Today, I attempted, for the first time ever, to make something a bit more complicated than usual: Japanese cheesecake. And you know what happened? IT WAS A COMPLETE DISASTER! It was seriously like those fail videos. Everything looked fine up until I upended the pan onto my plate. The top of the cake looked golden brown, like it was supposed to. Then it hit the plate, and the entire “cheesecake” (read: more like a pan-ful of batter) went splat. I removed the parchment paper from the sides, and 1/4 of the cheesecake came with it.
At first, I just stood there in shock. Never in my life have I failed so badly at baking ANYTHING. Then again, never in my life have I tried to bake anything harder than chocolate cinnamon-swirl bread. I tasted a bit of it and immediately concluded 3 things: 1) I need to buy an oven thermometer and check the actual temperature of my oven, ’cause while it seems to bake lasagna and cookies just fine, I had to add on time for the cinnamon-swirl bread last time (although it was only about 10 minutes more than advised), and although I followed the instructions for baking EXACTLY, it was clearly undercooked. 2) Even though the recipe said “whip until soft peaks form”, the picture clearly showed stiffer peaks, so I should have kept on whipping instead of stopping as soon as I saw peaks forming in my egg whites. And 3) I need to remember to leave my cream cheese out so it’s room temperature next time, and I should probably try to use more cream cheese, ’cause this cheesecake/batter was kind of too sweet, and there was no cream cheese taste anywhere.
Overall, this was such a failure that I started laughing out loud in disbelief and from pure amusement. I can’t WAIT to try this again. Sure, I wasted an entire tray of eggs, almost a whole stick of butter, half a stick of cream cheese, and other random ingredients (like sugar), but I haven’t felt so exhilarated in so long. I felt like I was laughing at the mundane world, for lack of a better way to describe it. When was the last time I TRULY failed at something? I can’t even recall. Sure, there have been many small failures over the last few years, but nothing that registered as more than a little blip on my radar. I said during my interview for my current job that I’ve learned to fail and I’m not afraid of failure. And I wasn’t lying– I bounce back from rejection and failure pretty fast, generally. But my failures are failures that other people experience daily, too. “Normal” failures. I had my share of rejections when I was first trying to get full-day interviews to become an academic librarian. But I knew that my peers were experiencing similar rejections, so I didn’t mind. In my everyday work now, my emails get ignored by faculty, by other campus offices/partners, by students, etc., and while it bothers me, I know that others who hold the equivalent of my position at other institutions (and even my own colleagues) went through the same thing when they started and continue to go through the same thing when they’re trying to launch a new project or whatever. I guess you could call the failures I am 100% fine with living with comfortable failures.
This cheesecake incident? Not a “comfortable failure”, ’cause many people have tried this recipe before me and succeeded at it. New bakers, young bakers, other inexperienced bakers, etc., did just fine. But I failed at it. And it’s such a revelation for me. It’s like that moment in Mob Psycho 100 where Teru loses to Mob and is so shocked that 1) there is another esper out there, and that esper is better/stronger than he is, and 2) that he wasn’t excellent at something, despite not holding back on using his powers, that it changes his entire perspective on life and leads to a complete lifestyle change for the better. Now, I am not saying that I am used to being excellent at everything, ’cause that would be a lie, but I grew up being labeled as a “gifted and talented” child, and there are things that I’ve always been used to excelling at. I focus all my efforts on the things I’m good at and ignore the things I’m not naturally good at (and therefore don’t care about), like math, languages, sports, and cooking.
This past month, though… I turned 29, like I said in my previous post, I celebrated my birthday in a new state with new coworkers, I started exercising half an hour a day every day, I began teaching myself Japanese by painstakingly writing out characters over and over again in a notebook, the way I learned things when I was a little kid, and I started baking. Oh yeah, and I changed the way I teach to make it feel like less of a lecture and more of a “structured exploration of potential sources for research”. I am so out of my comfort zone right now, it’s not even funny. And yet I laugh whenever I think about it. I was watching Mob Psycho 100 last night, and it happened to be the episode where Reigen realizes it’s his birthday (I believe it was his 29th birthday), but he has no friends to celebrate it with and his life’s a mess. It really hit me then that I am now at the age where, if I were an anime character, I wouldn’t be the main character or one of the main characters’ sidekicks (those kids tend to be in their late teens or early 20s at most), but one of the “older/mentor generation”. So for example, other then Reigen, in FMA: Brotherhood, there’s Roy Mustang, who’s 28, and in Naruto, there’s Kakashi, who’s 27/31+, and in Attack On Titan, there’s Hange and Levi, who are late 20s/early 30s, and so on, so forth. I think I’ve been aware of that for a while, but it didn’t really register until last night. I was talking to my friend about it, and he’s in complete denial that we’re old now. He still identifies with the main characters/younger kids in anime/manga. But I think I identify more with the “adults” now. It suddenly makes more sense to me why these “older” characters who are supposed to have their shit together and be super responsible make questionable decisions and screw up all the time– they’re my age, and although I’m now a full-fledged adult, I’m still pretty young in the grand scheme of things, and I and everyone around me are really just trying our best and not always succeeding. This thought process also made me reexamine my own role in the lives of the students I work with. I’m old and somewhat experienced enough now to be there for these kids as the “adult figure” they can get support from and look up to. What a terrifying thought. That the world is passing into the hands of my generation. Or at least, is trying to be passed into our hands. It seems like the previous generations are holding on tightly for as long as they can. But they can’t stop the inevitable! Geez, am I ready to finally grow up? Probably not, but I’ll keep forging ahead like I always do. Fingers crossed!