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Ambivalence

ambivalence
Head of Medusa, originally attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci.
This painting was later believed to have been created by a Flemish painter in the late 16th or early 17th century.

"Authoring seems to want its own pace …"


Nearly forty days into my Authoring effort, I notice a few snakes in my head. I know, like you know, that a genuine Hero's Journey should feature a steadfast and stalwart hero, someone holding unwavering dedication, not someone questioning his charter or purpose, yet this hero has been holding a few questions. I've found through decades of engagements, that at some point—it doesn't really matter if that point comes nearer the beginning, middle, or end—it can prove useful to apply some focused ambivalence upon an imperative effort. Especially if it seemed as if it absolutely has to get finished … or else, that there exists no reasonable alternative to successfully navigating the course, no matter how harrowing, that not succeeding would be tantamount to failure, it's especially important to reconsider again just how essential the effort might have not become. Is the race still worth running? Or else what?

I store this tactic in my Anything But That! drawer, one I only rarely ever open.

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TheFortunateFew

oneofthefortunatefew
Self-portrait of Nicolas Régnier painting a portrait of Vincenzo Giustiniani (1623-24)
" … my steadily eroding naiveté sipping bitter coffee."

As details of my Authoring initiative have come into focus, I realize that these have most often appeared as fresh insults to my originating naiveté, disappointments and difficulties. Some have valiantly attempted to reassure me that I'm probably not as crazy as I seem to feel, given my testimony, and I sincerely appreciate these attempts, for I am probably not as crazy as I sometimes feel. All told, or enough told to find a coherent thread, I remain one of TheFortunateFew. I am pursuing some ends larger than my original footprints. I'm testing edges. I'm making discoveries. I might even be making a difference, though that assessment must wait until I'm through this gauntlet. I believe that any worthwhile initiative must necessarily start as a sincere expression of the protagonist's innocence. His naiveté. However experienced he might have been then, his prior experience will have to become irrelevant in light of what this latest adventure manifests. The process by which naiveté wises up, that's the means by which the worthwhile emerges here. It was never different.

Each discovery which disqualifies some element of the initiating naiveté can seem brutal if not necessarily vicious.

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HollowingDays

hollowingdays
A cross-sectional drawing of the planet Earth
showing the "Interior World" of Atvatabar,
from
William R. Bradshaw's 1892 science-fiction novel
The Goddess of Atvatabar
"This, too, should ultimately pass."

Much of what constitutes Authoring amounts to isolated effort. From ideation through writing, collating through editing, everything could occur in solitary confinement, and does, or might just as well. Especially during This Damned Pandemic, alternative activities seem few and ever further between. When even heading out for a haircut gives pause, and should, this author most often chooses to simply anti-socially distance. The cats have come to know me too well, they sense my intentions better than I do myself. I live at their beck and call since I'm always nearby, never gone, but increasingly absent for myself here, too, as January degrades into HollowingDays.

The outside temperature has not varied more than three degrees in weeks, freezing plus or minus two. Chilling.

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GrandDelusion

granddelusion
GOYA: Entierro de la Sardina [The Burial of the Sardine] (1812-14)
" … how often they come true."

In my first year of junior high school, I began to get stomach aches. My mom took me to the doctor who concluded that my stomachaches were all in my head, not caused by any physical difficulty, but an emotional one. I was at the time struggling with a French class in which I'd enrolled under the delusion that I might one day be college bound. Enrollment in colleges in those days required two years of foreign language study. I abandoned my GrandDelusion of one day attending college the day I decided to follow my doctor's advice and drop the French class. My stomachaches abandoned me shortly thereafter, but I found myself lacking a GrandDelusion in my life and feeling its absence. You see, I subscribe to the school of thought that believes in the absolute necessity of maintaining a GrandDelusion in one's life. Without one, I'm sunk.

With one, I'm sort of sunk, too, but sunk of a different order.

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Cœurage

Cœurage
Claude Monet: La Grenouillère (1869)
"We're bred as critics …"

Authoring requires more heart than I can muster some days. Draft manuscripts simply must be reviewed with empathy or they'd all be reduced to red pen scratchouts the first time through. Only a wide open heart can prevent cringe-caused muscle cramps. One simply must, or I simply must, read with a sympathetic eye, which might render me my most worthless editor. My work could not survive without generous initial interpretations. If I wanted to discredit it, I could sink the whole damned enterprise in seconds. I cannot seem to write with a vengeance or author with one, either. I engage with disturbingly transparent skin, as if my spirit suffered from circulation problems. I wear a sweater and thick socks, protecting myself from the often shocking encounter with the real world and her expectations. I must write from my heart and author from there as well. This simply seems fundamental.

I am taken by the root from which courage sprung, the Latin cor (meaning heart) and the French
Cœur (also meaning heart.)

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TimeOff

timeoff
Henri Matisse: Le Rideau Jaune [The Yellow Curtain] (1915)
" … a man scribbling his living."

For me, writing and even Authoring serve as professions which do not come with TimeOff. I work weekends, holidays, even days of holy obligation, for writing and Authoring seem more lifestyle than job. Every morning seems to bring a superior personal obligation for me to engage, however holy or otherwise. If one works as a writer, one works as a writer, always practicing, never finished. Authoring so far seems no different. One does not remove one's writing boots, kick back, and forget the latest engagement. Writing doesn't finish. It's never done. Just as soon as I finish my daily essay, I'm copyediting the thing. I usually read it through about a half dozen times before I'm satisfied that I've caught all the errors I inadvertently imbedded in it, but even then, I'm apt to return again later to find a fresh couple needing correction. It's not uncommon for my Friday review of my week's writing to uncover yet another few lurking shortcomings needing fixing. The writing work's truly never done.

Authoring, too, seems fundamentally insurmountable.

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a clean, well-lighted place

a_clean__well-lighted_place
Vincent van Gogh: Le Café de Nuit [The Night Café] (1888)
" … I'm seeking immortality …"

Visiting Portland after a long winter and Damned Pandemic-induced absence feels as refreshing as a visit to Paris or Rome. Compared to our home near the center of the universe, it's a major metropolis. Further, due to the efforts of an inept surveyor, Portland's city blocks are tiny when compared with any other American city's, lending a human-scale aspect to the place. Even further, Portland features those exemplars of civilization, clean, well-lighted places for books. Portland's many bookstores encouraged me to pursue my literary leanings, for the very best future I could imagine featured me on one of those well-organized bookshelves in the old Beaver on Hawthorne or the original Powells, or even A Clean, Well-lighted Place For Books in San Francisco. I imagined myself shelved among masters, the E. B. Whites and James Thurbers, the John O'Haras and Eliot Pauls, and so I eventually was, but rather too near the end of the reign of the great American bookstore.

It's been half a generation now since the bookstore first felt the hand of internet commerce.

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SenseMaking

sensemaking
The Frolicking Animals scroll (Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga) from Heian Japan (mid-12th century)
" … SenseMaking, not necessarily about making sense …"

I've been trying for two months to schedule a Scheduled Maintenance appointment for The Schooner. I'd been really good at keeping each prescribed appointment since we bought the car, though it was easier when the dealer was just down the hill from us and I could just stop in to schedule a visit in person. Now that we've moved out toward the end of every known distribution channel, the closest dealership's fifty miles away. I considered just having my favorite local mechanic take over the maintenance, but he maintains a steady three month waiting list for appointments, so The Schooner's odometer would be at 55,000 miles before we could complete the 52,000 mile service. I'm now trying to negotiate away the 52,000 mile service in favor of just performing the 60,000 mile service early because I've lost faith that I can schedule the appointment much before the old odometer clicks over 60K.

The dealership's website features a futuristic scheduling application which was apparently intended to handle all appointment scheduling.

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InsideOut

insideout
Banksy: Shop Until You Drop [Street art, Mayfair, London] (2011)
"I wonder if there's much of a market for that."

As my Authoring effort has focused my attention on the product of my writing, I've been spending afternoon hours actually reading what I've written. I finally submit to this work—and it genuinely feels like work to me—after procrastinating on significantly less important activities. I hesitate before reentering the Proofing space, and I consider this reluctance to be part of the experience. It's information. I'm not merely proofreading, of course, but also for the first time experiencing what it's like to be one of my readers. I sit in the chair across the room from myself and observe with great curiosity and almost equal dread. It seems somehow unnatural for someone to so closely observe himself. I sense that I might be toying with one of the inviolable boundaries like a space/time continuum. I feel concerned that I might alter an earlier self or glimpse from perspectives that I was never supposed to suspect, let alone perceive. I'm only wondering how I might describe this manuscript. Is it Little Red Riding Hood or The Boy Who Cried Wolf? What makes this different from its many siblings?

I sense that I'm dabbling in an InsideOut, for my writing seems to echo my ongoing internal narrative.

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InCompetences

incompetencies
Francis Picabia: Première Recontre [First Meeting] (1925)
"If competence were a defining attribute, this world would have long ago crumbled. "

For me, writing seems an extended experiment intended to answer a simple question. Am I a competent writer? After a half century of experimentation, I've accumulated no conclusive evidence either way. I have seen evidence that I was, at times, at least bordering on competent, like when I learned that my Blind Men and The Elephant had become a bestseller, but that proved to be a lagging indicator, suggesting that I had at one time in the past been competent enough to pen a popular title, but it could neither suggest nor prove whether that gift had persisted into then present times or whether it might extend even beyond present time into any future. My experimentation continues. I each day manage to muster enough foolhardiness or courage to face the blank screen and begin again. Some days, like yesterday, for instance, I managed to feel competent as I wrote, a rare enough occurrence for me to make a note in my lab book. Further, I felt that the result, the surviving essay, proved to be top notch. I impressed myself. Then I went on to the other activities involved in my budding Authoring practice and fell on my face. I'd encountered yet another in my deep inventory of InCompetences.

I do not feel completely incompetent.

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Mindlessnessing

mindlessnessing
Charles S. Reinhart: The Face-maker . . . becomes the Village Idiot (1876)
"Hardly an ounce of mindfulness required."

Mindfulness has become a topic of popular conversation. People offer training to increase and improve one's mindfulness, and by all reports, that sector of the economy has been booming, this in spite of the contrary trend that most work remains at least ninety percent mindless effort, and growing. I see nobody—absolutely nobody—offering the mindlessness training so sorely needed in this post-industrial economy. The late nineteenth century industrial boom utterly depended upon the efforts of a few committed engineering types who dedicated themselves, their lives, to redesigning manufacturing from the sole purview of skilled artisans into steps so simple and fundamental that a well-behaved village idiot could excel in essentially any trade. The mindfulness necessary to produce virtually every consumer good plummeted between 1850 and 1920, such that mindlessness became the hottest commodity in the overheated job market. Millions of ignorant immigrants, some of your and my forebears among them, were welcomed to our shores and into jobs designed to make the average person stupid and the exceptional, insane. Each successive automation wave, up to and including computers and smart phones, left ever fewer jobs requiring mindfulness and ever more requiring an increasing proportion of Mindlessnessing. And here we are today.

It should not be the surprise it seems, then, for me to discover that even Authoring has become a victim to modernizing Mindlessnessing.

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RevisitingPurpose

revisitingpurpose
Guercino: Allegory of Painting and Sculpture (1637)
"I answer another question entirely …"

As I "finish" manuscripts, preparing them for sharing on into the world, I catch myself asking the inevitable question. "Are these works living up to my original intention for creating them?" The answer might prove unimportant for judging their quality as writing or even as literature, but I have not been occupied these past four and a half years just writing or merely producing literature, I have been—or intended myself to have been—fulfilling an original purpose. It might prove to be a fair question to consider whether I seem to have spent my time focused or if I became victim to some distraction. Lord knows I have encountered plenty of distractions.

That I even need to ask myself the question might suggest something about my writing practice.

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SecondOrderStorytelling

secondorderstorytelling
Unknown: Replica of paintings in the Chauvet Cave (Aurignacian Era—32,000 to 30,000 years ago)
"Authoring's also like this."

As I finished reading another draft manuscript, having proofed and corrected it, and for the very first time experienced it as a complete work, I remembered what came next. Now that I'd told the story, I would be called upon to tell the story about the story, to commence with a period of SecondOrderStorytelling. If writing a book's challenging, and, believe me, it is, writing the book about the book proves even more difficult for this humble and often humbled scribbler. I imagine a promoter of the ancient artists who created the work found in France's Chauvet Cave directing those artists to explain their work, pointing out that future generations, to whom the work would inevitably belong, might struggle to understand the purpose and significance of the artwork without a crib sheet interpreting it for them. The artists, skilled in the visual arts, might well have struggled to satisfy this perfectly reasonable request, them not possessing a written language yet and all. The same fate befalls the modern writer aspiring to authorhood, for he, too, feels as though he lacks a written language adequate to explain what he readily admits might prove difficult to sell if he cannot find a way to tell the essence of his story without forcing his potential audience to actually read the manuscript and draw their own conclusions. He's called to explain himself.

I can imagine Melville mumbling that his book's about a whale.

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Rhythmia

rhythmia
歌川国芳 (Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1798 - 1861): Cats suggested as The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō
" … the effort hardly feels like working …"

Each new beginning seems to induce an arrhythmia of sorts, a break in the accustomed cadence and flow. The new pace might be sought, even insisted upon, but the first few clicks will lack some essential, though I'm unlikely to be able to describe what. Something will be missing and my world will feel off kilter. I won't know precisely what's wrong or what to do about the apparent imbalance, other than to simply soldier through it. Then, of course, I'm soldiering rather than performing and even I notice that difference. I get to wondering what happened to my once relatively effortless performance and why every damned thing I touch requires almost superhuman effort. I know, of course, but knowing, if anything, just makes the situation seem worse because if I can diagnose, why can't I resolve? I know I've lost my rhythm, my Rhythmia, but never really knew how I'd found it before. I'm tempted to suggest that I never once before ever found it, but that it exclusively found me. I wonder if it might ever find me again or if I've somehow stepped off the world I'd always known, doomed now to move without a backbeat, without a cadence.

Then one afternoon, the Rhthmia returns, at first unnoticed.

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Cogitating

cogitating
Robert Rauschenberg: Postcard Self-Portrait, Black Mountain (I) (1952)
"I ain't no action figure."

I do not behave like a standard action hero might. I decide, then slip into a period of concerted Cogitating before acting. It might even appear to the inexperienced that I do nothing at all in response to deciding, that I'm not living up to my commitment. It might even appear that way to me. I could get moody until I give myself over to accepting what seems to be my usual response to deciding something. I flee to my head, deep within my head, and commence to Cogitating. I might insist that I'm thinking then, except I cannot be certain whether I'm thinking or not. I remain uncertain what thinking entails so I cannot tell if I'm engaging in that. Cogitating might be more a meditative than a thinking state, meditation being an immersive but not necessarily an analyzing or deconstructing one. I tend to float away from key choice points having chosen but not yet ready for action. I tell myself that my Cogitating prepares me to take right action without wasting effort with hasty reactions. I tell myself this story without really knowing if I'm telling myself the truth.

The truth might be that I have no good reason, no clear justification for slipping into Cogitating inaction following making a decision.

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Gatekeepers

gatekeepers
A gatekeeper at the Srivaikuntanathan Permual Temple
"The Gatekeeper administers the first test."

I feel as if I might have wrestled the content piece of Authoring to a rough ground over the past week. The publishing software finally gave up her secrets and I assembled a second manuscript and commenced to reading into if not yet through it. I maintain a queue of future compilings and a rough process by which to achieve them. I feel a little bored, which suggests that it might probably be time for me to open another front in this Authoring effort, the front where I commence to contacting Gatekeepers.

Gatekeepers terrify me. Always have.

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Author-itative

author-itative
Forged self-portrait of Albrecht Dürer.
" … never muttered another word thereafter."

We've long known that giving a guitar to a twelve year old dramatically increases the risk that said twelve year old will start crafting verse and become, at least in their own mind, uncommonly wise, and then start dispensing advice and spouting "folk wisdom." We understand less well a similar effect resulting from teaching someone to write. The risks might be tiny, but nonetheless exist, that the budding writer might discover urges to become an author. If so, it seems a short stroll down a fairly well-trod path before said writer comes to take them self seriously, perhaps all-too seriously, and steps over that line where ever after they think of themselves as authorities and so come to speak almost exclusively in the curious dialect favored by the Author-itative. They become bores and/or whores, assuming any of scores of similarly degrading roles in society. Extreme cases might be seen guest spotting on CNN, MSNBC, or, shudder, Fox. They might even sell a lot of books.

I have personally seen how this gift of writing can evolve into the curse of Author-itative prose.

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Haunts

haunts
Utagawa Kuniyoshi: The Ghost of Asakura Togo (undated)


"Exclamation Point! Period."

If I possessed the power to give advice that might be heeded rather than mocked by people younger than I, I would find some way to convince those folks that they author their own stories. Because of this one fundamental fact, we might be incapable of victimization without our own active collusion. Plot twists notwithstanding, if we're each authoring, then we get to decide where to place the final piece of punctuation that designates the end of one of our stories, nobody else. An adage much older than I insisted that no story ever need end up a tragedy if its author simply waits until an uptick before calling the story quits. An uptick always seems to emerge, however modest. I won't argue that this world does not host true tragedies, absolute calamities, but I will insist that these are never necessarily the whole or essence of any story, and that it does everybody some good if the soul of a mangled body gets reported as transported to heaven after its fall. That's what Authoring contributes, and it's fundamental.

Not everyone—or even most—take the Authoring notion as far as actually writing anything down, but we all seem to collect our stories.

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Authorthentic

authoringthentic
Julian Schnabel: May (2017)
"I will be rewarded with a blank page …"

I admit to feeling self-conscious about how I write. This likely stems from my never having received formal training in how to write, so I suspect that I do not write properly, or right, and never have. When I say that I feel self-conscious about how I write, I mean that I usually go unconscious when writing so that I won't be thinking about what an imposter I'm being while engaging. There's a deep shame there, too, as if my act of writing should necessarily seem offensive to you and that I really should, if I were in any way thoughtful, gift this world by not further polluting it with my misbegotten work products. I do not overstate my premise here. I want to be clear about my experience. I might choose to write in what passes, for almost everybody, as the middle of the night because my practice, my actual Authoring, probably wouldn't pass muster in the fuller light of any actual day. This part of my life seems best lived surreptitiously. Once the Authoring's finished, I feel free enough to post the result without often mentioning the process by which it manifested, a process which might well be shared by every author in the history of this world so far, though not often mentioned to their readers.

Maybe cost accountants perform a similar dance when they create capital asset pricing models. They probably should.

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OpServing

opserving
Antoine Le Nain: Les Village Pipeaux [The Village Piper] (1642)
"I'm some days tempted …"

I'm taken by the differences between the life I described two years ago and the life I live today. This continuing Damned Pandemic has completely if subtly changed how I live. On my better days, I imagine myself on a mission, serving my country by observing strict protocols so as to do my part to inhibit the transmission of the virus and all of its variants. I duly upgrade my mask as suggested by the CDC. I mostly, and some days most excruciatingly, just stay home and look out my window, an OpServer more than an active actor in this world anymore. I've become a subvocalizing scold when I do venture out, pissed at all the maskless freeloaders dogpiling upon society, extending our travails, cynically shirking their civic responsibility. It would be easy, too easy, to acquiesce to the general ignorance displayed and just play along, give up, expose my position and volunteer to become a lab experiment that could quite easily kill me forever. Instead, The Muse and I keep driving, deciding when we see the overflowing maskless crowd overfilling our local tavern, to go find some more abandoned-looking business from which to order some supper to go. We even eat out at home now.

As a writer and a budding author, I some days struggle to feel as though I describe a world shared by anyone else.

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Colluding

colluding
Robert Lawson: original etching, titled “the connoisseurs,” (undated)
"
A conspiracy's gaining steam."

While writing tends toward an isolated and, indeed, isolating endeavor, Authoring becomes necessarily more social. It might take a village to bring any work to publication and distribute it beyond its author's orbit. Even in this age of viral transmission, those lowly-seeming individual producers usually have a community contributing and supporting their efforts, colluding in dozens of different little ways to make a real difference. In some ways, these helpers find their own way inside the author's circle, even when they're invited in, for these endeavors rarely seem terribly promising at the outset. Invitations get sent without great expectations that they'll be be warmly received, without knowing who might insist upon taking a lead. The resulting community expands organically, fueled by each member's own interests. In this sense, the Colluding seems inherently beneficial, occurring only because there's really no other way to get such things going. This describes what I've long referred to as a ProjectCommunity, a benevolently Colluding conspiracy of dunces intent upon becoming geniuses. Screw projects, we'd much rather collude and conspire.

As a writer untrained by formal writers' workshop orientation, I most fear the critics.

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Dedication

dedication
John Singer Sargent: Gassed (1919)
"The universe has seemed dedicated to thwarting my forward momentum …"

It seems simply axiomatic that any attempt to accomplish anything novel attracts imps, so I should not feel in the least bit surprised that every attempt to delve more deeply into Authoring has encountered frustrating complications. Trusted software fails, or seems to, then mysteriously seems to heal itself after stalling progress for a couple of days. The mere act of plugging in a faster printer, borrowed from The Muse's office, appears to have uncovered a malware infestation which then mysteriously disappeared. Small steps seem more like stumbling blocks and every damned thing I attempt to initiate becomes either another damned thing or the same damned thing all over again. I recognize these experiences as standard Dedication tests, apparently necessary encumbrances intended to test mettle and stomach. If I cannot swallow these tangles, I might consider aborting my mission now, because worse will very likely be coming, and worse in ways that would certainly prove intolerable today, but following some initial conditioning, might well prove to be less than overwhelming. I've been building up immunity to terminal disappointment by seemingly serially disappointing myself.

It seems a wonder I've made any progress, given that I feel as though I've mostly been encumbered from moving very far forward.

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Timelessnessing

timelessnessing
Francis Picabia: Force Comique (1913–14)
"Time's a jealous one …"

Authoring, like writing, can be time consuming. I might spend three hours crafting a single thousand word essay and exhaust a few days assembling a quarter's accumulation of posted pieces into a draft manuscript, then a few days proofing that manuscript, a few hours correcting the master manuscript, all that before releasing the semi-finished work to broader review and critique. The process, if, indeed, it qualifies as a process, seems interminable and I suspect that it's actually impossible to maintain much enthusiasm for a work that takes so damned much effort to produce. There's just something about working hard that encourages moving beyond the effort and into well-earned leisure, but writers and authors do not work for the purpose of not working any more, or they sure don't seem to. They seem to work for the purpose of continuing to work, for properly engaged in, their, our, work might be better labeled play. What do I do for work? I play, but only when I remember that I can make it that way.
Any time-consuming anything tends to weigh heavily upon the one engaging, for time, a concept apparently without physical substance, weighs more than any other material.

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Learnering

learnering
Francis Picabia: Machine Turn Quickly (1916–1918)
" … even more humiliation before me …"

I know of no more pitiful state than that of a learner. The learner hangs suspended between two states: ignorance and understanding, where the presence of the former becomes ever more prominent and the absence of the latter becomes ever more apparent. No resolution resides within the learner's space. Were there a process by which one might gauge progress toward understanding, the experience might feel different for the learner, but, alas, no such process exists, though competing theories about what that process might be continually add to the irresolution. The learner's experience tends toward the chaotic with resolution uncertain. It's a genuine wonder to me why anybody ever volunteers to learn anything. Ignorance being bliss seems a damned good argument against all forms of learning, and I mean this.

Once the learning's completed, one might hold some chance of being recognized as being learned, at which point the fresh scholar might lord their superior understandings over others, thereby earning their eternal enmity.

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Relearning

relearning
Francis Picabia: La Source [The Spring] (1912)
"This Authoring crap ain't for wimps"

It might be a feature of modern times that I seem to have only fragmentary understanding of how most things work. I know enough about automobiles, for instance, to drive them, or many of them (not Buicks), but not enough to fix them should they break. I tried at one point in my life to learn enough to be able to perform simple periodic maintenance on my vehicles, but vehicles have changed since then, and even then, I was prone to making mistakes when taking care of my cars. It's genuinely difficult to clean up a four quart oil spill in a driveway after discovering that you forgot to replace the drain plug before attempting to refill the crankcase. Difficult and embarrassing.

Most of the software that I use, I understand no better than I understand automobile maintenance.

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Howsing

howsing
Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Wedding Dance (1566)
" … new worlds emerge."

I caught myself, while proofing that latest manuscript, reading for something other than story. It's usual for me, when picking up a book, to read for content. Style might enter into my perusal, but never most prominently. I'm following the story, hoping that the author's word and phrasing choices won't unduly encumber my effort. Ideally, when reading, the style should remain essentially invisible, like a neutral wall color, there to frame the content never to overshadow it. But proofing my own writing, I already know the story. I'm learning that the story pretty much takes care of itself. This time through the work, I'm looking a little deeper than story at the technique, the style, the manner of describing I employed. Does it exhibit the necessary consistency? Does it encumber the story? Does it adequately hold the space?

I guess that the style of writing sets a context, and context tends to deeply influence everything around it.

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OpeningShop

openingshop
Robert Lawson: The March of Progress (circa 1930-1931)
" … further tedious justification …"

I discovered what I always discover when I finally finished circling the spot and settled into reading the next of my "finished manuscripts." The first few pages proved awkward reading, but before I hit the fiftieth, I'd settled into the rhythm of the writing and caught myself almost enjoying the experience. The autobiographical element proved very attractive for me, for it enabled me to relive past experiences. The pieces were spare sketches but lifelike enough for me to recognize myself, or a part of myself, passing by before my eyes. Short of a mirror to peer into, what could possibly prove more diverting and interesting? The flow of the work, which I'd anticipated might prove choppy, wasn't. It seemed to pretty much work, though I'd need a book designer's eye to confirm this impression. I expected to find further excuses for not finishing the work, but I stuck to it instead, which left me feeling as though I'd opened up another department in my book producing operation. I was OpeningShop.

I have spoken here before about how I tend to catastrophize upcoming effort.

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Show&Tell

show_tell
Robert Lawson: Little Elf by Big Shoe (not dated)
" … hopefully not Arithmetic."

I have a lot of material, much of it uncatalogued. Twenty years ago, I had several file boxes filled with pieces I'd written. I still have those, unopened in the interim, and several times more volume, newer stuff, less accessibly filed. I figure that most of all of that stuff was practice, warm up pitches honing my approach. I was preparing for the day when I might be called upon to commercially create, in the bigs, but that call never came. I remember the shame I felt when I first considered submitting pieces to journals only to find that my inventory was thin. I set about trying to fill it in and may have gone a little overboard. I feel like a hoarder now, squeezing between piles of finished material so randomly organized that little within it could ever be located. It's a random access filing system where the product of every search can only be randomly selected.

I created perhaps a quarter of the material in now obsolete apps, ones for which nobody seems to make translators anymore.

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TwistingPlots

twistingplot
Robert Lawson, Pegasus (not dated)
" … Unbelievable …"

The plot twist might qualify as the most over-used literary conceit. Plot twists should appear only when absolutely necessary and should generally be less dynamic than most authors seem to presume. One need not necessarily rip the wings off the plane to affect a serviceable change of course. A wing-shedding turn might most properly be reserved for a once in a lifetime event, and even then, will very likely seem overplayed.

The general rule for believable fiction differs from the same rule for non-fiction, or what's posing as non-fiction.

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InnerAuthor

author
Robert Lawson: "Uncle Phineas was wrapped up most comfortably, smoking his pipe..." (1945)
[Perhaps a self portrait of the Author/Illustrator]
"The leather elbow patches make the real difference."

Though I have authored several manuscripts, I do not very often feel very much like an author. What does an author feel like? I thought that I might poke at that question this morning, for I seem to have an InnerAuthor inhabiting if not my body, then my spirit. When I can sense his presence, I catch myself behaving more authoritatively, more like the InnerAuthor I hope I embody. At other times, I feel far separated from that sense of that particular self, and I wallow rather hopelessly. My InnerAuthor represents my exemplar, the guy I aspire to become, my spirit guide. Every writer ever published seems to have believed that a multitude inhabits each person's psyche, each personality passing for 'me' for a time, all true yet none definitive. My InnerAuthor fits right into that characterization. He exists for the purpose of inspiration, not definition. When I'm channeling his presence, the label of Author just seems to fit. When not, it doesn't.

My InnerAuthor most closely resembles Robert Lawson, an author and illustrator who published through the first half of the twentieth century.

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Proofing

proofing
Carl Moon: Women Baking Bread (ca. 1937-1943)
" … wrapped up as a manuscript."

It feels more ritual than purposeful, that first reading of the first printing of the pieces rendered into book form. I avoid this work like I avoid Covid, though I'm unsure why. I eventually manage to get over my aversion to reading my own writing and settle into the work, though it feels like hard work. I hold my red pen ready to highlight the errors I will most certainly spot, and dog-ear each corrected page for easier reference when I go back to update the mother manuscript. It's a long process. I measure it in ten page increments. something more than one hundred fifty pages. I anticipate a slog.

It's rare that I lose myself when reading my own writing.

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Fallowing

fallowing
Ohara Koson; Reclining Tiger (Ca. 1910s)
" … up to perform my daily writing ritual …"

I am occasionally accused of appearing to be productive. I sincerely apologize for this appearance, but I assure you that the productivity seems to reside in the eye of the beholder. I consider myself a first-class slacker, rarely if ever doing very much of anything, though I might occasionally tag along on some adventure, but almost always strictly as an observer. The recently completed Grand Refurbish serves as just the most recent example of just such a misrepresentation, for I contributed little on that one and feel as though I mostly received credit for effort my hired crew performed. I added a few grace notes but little of any substance.

Still, that said, I also very rarely allow myself a day off.

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AlreadyBeenDone

alreadybeendone
Pablo Picasso: Le Peintre et Son Modèle (1970)
"I do not want somebody different greeting me now."

Picasso had what some might have considered a very bad habit. He insisted upon producing paintings that had AlreadyBeenDone, often by painters judged far superior to him. Who could count how many 'painter with his model' canvasses he produced? Certainly scores if not hundreds, each one replicating a pattern at least as old and done as any subject he could have imagined. Authors do this, too, I'm moved to reflect. Someone once postulated that there were no more than six original plots in existence. Six plots to cover the entirety of human history in every language. The likelihood that my book or yours will introduce that long-elusive seventh plot seems unlikely, if not utterly impossible. It's common for an aspiring author, though, to notice that he's not been totally original and perhaps borrowed a few features from another author, one he's in awe of or jealous of. What constitutes an original work and where might plagiarism begin or end?

We're all, it seems, standing upon each others shoulders.

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Juggling

juggling
Fritz Beinke: Der Jongleur [The Juggler: A Village Fair] (1873)
" … some soul-crushing effort."

Juggling separates writing from Authoring. Writing can occur within a variety of mediums. One need not know how to use Microsoft Word to write, as I daily demonstrate. Indeed, some of our most celebrated writers employ pencil and paper to craft their works, but since published works almost never simply photocopy an author's scribblings, some transformation from the original must occur and this does not happen without expending considerable energy, either the author's or someone else's. Indeed, each transformation, each shift of medium, also demands a proofreading pass, this usually requiring a higher skill level than the one performing the migration between mediums. Even moving writing between one software application and another introduces considerable complication into manuscript creation, since different apps tend to interpret the same intentions differently, producing formatting nightmares. I have yet to discover a single application that satisfies all the different demands a single manuscript must satisfy to pass muster, so the writer, or his staff, must engage in considerable and prolonged Juggling to produce a passable manuscript.

Writers as a class despise Juggling their work product.

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Deadlining

deadlining
William Blake: The Tiger from Songs of Experience (1794)
" … right on time, in a photo finish … "

As a writer, I mostly work without the distraction deadlines bring. I have no publication date looming, no external expectations goosing me forward other than the rather tacit and largely unknowable desire my readers might have to receive my latest posting. I quite frankly don't think about that very much. The question of whom I'm writing for rarely comes up and my response rarely changes. I'm usually writing for myself and for future generations, neither constituencies terribly demanding. But once each year, I write on deadline, Deadlining, if you will. My Christmas Poem Cycle, twelve big fat juicy ones which must, according to the constraints I've constructed around the effort, emerge between Solstice and Christmas Morning. It's Christmas Morning as I write this essay, and the scent of Deadlining still clings to me.

I notice these last few days have felt different than my usual routine, though I've tried to maintain my regular routine underneath my Deadlining effort.

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BreakingRhythm

breakingrhythm
Rene Magritte - Golconda (1953)
"I might break my stride or bust a rhyme and improve the quality of my experience."

In June 2000, London's Millennium Bridge opened to flooding crowds. Unpredicted by anyone associated with bridge design or construction, the mechanical resonance of the crowd's movement set up a small swaying within the structure. This movement further encouraged a kind of sympathetic resonance within the crowd, whereby people began walking in lockstep, further amplifying the bridge's swaying. Nothing came of this event, other than that the bridge was shut down for inconclusive investigations for the month following its opening. Way back in the 1840s, some soldiers marching across a Scottish suspension bridge, brought down the structure and ended up in the water below when their marching's mechanical resonance, much like that Millennium Bridge's crowd's, matched and amplified the bridge's. Soldier now commonly break stride when crossing a bridge to prevent such occurrences.

Writer's, too, maintain a cadence in their production.

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Ledda2duhEduhduh

ledda2duheduhduh
Anton Graff: Selbstbildnis mit Augenschirm [Self-Portrait with Eye-shade] (1813)
" … actual ink on actual newsprint."

The easiest ink this author ever gets comes from having a letter published in the local paper. It doesn't amount to much of an accomplishment, but I admit that I take great personal pride in it, reading the result over and over again as if marveled by its very presence. It seems precious to me there as I stare down at the same old page made wondrous by my letter's presence.

The local paper will publish almost anything submitted by any reader, and about a quarter of those they do publish appear have to been submitted written in fat primary crayon, probably with the 'r's transcribed backwards.

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InauspiciousBeginning

inauspiciousbeginnings
Werner, E. T. C.: The Eight Immortals Crossing The Sea,
(1922) [excerpted from Myths & Legends of China. New York: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd]

" … a thousand lenses absorbing orthogonal perspectives, sending mixed messages."

I'm nobody's soothsayer. I cannot foresee anybody's future, much less my own. Furthermore, I don't really want to know what's coming next. Maybe I want to be ill-prepared when my future finally shows up. Maybe I just don't care, but I've organized my life more around the here and now than any there or then. I have aspired to little more than to do my work and be with my family and friends, though our Damned Pandemic has been straining ties to family and friends. I made that call day before yesterday to acknowledge that we would not be congregating for this upcoming holiday, either. The Muse and I are long distance grandparents, even after we managed to move back home.

As those of you who have followed my postings already understand, I fancy myself a writer.

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ColdLight

coldlight
Ohara Koson: Bush Warbler in Winter (Ca. 1900-1910s)

"The brightest light on the darkest night of the year …"

Six months ago, light came wrapped in heat. We prayed for sunset, when the hostilities might hesitate overnight, but only to reassert themselves shortly after the following first light. We cowered from light then, when only darkness brought respite and light just seemed punishing. Between sunscreen and sunglasses, we'd suit up whenever we headed outside, long sleeves, long pants, and broad-brimmed hats. We'd rush between places, limiting the time we'd spend outside of our air conditioned spaces, constantly consuming cold beverages. The summer solstice brought more light than we wanted and more heat than we could handle.

Six months later, the light comes with cold in the form of snow which seems to emanate bright.

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ExtraordinaryTimes

extraordinarytimes
Ohara Koson: Goose and Reeds (Ca. 1910)
"I'll have to wait and see …"

Our Grand Refurbish fully qualified as an ExtraordinaryTime. I extended myself special dispensation for its duration because I really felt as though I was engaging in something truly special, unique, and valuable. The effort at times felt overwhelming, but I mostly stood up to the challenges. Now I face a more daunting prospect, the utterly ordinary one of returning back into ordinary time. ExtraordinaryTimes offer easy excuses. Nobody really expects you to maintain regular hours if you're busy changing the universe. No one harshly judges anyone nobly engaged. End such an effort, though, and mundane duties and obligations rush in to fill the resulting void. There will be no citations for keeping up with the dusting and dishes. There will be few appreciations awarded for achieving nothing in particular.

For a time, I might reasonably expect to rest upon my laurels.

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StartingAtOne

startingatone
Seated Male Deity Supporting a Vajra on His Finger (last quarter of 10th–first half of 11th century)
Indonesia (Java, Ngandjuk)

" … a meditation on sanity, vanity, and satisfaction …"

Prolific author and psychotherapist Sheldon Kopp told the story of how he learned to meditate. He checked into a Zen center where a master directed him to sit quietly in a corner and count to ten. Though this seemed an inauspicious beginning, he did as instructed. He quickly found that though counting to ten had never before posed a serious challenge, he found himself losing his place when sitting there by himself trying to count to ten, so he returned to the master and reported his difficulty. The master instructed that if he were to lose his place again, he was to just go back to one and begin anew. Kopp reported that it was the longest time before he realized that meditating was not about getting to ten but going back to one.

I imagine that I'm feeling a similar sensation as I set about attempting to live post-Grand Refurbish.

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PackingUp

packingup
Christo: Package on Radio Flyer Wagon, Project (1993)
" … before telling me what he intended to do for me that day."

"Are we done?" Our Carpenter Joel asked the question, which seemed to come out of nowhere. Done? So quickly? It had been four full months since he'd first showed up, ostensibly to just lay some vinyl planking and complete a few other chores. Those few other chores had grown to include quite a few more than a few other chores, including installing five large windows, refinishing a large staircase, and rebuilding a wall of shelves from scratch. His chop saw had become a seemingly permanent fixture in the middle of our living room since the weather had turned and his periodic saw dust injections had become a part of our accepted atmosphere. He'd just come out from under his rebuilt wall of bookshelves, having anchored their stanchions with fresh long screws, and he was out of work and ready to load up. He was moving out, PackingUp his van and heading home. I could not respond to his question. Though I had been anticipating an impending ending, I had not prepared myself to recognize it when it finally appeared. I found one tiny final task before releasing him from further obligation.

Kurt Our Painter would remain for another day, touching up and cutting in, finishing the final painting, always a lagging indicator of progress

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Crowning

crowning
Bartolomeo Cavarozzi: Virgin And Child With Angels (circa 1620)
" … wrong crown, its Crowning achievement."

When the future asks after the Crowning achievement of Our Grand Refurbish, I'll retell this story, for it stands as at least emblematic of the entire venture. The Muse had insisted from our earliest conversations that we would finish the three main downstairs rooms with period-appropriate crown moulding. I was fine with leaving the crowns as they were but she was adamant. I know when to avoid doing battle, so I quickly conceded. Period-appropriate crown moulding it would be, then. We torn down the existing stuff and I donated it to the recycled house parts operation out at the old airbase. The replacement proved inconvenient to deal with since it came in sixteen foot lengths, so long that our carpenter had to fetch his other truck with the long overhead rack to transport it. We painted it before cutting and mounting it, but it was too long to store anywhere, so we had to work quickly. Kurt Our Painter spray painted the first batch, but that proved to be a big hassle. Two hours of prep and clean up for about three minutes of painting. It used a lot of paint, too, so we rolled then brushed the rest of the stuff, ending up inside after the weather turned, boards stretching between the two living rooms and creating a serious navigational hazard.

The lumber yard didn't quite know how to handle crown.

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Tractoring

tractoring

Gulls Following a Farmer on his Tractor, State Historical Society of Iowa (Date Unknown)
" … what else have we got to amuse ourselves with?"

The final few furlongs of Our Grand Refurbish seem to condense all the effort into a few remaining tasks, with each taking on the weight and importance of the sum of all the prior pieces. The final coat of paint goes on in Jovian gravity, heavy and dense. The last screw set seems to pierce stone rather than wood, the driver groans under the strain. Minutes no longer slip by, but crawl. The day seems too small to contain our aspirations for it and for ourselves. Kurt Our Painter puts his head down for a day of dedicated Tractoring, him seeming to possess a hydrostatic transmission with an amazingly low gear, capable of shoving his way through anything. His usual slow-motion Kabuki dance becomes, if anything, even more intense. He appears relentless, but effortlessly so. If the past few days have been short and slow, these next couple will might well turn endless.

A force propels us now, more pulling than pushing.

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Muddling

muddling
Vincent van Gogh: Sunflowers (1887)
" … which, of course, we ain't."

Let's consider looking at the Covid-19 pandemic as if it were one of those psychological instruments intended to provide feedback about who we really are. I know, those instruments might be the most widely misused and misinterpreted forms of self-discovery, but even this fact might better qualify them for this purpose, for this use. We don't usually read the instructions, anyway, but figure we might just as well muddle through. Muddling might be our primary means of engaging. Even when we have access to concise and accurate information, we tend to ignore that in favor of gut feel or intuition. We can consequently be fairly certain that those with their fingers on nuclear triggers have also not really read the instructions, justifying that decision with a belief that they'd never need to pull it. I mean, how hard could it be to destroy all humanity? Nobody's gonna be left to write that history.

We seem fatalistic, as if learning better might actually kill us or be more dangerous than remaining uninformed or becoming ill.

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Plumb

plumb
Jasper Johns: [title not known] (1967–9)
"Long live our illusions …"

In this house, Plumb amounts to a fictional concept intended to be interpreted rather loosely. It never refers to anything like absolute verticality, which does not exist here, but to orthogonality relative to level or flat, which also does not exist in this fine home. Every surface might play off the general concept of level and Plumb, but never actual exhibit either. Our new library shelves, the last installation in Our Grand Refurbish, are taking longer to install than expected, though we might have reasonably expected complications. The left adjacent wall, upon close scrutiny, turns out to be roughly dish shaped and canted a degree or two off Plumb. It abuts into the freshly refinished window seat, which slopes ever so slightly back to front, perhaps designed that way to keep marbles from accumulating along its top. The right adjacent wall slopes slightly away from the vertical, necessitating much ciphering and trimming in order to yield more or less level shelf surfaces and also to properly fool the observing eye, which might otherwise discern just how out of Plumb the whole construction turned out to be. Properly constructed and painted, the eye will be fooled and satisfied, for it will conclude that this little corner of the world actually appears to be Plumb, a rarity and a fiction.

We seem to prefer our fictions and even conspire to preserve them against opposing evidence.

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TinySignificances

tinysignificances
Suleiman at Wasserburg on the River Inn, in a woodcut by Michael Minck dated 24 January 1552.
"We might need gruel work."

Through The Grand Refurbish, a few tiny annoyances remained out of scope but never out of mind. We'd focused our attention on specific portions of the place and chose—at first deliberately, then out of habit—to just let anything else slip by for that time, for we could have nattered away the opportunity by attempting to attend to everything at once. It just seemed prudent to narrow our scope of interest. There would always be a tomorrow. But nearing the end of The Grand Refurbish, few improvements need my personal attention. Our carpenter and our painter cannot quite muster full shifts between them now, we're down to one room, and almost down to a final wall. Those tiny annoyances began calling again or, more properly stated, those TinySignificances continued wielding their power. I finally gave in.

The bathroom door had come to scrape on the floor beneath it.

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ThePaintPotPrinciple

thepaintpotprinciple
Henri Matisse: Blue Pot and Lemon (1897)
" … precisely what it always was and then some."

The Muse and I hired a professional painter for Our Grand Refurbish, both an expensive proposition and a priceless one. We'd never been ones to hire done our painting, figuring that we might just as well do that work ourselves and retain the wages we would have laid out. We never would have known what we would have foregone had we chosen to go that route, for one cannot notice what one does not experience. Following Kurt around has provided an education for me, exposure to much I never knew or understood about the fine art of house painting. It turns out to be every bit as exacting as anything Matisse ever produced, requiring deep skills in color, technique, and much more. For someone like me, a surface is a surface is a surface, but to Kurt, each one's a little different, demanding a unique approach. We've used a half dozen different primers alone on this job, each formulated for slightly different conditions, ones only an experienced eye might ever discern. After five months of learning, I'm catching on to much I still need to learn. I can't now imagine ever painting anything again without first at least seeking Kurt's wise advice and counsel, if not his paint brush. Oh, and I'm officially no slouch with a brush and a roller, myself.

I've been noticing how our master performs, though, like any first grader might notice in his first teacher.

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TheSecondOrderSolution

ThePenny


"I pray that I will find a ready penny when my comeuppance comes …"

Our home, The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, might be best described as the sum of its kludges. The midnight fixes that were never formalized the following morning. The interventions completed by unqualified technicians. The misunderstood instructions. The leftover parts. I might be slightly less than fully-qualified to even own a home, let alone expect myself to maintain it, but I have not always found myself in a position where I might contract with a qualified technician, so I'm forced to perform some fixes myself. I wander around the Ranch Supply or The Home Despot, every bit the homeless waif, for my home stands in that moment broken and I've been called to fix it. I might hold a notion about the source of the problem but I don't know the nomenclature, so I attempt an explanation to a hostilely disinterested clerk. I might as well be speaking Ukrainian for all the good my describing does. I'm very likely to be led to a dreaded part of the store, a part filled with tools and materials I've truly never seen or even imagined before, and abandoned there, much worse off than I was before, when I just didn't have a clue.

I call my preferred method of fixing everything TheSecondOrderSolution.

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Phinishing

phinishing
Camille Pissarro: Bois de châtaigniers à Louveciennes (1872)
"We're improvising our exit scene …"

As Our Grand Refurbish neared its end, progress became erratic. Crew called in sick or excused themselves for appointments. Expectations smeared. I feared that we might never finish, that we'd become one of those good ideas that never quite coalesced and remained permanently undone, and this outcome could happen to anyone. We tend to envision an end state but not the last furlong of the race. We seem to expect some sort of grace to nudge us over that last hump, when finishing, Phinishing, might be a unique and separate art, like the kind a closing pitcher practices, almost but not entirely unlike the skills that formerly produced the start and progress. The production mindset seems in need of disruption to finish, otherwise it might just continue to replicate itself into never-endingness. We need the opposite of that now, and it seems likely that we'll have to violate some deeply ingrained habits to pull that off. Phinishing's not just stopping work, it seems a serious disassembling process. Rather than building, we're set to take away now.

The inertia of motion argues against ever stopping.

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SpoolingUp

spoolingup
Claude Monet: Snow Effect at Argenteuil [Effet de neige à Argenteuil] (1875)
"nobody ever knows if they even exist … until they manifest on the page."

While I felt myself WindingDownish yesterday, this morning, I sense myself SpoolingUp. WindingDownish mostly involves reflecting while SpoolingUp focuses upon projecting, anticipating, preparing. It's a head-in-the-clouds experience where the future overshadows both present and past. I see the end of Our Grand Refurbish coming, but more compelling, I've started hearing my annual Holiday Poem Cycle calling. The Muse, often ahead, began baking her holiday breads last weekend. I'm just waking up, realizing that I have a dozen or more new poems to write between now and Christmas morning, and that I have not yet started stockpiling possible illustrations to serve as inspirations.

I began this tradition twenty years ago when I became disgusted with the sense of obligation this season wrought in me.

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WindingDownish

windingdownish
André Masson: Battle of Fishes (1926)
"I left a few once-shiny screws which I intended to use to hold impermanence together."

Time seems to slow as this year moves closer to its ending. The days grow shorter but feel longer, some days seeming interminable in their passage. I swim through thick molasses on my way toward New Years. This year has been like no other, for this year, I lost my darling daughter, which opened a wound that could never heal and hasn't. It was also a year overflowing with hopefulness, the year The Muse and I undertook The Grand Refurbish, an effort deliberately imbedded with much needed promise. We ended our exile and moved back home but delayed moving in until we'd fixed up the place for our entrance. Here but not yet present, either, we spent the final three-quarters of the year suspended in place, no longer there and not yet here. Now time itself has lost its usual cadence, passing in slow motion if, indeed, it's passing at all. Some days, lately, time just seems stalled.

My notions of progress conflict with my understanding of entropy, this universe's governing quantity.

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TechnicalProblems

technicalproblem
Ohara Koson: Monkey and Moon (Ca. 1900 - 20)
A long armed monkey is trying to catch the reflection of the full moon on the water surface.

"I sometimes, briefly, become the destroyer of my own world …"

I have been using the same blog software for fifteen years but I just barely understand how to use it. It sometimes gives me fits, crashing or otherwise inhibiting my simple demands for it. I chose it over the more popular alternatives because it's a native Mac application and so it works more intuitively, or so I tell myself. It mostly works without me having to know how it works. I'm confident that I only know about 1% of its features, but I almost never need to know any more than that. When I get into trouble, a User Forum provides a channel to connect with users who know one heck of a lot more than 1% of the system's operation. When the User Forum's stumped, I can resort to the developers' help desk, which, being located in Brighton, England, usually takes until the next day to get back to me. It might be every app user's dream to be the one to uncover some fatal flaw in their chosen application, to report it to the developers, and to have them heap praise on the one user who helped them avert absolute disaster. No, that's never happened for me, either. We usually find that my ISP has been messing with me or that I've inexplicably gotten tangled up in my own underpants. I tend to be the source of almost all of my so-called TechnicalProblems.

I complain about the technology, but I increasingly understand that I'm actually complaining about myself.

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YardWork

yardwork
Paul Cézanne: The House with the Cracked Walls (1892–1894)
"My bushes rely upon my heartlessness …"

With the Refurbishment winding down, I found some time on my hands and YardWork needing doing. The winter rains were predicted to begin, after which whatever leaf litter I'd left would become a sodden mess, so I set to play. I do not consider YardWork to belong to the same activity class as labor, or if it does, it falls well within the boundaries of labor of love. It's play, a matter of rearranging orders whether pruning or weeding, it seems to be all about balancing. The weed I do not stoop to pull this time through will remind me what I didn't do the next time I pass through, and will continue to remind me until I decide to do something about it. I keep mental notes about which parts have been begging for some attention. The Refurbish rendered me unavailable to come out to play for months and months. It's reassuring to me that my absence didn't seem to inflict any permanent damage. The yard abides.

I hide my messes behind the garage, around the composter, which is an active mess in continual process.

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FestivalOfLights

paradeoflights
Paul Cézanne: Antoine Dominique Sauveur Aubert, the Artist's Uncle, as a Monk
(1866)
"The nights are dark but our hearth feels warm."

Because nothing says Happy Holidays like a big, huge bucket truck festooned with lights. Festooned, being one of those words essentially reserved solely for use during December, serves as a big tell as to what's going on. The Muse and I are watching our small city's annual holiday parade, the FestivalOfLights. Main Street, holiday lights off, stands lined with people on both sides as a long line of clearly Homemade floats passes by us. As near as I can tell, the opportunity for families and strangers to wave at each other might serve as the primary purpose of the whole charade. It's equally absurd and endearing. A guy rides by astride a sway-backed Appaloosa playing We Wish You A Merry Christmas on a battered trumpet. No explanation offered or demanded. The crowd applauds. Another big, huge bucket truck rumbles by, lights manically flashing, its advertising unreadable, rider waving, smiling, and greeting. I'm moved to tears.

It had been years since The Muse and I attended a hometown parade.

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Monkish

monkish
Peter Paul Rubens [1577-1640]: Portrait of a Monk, date unknown
"I mumble my vespers to myself …"

I seem to go through periods, like Picasso's Blue Period, where I maintain most of my focus upon a very narrow range of interests. These periods can last from a few weeks to decades, and I find them both enormously satisfying and ultimately a bit suffocating. Nearer the beginning of these phases, I immerse myself in discovery. A novice then, I hunger for ever more information. Later, I might seem a tad compulsive as I erect and defend strict boundaries around my discipline, my concerns. I might seem heartless to others' perspectives, seriously disinterested, even dismissive of what others might find compelling. Later in these chapters, I might grow restless, feeling as though I might have just about sucked all the goody out that that particular popsicle. I might even grow bored and go AWOL, leaving cohorts in a lurch. Obsession has phases, just like anything else. There's no happily forever after anywhere.

Our Grand Refurbishment has been such a period.

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TouchingUp

touchingup
Detail of the preparatory design by Gustav Klimt for the mosaic friezes of the main dining room of the Stoclet Palace
(Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna) (circa 1903)
"The final act of every improvement TouchesUp."

Almost nothing finishes like a horse race does, with successes and failures neatly lined up in decisive conclusion. It's gone in an instant. Most activities end with more of a smear on their lens, approaching finished but never quite there yet, a spin away from conclusion. Eventually, the crowd disperses and the stadium quiets, then one might reasonably deduce that something happened but clearly, if not decisively, ended. An absence replaces a presence and we call that negative space a done. Before drawing that conclusion, though, picky little endings need tidying up. The effort might be largely concluded but not yet minutely finished. In Our Grand Refurbish, cast brass window locks sit atop sashes but have not yet been attached. Several doors remain to be hung and adorned, at least one needing some serious sanding on top in order to fit back into its frame. Little bits of painting remains, too, final coats and ragged edges, a few nail holes still need filling and final dressing, Touching Up. It's like a final accounting before the crew departs the building. The list of needed TouchingUps shrinks but seems essentially bottomless.

I like the idea that the last activities are classified as touching, for much of the Refurbish work seemed a whole lot more brutal, crushing blows and smashing throes, cutting carpeting, extracting tiny staples, floating walls and ceilings, burying past mistakes, hiding unfortunate legacies.

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Swarming

swarming
Nikolai Bogatov: Beekeeper (1875)
"They leave little footprints in the dust …"

A swarm of activity erupts from Our Grand Refurbish as we near completion. Completion still seems like absolute fiction. I cannot yet quite imagine our living room unlined with cardboard and not filled with saw horses, paint smells, and an enormous chop saw. Joel Our Carpenter pulled up to the front in his van yesterday to disgorge yet another load of fine-grained boards destined to become sills and trim for the final fresh window. I was poised on a tall ladder painting highlight trim around the last new window while Kurt Our Painter treated library shelves with conditioner in preparation for staining them. Never before in the long months this effort has dominated, has such a variety of activity bloomed at once. I cannot keep up to supervise. Fortunately, any effort as mature as this one shouldn't need much supervision. It manages itself.

It might be that we could not have possibly kept up had this variety appeared any earlier.

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Overalls

overalls
Thomas Hart Benton: Cotton Pickers (1931)
"I can carry a hammer anywhere now!"

Our GrandOther Kylie has taken to engaging in cosplay, wherein she dresses up in the costume of some Manga or Nintendo character for the apparent purpose of becoming that character for a while. Her evident pride and satisfaction as she explains her character's particular proclivities speak to the efficacy of the practice. I, never having heard of these characters before, sort of fuzz over at her explanations because I really cannot relate to them, but I engage in my own curious cosplay behavior which might well baffle anyone else. Just this week, for instance, I started test driving a pair of Overalls I'd purchased online on a whim. I saw them there, on sale, and decided in that moment that they might serve me well, or, better than my then current handyman garb. Through Our Grand Refurbish, I'd ruined three pairs of otherwise perfectly respectable jeans, wearing out the knees on two of them and slopping another pair with so much paint that they're unusable for anything but painting. Further, those jeans lacked the pockets I needed, and their cantilevered construction meant that I spent a considerable part of my day "hiking" them up. They were always sagging.

Something about that photograph of those Overalls caught my attention and in that moment, I'd nabbed the pair.

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LineADucks

lineaducks
Ohara Koson: Two Mallard Ducks and the Moon (Early 20th century)
"Faith is not unsupported belief but the belief in uncanny experience …"

I recognize that Our Grand Refurbish has elbowed its way into perhaps more stories than warranted or wanted through this series. In explanation if not apology, Our Grand Refurbish has subsumed most of my foreground and background focus for many months. I've recently been bemoaning absences, primarily of closure, for this party's extended beyond celebration and nudged into a wicked form of self-punishment. What began with enthusiasm, albeit naive, evolved into frustration as the end game refused to coherently line up. Each attempt to decisively end the effort found only a fresh barrier preventing further forward movement. Reliable suppliers failed us. Sick days stalled us. Weather drove us inside. We could see what still needed doing but we could not quite manage to get there from here. I knew that something important was missing but I could not clearly state what that something might have been. That absence was not prescriptive.

I recognize that this was always how endings emerge but I'd somehow lost accessibility to that knowledge.

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RushTheExit

rushtheexit
Ohara Koson: Geese and the Moon (Early 20th century)
"Hasten home slowly. This ending's just begun."

I suspect a cultural imperative if not an innate human tendency at work, the one encouraging people who paid fifty bucks a ticket to leave the game in the middle of the seventh inning to, as they might claim, "beat the traffic." One might beat the traffic better by lingering until well after the game ends, until the parking lot's emptier, but that tactic seems to violate that imperative or tendency. Even at big games and popular concerts, where tickets cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars, one sees some percentage of the audience RushTheExit before the event even ends. We might become lemmings, ready to follow others' leads to our own demise whenever an ending threatens. The end will come but we seem to want our endings on our own terms and so we rush them. Our Grand Refurbish has been threatening to end for a fortnight now, but once it started throwing off serious intimations, progress stalled. Joel Our Carpenter came down with something that kept him off the job for a week after supply issues added a few days to our imaginary timeline, both conspiring to add tension to the conclusion. What operated as a relatively care free enterprise for months has become a pain in the butt to live with and I feel more than ready to simply wash my hands of whatever's left. I ache for doneness.

Such conditions might breed disaster, for they erode the patience which has thus far fueled our forward progress.

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Pastiche

Pastiche
Das Leben ist schön: sculpture by "Leonardo Rossi", a fake name often used for plagiarized bronzes
" … respectfully mimicking itself in mom jeans."

As a lifelong member of the once highly-touted Baby Boomer generation, I regret to report that I'm apparently no longer a member of any demographic any retailer cares about. That mantle has passed to those who came of age after us. I'm wise to shop for clothes in vintage consignment shops. Few people now write books with my sensibilities in mind. Food has swerved toward both the bio-deplorable and the chemically-enhanced. I swear someone wants caffeine added to everything so they can call the result an energy source, that and bull pee, which has seeped into more than just the terribly regrettable Red Bull®, more an addiction than a beverage. Members of the generation just behind me are struggling to kick habits nobody had even invented yet when I was in my prime. Finding halfway decent jeans that fit without looking like they were tailored for mom has become essentially impossible. A tee shirt without either a brand name or some meaningless meme printed all over it might no longer exist. Do they even make clothes in innocuous colors anymore?

We have become a
Pastiche society, one dedicated to emulating rather than creating, copying rather than originating.

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Hinges&Doors

Hinges&Doors
Edward Hopper: Rooms by the Sea (1951)
" … blind man coping as the pinnacle of engaging."

Our Grand Refurbish has depended upon many contributions. Our workers, who serve more as artisans, and whom we have fairly compensated, still contributed their non-refundable time to help us realize our fuzzy intentions. They gave away their care and attention. Reassembling the place after transformation depends upon tiny things, most prominently, Hinges&Doors. The doors, dedicated readers will recall, filled my playbook during the early to middle Refurbishment periods. I scraped and sanded each face before repainting it. They seemed finished works of art then, merely needing hanging, until hanging proved to be the most difficult part of the operation, with no merely in it. Hinges, you see, complicate everything. Hanging a door on its hinges becomes a two-man operation, with a third hand handy, involving grunting, hammering, and cursing. A few doors slip right onto their anchors, but most require a little adjustment, a little manual reasoning before they'll fit. Once mounted, the door might not quite sit squarely within its frame and require further hinge adjustment or a little frenzied sanding or planing along its top or leading edges. It seems wondrous when any of them work. I hold lingering doubts that all of them ever will.

One disassembles and one takes chances that something might not so seamlessly reassemble again.

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NormalImpossible

NormalImpossible
Ohara Koson: A Crow on a Snow Covered Tree Stump (circa 1930s)
" … that sense that you're on the verge of being found out to be a fraud and mustered out of the club."

I so routinely engage in impossibilities that they hardly register anymore. Much of what I initiate might beforehand be much more easily proven impossible than likely, yet I proceed, often in sublime ignorance of the utter impossibility I'm initiating. I've usually convinced myself that I'm starting something rather normal, and I often am, but NormalImpossible, not any of the infinite other varieties of normal available. We might benefit from a quick declaration of definition here so that we might share a common meaning, if that's even possible. I declare the NormalImpossible to feature so much exploding variance as to render it finitely unplannable, untrackable, and uncontrollable. An exploding variance shifts due to more than a few [let's say, three] influences, moves unexpectedly or stealthily, and contains many mutually distracting moving parts. To focus upon any part of a NormalImpossibility is to render the observer essentially blind to the rest of the mechanism, producing a blind observer effect where one observer proves insufficient and more than one cannot agree upon what they've seen, producing a Blind Men and the Elephant situation, all perfectly normal in my experience engaging in NormalImpossibles.

One of the more prominent features of the NormalImpossible situation has always been the apparently normal human tendency to perceive them as much simpler than one could possibly prove to be.

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Evocations

Evocations
Ohara Koson: Autumn Grass (1900-30)
"My feelings live close to the surface here …"

The Villa smells of pumpkin custard this early morning because The Muse was baking Thanksgiving pies last night. A pecan job rests beside the pumpkin on the kitchen counter. A extremely large-breasted turkey rests, air-drying in the garage refrigerator. A low ceiling hangs over this valley. A crane-shaped airplane, the morning flight to Seattle, just roared overhead. I suspect that it was filled with people heading off to spend this holiday with family, though I don't know that for a fact. I know little for a fact, though I seem to sense plenty and make sense that way. I mostly make meaning not by knowing but by feeling. I read Evocations emanating from things and those vibes serve to inform me. Were it not for this sensory capacity, I would seem just as ignorant as I truly am. It's not a sixth sense, either, but the judicious application of the first five.

This town evokes memories from me. It plays me like a cheap guitar.

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FallingsForward

Setbacks
Ohara Koson: Hunting for Insects (1900-10)
"All progress seems to come from FallingsForward."

Years ago, a client asked me to review a project management course book he'd hired a BIG three consultant to create for his firm. The manual began by recounting many "failed" projects, adopting a backdoor don't-be strategy for teaching its subject. I found this approach odd, especially since the "failed" projects had all also been widely recognized as wild successes. The Sidney Opera House was mentioned, a notoriously failed scope and budget containment process that produced perhaps the world's most beautiful building, which was quite a trade-off. Would the world long remember the cost overage or might it move on to enjoy the remarkable fruits of its curious labor? And so the book continued.

I mention this experience because Our Grand Refurbishment, largely a blessed endeavor, has started experiencing setbacks.

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NewFashioned

NewFashioned
Ohara Koson: Kingfisher (1935)
" … new traditions never intended to become our future imperatives."

I understand just as well as any next person the sacred obligations each holiday lays upon us. We are each enjoined to at least attempt to recreate some utterly mythical, paradoxical ideal scenario in homage to some past that never actually happened, the purpose of which always gets promised as contributing to the net volume of joy in this world or gratitude or something. It's always something. We go as crazy as an ant hill on fire to achieve the understood ideal. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) often results, and understandably so, for given an absolutely unachievable necessity, you'd have to be crazy not to be driven insane by trying to pursue it. Still, when Thanksgiving comes around, we're inevitably dusting off the old Pilgrim hat, often unconsciously, while envisioning ourselves in a Normal Rockwell illustration of the mythical grandma and gramps laying an impossibly huge and perfectly roasted turkey on an already over-laden table. The thought of achieving anything less should depress you. When it comes to holiday celebration, it's damned whatever you do when recreating. We hold OldFashioned as our standard. Might NewFashioned hold some promise?

I was reminded of the delight accompanying NewFashioned when looking at our newly-fashioned window and door trim, which our carpenter fashioned to suggest a heritage they clearly never held.

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HomeAwayFrom

HomeAwayFromHome
Ohara Koson: Cat and Bowl of Goldfish (1933)
"We didn't find home lurking there, either …"

Though I lived almost half of my life in this SouthEast Portland, Oregon neighborhood, I always felt afraid here. When my first wife and I arrived in late 1975, fresh from a couple of years living in a small city in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Portland seemed huge and threatening. We found a small apartment on a major thoroughfare, just across the street from a massage parlor and on a major bus route, and settled in as if surrounded by an unseen but ever-present enemy. My wife's parents had lived in a tiny garden apartment just around the corner when they were first starting out, so I suppose that we might have found some sense of home here, but we never did. It didn't help that my wife had taken a job in a hospital that she didn't like or that I was trying to break into an unfamiliar music scene. I then still fancied myself a single acoustic performing artist. I was good at what I did, but disco threatened. I was teetering on the decision to enroll in the local state university and get out of the business, working casual labor jobs in the warehouses surrounding our apartment. I let go of a defining dream in this neighborhood.

I return now because my son and grandkids live in essentially the same neighborhood, a dozen or so blocks from that first apartment, in an apartment of their own.

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Humpty

Humpty
Ohara Koson: Two White Geese (Japanese, Meiji era, beginning of 20th century)
" … stripping out soft brass screw heads and struggling with heavy things."

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the kings horses and all the kings men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

-Traditional Nursery Rhyme


The Villa Vatta Schmaltz seems to be experiencing a bout of Humpty as The Muse and I try to put The Villa back together again.

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CatchingShadows

CatchingShadows
Ohara Koson: Six Geese and Shadows (1926)
"Slowing down and showing up …"

I seemed somehow primed to anticipate that The Law of Unintended Consequences would tend toward rolling snake eyes, the worst possible outcomes, but Our Grand Refurbish has produced more counter examples than supportive ones. On samples, The Muse's choice of color seemed unremarkable, perhaps bordering on regrettable, being a shade of grey, for cripes sake, but in practice, it became a chameleon color, capable of surprising variations depending upon even small changes in light and shadow. Rather than drab grey walls, The Villa now has vibrant technicolor ones, each corner marking at least a subtle shift in color or texture, each angle shifting the nature of each room. It's all more than a little bit overwhelming, for the rooms seem to be in continual motion. Leave a room and it will have changed by the time you return. Step into a room and some subtle or significant shift might imprint. The place seems to have grown at least one additional dimension.

I'm most impressed with the Villa's new proclivity for CatchingShadows.

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GooseChasing

GooseChasing
Ohara Koson: Two white geese swimming by reeds (1928)
"I'd chase more geese any time it's possible."

Near the end, usually, an opportunity appears to turn tedious ladders into rapidly accelerating chutes, an apparent shortcut appears. Of course, by long tradition, most anyone would grab this opportunity like the lure it most certainly seems, rubber worm and all. Even I, experienced refurbisher now, fell prey to this call. Our carpenter had located the material he needed to refurbish the long window seat and shelves in our soon-to-be showcase library. Those boards were in Portland, 245 miles away, and the supplier couldn't say if FexEx® would even consent to ship the stuff. I volunteered to drive over and back to collect the boards, insisting that they be no longer than five feet so that they'd fit into The Schooner. Joel Our Carpenter missed the confirming call and by the time he'd caught up to it, the outlet had closed for the day. That was Wednesday.

We parted that evening with the understanding that Joel would call me just as soon as he'd confirmed that the order was ready.

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Adopting

Adopting
Robert Delaunay: Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon (1912–13)
" … will we regale them of stories of what was once there but is there no longer?"

The Muse and my relationship with our beloved Villa Vatta Schmaltz does not very much resemble a marriage, marked as it has been by extended absences. Nor does it look very much like a birth family deal. We do not share DNA. Our life here more closely favors Adopting, for we've taken this place into our family and, or so it also seems, this place has been steadily Adopting us. It's a curious relationship in that The Muse and I have been largely focused upon improving this place since we first moved in, and pursuing improvements might be hints that we're criticizing our adopted family member. I think my second wife and I got hitched on the prospect of who we might become together, but the differences between what we were and what we might improve into got us before we could arrive at our destination together. There's something genuinely poisonous about focusing upon achieving future improvements. Nothing turns off the present and no future directly influences anything before it, though the sense that we're not quite there yet can tear asunder even the truer loves. We are always here yet and never quite there yet.

That said, we love this place as if it were family.

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Spurt

Spurt
Reflection in freshly-installed front window in The Villa Vatta Schmaltz
"I'm inhabiting what was then just aspiration …"

Wasn't it just yesterday morning that I complained about The Grand Refurbish moving forward in slow motion? By noon, I found myself struggling to keep up with a pace I had not anticipated reappearing. This experience served as another reminder that time, contrary to popular misconceptions, does not move in any consistently regular fashion. It moves by Spurt and stall, by fits and starts. Clocks apparently more or less accurately track an average rate of time's expansion, a smoothed representation of a much more chaotic phenomenon. Clocks inexorably misrepresent actual experience and easily influence anticipation. When time seems to move slowly, which it sometimes does, it seems as though it might forever thereafter continue so moving, never any faster. When time whizzes by, as it also sometimes seems to, who takes the time to consider that the apparent velocity of time probably amounts to an illusion? You could be sitting right beside me and we could be experiencing time completely differently without ever noticing how our individual experiences differed.

It should be no surprise that Our Grand Refurbish still carries a surprise or two inside her.

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Disarray

Disarray
Robert Delaunay: Champs de Mars: La Tour Rouge (1911)
"We might never finish, but we're real close to done …"

I can tell that The Grand Refurbish nears completion because the house seems in ever greater Disarray. I'd imagined that as we finished rooms and even started re-inhabiting them, that the clutter might recede. Certainly, the second floor now holds only traces of the messes that dominated there for weeks and weeks, but as the effort has concentrated on the final two rooms, the materiel necessary to affect the remaining changes have been crammed into an even smaller space. I'm forever tripping over something and have taken to avoiding the workrooms unless its before or after the work day. The painter needs his space as does the carpenter, and I can do whatever I need to do in there off hours, though most of what I do in there amounts to tripping over something or tidying up, even though I know for certain that the surest way to increase the net sense of disarray involves somebody tidying up for somebody else, especially if its done without first seeking advice, counsel, or permission. The living room and library are currently in such disarray that they disturb me. I feel moved to nap through the balance of this effort. Wake me when the clutter's gone. I have no stomach for it.

Last week, The Muse cleaned up a mess I'd made by creating one of her own.

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Taping

Taping
Robert Delaunay: Paysage au disque (1906–07)
" … a final fit of preparation before the legacy begins."

I noticed as I was finishing applying the first coat of paint on our newly installed living room window's exterior, that I had spent more time preparing to paint the window than I had spent painting the window. This tends to be the case with most home improvement activities, yet I don't usually focus very much attention on the preparation, more often perceiving it as a distraction from the real operation rather than the lion's share of it. Like many, I suspect, I don't have much stomach for prep work. It often seems tedious. It produces little lasting effect, its chief benefit being what it lends to the final result, but it leaves few if any footprints. It's enduring value falls under The Dog That Didn't Bark category and gets lost in rounding.

Yesterday, i was Taping the window trim I was intending to paint, this to reduce the likelihood that I'd slop the paint color where I didn't want it.

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NotNoing

NotNoingLeger
Fernand Léger: Contrast of Forms (Contraste de formes) (1913)
"
I'm uncertain if anyone can ever outgrow that stance."

I want to speak this morning about an increasingly common situation, a form of deliberate misapprehension wherein people seek, often with considerable passion, information they might otherwise reasonably suspect isn't true, either due to its source or its form. This information often seems overly convenient, perfectly satisfying an expectation long accustomed to disappointment. It might come from a source long-acknowledged as unreliable or partisan, someone with the reputation of saying anything that might rile someone. The effect of such a transmission, deliberate misapprehension in and self-destruction out, seems perfectly represented in the vaccine deniers proudly standing up for their superior understanding and patriotism. Their position doesn't quite seem stupid, but more intentional than that. It mostly appears belligerent but without clear purpose. The self-satisfied expressions these possessors of negative knowledge display leaves me feeling 'sore afraid.'

This position seems the sole of Homemade.

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Hearth

Hearth
Fernand Léger: Les Fumeurs [The Smokers] (1911–1912)
" … a naked Hearth can no more stand than can a naked heart."

Determining the center of anything can pose a difficult dilemma. Like determining best, insufficient information often exists to declare any definitive answer.—(Huh? How could insufficient information exist? Sufficient information doesn't exist. A surfeit of insufficient information couldn't exist, but then it's a negative quantity, so I guess it gets counted differently.)—Further, one might declare centers for a variety of attributes or elements. An emotional center need not resemble a physical or intellectual one. At some level, I suspect that every element might be reasonably declared the center of something, if only a temporary center of attention before consideration passes. I bring up this question because it's come up within our Grand Refurbishment. Our color palette first held central attention. Then, door and window trims. The banister rightfully held that space for a spell. So did the stairs. Now, the living room windows and the cleverly designed library wall, but each foci in turn slipped back into an other than central position as the refurbishing machine rolled on. As it nears its destination, one glaring element remains unaddressed, though not unconsidered: The Hearth.

If any element of any house can rightfully be considered its center, I suspect that the Hearth usually holds that position, if only due to the sense that Hearth IS home and thereby irreplaceable.

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Removals

Removals
Robert Delaunay: Rhythm, Joie de vivre (1930)
" … indistinguishable from madness and joy."

I believe that we've already established that destroying's more entertaining than creating and that some work seems better suited for kids, or at least the kid inside. While Refurbishing might seem a net creative act, one must sort of blank the palette before painting, and much of the prep work comes in the inherently satisfying Making Waste category, by way of Removals. None have proven half as satisfying as removing wallpaper, though, for wallpaper mostly exists as a criminal enterprise. Often hung in lieu of fixing the underlying wall, it hides deep dark secrets, albeit poorly, thereby keeping them alive. The one who chose the wall covering might have once upon a time been satisfied with their choice, but they long ago passed on, leaving their handiwork behind which aged just as poorly as they did, yet it's still on display. In our old place, some mid-seventies remodel, we figure, left the music room/library bordered with a gilded paisley burgundy specimen, the garish out-of-placeness of which, we once sort of reveled in. The time had come to take that down.

I tried reasoning with the stuff, spraying it with warmish water and adding patience, but it would not release its grasp.

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Odds&Infinities

Odds&Infinities
Robert Delaunay: La ville no. 2 (1910–11)
"I leave muddy footprints wherever I walk."

The Grand Refurbish has resolved itself into two contiguous rooms. The upstairs will be complete later this morning, save for a few what might be called odds and ends but which I suspect some of which will very likely become Odds&Infinities, as we'll likely never fully resolve them. I've got that rebuilt door with the odd latch inset which could use some additional carving out but seems too thin for chisel work. The Muse's desk, the base of which I broke when disassembling it and needs rebuilt, blocks reinhabiting that whole room and threatens to become an infinity of its own. Our Carpenter Joel breaks new ground but leaves a few small relatively insignificant undone bits in his wake. Nothing huge or noteworthy, small infinities which don't threaten to break anything or anybody, but still sort of wear on me.

My life includes many, many Odds&Infinities.

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KindWind

Kindwind
Unattributed photo of tree pruning crew, late 1800s
"… all things seem possible."

By mid-November, Autumn color's had its day. The enormous Maple takes to sporting an embarrassing combover, the crabapples have gone bald, and the sacred apricot has yet to lose a single golden leaf. The snowball bushes and the hydrangeas seem unaffected and the dogwood's apparently indifferent, still almost fully populated with scarlet leaves. The side yard's a shuffler's heaven, and I choose to leave those leaves where they've fallen, the better to overwinter whatever lies beneath them. I was once a fussy gardener, but no more. I pull no production-quality clean-up performance like some of our neighbors put on, like I used to, seemingly chasing down each freshly fallen before it hits the ground. My lawn will sport bare spots whether covered with leaves or not and besides, I've got a secret weapon. If history can still be counted upon, a Kindwind will soon descend and effectively put an end to the autumn leaf problem, which was more of a feature than a problem, anyway.

The Kindwind blows in off the Northern Pacific, bringing strong winds for this valley, sustaining at around twenty-five with greater gusts.

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UnBoxing

Unboxing
Unattributed photo of stacks within old Main Branch of the New York City Public Library, pre-1955, now demolished.
" … by the grace of something …"

I had not noticed. How many could provide the same testimony? They hadn't noticed. An absence does not always or even often make itself felt. The hole, having no content, doesn't seem to exist. Empty often defies definition. Name the dog that didn't bark.

I put my books into boxes eight months ago, and there they sat as The Muse and I moved a third of the way across the country.

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Scarin'Myself

Scarin'Myself
Gosta Adrian-Nilsson: TJURFÄKTNINGS SCEN [Bullfighting Scene] (1934)
" … at least in my own mind …"

I hold the firm belief that it's inherently healthy for me to occasionally scare myself. This amounts to a philosophical position, however, and does not always or even usually translate into me frequently so engaging. I remain a ninny at heart and am apt to fuss over any operation near any edge and that's double for heights, so when I challenged myself to take down the long-standing and little-used scaffolding, it amounted to a big and rare event. I went looking for The Muse to help, but she was impenetrably occupied on a call, so after re-re-re-re-re-thinking one final time, I climbed to the top and started disassembling.

Were it not for the height, scaffolding could be simple, but altitude makes all the difference.

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StartingInto

StartingIn
Gosta Adrian-Nilsson: Shadows, twilight (1929)
" … finally coming back into focus."

The Muse insisted upon cleaning up what would become my office. After refurbishing, it was shrouded with a thick patina of dust, first from my removing the ancient wall-to-wall carpeting, then from sanding woodwork, wall, and ceiling patches. The room, before refurbishing and just after, had served as a warehouse for displaced stuff from every other room on the floor, so even the fresh flooring was spattered with spots of spackle, sawdust, and paint. She bravely waded into the mess and I disappeared myself down into the kitchen to set a pot roast braising. I gave her a good hour, perhaps a little less, until after I'd heard both vacuums start and stop and a long silent period probably signifying mopping up. She'd cleared that table I'd used as a catchall during the work and seemed ready for some help shifting stuff. Bookshelves, which I'd stacked on their backs in the middle of the room to facilitate crown moulding and baseboard installation, needed dusting and fresh felt feet. The carpets they laid upon needed rolling and the rest of the room wanted vacuuming, sweeping, and mopping, too. I helped arrange stuff then played scarce again.

I realized that I was not so much moving in to this room, but StartingInto it.

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Kittening

Kittening
Gosta Adrian-Nilsson: Figurer I Trappa (1923)
"I suppose that their feral beginnings serve them well."

Two years ago this week, Max came to live with us. Max was at the time a six month old feral kitten who had been captured, separated from his family, neutered, nurtured through a few common feral diseases, and held in a cage until we arrived to liberate him. He was mildly appreciative, not openly hostile, but very wary. I learned later from the shelter that the man who had captured Max resembled me, so I probably looked like the enemy to him. I set about disconfirming his initial impression of me. He became curious.

A few weeks later, we brought Max's sister Molly home from the same shelter.

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OpeningCans

OpeningCans
Andy Warhol: Campbell's Soup Cans (1962)
"A pantry in name only."

It occurs to me, finally, that This Grand Refurbish never was about demonstrating any particular wizardry, but about OpeningCans. A can serves as perfect camouflage for whatever's inside it, each uniform and seemingly holding the same contents. One must rely upon faith in labeling or blind habit to determine the contents before opening. The contents never seem quite like I've anticipated. Tuna might show up as a fine filet or as a slurry. Soup definitely needs warming. Peas just need throwing away. What was I thinking? I think OpeningCans serves as an everyday courageous act, one asserting ability, putting something on the line. OpeningCans screams that I've accepted full responsibility for dealing with the contents, whether they be worms or just what I'd imagined.

Our Grand Refurbish has opened so danged many cans that our little crew seems to have at least mastered that act.

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Seized

Seize
Gosta Adrian-Nilsson: Soldat (1917)
" … identifying now-or-never opportunities that will most certainly extend our efforts even further …"

Our Grand Refurbishment has become an audacious act. Before we began to understand the magnitude of the effort, back when we still held trivializing notions of what it might mean to 'slap on a coat of paint,' the effort seemed only reasonable, and barely that. The place desperately needed patching and painting, and what better opportunity then when we first re-inhabit the place? Then it slowly transformed into a series of 'If Not Now, When? decisions, where, as our understanding improved and expanded, we noticed wasting opportunities presenting themselves. We understood that once the patient was closed up again, she would likely not easily consent to another operation, so, under The As Long As We Have The Hood Open Rule, we expanded the original scope. Kurt Our Painter, who was confident of completing work on the master bedroom this week, instead spent the bulk of his week re-floating two overly patched walls. The result will be rather smoother walls than in any other room, but on perhaps the two least noticeable walls in the place.

We have Seized opportunities as they presented themselves but have also felt Seized by circumstances.

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Divisible

Divisible
Man Ray: Dust Breeding (1920, printed ca. 1967)
" … we're eminently Divisible and we know it!"

Joel Our Carpenter and I were hanging crown moulding when he noticed that his brad nailer was running low on brads. He remarked that he'd left a refill package on a window sill somewhere and wondered if I'd happened upon it. I hadn't. I directed him to the parts table, a now hopelessly overloaded card table I set up out of the way back in the early days of our Great Refurbish, back before it had become a great anything. That card table groans beneath its burden now. It holds every odd otherwise unclassifiable anything that needed a landing place. Paint rollers wrapped in plastic hang from its strut supports, and attempt to trip anyone passing. It's now located on the mainline between the above the front porch deck and the rest of the upstairs, a primary migration route for long crown moulding boards and baseboards headed for remounting. It's an eye of the needle passage and I suppose that every job site needs one of those, a common ground generally abused, reviled and revered in more or less equal measure. A place where we might come together, if only there was room, given the clutter.

Joel could not find his brad magazine on the impenetrable table, so I volunteered to go find him that ammo.

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BackTogetherAgain

BackTogetherAgain
Lee Krasner: NIGHT WATCH (1960)
"Life's open-ended."

Overall, I'd testify that taking stuff apart tends to be much more satisfying than putting stuff BackTogetherAgain. Tearing down satisfies the little boy in me since it hints at destruction. I guess a part of every little boy secretly wants to be The Incredible Hulk and trash the place without recrimination or remorse. Reassembling can be exacting and challenge even the very patient since it holds out the promise of perfection or something like it. It seems too easy to presume an outcome unlikely to be achieved then blame myself for falling short. Taking apart's successful when entropy peaks. BackTogetherAgain might never be achievable.

I say that BackTogetherAgain "might never be achievable" when I know for certain that it's almost always absolutely unachievable, and at all other times, only relatively so.

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Schlepping

Schlepping
Leon Bibel: Red Hot Franks (1938)
"I sound like a steam locomotive coming."

My hand truck must be the most useful tool I own. I bought it back when I often found myself Schlepping shipping boxes to the post office in preparation for another workshop but I've found uses for it far beyond Schlepping shipping boxes. I use it in the yard, for instance, instead of a wheelbarrow. This move that might never end has daily benefitted from my hand truck's presence, for This Grand Refurbishment might just as easily be called The Grand Schlep, since we seem to have moved everything we own several times since it started and we have not yet seen the end of it. With my hand truck, though, I don't have to lift much to tote a lot, something my back sincerely appreciates. Just yesterday, I moved all my books again, for something like the fourth time since we "moved in" last March. I'll move them at least once more before I'm finally ably to unbox and display them, each move made easier by my ever-present hand truck.

Everything's a Schlep.

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Proficiency

Proficiency
Judith Leyster: Self-portrait (c. 1630)
" Whatever we do, there we are."

Grand Refurbishments serve as test beds, breeding grounds for new skills. One begins a Refurbish with hopeful optimism and little knowledge of what might be required to complete the effort. One might, upon later reflection, recognize that the work couldn't help but challenge. It could not have possibly been a walk-through exercise. It would prove to be a crawl-through sometimes. Perhaps such experiences build character. I know from my own experience that in a typical year, I might gain a single fresh proficiency. In this Grand Refurbishment year, I've acquired several. This cluster has provided me with a rare opportunity to more closely observe how I learn and how I adopt lessons to become proficient.

I'm learning that it might be best for me if I can presume that I don't really know very much of anything.

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Stalled

Stalled
Paula Rego: Geppetto Washing Pinocchio (1996)
"It will be a wonder if we're ever finished."

We tend to insure against big events, even though small occurrences seem to be the more likely to do us in. Through this Grand Refurbish, I've kept my eye on our paint inventory, understanding that availability could stall our forward progress. If anything, I've over-bought paint, figuring that I could always use any extra. Just yesterday, while recounting what I imagined to be our inventory of ceiling paint, I caught myself over-estimating remaining stocks. I immediately called the paint store and ordered two more gallons. Better to have too much than to discover that we have none when we need it. The whole affair seems in delicate and unlikely balance. We never sat down and imagined together what might be coming. We adopted instead the hunter/gatherer's ethic, which more resembles the old and often surprisingly reliable hunt and peck method. We've successfully poked at progress so far.

But small things have been our bane, or at least mine.

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Flurry

Flurry
Lee Krasner: Self-Portrait, ca. 1928
"Flurries produce closure …"

This last week in October falls in a Flurry time. When we lived along Colorado's Front Range, we'd reliably see snow flurries this week. Down here in this lovely valley, flurries of leaves visit long before snow. This year of The Great Refurbish, the Flurry comes with an impending end to the effort, and it seems true with all effort, that the final push tends to become hectic. We've become lemmings now, not precisely anxious to make that final leap, but somehow compelled to jump en mass. Tiny tails remain from many of the individual tasks and these, alone, would naturally distill into a clog of activity. I've been struggling for a week to mount the first of a dozen lock sets on refurbished doors, a task I'd earlier presumed would naturally prove trivial. In practice it became non-trivial and necessitated a whole new thread, disrupting flow as I'd earlier imagined it. Window locks, which were on back order when I submitted the order three months ago, remain undelivered. Installing them will doubtless become a Flurry once they arrive and they will most certainly arrive at an inconvenient time, a point where my time's already spoken for and I cannot fit another blessed thing into my schedule. These remain perfectly normal aspects of an impending ending, an inevitable swirl, a Flurry.

We wisely planned on proceeding through this refurbish at if not a leisurely pace, then at least at a reasonable one. ,

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StabWounds

StabWounds
The Wound Man from Hans von Gersdorff's Feldbuch der Wundarznei (1530)
"We were walking wounded when we began this effort."

I had finally decided that I had studied enough. I had either learned what I needed to understand to mount the new door lockset or I had not, but I would never confirm whether I had or hadn't without trying to mount it. I was deepening the edge plate's inset when the chisel slipped and found my finger, producing a clean stab wound that bled profusely. Two things can be done profusely, I figure, cursing and bleeding. I rushed as best I could through the buzzing Refurbishment activity to the main floor bathroom where I had presciently packed in a supply of bandages. The Muse, up from her basement Zoom Lair for a bite of lunch, offered to help me stick on the bandage. I decided that I needed a lunch break then, too, so I moped around feeling stupid for a half hour before resuming my interrupted attempt at mounting that new lockset. Nothing I'd found in my search for examples of how to accomplish this task had prepared me for StabWounds. I had let down my guard and gone without gloves, a sure sign of my inexperience. I was learning, though, as evidenced by the fresh bandage on one of my two and a half typing fingers. I'm finding it difficult to type this story as a result.

I always was a noisy learner.

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Novitiate

Novitiate
Giuseppe Arcimboldo: Vertumnus (1591)
"The house remains in charge. I, it's vassal."

When my to-become first wife and I were living together on the unheated sleeping porch of her shared apartment on 19th in Seattle's U District, a pane in one of the windows which comprised most of three walls of her room somehow broke. I don't remember the circumstances under which the damage occurred and that detail's probably not important. I took it upon myself to fix the damage, me an eighteen year old with absolutely no experience fixing broken window panes and no tools. I would not have even qualified as an apprentice, but someone of slightly less position on the grand hierarchy pecking order. I was a Novitiate, one interested in dedicating myself to successfully fulfilling the assignment but without sufficient understanding to even begin understanding what that effort might entail. I also lacked even an apprentice's supervision. I had yet to discover if I had the necessary stuff for even becoming an apprentice, which requires a certain attentive interest along with an acquiescing spirit. Headstrong novitiates need not apply, neither should haughty apprentices. I was merely aspiring to become capable of completing that self-assigned commitment and didn't even know that.

I'd watched my dad fix broken window panes, including one I'd created with one over-heavy Thursday morning Oregonian through one of my customer's windows.

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Production

Production
François Boucher: The Triumph of Venus (1740)
"The value we actually bring is always a solo contribution …"

In the very late sixties, I was fortunate to attend Donovan's Seattle performance of his Gift From A Flower To A Garden Tour. Set in the voluminous, boxy Seattle Center Arena, the venue was better suited for basketball than for a folk concert, but there I was, sitting up near the nosebleed section almost as far as I could have possibly been from the stage, waiting for my favorite recording artist to take the surprisingly sparse set. It was decorated with a very large pillow and a microphone boom surrounded by fresh flowers. Nothing else. In an age now where even individual performers travel with a fleet of semis carrying their stage set, such an arrangement seems unthinkable. Now, a proper performance stage seems to require huge video screens and probably parabolic projection equipment to show movies on the ground fog produced by silently whispering machines just off stage. Further, risers must also be provided to elevate the drum sections and the horns, not to mention the space for the piano, bass, and multiple accompanying guitar players. No, the simple pillow surrounded by cut flowers just would not do today.

That was the best danged concert!

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HomeBitterHome

HomeBitterHome
Winslow Homer: Home, Sweet Home (1863)
" … I didn't think I could survive the flush of emotions involved."

My son sent me an Air B&B link to a place for rent in our old Portland neighborhood. It took me a minute or more to realize that this was our old home place, the home in which my son spent his first formative years, the one secured with my own blood, sweat, and tears, hopes and dreams, struggles and deep disappointments. Homes become the backdrop for life's dramas, where the intricate effort rarely seen and even more rarely disclosed occurs. It is the place of private fears and even more private tears, of humbling embarrassment and occasional pride. It's what you settled for and what you earned and what you couldn't quite afford all in one. It's a wonder to me that anyone, especially me, even has a home, for the rules for owning a home have always been murky, and I suspect murky for good reasons. Should anyone ever get to the bottom of the pyramid scheme, they'd very likely find that there's no foundation underneath. Imagining supports it. Home is a fiction capable of fooling almost anyone into believing it exists, especially with people like Stephen Foster writing sentimental songs about it. "Be it ever so humble … There's no place like home." Truer words might have never been spoken or more widely misinterpreted.

Needless to say, that link transported me to those years when I struggled to provide a home.

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SacredContext

SacredContext1
Titian: The Death of Actaeon (1559-75)
"It exists to change us"

Mythology tells the sorry story of the hunter Actaeon, who besides having the misfortune of possessing a name with an imbedded digraph, once stumbled upon Diana and her nymphs bathing in the forest. Diana dealt rather harshly with Actaeon's blunder, however innocent, turning him into a stag which his own dogs then hunted down and killed. I sometimes get confused about the moral this allegory intends to impart. Does it caution about blundering into nymphs or something else? I choose to interpret it as referring to what I'll call SacredContext. Every blessed and damned thing possesses SacredContext, for it is the very nature, the subtle essence, of each thing. It appears in different guise depending upon the underlying nature of each thing, and cannot be adequately anticipated. It must be discovered, often blundered into, and when violated, responds in heartlessly harsh ways. To violate a SacredContext is to violate the universe and the universe seems to possess no leniency or sense of humor where such violations exist.

I believe, if only to reassure myself, that most violations of SacredContext occur innocently, like poor Actaeon's must have.

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Bivouac

Bivouac
René Richard: Bivouac (date unknown)
"I've probably survived worse before."

The Great Refurbishment turned what might have been our home into a Bivouac, more of an encampment than a dwelling, a transitional place. We're still not hardly moved in after seven long months of pseudo-habitation with boxes being our primary companion. I long ago stopped wondering where my possessions were, trading in a level of frustration for a ration of faith that they're there somewhere and that we'll one day—not today and probably not tomorrow, but someday—be reunited. Until then, I've taken to living with the subset of my possessions that I have thus far uncovered and stopped fretting about the others. They belong to the great mystery, a constant companion but nothing really worth fussing after. The Muse and I are, in the mean time (which some days seems heartlessly mean) "making do." I would not wish our transitional lifestyle upon anyone. It's brutal.

I'm from a family that had to put everything in order before we could leave for longer than a day.

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Thises&Thatsesses

Thises&Thatsesses
Domenico Remps: Cabinet of Curiosities (1690s)
"I should very soon move back to my desk
and stop writing while hunched over this piano bench like I have been for the last few weeks."

For most of The Grand Refurbish, we focused upon single activities. We were either engaged in this or that, but after fifteen full weeks of effort, we've pretty much concluded the big stuff. Kurt Our Painter continues to motor through rooms, now in well-practiced order. He no longer need enter first with an act of discovery. He's learned what to expect and he's not lacking in necessary judgement. One crack's pretty much like every other. He enters and sets to work, fixing cracks and prepping windows and trim while his fillings set. He tapes himself off for a day to run his sander before laying down the same sequence of finishes: primer, first coat, then TopCoat. The closet gets the economy service because nobody ever needs a finely finished closet. The rest of the room he works to immaculate. Then on to the next.

The Planking finished, the leftovers either stored in the basement or carted off as trash.

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Transitioning

Transitioning
Frans Francken The Younger: The Witches' Kitchen (1606)
" … Transitioning back into the more significant but more humbling role of human again."

With The Hunter's Moon came a breath of a Pacific storm, a contradiction in terms no less welcome for its identity confusion. The leading edge of the storm brought down the maple's helicopters to litter the property and leave me with gardening as my growing priority. I'd been absent, absent in that way that only focused presence can ever produce. The Grand Refurbish had nudged most of the rest of my life to the edge of the path and left me missing dimensions. My single focus had rendered me blind to much of my usual oversight. I'd become erratic and careless and filled with the very most effective excuses. My limited time was pre-focused upon the primary project at hand. I'd become a narrow and uninteresting man, always bringing every conversation back to some arcane appreciation for some previously unacknowledged aspect of door refinishing or something equally captivating.

I realized as I moped around the place yesterday that I might be Transitioning out of that laser-focused phase, one which always so satisfyingly takes away the mind for a time.

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Leavings

Leavings
Frans Francken the Younger, Chamber of Art and Curiosities (1636)
"Every human activity produces leftovers …"

Every human activity produces Leavings, leftovers. We installed a new screen door and ended up with a few parts leftover, not because we didn't follow the installation directions, but because we did. The door as delivered was capable of being installed in several different ways depending upon specific conditions. Almost everything's like that now, which means that installing anything will surely increase at least the net inventory of odd bolts or screws, and probably leave a single use, tin whistle piece of metal I won't be able to justify discarding, so I'll retain it Just In Case. Of course I have a storage problem in my basement, just like everyone else does. I've retained so very many Leavings that I cannot for the life of me remember what I have retained. I also can never find an odd screw or bolt when I need one, though I imagine that I certainly must have at least one of every kind known to man. If I do, I cannot find where I set them aside.

Years ago, a friend gave me a dozen old wooden Coca-Cola cases which I set along the wall edge of my massive workbench to produce an instant warren of little cubby holes, a genuine Curiosity Cabinet useful, I thought, for holding my Leavings, and it has been useful, though with 144 little cubbies, there are far too many for me to remember what and where.

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GrowningUp

GroaningUp
Herkules nimmt Atlas die Last ab und trägt den Kosmos
[Hercules relieves atlas of the burden and carries the cosmos]
In the style of
Heinrich Aldegrever (1550)
"The time spent completing the task lost forever. The result, eternal …"

I looked at the final batch of baseboards, which I had uncomfortably stacked inside the garage, and I felt overwhelmed. Most of the remaining boards were long: ten, twelve, even fourteen feet, and though I'd already sanded them smooth and glued the ones that had shattered when we removed them, I could not quite face touching them again. Painting would insist that I touch each several more times, shuttling them between a painting station and drying racks, then back for each top coat. Each coat takes an hour or more for the batch and demands great focus, no breaks allowed, especially once I start applying the final TopCoat. These boards have demanded much, not the least of which has been extended detachment. I know, it might seem as though refinishing a board would be all about engagement, but it's the sort of engagement that insists upon a detachment in order to complete. One may not maintain mindfulness and manage their way through the effort. One must go at least semi-conscious if not completely unconscious or he's sunk before he's finished. One can dabble in removing baseboards, and even when mending them, but once the refinishing starts, expect long hours of demanding toil. Sanding each bare might take an hour per, or more, not to mention sweeping off the sanding dust and washing them then stacking them away out of the weather again, then unstacking and sorting and painting, I never felt completely up to any of it. I just did it anyway because I'm the grown up, GroaningUp to it's more like it.

My father taught me not to whine about my assignments but to buckle down and just complete them.

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Shortages

Shortages

Rembrandt: Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (1630)
"Freedom might first seem like the liberty to purchase …"

I stopped in the paint store last week and found some shelves holding cans of what I might have easily mistaken for paint. I asked Luis at the counter what was going on because it almost looked as if he had some product to sell. He replied that some product had apparently accidentally trickled in, though nothing in volume. I've been fortunate through our Grand Refurbishment, since I've not had to shut down progress due to an inability to procure paint. I have had to buy better grades of paint than I might have otherwise purchased, and I have had to wait an odd day or two for an order to come through, but progress has not been stalled due to a lack of supply. My neighbor's son owns a painting company and he's had thousands of dollars worth of paint on backorder through the entirety of this year's painting season, a devastating situation with no end in sight. What we once imagined as our birthright, unlimited supplies of goods provided by a benevolent market, has now become the exception as that same market struggles to keep up with demand.

I almost expect our local newspaper to start a Shortage Of The Week column except it would probably only encourage panic buying by exploding demand for whatever it reported.

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TopCoat

TopCoat
Dorothea Tanning: Philosophie en plein air [Fresh-air Philosophy] (1969)
" … become essentially invisible while standing there in plain sight."

The rules seem clear enough, but impossible to follow. If I had infinite inside space, I might be able to lay down a perfect TopCoat, but I don't. I have baseboards balanced atop everything in the Pop-up Paint Shoppe, garbage cans, empty cat litter tubs, the table, even saw horses. It took an hour or longer to lay the prime coat on, a little less for the first TopCoat. The second, and typically the last TopCoat, should take a little longer because it gets the most meticulous preparation. It's the absolutely last chance to amend the record posterity will record. There will be some sanding and filling involved. What passed muster after priming and didn't quite cause a fluster after the first TopCoat, will find my puritan heart and demand reform before heading on. My sanding block will find some work. So will my putty knife.

Painting forces a painter into numerous poses, for there's just no applying paint while standing straight upright.

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