24 July 2012

One Soul for Sale

This is my soul.
We may or may not have been under the influence during the composition of this document.
Actually, that's entirely misleading; my soul isn't for sale. I sold my soul for 5 dollars and a cigarette to my best friend in 2002. We drew up a contract and everything on the back of an East Windsor Diner menu, after losing the original at Denny's in Enfield. She gave it back to me for my 25th birthday and I used to carry it in my wallet. (It was nothing like that episode of The Simpsons, if you're wondering.) So, technically, I don't think I can resell it. I'm far too attached to it by now; it has so much more meaning.

One of the most frustrating aspects of my job search is trying to weigh my crippling idealism with even a modicum of pragmatism. As you may be aware, I don't do that very well. If I did, I would probably still be fully employed at my last job (which was, incidentally, at a non-profit), ignoring the blatant bigotry in favor of the practicality of having a job, and maybe even one day, a career. The practical aspects of employment have never really been enough, heretofore, to keep me employed. Of course, I could have tried harder to change things at my last place (which shall be called That Place from now on), but there is no telling some people. (It's really difficult to look a grown 40-something-year-old woman, who is also your boss, in the eye and explain that "I have [insert marginalized group here] friends," does not negate the racism she just vomited out.)

So when a friend of mine, miserable in his corporate job, elbows me and only half-jokingly asks if I'm willing to sell my soul yet, it gives me pause. At some point, I do need to marry pragmatism and idealism, but where does that point lie? I often think that corporations actually have better protections against the kind of bullshit that went on at That Place, but does not mean that what one may do while at a corporation is meaningful in any significant way. 

My whole life, I've been told that I can change the world, help others, become some fantastical force for positive change. Well, I'm not changing a whole hell of a lot from the couch. And it is misery-inducing. Volunteering at Meals on Wheels was such a great experience, but now I'm even afraid to spend the gas that it would take to make once-a-week deliveries. When my grad school called, desperate for funds, I cringed. I have always given, even a measly amount, whenever I could because I love that place and believe in it as one of the best chances some students have to actually spread true and permanent good in the world. I apologized profusely to the student on the phone, and hung up feeling miserly.

But the truth is, I don't have the luxury of idealism, most people don't. All the insistence on my exceptionalism, and I know I'm not alone in in this, warped me in a bizarre way. I am self-aware enough to know I really hit the high notes on occasion. Moral superiority? Check. Intellectual snobbery? Yeah, I do that too. In my defense, I've been getting progressively better at identifying it and reigning it in before I come off like a complete tit (at best).

So right now, I'm procrastinating filling out the applications for a few jobs my sister-in-law sent me from her company. I know I don't have the option of not applying, but my soul, as it lies in the bottom drawer of my jewelry box next to my passport, is probably wriggling in discomfort. 

Ten, fifteen, eighteen year old Courtney was told to change the world. Twenty-eight-year-old Courtney is trying to change her outlook... and maybe make change with her soul, which, interestingly enough, could probably be leased for around $40,000 a year.

23 July 2012


I decided to update the look of my self-indulgent blog here because it was about time. I was tired of the old drab brown map. But more importantly, I completely procrastinated cleaning today so I thought I should do something to make myself feel marginally productive. However much I love the smell of Murphy Oil Soap, it doesn't improve the actual task of cleaning the floor. (And apparently, it's no good for wood floors according to the site I grabbed that pic from, but whatever. I'd bathe in it if it were acceptable.)

Beyond that, things just need to be cleaned. I feel tidying up my small corner of the known world is a desperate attempt to keep order; the world lately is getting more and more surreal every day, and not in a good way.

22 July 2012

The Loaded Cupcake Conundrum and the Politics of Food

Key lime and blackberry cupcakes with blackberry filling and buttercream. (My decorating could use a bit of help.)

Okay, so, I like to bake. It's my obsession of the moment, and next week I'll probably start practicing calligraphy or something, thinking that I'm going to make a mint painstakingly writing out the wedding invitations of spoiled Millenials or some shit. But this is not my point. 

I've liked to bake since I was about 13 and my mother brought home my grandmother's extensive baking supply cache. Way back when, my grandmother ran a small wedding cake baking business out of her kitchen. She was really good at it, and would spend hours making sugared flowers and custard fillings. Like me, she tended to have fleeting obsessions with crafty things; she taught herself to knit, dabbled in watercolors, quilted, baked, and even gardened. My suspicion is that she was bi-polar, but that's a discussion for another day. By the time I was old enough to be left to my own devices in the kitchen, my grandmother was already deep in the abyss of Alzheimer's. The brutal disease had robbed her of herself, took away my grandfather's partner, and robbed us of our matriarch. My brother and I, as the eldest grandchildren, were fortunate to have a small piece of her as she once was, but even we mostly remember her as the more-child-than-mother that she became. When I started to bake, leafed through her Wilton baking books, I felt like I knew her, even a little.

Baking is more than that, though. It's scientific, each ingredient dependent on a type of unique exactness that I don't concern myself with when roasting a chicken or making pulled pork. Not flavorful enough? I'll throw some scotch on my slow-cooked pork shoulder. Too mild? Red pepper all the way. But baking? Miss one tablespoon and your cake might fall. Skip the butter and use margarine? Well, let's just say butter is a flavor and margarine just doesn't cut it. The precision, the timing, and the elbow grease come together to make the most amazing confections. I started baking en masse, and when I was staring at a dining room table covered in six dozen cupcakes, I began delivering them to friends and family. Who doesn't like a cupcake? It's your own damn cake and it doesn't even have to be your birthday! 

When I bake, all the frustration of my job search, our financial fears, the fact that the puppy just ate another one of my shoes, goes away with each stroke of the spatula, every whirr of the Kitchen Aid (that I have all but appropriated from my mother who never used it anyway). When people say something was baked with love, I say that my baked goods were baked with anxiety and fear and frustration and a pinch of catastrophe, and it's therapeutic to place those anxieties into something that will, almost without fail, make others happy. (Plus, cupcakes are especially easy because they're so sharable and portable and conveniently portioned. And they make really awesome breakfasts.)

But there is something inescapably girlie about cupcakes. Something so fucking Etsy-cutesy-by-way-of-Zooey-fucking-Deschannel-and-June-Cleaver about the cupcake fad. It oddly almost romanticizes the housewife, the homestead, the Martha-Stewart-without-the-business-acumen girlie-girl, ensconced in frothy pink innocence. 
My grandmother quit school in 8th grade (at 14), to take care of her sick mother and grandmother. When she met my grandfather, she was working as a very adept draftswoman at Pratt & Whitney just before WWII. She was capable, almost exclusively self-taught, and probably pretty amazing. But when she married my grandfather, she became the housewife. She gave birth to four children and stayed at home, except for a few odd jobs here and there that were probably not nearly as stimulating or demanding as her previous career (lunchlady, for example). And I wonder if it was this that created in her the searchingness that left her bouncing from one domestic or creative pursuit to another. 

And I can't help but feel I am not alone in this thinking. The best master chefs -- even patissieres -- the world over are almost exclusively male. The boys club persists even as the daily grind of cooking for the home and family is often still seen as women's work. And this is even more pointed as I have become the primary cook at home, as Adam works and it's really the least I can do (in addition to the laundry, the dishes, the pets, the floors, the windows...) It is a trade, a balancing of the financial burden with domestic one, but I can understand why Mother's Little Helpers were once so prevalent (and really, they still are). However fulfilling one batch of cupcakes may be, sometimes, even when holding my Guinness chocolate with Jameson ganache and Bailey's buttercream frosting beastly delicious creations, I feel like I'm just slathering calories over some serious cultural, familial, personal baggage. 

Or maybe I'm eating too much into it. Maybe sometimes, a cupcake is just a little cake, even if it has a lot of booze in it.

P.S. I have loads of delicious recipes for those looking to get some ganache-based therapy.