Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sweet Resolution

Mandy said to me today, "You write out your list of New Year's Resolutions, right?" and I said, "About once a week." Which is a lie because as of late, it's about once a day.

I've always been a lister. List of lists, accomplish and cross off. Scribble, scribble in my little black planner. It's embarrassing.

Things to Clean Today
Vitamins to Buy
Places to go Today
Work Duties
People to Call
Five Ways to Better the Universe This Week
The Girls' Calendar
What Should I Do with My Life; Top Six Ideas
Flaxseed Oil
Orange Juice
Three New Cupcakes I Want to Bake Next

And for the last two weeks, it always comes back to cupcakes.

This is the year (season?) that I will leave semiconductors. Because of this, I've been soul scouring. I've been unabashedly and without the slightest bit of embarrassment reading Life Inspiring books and listening to new agey CD's and watching DVD's about my inner secrets. I've been lighting candles, facing east, hoping on one foot and scribbling daily lists of my intentions all to shake free some elusive purpose. The more I think, the more I ask myself: Why does it have to be so serious and final? I've also realized that the more I dig all up inside the purpose-finding part of my brain, the more I just want to bake. Baking is fun and sweet. It makes people happy. It makes me happy especially since the treats are fantastically vegan and especially when I wear some 1940's style apron and when my little house is stuffed with the smell of warm agave and vanilla; especially when the kids fight over the mixers and when my husband eats three in a row . . .it's all really, really satisfying.

I've made dozens and dozens of cupcakes in the last couple weeks. It's been a cupcake jihad. This baking thing has become an automatic Go-To every time I'm sorting out my life. This could mean one of two things: I am an escapist, which is HIGHLY likely. Or the universe is like, Hello? I'm trying to tell you that baking IS it.

Quaniesha and I have talked about opening a vegan bakery in Santa Monica. It seems brilliant though logically, I have no clue how that would even happen. I figure if I just keep talking about it, things might unfold somehow. I've already been volunteered a large catering oven and some mixers, which, uh, sounds like the right direction doesn't it? I mean, when someone says "I have an oven from my father's catering business you could have . . ." maybe I should just run a little longer with this. I'm waiting for someone to say, "I have a 1930's bungalow on Broadway for you to use for your shop. . ." I have a million other plans for the bakery too like free nutrition seminars for struggling families (or whomever) that want to eat (affordably) healthier. And free after-school tutoring for (closet-genius) kids (like Mina). And monthly fiction readings. It's hard to dream small. I have no clue how this will all get done; I just want it to.

Happy New Year, Mi Gente. Here's to all your Wants even when we don't know the Hows yet.


To-Die Tofu Chocolate Mousse with Agave Cake and Shaved Chocolate

Ridiculous Cookies N Cream Joints

Christmas Tree Cakeitas

Most of my cupcake recipes have come from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World written by vegan chef and cupcake genius, Isa Chandra Moskowitz of Post Punk Kitchen. The recipes really are brilliant and perfect.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

I Have a Powerful, Godlike Mind I've Decided

They had forgotten, my bosses, about my 10am review on Tuesday. It was ok by then. In my mind, that is. I had spent the weekend realizing that their disinterest in giving us raises and their own self interest in fine sports vehicles and the gushy, never-enough broker life was not my concern or interest any more. It really isn't and why had I been so concerned about greediness and other things that I would not change any way? I had let myself get sucked into condemning an industry that has, in all honesty, gotten me from one point to another. Nearly 15 years ago, I pulled myself out of a manhole. I was covered in the sootiness of self doubt/no direction/no guidance -- I was like a wild animal -- and I demanded a job from a friend as a data entry and file clerk at a semiconductor brokerage. I was movin on up, it seemed. I was introduced to the broker life where no one else seemed to have college learning either. It coaxed me like sirens. I pushed my way into a demanding purchasing position and skyrocketed from there. I basked and rolled around in every handout and bump up and accolade, and I did the only thing that I do best, work hard. I'm a trabajadora to the end.

By Tuesday, I had let go of any ill will for my job, for my broker life. I hold true that all whores find redemption no matter how self defined. I am thankful for this chunky rich chapter that will close soon enough. I will even miss it. On Tuesday I still held a number in my mind for a little raise if they chose to pick up on it and extend the gesture. I felt liberated, supported, destined and divine. At 2pm, my bosses called me into their office via an IM that read, "MS. RIVERA, TO THE PRINCIPAL'S OFFICE." My heart was open and thankful. Whatever they had to say was ok by me. They said, condensedly: "We thought about what you said and we're going to give you a raise." And they said the same number that was on my mind even though I had not told them that number previously. I said, Thank you very much for recognizing that.

Shheeeetttt, my mind is mad powerful.

The raise did not suck me back in. I still feel liberated and destined for other greatness. And as soon as I see the slightest opening, I will kiss this industry on the forehead, thank it again, and jet without the slightest glance back.

In other powerful, Madness mind tricks, I've recently willed myself to become a fantastic vegan baker. Before veganism, I had zero interest in the simplest cooking let alone tackling the complexities of baking. Over the weekend, I read some tips on the art of cakes, bought a couple items and all of the sudden I'm churning out the bomb-shit cupcakes. Here's a lemony one with a cream cheese frosting where, in a fit of inspiration, I diced candied ginger on top. I am simply a channel at this point for a higher, cupcake power. I was going to take a picture of it whole, but I didn't do so in time. This morsel was calling to me from my desk. When I bake, I say to myself, Everyone who eats my cake-itas will experience joy and love and unsurprisingly it's true.

Sshhheeeettttt, watch out now.

Speaking of strong minds, here's a recent Mina School Outfit. Last week she emerged from her room in a whisk and sway of her teal skirt and said, "I'm ready now," her starred Vans peaking out below. I looked at her ensemble and said, "Perfect. Let's go."

Her school experience is better. I told her what I expected of her and she simply did it without grief or too much effort, like she hadn't been clearly told at school. She caught up on a ton of in-class work and she and I have been doing our At Home School for the Powerful Minds stuff. I emailed her teacher two weeks ago saying as much and that I'd like occasional feedback on her progress. The teacher hasn't emailed me back. Maybe she's too busy putting other geniuses in low-level groups. Tomorrow there is a class party and I'm thinking about cornering her uncomfortably.

Or maybe I'll just stop worrying about what the teacher isn't doing for Mina and just do everything that I can do for her. Everything will be fine because Mina doesn't slip under MY radar and because I am fully aware of her capabilities, and because we'll just make it so. We're powerful like that.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I'm a Sucka Trick Broker

My company's holiday party was last Friday night. You might notice that I ditched the Old Lady Thrift Store dress. Talked myself right out of it. Maybe it was the pleated, puffy shoulders that only work with a Lucy Ricardo set and press. Or maybe the mustiness especially around the pits. Or the bare-thread crepe that I believe revealed my panties. Sigh. After rejecting the dress, I then clawed -- tore away in a panic -- through my tight-ass closet until I found this old thing. This old grey-brown BCBG strapless bedazzled in sequins which was crammed behind the Salvation Army Give Away bag. I had bought it three years ago for a night wedding after reluctantly stumbling into BCBG in yet another dress panic and found it on the 50% off rack, my exact size the only left.

This year's party was similar yet one-upped from last year because brokers like to do things drenched in over-the-topness. The dinner was conservative and wedding-reception pleasant. This is when we warm up, do side bends and quad stretches for what's to come later in the evening. This is when we comment -- a lot -- about how we all clean up well, because it's true, and this is when our two bosses give speeches with Oscar-winning sincerity: We are a Team, a Family (eyes glisten). Our sales are up 66% because of YOU, Team, exceptional workers, you. But -- here comes the fine print -- there will be no raises in salary or bonuses this year; in fact we're slashing your commission under the guise of corporate restructuring and adding new, evasive incentive (*wink*) programs (aka, we're gonna pay you less no matter what you do). All this in spite of that sick spike in sales and profit because we'll be putting the money back into the company by hiring pricey, fumbling middle management that do the corporate tap dance superbly (to the untrained eye) and we will be investing in a monumental software package (whether it's more efficient or not) oh, and we're also getting two "company" cars, a Porsche for Boss 2, a Mercedes for Boss 1. (If you think this is hyperbole, ho ho ho, then you don't know brokers infected with greedy-guts broker syndrome.) We clink glasses. "Here's to 2007!" And more mad growth on the backs of you, exceptional workers! Bottoms up 'cause we might as well enjoy the blinging party and generous open bar.

I actually didn't know the exact bahumbug details of the company's new Corporate 101 changes until after the party; a couple days ago in fact. I've been nauseous ever since. I feel like a sucker. A trick that's taking a pay cut from her pimp.

The gluttonous call of broker money is intoxicating. I'm not going to lie. I've lounged around it for 15 years. I've run my fingers through its hair. I've condemned it plenty though many times I've secretly wished for more of the pie. Mostly, I wish I would just chew my leg free from the trap already. But any whiff of it makes me fiend a little; makes me panic when I remember living off of generic hot dogs and worn-out clothes and one pair of shoes for the year and fucking food stamps, and I regress to a less-enlightened Madness. Broker money is so manipulative that I forget my true self sometimes and this is when I feel most like a trick. The gushing siphon of ludicrously high-margin deals where scrappy hustlers -- who could just as well be scoring 20's from three-card monte on the subway -- find themselves with piles of money. It fuels the fire, the piles. If there's one pile, there must be a nest of piles lurking. There always is. Then spending the piles becomes sport. Throwing it around in the most ostentatious ways is a must on a broker's profile. But then they pull the purse strings at the most perplexing times. A hustler wants to be known for the things that their piles can buy; they want to be known for their erratic and over-the-top generosity. It's like they throw wads of 100's in the air and we suckas scramble on the floor to retrieve them, but a raise to cover practical cost of living increases is a greedy request on our part. Deep inside a hustler is always thinking that someone's out to hustle their pile. Control the pile, no matter how illogically, and control the people hovering around the pile. This is the driving logic.

So, the party . . .Brokers know how to rage, even if they are the machine. They don't worry about how embarrassed they'll be in the morning or about the bruises their antics will leave. They are only concerned about the full-tilt satisfaction of the exact moment. And that makes for a good party.

It's not a broker party until the following things have happened:
* Someone has fallen
* Someone has caused another person to fall
* We've crashed a large corporate party being held at the same hotel at the same time
* We've taken musical instruments off the stage of the crashed party and played them until they are taken away from us
* We've taken other peoples clothing and/or hats and paraded around in it for at least a half hour.
* We've torn clothing
* Hit on another person's wife
* Someone's thrown up
* We've danced the patented back-bend, raise-the-roof, bite-the-bottom-lip dance
* Given away expensive, electronic gifts in our annual Steal the Best Present from the Little Guy Game
* We've complained about every aspect of the party
* We've put underwear on our heads

I might've missed a few.

During the Steal A Present Game, the brand new CFO (the paint isn't dry on his office walls yet) stole the prized XBox from an employee that has worked at the company since the beginning. My girl Teri was appalled that an officer of the company, that's only been with us a week, would take the best present from a veteran no less, while, sadly and classically, the rest of us thought, Nice move, rich New Guy. Portable DVD's were swiped and the finest digital cameras and iPod stations. I happened to open (see above) a hot dog griller fashioned into a mini carnival cart. I got the mini Weenie Cart with Bun Warmer covered in a red and white striped canopy. YAH! Everyone nearly fell on the floor at the irony; no one likes to smoosh my veganism in my face more than Orange County brokers. Oh they howled (though it was pretty funny, especially the look of horror on my face when the wrapping came off). Every TofuDog joke in the world spewed my way. Pats on the back went to my husband congratulating him on maybe finally getting some meat in the house. Deadpan, I said, "awesome." Then in an act of kind, anti-brokerism, Teri stole the hot dog griller from me so that I could choose another present. Bless you, T. I then picked an iPod Shuffle and I squealed with bamboozled, drunk-on-broker-fatness-again joy. I am a sorry-ass sucka.

Here are some party pictures as I contemplate my sobering review that's coming next Tuesday. This is when my cuts will be made official and when I may have to draw a line in the sand between the brokers and the real Madness.

Raise the roof, Ma!

Take it, Trick

Not his coat

Not his wife

The beautiful Ma and I winding down. I noticed I was doing that security-blanket thing with my thumb.

Whatever happens, I'll always have him. 'Til the wheels fall off, Papi.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Self Portrait - Red Altar to Madness the Athlete

I am an athlete though this desciption has faded to a blur over the years. I'm disappointed that I haven't honored it enough. If being an athlete has saved my life a few times over, it seems like I should build a gigantic altar to my athleticism -- no matter how waning -- and light candles nightly and chant chants and bring fresh cut flowers in thanks. Or at the very least, get my ass moving.

I took up running. And I've been circuiting the Adelaide Stairs. And I've started a grueling core regime. I just became tired of putting off my big fantasized Return to Athleticism so one October morning before sunrise I just laced up my shoes and went. I walked some blocks and I ran some blocks until one morning I could run the whole thing. Then I added some blocks. On the stairs too, I've slowly added sets. It's been really hard. Almost discouragingly so. The hill is so steep after a long amount of time, as I get older, and I've wondered a few times why this is important. But it just is. I just want to take the athlete off the side-lines.

More red self portraits here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Madness & 6am Sitting in a Tree

I have a big crush on the 6am hour. Today during my drive to the train station, I bent with the highway's curve blasting los grand exitos de Sonora Carruseles and I witnessed the downtown buildings lit up by a cantaloupe sun, the Hollywood hills a muted rose. I love curving into the city skyline at that hour. Yesterday, during the same time, I took a run a few blocks north of my apartment where all the bougie houses grow: Brick tudors in XL, gorgeous rich brown craftmans with tremendous porches and California spanish spreads with arched and tiled doorways. Externally, I think the houses are a wasted allocation of huge sums of money that could be used in global and compassionate ways. But sometimes, deep inside, I think, Damn. Especially about the ones with the black doors. Or the red doors. Or the green doors. I love the green doors! And especially when they are dressed with mammoth wreaths of interesting leaf design, like eucalyptus and holly. Along the blocks where I run, some houses are left lit till morning with white holiday lights that lace the grounds and trace the doors and windows. Huge christmas trees remain aglow in the front bay windows; windows that have waited all year to frame a 10 foot Noble that is professionally and perfectly and monochromatically decorated. Yesterday, in the dawning 6am hour, I smelled vanilla waffles through the neighborhood and for the remainder of the block, I did a little skip instead of my attempted athletic stride.

I have a bad case of holiday spirit. I almost pinned a broach to myself that plays tinny carols when you pull a cord. Maybe I'll wear a santa hat on the train. Maybe I'll make dozens of PB&J sandwiches and fold them up in wax paper and pass them out to every homeless person I see. Then I'll wait to get at yelled at for my shoddy, seasonal charity.

A couple months ago, a homeless guy asked for some money near Union Station. I had none, but I offered him a sandwich that I had packed myself. He said, "Sure." When I walked away I thought, "Holy shit. How mad is he gonna be when he bites into a Tofurkey bologna on sprouted bread?"

Today is the anniversary of my Mama's death. My mother mentioned it while she was here a couple weeks ago because she is being deposed today for her divorce. She said to me, like I was a cashier at Trader Joes engaging in friendly conversation, "I have a deposition on December 7th. That's the day my mother died." She says that every year, "Today is the day my mother died." Like I didn't know her or like I don't remember the exact day -- the very hour -- that she died.

I'm really prepping myself for my fortieth birthday, which is coming soon. Only eight months and sixteen days away. 40 has become The Milestone Year in My Imagination. I've pumped it up to be beyond epiphanic. In my mind it will be emanicipatory, and I'm not even sure in what ways it will be or how exactly I'll pull that off. The sobering vanity of turning 40 is one thing, but mainly I feel this urge to expedite passions and only do things that make a contribution. It feels so important. Only half of life is left, maybe, and I'm now really afraid of wasting time. In the morning's early hours, I feel all is possible. I ludicrously plan to sleep less so I can make it all possible though by day's end I'm exhausted. I feel defeated, wondering if I had wasted any time.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


December's theme at Self Portrait Challenge is Red.

I don't wear much red in the way of the major clothing groups: shirts, pants, dresses. Some are Red People. I am not, in dress or personality. But I ain't living life without splashes of red, in the home, in art, in dress and personality.

I've owned three red cars in my life. My favorite was a 1980 burgundy Cadillac De Ville with 159,000 miles on it that my step grandfather sold to me for $1.00. We called it the Merlot Brougham ("Bro-Ham"), from the movie The Great White Hype, and it drove like an ocean liner on well-oiled wheels. I loved especially the thin, hulahoop steering wheel with the finger grooves that swung into a turn with the smooth rotation of the palm of one hand. I loved the clunky clicks of throwing it into park, the gear shift behind the wheel. I loved the metalic dirt smell of the torn, maroon interior. I loved how the trunk could house a family of four and I loved how the dash displayed tall green digital numbers that even a blind driver could see. When Mina was born, I refused to drive our newer car because I felt safe and old-school stylin when driving the Caddie. Also, it had no air bags so I could keep Mina in the front with me instead of having her stare off into abandonment in the back seat. We eventually -- near begrudgingly -- donated the Merlot Broug-ham to the Make a Wish Foundation.

I owned a red Honda Elite 150 scooter when I was 20. I drove it rocking minidresses and a huge, brown helmet. Illegally, I drove it on the freeway weekly and prayed for my life every time a truck passed, shaking the scooter like a reed. And once I moved from one apartment to another loading all of my possessions on the scooter making the move in 2 trips. The shit I could do with a bungee cord back then was close to genius. Paintings, bags of clothes, lamps, baskets, pots & pans, small appliances all on the red bike.

I do not like to get angry. In fact, I have spent a lot of internal energy tempering my mood. It doesn’t even take much effort any more to remain even-keeled. It just doesn't make sense to me to get all worked up about things. Messing with my kids, obviously, will boil my blood. That and, embarrassingly, I get really angry if a waiter or salesperson or cashier SIGHS when I ask them a question. There have been a couple times where my face has instantly flushed from such an exchange, and I have swiveled my head and asked them, "Did I ask you to work here?" See? Embarrassing, but I can't help that my vision is washed in red after the release of a rude worker's sigh in my direction.

I experience the female equivalent of a wet dream about once a month. I wake in a jolt at the pinnacle of climax without touch or provocation. It's red hot.