The Straw That Wrote The Camel’s Back

PhotoAfter the vacation, I’ve been thinking over a few things that apply here and, if you’re patient, you’ll get to my point. This is normally fodder for my other blog, but I think it fits here on this site to this readership.

I’ve been a workaholic as far back as I remember. The reasons for this I understand, the effects understandable.

There are people floating around who know aspects of me – the Software Engineer who finds pragmatic solutions where others don’t, the writer whose work is liked by a small audience who reads it in secret and doesn’t share much, the person with a camera who gets labeled a photographer to get discounts – no, I will not do your wedding – the peculiar brother, the hard to understand cousin, the loyal friend, the uncompromising person who has learned to pick his battles, the sound of reason in the conversation and at the same time the frustrating person who isn’t convinced by passion.

In writing about a character writing itself, as well as experiences over the days since my return to Tobago, I began to think of how we write ourselves. And, over the course of the  last few days while encountering people who saw some of my printed photographs, I heard people talking about, ‘my art’, and even say the word, ‘artist’.

‘Art’ and ‘artist’ do not resonate with me. They conjure images of self-congratulating groups of people swilling cheap wine and cheese, of the cliche poet dressed all in black screaming into a microphone with the angst a good parent would have slapped them for – or is it more politically correct to put them in a timeout? Either way, you get the point. I don’t people who call themselves artists in that much regard – I don’t dislike them, I just don’t identify with them and their clique.

I play with things. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. It scares some people if you say that, so you learn not to say it, but I play with things. Objects, ideas, code, technology, words, light, whatever. I like to learn, and I like to be off the beaten path – spending a lot of my own time over the years doing just that, to the benefit of employers that never truly appreciated it.

I’m a recovering workaholic. The vacation, the writing, the playing – that shifted my perspective to it’s natural center, and what I found was the way I should have looked at the years of my almost completely unvacationed professional life:

What people call my work is just the collateral damage of me becoming better at things through experimentation. My life is my art, my work – what I leave behind is simply collateral damage of all of that. That stuff is not that important.

And my point here is that we have cultures and pressures from society that do not let us look at things that way, that make us believe that we are what we do. We’re not what we do, we’re what we become by doing.

With that as a focus decades ago, I can’t help wondering what I would be like now. I don’t expect that I would be much different, but knowing that would probably have made life a little more contented when things were not going the way I would have wanted.

You are not what you do, you’re not even what you’ve done. You are what you’re becoming, only partly because of what you do and have done.

Become.

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About What I Write (2018)

Taran Rampersad
Taran Rampersad, photo by Mark Lyndersay (2018).

This will be a long post, so come back with coffee, tea, something else, or not at all. It’s meant to be linked from the ‘About‘ page.

I’ve been going back and engaging some of Renard Moreau’s ongoing conversations – it’s a nice blog Renard has – and it’s healthy to pause for a bit and think about what, how and why I write what I write.

Would that more people did.

I started off as a technologist. In fact, if you can find bits of my writing over the last decades, you’ll find a definite technology bias.

But I’m more than that now, as people who follow can see. There’s a story there that, as much as I hate writing about myself, is a good story and one worth telling as I begin to connect different writing I have been doing in different ways.

Early Writing.

I had some poetry published while I was in my teenage years – nothing particularly great, I think. Writing was something I did every day – we all do, some more than others – but I was focused on the way out of my own prison, which at the time was computing. So I wrote logical code for systems that did exactly what I wanted.

As training goes, that’s pretty horrible training for a writer.

It did, however, get me out of Trinidad and Tobago and out of a house I wanted no part of. It got me to Irving, Texas, where… well, let’s say I enjoyed parts of the childhood I did not have while growing up. While paying my bills. While going to college. And then, while not going to college.

Then, as a sailor, I wrote logs where creativity was not considered… appropriate. No one found it funny when I logged in a Soviet Submarine into a lake at NTC Orlando, and they did not let that pass. They did, however, allow me to log rats in and off the compound without complaint.

Then, there were the SOAP notes in hospitals as a Corpsman – good training on observation, but again, creative writing was frowned upon.

It wasn’t until I got back into software that creative expression was allowed – not so much in the code (oh, the comments I left!), but in that new thing that they had come out with. Email. Not everyone enjoyed my emails, but those that didn’t were usually on the receiving end of some acerbicly made point.

Around this time, I restarted creative writing, largely as an attempt to reconnect with my late mother. We read our poetry at various places in St. Petersburg, Florida – I may even make it up there in 2019 for a CAMs reunion party. And there a conflict began within me – to pay the bills or keep writing. Pragmatically, I continued doing things to pay the bills.

Poetry was fun for a while. Then short essays. And so on.

Later in the 90s, I was able to do some creative and technical writing for a site called Brainbuzz.com, which later became Cramsession.com, and now I think it’s in the ether with study guides still floating around. And in those very late 90s, I began on a new platform.

I began blogging back in 1999. Almost 2 decades ago.

The Blogging Years – Present.

Writing at first in the medium, I was focusing on a lot of self promotion – as many bloggers do. However, I had a heavy distaste for self-promotion – I believed then, and still do now, that content should stand on it’s own. That it doesn’t is an entirely different topic.

Later, I would tire of that. At the request of my father, I returned to Trinidad and Tobago – and it was a time ripe with opportunity. Trinidad and Tobago was to be an Internet hub for South America and the Caribbean. Internet businesses had proven themselves, and my memories of Trinidad and Tobago were optimistic. Too optimistic. The infrastructure wasn’t there, the cost and quality of bandwidth at the time was below reproach, and people I thought I could count on were instead people who wouldn’t spit on me if I was dying of thirst.

So I did what I always did, what I still do with a more mature outlook: I tried to solve the problem. Call it an exercise of futility if you will, I call it an exercise of youth – much the same thing. And so I learned about why all the problems I did not think I should have were there, and tried to bypass them – to no avail. This took years. It introduced me to very quality people inside of Trinidad and Tobago and outside – as well as some people who only recently I found out were the people ripping off my ideas and selling them as their own. Mea culpa. The difference is that they were selling the golden eggs; I am the duck. 

I wasn’t making enough money to feed my reading habit. I read a lot of Gutenberg.org back then, and it broadened me some more. The humanities I had kept from myself came flowing in. The world as I saw it shifted into something broader, with more meaning than silicon.

Before I knew it, I was being invited to conferences on culture and ICT – which I honestly thought I had no business going to, but even when I said as much, they still paid for me to go. With their confidence in me, I dedicated myself to what we discussed, and ended up broadening myself further and further – enough so that even years later, I still get messages asking me what I think about things.

WorldChanging/Alert Retrieval Cache.

I was writing for WorldChanging.com for a while.

Then the South East tsunami hit, and I had an idea, the Alert Retrieval Cache (ARC) – one guy, Dan Lane, fleshed it out in amazing ways. That idea later became more of a problem than a solution because of humans and distrust and reasons why humans should distrust.

It also made me leave WorldChanging.com – don’t let anyone fool you, that was a very odd place to communicate with people. There were disputes with the third party involved who also wrote for WorldChanging.com – I simply wanted it to work, he wanted to capitalize his ego with it. The powers that be were Canadian about it, wanting peace instead of progress. I left. Screw that Utne.

One thing became clear: I wasn’t just a technologist anymore. I had been given the opportunity to see the world in more ways. It was very exciting, and I ended up traveling in Latin America and the Caribbean afterwards – not the tourist stops, but in the homes of people who lived there who showed me not what their tourism boards wanted me to see, but what people there wanted me to see. I had traveled a lot before, but every place I stayed gave me new insights into a world that so many of us take for granted.

Another thing had become clear: I had unrealistic expectations of people. They weren’t motivated by the same things as I was, and my world unraveled before my eyes. I put it back together again, every international disaster another stitch in that fabric as people asked me – pleaded with me – on setting up that ARC. There was anger. There was distrust in humans.

And I wrote. Mostly unpublished, in journals on a shelf not far from where I sit. My distrust in humans became more of an acceptance, and I became better at dealing with people and their quirks – their motivations. I grew. The alternative was simply not worthwhile.

The Land Period.

When my father died, I returned to Trinidad and Tobago to settle his estate. That took years. And then I tried to do things with some land I had inherited which required me to deal with people on it. This was another growth experience; even more writing on a shelf – and it was enough to get by, what I did, but it was not enough to get ahead.

I tried my hand at agriculture, which I wasn’t terribly bad at, but it just wasn’t enough.

The Return to the U.S.

I returned to the United States with the idea that I could make enough money to get back to that land and do something of worth with it. In the downturned economy, with the shifts in technology, I made ends meet. I saw very clean parallels between, as an example, Beloit, Wisconsin, and the Caribbean as far as not advancing and why.

I learned a lot more about the world, but in the end I broke even. I was getting to that age where people weren’t sure whether they wanted to hire me, I was at that age where I wasn’t sure I wanted to be hired by them.

Long gone were the days of the code monkey for me, but everyone wanted a code monkey so that they could play their silicon organ. Attempts I made to get past that failed. Honestly, I could probably be doing code for some company in the U.S. right now if I really wanted to, but I don’t – I turned down one huge company twice, and a slightly smaller company twice. They’re names you know, but they’re not names that will make a difference here. They’re not important to me, and that’s the point I’m getting at.

There was more to technology. I’d already been reading everything all this time. It was all beginning to make sense, and I read then – as I do now – to get the language to communicate things. To make simple what seems so complex at first. To see things work.

I made my way through jobs – even getting to work at a company that did Emergency Communications, learned more about telephony than a sane person should, and left.

To return to Trinidad and Tobago, to finish some things with the land, and ultimately, to write full time.

And Back To Trinidad.

Agriculture again, and dealing with land issues – pushing hard, harder than others. Adjoining landowners were useless despite being related. So I changed the paradigm.

And now I’m back to writing – connecting things beyond just technology, looking at things and seeing what needs to be fixed. I write about it. And also, I’m writing other things, unpublished…

Paper vs. Digital: a personal perspective.

Books in: R.A. Salvatore signed!Someone asked about whether people preferred reading paper books or digital on Twitter, and I responded ‘paper’ with a brief and slightly inaccurate explanation.

So I’ll be less brief here and more accurate.

This is, of course, my experience – and my opinion.

When it comes to what I read, I rarely read novels these days – novels smaller than the ones in the picture (picture less than 500 pages) are sort of like snacks for me. Louis L’amour novels are typically done in a matter of hours.

When I read these days, it tends to be on different specialized topics – my father would complain I read only textbooks when I contributed to our library when I was in secondary school. It got worse since then.

What happens with all that reading is that I end up with references – sometimes I’ll poke back to a book and find something I’m not sure about, or look for a quote, or try to align ideas from other books. To do this, over the years, I’ve used my memory of the books themselves – shape, size, even smell, weight… I remember the books like objects.

Here I am, someone who has worked with data for decades, and I can tell you that the digital formats are also objects. They are not dynamic, like software (well, some are these days), so the way I remember things with digital revolves around how something works – not how something sits there and does nothing.

What I have found is that with digital books, I cannot reference as easily. Maybe it’s a problem I have, maybe not, but it’s simply that way for me. I can look at a bookshelf, though, and find a specific book and drill down to what I was looking for faster than I can search a digital text.

I know there are tools for digital text. I’ve tried them. I’ve used them. I’ve Grepped like a maniac. But in the end, I may not remember the exact words I’m looking for… but I can remember page numbers, the weight of the pages on either side of something I noticed. I can find what I need in the books I’ve read, no matter how old.

Maybe the indexing system of my mind is antiquated, a holdover from the times before the Internet. It is, however, what I have, and what I use.

Paper wins.

We don’t think the world is getting better. This is why we’re not sure.

Banksy in Boston: Overview of the NO LOITRIN piece on Essex St in Central Square, CambridgeI came across Max Roser’s (Programme Director, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford) post on the World Economic Forum through social media, and I didn’t have the time to address some of the issues I saw when I posted it. There is something that had struck me as viscerally wrong about it.

Now I know. In the broad strokes, the data points are cherry picked. When we look at how the world has improved based on static measures, we all should know that yes, the world has gotten better. That’s not why we don’t think it is.  It’s because the measures themselves haven’t improved. I’ll make my points quickly as related to his points.

Poverty

Globally, we have less people starving per capita. There’s no debate there. Where the debate should be is whether this should be a part of the debate. Population growth around the world varies; a nation with lower standards of living tends to have higher population growth while a nation with higher standards of living tends to have lower population growth.

So, if we look at the shell game of poverty, overall the number is decreasing. But is the standard of living? Are people moving forward without people being left behind? Is the number of people we’re leaving behind increasing or decreasing?

We hear more often than not about the ‘erosion of the middle class’. Where did they all go?

These are questions that we want to know the answers to; we know poverty is decreasing, but if our goal is constant improvement, shouldn’t our measure of how we’re doing improve as well? Or are we comparing poverty now with the cave people of a few thousand years ago? No, but metaphorically, the idea of comparing poverty across a few hundred years is a frequent optimistic perspective presented when the masses get a bit disturbed.

Literacy

Just by social media we know more people are attempting to communicate – some literacy is involved, but I daresay that there is some functional illiteracy out there that has snuck past testing that is supposed to demonstrate literacy.

I had a real world example today. A friend of mine’s granddaughter needed a reference on a form since the form she had filled out was outdated. He told me he needed me to sign it. I looked the old form over and told him I didn’t need to sign it, that she already had references on the old form, and all she needed to do was transfer them to the new form. No signatures required.

An hour later, while I was writing this, he stopped by and told me the new form needed my signature. It did not need my signature. I didn’t need to sign anything. Functionally, that’s a form of illiteracy.  Functional literacy was defined by UNESCO in 1960 – 58 years ago – as:

“using these skills in ways that contribute to socio-economic development, to developing the capacity for social awareness and critical reflection as a basis for personal and social change”

Not knowing the difference between putting your contact information on a form or signing a form is one example. So how are we measuring literacy?

By the numbers reported of those that can read by passing certain tests that, if you ever spend time on social networks, you need to question. Nevermind reading comprehension.

So, while the numbers of those that are reported as literate can be shown to have gone up – from students to teachers to administrators to nations, who wants to give worse reports? The incentive for true reporting is simply not there. How many college professors lose their hair dealing with freshmen?

Has functional literacy gone up? With increased bureaucracy over the decades, as well as technology, what is the new literacy? No one really knows. It’s sort of like the difference between pornography and art; we know it when we see it.

Health

Germ theory is the basis of the postulation here – something come up with in the latter half of the 19th century. We’re in the 21st century; we’ve made leaps and bounds since germ theory that have been put into practice – open heart surgery, as an example, has come a long way in the last few decades. Granted, it could not have happened without germ theory, but if we’re comparing how well we’ve done since germ theory a lot of other things should be spoken of.

Yet there is at least the allegation that big pharmaceutical companies overcharge – Brazil even went rogue with HIV medications because of it. Borders between nations become more permeable when there is a noticeable price difference in medications, where the medications flow to places of higher costs. The United States is no different here; people get medications from Mexico and Canada as examples. How much? I’m pretty sure we don’t have the data for it; black markets don’t publish their data.

Access to healthcare? In the U.S. alone, this has been one of the most sharply debated topics in the last decade.

So yes, gene theory has brought us a lot of good, but what have we done since? With an increased population – remember population growth? – partly because of our advances in medicine, I’d think we’d get some better points than just gene theory.

Yet I can see why no one wants to talk about how health insurance has helped people. After all, it was only about a century ago that doctors were paid in livestock. Gene theory, apparently, gave doctors much more.

Freedom

Oh, freedom. How do we define it? Is the person who works three jobs to pay the bills, ‘free’? Fortunately, no solid points were made in this section because it’s all pretty ambiguous. One has to wonder why it’s even in there.

Population

Our population is increasing! Yes, we know that. We’re painfully aware of it, and I am not certain that it’s an indicator of things being better. It could mean that a lot of people in nations with lower standards of living might simply be unable to watch the television that they want because of content distribution rights or lack of internet access.

As I pointed out in the section related to poverty – population growth is a factor that is not spoken of enough. You can check out all manner of statistics in the United Nations World Population Prospects 2017.

Education

We live in an era where there is cultural value placed on academic degrees; they were incentivized by salaries – at least at some point – and now the value of them is publicly questioned. Getting in debt for a college education and then being unable to get a job to repay that debt is a reality in the world. Yet we say that education is increased.

Formal education. But how has formal education changed? Aside from changing and adding some subjects, adding a lot of administration, education itself has not changed – and more than once we’ve seen education standards dropped so that more people pass. We don’t talk about that.

So while more people may suffer a formal education by 2100, can we honestly say that they have been educated better than now? Than 10 years ago? We’re talking about quantities when we should also be dealing in quality.

Why Do We Not Know That The World Is Changed?

We know that the world has changed – in our little pockets of what we read and see in the media, social or otherwise, and the reinforced perspectives we get from them. People share things without reading them, without rigorous thought (education? literacy?).

The world has gotten much better since we were cave dwelling mammals, though there is at least a sense of wonder when I consider that: Did we leave the caves because of the population boom caused by fire? Cave real estate maybe got so expensive that finally – probably a guy named Bill or Steve – said, “screw this, I’ll make my own cave!”. And so to this day, we live in variations of the cave, usually made by someone else. With fire. And cooling.

And yet, how have we really improved? The same country that has children eating tide pods also had an immigrant send an electric car to Mars while at least one person on the Tesla waiting list got upset (if they didn’t, I wonder if they should own one?). We have advances in medicine that should have us discussing contraception, even of the immaculate variety, and technology is giving us sex robots that – fortunately, so far – don’t distribute little humans like sexually transmitted diseases, or like Oprah. Look under your seat! There’s one for you!

We have advanced so far in technology that our education, our literacy and lack of it, has become more pronounced as we reinvent Babel despite people speaking the same language. We have people who are so angry that they’re either a mass shooter or a terrorist (but never both). We have archaic systems of governance that cannot shift as fast as the public can become less accurately informed.

The world has gotten better in some ways, yes, but it has become worse because people who never would have known each other 100 years ago now see each other’s posts quickly, algorithmically, based on what someone in a code cave thought was the best solution… so far.

We really don’t know whether things are getting better or worse. We only know within our own contexts and what we are told, and what we are told we too rarely question because our education systems teach us to accept what we are told rather than challenge it.

Challenge it. Challenge everything.  Things will not get better otherwise, and if people actually challenge things more, people won’t feel the need to write posts about ‘how much better things are’, a Hallmark card from the World Economic Forum to the ailing masses who aren’t seeing the improvements promised, with the dreams of yesteryear either dashed or worse, undreamed.

I, for one, do not wish any carcinogens blown up my posterior, no matter how fancy the pipe.

Net Neutrality, Competition and Target Blindness.

Yesterday I had the misfortune of attempting to have a conversation with someone who was certain that there was no problem with competition without net neutrality.

Instead, I explored their perspective. The only thing I could come up with is that when some people speak of competition, they think of competition between Internet Service Providers  (ISPs). They do not think of the ISPs themselves competing with services that are simply accessed through their network.

It’s mind-boggling to me that people don’t understand that issue of disruption within the Internet.

It also boggles me that such people are in regulatory frameworks, and these are people who define discussions had about such neutrality. It’s no wonder that assuring equity between companies providing services on the internet and ISPs is such a moot point at this time.

And therefore, we can’t get beyond network neutrality to the real crux of things.

Done.

cea_buddha
Image used with permission of photographer, Flickr user cea. Click for original.

I don’t miss it.

There was a time that it didn’t seem like I ever could. It was all I did. Coding, designing, architecting, playing with new languages and frameworks – it was great. I spent hours upon hours getting good at things that were, in the end, just passing fads.

Passing fads with ‘benefits’, really. The ‘benefit’ being the ability to find work maintaining someone else’s crappy code. Maintenance.

No one looks forward to a career in software engineering maintenance.

But that’s the majority of the industry, and if you’re good at maintenance, they’ll pick someone else to do the new development no matter your experience level. They need you there with your finger in the dyke as you watch them do it all over again – making similar mistakes.

No, I don’t miss it.

CubicleLife

I don’t miss sitting in meetings to watch other people beat their chests and claim credit for things that they didn’t do as political necessity. I don’t miss reading emails written by people more interested in trying to impress each other rather than actually communicate what they need to.

I don’t miss being told I should be at my desk more often when I was one of the few people meeting deadlines, milestones, yardsticks and tombstones. I don’t miss the tiresome code-jockeys who don’t know a thing about process and were graced with writing them. I don’t miss going through undocumented code and figuring things out to rewrite a new iteration that will never be used. Oh, and if you were ever on call…

There’s really a lot not to miss.

And as software engineering goes, that’s pretty much the way it is. That’s a pretty average career, since most work in software engineering is maintenance – and maintenance, after a certain period, shows you everything that was done wrong. But since you’re doing maintenance, you don’t ever get to use it at work. Maybe you do it at home, but honestly, after a few decades you may not want to stare at a computer when you get home.

No, I’m playing these days. I finally got back to why I started it all in the first place.

Except I have a lot more experience. And I can walk away from my desk, I can eat what I want when I want, I can wear what I want…

Cubicles? Offices? That’s for managers.

A Walk Down High Street.

It was a walk to see what had changed, to see if I could get a few things I needed. It was a walk to reconnect me with something that I felt I should reconnect with. My feet had pummeled there throughout the 1980s, when I often wore the Presentation College uniform. It was where I went into every business to try to sell advertising for my father’s ‘Trini Trader’ magazine, or to do things for the printery, or to desperately check for the latest computer magazines at Victor Manhin’s, long gone.

It was where I haunted when I ‘broke biche’, playing hookie in my last few years at Presentation College, hiding in an amazingly small coffee shop you would not know was there unless someone told you – to either meet with skirts of both shades of blue, or to read. It was where I hiked down to the old Muscle Connection Gym to work out and to later get my free Tandoori chicken meal at Tara’s Kitchen in Carlton Center. I paid for neither, having bartered for the first and earned the last through friendship.

Of course, most of it was gone, as the old dustbins that used to be were. I hadn’t walked down in that area for close to a decade. I was surprised to find it more clean than it had been, though it was still dirty. Library Corner no longer had the library. A facade in front of the old Library would have made me worry that it would suffer the same problems of the Red House, but on the way I had seen where it was relocated. A mental note to swing in there sometime.

A walk down the street saw me looking for the sports store that was no longer there, saw me heading down to look at shoes to replace the tired old running shoes I had – these were 10 years old, detritus from my last period of life in Trinidad, not looking worn but the bounce of the sole lost in time like the bounce of so many souls. I shopped around, toward the bottom of High Street, seeing all manner of shoes costing thousands of dollars that I would never be seen in public with. Gaudy. Eye catching colors. A culture I shunned in footwear and in most other things, preferring to remain as unnoticed as possible on the streets where I always stood out anyway. “The Professor”, as they called me back then on the Coffee and the Carib, liked to blend in but somehow always stood out. Damn it.

One store I was ushered into had me go down some stairs, into a basement that reeked of mold. Where there’s mold, there’s compromised inventory. To the credit of their honesty, they didn’t even try to cover the smell – maybe the product of having tried and failed over time. To their credit, they had their display shoes in clear plastic bags that had seen much reuse. But the scent. I have seen what mold does to shoes. To walls. How it secretes itself insidiously on everything. And then I remembered this plaza for the work my father had done on their electrical. I remembered the owner, who I am certain has not changed.

I was permitted an opening as the worker spoke with someone else very seriously about why their shoes were better priced than anything else in the area – but the price for the shoes I would put on my feet was still higher than what I saw in Detour. I went back to Detour, stood by the shoes and was attended briefly, they brought the shoes down and I purchased them without hesitation – 25% of the price of the majority of the shoes, 20% lower than comparable shoes where I saw them. The Syrian gentleman smiled slightly at this; he had seen me there 10 minutes earlier, he had seen what I did, and he also saw that I immediately put the new Nikes on and tossed the others, leaving them with box and bag.

Hands swinging.

I walked up further, finding new spaces where old ones were. The sidewalk was the same. The street smelled the same – that odor of dry season dust with the occasion of stale urine. No one talks about that pungent aroma in cities when they say that they love them. New York. Orlando. Dallas. Honolulu. Panama. Managua. Port of Spain. San Fernando. The list goes on about which brochures should have scratch and sniff photos.

Or the smell of the casual vagrant. That lurid smell of sweat upon layers of sweat, a topology on the sinuses not easily forgotten.

A new book store. A casual conversation revealed why there were only books marketed to women (read: romance) on the shelves, though it was spared 50 Shades of Bad Writing by the Muslim owner. Another bookstore I frequented with it’s meager selection poorly laid out so it seemed like they had more of a variety.

I stopped in one store, saw an old school friend who worked there and we chatted. Caught up.

I left High Street, striding home in new shoes and old memories, thinking as I kept an eye on the shadows near my own and the sound of footfalls behind me – a habit over the years. I thought about how big High Street had been for me in the 1980s, and how small it seemed now.

When I was younger, it was a window to the world. Thriving. Knowledge I craved was pooled in bookstores that no longer exist. The street had become smaller not because I had gotten larger, but because it was a window into what could sell in a country where the buying power of the average citizen limited choices of what businesses could bring in and make a profit from. The only local thing was a side stall of leather belts and sandals, a throwback to a forgotten age when Medford Gas Station was at the bottom of High Street.

The walk told me what I already knew. San Fernando had changed but not grown, just as the rest of Trinidad and Tobago. Perhaps it was the error of my younger eyes to have seen so much potential.

The Long, Dark Tea Time Of The Career

NSB SunrisePeople don’t write about this stuff. I decided I will.

Without going into the details, I left the last job after a resignation, taking it back, and after realizing it was the same thing, resigning more efficiently. It’s not a bad company. It wasn’t good for me.

Let’s leave that where it is.

I had irons in the fire, of course. In a lot of ways I still do. I already had bad headhunters annoying the hell out of me, and some good headhunters with some interesting positions. I was courted by some CEOs and CTOs through LinkedIn.

That was a mistake. There are jobs, and there are careers.

Some things came into play and suddenly I had more breathing space to think about it – freed from the tyranny of income for a period, I could stop. Reflect. Think. Feel. Assess myself, inventory myself, decide what comes next. It’s a luxury in this day and age where salaries don’t allow for the mobility that they once did (and, kids, they did). If you have the luxury, though, you should take it. Taking it I am.

It took me about 3 weeks to forget about the last place I worked – not completely, mind you, but in some ways a job is like a shell – it provides safety once you conform to the inside of it. As I told my last boss at the beginning of 2016, “ultimately the only thing an employee can control is whether or not he or she works at a company.”

After the 3 weeks had passed, I found that I had been doing more creative writing again. I had dusted off my camera and started shooting again. I started reconnecting with people who I  had lost touch with, as one does when one gets into the intellectual toil of more work than play. I recognized myself a bit more every day, like a stranger becoming acquainted with a reflection in the mirror.

A friend at a coffee shop asked, “Why don’t you talk down to people like other software developers do?” I paused. I thought.

“I guess I outgrew that at some point.”

I have. I’ve outgrown a lot of the bad things and have evolved beyond being a Software Engineer, or a Writer, or a Technical Writer, or a Consultant. I transcended technologies some time ago, becoming agnostic after having spent time in the Microsoft corporate code caves and the Open Source code caves. The leadership qualities became more pronounced, my patience for the mistakes of others had grown and the lack of patience for mistakes of others had also grown. I’ve been published, suffered the editing of others and rejoiced at how they helped me grow.

I watched all manner of software process succeed and fail, and understood why. I pick up technologies like some pick up novels but I have become a picky reader. After seeing languages, technologies and architectures wax and wane, you become picky. That cool new technology doesn’t impress me if it does nothing new, and just because you can develop faster in it doesn’t mean that the end product is better. Typically, the faster you can develop in something, the more dependent you are on third parties that don’t care about your project.

I clean up ok.This guy is pretty different than the kid who started off in the late 1980s with the only real aspirations of getting out of a miserable household and being a professional computer programmer. Right now, that guy on the left doesn’t exist. His hair is unkempt, a full scruffy beard across his face, his focus inward. The man who would normally go out of his way to help his friends is suspended in carbonite, a caricature of a guy who shot first. It’s not selfish, it’s self-preservation. It’s coming to grips with what comes next, figuring out what that guy needs, what that guy wants – who that guy is. The kids aren’t going to understand this, and I imagine people with families at my age are too busy to dedicate some time to thinking about it until their children have not only left the nest but have stopped calling for money.

You see, you’re not supposed to write about all of this. In society, it’s taboo to write about this sort of thing publicly until well after the fact. To do that, you’re supposed to have that success that comes from a magical period like this – but that’s uncertain, fickle and cliche. It lacks originality, though originality is not something that is admired as much as people would want to think in this world – take a read of “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move The World“. It’s harder to live than to read about, like most things.

I have a deadline. The second week of May, 2016, for no good reason other than Cinco de Maya with Tequila seems like a bad time to make life decisions.