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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Thursday, April 01, 2021

Widget Consultants of Austin

Dear valued customers,

We hope you and your loved ones are remaining healthy and safe during these uncertain times.

New Office Space


We at Widget Consultants of Austin (WCA) would like to update you on some exciting news for our practice. In July 2020, a state-of-the art renovation for our central office was completed. Now Widget Consultants of Austin is located in Suite 419 on the same floor as before but to the left of the elevator.

Austin Research Center for Widgets


In addition to this beautiful upgrade, WCA's current and future research endeavors will be conducted through WCA's research arm: Austin Research Center for Widgets. WCA and its consultants have chosen to part ways with Widget Research Center of Austin. However we remain evermore committed to providing ethical, high quality, specialized widget research to the greater Austin community.

With over a decade of combined research experience, we continue to provide first class widgets at WCA. As always, we remain dedicated to providing compassionate and skilled care to you. We look forward to continuing our valued relationship with you.

Best Wishes,


WCA

Presentation Pete - Collaboration Pete

The above letter is reproduced with only two substitutions, widget and customer. Inquiring minds would like to know what prompted the split in widget land such that Widget Consultants of Austin are now affiliated with the Austin Research Center for Widgets, having severed ties with the Widget Research Center of Austin. All this upheaval took place in the middle of a pandemic, no less. Especially titillating is the pointed comment about ethical standards, things must have really soured. What breach of ethics in widget research might the practice have witnessed that shocked the conscience? The human drama behind those few words is intriguing and deserves attention.

Further confusing things is that it appears that the offices of both organizations are on either side of an elevator. Those rides up to work must be fraught. Printing out the acronym soup only deepened the puzzle for WCA has now split from WRCA to go to ARCW, it's all Greek to me. I have postponed my annual appointment to check up on my widgets during these uncertain times, but look forward, with no small amount of trepidation, to my next encounter. I pray that I exit the elevator in the right direction.

See previously: Also: Naming, a playlist

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

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