The Final Cake

Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes
the outmost—and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of
the Last Judgment.


Dayum! I just realized that the title of today’s post might lead you to believe that I’ve baked my last cake. Not to worry. I haven’t. I mean, after all, I’ve been stacking cakes for layers on end, and I have cakes to bake before I sleep and cakes to bake before I sleep. (Frost and I have our own thing going.)

Let me count the cakes. (Barrett–Elizabeth, not Robert–and I have our own thing going, too.) I’m thinking something like around the world in 80 cakes. (Well, dayum again. It looks as if movies and I have our own thing going. Maybe I have my own thing going with everything. No doubt. I do.)

But imagine that. Baking 80 cakes from around the world. Well. I have never, not yet at any rate. But I wonder: will I be the first? BRB.

Well, triple dayum. Every time that I have a brilliant idea, someone goes and steals it from me–right here in plain sight for everyone to see–and manages to get away with it years before I even manage to speak up and declare it in my post.

Yep. You read it right. Famed pastry chef Claire Clark has already done it: 80 Cakes from Around the World. 6 continents, 52 countries. What adventures. What delights.

OMG! I just had another brilliant idea! Forget my idea of around the world in 80 cakes. Well, actually, we can’t forget it, can we? It’s published as a book already, enjoying life everlasting to its fullest.

Fine. Since Clark’s book focuses on countries, here’s another idea. I will remove that which defines countries as countries. I’ll take away all the borders. Is that a stroke of genius or what? Then I can bake what I want to bake and not be boxed in. BRB. I have to go Google.

Well. Dayum nearly flew out of my mouth again, but I’m getting tired of saying dayum because I’ve said dayum three times already. So, dammit. I Googled, and, once again, someone stole my idea even before I had a chance to speak up and declare it here in my post.

Yep. You read it right. Jennifer Rao has poured the batter already and is baking it up as eBooks. Cakes without Borders. Volume 1: The Maiden Voyage. And she’s added another layer. Cakes without Borders Volume 2: The Journey Continues.

Fine. No problem. Since the baking borders are gone, let’s call it like it is. One World. How’s that for a simple-syrup solution? I’ll bake up One World Cakes. Forget cakes without borders. BRB. I have to go Google again.

Well, as I live and breathe. I have been duped again. What I found was not a perfect match, but it was close enough in spirit and intent that my conscience would never ever let me move ahead with what I know would become my One World Cakes empire. I can’t because Oksana Greer started her One World Cafe in 2007.

Well, I’ve gotten over the repeated theft of my ideas before I even had the chance to speak up and declare them, but now “one world” is floating around in my head. We are, you know, One World. More and more every day. One world.

But if you had asked me when peopled started talking about one world and the heightened responsibilities that we face as one world, I would have credited Pearl S. Buck, who alluded to one world in her 1950s essay “Roll Away the Stone,” contributed to NPR as part of its “This I Believe” program:

I take heart in a promising fact that the world contains food supplies sufficient for the entire earth population. Our knowledge of medical science is already sufficient to improve the health of the whole human race. Our resources and education, if administered on a world scale, can lift the intelligence of the race. All that remains is to discover how to administer upon a world scale, the benefits which some of us already have. In other words, to return to my simile, the stone must be rolled away.

But I’m glad that you didn’t ask, because I would have been wrong. Buck was not the first. Credit for the first use of one world goes all the way back to 1919:

The English idealists have followed Hegel rather than Fichte … in striving for a one-world theory, for seeing ideal values realized in the actual (Political Science Quarterly, 34: 610).

Gracious me. Have I gotten side stacked or what? If I keep this up, my post might well compete with a Smith Island Cake. Please tell me that you know about this famous cake from Smith Island, Maryland. Say whaaaat? You don’t. Well, let me take just another crumb or two to bring you into the cake know. The Smith Island Cake has been honored a mighty stack of times for the defining role that it has played in American culture. It is a super-sweet confection, consisting of at least seven thin layers with cooked fudge icing between the layers and on top. The side of the cake is often left unfrosted. (I made one once with 15 layers. Talk about a show-stopper.) Give yourself the baking challenge. Here’s Mrs. Kitching’s Original Smith Island Cake. Or, if you prefer, buy one online: Smith Island Baking Company.

Enough of Smith Island Cakes. Enough of one world and one world cakes. Enough of cakes without borders. Enough of around the world in 80 cakes. Enough of my nonsense.

It suits me just fine to let it all go. Enough is enough is enough. Besides, those who know me well know that I have baked the good bake and that I will continue to do so (The Bible and I have our own thing going, too.)

I suppose, then, that the best thing for me to do is stop salivating over the gazillion cakes that I have yet to bake and start putting the frosting on the final cake that I baked, the one that got me going with this post.

Let me tell you all about it. I promise: I’ll make it no more than a three-layer cake.

During my twenty-three years at Laurel Ridge Community College (formerly Lord Fairfax Community College), I always baked cakes for my classes, especially my Creative Writing classes. They were smaller than my other classes. Plus, I usually met with Creative Writing classes on Fridays. Bringing cake seemed perfect for a three-hour class like that.

Baking for my classes became a standard. If it was a Kendrick class, there would be Kendrick cakes. Word traveled fast. Once I walked into class on the first day and discovered that one of my students had written on the board:

We heard there would be cake.

Is that sweet or what?

I continued baking for my students throughout my teaching career, all the way through Fall 2022, my final semester as a full-time professor at Laurel Ridge. However, that semester I treated my students, week by week, to various types of sourdough muffins.

As I prepared for our final class–which turned out to be my final class, too–I had in mind my usual: celebrate my students and their writing successes.

Muffins didn’t do it for me. It just had to be a cake. I had many of my favorites lined up as possibilities, but it seemed to me that my students should get to choose.

So, for our final class, I’m baking a cake to celebrate. And here’s the deal. You get to decide what kind of cake. What would you like? Just name it. You’ll get it.

Silence fell over the very same room that I sometimes thought could never be silent.

But I learned decades ago that the best way of breaking classroom silence is to remain silent.

It always works. After a minute of silence that felt as long as a semester, one student spoke up:

German Chocolate.

Robbie, thank you very much. German Chocolate it shall be.

I was silent for a moment, pondering why Robbie was the only one bold enough to speak up and declare a preference. The others sat there as if they could not speak. The others sat there, as if they had no preferences whatsoever. I knew otherwise and started laughing a little, as I started asking why no one else spoke up. Typical responses followed:

Social anxiety

Didn’t know what others might think.

Fear of being wrong.

(Hello. How can you go wrong with cake?)

Wanted to hear what others had to say.

But here’s the thing, and it’s rather ironic. When I walked into class and asked my students what kind of celebratory cake they would like, I stood there before them ready to honor whatever they wanted.

It could have been my 15-layer Smith Island Cake. It could have been a Lady Fingers Cake–Торт “Дамские Пальчики”–from One World Cake. It could have been a Bolo de Fuba from Cake without Borders. It could have been the scandelicious Carrot Cake from 80 Cakes from Around the World. It could have been whatever their taste buds desired to taste, whatever their minds dreamt to dream.

With greater irony, they could have had more than one cake. I stood there before them ready to honor whatever they wanted.

But only one student spoke up. One lone voice prevailed. German Chocolate.

I didn’t want to turn the situation into a lecture, yet I felt that I had a responsibility to seize this moment and make it a sweet learning one.

In a flash, I thought of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance.” With greater speed, I found the essay on the Internet, projected it on the screen for my students to see, and read the following passage:

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost—and our first thought is rendered back to us by the trumpets of the Last Judgment. Familiar as the voice of the mind is to each, the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men, but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this.

When we met the next week, my students were majorly impressed by my show-stopper German Chocolate Cake. Three 9-inch layers of light chocolate cake. Coconut-pecan frosting slathered between the layers, all around the sides, and on the top. Delightfully sticky. Delightfully sweet. Delightfully decadent

When the final class ended, Robbie left–cake carrier in hand, delighted to be taking home what remained of the final cake, his own sweet indulgence to share as he saw fit.

I like to believe, however, that everyone left class that day with an even sweeter realization that might serve them for a lifetime if they will only listen: the influential power of a lone voice surrounded by silence.