Monday, May 14, 2012

Gettin' it up and keepin' it up... why?

Shame on you you dirty minded lil' blog reader, for thinking what you're thinking!  This blog is about doing cakes, how I got into it and why we're crazy enough to keep doing it!  It's my honest story and
my views on the industry and what I've learned about life from my travels in it!. 

     As some of you know I got into cakes by accident.  My Mother is a renowned decorator and many years ago after moving closer to home in KC,  I started helping her do cakes when she got busy.  I don't know why she called on me to do it, but many a friday night was spent in the basement of my childhood home making cakes.  I liked it but mostly it was yet another attempt to make my mother happy.  I did every sort of cake, and even though I was a novice, I don't mind saying I had a knack for it, and very soon we had more and more orders for the style of work I prefered.  Maybe it was purely coincidence, or maybe it was that people were seeing and in turn wanting my work, either way I was spending more and more time after my day job as a mechanic, in KC working on cakes sometimes all night.
       My Mother had won the Oklahoma Sugar Arts Show in Tulsa Oklahoma several times, and one friday as she was finishing up the work on her showpiece, I decided to bust out a cake that had been rolling around in my head for a few days.  That evening I made a 1950 ford woody wagon, with a surf board and cake on top, and the next morning we were off to Oklahoma.  I hadn't had any interest in the competition at all at that point, but rather only in making something I wanted to make and since I was going to the show (I think it was my first time there)  I figured I might as well bring something...

      That silly little cake got an unimaginable amount of attention and was part of the reason why TLC contacted my mother and I to audition for Cake Off.  Originally when we were making the video the intent was for it to be her audition video for the show.  They had asked us to do the video together, and it turned out that I was the one that producers had chosen to be the lead, I'm not real sure this sat well with my mother as she had always been the one people came to and maybe I'm wrong but it seemed to hurt her ego a bit that I had been asked to lead.   I was proud to have been asked but even more surprised by the reality of shooting a reality TV show and the strain it can put on people and relationships...  The first episode was a pirate show and my plan was to create something that a man who truely believed himself to be a pirate, would appreciate.  I didn't want to do a childlike version, but more of an off scale model type of cake.  With the aid of my mother and my sister Tammy's amazing character modeling skills (which we practiced only briefly before we went to the shoot) we won.  At the time the deciding vote was the clients.  This made it easier in my mind to plan. 
       The second episode was a dog show.  And it was in planning for this that tensions between myself and my family got tougher.  I was having a really rough time in my personal life and working on the show with my sisters and mother was tricky as they didn't feel like I was really doing enough.  It's easy to see actually how they could feel this way as they weren't used to working with me (My sisters didn't work in cake at all at the time)  My style is pretty frustrating to those who don't understand it.  My brain is a wierd cross wired silly little place...  My head is full of dozens and sometimes hundreds of tv or movie screens.  I can go through the process of creating things, like cake, countless times in my head before I ever take action.  Even during taping, when you're asked to perform as you decorate, I can play a version of the goings on in my head.  I can even fast forward a bit and try to anticipate what's going to be asked, or what's going to happen (no I don't think I can see the future...  but I knew you were going to think that!)  It gives me a bit of breathing room when I'm put on the spot and must speak or act.  (It's also confusing as hell!)  So, as I was planning and doing my best to try to live up to my own standards and still trying not to let my sisters and mother down, my apparent lack of action irritated them! 
       When we were asked to come back and do a third show, things really came to a head.   They had already voiced thier opinion that I was not taking it seriously, and even went so far as to claim that I was taking too much credit for the previous success we had.  Things had become increasingly dark at home and when they felt I wasn't doing enough they tried to take over.  As I had said before I had done that third show dozens of times already in my mind...  One of the toughest things was we didn't know who the client was or their style.  So in my head I had devised a series of ways of customizing the design to please the unknown client.  The design was a sand castle, part of the design included spires with sharply pointed cone roofs...Partly because I didn't like to do too much work before taping, and partly because I had planned to use the roofs as a point of customization  I felt we could choose the color or design on set to suit the client, and we ended up doing so during the show as part of the client twist ! At the time I had gone against what my sisters and mother wanted and refused to finish them here, before heading to California.   I remember being in the car on my way to get supplies, when my dad called and told me they were fed up and had decided that my design was to complex and they had chosen to get the spires done now and I'd just have to accept it.  I called them, admittedly upset, and told them to stop, and that even though they didn't understand it I had a plan.  It wasn't 15 minutes later that I recieved another call from Dad in which he explained that they had told him to call me and tell me they quit.  My sister was already heading home and my mother was steaming mad.  They felt that they needed to teach me a lesson, and I guess this was their decided plan of action... less than a week before we had to leave to film the episode.

          As anyone who's seen the final episode knows, I had a new team for the shoot.  My friend Michelle agree'd immediately and she recruited Karen, who I met for the first time at the airport!  Jamaica was brought in by the network to finish up the quartet.  We met as a complete team for the first time in the lobby of the hotel at a small table in the lounge.  I only had pictures of the structure as the supplies hadn't even arrived from the shipping company, and since the events delayed me a bit they wouldn't arrive until half way through the move in day on set!    Using only the pictures I had taken and my explination of how it was all to work, we devised our plan and without any real problems we finished early and my team performed as if we had rehearsed it a million times!   I seldom had to turn my head to explain anything, or check up on their work (well, unless the production crew asked me to in order to build their story)  It was awesome and I was very proud of them all, yet it was bittersweet, as I really felt like my own family was almost pulling for me to loose.  So I'd learn my lesson...  Additionally the production staff used the situation to their advantage and some tense moments happened on set.

     After all the shows were done it was right back to work.  It's not the life changing event many people feel it is.  I can thank my appearances for much of what I get to do now, traveling and teaching, but in the following year and a half things got worse and worse, and the differences between my mother and I grew too great, until litterally in one day it ended...   I've heard all sorts of stories about what happened from all sorts of places, but none of the stories are accurate, to any valuable degree.   I'm not going to explain that part, or share the details of the split, it serves no purpose in this story, but I will share what I learned from all of this... 

    I never wanted to be a cake decorator...  Many days I still don't, I got started because no matter how old you are, or how many times you seem to fail at the task, we all want to please our parents.  The only way I could think of was to try and help as best I could.  This story isn't even about cake, it's about realizing that sometimes things happen and all one can do is learn from it and move on.  I learned that on any given day, I can really only do the things that make me happy.  The best way to make myself happy is to do the things that feel right to me.  Some of the things are easy, some are hard, but only by being true to what I feel inside of me can I then turn that energy outward and share it with those I love.   It doesn't feel right to me to be looked to as I often am because of a silly TV show, yet if it is to happen what feels right to me is to show the same kind of love and energy with whoever it is that honors me in that way.  I have been so lucky to have met so many people, all of them so full of love (I can't think of a better word) and so happy to share it with me.  The more I feel it the more I want to share it and build upon it. I have the truely wonderful people around me now to thank for that!(you all know who you are!)  I've found that eventually I had to forgive myself for the things I couldn't do, the people I couldn't satisfy and focus on the positive! 

          So...  Why CAKE?  I can't say that as a career, the act of making cakes is a good one.  seldom do I make enough to really justify the hard work and even keep bills paid.  The hours are long and the stress levels are high.  There's always a deadline and then even after the cake is complete there's the worry about an unhappy customer. (I'm starting to see a trend here...  I think maybe I have a need to please).  like so many cake people ( and other professions too)  I pour myself into my work.  It's a sort of expression for me and sometimes I even feel guilty charging for it, but when you're asked to create something for an event, or person that inspires them, that brings joy and happiness, it brings the same energy to me...  It feels right and even if just in a small way, I've shared that energy with that person or group andI feel lucky.  I feel like payment was recieved.
       I get to travel and meet so many excited faces.  Even a silly thing like a competition, when the viewers are allowed on stage to watch me work, or in a class when I get to share my techniques for doing my work, it's hard for me not to want to stop and chat, and meet them.  The single greatest thing I learned from my experiences in the world of cake is that we're all in this together.  Cake is by it's nature a thing that makes people happy...  Being a person who makes them means that I get to share in that happiness with them.   Many a day do I dread having to make yet another cake, but never will I get tired of the great people I meet because of it!
        Thank you cake for that.

Peace N Love Friends!

1 comment:

  1. Your cake was a huge hit at the Washburn law school graduation bbq on Sunday!
    I've had the immense honor and pleasure to work with you pretty closely on the KC Cakefest this year. I have rarely seen in anyone the passion, dedication and drive you put into everything you do. When Mike Elder is finished with a project there is nothing left on the table. It is all in. I love your cakes, and I admire your passion. It is my sincere privilege to have had the opportunity to work with you.