Day 62 Supplemental: The Man and the Lie

Cake Is a Lie.jpg

Yeah the truth is after a string of particularly…uninspiring….prompts, suddenly the flood gates open up for ‘cake’. Go figure.

So aside from reflections on the natures of cooking vs baking, ‘cake’ immediately brought me back to a video game I used to play with my brother. There hasn’t really been an opportunity to divulge too much of the extent of my interests, but I am definitely a big video gamer. One of the games I used to play was Portal, a simple to grasp yet intricate to master 3D platforming game with a very adult sense of humor.

Portal Man Left.pngDuring the game your character is constantly encouraged to continue to progress by the promise of a cake by GlaDOS, the game’s snarky passive-aggressive antagonist. Spoiler alert: it is through eventual progression in the game that you come to realize that ‘the cake is a lie’, meaning that the reward does not exist and there is really no hope of escape or completion.
GlaDOS is not the friendly AI assistance you thought, everyone is dead, and all hope is lost. Wonderful.

This is supposed to be a disappointing thing. You’re supposed to feel betrayed and lost and in fact nowadays within the online and gaming community, the phrase ‘the cake is a lie’ is often used to express feelings of frustration when promised rewards turn out to be false or nonexistent.

But…I don’t see it as such. I mean I did, but recently with the things that have happened and with this opportunity to reflect, I realize that…I didn’t want the cake. I knew the cake was a lie.

If we start off with the assumption that the cake is a lie even before finding out it is, aren’t we more prepared for the ending? The best case scenario is that we are proven wrong, the cake is real, and we get to have it and eat it too. The worst case scenario is that we are right. So…shouldn’t we want to believe the cake is a lie?

I think the nature of optimism vs. pessimism is really what we Portal Man Rightshould be talking about. We are bound by our expectations and our greatest frustrations and obstacles arise when our expectations are not met. From the day we are born we are constantly promised things to remain optimistic and hopefully, inspired. We are told in school to do well because we can expect to get into a good college which promises a good career with good pay. We are told, here at least, that the ‘American Dream’ is to own your own land and build your own success and that if we do this we are good Americans and can be happy. But because of the nature of my blog, let’s focus specifically on optimism vs. pessimism in relationships. Here is my thesis: in relationships, a certain measure of pessimism is healthy and indeed necessary for happy, lasting unions because it prepares us more realistically both when single in the search of a partner and when joined up with someone and dealing with their shortcomings.

We are constantly bombarded with movies and literature and song and images of ‘perfect love’ and ‘perfect relationships’. But when we grow up on a diet of sticky saccharine sweet romantic comedies and catchy pop songs we are ill-prepared for the bitterness of reality. And even then, reality isn’t that bad, it’s just that compared to what we are fed, it certainly falls short of expectations and depictions.

Growing up I read Romeo and Juliet and The Princess Bride. I watched You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. I listened to Lionel Richie and Bryan Adams. And though they are very period-specific examples, we all know that the themes and promises are timeless.

We are conditioned to be optimistic that we will find our soulmate in the world who will intrinsically and immediately understand everything that motivates and encourages us and pleases us and it will come naturally and easily to them. We are promised, in so many of what we consume throughout our years, that a happy relationship is free of the turmoil and misunderstanding that we see in our failed relationships and the failed relationships of those around us. We can expect that following the natural progression of the ‘cute meeting story’ and then the ‘complicated love-interest obstacle’ climaxing with the ‘misunderstanding that must be resolved’ we end up with the boy or girl of our dreams and that the hardest part is to find them and the rest is well…’happily ever after’.

We would like to say that pessimism and negativity is poison to the otherwise happy recipe of the relationship but actually it is our own optimism and unrealistic expectation that could inevitably lead to our demise. It is because of our optimism that when we have a rough day at work and come home and our partner is not immediately attentive and receptive and does not immediately understand what it is that bothers us that we feel betrayed and disappointed and thus even more frustrated. The promise that we have been chasing is that we should never have to explain ourselves to our soulmates. That the person we are meant to be with should be perfectly aligned with our interests and hopes and expectations and that it should be a matter of fitting perfectly instantaneously and permanently.

But if we look at the objective reality of the world, we see that optimism could lead us blindly down the least constructive path. We have to understand that there are more than 6 billion people in the world. And that the max extent of the amount of people we can meet within a certain timeframe in our lives that would be conducive to family making and a future is only a fraction of a fraction of a percentage of that amount. We must also understand that our own desires and interests can change and shift over time. That we are not static points in space and that we are also learning and developing and therefore capable and in fact prone to inconsistency. So if we are constantly over-optimistic and unrealistic in our expectation and our belief in the reward, the ‘cake’ per se, we can become increasingly frustrated and downtrodden when every opportunity that arises seems to not fit our mold.

But if instead we choose to approach the world with just a bit of healthy pessimism, we are free of the burden of perfection and expectation and instead can enjoy the pleasures and surprises of life and relationships. If we learn to expect that our partners will come with certain flaws and shortcomings, when we eventually discover them they are not as big a deal as before and we find the uncanny ability to calmly analyze and decide if it is in fact the worst thing ever or something that, it turns out, we can live with because we are able to see the larger picture now. If we are capable of viewing relationships and love with just a tiny bit of pessimism then each and every time we find a similar interest, similar hobby, or find we share the same values and hopes, it is the proverbial ‘icing on the cake’. We can enjoy more and be disappointed less if we understand that optimism and expectation can actually be the enemy of love.

I know this may sound unappetizing and it may seem like a surprise to come from a professed ‘bleeding heart romantic’, but believe me I have found that a spoonful of pessimism can certainly help the medicine go down. I think many of my past relationships were marred by unrealistic expectations on both ends. The media fills us with promises and we make promises to each other that often times we don’t really know if we can fulfill. And when we do that we hurt ourselves more than help the relationship. I’ve learned to want to love someone without having to idealize them. I’ve learned to still want to be in a relationship without wanting it to be perfect and ‘falling out of love’ with the idea.

It’s okay that the cake is a lie. It’s okay that the union of two people can never be as perfect as the wedding cake is on that special day. After all, what is that cake made of. The beautiful, smooth, perfect covering is fondant. Basically edible Play-Doh. It is artificially pounded and stretched and molded and plastered onto the cake. The two happy blissful idyllic people on top are stiff and plastic dolls. It’s okay to expect that the person we are with will be imperfect because once we realize that, we understand that having troubles and problems is not a unique situation to us. Personally, I’ll take my cake with a little bit of salt from now on.

Day 62: The Man and the Daily Prompt; ‘Cake’

I love to cook. I hate to bake. If you’ve spent any time doing either, you’ll very quickly realize that though they may appear similar, they are two completely different things for very different people. A chef and a baker may inhabit the same room but they are from very different worlds.

Like most writers, I am a man of passion. Impulse. Prone to getting carried away in the moment. In order to do well in our craft we must feel on a grander and simultaneously more minute scale than most people. We Souma.gifhave to feel the very rhythm and emotion of the earth in the smallest nerves of our body so that we can distill every external and internal inspiration into cohesive physical thought and word. Such is the task of the chef. My cooking largely depends on my mood and the inspiration I draw from within and without. A chef’s emotions can largely affect the taste of a dish. If he is having a particularly bad day and is angry, you may find more hints of pepper and spice than normal. If he is in a happy mood, you will taste more sweetness and perhaps freshness. The stereotype of the troubled emotionally erratic chef in the kitchen is not so far off from the real deal. Anthony Bourdain, Gordon Ramsey, and David Chang, all culinary idols of mine, all have reputations of being particularly volatile in the kitchen. It is this fiery personality that pushes towards boldness and innovation. It is the tortured soul that breaks down barriers and constantly chases new frontiers. A creative spirit that needs consistent feeding. Confidence and insecurity also broadcast into the dish. I notice that when I attempt something for the first time, often it is…’unfinished’. Perhaps lacking in seasoning or not fully matured. I am unsure of myself and therefore am more hesitant to carry through with a dish. This is in contrast to dishes that I have made time and time again. My ‘go-to’ recipes that always guarantee satisfaction. I can move through those dishes with ease and confidence and so the flavors are boldly pronounced and vibrant. They are aggressive and complex.

Never try asking a Filipino for a recipe. It’s not that they won’t share with you, it’s that they won’t know how to. See in the Philippines we cook by what we call ‘tantsa’. One of my more regular readers and commenters, a native speaker and incredible writer in both languages, can probably speak better to the translation, but to me it equates most similarly in cooking to the phrase ‘cook by taste’. ‘Tantsa’ is more than a method, it is a culinary philosophy that purports that cooking is done not by calculated measure but by cooking with the eyes, the nose, the tongue, but most importantly the heart. There is no measure to how much of any one ingredient you need to put into a Filipino dish. You know it when you recognize it deep in your soul. We all grew up with these dishes and you’ll notice that most provinces have their own take and without any need for formal Pusheen Processinstruction or procedure we all gravitate to being able to replicate those dishes ourselves. It’s this wonderfully interactive and reactive dance of taste and adjust and feel that ties you so deeply and personally to your food.  I love garlic. To me it is one of the best ingredients around. Sauteed. Simmered. Roasted. Fried. As part of the dish or just garnish, I cannot exist without garlic. So my dishes oftentimes feature a bit more garlic than recipes call for. Certain areas in the Philippines are known for a characteristic preference towards spice and so their dishes all have some level of heat usually more than is customary or the norm in other parts of the country. My aunt makes the best dinuguan (a native dish similar to blood pudding) I have ever had but she makes it unique to her style and no restaurant or Filipino cookbook would have ever thought to do what she does. My mother’s callos is hands down the finest example but that is from years of tweaking the recipe to the very distinct and selective taste buds of my family. So your chances of getting a callos like my mother’s are pretty rare unless you come by one time! Five different restaurants can have five different interpretations of adobo, arguably the Philippines’s most notable, significant, and hard to define unofficial national dish. Every house has a different take, and all because the spirit of the dish may be the same but the heart, the ‘tantsa’, is fiercely unique. When I cook I may have all the ingredients but I certainly don’t have all the measurements. I move with the dish as it transforms and speaks to me and there is this two-way communication that I think is unique to this cooking. If I feel particularly garlicky (clearly not cooking for a date) I’ll run with it. If I’m feeling eggy I’ll crack a few more shells.

But do you know what happens when you feel particularly eggy when baking? Your whole dish changes. You balance the fine line between a souffle and an omelet. Your bread changes all of its characteristics: texture, smell, taste, crust. Your cupcakes and muffins blow up. You don’t mess with a baker’s recipe. Unlike the ‘tantsa’ that is a literal roll of Pusheen Bakingthe dice, baking is an exact science. The best, most efficient and effective methods, measurements, and modes have all already been established. The mark of a good chef is his ability to create. The mark of an expert baker is his ability to replicate. Consistency is key. Capturing the exact precise moment that cooking becomes more science and alchemy than improvisation and art. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way disparaging baking or trying to claim one over the other. Like I said, they inhabit the same room but different worlds and if anything, I am in awe of how difficult and unforgiving and inflexible baking is. My friend is the baker of the group and I am constantly amazed and impressed by what she is capable of. It’s very interesting when we are in the same kitchen doing our thing. She sees me flying by the seat of my pants, constantly adjusting and readjusting, while I watch her careful and exacting, knowing exactly what to expect when and how and why even before she adds the ingredients. There is a very clear and vivid picture in her mind at the start whereas I am chasing an emotion felt on the breeze. I have a very realistic image of myself; I know what I am and am not capable of and so I recognize talent in things I cannot achieve myself. I admire bakers. I could not inhabit their world. I don’t have the patience or the ability to absorb the vast knowledge base needed. They are artisans and scientists and craftsmen all at the same time. I am a whirlwind of impressions.

I am happy though in my world. It speaks to me as I speak to it. My emotional state characterizes more than just my cooking, it speaks to my relationships, my writing, and my perspectives. I need to feel when I cook. I need to feel when I write. I need to feel when I’m with someone. And in the meanwhile, I’m perfectly content buying my cake from the store.

Day 62

Man: 46 Loneliness: 16