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Thirteen Cakes
by Monica O'Connell

Hydrangea and Monstera Cake.JPG

I want to hold black women’s kitchen-centered care as a project for thought. To think it and re-member it as a web of practices and knowings that weaves its threads, perhaps through at times, but beyond the enclosed, imperialist histories of the “domestic.” Thirteen Cakes is ultimately about the ways  we metabolize grief through the deep hospitality of cake service.


As a baker and a thinker, I continue to be moved, humbled, surprised, in awe of the ever-constant worlding * work that is taken up by black women in kitchens and at tables. We weave new stories and web connections outward through family and oscillating but ever-expanding understandings of community, inward, at the hearths of our own souls while sitting quietly with wounds, repairs, and across generations; ahead, behind, ahead, behind. 


This project considers cakes as black texts. They are for thinking and feeling—sensing—through. They are themselves thinking practices and making practices. Teaching practices and I would argue, spiritual practices. They leave ephemeral but material traces of how we love and pay special attention, our modes of hospitality, conceptions of sweetness, our sense of occasion, of aesthetics, connection to the market and to the earth. The cakes reference and record, often for only a few delicious moments, a rich ecology of practices and ways of being.


They also provide us the opportunity to connect, celebrate, and sit with. Baking must occur within the confines of chronos: measuring, counting, weighing are necessities here. But cake service is suspended time, the divine, deep time of chiros (kairos). The cake service opens space in which we can practice expansive vulnerability, grief-sitting, witness-bearing and active listening. 


My hope is that over the course of its project life, Thirteen Cakes continues to unfurl—into images, workshops, events, even, possibly short theater pieces—But it currently lives in my mind (and laptop) as a set of essays. Six, are conceived as magical fabulation in scholarly mode. An ancestor bakes cakes to nourish migrating hummingbirds. I compost my own grief in active imagination with a young Edna Lewis on her family farm in Freetown. Choreography and industrial design help re-member the recipes a grandmother never wrote down. Mycorrhizal networks and Fred Moten’s idea of the undercommons help imagine new modes of underground hospitality that continue in the tradition of Georgia Gilmore’s Club from Nowhere. 


Another six essays/cakes would each document a process and practice that engenders curiosity and wonder around the potential of the Cake Service. I sit with someone processing grief, or who has/is experiencing “a loss.” We practice the values of cake service together: openness, vulnerability, willingness to know and sit with what you do not want to know on the one hand and active listening, openness, and witness-bearing on the other. I make a cake for the griever in response to our conversation and shared experience and hold cake service. These essays are about the process and any insights gleaned.


The final cake/essay is unknown to me at this time. I imagine the twelve essays as using models of  tangle webs, circular patterns (spheres of action?), and portals to work against the myth of linear healing as a solitary venture. I imagine them exploring grief as a way to connect and as a political register. My guess is the thirteenth cake will speak to the healing our work has made possible.

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