When I received my first formal lesson in evolution during high school biology, I could not wrap my head around the idea that every species was adapted to be the very best it could be at filling its niche. It seemed self-evident to me, an Animal Planet lover since age five, that some animals were simply better than others. That was why they earned all the nature documentary screen-time; the charismatic predators with diabolical hunting strategies were outright better than the prey they hunted. Lions, tigers, and bears of course, and maybe chameleons or web spinners if we’re thinking outside the box.
I had to challenge the claims of my stuffy ol’ textbook and self-assured teacher, so I thought of the most helpless, seemingly unequipped animal I could bring to mind (in the moment, a rabbit), and asked something like “So you’re telling me even a rabbit is the best adapted it could possibly be to living in the forest, right? Then why doesn’t it have horns? Wouldn’t a rabbit with horns do better than one without?”
There were a few things I was of course unaware of at the time, including 1) That most (but not all) species equipped with horns use them mostly to compete amongst themselves rather than for defense against a fierce predatory world, 2) That in evolution, every trait comes at a cost, and 3) That I had achieved multiple discovery with the mythical progenitors of the Jackalope (in a way that actually would’ve made a great metaphor for convergent evolution).
In the time since, my evolutionary intuitions have, well, evolved. There have been plenty of twists and turns along the way, but the general direction has always been towards a deeper appreciation for the specificity of the niche. For Darwin, this famously came from the realization that the beaks of different finches spread across the Galapagos were specifically adapted to each island’s unique food sources; there was no “best” beak design, or rather, every beak was the “best” design for taking on the local fare of its particular island. Recently an entomologist friend divulged to me the phenomenon of buzz pollination; through some outrageously meticulous study, biologists have worked out that as many as 8% of flowering plants have reproductive structures adapted only to release pollen when rapidly vibrated at a high frequency… the exact kind of high frequencies that bees “buzz” their wings at while latched onto the flowers. This is theoretically done to prevent the flowers from wasting valuable pollen on inefficient pollinators (or worse, pollen thieves!). The data isn’t in yet, but the authors of this review suggest that flower stamens might even be “tuned” to specific frequencies like tuning forks matching the resonance of only the most ideal bee species. There are many ways to describe an organism’s ecological niche, but I never would have thought that hertz would be one of them.
But this isn’t a post about evolution. At least, not the biological kind. In my time spent living abroad, one of the most interesting ongoing sources of brain food has been the opportunity to observe the common skills and inabilities which are possessed by the local population here relative to my American baseline. My coworkers regularly stun me with displays of competence that they think nothing of, and I in turn have come to appreciate talents of my own that I had never recognized as something one could be “good” at. But regardless of who’s the expert, the thing that’s consistently surprising is just how specific the domains of each of these proficiencies are. I’ve been applauded in the office for being “good with technology,” but the use such a broad descriptor would fail to capture the times when coworkers have cracked open the housing of faulty electrical plugs to clean up the internal wiring, a task I wouldn’t go near.
My understanding of human (and cultural) talent has therefore followed a similar trajectory to my understanding of evolution: away from the notion of catch-all competency and towards an appreciation of the niche. As in ecology, the most remarkable feats arise only in response to very particular problems that have to be solved by some and not by others. I think far less in the terms of “X is good” and “Y is bad,” and a lot more in the terms of “X is good at” and “Y is bad at”.
And so, in an effort to carry forward this lesson demonstrably rather than try to argue a point persuasively, this post will be a rundown of five very specific skills I’ve come to appreciate: three which are unthinkingly possessed by most Ugandans I know, and two which it turns out my fellow Americans and I have had all along and didn’t know it.
The physical terrain around here is anything but even. Though the forces of development are making remarkably hasty progress at paving over most of the long-standing dirt roads, many of the smaller paths which people carry out their daily transit on are bare earth. The topography is hilly at a macro level, and the ground is assaulted twice a year by a merciless rainy season which carves little gullies and exposes jagged rocks half-submerged in the terrain. All of this means that my walks to work and sporadic hikes usually require my attention to be directed down towards my feet a lot more than I would like.
To say that a person or a population is “good at walking” might sound like an empty affirmation. Most of us take our first steps in our first year of life, after that it’s just ironing out the kinks, right? Wrong. If you (like me) grew up somewhere where perfectly flat slabs of cement appeared underfoot and streetlights lit up your after-dinner stroll, you were never prompted to progress through the ranks of advance bipedalism, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Relative to the local population, I’m locomotively challenged.
The difference emerges when new difficulties are layered on top of a typical gait. Ditch the shoes, narrow the path, add a heavy load, and wait for the sun to go down and I become a stumbling fool. The locals’ ability to walk at night without any form of artificial light is the capacity which astonishes me the most. On the few occasions I’ve ended up walking home after dark I’ll challenge myself to go part way without a flashlight but only manage a few steps before an overwhelming surge of trepidation prompts me to give up. Sometimes I’ll pass a nightly traveler going the other way along the same ankle-twisting paths I’ve got my eyes glued to, but lacking a flashlight and thinking nothing of it. Another thing you miss out on learning when you grow up around street lighting – the difference in darkness between nights with no visible moon and nights with a full moon is massive.
This is also a region of the continent where the visual stereotype of Africans carrying things high atop their heads is a reality. 20 liter jerrycans of water, huge bunches of matooke, and ungodly sacks of potatoes are a regularity. I tried my luck at it for the first time a few weeks ago, attempting to bring two 10-kg boxes of soap (equal to the weight of a 20L jerrycan of water, thanks metric system!) from the office down to my home. Even with the assistance of my hands, my head was reeling with pain a hundred steps in and I quickly defaulted to a shoulder carry. Last week, Richard asked for me to carry a pumpkin grown in our home garden up to the office and even crafted me a head pad out of banana leaves like the ones I often see people using with heavier loads. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I could not balance it for more than a few seconds – standing still. How the locals are universally able to maintain balance while walking over uneven terrain will never make sense to me.
2. Caring for visitors
A month ago when my dad was making final preparations for his week-and-a-half in East Africa I was getting some pretty absurd questions. For him, Rwanda and Uganda were the great unknown, characterized largely by evening news shows from his youth that left him asking things like whether or not he needed to bring his own sheets and blankets. After six days of the trip had passed and we had each taken as-many showers, he informed me that he had been mentally prepared to go the whole trip without showering at all. Given the importance of cleanliness and personal hygiene here, I suggested that it would be the Ugandans rather than he who would object to this the most.
My recent podcast with Padre thoroughly demonstrates just how severely the creature comforts and warm welcome exceeded his expectations, and I don’t blame the guy for not knowing what he was getting into. In our preparatory phone calls I tried to shape his expectations by making the point that there is a well-established infrastructure in East Africa for showing tourists a good time given just how essential they are as a source of revenue. But I think the pure forces of supply and demand are only a recent twist on a larger story that gives the capacity to take on visitors an elevated priority.
A lot has been written and said about the importance of visitation in African traditions, some of which is stereotype and some of which is ecologically validated. Back in April I was told by Toro cultural historian Kahwa Kansengerwa that Toro mythology tells of a small spirit who flies from house to house each night punishing those who leave no food remaining in their saucepans because they will therefore be unable to offer food to potential visitors. I’ve observed at the nearby Kasiisi Nursery School that “visitors” is often among the first words that children learn to say (and sing) in English, and I’ve been asked many times by people if they could “come and visit” me at my home in a way that I can’t imagine anyone in the US ever suggesting. Rutooro (and from what I’ve heard, Swahili) contains a wealth of different greeting and welcoming phrases which I can only imagine arose to accommodate this frequent occasion. As my dad and I arrived to each new location in our travels, people even seem a bit frustrated by the relative lack of such phrases in English, repeating “You are welcome here” several times.
All of this conspired to mean that my father and I were very well taken care of in each and every location we came to. Introductory orientations, attendant service, and the omnipresence of tea and fresh fruit were the physical manifestations of an intangible atmosphere of welcoming and good tidings. It’s a downright beautiful (and tragically novel) thing to feel, and one I fear western society has beaten into submission in the last twenty years.
3. Maintenance and Repair
A few weeks ago one of our summer health volunteers from the US tagged along on a health team workshop in a primary school where the students were taught how to make re-usable menstrual pads (flatteringly abbreviated to RUMPs). After assembling the materials and cutting cloth down to the right size, she began demonstrating how to sew one fabric to another. She looked up to check on the students’ progress, only to find that she was the one lagging behind. Turns out most of the students in KFSP’s schools know how to sew.
This surprised me… until it didn’t. As amazed as I am by local folks’ ability to walk at night and as much as I enjoy the proficiency with which I’m welcomed to new places, the skill which I’ve come to have the most resounding respect for is the omnipresent knack for maintenance and repair. With few exceptions, if you own something, you know how to repair it.
This comes up most often with motorcycles, known locally as piki-pikis. East Africa has by and large realized the tremendous practical capacity of two-wheel transportation, unlike the US where riding a motorbike is shorthand for expressing a rebellious thirst for danger. People can accomplish amazing feats of transportation with a bicycle and a few rubber straps, and even more impressive acts with a motorcycle. And if you ride one, you have a pretty thorough knowledge of what the moving parts are and what you can expect to go wrong with them. I would like to go into further detail of this with some examples of specific repairs I’ve seen laymen carry out, but my own lack of mechanical knowledge literally prevents me from doing so. All I can say is that my supervisor has pulled us over to a repair shop on multiple occasions to not only solicit, but actively participate in repairs. The same goes for automobiles; back in January when I had to hire a truck to transport materials down to our borehole construction site, there was a moment when the engine spat out a concerning racket and ground to a halt. The driver folded open the structure of the truck in a way I didn’t know was possible, busted out some tools, and had us back on the road in twenty minutes. From the little I could gather it sounded like a rock had gotten sucked into the engine and he had to get it out. I don’t even know whether that’s a severe enough problem to make his success noteworthy.
In my eyes, the heavyweight champ of Ugandan handiness is a water engineer we hired for our borehole project named Vincent. He was the subject of the Fellows Flyer I wrote for Princeton in Africa back in March because he’s so good at what he does that watching him work made me feel something beyond the typical bewilderment and envy I have towards skilled craftsmen. Whether he was rewiring a faulty generator with a screwdriver, reshaping the bottom of our well casing with burning banana leaves, or making watertight seals out of a plastic bag and rubber strap, he’s able to accomplish astonishingly much with astonishingly little.
Watching Vincent do his thing not only mesmerized me like a good Primitive Technology video, but it inspired a calm sense of hope in the modest ingenuity of humans at-large. The word “resilience” gets tossed around a lot in the development circle, and I usually avoid using it out of an aversion to contributing to its ongoing watering-down. But being around Vincent I swear I could feel resilience radiating in its most real, physical sense. He acts with a confidence that I assume comes from knowing precisely how everything around you which supports your life and livelihood works. This is the opposite of the kind of delirious nihilism that so often ails me and my fellow millennials. When I envision my ideal future life, it now includes a workshop in the garage, a deck or two that I’ve built myself, and an endlessly handy friend to help me fix my tool-oriented incompetence. Any candidates out there?
4. Identifying special effects
It took a while for Black Panther to really land in the Kabarole District. While most of my activist friends in the US were head-over-heels for it months before the release and many Princeton Fellows in urban locations posted about the glee of seeing it in Africa on opening day, I found myself ironically trying to explain to Ugandan coworkers what it’s about and why it was significant for so many people. A couple months later when it became readily available on the flash drives and DVDs that circulate digital media through East Africa, the craze finally rippled its way out here.
The first chance I got to talk about the movie with a coworker who had actually seen it was in a car ride sometime in May. And the first question he asked was not what I thought about it or what race relations in the US were really like, but whether I thought “that place” and all the technology it had were real.
For the record, he’s no dull crayon. This is a grown man who works a cognitively demanding job and is on his way to getting his masters in a professional field, and he was asking me whether Wakanda and vibranium technology were real.
This incident is far from isolated, and it’s yanked into my awareness the fact that Americans have had a front-row seat to view the development of computer-generated imagery over the past five decades. This point is perhaps best made by Star Wars; the original trilogy relied mostly on animatronics with a dash of cheesy special effects, the prequels of the early 2000s has passable but unconvincing animated characters, and the reboot films of the last few years make fiction virtually indistinguishable from reality. Along the way the technical process behind the wizardry has sometimes been newsworthy; the videos of Andy Serkis hopping around in a morphsuit to create Gollum launched motion-capture into public awareness, and when the first timelapses of plants growing appeared on Planet Earth ads you probably had an amateur photographer friend nearby to explain what you were seeing. I can faintly recall DVD extras from Pirates of the Caribbean about animating the ocean’s waves, or from The Incredibles crew generating Frozone’s branching icicles. I’d bet you have a couple of those images deep in your memory too.
Our special effects intuition muscle is in fact so well trained that we don’t even recognize when we’re making use of it. You don’t notice the conversations you don’t have about whether the creatures in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them were real. Somehow our minds are able to suspend disbelief for the sake of entertainment during the course of a film while not being concerned for a second about where the line of reality was crossed. Even more incredibly, we’ve established such a strong, unspoken consensus about our mutual ability to do this that the idea of “deception” doesn’t come anywhere near the discussion of popular media. There are dozens of writers out there regularly going after the comicbook movie trend for being unoriginal, uninspiring, ethnocentric and the rest, but the thought of trying to criticize The Avengers for being antagonistically deceitful for its reliance on special effects is absurd.
Unfortunately, not all parts of the world have been in attendance for our extended seminar on digitally-generated imagery. Nonetheless, they are now tuning in to a channel where the ability to discern fact from fiction is assumed a prerequisite. This is bound to cause a lot of confusion at the level of the individual, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone out there investigating whether it might boil over into larger social problems.
Here’s one way that it might: there was a simmer of excitement back in March when National Geographic’s new earth science documentary series One Strange Rock was released. I bought a pirated digital copy of it on my hard drive during a trip to Kampala (yes, that’s a legitimate business) and, amidst one particularly slow day at the office during school term break, convinced the staff that we should eat lunch in the office while watching the first episode. The show is consistently packed with mind-bending imagery: close ups of the human eye and shots from the International Space Station so astonishing that they might as well be computer magic.
Twenty minutes in, while explaining how plants in the Amazon take up water from their roots and perspire it into the canopy, they play a series of shots in which veins of creeping, twinkling light are superimposed over the trunks, branches, and leaves of trees. “If you could look inside the trees,” narrator Will Smith tells us, “you’d see water sucked up from the forest floor.” The producers must have decided that that was a sufficient hint to the viewers that the imagery, not distinct in wow-factor from many unedited shots in the show, was in this case computer generated. I can guarantee that for a large part of the international audience (who often know English only as a second language, and who are often shown nature documentaries like this one by well-meaning conservation groups), whether or not they were seeing a real phenomenon was completely indeterminable.
I wish I had some kind of solution to recommend for this problem, but I’m coming up empty handed. It would be great to say we could put out PSAs or offer trainings on what kinds of things computer imagery can fake and what kinds of things it can’t, but I’m not sure I could articulate the intuitions used to make the call. Even if I could, who’s to say I’ve got it right? Worst case scenario, maybe this realization is here to serve as a wake-up call that our unreality intuitions aren’t as strong as we’d like to think in the West. I remember hearing rumors in 2013 that Robert Downey Jr. turned down a role in Gravity because the movie was so wholly green-screened that Iron Man himself was unable to act in it. Did the western audience really know which fragments of the film were real and compared to the post-production majority, or did they just fail to ask? With freakishly convincing audio and video portrayals of people saying things they never said on the way, could it be time to regulate disclaimers on something like this?
5. Advertising (and critically consuming advertising)
To get between Kampala city and Fort Portal town I typically take a big green coach bus operated by a company called Link. The ride takes six hours, costs 25,000 shillings (~$7), and is characterized by lots of music videos and little personal space. The first hour of the journey out of Kampala will often feature a local salesman who’s paid the bus operators a small fee to come onboard and try to sell herbal “medicine” from the aisle to unsuspecting passengers. He’ll wax on about peppermint sticks or acacia bark or the informatively-named “black seed” fully equipped with the little pamphlets to hand out and the names of obscure Yogic masters to drop. He’ll promise a dubiously comprehensive array of physical ailments his wares can resolve (constipation, tinnitus, and fuck it, diabetes!) and graciously offer even his finest product for the low, low price of UGX 20,000!
In case you couldn’t tell, I find these pill peddlers’ pitches… unpersuasive. I’ll go out on a limb and say that most of you dear readers would likely feel the same; the whole thing reeks of a classic snake oil con and the guys trying to sell you are mostly a couple winks shy of charisma. The bus will rumble out into Kampala’s surrounding neighborhoods and the salesman’s voice will quicken as he realizes his time is running short… when suddenly a previously disinterested passenger beckons him over for a sample. To my disbelief the sample becomes a sale, which then becomes two or three or four before he finally bids the good people a good day and contentedly disembarks.
You’ve probably heard stats such as “The average American child sees 20,000 thirty-second TV commercials per year” tossed around in conversations about the tyranny of advertising or the epidemic of obesity or the apocalyptic state of the next generation. While I generally agree that marketing is approximately satanic and our kids are worse off because of it, I’ve recently come to grips with the idea that being glued to an onslaught of curated temptation also makes our kids get really, really good at being critical consumers of advertising. By the time I finished high school I had been burned by The Next Hot Product That Will Make You Happy so many times that I learned to be extremely skeptical of the TV’s empty promises and reflect pretty thoroughly on the kinds of things I actually enjoyed. While a few advertisements still lulled me in for yet-another let-down, I overwhelmingly saw the jingles and bad jokes of the tube for what they were.
But advertising execs are clever people, and they’ve had to get continually more clever to reel in jaded customers who think they’ve seen it all before. Skeptical consumers put pressure on advertisers to up their game in a relationship that’s a little bit like a dialogue and a lot like a psychological arms race. And by golly, the game has been upped.
Not long ago I voluntarily spent ten minutes of my life watching a YouTube video titled “The Art of Video Game Commercials” and by the tenth minute had no qualms about using the word “art” in such a context. Even if you like video games, choosing to spend your time watching a video about the ads that are supposed to make you want to play said games (instead of, y’know, just playing the games) is an absurd thing to do that can only make sense if the ads are genuinely noteworthy themselves. I (and 372,000 others) apparently think so, and the Halo 3 Believe campaign makes a pretty damn strong argument in our favor.
Our ads have gotten so good that we look forward to seeing the cream of the crop in between Superbowl plays every year and talk about them for days afterward. This year’s top prize clearly went to Tide, whose meta, self-aware “Tide Ad” campaign assumed the audience’s encyclopedic knowledge of commercial tropes and then folded the form back in on itself in a pattern eerily reminiscent of historical transitions in fine art. These motherfuckers are challenging the form in order to sell you laundry detergent, and we love it.
Meanwhile in Kampala:
As western corporations creep their tentacles around the globe like the spooky krakens they are, they’re bringing their elite caliber of marketing proficiency with them. I’m terrified of this.
It’s one thing for Americans to keep shooting up industrial grade temptation through their eyeballs – we’ve been doing it a long time and have a mighty tolerance to show for it. Severe skepticism and outright rejection of consumerism are becoming ever more mainstream, and the notion that you have to exert some willpower in order to manage your social media consumption is a given. But in a developing context where, until very recently, “advertising your business” meant a signpost with a name, the public has never been asked to bear the same load of formulated temptation. They will have to learn very quickly.
I spoke back in January about just how deeply I’ve come to recognize the “grass is greener on the other side” mentality as the root of all suffering. The West’s media empires are ensuring that we are “the other side” to billions of people in 2018. And our grass ain’t just green, it’s Day-Glo, uranium-enriched iGreen™, and it’s fertilized by the finest bullshit man has ever known.
This is the part where I betray my own thesis. Though this post is about the remarkable specificity with which people get excellent at things, it’s worth looking back at these five examples and seeing if there are general trends we can try to sum things up with. What do Mutooro people’s advanced abilities at walking, welcoming, and repairing have in common?
One way you might try to tie them together is by saying that folks here have gotten remarkably good at living a life where material wealth is hard to come by, but relational or social “wealth” is in good supply. When there aren’t flat roads or U-Hauls to rent, you get pretty damn good at getting things where they need to go with your own two feet. When hiring repair technicians or replacing damaged goods costs money you don’t have, you better learn how to fix things yourself. And when you don’t have lifetimes of digital media available at your fingertips to stay entertained 24/7, you build a culture around welcoming guests and keeping each other company; it becomes something that people value doing well.
This is one of the things that’s making my upcoming departure from Uganda in just a couple weeks so scary. Folks here have learned to cook masterfully with what I referred to in my last post as “the time-tested ingredients of a good life,” – namely friends, family, and the many occasions we have to bring the two of them together. Witnessing the knack for maintenance and repair might prompt you to say “Wow, these people are so self-sufficient,” but that wouldn’t be quite right. Rather, people are much more “community-sufficient” or maybe “us-sufficient.” Even a repair of a personal item will often draw a crowd of friendly faces looking to learn how it’s done or contribute suggestions.
It’s scary to think that we’re relatively anemic of these skills in the West. It’s why I’m so afraid that even with my expanded perspective I’ll get sucked right back into the rat race and digital media stream (and their accompanying neuroticism) as soon as I’m back in Chicago. I’m not sure I want to trade greetings from smiling children and Saturday evenings goofing off at the soccer pitch for high speed internet and passing strangers anonymously in Hyde Park. I’m treating this next year as an opportunity to experiment with whether or not I can build a healthy, balanced lifestyle in the context of stressful higher academia. If the answer is no, I’m not sure where the path leads after.
But how about the other side – what’s the common thread of what we’re good at in the West? Between our intuitive discernment of movie magic and our skeptical attitudes towards salesmanship, the best way I can think of putting it all together is to say that we’ve become scholars of fakeness and falsehood. We live in an environment where what you see is often not what you get.
If that sounds sad, take this as consolation – we’ve gotten really good at it. We’ve learned to arm ourselves with doubt, questions, and criticism in an ongoing war against the non-real and pride ourselves at having particularly well-tuned “bullshit detectors.” Expanding these skills towards that which was previously unquestioned has allowed us to peel away the easy answers in search of ever more remarkable truths and discover a scientific universe far more astonishing than even the most compelling myths dreamed up. Perhaps the social factions of the modern United States are defined most accurately not by what they believe, but by what they explicitly disbelieve (whether that be the endless study findings of “the liberal elite” or the outdated narrative of “the establishment”). We live in a world where even such basic questions as “what should human beings eat?” prompt dozens of answers and fierce debates among them.
That being said, I reckon it’s all too easy to take the attitude of radical doubt too far. We idolize distrust and self-reliance – the many posts on my Facebook feed about “fake people” and “snakes in the grass” ring of a walled-up paranoia that must be deleterious to one’s mental health. We come prepared with a raised eyebrow to nearly any work of art or expression of personal truth, and probably prevent the most vulnerable expressions of sincere reckoning from being made out of a fear of pretentious derision. Continue down this road and you’ll end up with a generation starved for authenticity, but so doubtful and uncomfortable with the genuine that it shies away from it like an abused dog fearful of human touch.
I resonate with the approach to life that says it’s wise to practice “balance in all things, including balance itself.” This is to say that a truly balanced life allows times for inexcusable excess – the goal is a higher-order “meta-balance” rather than pure, healthy functionality all the way through. Likewise, perhaps the solution to the above problem is to exercise “doubt towards all things, including doubt itself.” Let us not be so certain in the benefits of doubt that we insulate it from itself. Let us not be so assured of the merits of questioning that we fail to ask whether there are times where it is inappropriate.
As fun as it may be to try and tie up the relative skills of Ugandans and Americans with neat little bows like I’ve done above, I’m still convinced that an accurate perception of them requires radical domain specificity. There are aspects of falsehood that my local friends are much more equipped to pick apart and there are components of everyday practical competence that my American friends excel at. The purpose of this post was to make the case for the existence of five very specific domains of excellency, things that any individual can get great at without that ability carrying over into seemingly nearby skills. Even the five I’ve named are better understood as clusters of similar proficiencies that have arisen in unison only because they were responding to clusters of similar problems. This doesn’t have to be the case – I would expect someone to be masterful at darning wool socks but incapable of mending cotton clothes if they had only ever had to do the former.
So what? Now you know what those five things are. Let’s pack up and go home, eh?
Well, not quite yet. My altered understanding of the nature of excellence and how it comes about has been one of the largest rewards of this year abroad. It’s been on my mind enough that I think I’m going to need three separate posts to put it all into words, and what you’ve just read is only the first of them (making the case that excellence is remarkably domain specific). The next two haven’t been written yet, but I’m intending to cover 2. A formula for how one therefore brings about domain-specific excellence, and 3. How we might change our perspective on the big messy questions of life when guided by this understanding and formula.
They’ll have to be written out in the gaps between my heartbreaking departure from this lovely little corner of the world and unnerving enrollment in a daunting master’s program, so no guarantee on timeliness. But if you’ve been linked back to this post from one of the aforementioned expositions, send me an ethereal pat on the back for making it happen.