Baked ambition: Random thoughts while planning cupcakes


My ambitious cupcake plan for next week:
Banana-Nutella cupcakes
Pumpkin cupcakes with honey-cinnamon frosting
Cappuccino cupcakes with coffee frosting
Mock Hostess cupcakes (chocolate cupcakes with a fluffy, marshmallow filling)
Lemon cupcakes with lemon curd filling and meringue topping
Vanilla cupcakes with dulce de leche filling and salted caramel frosting

I don’t know how far I will get in trying to bake and take these cupcakes to work next week.

Poetry: A changed view
Nobel winner Wislawa Szymborska passed away the other day. Her work brought so much reflection and feeling to the surface for me. I remember discovering her when I was in high school, feeling I had been initiated into a whole new world of imagery and language. A door into a multitude of poetry written by Polish women poets seemed open to me. I had been trying to collect information for my high school world literature class final project – I had wanted to look at poetry written by 20th century eastern European women. Even as vast and broad as this subject was, I was alarmed when my teacher said, “That topic will be impossible since there aren’t any.” Aren’t any what? Yes, she meant there aren’t any eastern European women poets about which to write. Why? Because she did not know about them. (Granted this was at the very early dawn of the Internet age, and immediately following the end of Communism in these countries, so information was not flowing with speed or ease. Nevertheless, I knew better than to believe that something did not exist just because my suburban high school teacher did not know about it.)

I was elated when Szymborska won the Nobel in 1996; I am often pleasantly surprised by the Nobel committee’s literature choices because sometimes they are so obscure on a global level. I would say Szymborska was one of those, and it delighted me to think her work would become better known as a result of her win.

My first Szymborska poem was “I Am Too Near…”, and although I have fallen in love with so many of her works, this one remains closest to my heart.

“I am too near to be dreamt of by him.
I do not fly over him, do not escape from him
under the roots of a tree. I am too near.
Not in my voice sings the fish in the net,
not from my finger rolls the ring.
I am too near. A big house is on fire
without me, calling for help. Too near
for a bell dangling from my hair to chime.
Too near to enter as a guest
before whom walls glide apart by themselves.
Never again will I die so lightly,
so much beyond my flesh, so inadvertently
as once in his dream. Too near.
I taste the sound, I see the glittering husk of this word
as I lie immobile in his embrace. He sleeps,
more accessible now to her, seen but once
a cashier of a wandering circus with one lion,
than to me, who am at his side.
For her now in him a valley grows,
russet-leaved, closed by a snowy mountain
in the bright blue air. I am too near
to fall to him from the sky. My scream
could wake him up. Poor thing
I am, limited to my shape,
I who was a birch, who was a lizard,
who would come out of my cocoons
shimmering the colors of my skins. Who possessed
the grace of disappearing from astonished eyes,
which is a wealth of wealths. I am near,
too near for him to dream of me.
I slide my arm from under the sleeper’s head
and it is numb, full of swarming pins,
on the tip of each, waiting to be counted,
the fallen angels sit.”

RIP Wislawa Szymborska

Lazy language and defining “necessary details”
In writing a review, as I have reflected and written upon before, it is too easy to be lazy and follow the path of all other reviewers. Are you negligent for not including a piece of irrelevant trivia that all other reviewers will include as though it is somehow important (always written in this “knowing” tone)? Watching Tom & Viv, I noticed that Rosemary Harris plays one of the characters, and it triggered the memory of the film Sunshine, remembering clearly how, upon its release, not a single write-up I read mentioned it or Jennifer Ehle’s presence in it without mentioning that she is the daughter of Rosemary Harris, who plays an older version of Ehle’s role in the movie. Is this important information? Does it contribute anything to the viewer’s enjoyment of or understanding of the movie? Sure, we all appreciate a bit of trivia, but is this necessary enough that every reviewer ought to point it out? Maybe. As I have proven in my own blog writing, somehow making little connections between things drives us, keeps us going… enjoying making connections between things and people, sometimes very simple like this mother-daughter one, and sometimes more complex like a web of things. But does that mean that every writer/reviewer needs to serve up the same trivia in relation to these actors and these roles? This makes me think of my complaints about the overuse of the same tired descriptors, comparisons and anecdotes. Doesn’t it read and feel like the easy way out?

Language use, misuse, imprecision and the easy way out
Many words and expressions have been co-opted by specific groups of people and industries, in attempts to “elevate”the lingo of that particular subculture or industry (usually making it more obscure and only accessible to those “in-the-know”, often designed to confuse listeners deliberately). Two industries that spring to mind as the worst offenders: marketing and management consulting. (The new TV show House of Lies highlights this pretty well.) Apart from annoying expressions like “tipping point”, “crossing the chasm”, “low-hanging fruit”, “the sweet spot” and “special sauce”, among a million other things, I especially dislike more basic, egregious and fundamental violations. Two of these such words include “leverage” and “collateral”. Both of these, for me, embody very specific, precise meanings.

Most of the time, when marketing and consulting folks use the word “leverage”, they could (and should) tone it down and use the word “use”. “Leverage” implies that something is hanging in a balance (as in a “lever”)… if it is not blackmail (where you have leverage over someone else) and it is not really akin to “leverage” in the financial sense (using assets/resources as a kind of collateral), how is it different from using? One could argue that leverage can exist in these cases (marketing departments might have something to leverage, for example). The problem is using the word “leverage” when it is not being used in those very specific cases.

The second word, “collateral”, suffers a similar butchery. The main definition of “collateral” is quite finite and pertains to finance. It is an asset or property that a borrower pledges against a new loan (the collateral is the bank’s security). We have all heard the term “collateral damage”. But none of these definitions implies anything about the materials one produces in marketing, such as case studies, white papers, fact sheets. Yet, these are commonly referred to as “collateral”. I was recently in a meeting with an exec who told me he just learned this new meaning of “collateral” – I promptly told him that though I know this meaning and hear it bandied about all the time, I don’t approve of it. Why use words that just hide the more tangible meaning of what we want to talk about? Why do we not call this stuff “marketing materials”, which everyone would understand?

Unintentionally funny
I saw a job opening titled “anti-cheat administrator”: the word choice struck me as funny. It sounds like a more appropriate title for a person hired to follow suspected cheaters and produce evidence of marital infidelities. This job had nothing to do with that but gave me a chuckle thinking about it.

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