Recently I joined a hiking group. Not so much to go hiking, since I do that every day anyway with my dogs. I thought it would be fun, & good for me, to do it with others now & again. So I signed up with this group through MeetUp and suggested a hike I do often & ended up kind of leading the group that day because over the years I’ve learned a lot about our local wildflowers. The hike was a total success and I was surprised that I’d enjoyed something that involved other humans and that other humans had enjoyed something that involved me, although most of the time I can don a very amiable demeanor with people I don’t know well, so actually that was not too surprising.
Then I got the bright idea to start a group of my own. This was something I had thought about doing before, but MeetUp seemed like a pretty organized way to go about it. They offered me a discount so I signed up. Big Mistake.
I thought I’d teach people how to make bread. I’ve been doing this forever & am really good at it. A couple of people just seemed normal & curious & that was who I figured I’d be teaching. It wouldn’t be the same as with the hiking group. I mean, I was the “leader” on that one hike because it was my idea and one I was familiar with and I had a lot of info to impart about the wildflowers, but in the context of the group in general, I’m just another member. With the baking group, my vision wasn’t the same. We wouldn’t be like a sewing circle, just a bunch of people coming together to bake, I was teaching a class; at least, that was how I pictured it. Maybe I should have made that clearer, I don’t know. Anyway, right away I started getting all these suggestions on how to do the meetings. Now, I found it kind of odd that, without having attended a single meeting, & without knowing what they were trying to improve upon, people would start suggesting ways to do exactly that, like those people who add salt to their food without tasting it first. Maybe it was that particular day or the number of comments I got or the type of comments, but I just came unglued & could not get out of there fast enough. Undid, backed out, canceled, stepped down, got refunded, you name it. Done, ended, over & out. In the space of a couple of hours you couldn’t even tell a group had ever been there.
I had wanted to charge a small fee. Mostly to cover the subscription cost for hosting the group. Money I don’t really have, but at the moment (maybe my early a.m. caffeine buzz speaking, I don’t know), it seemed like this would be a good thing for me & I’d be willing to put up the cost of the actual products I demonstrated. One of the comments I got was “Would we get to take home a loaf of bread for the 2 bucks?” and suggested I provide sandwiches or wine & cheese. At least, that was the way I read it. She told me later she was just offering “suggestions” for future meetings, but I read it as “if you have the gall to charge $2 I should be getting more for that than just your 30 years’ experience making bread plus the bread itself.” So of course I came unhinged.
Another comment: “Why don’t you do whole wheat because white bread destroys your teeth?”
Now I have to tell you, there is little that pisses me off more than hippie mythology (& I wouldn’t say that if I hadn’t been the world’s muddiest hippie at one point). For one thing, there is nothing about the effect of flour on one’s teeth that a toothbrush cannot solve. Whole wheat flour may have other benefits like the germ and the additional fiber, but it has all the ingredients necessary to make plaque, as does every carbohydrate. I just don’t believe in living a life where entire huge chunks of the food pyramid have to be deleted because of alarmist misconceptions.
Another person mentioned she had a wheat allergy. Now, why on earth would you sign up for a bread-making group if you had a wheat allergy? I couldn’t figure that one out, but apparently I was going to be expected to change the entire format of the group into gluten-free lest the wrath of the ADA descend on my head.
Pretty soon (like, 5 minutes later), I realized that running this group was going to be a minefield of food allergies & food religions, & I totally lost my appetite for doing it at all. When we had gone on the hike, it was just simple & lovely. No one challenged me about a route they had never been on or argued the relative merits of one flower over another or made me feel like I was imposing anything toxic on anyone. I thought I could achieve the same thing with bread. Maybe I can, but not in the context of a nebulous power structure. When it comes to teaching, you have to respect that dynamic. It’s unequal, one person has more power, that’s just the way it is. Otherwise there would be no reason to have our collective panties in a wad over teachers who sleep with their students or sexual harassment in general. The power imbalance inherent in that relationship prohibits certain interactions (ideally, anyway) but facilitates others. It’s not so great in friendships, but it’s what makes teaching and therapeutic relationships possible.
So I have to wonder what I was really trying to accomplish. I wanted to be Divine Poobah of my bread baking group. Was that too much to ask? I mean, if I wanted to have a “bread discussion group” I would have billed it that way. People do take classes all the time, and in general one does not challenge the syllabus on the first day. This doesn’t make every teacher a control freak, it just means this is the most efficient way to impart certain types of information. Ideas, no. Bread, yes. Wait, I take that back. Even with the dialectic that leads to philosophical answers, someone has to be the Dialectic Monitor. Unless like Socrates you do this for a living and have all day to let people reinvent the wheel. This was bread. This is how I do it. I get amazing results, and I’m prepared to let you chop 29 years off your wheel-reinvention time. But No, offering the class and providing all the materials isn’t enough. We want wine and dinner and sandwiches AND we want to dictate what you are baking that day, and fuck your syllabus. We just want to be one big happy sweat lodge.
Jesus, what ever happened to gracious acceptance of gifts? I guess the “Giver” and the “Giv-ee” is just too hierarchical for some people. Everything has to be leveled lest God forbid one person has more experience than another. A throwback to the 60s when “the Man” or “the Machine” or any other manifestation of localized power was getting an incredibly bad rap. Even in classrooms.