Tag Archives: women

Reading, Resonance and Jeanne Ray’s Eat Cake

In thirty-odd years of opening books, not once have pearls, dragons, chocolates, space ships or World War I fighter planes fallen out of the pages. However, and oddly, bookmarks, sand, grass, fingernail clippings, wool, hair, shopping receipts and photos have – and that’s just out of library books I’ve borrowed.

Quotes and turns of phrase have wafted out of books, finding their way into my C: drive, or a dented folder full of scrap paper and scrawl. Characters, too, have sometimes lingered, read snatches of conversation wafting through my memory half tied to a title or two bringing a smile or sigh, the silent wish that a specific character could come hang out in my kitchen with me because we’d be instant friends.

The place that I went, the place that I still go, was the warm, hollowed-out center of a Bundt cake. It is usually gingerbread, though sometimes that changes. Sometimes it’s gingerbread crowned in a ring of poached pears. The walls that surround me are high and soft, but as they go up they curve back, open up to the light, so I feel protected by the cake but never trapped by it. There are a few loose crumbs around my feet, clinging to my hair, and the smell! The ginger and butter, the lingering subtlety of vanilla…I press my cheek against the cake, which is soft as eiderdown and still warm. This isn’t a fantasy about food exactly, at least not insofar as I want to eat my way through a cake that’s taller than I am. It’s about being inside of cake, being part of something that I find to be profoundly comforting. The instructor told us to take another deep breath, and all around me I heard the smooth shush of air going in, waiting, coming out. I thought I might never open my eyes.

I’ve found myself begin to reference something a friend said, only to realise it was something I read in a work of fiction. In such a situation, I normally grin and relate the relevant morsel regardless because it’s fantastic, and admit it’s from a book, and wish again my literally literary friends could knock on my door for real…

Cakes have gotten a bad rap. People equate virtue with turning down dessert. There is always one person at the table who holds up her hand when I serve the cake. No, really, I couldn’t, she says, and then gives her flat stomach a conspiratorial little pat. Everyone who is pressing a fork into the first tender layer looks at the person who declined the plate, and they all think, That person is better than I am. That person has discipline. But that isn’t a person with discipline, that is a person who has completely lost touch with joy. A slice of cake never make anybody fat. You don’t eat the whole cake. You don’t eat a cake every day of your life. You take the cake when it is offered because the cake is delicious. You have a slice of cake and what it reminds you of is someplace that’s safe, uncomplicated, without stress. A cake is a party, a birthday, a wedding. A cake is what’s served on the happiest day of your life.

This is a story of how my life was saved by cake, so, of course, if sides are to be taken, I will always take the side of cake.

But when it comes to reading resonance, the biggest impact is from ideas: ideas have crashed out of books, thunking straight through my eyeballs to leave my ears ringing and the world staggering a little as I gape unseeing at the pages, adjusting to the heft and ballast now settling in and making itself comfortable in my head.

As I have written about previously, one passage from a book helped me see forgiveness in a different way, simply by changing definitions. That idea lead to action, which I repeated for years, which then gave me a tiny, crumbly ledge to balance on as I faced a much greater difficulty. I have no idea how I would have dealt with such heart-wrecking pain if it hadn’t been for one little paragraph to start the whole adventure.

The truth of the matter is that I didn’t bear my father any particular ill will. I had for a short time when I was young. I thought he was a terrible man. But as I got older it occurred to me that just because someone isn’t cut out to be a husband or a father doesn’t make him terrible, only terribly disappointing.

Ask to be told about a story, a book, and you’ll get a different answer and blurb from every person you ask. Some will say it’s one star “because it said everyone goes to bed at 9pm in Iowa”, another will say that the interplay between magical realism and feministic themes is deftly handled. It’s about dessert. It’s about family. Its narrator is death, and you’ll need a box of tissues to read it. I still have no idea what it’s about but I can’t stop thinking about it. It has some guy called Atticus and a wardrobe in it. It’s a mystery. It’s historical. It was amazing. It was okay. I bought my own copy. I didn’t finish it. It ate me alive and took me far, far away.

The idea of a French teacher who had never been to France struck me as the saddest thing in the world when I was fifteen, and that’s when I set out to make madeleines. When I gave them to her, tears welled up in her eyes. “Everything began with a madeleine in Proust,” she said to me. Further proof that cake could take you places you might not be able to get to on your own.

Books kidnap me, slap me, dance and breathe heavily against my neck. Stories are friends, fellow explorers, the addresses of dear friends. Stories are more than words, and their resonance continues booming belly and brain deep years, disasters, galaxies later.

Note: all quotes are from Eat Cake, by Jeanne Ray, copyright 1988. My edition is the Pocket Books 2003 edition, with quotes (in given order) from pages 2, 3, 54 and 128.

Recommended to:

  • People with an appreciation for cake or baked goods
  • People who like realistic female leads (especially those characters being over 30)
  • Anyone who would like to read of committed, loving married couple (who do not have rose-coloured glasses)
  • Did I mention people who like cake?

Not recommended for:

  • Those who don’t eat cake ever
  • Hard-core “sci-fi/fantasy only” readers
  • Anyone who doesn’t like family conflict or baking

Rated: PG 15+ (Family dynamics and conflict, impact of divorce, ageing parents, repeated scenes involving creaming of butter and breaking of eggs.)

Which story or book has knocked you off-centre with its impact or resonance? Which characters do you wish would come and hang out in your kitchen? Do you save quotes from or underline favourite bits in books?

A Bleeding Heart

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This past weekend women who I count as friends, known as ward members, and as neighbors who’ve gathered round my kitchen table, joined together outside the door of the Tabernacle to ask admittance to the General Priesthood Session of conference. This past weekend men and women that I count as friends, known as ward members, and as neighbors who’ve gathered round my kitchen table, criticized their actions, calling them out as faithless, insecure, and presumptuous. While I did not stand in line or have my name carried with them, my heart bled for them.

Growing up I recall our family of seven gathering around the kitchen table, laughing and testing our wit often at the expense of some of the more awkward characters we picked from school, church or the headlines. It was always fun; I’m certain I nearly peed my pants snorting in laughter. It all seemed safe within the filter of our home. Yet whenever we were really nit-picking or began ripping into someone new my mother would pipe in over us, to condemn our ridicule, and repeat her wished-for mantra, “your name is safe in my house.” Typically we’d fail to maintain the ideal she had for us, but it did a wonder at worming its way into the back of my consciousness. I still hear on regular repeat without her voicing it; and I want to ask it of others, when I begin to feel as my mother felt.

With her mother-heart my mom had the gift to find good in everyone. Everyone, to the point of groaning and aggravation of all of us kids. We just wanted to lay into the deserving and serve their follies sunny-side up for our own merriment and pride at “thank heaven we’re not like that.” Perhaps I’m slow on the uptake, or really just like to a good time, but the consequences of my actions didn’t seem to wear on me until I got older, a little taller, and later began to grow a mother-heart of my own. Not a mother-heart solely because I am a mother, but a swelling, blood rushing, pumping, red and blue heart of compassion because I saw the bleeding world around me. . When I saw others hurt, I began to hurt a little too. Shocked at the trauma, I offered my own heart to hold some of the flow and began to know my mom’s mother-heart, modeled after Christ’s sacred one. Continue reading

Placement

I have a thing for place. I’m a bit fastidious about the arrangement of things, and the locations where things are set in. Now don’t get me wrong, I clutter up with the best of them (my specialty being piles of books at my desk). But I am fond of the notion of deliberate positioning. At home I may shuffle around the artwork and tschotskes to get everything in a just the right order. (I’ve been known to cock the wooden raven on the piano at a 45 degree angle to the look just right and I’m finicky about hanging pictures is particular groupings and arrangements down to the centimeter.) I attempt to order my kitchen into stations for efficiency. When planning for family pictures I thoughtfully cull through places that mean something: a park we frequent regularly, a telling landmark of the area we live in, or some place that served as a setting for some happy past memory. I realize this marks me as a sentimentalist, so be it. This fixation with fixation may just be one of my personal quirks of an appetite for control. That too. However, I’ll bet any real estate agent in the audience would say an “Amen!” when I advocate for location, location, location. Continue reading

My brain on Pinterest

As part of my recruiting efforts, I once described Pinterest to a friend of mine as a visual way to bookmark one’s favorite websites. Because I just like to look at the pictures. I’ve since heard it described as virtual hoarding. Whatever it is, it is popular, particularly among women. It was completely underestimated by predominantly male tech industry, quickly becoming the third most popular social media platform. And it makes me crazy. Continue reading