Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Texas Freeze

Sitting in my own house wearing mismatched gloves
Ten blankets and duvets piled up on this bed, hoodies on
Everyone in the same room, the retreat was complete
The look on the children's faces was beyond pitiful:
Now what? First the coronavirus, schools closed
No friends, no playdates, no birthday parties
Masks, Zoom lessons, and now this curve ball

No electricity, no heat, just the freezing cold
Seven layers of clothes, it was getting old
Well below freezing outside
Forty seven degrees inside
Stuck indoors with our winter hats
We kept checking the damned thermostat
The solar chargers weren't of much use after day one
The blizzard conditions didn't make for much sun
Taps dripping for fear of frozen pipes
All creature comforts duly denied

You started to consider the offers to bundle with luckier neighbors
The alternative: you'd just read the tweet about the warming shelters
Turns out The Authorities had belatedly opened the school gymnasium
(The public health department issued a double mask recommendation)
The specter of upended plumbing, the burst pipes
The trees that fell, buckling under the weight of ice
Those friends seeking tarp to deal with holes in their roofs,
Like you, were being taught hard lessons and American home truths

The instrument panels at the gas power plants that froze over
Frozen coal, who'd have thought? Certainly not those in power
(That last a dubious proposition by all reports
The lessons of the earlier disasters were simply ignored)
Perhaps this time, when they review these matters
(There's one born every minute, losers and suckers)
They might finally revisit the winner-take-all capitalism
(An unlikely prospect, of course, hold fast to your skepticism)

But mostly it's the look of dismay that chafes
Your underlying condition: internally displaced
And the sound of your children's voices stands apart
It's their simple question, "Why Daddy?", that breaks your heart

a long walk during the Texas freeze

II. Food Bank USA


After walking around Austin in the aftermath of the Texas Freeze, and watching the news, I kept wondering if the iconography of the lines for food banks would stick to Brand USA.

Throughout this covidious interlude, the sight of the SUVs lining up at food banks has been iconic and worrying, yet, for whatever reason, the images haven't cut through. To my eyes, the cultural impact has been diffuse, but perhaps it's my bubble.

The Essential Worker Industrial Complex doesn't have a lobby. Anyone know an agent?

I suppose the Reagan-led war on trade unions neutered the most viable opposition. Coupled with the lack of a shame culture, the rule of greed and managed capitalism won.

What labor has left as offensive weapons are likes and, what, memes?

The community centers turned food banks (or the schools turned warming shelters just days earlier) take the shine off God's own country, as well they should. I guess the term of art is brand damage.

I'm not into public relations or communications, I don't have the gift of prophecy, but I've been wondering for a while now what will stick, what could ever pierce the exceptionalism. For that aspect of the USA, the self regard, is world historic.

America has well-oiled cultural machines. Hollywood's golden age took in the Great Depression, hot and cold wars and the civil rights movement; Madison Avenue kept purring throughout.

All that glitters...

I have a long memory but American outrage doesn't seem to stick. Throughout the Bush years all the way through the Trump years one kept asking what will be the last straw? What will be the watershed? But perhaps that's the wrong framing.

Gil Scott Heron's band was the Amnesia Express.

III. Tradeoffs


I will say that at hour 75 of the Texas freeze, I was idly speculating about whether I would trade hunger for freezing. It was a close call. I know many had (and have) to deal with both so I'll just leave the thought there. Mindless speculation about life at the extremes...

Mind you, I heed to the skeptic's credo, and plan accordingly and make my own bubble. Like my parents, I expend tremendous energy maintaining these protective layers. It takes considerable effort but I'm used to things falling apart.

snowman after texas freeze

The Texas Freeze, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note
See previously: The Golden Yam

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time.


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Writing log: February 19, 2021

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

The Laws of Grief

The First Law of Grief, conservation, is, at first glance, confounding
That while cathartic, the public expression of grief favors forgetting
This is the quantity theory of grief that the ancients have observed
Namely, that it is in the nature of grief that it is preserved

A fundamental property of the substance is internal displacement
An external observer disturbs the soul, preventing reliable measurement
The observer effect is ineffable, never judge the outward appearance
Nay, the solitude of private grief destroys society's moral balance

That pain, unacknowledged, is a burden cannot be denied
Social beasts, the inside might not be as strong as the outside
Sometimes extreme measures are called for, even extraordinary rendition
It is only in retrospect that the workings of grief achieve recognition

The Second Law of Grief, irreversibility, is much disputed
For the texture of grief is intangible and cannot be computed
Most social sciences assume agency, hence the notion is frequently challenged
Practitioners believe in the efficacy of solace, thinking that it can be managed

It's an article of faith in all religions that the cure is consolation
Memorials and laughter are often proffered as emotional vaccination
The counselor's handy prescription for the spirit's rhythm of loss
Assuages the survivor's misgivings, yet we all one day will pay the cost

Some advanced the notion of stages,
Finite, and with an eventual equilibrium
These stages were posited as stepping stones,
Or rest stops, on the pathway to resolution

There were many doctrinal disputes about the magic number
Conclaves and conferences were held, more than I can remember
Was it the five heartbeats or, rather, the seven steps to heaven?
Out of the tower of Babel, came a dozen steps of mourning

Expedience and practicality reared its head contra the theorists
There's no pride of place to be the chief mourner in the funeral notice
Regret is everything, only belatedly can you enjoin in the communal numbness
Weary sons and daughters left wounded at the loved one's erasure, and the absence

Unlike thermodynamics, the Third Law of Grief concerns sorrow
The essential conceit is that no one is promised tomorrow
It is an inverse, this constant, and, rather than absolute zero,
The arc of grief, experiments confirm, instead approaches a plateau

The formal statement posits an upper bound, renewed anew
The paradox is that this physical limit is unapproachable
Whatever the perspective, whether raised heights or depths unfathomable,
You may think that you are done, but grief is never done with you

Applied grief, in practice, presents a serious dilemma
The theory holds that there are ways to move on and recover
Military institutions have training courses to inure their recruits from future trauma
But stress has a thousand fathers, while grief bears the affliction of a single mother

Unlike shame, for which some cultures have herd immunity,
There is no cure as yet, there is no remission for grief
Highly contagious, it's a social disease that simply cannot be prevented,
The only treatment is time, a balm with only minor palliative relief

The late discovery of the calculus of grief was a sorry chapter
Contra the skeptic's credo, its proponents got caught up in the rapture
The assumption of the golden rule has been that for every act of emotional kindness
Society will repay the bearer in full, and with no small amount of additional interest

Ivory tower professors, however, got into the mix, and designed a commodity market
But the flaw in the trading strategy's conception should have been readily apparent
Recall the First Law, markets can remain irrational longer than you can stay solvent

The Apocrypha suggest a Fourth Law of Grief which I'll briefly explore
Malcontents required an additional dimension, and preferred the Rule of Four

If you probe deeply, these quantum theories, simply stated, are plainly mislabeled
The putative reason is that grief's insubstantiality is the source of much frustration
Like its cousin, nostalgia, grief can be a fatal affliction
When in the throes of it, patients are frequently disabled

The impairment presents as a nervous condition, as they say, observers are worried
Yet the demands of capital mean that the working reality is barely acknowledged
In most companies, the nature of the loss is judged by the closeness of connection
Always check the fine print of the bereavement policy lest you suffer a resource action

All houses are grief houses, it all depends on one's time frame
The long view of humanity, let alone biology, enforces this hard rule
The tale of the lost stories, we're all marks in a shell game
The hard knocks will come surely, some learned the lesson early in school

In the world of the bereaved, the ritual is king
The comforting routines that are shared with kith and kin
A facade of normalcy is said to protect a house of pain
Guilt leads the way, but grief always leaves a residue of shame

Social interplay imposes complexity, we were left to understand
Previous certainties dissolved, like everything, they were written in sand
Our freedom is ephemeral, and this is the chief reason:
In the land of the living, we are never far from grief season

The burden of the done thing enforces the miserable
Teaching a lifelong caution against the public spectacle
Yet the natural impulse is to seek out unease and embrace discomfiting
But the pangs afflict further when you’re accused of disturbing tranquility

The laws of grief, in their fullness, verge on the obscene
The fear of flailing even when you want to scream


In memoriam: Atu Mould (1972-2020)



All is not lost

Grief, a playlist


A soundtrack for this lament.

See previously:

This treatise and internal displacement is part of a series: In a covidious time


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Writing log: February 22, 2021

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The Golden Yam

I. Temptation


It was the week of my birthday, I must confess
That I came across the golden yam in a moment of weakness

Call me terrified about going to the grocery store
What with the new variant spreading inexorably next door

The Wife had long since banned me from the Ghana shop
Lest I bring back to the marital home a viral dollop

Our town's covidious alert level was now up to the fifth stage
Leaving me home as usual, trapped in my pandemic cage

I noted, with interest, the increasing bareness of my pantry
Having run out of supplies and other necessaries

Hmmm, these growing children actually needed to be fed
Who knew? I somehow felt that I was being misled

With a craving for comfort food, this exiled soul knew what was best
I promptly launched a browser and brought up Carry Go Market

Mechanically, I added the usual suspects to my cart
I stuck to the tried and trusted, power shopping is an art

Ga kenkey, of course, some gari and sardines, I kept it wholesome
The weekly special on palm oil and suya spice was quite welcome

I passed on the fufu powder, it pays to keep your eyes on the prize
But what's this? A temptation appeared right next to the mix for jollof rice

That's the moment I first saw the golden yam
Believe me, I was quite simply unmanned

I call it golden because, well, it cost an arm and a leg
The price was simply outrageous, it had to be said

But I hadn't eaten any yam for nigh eight months, lockdown you see
This taste of Africa, culinary nostalgia, had been denied to me

My attempts at planting yams in the backyard, my own Operation Feed Yourself
Had come to nought, I was left wishing for herd immunity if nothing else

I started to do the math, the conversion rate has almost six cedis to one dollar
Throw in shipping and handling and, well, you can guess the vertiginous number

I daresay it was a temporary madness what was about to unfold
To actually buy this tuber priced above its weight in gold

Some say the most precious material in the world is printer ink
It doesn't bear contemplating, the golden yam was the kitchen sink

But the flesh was weak, I'll freely admit to the sin of gluttony
By this stage of the pandemic, I needed relief from the monotony

In mitigation, give me leave Dear Reader, what you have to understand
Is that potatoes, even the sweet ones, are a poor cousin to puna yam

I rationalized the purchase, it was my birthday, remember
I've sometimes paid hundreds of dollars for unsatisfying dinners

It took a few more clicks to succumb to the madness
And so Dear Wife and Children, please forgive me my debts

I'd practice austerity for a few months, I'd later explain to my bank manager
Thus it was that, a week later, UPS delivered a glorious golden yam tuber

growing puna yam in my covidious backyard

II. Redemption


It was on the fourth night of the Texas Freeze
That my eyes came to rest on the golden yam
The inside temperature had dipped to forty seven degrees
Fahrenheit, frostbite terrain, I had goosebumps on my arm
It's an understatement to say that my entire household was displeased
The February blizzard conditions had brought the entire state to its knees

Lockdown and now the storm, talk about social distancing
One thing after another, this life in Austin was proving daunting
I pride myself on a knack for surmounting challenges but this was confounding
Almost instinctively, I came to the realization that no one was coming

A frozen hellscape was the universal description
While unbearable angst was the prevailing emotion
Buyer's remorse underlay the fraught situation
And regret would tinge the sense of privation

We were truly stuck with the power restrictions
The outage would likely take days for resolution
The crisis management team had led with poor communication
Destroying, perhaps irreparably, the state's reputation

Rotating outages were the initial, hopeful prediction
The chastening reality was that permanence was our condition
Adding insult to injury is that this was eminently predictable
This was the very opposite of what was known as good trouble

"It stopped being fun real quick", the wages of deregulation were slim pickings
Such is the fate of the curious prevailing ideology: wishful thinking
When you have to be melting crushed snow to flush down your bathroom privy
The vaunted exceptionalism is now subject to worldwide concern, if not pity

"You welcome the U.S. to the fun of the Third World" was your mantra long ago
Don't call it prescience but, well, you reap what you sow

My spare battery charger had long since given up the crop
So I'd had to charge the phone using one of the kids' laptops
There would be time enough, if we survived, to reevaluate our emergency procedures
It is only in its absence that you recognize what is called infrastructure

The last bit I'd read was that Flying Ted had absconded on the daily news
Packed his bags and headed to Cancun Mexico, I see you Senator Cruz
I voted against the man but, stuck in a freezer, I still felt rather abused
But what of the clear majority that put him in power, were they now confused?

I'm used to lights out, dumsor comes naturally to a Ghanaian
But this was different, there was no heat, only snow and no trace of sun
Ice everywhere, and not the immigration agency folks on the prowl
God I missed Ghana, I was quite ready to throw in the towel

This was frankly uncomfortable, quiet as it's kept
Even indoors I could see the plumes of my vaporous breath
If I had electricity, I'd no doubt see on the telly
The rolling disaster unfold, the millions left in penury

Be prepared is what the ancients advise
Despite the single digit temperatures outside,
Our house luckily seemed to have reasonable bones
For want of a bolt, a house is not a home

But back to my tale, let's move on from the disabled electrical furnace
Cometh the hour, cometh the yam, I had quite forgotten about this purchase
After all that I'd gone through earlier, this was a stroke of brilliance
It was written, I congratulated myself about my foresight and resilience

It was a swift decision, "I'll make us yam and stew for dinner"
I ignored the complaints of the 7 year old at the food on offer
Every man for himself, "Good luck, young man if you want to be picky"
Survival of the fittest, the palaver sauce needed to be eaten quickly
For everything in the thawing fridge was about to be spoiled
On the large burner, the golden yam would take ten minutes to boil
The cigar matches we'd obtained from the neighbors were pressed into service
One strike was all it took (truth in advertising) to light things up in earnest

oto

I wondered whether I could last through the weekend, or just admit defeat
At this point, I would even forgo food for a few days, in exchange for heat
Throw caution to the wind and expand my support bubble
Brave the treacherous icy roads and assume the risk of covidious trouble
But from what we'd heard, some of our friends that had made earlier offers
Of support were now keeping mum, after their houses too had lost power

The boil water notice had come through when I'd switched off airplane mode
To find out if relief would be forthcoming - the bill of goods we'd been sold
Hotels in town had started charging usurious rates, call it a disaster premium
Cold comfort, that is, if only you could get to them in this inclement weather
The alternative was to throw yourself at the mercy of fate, and head for the gymnasium
The children's elementary school had now been repurposed as, get this, a warming shelter

Forty six degrees is as low a temperature as the young ones could tolerate without panic
The Missus was reaching breaking point, was threatening to become catatonic
I daresay this freezing business, on top of the pandemic was getting rather old
Need I remind you that, by this stage, we were sixty five hours deep in this bitter cold
Those fateful words, the kindness of strangers were just a mirage
I kept wondering if the old man who lives in the park had found a garage

The palaver sauce heated up, the palm oil simply glistened
I daresay there was mist in my eyes, you don't know what you were missing
The water boiled and the slices of the golden yam emerged, what a rush
I quickly made to set the table, there was no need to fuss

The combination of hunger, fright and cold was quite auspicious
The serendipity of having this comfort food was rather fortuitous
All I can say is that the golden yam tasted delicious
At breaking point, I was soul sanctified, it was like magic
Thus fortified, I told myself "I could deal with this for another week"

Narrator: that night's temperature drop put paid to this premature optimism
Thankfully this story has a happy ending, put aside your skepticism

Oh the cheer that went through the neighborhood at 5 am when electricity was restored
The sheer relief at this turn of events - these 75 hours, could not be ignored
Quick, we all got up, charged everything; everyone took a shower
Who knew if this would last, we made sure to boil extra water

...

At the outset of the pandemic, as it were, before the storm
A traveling salesman had accosted me as I was mowing my lawn
Rent was due, desperate, he showed me a shiny nugget and made me an offer
I'd laugh later at the memory of this hungry man and my golden encounter

And now, after this bout of winter adversity, I was stuck in my home
Freezing and starving, yet I was pondering a poem
The light was fading, at a loss, yours truly was the desperate man
Thankfully, my hunger was sated by an encounter with a golden yam

oto

...

I might as well go with The Golden Encounter playlist as a soundtrack for this note.

This folktale is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Writing log: Part I January 15 2021, Part II. February 21, 2021

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Reverse Ferret

"We don't want to be forced into any kind of retreat or reverse ferret," the prime minister added.

The Observer, February 2021
The reverse ferret is a tough maneuver to perform
It requires fleetness of foot and delicate balance
While the deft footwork is executed as a whirling dervish dance,
Ideally the audience will not detect your changed public stance

A discreet volte-face is essential for the presentation
The change of plans should remain unadvertised upon completion
The impetus is an imminent reversal of fortune
When legal liability and the threat of punishment looms

Whether defamation or criminal contempt, the prospect is of much damage
Public reaction to exposure and revelation would likely be savage
The knives would be out, votes of confidence, resignation or electoral defeat
Contra the golden rule: a politician's first duty is to preserve his seat

On etymology, the phrase was originally journalistic fodder
A pet remark of Rupert Murdoch's agent, The Sun's editor
Orwell would have known about the tendency when he wrote of Big Brother
After all, "Oceania had always been at war with Eastasia"

And so we heard the unguarded remark of the British Prime Minister
A man so allergic to truth he was badged as a congenital dissembler
He viewed theater as politics and politics as theater
Delivering his slapstick lines with a knowing, churlish patter
As Curtis Mayfield once sang, "they're all political actors"
Everything was transactional for this Magic Johnson
Yet everything he touched was subject to potential legal action

Ferrets, those winsome beasts, are much needed in human ecology
They play a handsome role even in today's concrete modernity
They say that every complex ecosystem has parasites
Caution, however, take heed of their insatiable appetites

The general public, generally bemused, found it hard to understand
With so much whiplash, it seemed as if everything was written in sand.
For even as the Prime Minister hastened to loot with a smile
Confronted with a pandemic, he could only deal death and denial
He would leave a legacy of so many u-turns in policy, his mark was a demerit
That despite himself, this Prime Minister's self coinage was the reverse ferret

grilled fish

Reverse Ferret, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note to cover our retreat. See previously

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Writing log: February 17, 2021

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Cooking Session

Stomach infrastructure they called it
As they prepared the gravy train
The new procedures thickened a stew of no bid contracts
The compliance regulations were taken with a grain of salt

Everything was on the menu, advance fee appetizers
Intricate patterns of exchange, they favored mob lawyers
And accountants cooking books as their waiters
Private bankers their sommeliers and kitchen managers

All you can eat buffets were their favored configuration
The restaurant served as chef's special an awoof conception
The nubile hostesses made sure to procure golden mangos
Presentation is all, they danced the corruption tango

The Cayman Island cocktail umbrellas were made of Panama Papers
Elaborate Swiss cheese accounts and other stylized confections
Tax sheltering strategies, ever heard of Bahamian thyme leaves?
Divert this way and and that, there is no honor among thieves

Some had bland taste, they didn't care for exotic spices
They simply laid on the pork and summoned greasy bribes
Others went for prime cuts of steak and sometimes jive turkey
They liked their portions wrapped in bacon or beef jerky

Still others in their tribe preferred things medium rare
They hid old wine in new bottles in offshore tax havens
And for desert they loaded on mints and chocolate candy
The back end of any transaction with a confirmed sugar daddy

After dinner they would pass the Courvoisier, Schnapps and brandy
A few had low taste and chose Bucks Fizz and Drambuie
Those at the high table went with choice liquor and aged port
To nosy squares they had the ready retort, "See you in the courts"

They would later steam open the overstuffed cash envelopes
Punch drunk on money, their elixir of life, that champagne bubble
They were secure in the knowledge that they would enjoy the bezzle
At the very least until the first untainted auditor's report

As the cooking session ended they would sing together with soul
That old favorite blues song, I want a little sugar in my bowl
Mouth watering profits the fruits of their shell games
For these grifters had herd immunity to shame

grilled fish

"Pot belly democracy" is the Ghanaian expression. "Stomach infrastructure" is the Kenyan term. African politicians know the deal.

Shell Games
the standard third world formula kodjo crobsen

Further listening and reading:
Timing is everthing
Observers are worried

Henkes' Schnapps ad 1969 - beware of imitations

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Writing log: February 14, 2021

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Disturbing Tranquility

I practiced the coup drill for we already had our lost decades
Marked by tanks in the streets and the military men's arrival
When so many failed to stand up and be counted
And displayed an altogether impressive passivity
I dissent from that brand of disturbing tranquility
That culture of silence, that philosophy of survival
I'm not inclined to continue as the Ghanaian Sphinx

God knows, I'd rather be proved wrong at this stage
Even after living as an exiled soul, on the losing side
I'm part of a loud minority — tribes, vibes and scribes
My chosen soundtrack is that of the urban griots
Firm believers in the necessity of permanent outrage
Unleashing wistful zingers, satire deployed as a weapon
Irony as the key register even in impassioned conversation
Let it not be said that defiant stares are our only aggression
Voices inside, soul singing, we march on the road to freedom

Now they want us to turn back the clock
And return to the autumn of the patriarchs
When conquerors partied until the break of dawn
While the rest of us dealt with curfews, chits and laissez-passers
Subject to daily confrontations at arbitrary roadblocks
The fear of being caught out on the streets after dark
And to think that the foreign press counsels us to "accept reality"
I daresay it's an affront, intolerable this rogue civility
I'm therefore proud to be accused of disturbing tranquility

The coup leaders in Myanmar have released the names of seven opposition activists they want arrested. They were accused of disturbing tranquility, a rarely used charge.

BBC, February 13, 2021
wire maintenance

Disturbing Tranquility, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note. I nominate this pièce de résistance for the Things Fall Apart series under the banner of Social Living. Trapped in my pandemic cage, thousands of miles away from the kind of danger so many are facing in Myanmar, I could only contribute these words and a defiant stare.

An Afterthought a few months later


Obliquely, the above was born of a thought experiment. What if the men in khaki stepped back into the frame in today's Ghana? And the counterfactual: what should/could have been the response when they did step back into the frame almost 40 years ago? If more had been prone to disturbing tranquility rather than the masks of civility that we wore, would we be debating cultures of silence today? Ain't that peculiar? as Marvin would sing.

Anyway, some would say better Myanmar than Ghana (God forbid). But injustice anywhere is an outrage, and we should all stand in solidarity. The heart aches at the damage past and ongoing, and the things that we've lost.

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Writing log: February 13, 2021

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Taste

Of the senses that cruel nature can decide to deny
Taste is apparently the ugly stepchild
Likely to be easily dismissed without a thought
Or simply sacrificed as in a pact with Faust

Its function can even be subsumed by its siblings
Harken to the ancients of the Epicurean tribe
Who claimed that we eat first with our eyes
Even as visual appetites can be further whetted
By the alluring smells of culinary anticipation
I'm minded that even the sounds of food preparation
Can occasionally climb to the most flavorful heights

The hunger for touch and tangible connection
The music of comfort suites and aural pleasures
The sight of delightful contours elicit recognition
The familiar smell of home remains a welcome perception

True, there are magical feasts in fairy tales
And secret recipes are oft highlighted
The storytellers of yore emphasized poisonous potions
But far more of their plot points hinge on glorious visions
Suffice to say that the gustatory is underrated

The plague announces itself with the theft of taste
A sensual covidious casualty even before smell
Superfluous perhaps, this robbery, for food is fuel
But the pandemic's effect on the tongue means all is gruel

To no longer know the meaning of a grain of salt
Or that the sweetness of a smile could be lost in appreciation
And sour moods could remain mere shadows rather than viscerally appall
What a life, to be resigned to the bitterness of disappointment

No more folktales, what about the princess and the brown sugar?
What is the spice of life when everything now requires a food taster?
You can have all the riches in the world, all that money
But without comfort food, would the prince still savor the honey?

What circle of hell is this, with no easy excuses to forgo your broccoli?
Sustenance perhaps, but might as well go for feeding tubes really
Everything is pap, utter undifferentiated banality
This poisoned chalice that has become your new normalcy

A paradox, the sensory organ continues to exist
Still soft, warm and lush, this vestigial proboscis
This invisible disability remains a dark matter
Even as you sit ruing the loss of your taste receptors

The body compensates, they say, and refines the other textures
Enhanced smell might give you an entrée as a great nose in the perfume industry
But it's no consolation when you can no longer detect a wine that's merely ordinary
A subprime foreclosure on your mooted career as a fine wine buyer

We've been reading the tale of the lost stories
Narratives of control; this paradise from which we’ve been severed
Social distancing with so many unable to walk in glory
Pity the survivor however, at a remove from a taste of heaven

The heart leaps at the mention of Auntie Becky's kelewele
Roadside excellence, the comfort food of Labone childhood reveries
The intense longing, an almost physical vibration
Synesthesia, I can picture the plantain with such acuity
But to have these flavors foregone would be agony
To be left with only the color of memory
Would a kiss of life even be extraordinary?
Taste, a lack of sensation, to no longer be at ease
It is said that nostalgia can be a fatal disease

kelewele: glorious fried plantain

After learning of my sister's covidious condition and a friend stuck in Texas trying to summon the memory of the taste of plantain

Taste, a Playlist


A tasty soundtrack for this grace note.

See previously: Touch

This sensory process is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Book Is Done

The book is done.

The book is done. As conceived, you've written what you wanted. No more fiddling.

The book is done. God knows, you thought this time would never come, it's a good feeling.

The book is done. You remember that you've said the same thing four times previously, that you've felt the same way with this one, felt the same confidence that you have a new creation.

The book is done. Of the pleasures of taking up one's pen, much has been written, but what about that other moment that you've just reached: the act of completion?

The book is done. You try to recall the original conception, but it's lost to you by this point. The muse wills what she wants, it was she that mandated the direction.

The book is done. Be it resolved, you'll ignore your inner editor, ignore those other gatekeepers, those interlopers on the journey to publication.

The book is done. For this moment at least, forget imposter syndrome and all those other inhibitions.

The book is done. Any typos and implausible scenarios are beside the point. Let's call them intentional misdirections, music to your fiction.

The book is done. Enough already, 45 poems and folktales should be enough, resist the temptation.

The book is done. You're the son of an editor, so you're always wary when someone presents what they believe is the finished article. "I'm done, here it is", they might say proudly and expectantly, and for good reason.

The book is done. You smile sympathetically but immediately start to consider how to break it to them that, yes, there has been an act of creation, but that creation is not completion.

The book is done. You're a hard editor of others, occasionally savage in your cuts and suggestions.

The book is done. You have a soft spot for yourself, you never have the same severity with your material. Oh no, could you lose this heaven? Is this sensitivity a delusion?

The book is done. As a writer too, you recognize that the moment when you think "I'm done" is not an end, but really just a beginning. Still, you celebrate that feeling.

The book is done. This fixation on the book, the physical object even though there's electronic editions and, these days, more listening than reading.

The book is done. You're beyond the draft, you've printed it out with your concept cover, apt to be discarded. No more deletions.

The book is done. You've been consumed by it. Now you can get back to reading.

The book is done. Now you can catch up on the world. Time to put out some feelers.

The book is done. Steel yourself for the shadow of the naysayers. Also the inevitable mystery: will there be any readers?

The book is done. Hold on to the feeling even as you realize the moment is fleeting.

The book is done. Recognize that it is only an opening act, proofs loom, the fact checker and copy writer will undoubtedly be taking you to task.

The book is done. If you're lucky, you'll soon move beyond words and be discussing types and faces, artwork, and the book's mask.

The book is done. You're soul satisfied, more than a little exultant, that you cannot deny.

The book is done. Truth be told, you hadn't been planning this one. A detour from your arch concepts, funny how it crept up on you, the realization, on the sly.

The book is done. Writing starts with solitude, detachment perhaps, and a splinter of ice.

The book is done. Now you can repair those relationships neglected for the book, and try to make nice.

The book is done. You can't help yourself: you've started thinking about the next one.

The book is done. That's ridiculous. Focus on your wife, daughter and son.

The book is done. As in your hypertext dreams, you built out your world, threw in some Easter eggs, a few traps, and many erasures; and now you're spent.

The book is done. You turn the page over, close the notebook, and put down the pen.

The book is done. You name it final-final, click the Save button, compose the email, and then hit Send.

The book is done. You've reached the end, a moment of clarity, a brief pause for reflection.

The book is done. The moment passes. Enter the specter of The Editor, now come the complications.


Books, however much their lingering, books also must Come to an End. It is abhorrent to their nature as to the life of man. They must be sharply cut off. Let it be done at once and fixed as by a spell and the power of a Word; the word:

Finis

— On Coming to an End by Hilaire Belloc

Feeling Good, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note. Music, as ever, is my comfort suite; it certainly feels good.

Presentation Pete - Leaping Pete

Postscript


After writing the foregoing, I delayed publication as is my custom, and found myself fiddling further. I must confess that I wrote a few more things for "the book" as if to thicken the stew further. Physician, heal thyself, or rather, Dear Reader, send me an editor, I might warrant an intervention.

Postscript to the Postscript


I fear I am afflicted. I finished another book, this one written with furious intent over the past six weeks, I feel positively Dickensian. For fear of flooding the zone while I shop the previous one, I'll serialize the latter. We'll call it Toli Tuesdays - see if you can discern the theme in the coming weeks and months.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Dust

Everything is written in sand
The virus sets the timeline
While the plague's evolution is orthogonal,
Humanity's horizon is measured in lifetimes
From dust we came, and we shall surely return
Nature's impositions become the harsh lessons learned

Everything is written in sand, at least that's how things stand
We need flexibility to accomodate the change of plans
For our budgets have the same shelf life as our tiers
Ad hoc policies were manufactured as flimsy protective barriers
And regulations were inconsistently applied - no common carrier
Squalid tales of queue jumping, the rule of diverted supplies
Chains of inequality revealed in lieu of shared sacrifice

Everything is written in sand, for this take a bow
For we’re all amateur epidemiologists now
Who wax eloquent about the nature of spike proteins
Droplets, aerosols, and the occasional red herring
The security theater of overly fastidious hygiene
Debates about vaccine efficacy and mask protection
This uncertainty, our close confidant and companion
An ambiguous adventure this gospel of germs
The season of migration to the land of concern

Everything is written in sand, it's hard to fill in the gaps
A temporary inconvenience this global narrative collapse
Requiring gymnastics from leaders who simply aren't up to the task
That I reassured you "absolutely" of school safety on Saturday
Is no guarantee that we'll be able to avoid a lockdown come Monday
Yes, the tough rules that I suggested might be necessary "later",
As the science has evolved, have had to be imposed "rather sooner"

"Cases are rising almost everywhere"
Driven by the new variant, it appears.
"And without further action, there is a material risk of being overwhelmed"
Still, "with a fair wind in our sails", the ordeal could well be over by half term

Clarity foregone, contrast their statements with their inaction
Even as they assure you that this is the best course of action
A duty of care, "Further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise"
The confused messages from your leader are in abundant supply

In the background, a torrent of common lies
Beastly evasions launched with shrinking half lives
Slothful neglect and responsibility shirking
Malice aforethought and depraved direction

Declarations of intent are suspect
In the torrid zone, you must understand
As my lament stated at the outset,
Everything is written in sand

Touch briefly, the fleeting canvas slips away from your grasp
What remains are the sands of time, the memories that last
Sorrow and tears, a symphony of labored breathing
A closing ceremony of unfathomable grieving
Worse, it was unnecessary, so many unforced errors
Human beings reduced to a handful of dust. Ephemera.

Everything is written in sand
The arc of a human lifetime
To dust we shall return
Shallow breaths as lifelines

Ephemera

Everything is written in sand
What paradise have we lost?

Everything
Sand
Wind
Dust

Busy Day by Hector

Dust, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note to lighten the mood. Some soul food. I excised Gil Scott-Heron's Angel Dust from the playlist to keep things grounded, your mileage might vary.

This internal displacement is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Writing log: January 19, 2021

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

No One Is Coming

No one is coming to help you is the bitter lesson
A signal moment of clarity in this your time of need

No one is coming to save you from this mess
The painful rule of thumb in the midst of your distress

No one is coming, there'll be no cavalry
The loudmouthed white hats trumpeting action are no sanctuary
Indeed, these days, those in the wild west have their own quandaries
In the frantic struggle for survival, some died with their boots on
It's best to solve your own problems, not rely on other persons

No one is coming, there's no need to ask
You might as well face up to the facts
Deferred maintenance leads to deferred dreams
Your own hands will have to repair the frayed seams

No one is coming, get it into your head
There's no saving grace, you've clearly lost that bet
Change makes you want to hustle, it is often said
Focus on resilience and adaptability instead

No one is coming, rise up to the test
In prior times, they could easily pay lip service
Indeed, some made it their self-appointed business
Truth be told, before the reversal of fortune, it was manifest
Your destiny was once removed, it was always clear they'd lose interest

No one is coming, there are no pat solutions
It may feel good to rely on international organizations
True, we all sink or swim together, embrace solidarity
Yet with the new variants, you may face your own mutations.
Buyer beware, some of the same ones who are now so vocal
Will soon remind you that, at heart, everything is local

In the Anglosphere, we saw the callousness of the response.
Once Wall Street was protected, the rulers lost all interest
Leaving the rest of us to plaintively wonder: whither survival checks?
In England, getting the Tory party to do more than the barest minimum
Was like pulling teeth in extremis, impossible in a timely fashion

The world over, elites are forced to confront crippled healthcare systems
No exfiltration, nor Medivacs, we all use the same hospitals
Those bearer bonds, those bank accounts, those offshore vessels
And digital blockchains are no protection, all that cybersecurity
Counts for nought when we haven't reached herd immunity
The Swiss now require vaccination certificates, newly-minted attestations
Quarantine even in the Cayman Islands, new procedures, rules and regulations

Accordingly, support bubbles of affluence are being pierced
Private jets navigate narrow, restricted travel corridors
Previous greed and privilege distilled, in short order, as if cursed
Now's the moment of reckoning, if not of buyer's remorse

"No one is coming to save you, it's up to us", goes the chant
Yes, well, it's the daily news even if it seems like a taunt
It was the purest folly to expect as much, is the insight
That others would forgo their insatiable appetites
Every man for himself, goes the conqueror's catechism
It takes behavior to get along, let's keep on singing.

Oh the humanity, "We have no place to bring our dead"
The overwhelmed owner of the funeral home plaintively said.
Air quality standards had to be relaxed to enable robust cremation
Such are the dilemmas of all public health interventions.

No one is coming to save you, we'll just have to endure the lockdown
In 1918, my grandmother recalled walking the streets of Jamestown
Skipping over dead bodies on her way through High Street to Trinity Church
A century later, many others are being similarly left in the lurch
She was ten years old when the influenza pandemic hit Ghana
Brought in by sea men visiting Accra, everyone suffered
Sorrowful, the scars endure and resonate as mood markers
The tale of the lost stories, these indelible chapters
Such, I suppose, is the conflicted legacy of my upbringing
The keen sense of outrage and the knowledge that no one is coming

No
No one
No one is coming
No one is coming to save you
No one is coming to help you
No one is coming
No one
No

Sea Never Dry

No One Is Coming, A Playlist


A soundtrack for this lament, taking a few liberties to add some sweet to this grief concoction.
There is no help. None.

This uplifting folktale is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Writing log: January 31, 2021

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Empire State of Mind

A memory. An open day at the Electrical Engineering department at Imperial College for accepted candidates, the professors wanted to demonstrate their new face recognition software to the group. I demurred (shyness), but they insisted that I be the volunteer.

So I sat and watched for 15 minutes as nothing worked. "Smile", asked the graduate students. "Frown", asked the professors. Same result: no detection. Others were summoned. Invisible man.

It's a minor point, but I can't forget the sheepish grins. As I told the professors and their harried students: "You probably didn't train your algorithms much with many faces like mine."

Cultural sensitivity in technology is one of my perennial themes. And it's hard work even if you acknowledge your blind spots. The anecdotal failures continue to pile up. What was true back in 1991 is much the same in 2021, software and hardware are far more sophisticated and performant but face the same blindspots (provenance of training data, applicability to real world scenarios, ethical framing etc.)

The challenge for software engineering - which is still a craft, is to move beyond curve-fitting phrenology (and Deadwood) into its industrial revolution.

Sidenote: recruiters these days are all "big data, machine learning, cloud yada yada". Buzzword fatigue is an occupational hazard.

I miss the great mass amateurization and view source ethic of early web development and yet the developer tools and frameworks these days almost feel like a golden age is within grasp.

Obligatory citations:

Incidentally, Imperial College was the venue of my worst interviewing experience (and there have been many) - the low point of which was walking past the open door as I left the interview, and walking straight into the wall. This was after having flubbed almost every question I'd been asked.

The laughs and looks exchanged by the professor and the secretary as I turned around, shuffled back muttering an apology (why?) as I rubbed my sore head and headed out the door. Even English reserve and politeness could not deal with my Buster Keaton imitation.

I was admitted to Imperial College a week later.

I occasionally regret not having gone to Imperial or Cambridge for university. Without a doubt, I would be a stronger engineer and yet I suspect the eclectic toli monger you see before you would be repressed.

Guide to Lagos 1975 005 3m 191 revolutionary  copier

Imperial Visions, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note. I've been neglecting the Toli Technology Series for years now, albeit I occasionally make a few gnomic pronouncements on Twitter, consider this some throat clearing to prompt a reboot.

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