FUNNY WOMEN #82: Apply Your Feelings of Professional Inadequacy to a Really Adorable Birthday Cake


In a perfect world, we would emerge from the womb clutching our CVs in our tiny, clenched palms. Our eyes wouldn’t yet be open, but still we’d be all, Here, look at how accomplished.

Womb, it would read. Managing Editor of Being Inside a Body.

Baby, it would say. Daily tasks include living, breathing, and becoming fucking alive.

Nine months old, and already we would have detailed lists of achievements: awards won, publications scored, the way we spent our time when we weren’t spending it acquiring life.

Experience: Nine months of stellar attendance.

Volunteer work: making you glowy as fuck. 

And all of it would be perfectly formatted, stylishly indented, the font so drop-dead gorgeous even Papyrus would be jealous. Not circles but diamonds for bullet points, because whether we want to admit it or not, diamonds make us feel like movie stars.

We’d be brand new but impressive. A nurse would wipe our bottom, cut our umbilical cord, and then she’d say, “Fuck.

Because who could compete with that?

Maybe if this was how I was born, I wouldn’t find myself turning 25 and yet unemployed, despite my 23 job applications, my five “emerging writer” fellowships, my three “visiting assistantship” positions, my four applications for a second MFA I don’t even want or need but maybe duality is what will make me stand out. Maybe publications—both sexy and unsexy—and volunteer work and that time I visited that class to talk about “art” just aren’t cutting it. What of my bachelor’s degree from my fine private liberal arts college that spent a million dollars on a catch-phrase? What of my “Graduated With Honors” in “Comparative English Literature” and “Writing Across The Genres?” What of my master’s degree, at a ripe 25? Why am I standing in line at Barnes & Nobles, waiting for an application, wondering if they will notice if I steal just one of those small organic truffles beside the register, the kind with the cacao nibs, and if that is ever okay, if the world maybe owes me this much by now?

What if first I was a baby with accomplishments in letterpress?

Would that change a thing?

In the meantime, I’m making plans. Next week I’ll turn 25 years and for some this would be a milestone, a marker, “a quarter of a century.” “Have a party,” someone said, and when I hear “party” I think “people,” and when I think “people” nowadays, I think, “Can I sell myself to you for anything over minimum wage?”

Because I will do that. I will so do that.

Maybe I am young, okay, but there are things that I still want: a dog and a house, for starters, and maybe okay also a child and a set of those white whicker rocking chairs from Cracker Barrel. You know the ones I mean?

And it gets worse every year. How am I going to afford the Big Top Cupcake Mold? How am I going to afford the linen placemats in ivory sandstone? How will I ever be able to afford the Williams Sonoma Beaba Babycook Food Maker if I do not have a job?

If, like me, you find yourself in a similar state this year—20-something or 30-something or Lord help us if you’re 50 because then there is no hope for any of us—you should do what I did. You should have a party. There are expectations on birthdays to celebrate and you can use them to your advantage.

First drive across town to that hulking ass Wal-Mart that stands alone in the middle of nowhere. Buy a box of cake mix and a tub of frosting and your favorite decorating tools—sprinkles and gels and a fuck ton of candles—and watch in amazement as it costs practically nothing. Then print your resume on an edible sticker. There are many websites that offer this service, and they will charge you $16.95, but you’re just going to have to tell yourself it’s worth it because this is how the system works. Money in means money out, and that Alabaster Ceramic Easter Eggs won’t buy themselves.

Next invite all of your friends and family members and colleagues and peers and every last man you’ve ever slept with because there’s a Boys’ Club and this is one way to get in. Tell everyone there will be an open bar. Disregard the guilt you feel knowing there will not be an open bar. Who can pay for that?

Not you, remember?

The day of your party, bake your birthday cake as normal, then transfer to a wire cooling rack. While you wait, apply your makeup and paint your nails. Apply first a base coat to each nail and then a protective coat and then, using a toothpick, polka dot with eight different colors because this is what you do now that you’re unemployed. This is a way to spend some time. Marvel at how pretty they look. How feminine. At least you are cute. At least when people look at you they don’t always run away.

Once the cake is cool, frost as usual using your tub of frosting. Never mind it doesn’t taste very good. You won’t be eating much of it anyway, and there’s not enough money this month to buy confectioner’s sugar and butter and vanilla extract, not even the artificial kind.

Adhere sticker to cake. Next, using a pipe bag, pipe balloons and flowers and clowns and whatever the hell you now how to pipe in bright, engaging gels. Add rainbow sprinkles. Add candles. Make that cake pretty as fuck.

Just before your guests arrive, put on a pantsuit, like that one you bought that one time for your interview at Columbia. Pin your hair in a bun. Don’t you look nice. Get a pencil in there, too, if you can. Employers like pencils in buns. It means you’re professional but fun. Apply dark lipstick. Apply eyeliner. Spray perfume. Spray air freshener.

As your guests arrive, take their coats and usher them into the kitchen. Give them some big long story about how the bar company couldn’t make it and you’re so embarrassed and let them compliment you and rub your shoulders. Exactly one hour and fifteen minutes into the party, light the candles and bring out the cake. Timing will ensure the party-poopers haven’t left yet but the stragglers have finally made it. As you carry cake to the table, do not make eye contact. Only if asked, insist there is nothing strange about this cake. Do not address your resume. Let the people come to you. Let them tell you that you are smart and accomplished, because you are, and let them suggest to you an opening in their company, because you deserve it, and as you lean down to blow out your candles, smile big, those brown eyes open, and wish to fuck for a solid 50k.

(Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on The Wag, the blog of Wag’s Revue. At time of Rumpus publication, I did not know this, and the submission guideline stating we accept no previously published work still stands. Everyone’s super sorry about the oversight, and please check out Wag’s Revue immediately.)


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Amy Butcher is the current nonfiction fellow at Colgate University and is a recent graduate of the University of Iowa's Nonfiction Writing Program. Her essays and stories have appeared recently in The Indiana Review, The Colorado Review, The North American Review, and McSweeney's, among others, and she lives and teaches in upstate New York, where she's at work on her first book. More from this author →