I love to make lists. It’s kinda one of my favorite things in the world actually. If I was going to write down all the things I habitually do, after I list out all the boring things like “brush my teeth” and “do my homework,” it would probably look like a longer version of a list like this:
things I do By Shannon Flynn
1. Make lists
2. Worry about really silly small things
4. Drink a lot of water
6. Dance in public
7. Worry that I am worrying too much
From looking at the sparknotes version of what would be a pretty long list of things I do, it’s easy for me to see the things that I do when I feel like I have no control. I make lists because I think that if I am organized enough then surely I can control my life. I worry because I know I have no control over anything, and as someone who likes color coordination and “10 easy steps to the perfect life” and strongly dislikes surprises, that stresses me out. Lastly, I bake because it gives me hope that sometimes, if I follow all the rules and check off all the right boxes along the way, then life will turn out right.
In a world that is so unpredictably huge and twisty turny most days, I know I can always count on baking to be the one thing I can control. Most people bake because they find comfort in eating the treats they create, but for me the comfort comes as I twirl around my kitchen with measuring cups and chocolate chips in hand, leaving a trail of dirty dish towels and crumbs wherever I go. It’s not the product that eases my soul, it’s the production.
There’s something about the predictability of making chocolate chip cookies that is so magical to me. There aren’t many things in life that are the same from day to day. If your life looks anything like mine, you know that the study habits you used last semester probably won’t work for this class, the weather man never really seems to dictate your outfit correctly, sleep schedules are never consistent, and no one ever gave you the directions to this game we call life. Life is crazy. What worked so well yesterday may be a recipe for disaster today, but I know that every time I bake 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 cup of butter, ¾ cups granulated sugar, ¾ cups packed brown sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 2 large eggs, and the entire bag of chocolate chips at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes, I will get the perfect chocolate chip cookie. If that doesn’t make you believe that there is some fundamental goodness in this world, then I don’t know what will.
I bake when I’m sad, I bake when I’m happy, I bake when I’m stressed or excited. I bake to celebrate big things like birthdays or anniversaries and I bake to celebrate small things like Friday and movie nights. I bake when I don’t know what else to do. I bake when it’s the only thing that feels natural, the only thing that feels like me. Like I said, life is unpredictable and uncontrollable. If you have ever received a huge peanut butter cookie cake or chocolate chip cookies wrapped in tinfoil on a paper plate or sugar cookie bars on a hard day or just out of the blue, it was probably my way of trying to cheer you up; my feeble attempt to fix some of the brokenness in this world. My way of saying: I know you’re really sad about not being invited to hang out with those girls or not getting into the school of your dreams. I’m also upset that you didn’t make varsity. I am so deeply sorry you lost someone who meant so much to you. I know that boy is being mean to you, and I wish I knew how to fix that. I wish I could change the way you feel and take all the sadness and heaviness away, but I can’t so instead here is the one thing I know how to control. Here’s a cookie, I know it doesn’t fix anything but it’s my way of showing I tried.
Baking is home to me. There’s no place that I am more in my element than in my kitchen, covered in flour jamming to Taylor Swift with a spatula as a microphone. There were a lot of difficult things about moving away from home for college. I knew it would be hard to leave some things like my bed and my siblings, but one of the things I didn’t anticipate missing was my kitchen. I can think of many days this past year that I returned to my dorm room defeated and longing for my KitchenAid. There are so many little moments I can pick out from my freshman year that made Vanderbilt feel like home, but two of my favorites involve eating way too much cookie dough, and gal pals. One night I was so nostalgic and itching to bake that my friend and I drove to Kroger, got all the ingredients to make cookie dough, stirred and measured and baked cookies in mugs in her dorm room microwave. She might not even remember that night, or if she does, it most likely doesn’t hold too much significance to her, but it was one of the ways that our friendship started to feel familiar. Sitting there in the lobby of her dorm, chatting with her RA, and eating almost-raw-but-perfectly-undercooked cookie dough out of an owl mug, I felt more comfortable than I had in weeks. My sweet friend was helping make Vanderbilt my home, and she didn’t even know it.
My second cookie memory involves a dozen girls, a seminar room, mugs filled with cookie dough, coloring sheets, and hours of just talking when we had planned to watch a movie. It started when a friend and I decided to make cookie dough to bring to our RUF girls hang out as a snack. It was another sweet day spent at Kroger and in the Chi O kitchen whipping up cookie dough, and chatting about life. In my lifetime I have made the personal discovery that there are a few sacred places where the best conversations happen. In my experience, those places of holy ground are - in no particular order - in the car, around a campfire, and in the kitchen. As we sat there melting butter and measuring sugar I got to know my friend better than I ever had. Later that night, as I sat with the other RUF girls and ate a mug cookie with the perfect ice cream to cookie ratio, it felt like my kitchen. I was 478 miles away from my comfort zone, but laying there on the floor surrounded by people eating something I had made with love, I was home. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t control anything about my freshman year, but I knew how to make cookie dough and that was enough.