Thursday, September 1, 2011

Cupcakes and the Fate of Fiction, in which I probe writers’ block and the artistic significance of snack food

Back when I was thin and in college and trying to figure out the mysteries of the human psyche -- which lately I’ve taken to just watching with my mouth hanging open –- I came upon the secret key that would unlock my creativity for years to come.

In a word: cupcakes. Literal cupcakes, not metaphorical ones, with frosting and multi-colored sprinkles.

You know you want one. 

The bearer of the secret key was one Stanley Schachter, Ph.D., a mid-20th century psychologist, who discovered The Obese Personality. Which I discovered I had.

I was not even slightly chubby at the time. I had not yet spent my junior year in England huddled on top of a grossly inadequate cube-shaped radiator trying to keep warm and gobbling up bag after cellophane bag of McVitties chocolate covered biscuits (which aren’t even that great) in the absence of edible food from one end of the campus to the other.

No, it was my personality that was obese. According to Stanley. Who had done some fascinating experiments during which amply fed thin and fat people were stuck in a room, supposedly waiting for something that never happened, in the presence of yummy snack food.

Well-fed skinny people did not eat this yummy snack food due to the fact that they were full. Well-fed obese people, on the other hand, scarfed it down due to the fact that it was yummy. Also, when the experimenters fiddled with the waiting room clock, when it appeared to be mealtime even though it wasn’t, the obese people ate even more yummy stuff, whereas the skinny people didn’t because it was not, in fact, meal time.

Clearly, I was in the camp with the obese, yummy-snack eaters. I ate things simply because they were good. I craved yummy things with gooey frosting, mounds of sugared chocolate nestled in little, pleated paper skirts. Indeed, only a person with a deeply obese personality could possibly want a cupcake as much as I do.

Fortunately, we can sometimes make our flaws work for us.

As a writer who sometimes encounters frustration, horror, and a sense of stuck-ness, an unwillingness to crank out bad prose but an apparent, one hopes temporary, inability to write anything worth saving, I have realized that the unhealthy, cupcake- craving aspect of my obese personality is, in fact, an invaluable ally in the quest to produce prose.

Two more pages, I tell myself, even trashy, garbage-y, embarrassingly dreadful pages, and there’s a cupcake with your name on it.

After which I promptly crank out two terrible pages and race down to the kitchen. Because if you don’t crank out even bad pages, you don’t have a thing to work with. Which is why I’d feel very sorry for all those well-balanced writers with the skinny personalities if they weren’t so damned physically fit and sanctimonious.

They have writers’ block but I have cupcakes.


  1. My treat of choice these days is Trader Joe's toffee covered with dark chocolate and coated with pistachios. It's the protein that keeps me going, of course.

  2. Coated with pistachios? Coated with pistachios?!?!? No disloyalty to the cupcake intended, but Alison, I'm heading to Trader Joe.

  3. So there's a name for it! Obese personality. It's good to know in this world full of yumminess that I'm not alone. Pass the cupcakes, please.

  4. Obese personality - that is totally me! Today it is Pop Tarts - I know, gross, right? But they are comfort food when I'm tired.

  5. Jaye, I haven't had a Pop Tart in forever! I'm kind of fixated on things with gooey frosting. And Jody, leaving my house right now in the quest for said frosting (and its cupcake underpinnings). If only you were in LA, I would happily pass one along.

  6. I enjoy your treats, Ann. The writing AND the sweets.