366. Postscript: On Embarrassment and Growing

More than 500 days later, I still don’t instinctively know how many “r”s there are in “embarrassment”.

Some things never change.

Past-Me embarrasses me. And that’s a good thing.

As fluid and as dynamic a piece of writing can be, it always falls short of reality, doesn’t it? No matter how many words you crank out, how many sentences you throw at your reader, how many scenes you commit to scene or paper, it all ends with that final full stop.

And that’s it. That’s the end. Like the margins of a photo, all you’ve really done is take an elaborate snapshot of a moment, or multiple moments that joins up to make a unified, bigger moment.

The thing is this: life goes on. Snapshots don’t.

I despise people who argue that a cop-out ending is valid or even admirable because “that’s how it is in real life”. I just don’t buy it. Friend, I’m committing hours of my life to peer into your imagination – and you’re telling me that the stuff in your imagination is exactly the same as what I can get out of my life? Get out!

As much as the creative process might like to think that it convincingly recreates life, it doesn’t. (But don’t quote me on that. Who knows? One day in the future it might.) It never will. A creative ending should be explosive. Satisfactory. Neat.

Real life isn’t.

In the last 365 posts – about 300 if you remove the works of fiction – I’ve tried my best to make snapshots of my life. Starting with the first word for the left side of the frame, ending with the last full stop for the right side. There we go: Nice. Neat. Tidy.

But life, as they say, went on.

Life doesn’t give two shits about the amazing punchline you just delivered. It’s not going to smash to black and roll credits, leaving the audience laughing and waiting for the next exciting installment. In the end, you finish your drink, pay your tab, and head home.

This is my last post on this space. Like a giant snapshot of my life spanning 500 days, it began on the left with the very first post… and here it ends. Bookended nicely for you. But who knows what’s going to happen after this?

Let me give you my prediction of the future: I’m going to write more stuff that’s going to embarrass/mortify Future-Me. Some of that shit is actually going to make it to publication, demonstrating that none of us really know what the hell we’re doing. And in turn, Future-Me is going to inflict some harsh, cruel embarrassment on Future-Future-Me.

It’s the circle of life, baby.

I think… I’ve learned a great deal in the last 500 days. You know. Patience. Perseverance. Dealing with rejection. Getting motivated. Finding inspiration. The works. No doubt there’s going to be a lot more for me to learn. One day I’m going to wonder who the hell made me think it was ever a good idea to start a blog – which will likely outlive me – in the first place.

(here’s looking at you, Vivian – you wonderful woman)

But all of that’s off-screen. Out of frame.

This is where the snapshot ends.

And like one of those old Mickey Mouse cartoon stingers, here’s me waving goodbye at the end of the picture. I know not what lies beyond the right of the frame, but I can speculate, right? We’re allowed at least that much as human beings.

I think it’s gonna be good.


It’s gonna be good.

365. Where The Road Ends

The last day of the year is a hell of a good day to wrap up your 365 project.

(I really took 519 days to get here; but give me a break, alright. It’s hard work cranking that many words out)

365 days. 500 words a day. That’s 182,500 words – probably the length of American Gods. Considering how some of the posts were much, much longer than the 500 minimum I placed on myself, I’d go out on a limb and say that the real number of words uploaded onto this space to be in the range of 200,000 – 220,000.


The last day of the year is also a hell of a good time to take a good, hard look back on the road and consider…

Consider what?

Consider the number of days that have passed? Or how, when I was slugging through the middle, I thought this damn thing was going to go on forever? Consider the milestones I’ve marked along the way? The successes – the disappointments – the days on which absolutely nothing of note happened?

Stuff happened. Yeah, I think that’s a good summary.

Over the last 519 days of this 365 project, stuff happened.

And I continued writing.

I think one of the important things I’ve come to realize is the need for patience. You know what I’m saying? I’m not going to go on one of those “In the age of instant things, we all want things yesterday” rants. But that’s what I learned: patience, indeed, is a virtue.

Whether it’s dressing a short story up or completing a 40,000 word novel (that’s Johann’s Fantastic Adventures Through TIme, which I am still working on, if you’d like to know), I have found that it’s almost always a bad idea to be overeager. Impatient. To be caught in the excitement of the moment, mistaking the heat for the spark of brilliance, and end up showing the world something half-baked. And it’s slowly deflating as the initial excitement escapes from it in hisses.

Impatience is what the older generation always fault the younger with, right? I’m reflecting upon my very first posts to this space, and I’m thinking of Past-Me… What an impatient little prick. Always rushing from one thing to the next.

I actually feel older now, 519 days later.

A little bit older. A little wiser. A little bit more patient with the world.

In many ways, I believe I have also matured with my writing. I have read more, experienced more… Learning to deal with disappointments and handling people. I’m definitely a lot better with rejection now that I was in July 2013. And yet, as a certain wizard in a tall grey hat would say… The road goes ever on and on.

I’m still young. 23 today. 24 tomorrow. Just beginning to scrape at a quarter of a century old. Even if I suddenly age 6 years, I will still be at the ripe young age of 30 – a good ripe age to begin doing something with me life. So I think I’m still good. 23 going on 24.

I have time.

I can wait.

364. Audiobooks

I’ve been listening to audiobooks lately. Since, er, my disappearance from this space.

One thing that I learned very quickly about the working life is that you don’t have time for shit anymore. Your job (plus travel to and fro) basically owns 3/4 of your waking hours. With the 1/4 that you have left, there isn’t a lot of things that you can do. You will have to start thinking about how you want to spend your time after work.

Watch TV? Play a computer game? Hang out with a friend? Work on a side project?

Choose carefully. You can only have one.

And on those particularly difficult days, you don’t get any of them at all. Because all you have left at the end of the day is energy enough to plop yourself into bed.

I was doing remarkable well for the first half of the year trying to overcome the Librarian Threshold. I was blazing through them books. Heck, I finished my reading of American Gods in 2 weeks! Talk about speed and dedication to boot!

But then work happened.

At first I thought I’d keep a book hanging around the office. All those extra time in between tasks aren’t gonna fill themselves, amirite?

But no. I found quickly that reading a novel while everyone else is working isn’t exactly upstanding work behavior.

(while I know that the eminent Mr. King – may he live ten thousand years – said that social correctness should be the least of the writer’s concerns, I’m afraid to say that I don’t have half the cojones to follow through with his advice. I remain to this day terribly afraid of what people might be thinking about me)

It was in this time of need that I discovered the wonders of audiobooks.

Where can I begin about the wonders of audiobooks?

Some people are of the opinion that having a book read word for word out loud to you is a tedious process. “I mean, just read the goshdarned book, amirite?” But think of it this way: every day, I spend an average of 2 hours on the road. There are better days, and there are worse days, but let’s stick to that nice, round number. 2 hours on the road each day.

The radio in my car is busted. It wasn’t always busted, but I have long since given up on trying to get it fixed. So that’s 2 hours on the road, from Monday to Friday, that I’m not doing anything but trying not to space out. 10 hours a week. 40 hours a month. Heck, that’s a full week’s worth of work hours right there! Multiply that by 52 weeks in a year and you get 2080 hours of trying not to space out!

And like every stereotypical chinaman, I must squeeze every last bit of goodness out of the things I have.

I was fortunate enough to start off my audiobook adventures with one of the finest works on the medium: Mr. Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, read by the man himself. Even more fortunate I was to continue that exhilarating ride with Mr. Hill’s Horns.

Five months down the road, these are the books and I have read thanks to the medium:

  • The Graveyard Book
  • Horns
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
  • Coraline
  • NOS4A2
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling
  • Charlotte’s Web
  • Gone Girl
  • The Martian

And the list keeps going on for as long as I have people willing to read books out loud.

If you are an author who allows/pushes your books to be converted into audiobooks, or if you’re an audiobook performer, or if you’re someone in or marginally related to the industry… From the bottom of my heart: Thank you all.

You make the 2080 hours spent on the road worth the while.

363. Four Months Later

Um. Hi.

I’m back.

I promise, I have a good reason for my mysterious disappearance four months ago.

See, in January I accidentally got myself into a job; which sucked at first, but turned out to be actually quite bearable towards the end – until I got university troubles and had to resign at the end of March.

I went through April without much event. But by the end of the month I realized that I have to find money somehow. You know, Stayin’ Alive. I had to get a job.

So from a contact I got from Sue, I got myself into a part-time copywriting job in May. It didn’t pay a lot, but with tight budgeting and copious amounts of potato, I managed to get through the next three months, in which I worked and studied on alternate days (but still had my weekends off).

Finally in August, I started working full time.

And nothing was ever the same again.

I guess I’ve underestimated the kind of energy a full time job takes out of you. It’s not tiredness, mind – it’s more like fatigue. After a day of sitting and staring at a screen, the last thing you want to do is to get back home to sit and stare at a screen.

(or at least that’s how I think it works)

And so the posting frequency on this blog space has suffered.

But I have been writing. Not as fiercely as I did in the first half of the year, but I have been writing. A little short story here, a little feature there, send a couple of them out to magazines, get an equal number of rejections back, curl up in bed and wait for the tears that won’t come because I’m a cold-hearted bastard… You know, the works.

But it hasn’t been all bad. I wrote a short story titled “The End of the World” that some people said some really nice things about, even if it did not make it to publication in the end. I wrote some scattered scenes for stories I intend to later expand into proper novels. I started writing poems for birthdays of friends, which was nice.

(because let’s be really honest here: what are they gonna say, that it’s a shit poem and they hate it? No! They are socially obligated to smile at my half-arsed attempt at wit and say some variation of “How nice!”. Check-and-mate, social correctness)

The highlight of the four months that I’ve been away, however, must be an email that came in from a certain Mr. Wallace on a dry October night. Short, succinct, it read:

Hi Joseph, I’d like to accept this submission for The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk.

I slapped myself a couple of times just to be sure I wasn’t dreaming.

The two and a half months following that mostly consisted of waiting between emails and responses; but earlier this week the first pass came in for the publisher, and there I saw my name nestled in with other fantastic writers of science fiction.

What can a writer do?

Smile like an idiot, stare at the email for minutes too long, then close the browser.

And then get right back to writing.

362. Monkeys and the Balance of Probabilities

The day finally came. Out of the monkey-typewriter room Arnold came, and tucked under his arm were two hundred typewritten pages. On the cover, printed in neat courier fonts, were the words KING LEAR BY WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.

He dumped it on Dr. Cobble’s table and left early that Friday, spending the weekend daydreaming of the things he would say in press conferences after he wins his Nobel Prize.

The news came in early Tuesday morning. Arnold went into Dr. Cobble’s office.

“Sit,” Dr. Cobble gestured to the sturdy leather chair in front of his desk. Arnold sat, barely containing his excitement. Leaned back in his head, Dr. Cobble seemed to study him.

“I received your folder,” Dr. Cobble said at last. “Interesting.”

Arnold grinned. “You read it. No?”

Dr. Cobble nodded. “So I did,” he said, tapping his finger on the brown paper folder on his desk. Then with one hand he pushed it back towards Arnold. “But I’m afraid it’s no good.”

Arnold’s face fell. “What… What do you mean, it’s no good?” he could feel something rising within him. It wasn’t quite anger, and neither was it despair, but something in between the two. “We did it right, didn’t we? Put the monkeys in the typewriter room and put them to work, and there you go. There we have the working proof of balance of probabilities! What do you mean it’s no good?”

Dr. Cobble shook his head. “Have you read through it?”

“Yes, I did. Checked every word.”

“Evidently, you did not check hard enough. Look at Act II.”

Arnold tore open the folder and flipped through the loose sheets.

“Scene Two,” Dr. Cobble added. “The conversation between Oswald and Kent. Line 1087.”

Arnold stared hard at the page. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. “A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meat,” he read. “A base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound…”

Dr. Cobble stopped him. “Before that,” he said. “After the knave and rascal bit.”

“An eater of broken meat?”

Dr. Cobble nodded.

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing a simple Google search wouldn’t tell you, Arnold. I expected better from you.”

Dr. Cobble turned his computer screen to face Arnold. There on an open source site, Arnold saw the words of Shakespeare in plain font. “A knave; a rascal; and eater of broken meats,” he read. He stopped and stared at Dr. Cobble, who was looking at him as though he should understand. He did not.

“So?” Arnold put his hands up.

“So?” Dr. Cobble returned an insulted look. “It’s all wrong, of course. Instead of “meats” that is in the Shakespearean text, your monkey wrote “meat” instead.”

“So it’s missing on “s”. Big deal.”

Dr. Cobble shook his head again. “You don’t understand, do you? This doesn’t work if even one letter is out of place – and now we see that at least one is.”

Now it was Arnold’s turn to look insulted. “And what about the other 99.99% that the monkey got right?” he said. “Doesn’t that count for something? Anything? So it made a typo – half the brilliant minds in this facility make a hundred times that number of typographical mistakes in a single day!”

“It’s no good,” Dr. Cobble insisted. “The scientific community–“

“The scientific community should be bloody amazed, that’s what they should be!” Arnold raised his voice. “The insignificance of one letter out of place–“

“Proves that the theory is still fallible,” Dr. Cobble interrupted. “It still does not prove that monkeys hitting keys on a typewriter at random is able to reproduce the works of Shakespeare.”

“But it’s damn close to it, isn’t it? The monkey even got the formatting right!”

“And yet it isn’t. The difference between the almost right version and the right version, Arnold…”

Arnold screamed something to the effect of “the almost right version cane go and —- itself”. “The wonder, dear doctor,” he said, “Is not that the monkey can type the works of Shakespeare, but that the monkey types legible words at all.”

Dr. Cobble returned an expression as hard as granite, saying nothing.

Arnold shoved the sheets back into the document and stood up. “I guess I’ll be taking my leave, doctor,” he said. “Goodbye.”

He left.

Only when the door was closed did Dr. Cobble allow himself to sigh in relief. He had expected Arnold to get much more worked up – to the point of violence, even. But it did not have to come to that, and he was thankful.

And then the door burst open, revealing a panicked research assistant.

“Dr. Cobble, you need to come quick,” she said. “Arnold is… loosing the test subjects.”

He could hear the sounds of shrieks echoing down the corridors. Not all of them were human shrieks. Linda grimaced, waiting for him to do something.

Dr. Cobble sighed.

“Call security,” he said. When Linda disappeared out of sight, he locked the door after her, then returned to his desk and buried his face in his hands.

361. To Fix A Light Bulb

Charlie thought he blinked. When it happened again, he blinked really hard a couple of times just to make sure it wasn’t his mind playing tricks on him. When he looked up, he saw the filament burning bright yellow inside the clear light bulb…

And then it went out.

He finished the rest of his double-glazed doughnut and wiped his fingers on the sleeve of his uniform before dialing a number.

“Yeah? Tony?” Charlie could still feel scattered doughnut crumbs in his mouth. “Light’s out in docs. Fix someone to have it looked at, will ya? Thanks.”

At the front desk, Tony put the phone down and sighed. So there goes his 5-hour streak of doing nothing. He might as well do something anyway. It was just one of those days that nothing seemed exciting enough to do, and nothing exciting happened at the same time.

The sound of the rain greeted him when he pushed the front door open. The mid-afternoon rain came rushing in with the strong winds outside. Tony shut the door and went back to his desk. Not today, he decided.

He called Andy.

Andy had been shadowing a lad named Gregory all week long. Suspecting the boy of dealing narcotics, they searched his car twice and house once in the past two months alone, but found nothing. Andy was sent to follow him to catch him in the middle of an incriminating act. There has been nothing so far.

The rain came after he had been waiting around the corner of Gregory’s house for forty-three minutes. And when the April showers came, they came in torrents. The world outside was a sea of melting grey. For all he knew, Gregory might have slipped right by his cruiser, and he would have been none the wiser. But when you had a job, you had a job.

His phone rang. It was Tony.


“Andy. Crazy rain, eh?”

Andy sighed. “This is the second time this week I’m getting doughnuts, mate. Look, I don’t mind popping by the store, but you guys have got to at least chip in-“

“No, no, no. Nothing of that sort. Well. Not doughnuts, at least. Charlie’s in the docs and the light went out or something. Strange thing, he hasn’t come out since. Think you could grab a couple spare bulbs on your way back? 50-watt, 60-watt, doesn’t matter.”

Some grumbling. “Fine,” Andy said. “But you pay for the next round of doughnuts.”

“Sure thing. And don’t forget the receipt.”

Andy killed the call. It was another two and a half hours before he could call it a day and report back. Surely Charlie had things he had to get done. Unless he was using the dead bulb as an excuse to weasel out of doing actual work.

He fumed at the thought. The bulb could not wait.

Laura was just done saving the laundry from the rain when her mobile rang.

“For crying out loud, Andy,” she said when she picked up the call. “It’s my off day.”

“I know. I know. But this is kinda urgent.”

“National emergency?”

“Well. No. But-“

“Good afternoon to you, then,” she said, then left the phone lying face-down on the tabletop without shutting the call.

The doorbell rang. She opened the door to find a tall lad standing there in a navy raincoat. He flashed a smile at her. He also flashed a handgun.

“Hello, ma’am,” Gregory said.

He made her sit down in her favorite chair, far from where her phone laid face-down on the tabletop. She prayed to God that Andy was, for whatever reason, still listening on the other end. Gregory pulled the hood of his raincoat back, revealing a rain-soaked tussle of orange hair.

“Listen to me,” he said. “I need your help.”

Around the corner from Gregory’s house, Andy scrolled through his list of contacts, wondering who he could call next. Laura had always been so cold, anyway. The sting of her last rejection when he asked her out for dinner hasn’t quite faded still.

A text came in from Tony.

“Hey buddy. Forgot you were on shadow duty. No worries, we’ll see if the rain lets up. If it does and I go get it, I’ll send you a message. Cheerios.”

He tried to look up at the sky through the windscreen. He could barely make out the outlines of the houses right in front of him. The rain didn’t look like it was going to let up any time soon.

“Ah, to hell with it,” Andy said to himself and started up the engine.

When the doors opened to the sound of the roaring rain, Tony was surprised to see Laura walking in.

“Just couldn’t stay away for long, huh?” he jested. Laura paid him no attention and went straight to the back. He shook his head. What was new?

At least he didn’t try and actually ask her out, like Andy did. He could still laugh at how brutally she turned him down, but mingled in his mirth was a sharp jab of melancholy. At least Andy tried, you know. He had the guts to approach Laura and spill the words out. Unlike some of us here.

Tony scrunched up his face and focused on resuming to do nothing.

“One… There we go,” Andy pressed the note onto the counter, then took the light bulb and left. The worst of the rain had passed, and the streets were brighter now without the dark clouds. The shower was still coming in steadily, however. He got back into the cruiser and started driving.

Charlie blinked in the sudden light. Had he been asleep? His groggy head said yes. His mouth opened to say no. He heard the clicking of the light switch, and then he heard Laura sigh.

“What happened to the lights?”

“Dunno,” he shrugged. “They went out.”

“And you didn’t think to fix it?”

“I did,” Charlie said. “It was the first thing I thought of, in fact.”

“Good to know.”

“I told Tony about it, and he said he’ll handle it.”

“Really?” Laura folded her arms. “Because Tony’s sitting right outside doing nothing.”

“He probably got someone else to do it. Say, aren’t you supposed to be off today?”

“Change of plans. Got a flashlight I can borrow?”

Tony was still melancholy when the doors opened and Andy stepped in. Andy placed the new bulb in front of him.

The two men stared at each other for a while, saying nothing.

“Well,” Andy said finally. “Back to work.”

And then he went out the door and into the pouring rain again.

When Laura pulled the file out of the cabinet and walked out the door, Charlie was sure that it was against regulations, but he could not say for sure. Laura definitely knew the regulations a lot better than him – who was he to tell her otherwise?

Laura’s exit was blocked off by Tony.

“I need to tell you something,” he said, breathing heavily.

“Not a good time,” she said, and then tried to step around him. He cut off her exit again.

“It’s rather important.”

“I’m sure it can wait.”

Tony drew a deep breath. “I’m in love with you, Laura,” he said. “Truly, madly, deeply. And you might think of me as a lazy, unattractive, good-for-nothing, and you will be right. But you inspire me. You make me want to be a better man. And I know this might not be what you wanted at all, seeing how you turned Andy down the last time, but with all the courage I have, these are things that I must say, and – is that a suspect file?”

Laura clouted him hard on the side of his head, and he dropped to the floor, out cold.

Instead of heading back to haunt Gregory’s house corner, Andy decided to drive over to Laura’s place. His expression of surprise was only matched by Gregory’s when he pressed the doorbell and the lad answered the door with a gun in hand.

There was no time to think. Andy tackled Gregory before he could move.

There were gunshots, like the sound of hammers striking wood in a small room.

When Laura pulled her car up and found her front door open, she knew that something was terribly wrong. Instead of creeping in like she was in a typical Hollywood thriller, she went up to her neighbor, Miss Elise Rosenbaum’s door and knocked. The wrinkled old lady answered the door.

“Miss Rosenbaum, how do you do?” Laura mustered the sweetest smile she could.

“You still haven’t returned my frying pan!” the old lady said. Laura grit her teeth. She had been hoping that Miss Rosenbaum would develop amnesia, or dementia, and forget all about the frying pan. What happened was wholly unfortunate, to say the least.

“It will return to you soon, good as new,” Laura promised.

“I don’t see how it can. That thing is as old as this house.”

“Might you have a rifle just lying around? Firearms of any sort,” Laura said. “Just purely out of curiosity. And – hypothetically speaking – if I were to ask you to lend it to me, would you? Assuming – hypothetically speaking – that my life was in danger and by proxy, yours could be as well. And under the assumption that between the two of us, I’m the one better equipped to handle firearms.”

Miss Rosenbaum gave her a strange look. Then she lifted her chin, her mouth forming an o-shape, like she just remembered something.

“Frank used to have just the thing, but I’m not sure if it’s any good. Come on in…”

Tony had gotten quite well-acquainted with the floor when his eyes fluttered open. There was some blood on the ground as well, though he could not tell whose. Or if it had been there all week. The little details escaped him.

There was something about a light bulb, yes. That was how it started. But how did it end with him lying face-down on the floor? Someone must have hit him. That would explain the pain on the side of his head. Who would hit him, though? And what for?

He shook his head, and immediately realized what a bad mistake it was. A wrecking pain exploded inside his head. For all the pain it caused him, though, a metaphorical light bulb flicked on in his mind.

“I arrest you in the name of the law” was what Andy was trying to go for. But with his lip split, his face swollen, and his tongue bitten to ribbons by his own teeth, the best he could do was, “Irish Stu in ge gname o’ de gaw.”

Andy had Gregory pinned to the floor of Laura’s living room. He twisted the lad’s arm behind his back and put cuffs around his wrists.

There was a rattling sound, like chains. Andy looked up and found himself staring at what appeared to be a full-sized minigun.

On instinct, he put his hands up to surrender. When faced with a person pointing a minigun at you, the only option was to surrender, no questions asked.

“Andy?” Laura’s voice.

“Laura?” Andy tried, but what came out was more like “Vova?”

Then came the sound of wailing sirens, and in through the open door streamed in special ops, all of them dressed in black from head to toe and carrying rifles aimed at Laura.

“DROP YOUR WEAPON!” one of them screamed at her. “DO IT NOW!”

Laura dropped the minigun without a word and fell to the floor with her hands on her head.

Back at the station, Charlie stepped out to the front and found the brand new light bulb sitting on Tony’s table.

“He had it all this time?” Charlie shook his head. He took the bulb and went to look for a ladder.

360. Full Circle

This is a true story about revolution, bloodshed, and cakes.

A long, long time ago in a land far, far away:

China – 1300s.

The Ming people were planning a revolution. They were tired of being oppressed by the Mongolian rulers, and decided that they will overthrow them. They had their battle plans laid out, their strategies made, and weapons ready… But at the last moment, the Mongolian rulers issued a ban on all social gatherings. And so the Ming revolutionaries were left sitting at home, waiting for the signal to attack, which never came because they could not talk to each other.

The leaders of the revolution, Ming Taizu and Wencheng, decided that they should do something about this. They hatched a plan.

The first thing they did was to spread a rumor that a deadly plague had broken out. Whomever contracted the disease died immediately. (Not Ebola, but similar). The second thing they did was bake small cakes.

(if you want to save the world and you’re serious about it, go learn how to bake. I believe that one day, cakes will save the world)

They baked small cakes. And the third thing they did was tell everyone that to survive the plague, they must eat these small cakes. Because these small cakes will give them special powers and immunity towards the disease, keeping them alive.

They all ate the small cakes. The Mongolians at the cakes. The Ming people ate the cakes. Everyone had cake. To the Mongolians, they were just eating cakes that tasted a little funky – but you did what you had to do to stay alive. When the Ming revolutionaries cut open the cake and found the egg yolk suspended in the lotus paste filling, however, they immediately knew that it was a secret message to launch their attack on the night of the full moon.

When the full moon came on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, the Ming revolutionaries picked up their weapons, took to the streets, and like in Les Misérables they stormed the palace. But unlike Les Misérables, 1) they did not sing; and 2) instead of dying one by one by one, they actually succeeded in their plan. Like that, the Mongolian rulers were overthrown and the Ming dynasty was formed.

Some happy events happened after, followed by a series of very nasty events. But we won’t go there. If you tell a story long enough, it always ends in death and heartbreak. If you want to have a good ending, you have to know when to cut it short. Slap an ending on it. Capture that perfect, triumphant moment in a photograph made from words and leave them be, going on only if you will say “and they lived happily ever after”.

Tell your stories beyond death and heartbreak, and you’ll always find yourself back at the beginning, where we all begin again, as though we have never left.

And always remember: if you want to save the world, learn how to bake.

Because cakes will one day save the world.