Using structure to make sense of things
by Matt Coot
Today, out of the blue, I stood up from the sofa – from where I had been cocooned within pillows, cushions, and the comfort of fictional lives being played out on television shows on my laptop – and I walked into the kitchen with a purpose: I was going to make white chocolate and strawberry cookies.
I went immediately to our new roll-out pantry in our newly remodelled kitchen and took out the following in order: self-raising flour, caster sugar, white chocolate stars, and freeze-dried strawberry pieces. Each time I took one of these items from the pantry, I placed it on the counter in the order that I would need to use it. From another roll-out cupboard, I picked out the box of eggs and the salt. Again, I placed these, in the order of requirement, on the counter. I went to the fridge and took out the butter (which kindly has the phrase ‘ideal for baking’ on the side of it). All the ingredients were now waiting for me, in order, along the counter.
Next up, I prepared the equipment. Out of the cupboard came two mixing bowls (one for measuring, one for combining the ingredients), electronic scales, and a handheld mixer. These each had their own place on the counter. It wasn’t until everything was in its place, not until everything had been prepared, did I even consider beginning. It had to be this way. This was my structure and I had to follow it.
So then I started measuring out and following the recipe. Eventually, I had the dough combined together in a large white mixing bowl. The yellow mixing bowl was no longer needed, so I placed it beside the sink, to wait for me there. I should mention, after each ingredient was measured out and added to the recipe, the remainder of the ingredient was placed back from where I found it in the pantry or cupboard. This was my structure and I had to follow it.
Now that the dough was prepared, the next step of my structure was to turn on the oven and allow it the time required to warm up. I turned the dial to 180°C. Did I stand and wait? No, don’t be silly, whilst that was warming, and whilst the dough was left to stand, it was time to wash up everything that had been used so far and wouldn’t be needed anymore: the yellow mixing bowl, the metal mixers from the electric mixer (what are those things called?!), and the cup that I had beaten the egg in. Each item was washed thoroughly before being placed on the drying rack. This was my structure and I had to follow it.
I rolled bits of the dough into walnut sized balls and placed six of the balls on a baking tray. These baked for 7 minutes whilst I dried the dishes in the drying rack. When I took the cookies out of the oven, I allowed them to stand for two minutes. Whilst these were standing, I prepared the next batch. Using a spatula, I removed the cooked cookies from the tray and placed them on a cooling rack. I then placed the new batch on the tray and slid it into the oven for 7 minutes. During this time, I prepared a Tupperware container (with a bit of baking paper) for the cookies to go in once they were cool enough. When the 7 minutes were up, the cookies came out to rest, the cooled down cookies went into the container, the rested cookies went onto the cooling rack, the next batch went into the oven. This was my structure and I had to follow it.
When all the cookies had been cooked and cooled down, I put the lid on the container and placed it, squarely, in front of my mum’s cookery book stand (conveniently holding Mary Berry’s Baking Bible) and I went back to my cocoon on the sofa, where my dog decided to cuddle into me as I continued to watch a TV series on my laptop.
I enjoy baking. I enjoy cooking. Can you take a guess at why? Yes, that’s right, it has a structure. The idea, the preparation, following the recipe through to completion – all of it is a structure that I can follow and it can allow me to keep my brain from straying into self-destructive thoughts. It can also keep my brain from becoming overwhelmed if I’m in a manic episode. Today, it was the former. I was following the structure of baking cookies because it stopped my brain from being self-destructive.
Considering this fact about structure, perhaps it makes sense of my chosen career path. I am a writer, a filmmaker, a photographer, and an event manager. There has been much written about the structures of writing, so much so that I am sure nobody will argue that despite being a wholly creative endeavour, it is one that has at least a basic map to guide you along the way.
Filmmaking has the three core structures to it: pre-production, production, post-production. When I am making films, I know what I need to do and when to make it a successful endeavour.
Photography has structure to it, just check out any photography ‘how to’ book to be shown how to compose a shot correctly, how to use the camera to capture what you want the way you want it shot, etc.
As for event management, from the very moment that an event is thought up all the way through to the completion of the event, there is a structure to follow. Just check out your local council’s event planning guide or any event planning book to discover this.
Everything that I have chosen to do, everything that Rallidae Productions is built upon, has structure involved with it.
This is also why, when I feel at a loss, and I cannot do one of the activities written about in this article, I decide to listen to music. Every piece of music has structure to it. Every album has structure to it. Every playlist, made by someone who understands music, has structure to it. People believe that I listen to music to block out the internal destructive voices. This is only partially true, because it isn’t the volume of the music or the tempo of the music, but the structure of it that helps to control my thinking.
I could probably find structure in other areas of my life too. However, for now, I just want to say that by baking those cookies, I am now able to ignore the self-critical and self-destructive voice. I am able to taste the cookies and appreciate that it was my structure that made them. That was my structure and I had to follow it.