birthdaycupcakes
Cupcake tips

On inflation

I admit it.

My life is dreary and socially uncompetitive.

How am I supposed to compare to you? You know I don’t go to the gym as much as you do. I’m too shy to do selfies, because I wish I had your good looks, and I wish pictures of my lunch could be posted with the hashtag healthies.

But I’m stuck, and my self-image is fragile. I feel as though it’s under the gaze of prying eyes. Such beautiful blue eyes. I wish I had those, too. I know you do, even though I saw them once in real life (you weren’t looking).

And they weren’t quite so blue.

I heard once that one’s company and two is a crowd, but can we please agree that maybe two’s a commune and three is a riot? It will look a lot better on my profile.

Even though it isn’t quite so true.

The words that best describe my life are so flat and lifeless, I feel as though I need the linguistic equivalent of butt implants (and maybe actual butt implants) to remain competitive, when you’re my competitor.

If my language suffers from inflation on the days that I feel inflated, and full of it, maybe I’m trying to prove to you that I live my life more like yours and less like mine. Maybe then, you’ll see me the way that I see you (at least when you aren’t looking).

My misled desire for bigger is the result of an insecure search for better, or maybe just adequacy. So now I hired a photographer to take my next selfie, so I can finally show you the real me; not me, but maybe instead a person you would like to see.

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People

On aspirations

Do you want to know how we are doing?

As a society? As individuals? I know who to ask. Ask the toy industry. Those guys know.

A man walks into a boardroom. The board of directors are all there. A chart of blood red ink rests on a wooden easel, ceremonially placed between two tastefully potted plastic plants, which the secretary meticulously waters every Friday. The anticipation is almost palpable, as the eccentric Austrian CEO, educated at a prestigious business school in Singapore, steps into the room, adjusting his charcoal suit jacket.

He knows every board member. The one with the handshake of a declawed eagle. The one with eyes like assholes. The one with the weak chin and the perverse gemstone. They follow his every move like a pack of hyenas in suits, awaiting the last breath of a sickly wildebeest. He turns to them and speaks.

“Gentlemen! Welcome to the annual board meeting,” he says, clasping his hands. A board member looks at him with bulging eyes, his blue necktie tied in a tight, exotic knot.

“As you know, this year has not been so kind on us,” he continues, meeting the blank gaze of a man who looks to have withered before him. “Our performance in primary markets did not go quite as we had expected, with the re-launch of the Easy Bake oven not being a success. We have adjusted predicted sales to a more accurate figure – 70% lower than we expected.”

The stare of the man with eyes like assholes finds him. Deep, plummeting assholes scrutinize him momentarily, before returning to a state of rest somewhere between a red thermos and an arrangement of untouched bottles of water.

“I understand this comes as a disappointment to many of you, after our high hopes for the brand. I will agree, our situation looked bleak in Q3, but I believe I have quite a surprise for you, gentlemen.”

His voice echoed off the white plaster walls. Down the hall, a coffee brewer announced the completion of a pot of coffee with an unemotional beep. Tingling keys of a janitor.

He managed a smile, the color of pale nicotine, before continuing: “Our analysts found that the high school market is completely saturated. Plenty of TV shows going around, music, what have we. And vampires? We have no chance of market penetration, focus groups responded poorly to every book we wrote.”

As his knees felt slightly more gelatinous, his exerted smile widened, and his tongue slithered to say: “But gentlemen, what do kids want to be today?”

The contemplative silence of the board made no suggestions. A thermos of coffee was opened with a sound that seemed as loud as a gunshot.

“They want to be high schoolers.

He said the words, high schoolers, the way you and I say monks in Tibet or marketing manager for Mattel.

The board looked no less illuminated, but it did not faze him. Triumphantly, he held an outstretched finger in front of him, as he said: “And gentlemen, what do all high schoolers aspire to be?”

Declawed handshake moved uneasily in his chair, the way one moves to let out a quiet fart. Another cleared his throat. Tingling keys.

His eyes widened as he leaned in over the table, and whispered with unsettlingly genuine excitement: “Vampires.”

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It's a nice cupcake, but I should really have gotten those eggs earlier.
Cupcake tips

On suffering

You caught me on my way out.

Out of eggs. Got to go to the store down the block, pick up some more.

Maybe I’ll grab a few other things while I’m there. Might as well, right? Honestly, I’m jonesing for some tortilla chips.

Hey, hold on – speaking of desire. Ever read about the four noble truths of Buddhism? Basically, they say that all suffering stems from desire. We suffer because we don’t like what we have, because we want more, and because we’re anxious to achieve more than we have already achieved… much in the way I suffer over my desire for salty corn-snacks, I guess.

So here I am. About to go to the store, about to give in to my desire. You might say our society is based around that very idea – the ability to satisfy these desires. We praise shops for their range of products, and we praise cities for their amount of shops, and we qualify our homes by how close they are to the nearest shop. The quicker we can get rid of that pesky desire, the better.

But if all suffering stems from desire, doesn’t that mean suffering, and not desire, is the true cornerstone of our society? I suppose that it’s true, I am going to suffer until I purchase those tortilla chips. But that means my suffering is not constant; it ends when I fulfill my desire – so maybe, our society is really based around the alleviation of suffering. We have stores with displays filled to the brim with things worthy of our desire – food, technology, fashion, take your pick – and corporations that systematically work to make us desire these – and each of these stores sell us a promise: we can satisfy your desire, we can alleviate your suffering.

And so, like a karmic circle, we satisfy our desires to silence the suffering, until the suffering returns like a growling stomach demanding to be fed. More begets more, and deep down, we know. After all, we’re just trying to keep up with the Joneses. Working hard to feed ourselves, to feed our families, our friends – and our own desires.

We fend off the suffering with our gadgets, our clothes and our travels, little by little. Just as I will now fend off my desperate desire for these damn snacks.

Better not forget the eggs, either. I’ve got this new recipe I’m working on, see.

What for? Oh. Cupcakes, of course.

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It's a coconut cupcake - it's got vanilla beans in it!
Cupcake tips

On reality

It’s you again – I was just about to put these coconut cupcakes in the oven, but I guess it can wait until we’re done talking.

The secret is to replace some of the water with buttermilk, it really helps the dough fluff up. But I don’t want to bore you with details on cupcakes, you’re here to talk about something else, right?

What’s on your mind? Reality TV, pop music? Let’s talk about that for a moment, that’s fine by me. Funny how they call it reality TV, isn’t it? I mean, there sure isn’t a lot of video of people sitting around in sweatpants, eating budget tortilla chips with semi-fluid cheese-like “food products” and something barely resembling a gelatinous salsa, in the name of reality, right?

It’s almost as if reality is presented as a never ending party, where the beautiful, affluent and dumb are invited to have fun with sponsored products. Of course, every once in a while, the fun is halted, even if only shortly, by a producer-mandated and carefully measured amount of drama (or, at least, dramatization). Of course things quickly return to a state of inebriation, violence and sex worthy of Dionysus. You know, just like reality.

I’ll be the first to admit, my life doesn’t look much like that. No, seriously – no tanning oil, no celebrities showing up to my house parties, nobody sponsoring my wild, self-destructive habits. But nobody is documenting my life, either, as real as it is. Surprising, I know! But I suppose this does raise questions about what exactly qualifies as reality then, doesn’t it? Seeing as my reality is less documentation-worthy than other realities, does that mean my reality is less real, or less in accordance with reality?

I know what you’re thinking: but it’s just a show! It’s all been carefully planned, scripted, negotiated, contractualized and documented beforehand – it’s not reality, it’s just entertainment.

You’re right, of course – and I’m glad you see it that way. But unfortunately, that doesn’t disqualify the fact that this is presented as reality. And not only that, to many it is a far more desirable reality than yours and mine. Finally, your day dreams and fantasies are realized and televised, much in the way a sausage factory turns meat sludge into tasty treats. We map out the idea of this reality before it exists, we produce it, and present it as the genuine article. In the end, we’re left with a lot of young men and women, disillusioned by their mundane lives, in spite of how we repeat the mantra: “It’s just entertainment.”

We like to think reality is equally shared among us. That my perception of reality is the same as your perception of reality – but it’s not, is it? The way we perceive reality depends on our frame of reference, and our values – the way you interpret events and actions, your perception of self and others, is shaped by what you have been given. And if all you have to work with is fashion magazines, MTV and pornography, it stands to reason that your expectations of reality might fall short. Your entire life, you have been fed ideas about how things should work, look and feel, from just how crumbly your cupcake should be, to your ideal Disney Prince/Princess partner and how much you should weigh.

Some guy called Jean Baudrillard calls this phenomenon hyperreality. When our reality is shaped by something made to simulate a more desirable reality. Some say that people are perfectly capable of distinguishing reality from hyperreality, that people understand and recognize that entertainment and advertising are not accurate representations of real life – I don’t know, what do you think?

Like I said when we spoke earlier – go look at some blogs, with those immaculately clean, well-organized homes, healthy kids and freshly baked bread, and you tell me that we aren’t being influenced by the idea of a more desirable reality. You tell me, that we are perfectly able to distinguish hyperreal from real, when we feel the need to force each other to read about the number of marathons we’ve run in a hailstorm, on Facebook.

We’re going to keep on and on trying to keep up with the Joneses, hoping that someone will recognize just how much of a good job we’re doing – not doing well, but keeping up – even though we feel like we’re barely holding it down, doing what’s meaningful to someone else.

Eventually, we end up spending almost no time doing what’s meaningful to ourselves – like baking cupcakes without feeling the need to take pictures afterwards, sharing them with everyone we know.

Rather than sharing the cupcakes themselves, with everyone we know.

I guess I have to go put them in the oven now.

Please excuse me.

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Rice cakes, deliciously baked and adorned with something I can't quite identify.
Cupcake tips

On expectations

Today, a young woman invited me into her home.

That is not to say I was asked come into her home, but rather I was invited to peek inside her chosen living space, through the tinted windows of her blog.

While there were only a few pictures, they presented close-ups of an immaculately white table, adorned with a recent issue of a popular fashion magazine, a black diary, and a color-coordinated tin of branded make-up. It was all neatly aligned, as if systematically planned by the mind of an architect. Another picture presented the same, bright white space, but with a long rack of expensive coats and jackets, hanging neatly abreast.

The blogger told me that she does not particularly care for the way her home looks. She probably came home after a long day at work, and just happened to find her home like this – as if it had arranged itself in this way. How oddly pleasant, that must be, to find your home in such a neat and orderly condition, without having put in any particular effort to enjoy this state of things. With pristine white surfaces and matching colors, racks full of expensive belongings and the time to tell you all about it.

I wonder what it would look like if I took pictures of my home. But let’s not, I barely know you – I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression of me. But let’s be honest – if I took a picture of my home right now, as is, I wouldn’t be giving you the wrong impression, but rather an accurate impression. I know you expect something else from me, so how am I supposed to impress you when my home is neither color-coordinated nor pristine? It’s not presentation-worthy, and does not carry the latest in popular fashion literature. It does not hold many expensive belongings, and I should probably vacuum the floor again soon. My white tables have stains, my magazines have creases and I’m pretty sure my watch has got a scratch, too.

Another blogger I saw, took pictures of her daily life. Her children were outdoors, playing and tending a small bonfire, over which an iron kettle cooked a healthy stew of organic, garden-grown vegetables. Photographs provided evidence of her baking various breads for her family to consume, as her children helped knead the dough. Later, she looked forward to enjoying a G&T, no lime, on her newly painted balcony which conveniently faces the sea and the sundown. All in a day’s work. Hopefully, she would get a chance to read that new novel, too.

And here you and I sit – our shirt sleeves rolled up, four-in-hand knot loosened, by each our identical desks, typing away at our little keyboards.  When we get home, after a long day of responding to e-mails, holding meetings and playing catch-up, writing reports with a deadline long dead, our homes will be in disarray and our dinners reheated leftovers from another week entirely. We might grab a day-old cupcake before bedtime, and we might for a brief moment consider staying ahead of the game by ironing a shirt for tomorrow – but eventually, we go to bed, too exhausted to even pick up a book.

There in bed, we will lie awake for a few moments, thinking about those bloggers. How do they do it? How do they squeeze so much into their day, so effortlessly? How do they manage? And how will we manage to ever impress anyone with our lousy existence, where our idea of fine cuisine in the comfort of our homes stretches only as far as heating frozen cinnamon buns on the weekend. How will we ever impress our Facebook friends, our potential dates, our friends and our families, when all we have to offer them is instant coffee?

You would think that these countless skinny jeans and skinny lattés would eventually bring about skinny wallets, but it seems to me that these people have found endless sources of wealth to casually pour into these projects of theirs. Is this where all these consumer loans I hear about are going? At least they are kind enough to grant us a chance to peek into their brunch-and-bubbly laden existences.

I hope to visit the home of a blogger one day. I dream to find their home a mess of unimaginable proportions, with the mere exception of a tiny corner of their microscopic apartment.

In this tiny corner, a neatly cleaned white table. There is not a single stain, not a single dent and not one scratch to be found.

Next to this corner lies an expensive camera, a ruler and a magazine.

From the tiny kitchen, you hear the cluttering of unwashed cups.

“Would you like some coffee? All I have is instant.”

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I just happened to take this picture of a cupcake, almost as if I dropped my camera.
Cupcake tips

On identity

Oh, it’s you. I didn’t think I’d see you again so soon.

 I barely recognized you – you don’t look much like your Facebook profile photo. It looks very professional, though, did a photographer take the picture?

Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it was just a spur of the moment picture, almost as if taken by accident – it could have been taken at any point during your day and it would have come out much like that, wouldn’t it?

When people take pictures of me they never turn out that way. I always manage to look extremely unflattering. I guess it’s kind of funny, though.  How come there aren’t any unflattering pictures of you on your profile? It’s just a little surprising, is what I’m saying.

What did you do today? Oh, right – I read about that on your profile! You were up early, running a half marathon, but you got back in time to make paleo cookies, right? I’m pretty sure you Instagrammed your breakfast, too. It looked delicious, almost like something I’ve seen in a magazine. What are paleo cookies like, do you even bake them? I’m sort of into cupcakes, you see, I have this great recipe…

Enough about me, you’re right, let’s see – what else did you do? Third time at the gym today, went to work, where’s that again? Was it the branding/communications start-up, or the entrepreneur society co-owned office? Even I have a hard time remembering sometimes, I understand, but what exactly does a “Lightning Manager” do? I haven’t heard that job title anywhere else. I understand, it must be hard to describe.

What are your plans after this? Oh, you have VIP tickets to that hot new thing, with all your friends? Award session, photo-ops with exotic baby animals, sky-diving right into a diving-session? Sounds like quite an evening, aren’t you ever exhausted? How do you find the time to Tweet about all these things?

You’ve got to tell me some day. You’ve got to let me know.

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