Friday, March 20, 2009

Just Another Cake-on-the-Head Day; or Flashback Fridays, Week 3

The following piece was woven together from 2 similarly-themed articles than ran in the religion column I used to write for the Daily Press. I plan to include some incarnation of the following in my upcoming book.

It was not a cake a rookie should have ever attempted, that much was clear. Three made from scratch layers sandwiching mounds of freshly whipped filling and covered in frosting hand whisked over ice, it required seventeen different ingredients, an intimidating array of kitchen appliances, and, as the recipe title ironically indicated, a “perfect” result.

In a tactical error, I had decided to bake my daughter’s first birthday cake in the kitchen of my grandfather, the master chef, as we were in the middle of a move and I didn’t have any of the aforementioned fancy gadgets, anyway.

The trouble started while layers one, two, and three were in the cooling stages and I began to whip the filling. It was a warm day, and the cream was a bit touchy. I managed to curdle the first two attempts, and I believe that the third carton of heavy cream that the corner market sold me was probably their last. Grandfather, the master chef, desperately wanted to get involved. I desperately wanted to do it myself. My grandfather dissolved into a stream of rapid-fire Italian. I muddled on, wondering how Perfect Chocolate Cake had gone so horribly wrong.

It’s hard to pin down exactly how it happened. It may have had something to do with the cream, but I think more likely it was the icing. A miscalculated gesture brought the entire process to a screeching halt as one of the cooling layers tumbled from the counter and on top of my daughter’s head.

Metaphorically speaking, cake-on-the-head days are pretty much status quo. It’s the chaos in which we spend the majority of our lives: the deadlines, the unfinished projects, the clutter, what we have to do, the things that didn’t turn out the way we expected, all that might turn out later.

We’re working toward some sense of accomplishment and we end up surrounded by the flotsam of unread memos, looming deadlines, the pressure of balancing work and family, and a sneaking suspicion that we’re further from our dreams than we were just yesterday.

The truth is we all want to rise to the top of whatever heap in which we’ve found ourselves. We’re all looking for the fast track out of the trenches.

Looking for the short cut that would deliver my manuscripts from the slush pile to to polished desk tops in the Big Apple, I turned to the successful format of Fox's American Idol for inspiration. Wondering if the successful format of the show could do for writers what it has for music industry hopefuls, I hatched the idea for a spin-off I like to call American Author. A panel including blockbuster authors Dean Koontz and David Baldacci along with a representative from a large New York publishing house would preside as budding wordsmiths make weekly forays into various literary genres. Horror week with Stephen King. Legal thrillers with John Grisham. Romance novellas with Danielle Steele.

I thought the idea was entirely original until I learned about the show my father created called American Programmer. Here, Bill Gates and a panel of high-ranking Microsoft representatives critique the work of a bespectacled cast of young hackers...

Face it, twelve kids or not, real life easily looks more like a scene from Cheaper By The Dozen than anything commanding an agent and a six-figure contract. Too much of our time is spent anticipating the future to have a real strategy for today. We go through the day treading water, convinced that there's an amazing utopia somewhere at the end of a long to-do list--if we can stay afloat to get there. Life spirals into a scene from the pilot of American Programmer: a series of if/then statements: if I can get through this, this and this, then I’ll be able to do something important.

If you’re anything like me, the list of stuff to “get through” just keeps growing. We’re so busy striving for Perfect Chocolate Cake, we forget the joy of the baking process: the nibbled chocolate chunks, the snitched sugar, the beaters waiting to be licked clean.

Life, then, must not be the the end result of the recipe. It must be found on the list of ingredients—in each and every item. Every day the most incredible things pass right through our lives, and too often we don’t recognize their significance until they live only in our memories. Magic moments fly by unannounced. Life just keeps moving, carrying with it the people and opportunities that inhabit our todays. I am reminded of this fact every time I look at my beautiful daughter, who is no longer a baby with cake on her head, or when I feel a pang of longing for my Grandfather, who is in heaven. Babies and grandfathers, and other precious ingredients in life, are to be savored for their role in each today with which we are we are blessed.

Most days aren’t “Perfect Chocolate Cake.” They’re just crumbs from an exotic recipe concocted by The Master Chef. And each one is good.


Anonymous said...

I needed to read this today, thanks.

"New" Jenn said...

I have to admit, by the end of this I was choked up. I am 100% a "to-do list" person. It was only after I had Daniel that I really took the time to look back and see all the life I have already lived and yet missed. I'm so thankful to have had my first child young. He is teaching me to live in the moment and enjoy life. . ."sans" to-do list. ;)


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