I'm making bread today. I've been baking bread since I was nine years old. I began with the basic white bread recipe from the Women's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery (volume Bea-Cas). I followed that recipe for six or seven years before I started improvising. That's a long time for me, as I view all recipes as mere guidelines. I started experimenting, throwing in a handful of cornmeal or adding oatmeal, substituting olive oil for butter, trying maple syrup instead of sugar, learning that with whole wheat you have to knead the dough longer. Usually it was pretty good.
Lately, I've been tossing in flax seed and oatmeal and sesame seed, sweetening with molasses, measuring by feel and taste. For the first time in ages, I haven't been satisfied with the end result. I've decided to get back to basics. Several years ago, I found that one volume of the cookbook at a book sale, sitting alone on a shelf, so I took it home. Today I followed the bread recipe exactly, and as I did, I was taken back to being a beginner, to the smell and feel of the dough.
It's good to get back to the basics. I can, and will, branch out again, but right now I need to use the simple recipe. I feel that way about how I get storytelling work. In 2010, as some of you know, I moved from Lawrence to Kansas City. I'd been a full-time storyteller in Lawrence for 17 years and had built up my name and reputation in Lawrence. It isn't that I didn't have to promote my work, but that the pool of people who knew my storytelling was large. Maybe I was a little complacent.
In KC, not as many people know me. I find that I have to get back to basics, to what I did in the beginning: I networked, gave out my business card, talked about the art of storytelling, introduced myself to people who might have an interest in my work, showcased, sent out targeted mailings, listed myself in directories, made as many connections as I could. I'm doing that again (and it's easier in some ways, thanks to the Internet).
Think of how some kids approach the world (before they're taught to be scared), with an openess and willingness to experiment. If they have the basics, they can create something amazing. That's the kind of beginner's mind I'm looking for. I'm going back to what I did in the beginning, as I'm doing with the bread, and from that place of openness and wonder, my work can open up.
I've had fewer school gigs as teachers struggle to prepare students for testing and budgets are cut. In thinking like a beginner, instead of continuing the strategies that are not working, I start wondering how else I can use my gifts. I have to be nimble, as I think about other applications for storytelling, such as Skypetelling, or telling stories at weddings, or preparing a program specifically for kids who are learning English as a second language.
I have to think creatively about how to make my living in a creative field. Part of that is cultivating beginner's mind.
Time to go check on that bread.