in a mix of flour and water – rather than shop-bought yeast. Every sour is different; they can vary in texture, from thin and runny to thick and gluggy, and they have slight differences in taste too. The sour is responsive to the environment; temperature and moisture for example affect the amount and balances of acids that are produced – that’s the sour taste that gives sourdough its name.
Keeping a sour requires a baker to develop a parental attitude. The sour needs to be fed regularly – more flour and water every few days. Bakers call these additions ‘refreshments’ and the sour will die if it doesn’t get them. The sour grows between bakes so that some of it can be removed on baking day, with enough left over to keep the process going. Most serious bakers keep their sours for years, although there is some debate about whether this is good/possible.
Our sour generally sits in a cloth-covered jar on the kitchen counter. Now here’s the thing. The sour is alive. It’s not the same as the mixer or the toaster. It’s a living thing in my kitchen. Mostly it just goes about its business. I imagine it skulking there next to the coffee maker, quietly eating and expanding. But as it gets close to feeding time I feel it looking up from under its cloth hat, its gaze fixed and intense – ‘Refresh me now or I die’, I imagine I hear it saying in thick, acid tones.
The sour requires that its human keepers maintain a continued low-level consciousness of its needs. When we go away for the weekend we either have to feed it up beforehand, give to it someone to look after, or put it in the fridge to slow down its digestion and growth. If we go away for more than a few days we usually put it into a coma in the freezer in its plastic cryogenic container. There is always a moment of anxiety about whether it will wake up, and the sour is rather sluggish for a few days after as it recovers. Some additional refreshment is always required post freeze as payback for the unexpected suspension of activity. I am sure that the sour vengefully keeps us wondering whether it will have recovered sufficiently by baking day to provide the appropriate amount of leavening.
I’m telling you about the sour because I tend to think about this blog in a somewhat similar way. The blog isn’t on a counter under a cloth hat, but sitting somewhere on a server. But, like the sour, in order to stay alive the blog requires things of me. The blog, like the sour, needs feeding at very regular intervals.
The blog is always a presence in my life, and never far away from my thinking. As it gets closer to the regular publication dates, I imagine it watching me, tapping out a precise and impatient rap of virtual question marks, waiting an answering response on the keyboard. “Is this the week when you have nothing to say? I always knew that this would happen. I knew you couldn’t keep it up. I knew that you’d let me down eventually.” You see my blog has a kind of inbuilt paranoia, it knows that some time in its future I will be a bad parent and neglect it. It just doesn’t know when.
And I do have to think ahead about the blog’s needs, just as with the sour. I pre-prepare for periods away from my desk. I try to have a few posts for emergencies so that I don’t find myself looking empty-handed at a hungry blog on a portable screen. I dread having nothing to offer it. I’m reluctant to put the blog into a deep-freeze hibernation over summer for fear that once out of the habit of regularly feeding/posting, I’ll find it hard to get back to. I worry that the blog will languish, become a dried husk, a mere archive of its former self, if I don’t keep up with its refreshments.
Refreshing the blog is not as easy as managing the sour and its appetite. Blog post ideas are not available out of a packet and tap as are flour and water. Coming up with each and every post requires some kind of stimulus – a question, a bit of reading, some teaching, a conversation – these spark the blog-thought that turns into the post that will keep the blog going.
That’s how this post happened. I was minded of the way that I thought about the blog when someone recently commented that I’d attributed agency to blogs. Blogs don’t do things in the world, the commenter said, writers do.
I’m afraid I don’t agree with this. While I understand the point being made, it does seem to me that there is some power in the blog itself, some kind of agency and some pull that is exerted on me. And any blog can have a life of its own outside of its origin. Just because a writer wants a blog to do and mean particular things, it doesn’t mean that it will. Unlike the sour which remains captive within its glass jar, the blog is a more mobile and promiscuous object altogether – one able to be moulded and taken up by others who encounter and read it.
All blogs are dependent on their writers of course, but they do also seem to have lives of their own… and appetites.