December 4, 2016
I regret the cake
They say that over the course of a lifetime you never regret the cakes you baked, but instead the cakes you didn’t bake, although in one specific case I will make an exception—except I am also sorry for the butterfly cake I brought to a party in 2000 that was mostly paste, and the cake I over-mixed for my friend’s engagement in 2008 that had the consistency of cheese. But not this sorry.
I regret the cake, the Hillary Clinton victory cake I baked on November 7.
“If all else fails, there will be cake,” I blogged blithely, but it turned out that the cake didn’t taste very good. When I’m really upset, I don’t have an appetite for anything, and so that sad cake hung around our kitchen getting stale and eventually I threw it in the garbage. The day after the election, I had a task that involved cutting out thirty small squares of paper and using a hole punch, and it was about all I was up to. I sat there at my kitchen table cutting and punching, and weeping as I listened to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s concession speech on the radio. I probably ate some cake, but I didn’t taste it. There was no consolation.
If I had to do it again though, I’d probably still make the cake. Partly because I’m bloody-minded. And partly too because I refuse to budge from my vision of what the world could be and what it should be. I’d rather be wrong than be wrong, if you know what I’m saying. Although I did feel guilty after the fact—I know I inspired other people to embark upon similar baking projects, and there we all were sad in our kitchens on that terrible Wednesday morning. There was so much cake, physical evidence of disappointment, and all of it was my fault.
But I’ll take the fall. I was wrong, and I’ve been wrong before, but as I said above, at least I wasn’t wrong in fundamental ways. I’ve tried very hard to resist a dynamic of winner/loser from this election, not because I don’t like losing, but instead because I don’t mind if I do lose. It doesn’t matter. You might call me a crybaby, but I’ll just look at you confused, wondering why you’re delivering such a puerile insult, and I really don’t care what you think either way. (I’m not going to run out into the street and start firing off my stockpiled ammunition either, and there is really something to that.)
“The art of losing isn’t hard to master…” It’s true. I’ve lost before, over and over again, and what I learned from these experiences is that mastering losing can mean that you can do absolutely anything. I have no fear of failure because I’ve failed over and over again, and everything turned out…fine. Often the very worst thing that can happen isn’t. There are certain things that if I lost them, my life would be fractured irrevocably, but these things are mostly people and I don’t know that anyone can master that kind of loss, although I even know some strong, incredible friends who appear to have done so, who carry on under the weight of interminable grief. So there is loss and there is loss, I mean.
The results of the election have been devastating, but I’ve resisted the idea that my/us having lost is part of the equation. No, it’s something more than that, which is what is actually lost on the simple-minded people who are gloating. Those gloating people aren’t why I was crying, but instead I was crying for everyone, for a vision of the world that’s not that I thought it was, what I hoped fervently it could be. I was wrong, and a whole lot of people proved me wrong, but I can handle that. And if necessary, I’ll be wrong over and over again. Until I’m right, because that’s how history swings.
It’s been a brutal month. On Thursday I finally got my ass back in gear, and started replying to hundreds of emails with apologies for being unable to anything much for this past month except stare at my computer screen in abject horror. I fell down terrible twitter rabbit holes that made me despair about everything, and to wonder about the bubble that I live in, confused and messed up by “voices obsessed with rhetorical fallacies and pedantic debating practices.” When reality starts to seem like a giant conspiracy theory in itself, it becomes hard to know what’s what, and where you stand on things when ground is ever-shifting.
What’s brought be back to earth? Books, of course. I started reading Caitlin Moran’s Moranifesto last week, and it set me straight about feminism, and class, and why I don’t want a revolution (“Personally, I’m not up for that. The kind of people who are up for mutinies and riots tend to be young men… I, however, am a forty-year-old woman with very inferior running abilities and two children… I’ve read enough history books to be resoundingly unseen on extreme politics of with the left or the right…They tend to work out badly for women and children. They tend to work out badly for everyone.) While there has been an effort to package this book as more than a collection of her columns, with a thesis and everything, it doesn’t quite work, but it doesn’t have to. Moran is terrific. “Why We Cheered in the Street When Margaret Thatcher Died.” “This is a World Formed by Abortion—It Always Has Been, And It Always Will Be.” “We Are All Migrants.” The world has gone so willy-nilly in the last year that some pieces in this collection are dated in a way that hurts my heart, but the fundamentals still stand. Last Tuesday evening I sat alone reading this book in a public place and I kept laughing aloud in a way that disturbed passersby, and that was a good thing. It was like a terribly funny person finally talking some sense back into me.
And along those lines, I picked up Luvvie Ajayi’s essay collection next, I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual. A book whose first section left me unmoved, but I think it was tactical, some light and easy judgement toward people who don’t wash their bras regularly or who court unemployed boys with gambling addictions who call you to pick them up at the casino because it’s raining and their only form of transport is their bicycle. Breaking the reader in for the heavy stuff—”Racism is for Assholes,” “Rape Culture is Real and it Sucks.” Powerful, amazing sensible stuff that I so desperately need to hear right now when everything seems so upside down. A Black woman writing about feminism, a Christian woman critiquing how religion is messing so much up these days, a smart woman unwilling to withhold her judgement, so she gives it and it’s glorious and we’re better for it. Consistency is overrated. The point is to be good, to ourselves and to each other. I’m about two thirds into this book, and I’m loving it, reminding me that this upside-down world is the same as it ever was, and that striving for better is the least and the most we can do.
“But the ultimate pragmatism is to quietly note that idealism has won, time after time, in the last hundred years. Idealism has the upper hand. Idealism has some hot statistics. Idealism invented and fuelled the civil rights movement, votes for women, changes in rape laws, Equal Marriage, the Internet, IVF, organ transplants, the end of apartheid, independence in India, the Hadron Collider, Hairspray the musical, and my recent, brilliant loft conversion. Every reality we have now started with a seed-corn of idealism and impossibility—visions have to coalesce somewhere.” —Caitlin Moran