I've already alluded to the question at hand, which is, in short: why does it not offend my stubborn feminism to bake for my menfolk? Wow, that was a fun sentence to say. More precisely, I have a definite tendency when dating or interested in someone of the male persuasion to start showering him with homemade desserts. Birthday cakes, personal plates of cookies, slices of pie or squares of brownie carefully saved if the object of my attention isn't present when I'm baking for general company, that kind of thing. Lisa and I, both women with little inclination to embrace domestic servitude or normative femininity in general, differ wildly on the desirability of this behavior. She can't stomach it -- too wifely -- while I not only stomach it but engage in it with glee and consistency. So what the fuck?
It comes down to this: I don't see baking in the light of gender expectations. It holds a fairly prominent place on the list of things considered "women's work" by people I'd like to punch, and yet, that fact makes up precisely zero percent of the reason I do it. I do it for personal gratification: I have an out-of-control sweet tooth and a specific personal obsession with cookies, and being vegan I can't rely on the rest of the world to provide me with palatable sweets. If I want cookies, by god, I'm going to make some. No way am I going to go without cake just because some asshole approves of me making it.
I also do it because, frankly, I am fucking amazing at it. I know this. It's one of the few things about which I have no modesty and no self-doubt. I can outbake any amateur baker I've ever met and a few professional ones to boot. I am a goddamned dessert genius, and like arrogant geniuses the world over, regardless of medium, I display my work because I want people to admire it and lionize me. (I put out plates of cookies in my house with signs saying things like, "eat and marvel, motherfuckers".)
I've been contemplating the possibility that this particular idea comes from my observation in early childhood of my mother's life as a stay-at-home mom, and I think it's not beyond plausible. My mother isn't really your self-effacing wallflower; she's an ambitious woman whose education and salary have conspicuously exceeded my dad's for over a decade at this point. She decided when she had Katie and me to spend a few years with us away from school and work, but here's the thing. I really don't remember my mother's home life being one of domestic drudgery. Between my parents, my dad is the one who's into household tidying. I don't doubt my mom did a ton of it when I was a kid, but it didn't make an impression on me. The things that did make an impression on me were always works of genius: art projects (both her own and the ones she made up for my sister and me), massive house redecoration efforts, sewing and crafts projects, and, yes, baking. I'm pretty sure she wasn't slaving over a hot stove because someone told her she should; she was damn well making that cake because she loved it and she had the touch. And if she, at 30, with a husband and two kids, could bake chocolate cakes of pure triumphant ego, then I, 25 and intent on remaining unmarried and childless for some time yet, can surely do the same.
And now back to what is probably the most salient reason I bake. I do it because I have an agenda: most of the world doesn't know that delicious vegan desserts that are actually horribly sugary and terrible for you even exist, and in their ignorance they will never willingly convert to eating vegan. I want them all to convert, hence I want them to know what they can have as vegans. There's not much dramatic effect to be gotten by offering people salads; most people know those are vegan and aren't too wowed by them. But you taste a vegan cookie that's just like your grandmother's cookies or even better, and your opinion of the workability of the vegan diet will change radically.
All of this explains why I bake for the general populace without any feeling that I'm buying into the traditional role oppression of my gender, but I acknowledge that it doesn't necessarily address my baking pointedly at boys I find interesting. I suppose it's worth mentioning here that I do occasionally bake pointedly at girls who are likewise interesting, but since most of those interests have stalled out in the "hopeless and horribly self-sabotaging crush" stage, opportunities have been somewhat limited. Still, I shall wave my flag of gender equity no matter how tiny.
But if you think about it, a love interest of either gender has more reason than anyone else to prompt baking for the second and third reasons mentioned. If I'm infatuated with someone, I want that person to be infatuated with me as well. Infatuation being somewhat hard to define, I'll generally take awed or at least strenuously impressed as a good equivalent. By the logic of my own personal universe in which no one ever fails to want dessert, baking is a surefire way to display my stunning brilliance. And where my agenda is concerned, well, dietary disparity can be tricky in a relationship. Easier for everyone's conscience if all parties eschew the same foods. But people who are completely enthralling in all other ways and already vegan are somewhat hard to find, and if one happens to find just such an enthralling nonvegan, what is one to do but subtly highlight the appeal of conversion?
If I thought it common for anyone to ascribe unselfish motives to my actions, I'd be worried that this post might disillusion people who were previously sitting around thinking admiringly about how thoughtful I am. But I'm kind of not, and I think everyone knows that already. So it shouldn't come as much shock that my seemingly generous distribution of baked goods is really a combination of self-service, ego-stroking, and manipulation of others. Last time I checked, those things weren't prominently featured on the list of Appropriate Qualities For The Little Ladies.
I woke up this morning with the following question in my head: "Does a wish made by a yak get special consideration?" Special consideration by whom, I'm not sure; this suggests the existence of some kind of wish-granting demiurge which may or may not have a soft spot for yaks. This is not something that I can recall ever making an appearance in my personal spiritual universe before about 8:00 this morning.
As far as I can reconstruct it, I was having a dream in which I, inside a room of some kind, looked out the window and saw a yak. Like any sane person would, I began to desperately wish for the yak to come up to the window and look inside. It didn't do so, but I remained hopeful. Maybe, I thought, maybe the yak actually wants to come over as much as I want it to come over. Maybe my wishing doesn't accomplish much, but surely the yak is wishing right now also. And shouldn't that count for something?
Once in a while I find something on the internet that makes flashing lights and bells of recognition go off in my head. The one I've just found comes from a post at Pandagon about the relationship between smiling and the perception of social status. Essentially, the Pandagon post describes a study elsewhere which suggests that people with (or perceived to have) lower social status smile more than those with higher status, but not because they're happier. It's compared to the appeasement grin used by lower-status apes to signify that they're submitting to, or at least avoiding challenging, higher-status apes.
Primatology interests notwithstanding, it isn't the ape aspect that has me ringing alarm bells. It's the poster's comment about men who order women to smile: that, insincere protestations aside, that behavior is not about amiable social interaction. It's about controlling another person's actions, which I'm sure we all knew, and about making that person be ingratiating to you, which I at least hadn't thought of.
It's a form of bullshit that I get frequently; as a woman whose undeliberate facial expressions often fall in the range of distracted, purposeful, annoyed, or neutral, I seem to get told to smile, sunshine, or something else along those lines, at least once a month. It comes from all over the map, demographically speaking: older men, younger men, suits, hippies, white, black, whatever, but always men. Even one of my male housemates -- the same one, incidentally, who will ask me if I need help with some manual task and then "help" me anyway after I tell him no -- has done this to me at least once. It's a dirty trick, in my opinion. One, it implies, and is often explicitly paired with, a lefthanded compliment slash backhanded insult: you'd be prettier if you smiled. Two, it gives the person saying it an excuse -- just trying to be friendly, after all -- which is a complete lie but hard to argue with on the spur of the moment. And three, motherfucker, you're not being friendly, you're ordering me into line with what you think is appropriate feminine behavior because my failure to appear welcoming to you offends your ego. Unfortunately, your ego can go and fuck itself, which is how I always reply when I'm not too afraid of inciting retribution. That is to say, I've never said it yet but someday I will.
This may not sound like that much of a revelation, but it actually is. I've always known that there's something not quite right about this phenomenon, some reason that it made me want to scowl and walk away very fast. When I was a teenager I'd smile anyway and figure that my resentment was due to the flaws of my own contrary character. In the last few years I've obeyed less often and felt more sure of my right to be annoyed, but I've still had trouble putting my finger on why. It's the ingratiation aspect that clears it up for me: a smile that isn't spontaneous is sheepish and begs for forgiveness for some known or unknown transgression. I've never yet met the day when my preoccupation with my own thoughts required forgiveness from a random man who missed his ego stroking, but when that day comes I'll be sure to rearrange my facial expressions according to the whims of my social superiors.
Until then, if you're even thinking about it, you can of course fuck right off.
Look in your comment queues, Cementhorizon bloggers -- if you're getting the same comment spam that I am, you've got enough inspiration for a lucrative career in surrealist painting. Canadian Knifed, it tells me, Exportation Cubes! Freon Graduates, and apparently it then rides the Emphatic Stagecoach to get some Beans, Circulant. This is almost as good as the eerily appropriate names I used to get in my email, like Vegetable O. Boastful or my beloved Fiscal K. Undependable. Prevail, Supermarkets! Rockabye Occidentalism! But for sheer visual appeal I think nothing beats Gestapo Brocaded.
I'm not sure whether to feel embarrassed for blogging about spam or to feel bad that all of this hilarity still isn't helping the spammers get their messages onto my blog. But it's far too much work to take the porn links and prescription drug ads out of all of these, and, well, I've been filling this blog with drivel for four years and I see no reason to stop now. So this is what you get.
Until later, that is, when I feel like posting one of the more substantive entries I have sitting patiently in Firefox windows on my computer at home. Topics to watch for include: feminist principles and baking cakes for boys, attending fetish-themed parties with one's co-workers, your creepy song lyrics analysis for the week, being too lazy to stop being vegan, and why the far-right Christian modesty craze is kinky as fuck.
Here at Snoqualmie we're all about suspense.
Coconut milk, banana, and pineapple chunks do not a delicious smoothie make. I know they sound like they would. Nor does adding a little bit of frozen orange juice remedy the problem. It remains sickeningly greasy until you add enough orange juice and frozen strawberries to drown out the coconut. And then, for preference, give it to an unsuspecting housemate and run away.
Also, other people's speech habits are rubbing off on me to an alarming degree right now. I have, of course, long since picked up the Kingman disease of unnecessarily prefacing entirely factual statements with "I feel like": I feel like this is a lot of hummus, I feel like we just listened to this song two minutes ago, I feel like I'm almost done with my workshift. Some of the other things I'm acquiring are starting to disturb me, though. On the way back from Santa Cruz, as I sat outside a coffee shop with my friend's golden retriever, I found myself explaining to some admiring passersby that he was a nice dogman. I recently thanked Lisa for checking in with me. At work on Friday, when my boss asked me if I had a plan for something, I assured her that I was scheming.
If you recognize yourself in any of these things, you can even out the exchange by talking more like me. Stutter, argue, get frustrated and announce that you just can't explain whatever it was you were trying to say, and most importantly, call at least one person a motherfucker this week. Thanks.
It seems like every time I turn around another aspect of my life is metaphorically shaking me awake and telling me to take my clothes and go home. I've posted extensively about the shitstorm kicked up by the co-op central office about my cat, with its incredibly surprising threat of eviction from the house. Just today, coming home, I was reflecting to myself on how I've never actually received the promised official retraction of that threat. With that thought in mind, I checked my email and found a message from... library human resources. It said,
when we were checking registration status of our student employees, it showed that you are not registered for Spring 07.
[Your supervisor] would have to send a request letter and ask for an extension for one semester for you. Please let me know what is your status (did you graduate in December?).
You have until Friday, February 23rd. If we cannot solve this by then, unfortunately, you will be terminated.
Golly. I'm starting to think longingly of the days when I had merely dropped out of school instead of conspicuously graduating; in those happy salad days my landlords and employers actually refrained from using the word "termination" to open conversations with me. I'm trying to find a suitable metaphor for the startling ungentleness with which the world is apparently greeting the triumphant completion of my undergraduate education, but other than the abovementioned kicking out of bed I'm at something of a loss.
It's probably because I can't concentrate when I've got two separate termination threats hanging over my head. All right, all right. I'm going. No, I won't let the door hit me in the ass on the way out, thanks.
Every time I set foot outside lately I get drenched.
Today's forecast of "PM showers" turned out to mean that as soon as it turned lunchtime and I headed home from work, it started raining. And stopped once I was inside eating lunch. And started again at 5:00 when I came home for dinner, and this time poured so hard that I'm drenched everywhere my raincoat doesn't cover. My pants are wet. My underwear is wet. My shoes, socks, and feet are wet. My book bag is soaked. And now it's stopped raining again!
I have to leave in about ten minutes for my ASL class, which is down the hill in downtown Berkeley. What that says to me is, enough of a walk for it to start raining again and re-soak me before I get to class. And then I can sit in my wet, chafey clothes for three hours and wonder how hard it'll be raining at 9:30 when it's time to come home.
The part I have a hard time with is resigning myself to being wet for extended periods of time. My habit of having only one pair of acceptable pants at a time means my options for changing into dry clothes are severely limited. Likewise my shoe collection, which consists of one pair of theoretically good but actually leaky boots and a lot of definitely leaky sneakers. So unless I pull the covers over my head in the morning and refuse to step outside, I'll be damp until it's time for pajamas again.
Wah wah. Please, won't someone think of the clammy, petulant children?
My mission for tonight, which if I may say so I discharged with dazzling competence and aplomb, was to figure out on my own how to make the movies on the house's media server play on my computer. Or at least as on-my-own as my usual standard for computer-related puzzles, which is basically "do not give up and let one of your ubergeek friends show you how".
It's part stubbornness, part decent sense (there's nothing to be gained from remaining technologically incompetent except ever-greater unnecessary dependence on other people), and part one of those damn gender problems: almost all of my geek friends are guys. Certainly the first half-dozen names that come to mind when I think of asking for computer help are all male. It's not that I have anything against them -- the reason their names come to mind for help is that they're my friends, after all -- but as much as I don't like cultivating areas of inability, I dislike it even more when those areas represent things I can't get done without playing something as stereotyped as Maiden In Distress to someone else's Rescuing Male. I like to choose the times and places for my kinky role-playing, thank you.
Those times and places generally aren't late Friday night when I'm drinking tea in my pajamas and considering watching The Sword In The Stone before bed -- hence, tonight's successful quest. It took me over an hour of tweaking and reinstalling three different media players before I found one that worked, but eventually I was enjoying the misadventures of Arthur and Merlin with the warm fuzzy feeling of a job well and independently done.
All right, all right. I am not l33t as fuck. I am not l33t at all, and when I successfully resolve some utterly trivial issue like this and report my groundbreaking results to the abovementioned geek friends they either pat me on the head or laugh up their sleeves, which rather defeats the purpose. But she laughs best who works out the punchline herself, even if it takes all night.
I've previously mentioned my room; for those who were not paying attention, I will reiterate that it is awesome.
The previous inhabitant, like a majority of room inhabitants in the co-ops in general, made something of a project out of the room. This project was slightly unusual in that it didn't involve the room becoming more colorful, less useable, or more infused with the occupant's personality. No, this project was to turn room 1D into the closest approximation of a reasonably nice hotel room that can be accomplished in a co-op.
The floor is covered in a thicker carpet than the institutional mat standard for the rest of the house, and it's installed properly and in good repair. The walls and ceiling are neatly and evenly painted a respectable if somewhat unrelenting white. The bookshelves are properly installed. There's a queen bed with an attractively modern wood frame, table lamps that match the bed, and a bedside table that doesn't appear homemade. Over the bed hangs an attractive, aggressively inoffensive, watercolor print.
My favorite part, though, is what I found on the bedside table when I moved in. Every hotel room has to contain a book that looks good but will never be read. Usually it's a bible, but that was apparently where the room's caretaker drew the line. So instead it's an impressively thick, dust-jacketed volume of the collected stories of Sherlock Holmes (though to my dismay, it isn't illustrated like Kristen's impressively big Holmes book).
It's Friday, it's raining, I'm not at work because in addition to the literal weather which I, in my basement room, am under, I am also under the metaphorical weather, and I'm shamelessly indulging my love of terminally cute indie rock by listening to the Shins. There couldn't possibly be a better way to proceed from here than to crawl into bed and read 125-year-old mystery stories, so if you need me, I'll be on Baker Street.
Two music posts in a week; how gauche. But I've been listening to the album Her Majesty, The Decemberists so much lately that it's probably just about that point where my sheer obsessiveness will generate a blog post with or without the cooperation of my better judgment.
It's hard even to say whence comes my obsession -- at any given moment there are so many good reasons to go and listen to "Shanty for Arethusa" again that they overwhelm. Pirates! Accordions! Chimbley sweeps! Gymnasts! Packet boats filled with spiced rum and tea leaves! Words like "lino" and "knickers"! A singer who crosses the usual indie-rock demilitarized zone of no singing talent and strikes boldly into honest-to-god speech impediments! Inexplicable homages to Los Angeles and to Myla Goldberg, the author of the excellent novel Bee Season, oddly out of place as acknowledgements that the Decemberists aren't actually living in 19th-century England or at least in 19th-century trade waters nominally controlled by the British but actually infested with brigands! Though any song about Los Angeles that refers to the charms of its ladies of the night and then scolds them gently that I, or at least the song's narrator, "can see your undies," demonstrates a sufficiently shaky understanding of the general state of 21st century prostitution that it's almost plausible to imagine it written by a naive and well-intentioned visitor from 1850s Suffolk. Or whatever. Undies?
Upon hearing the line that forms the title of this post, I originally misheard it as, "Tell the tale of the U.S. and the Mandarin Chinese, boy." It seemed a somewhat prosaic instruction for a Decemberists song -- give me a summary of the history of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, and turn it in, typed and double spaced, tomorrow -- though there was always the possibility that it had somehow to do with the Boxer Rebellion, a rather more satisfyingly Decembery subject. I don't, however, recall the Boxer Rebellion involving accordions to any notable degree.
I came home early from work today because I wasn't feeling well. For a paranoid moment I diagnosed my mild stomachache as indicating that, in a terrible twist on my dire malediction from two posts ago, it was actually I who had gotten Norovirus. But on further thought it seems quite unlikely.
It's probably scurvy.