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Cake week. Episode One. As I watch the notification from Netflix momentarily block out my chemistry notes on an early Friday morning, I let out a sigh of relief. The start of autumn has officially been rung in by everyone’s favorite justification for giving themselves a break: the Great British Bake Off.

I am certain it could be scientifically proven that the Earth’s atmosphere is sweeter once the world reunites under the large, white tent. With each soggy bottom avoided, an unfamiliar face smiles at you from across the street. With each Star Baker announced, a helping hand appears when you need it most. And, of course, with each Paul Hollywood handshake earned, the world’s hearts swell in joyous unison. 

After marinating in sixty minutes of this frenzied ensemble experiencing the many stages of grief while tempering chocolate, I have convinced myself that I, too, could easily claim one of the workspaces in the tent as my own. Like all other fans, I start to visualize myself competing for the title of “Star Baker” alongside the beloved contestants, and a newfound sense of capability washes over me. I relish the giddy state I find myself in after my weekly viewing of each episode; it provokes a feeling that I struggle to find in my day-to-day activities.

What secret ingredient is Bake Off whisking into their series?

I asked myself this question the first time I realized I had binged an entire collection when I had originally meant to treat myself to just the first episode. I had asked myself the same question when I caught myself rewatching whole collections for the third or fourth time. And I definitely asked myself this question when I found myself incorporating Noel and Matt’s unconvincing kitchen puns into my vernacular. Just a legend in the baking.

It can be difficult to find outlets such as Bake Off that serve as an escape from the busy reality of our lives. As Brown students, we are no strangers to the idea of burying ourselves under heaps of work. Whether such work includes completing homework and lab assignments or organizing events for the highly sought-after position that you earned in a competitive club, it often feels like we are simmering under the pressure of this list of items we need to check off. 

There is always something that I could be working on, and there is most certainly always something that I should be working on. I should be studying for that exam. I should be applying for that internship. I should be doing something that proves my existence on this campus, as a student and individual, is worthwhile and valued—especially if it is for the purpose of proving myself to anyone other than myself.

This romanticized idea of taking no days off has been carved into my mind for as long as I can remember. Growing up in a school system where hyperfixation on grades and extracurriculars brewed in the hallways, the notion of engaging in activities for pure enjoyment felt oddly foreign. When I started at Brown as a freshman, I remember calling my mom over FaceTime and giving her my weekly recap of classes. She casually asked, “So are you done with all your work?” and I stared blankly back at her, confused by her inquiry. I could not fathom a world in which I had somehow ended a night by completing everything that I needed to do. While she was preparing for a well-deserved good night’s rest on the other end of the line, I was punishing myself for not finishing future assignments by swapping hours of sleep for hours of mindless studying. After years of feeling the need to push myself to my breaking point, and often past it, I’ve found myself in the tortuous process of unlearning how to be my own enemy. 

As a list-making enthusiast, I hold onto my tattered planner with great pride; the smell of its old leather, the once-sharp edges now eroded from the countless journeys in my backpack, and the numerous tasks that have been emphatically crossed out in ink are my badges of honor. Over the years of sprinkling my duties across pages until my pens have dried themselves out, my lists have grown more menial—I now reserve the top line for each page in my planner for writing Wake up, which is promptly crossed out right after. I have primed myself into equating my productivity with the amount of times I strike through a statement. I have convinced myself that I can rescue myself from a fruitless day by accounting for the simplest actions. Without even realizing it, my incessant need to feel as if I am doing something—anything—productive has erased all the luster from my beloved planner; how can it hold any meaning if I’ve resorted to overflowing it with meaningless lines?

The world is obsessed with busying ourselves. This inherent need to surround myself with quantifiable work has ravished my once-existent standards for completing my tasks—the standards which gave me something to be proud of. Giving in to this demand to absorb anything and everything available to me, no matter its pertinence, feeds into my binging tendencies; whether it’s regurgitating the same study guide that has lost its ability to help long ago, or even rewatching Bake Off for a seventh time (when it was deemed unnecessary six replays ago). I crave finishing something even if its extreme simplicity erases its meaning.

It is easy to get warped by believing I’m the only person who constantly feels run down by the daily demands of my realm, but the twelve bustling individuals dressed in aprons with every inch of themselves dusted in flour never fail to remind me that I am indeed not alone. I find comfort in watching contestants partake in the mischievous technical challenge, where they are faced with the task of producing an unfamiliar bake with little to no instructions. Unsure of what to do, with their not-so-sneaky glances filling the void of uncertainty in the tent, I feel at peace knowing that I’m not the only one who feels like the world is challenging me to a one-on-one brawl with my overflowing scribbles in my planner.

Bake Off is my breath of fresh air from the heavily polluted to-dos that permeate my everyday life. 

The friendships that blossom within weeks of baking triumph over any competition that could emerge amongst Bake Off contestants. The explicit love and support shown through their unexpected camaraderie is bittersweet. On Brown’s campus, where collaboration is highly valued, it is still rather easy to get lost in the seemingly nonexistent competition in academic spaces. In a society where we are expected to push others down in order to attain our newest goal, it is refreshing to witness a group of strangers work together to promote each other’s best work.

I find solace every time a baker centers their showstopper around a memory with a loved one. I feel relief every time a baker receives a Paul Hollywood handshake for their meticulous recipe. I am inspired every time I see a student baker pursue their love for pastries for fun only to end up walking away as the reigning winner. I love watching these bakers remind us what it means to be human.

It is far too easy to forget to step back from back-to-back appointments with our worries and remember to look around at the things and people we are lucky enough to surround ourselves with. It can be hard to recognize that you don’t need to “earn” a fun break from your overwhelming responsibilities. You deserve to do something for yourself, regardless of how much of your planner remains unticked. 

Bake Off remedies the widely-accepted stressors that have infected our day to day for the bulk of our adolescent years. The series coinciding with the start of fall semester feels like the perfect reminder to grant yourself time in the safety bubble that Bake Off illustrates, and to forgive yourself for when you do inevitably get caught up in the craziness that is a semester at Brown.

Put away your notes. Open the Netflix app and get comfy. Let yourself get whisked away into the world under the baking tent for just an hour. After all, you are this week’s, and every week’s, Star Baker.

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