PureSchmaltz

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Strangering

strangering
Vincent van Gogh: Adeline Ravoux (1890)


"I regain my attention …"


Other than passing through on the freeway, I'd never even thought to stop to see what might welcome me here, so I arrived without preconceptions, as a genuine stranger. This city could have been anywhere. I had no emotional attachments here. The waterfront attracted my eye, but I could not recall, if, indeed, I ever knew, the name of the bay. The city looked worn but worked over, as if considerable effort had been applied to prevent it from simply becoming derelict, with mixed results. This was clearly nobody's Disneyland. Its rough edges seemed prominent. I had never wondered about the history here, how it might have managed to turn out this way. I would be Strangering here within this mystery.

I much prefer to walk when Strangering, for driving moves me too quickly for me to see very much.

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Hoteling

hoteling
Gustave Doré: Liberty (c. 1865–75)


" … we still hold the instinct to survive … hospitality."


After two and a quarter years of housebound isolation, I find myself in a hotel room this weekend. I was once a frequent guest, traveling for business. One year, I managed to stay in more than one hotel room per week on average, and I stayed in a few of those rooms for more than a week, so I must have really been on the move that year. I became accustomed to the patterns and rhythms of modern Hoteling, which seem so different from the Grand Hotel tradition. No longer does one use the lobby as an extended sitting room, for instance, taking to an overstuffed chair to read or simply people watch. Modern hotel lobbies seem reserved only for transitions, for checking in and checking out and nothing else. They usually feature little furniture other than a front desk and a concierge stand. Everything's self service.

Hoteling's a kind of camping experience.

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DashingOff

dashingoff
Fan Qi 樊圻: Album of Miscellaneous Subjects, Leaf 4 山水花鳥圖冊 (early 1650s)


"We all eventually become the genius of ourselves …"


My friend Franklin reported that he'd participated in some online gathering that garnered him more clients than any other single event in his career, over a hundred. He went on to complain that he'd been invited to participate late in the cycle and so had not prepared his presentation as carefully as he most certainly would otherwise have. He's usually more careful than that, painstakingly preparing, often, it seems, almost asymptotically, as in preparing almost to the point of never actually achieving 'prepared.' This time, though, starved of sufficient time, he hacked out a quick almost good enough contribution and was fortunate to garner more paying clients than ever before from a single presentation.

Had he had adequate time, there's really no telling how many more clients he might have found.

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Suddenlied

suddenlied
France, Lyon(?), early 16th century: Time (From Chateau de Chaumont Set) (1512–15)


"… usually expecting the unexpected …"


Occasionally, I'll decide to write about a topic only to discover that I'd already written a piece with that same title. As you doubtless noticed, I make up a fair number of my story titles by fiddling with otherwise serviceable words, trying to better fit them to my purpose. My blog software keeps me honest by disallowing duplicate titles, complicating my life if I inadvertently try to slip one by, requiring some messy searching and deleting to correct the oversight. This morning, I innocently attempted to write a story about
Suddenlies, only to discover that I'd already covered that topic in a post from five years ago. I considered just reporting that story under the Againing banner, given that I've chosen repeating as my overriding notion this quarter. Then I decided that the very fact that this title came up twice might suggest that I'm dealing with a universal experience, a pattern notable for its subtle repetition, that I had just then been Suddenlied again.

As I said in the earlier story, things tend to continue unchanged until some suddenly appears.

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Scaredy

scaredy
William Blake: The Book of Job: Pl. 12,
I am Young and ye are very Old wherefore I was afraid
(1825)


" … some days I even manage to muster an appearance …"


I often feel afraid. It never takes much. The prospect of engaging in even the smallest activity can raise the hairs on the back of my neck, rendering me frozen for a spell. The serial insult of mounting the scaffolding some days drives me into an almost comatose state where I just cannot function. The Muse asks me if I'm alright, and I am alright, just cowering from another phantom. I eventually manage to face whatever dread presented itself and evaporate it by merely moving into it. Once I begin, whatever surface tension prevented my entry seems to disappear and I'm free to go about my activity, certain only that I've sidestepped calamity for then and that it might well return again tomorrow. I slink from place to place, mustering up either courage or foolhardiness in turn, never especially brave or foolish.

When I agreed to serve as a delegate to the state convention, I figured that I'd just attend virtually since the organizers in the party had touted that they'd designed a convention which would not discriminate against those unwilling to mingle inside a superspreader event.

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Againing

againing
Winslow Homer: Boy with Anchor (1873)


" … that must be my manner of living."


For the eighteen hundred and twenty-sixth time in an almost unbroken chain, I sit down this morning to write yet another missive. I hold one intention prominent, the very same one I've held for each of the preceding mornings. I intend this one to be different than all of the others. A different title, a different focus, at least a slightly different perspective. Some insist that each of my postings, each little chapter, sums to pretty much precisely the same thing and that, while not exactly nothing, isn't ever very tightly focused, either. None of them convincingly concludes yet each seems to be up to something. I've explained before that I intend to project here a manner of living, not explaining how to live or even how to live better, but rather merely how it seems to be that I go about my living. I've previously established that I do not hold myself to be in any way an exemplar, an example of how one ought to go about living, going so far as to insist in one collection of stories just how Clueless I've always been. My most prominent purpose seems to be exposition.

That said, I also write my stories to remind myself what it is that I'm doing.

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Sprunged

sprunged
Robert William Vonnoh: Spring in France (1890)


"Some things never leave …"


A short ninety-one days ago, I landed on this shore which, today, starts heading for the door, chased off by overwhelming forces. The Solstice shoves away the powers that brought it about, Spring, which does all the heavy lifting, carrying in the longest day of the year. Spring leaves just before the beginning of the slow decline which, a mere one hundred eighty-two days hence will find us facing the final few days before Christmas from the shortest day of the year. Fear Summer, I say, and Autumn. Winter starts the renewal Spring finishes. The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer will squander their inheritance, leaving us with less light and ever later sunrises. Spring was always the life-giver, Summer, the taker.

By the day before the Summer Solstice, Spring has sprung and just about Sprunged, an irretrievable state.

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Satisfiction

satisfiction
Kobayashi Kiyochika: Pomegranates and Grapes (1879-1881)


" … I sit each morning in an office window overlooking the center of the universe …"


I trade not in the truth, but in truths, for truths come in such variety that only plurals can properly represent them. I pity the absolutists who seek THE truth and nothing but, for they seem to unnecessarily limit the range of satisfactions possible from their enquiry, whatever it might be seeking. The desire to boil anything down into a single essence just seems to spoil the seeking. A proper conclusion tends toward the ambiguous, at least recognizing the influence differing perspectives might bring to something. Very little of what any of us experience amounts to either science or engineering, and most of what I sense might be best classified as tenaciously unsettled; could be this, might be that, or perhaps it's something else. I must, it seems to me, frame my experiences in some way that works for me to achieve satisfaction. Often, I suppose, this work results in what I might agree amounts to Satisfiction, a flavor of fact that's not above employing fiction to produce satisfaction. I make up stories.

I've long held as an ethical responsibility the need to make the most generous possible interpretations when I lack access to better information.

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ContextShifting

contextshifting
James McNeill Whistler: Man in Plaid Shirt (Not dated)


"Shifting impressions flicker before me …"


It seems perfectly representative of how change works when, with me focusing intently upon whatever I've decided to change, the context within which I labor shifts instead. It might even be that change usually works like this, that the budding change agent always labors under some misconception that whatever he's doing might prove directly useful, when it more often sums to something different than expected. I seem to mostly experience ContextShifting, which changes the meaning of whatever I'd been so intently 'fixing.' It's not so much that I'm powerless, just relatively clueless. It might be that the resulting change was what I would have wanted had I been adequately prescient at the beginning. Change seems more often what we receive rather than what we directly engineer, our job, my job, largely to make up some story that eases acceptance and encourages gratitude toward what I never really intended.

I might focus upon context if I really want more directly influence outcomes, but I question whether I really want that level of control.

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Shift

shift
William Blake: The Pastorals of Virgil, Eclogue I:
The Blasted Tree (1821)


" … There never could have been one best way …"


I began this Reconning Series by declaring myself a Begineer, a skilled purveyor of starts rather than of finishes. I never feel very certain where my beginnings might be heading and I'm almost always absolutely clueless about the ending. When it comes time to draw conclusions, I typically lose my crayon and go still and silent, for I must not be in the transformation business. I might be more an evolutionist, and a slow one at that. I head off in a direction without really knowing where that compass heading might be leading me and with little more than a vague notion in my mind of what kind of an ending might result. Unsurprisingly, then, nearing the end, I sense no great understanding emerging from this particular wandering. The enquiry, rather than any specific conclusion, might have been the purpose of this enquiry, too.

The typical metric measures "Shift," often in something like tectonic units.

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HomeRun

homerun
Harold Edgerton: Child Running [Bob Edgerton] (1939)


"I remember how it was before that flooding …"


It's two hundred and forty-five miles from the Villa to my old neighborhood in Portland, a distance I know better than any distance on this planet. I've driven that distance in every possible weather, in every season, in sickness as well as in health, and stopped at every exit along the long way at least once, probably more than once. Without too much prompting, I can muster up some personal story about every exit along that route, stories of joy and despair, hope and frustration. No other route better illustrates my life, for it represents my HomeRun, my primary route home as well as my primary route away. My home has been on each end at times, sometimes here and other times there, never in-between.

I've crawled that route on glare ice, taking two days to navigate across.

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WellAtEase

wellatease
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Elles: The Seated Clown,
Mlle Cha-u-Ka-o (1896)


" … a clear violation of my intention of doing nothing for a change."


I consider my inability to do nothing a serious personal shortcoming. Over the last sixty years or so, I have focused the bulk of my attention upon doing stuff, often toward being up to something, sometimes even to accomplishing shit. My life's properly been all about creating what was not there before my passage, just as if any of that might make a difference. And I understand from reports from the field, that I did manage to make some differences, local, personal, not necessarily global. I studied the lessons in self-discipline and stayed mostly true to those intentions. I never lingered in bed in the morning. I didn't surrender myself to degradation long enough to do any permanent damage. I've come through, but with this little personal shortcoming intact. It seems to me as though I might have managed to learn how to do nothing by now, to not feel so ill at ease when unengaged, but to feel instead a certain WellAtEase sensation, where the world seems well enough without me obsessing about the quality or volume of my current contribution. Just sayin'.

I might have Ill At Ease down pat, though.

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Haunter

haunter
Winslow Homer: Adirondacks Guide (1892)


" … destined to become the eye beholding the beauty …"


Make no mistake, I am here as a representative of the past. While my powers once focused upon my abilities to disrupt and introduce disquieting futures, my sole role now seems to have coalesced into one focused upon representing what once was. Consequently, children and small dogs suspect me, and with good reason, for their remit opposes mine. Both the kids and the smaller puppies should properly be attempting to make some difference, although in the small dog's case, their effort's destined to be fruitless, if only because small dogs seem frivolous and ineffective by design. The children, though, rightfully take umbrage with how it was and with how it's been, and so wade right in with whatever might prove different, and can't seem to help it, while I steadfastly stand with the past.

My memories have not started fading yet.

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Ghosted

ghosted
Paul Gauguin: Manao tupapau [She Thinks of the Ghost
or The Ghost Thinks of Her)] (1894/95)

"I doubt if I'm here this morning."


Returning to the scene of a former life reliably induces the sense that I have become a ghost. I almost remember the details of my daily life there, but not quite. I perceive in general gists, relative positions, though distances seem distinctly different, whether foreshortened or lengthened, funny somehow. I recall how I used to slip down to the corner market to buy a pack of smokes but I cannot for the life of me remember how it felt to be panicking over a needed nicotine fix. My whole life then must have been perpetually suspended upon that knife edge separating a fleeting serenity and a more permanent insecurity. I inhabited what I would one day recall as a heaven on Earth, but had one devil of a time living in it then.

Times were hard. money, scarce, success uncertain, even unlikely.

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Boyk

boyk
Paul Gachet: Six Etchings: Head of a Kitten, Part of a set. (1895)


" … contribute his own gibberish into our conversation."


House cats do not speak English because their owners tend to slip into an irreproducible dialect of the language whenever their "kitten" appears. A stalwart cat becomes a kitten, regardless of its age, and jazz-like variations of its given name start spewing from said owner's yap. I have inexplicably begun calling my own "kitten" Max, Boyk. Perhaps just to get along or maybe because he knows from whence his cat food floweth, he responds as if he recognizes himself in that alien sound. I caught myself holding forth to him on the etymology of his latest Pet Name, as if he would quite naturally understand or be interested when I suspect he's just used to my babbling. He might even find my plumy-toned mumbling reassuring, a familiar sound in the otherwise quiet as a mouse early morning house.

Boyk, for those discerning readers, is a derivative of 'Boy Kitty,' a classification I often catch myself proclaiming when encountering Max in the wild.

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Aaaah

oooh
Suzuki Harunobu: Young Man Reading over a Young Woman’s Shoulder (1765 - 1770)


"Reconning resolves back into itself …"


As I approach the fifth anniversary of the start of my daily writing practice, I also see another impending ending. This series, this Reconning Series, seems to be heading in the very same direction its nineteen siblings met. I began each series on a solstice or equinox and wrote as if attempting to discover something. Each a Hero's Journey, in the full Joseph Campbell sense of that term. I'd depart reluctantly, still attached to the recently completed but not then feeling as though I'd achieved closure. I'd persist, meeting the usual collection of dragons and bugaboos, more or less vanquishing each in turn, before finding myself at the always surprising end of yet another writing season, attempting to celebrate a homecoming of sorts. Each felt more like a combination homecoming and departure again, because each was both, or at least I experienced them as both. Before the carcass of the old series had even cooled, I was off in some new direction.

As I mentioned in yesterday's story, I sustain myself as if a bird of the field, taking advantage of the natural abundance surrounding me.

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Drizzling

drizzle
Utagawa Kunisada: A Man in Nightly Rain (1835 - 1836)


" … in need of some Drizzling to remind me what I was trying to accomplish …"


Yesterday reminded me why I'd planned to finish repainting The Villa's exterior before full summer visited. Working in at best partial shade with an almost fierce sun beating down upon me, I found no escape from my labor. I shifted into one of my many dissociative states, the one my father taught me about long before I turned eight years old. I tucked my head down as if that make me invisible and worked, forcing myself ahead, step by step, insisting that I finish. I can become quite the taskmaster sometimes. My neck turned bright red as the sun found its inexorable way through or around my havelock's shade. I sweated through my overall bib.

Afterwards, I sat in shade rehydrating with beer and wondering what I thought I was doing here.

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Penance

penance
circle of Jean Bourdichon: Leaf from a Book of Hours: King David (c. 1500)


" … if not precisely wiped clean, at least a shade tidier …"


I'm not so much repainting The Villa Vatta Schmaltz as I am performing Penance for past mistakes. When The Muse and I bought this place, I was then a naive homeowner. Indeed, I doubt that I would have agreed to purchase this house had I been even half as experienced in home ownership as I am now, for I was a reluctant student of the dark arts of home ownership and I remain a wary graduate of innumerable hard knock lessons. Not that I'm complaining, for I doubt that I could have even hoped to be half the man I am today had this old place not put me through my paces, serially, often cruelly. I hold no grudges. I count most of those lessons as blessings, several still in considerable disguise. A few, I continue to hold genuine contrition for having committed, though a couple of those sins were clearly more incurred by omission than any personal action I might have taken.

Life collects its toll.

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TheAges

TheAges
Rembrandt van Rijn: Self-portrait (c. 1628)

"TheAges eventually reveal everything …"


How fortunate for me that I inhabit this particular time slice in history. I sit here this morning, surrounded by TheAges, much of their story as yet unwritten. Creation's probably only beginning, precursor very likely hardly hinting at upcoming marvels. I try to remember that much of what I take for granted today was unavailable to even the most powerful people in the world a scant few generations past. I see no reason not to believe that the future, the one within which I might at best aspire to become a small footnote, won't deliver similar wonders. Born neither too late nor too early, I seem to be suspended here. I am in no particular hurry.

Almost five years ago now, I began this portion of my journey.

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SideTracking

sidetracking
Juan Gris: Violin and Glass (1915)


" … I'm just along for the ride."


"I had planned" are the keywords of my efforts this Spring. Whatever I claim to be doing, I'm probably, in any observed moment, very likely to be SideTracking rather than accomplishing whatever "I had planned." I admit that I hold conflicting objectives and that these conflicts cannot be resolved. I figure that this probably amounts to a completely normal condition, such that anyone would be hard pressed to even remember ever inhabiting any other state. We as a species tend to stack our obligations up in messy collections, with one pile inevitably infringing upon another and another upon another, and so on, ad infinitum.

My intentions are never for naught, though they do suffer from considerable buffeting.

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WashingMyPhone

washingmyphone
Lucian and Mary Brown: Untitled
[baby standing next to bath tub] (c. 1950)


" … little wiser for my absence."


Much of the work I engage in around The Villa either induces a trance in me or requires that I induce a trance in myself as a precondition for participating. I cannot seem to retain my wits about myself when I'm attempting to complete some mindless task, but must first become adequately mindless myself. Different tasks require different trances and varying degrees of that magic mindlessness, and it can be a real challenge to shift and then switch back after completion. I can attest that I am not always successful, and frequently find myself stumbling only partly present into whatever comes next.

I will occasionally even embarrass myself like I did last night when I was juggling between starting supper and switching out of my paint scraping overalls.

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ApparentlyMeaningless

appearantlymeaningless
Willian Frazer Garden: Trees and Undergrowth (1885)


"Appearances effectively deceive."


Much of my training focused upon engaging in purposeful work, activities worth my investment, yet I've spent the bulk of my life engaged in ApparentlyMeaningless effort. This experience does not mean that I have largely invested my time in meaningless work, because there's often a huge difference between the ApparentlyMeaningless and the absolutely meaningless, and I might question whether absolutely meaningless even serves as a meaningful category, given how meaningfulness tends to emerge from even the most ApparentlyMeaningless work. The flat ceiling perhaps serves as the epitome of ApparentlyMeaningless effort. Why do we go to the considerable bother of constructing and maintaining flat ceilings when there's absolutely nothing but custom encouraging that effort? Flat is hard, yet we insist upon it.

My stories comprise my most significant body of ApparentlyMeaningless work.

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YetAnotherRainyDay

yetanotherrainyday
Gustave Caillebotte: Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877)


"Cabin fever reigns while rain falls."


The low pressure preceded the rain's arrival, then hung around as it settled in. Yesterday morning dawned sunny. Today's slipped in unnoticed behind a thick cloud veil. I heard the distant dripping through the brief night, downspouts hardly even amused at the trickle coming off the roof. The snowball bushes have almost lost their blossom for this season. They sometimes grace us with a second blooming in the early Fall, but it's not at all clear why. We're moving beyond the damp season now and into the desiccating one. We live by a single principle here, that we never complain about moisture in whatever form it appears. We must at least pretend we're delighted by its presence, however unpleasant its persistence.

My to-do list stretches to new lengths.

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OpenWindows

openwindows
Édouard Vuillard: Landscape:
Window Overlooking the Woods (1899)


For the first June in our twenty-plus year tenancy in The Villa Vatta, all the original double hung windows freely open and close, both top and bottom sash. This might seem like a minor accomplishment, but it precisely represents how us homeowners measure progress toward full possession. It seems entirely unremarkable that this accomplishment required twenty years of intermittent effort, because great things, or, at least, the greatest of things, exclusively manifest via lengthy intermittency. We're busy and our priorities, continually shifting, serve as no definitive determinant of what we might complete or when. We're essentially simultaneously working on everything and so, working on nothing. It's a genuine wonder that anything ever turns up as done. We're well accustomed to works in progress. It remains the normal homeowner's primary lifestyle.

I noticed the windows working because this week, after a lingering March, OpenWindows season seems to have begun with the First of June.
When we first moved in here, this same time of year, not every window would yield to opening. Many had broken window weight cords and a couple had been painted shut, a felony even in friendly courts. I imagined then a future time when I would spend the bulk of my homeowner time reclining within an environment of my own making, where pretty much everything worked and there were no rooms we'd bar from visitors. Kitchen, baths, stairs, and porches would all have been finished and operating as intended. The place might even exude a faint scent of fresh limes. It would be The Muse's and mine and no others'.

The Muse found the first blossom of what will become a very large and spreading climbing rose, which she's planned to take over the pergola over the back deck. When we first moved in, that rose's predecessor dominated that space, scenting the back half of the place in this very season, providing a plenty good enough reason to want to open windows wider than we could force them at that time. I hope to repaint the pergola before that rose takes over, then once that rose covers the back, another of those quiet little metrics of ownership will have manifested. The Muse will sit beneath that rose's essential shade on even the hottest summer days and feel well-covered. Just another outward sign of our inward ownership, each a source of quiet pride.

The massive Refurbish we accomplished last year completed something more than half of the outstanding fixes we'd imagined necessary. The exterior repainting I'm attempting to accomplish between rainstorms this Spring, will, when finished, represent a huge accomplishment, a combination penance and advancement. I keep whispering to myself, with distinctly mixed emotions, that I will never be repainting this place's exterior again, but I know for certain that I will catch myself wandering around the perimeter at some point in the future, marveling at what I completed and how I managed to finish. As of this writing, completion remains a speculation. I'm making slow progress and when asked this week how much longer the work would take, I plead No Contest. It's not at all clear, as, of course it should be unclear, if I will ever manage to finish, what with all the high priority distractions encumbering forward progress and my own failing motivation. It's a genuine wonder anything ever gets done, but when OpenWindows season comes, I'm reminded why I begin.

—————————

I always feel tempted, come another Friday morning, to find some over-riding metaphor to represent the events of the receding week. Something like the local Walgreens might feature in a full page, full color advertisement stuffed into a Sunday supplement, declaring their OpenWindows Week Sale, just as if whatever the heading declared constituted some real reason for celebrating by slashing regular prices. Nothing, apparently, says "Happy!" like a fifteen percent price reduction! It's a continuing seduction for me to produce just such a reduction, the briefest of summaries, to what, precisely, save my loyal readers the trouble of doing what they apparently relish, reading my stories? The stories were what they were and came without forward designs. I did not write any of them so that they might be conveniently digested into composite mush. Such, I guess, is my writer's experience.

I began this writing week reveling in
Slivers. "I search for and maintain my knowledge-bases, but I also often catch myself engaging based upon mere Slivers of intuition, and they're not often wrong. I have no proof, no systemic scientific evidence, but anyone who's ever lived, ever thrived, should already understand that it's not just knowledge that drives their successes."

I next wrote about a bless
éd form of dependence in Helped. "We're not here to isolate. Nobody is. We're here engaged in an essentially communal endeavor, part of the purpose of which simply must be to find premises for engaging together."

I reported from the site of yet another vigil called to remember a fresh set of victims in
Vigiling. "The candles we hold give in to the wind. Some spend the whole time relighting their neighbor then receiving a relight from them. Back and forth and forth and back again."

I engaged in what some might have interpreted as whining about This Damned Continuing Pandemic in
Squelching, the most popular posting this period. "My home is my cloister, I should not want. My own backyard should be green enough pasture, but isn't always."

I reported on what simply seems obvious in
LittleBoy. "I take it as a first principle that every adult male carries a LittleBoy around inside him. Some days, the adult's in charge, but many, he's not."

I next considered the type of effort, exceedingly common, where the ending proves elusive, in
Asymtoting. "I might find myself in one of Virgil's more curious circles of Hell, where I'll just keep working until infinity appears. Or, it could be some undocumented circle of Heaven where I'm destined to pursue my heart's desire without ever once actually possessing it. Almost there, but never quite, Asymtoting to my own delight."

I finished my writing week praising my many
NewBeginnings. "To be indentured to some imminent satisfaction might produce the most satisfying possible experience. Supper savored in advance usually surpasses any one actually swallowed."

What over-arching meaning might I propose for my writing week just passed? It truly does not matter, for whatever I might propose might well conflict with one you'd supposed. Better, most likely, to let those stories lay where they landed. Each, I suspect, contained some Sliver of universal truth, slivers we each sometimes forget. How we're Helped here. How our Vigilings never for naught. How life does, indeed, sometimes seem to insist upon each of us Squelching significant pieces of our story. How we carry a LittleBoy within and how we sometimes seem to be endlessly Asymtoting rather than accomplishing anything, our only redemption coming early each morning like another in a seemingly endless series of NewBeginnings! Thank you so very much for following my ramblings, even if I steadfastly refuse to summarize them for you, though I will, in season, sometimes consent to opening some windows.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved







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NewBeginnings

newbeginnings
Marsden Hartley: The Last of New England—The Beginning of New Mexico: (1918–19)


" … with hungry eyes we run into the day."


Depending upon how I parse my life, it's either comprised of endings or beginnings, and probably both. I'd wager that my life, and any life, features many more beginnings than endings, though, again, depending upon what I consider a beginning and an ending. I've grown to think of every morning to at least represent, if not precisely 'be', a NewBeginning, where the slate, if not exactly wiped clean, seems to lose some clutter. My life seems much simpler at three in the morning than it ever does at noon. By sunset, which in early June at this latitude comes ever nearer 9PM, with twilight stretching until well after ten, I'm never certain when the end of any day has finally come. It arrives after I've already headed for bed, where I dream of fewer complications and the promise of a mulligan.

If only each new morning actually brought a NewBeginning, a Dorian Gray Day where history's relegated to an odd attic corner and I have no reputation.

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Asymtoting

asymtoting
William Blake: Colinet’s Journey:
Milestone Marked LXII Miles to London,
from The Pastorals of Virgil (1821)


"Almost there, but never quite …"


Everyone insists that everyone needs at least one overwhelming, almost infinite aspiration in their life. Well, they actually insist that others need that. For the most part, everyone's pretty much satisfied with aspirations that they can wrap their arms around, for those infinite buggers too easily overwhelm. Our whole essentially reductionist understanding of project management utterly depends upon an ability to chunk infinites into more infinitesimal pieces, then assuming that linear strings of finite activities might somehow expand to satisfy some more infinite need. This does not always prove to be the case. In fact, it might be that this is the rarest of all possible cases and that the normal case cannot be covered by standard project management understanding and its dependence upon finites. The more typical case seems to attempt to muster infinites to produce infinites by a process I might call Asymtoting.

Asymtoting seems more like driving a car in which one cannot quite see over the dashboard or reach the pedals.

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LittleBoy

littleboy
Claude Monet: Boy in the Country (1857)


"May I never grow weary of yearning."


I take it as a first principle that every adult male carries a LittleBoy around inside him. Some days, the adult's in charge, but many, he's not. More often than most adult males will admit, their LittleBoy has taken control. No telling what might happen then.

The LittleBoy can be kind or cruel, generous or stingy.

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Squelching

squelching
Günter Fruhtrunk: Cloister Garden (1963)


"My home is my cloister …"


By my own assessment, I've become an expert at sequestering. I maintain no public schedule of appearances other than to manifest at pharmacy or grocery, both on irregular bases. I shun invitations. I do not ever drop in to visit. I keep my own counsel and exclusively mind to my own business. I feel overwhelmed, unable to maintain my own expectations, let alone live up to any others'. I'm behind on my weeding and feeling as though I might never finish the current repainting project. I hold myself hostage but send no ransom notes. I feel reasonably certain that nobody would respond to my ransom demands, regardless.

Two years and two full months into This Damned Pandemic, I might finally be approaching the eigenvalue of my disengagement.

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Vigiling

vigiling
Pierre Guérin: The Vigilant One (1816)


" … keeping the faith after it's been wounded again."


We all know where to go, where one goes when they're intending to show up. Some bring signs, others, candles. We all bring evidence that we have not forgotten and aren't likely to ever forget. We wonder sometimes if anyone besides us listens. We keep repeating our slogans, our mantras, our prayers anyway. We make mournful noises. Even if we're only making symbolic sounds, we figure that we've made our choices. Perhaps we gather solely to reassure ourselves.

There is no man here, nobody really in charge, no one charged with creating change, nobody who's job description includes empathic listening.

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Helped

helpedalong

Martin Schongauer: Shield with a Lion, Held by an Angel (c. 1430/50)


" … I'm good to go again, together."


As the lineman from the power company wrapped the power line running in front of the slice of wall I intended to paint, I caught myself thinking back to my first pass repainting that wall. It was a truly different time and place, before The Muse and I went on exile. Work was scarce so I decided to do something about the most embarrassing wall on the place, the South-facing one that someone in the past had attempted to save by very nearly destroying it. Rather than gently smooth the weathered surface. the perpetrator had liberally smeared silicon caulk all over the hundred year old siding boards, creating a truly terrible mess. Silicon easily fouls sandpaper, possess an extremely high kindling temperature, and a lifespan of something around fifty years. I ultimately had to tease that stuff out of the wood with an extremely anemic heat gun while suspended from a makeshift ladder-supported scaffold of sorts, a mushy old plank I'd borrowed for the purpose. This through the hottest part of a summer. I labored in tortured isolation.

I can honestly say that I made that first pass all by myself.

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Slivers

5:27:2022slivermoon
View of a Sliver Moon
from The Villa's upstairs hall back window,
early morning 5/27/2022

" … when I heeded what I couldn't have known for certain."


It must be clearest to me that I do not really know what I'm doing, though I suspect that my more dedicated readers understand well enough to appreciate the depth of my ignorance, the shallowness of my knowledge. I remain reasonably certain that nobody reads my writing with the intention of learning anything, since I seem to have very little if anything at all to impart. I mostly deal in impressions without drawing all that many conclusions. Any proclaimed certainty from me might be evidence of some fresh delusion. I'm mostly justifiably confident that I do not know all that much.

In our era, knowledge has become perhaps our primary delusion.

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NotAllIn

NotAllIn
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Wrestlers in a Circus (1909)


"He who picks away at things … also makes progress."


I suppose that ambivalence amounts to the greatest sin. When I cannot go All In on something, I seem to fritter away my gifts, however modest. I divide then slowly conquer myself, undermining my best intentions. Still, as I explored during my Authoring series, being AllIn might resolve little all by itself, for it, too, seems to take a toll, though perhaps a tad more decisively. I am realizing that I'm NotAllIn on my current batch of efforts. This Reconning Series seems to lack a certain focus. Repainting The Villa has not proven to feel all that motivating, certainly not as energizing as I'd expected it to seem. This Spring, with the weather definitely not cooperating, I've managed to fall behind on almost everything I've tried initiating. I'm realizing that some significant something's been missing and I'm loathe to understand precisely what. I'm already sorry I brought this up.

I should start listing the standard lame excuses here, explaining how this present condition might not actually be my fault.

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Knots

knots
Akan, Brass: Goldweight [Knot] (19th-20th century)


"I might have arrived too late to ever actually arrive."


I am not yet the man I intended to become. Neither am I the husband I aspired to be, nor the gardener, the songwriter, not the neighbor or the father, either. On this occasion of The Muse and my twentieth wedding anniversary, very little seems to have turned out as we'd so confidently projected back on that unforgettable day in May when we publicly declared our intention to stay together as long as forever might carry us. Those people, us, seem so innocent now, not having yet experienced all we came to know. They didn't know the depths to which I would not become. Neither did I.

That The Muse and I remain together probably amounts to at least a minor miracle.

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MovingScaffolding

movingscaffolding
Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎: Fuji with a Scaffold,
Detatched page from
One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku hyakkei) Vol. 3 (circa 1835-1847)


"The next slice will very likely seem completely different …"


I expect some controversy to continue into the far distant future whenever the question of change enters the conversation, particularly whenever the question of how much shift constitutes a "real" change. I contend that infinitesimal shifts might carry significant impact while others contend that nothing very short of a tectonic event creates much difference. I'm noticing, for instance, just how much difference I experience after I finish MovingScaffolding. I yesterday relocated the tower just two lengths down the wall, a distance of about a dozen feet, yet when I hoisted up the pieces to add the third tier, I felt as though I was standing in absolutely uncharted territory. The sea legs I'd so ably demonstrated atop the prior placement abandoned me and the shaky involuntary twerking motion had moved back into my legs again. I realized that I would have to relearn my whole scaffold repertoire, just like every time before. Twelve feet proved ample shift to qualify as significant.

I began the moving back into ritual, placing a plank across the top support, eying the electric service wire with fresh suspicion.

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MendingMitres

mendingmitres2


" … to square up that which was never square to begin with … "


The Muse holds woodshop fantasies. She dreams of sawing and planing and sanding fine wooden creations into existence. I'm the guy who hopes to never own another power tool and wouldn't use a powered saw if I had one. My sander's plenty of power tool for me. She seems to embrace opportunities to cope with obtuse angles while I seek opportunities to avoid them, yet here I am, facing a stack of mitered corners needing mending.

The Villa might be classified as a foursquare, but it's not precisely square, not rectangular, either.

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TopCoating

topcoating
Vincent van Gogh: The Large Plane Trees
[Road Menders at Saint-Rémy] (1889)


"TopCoating's practice for the FinishCoat's flourish."


I believe our language proves generally inadequate to represent our experience. We adopt labels which, if taken literally, seem to materially misrepresent what they intend to impart, but we've mostly tacitly agreed to let that insufficiency pass, considering no better could possibly be following. To become educated, then, might be to finally be introduced to the real meanings, those which cannot take formal form in words or phrasings. I might say I've been painting without noting or even really intending to suggest that I've said almost nothing about what I've actually been doing, for painting, like everything else, comes in layers, in stages, and it depends upon which stage I've been engaging in, whether I've managed to impart any understanding about what I have actually been doing. I could give a hint, though, that the part of painting I have been engaging in actually involved a brush and paint. This almost makes this stage unique in the various stages of painting. Not all painting involves paint or brushes.

I was engaging in the fine and satisfying art of TopCoating yesterday, this effort distinct from the equally fine and perhaps even more satisfying art of FinishCoating, which I expect to engage in later this morning.

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Transplant

transplant1
Adriaen Coorte: Still Life with Asparagus (1697)


"Most came from somewhere else and grew into this place …"


In this valley, folks give considerable credence to the native born. We use the phrase "born and raised here" to claim that birthright. All others take second place. Though my birth family moved me here when I was eight months old, I cannot rightfully claim the native born title, for I was born elsewhere. I, too, remain a carpet-bagger, like most folks here, not to even mention the forty-some years I did not live here, for I was one of the majority who relocated to someplace with more opportunity than this small city could afford me, and I became one who could not sustain viability after returning, so that I had to go away and reinvent myself all over again a second time before I could try to call this place mine again. I needed a place with a bigger future and a much shorter memory for me to ever outgrow who I'd become known as when growing up here. Like most, I guess, I felt that I sincerely needed to reinvent myself before I could grow into my true self, however self-deluded that might make me seem.

I wonder how the 'born and raised' crowd ever found enough space to properly reinvent themselves for adulthood.

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Respiting

respiting
Camille Pissarro: Rain Effects (1879)


" … a rusty iron fist enclosed in a soggy velvet glove."


I claim to be repainting The Villa, but I've only spent about one in five days painting so far. Almost two months in and I've completed only two stripes of wall, with a third one perhaps a day and a half away from done. Had I been able to work steadily each day, I might be a week away from finishing the job, but instead, I'm suspended somewhere not quite in the middle, in the middle of the first third, with no idea when I might finish, confident that my clever plan to complete the work before the searing summer heat reduces operating hours has become a shambles. Further, I carry a decent start on a sense of guilt for not having realized the progress I'd so confidently predicted before I began. Not only have I proven disappointing in delivery, I predicted poorly, too.

What was it that I did with that tranche of non-refundable time?

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ThinkingAboutThinking

thinkingaboutthinking
James Gillray: Political Mathematician’s, Shaking the Broad Bottom’d Hemispheres (1807)


"There are good reasons I'm not a civil engineer."


Frequent offenders (er, readers) here will have noticed my fractured relationship with most things mathematical. I am nobody's mathematician, not even my own, a condition that baffles about as much as it delights me. I understand that I really should not revel in any utter ignorance, but I get some satisfaction in recognizing this difference. I'm clearly not the standard issue. I recognized early that my MannerOfThinking was apparently insufficient to accumulate the requisite inventory of procedures and rules to support even a modest mathematical practice. Further, one apparently needed to exhibit something like a genuine interest in concepts that, quite frankly, never made much of an impression on me. I could never quite find interesting answering or even asking mathematical questions, ones intended to definitely decide something.

I have sometimes, though, gazed longingly across the chasm, wondering if I might someday and somehow stumble upon some spare proficiency in something mathematical.

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TheObserver

theobserver
Vincent van Gogh:
Terrace and Observation Deck at the Moulin de Blute-Fin, Montmartre (early 1887)


" … to feel as if my presence mattered for something …"


I find repainting The Villa refreshing because it involves me actually doing something. I'm scrambling up and down the scaffolding. I'm caulking cracks. I'm rolling and brushing in lengthy 'Wax On, Wax Off' exercises that leave my arms rubbery and my hair in disarray. I ache by the end of the day and I sleep deeply. This pattern seems very different to me because, I realize, that I've spend most of my life not as a doer, but as TheObserver. I did not plan not to do anything for a living, but I quickly became a supervisor then later a consultant, both occupations that observe in lieu of doing. They produce intangibles, exhaust insidiously, and leave little behind, certainly no physical product, not even anything as ordinary as a finished paint job. I could never at the end of a shift walk around something and marvel that I had made that. Like most holding jobs these day, I provided services, working without actually producing anything, a rather lonely and isolating sort of occupation.

Much of what's written these days appears without internal attribution.

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Paranoiac

paranoiac
Francesco Colonna: Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
-The terrified Poliphilus flying before the dragon (fol. d iii verso) (1499)

" … reassuring us that we're Hell-bound without hand baskets."


I apologize for what follows, for I find what follows extremely disturbing. I only write the following because I notice myself wrestling with how things seem to be. How things seem to be, to my estimation, should come naturally, yet they do not always seem to come naturally, for we inhabit a distinctly Paranoiac culture, and the paranoid cannot seem to ever just let things be. The paranoid feel as though they somehow owe the world salvation and they're always acting, or always saying that they're acting, to save the world, as if the world needed saving, as if they held leverage to save the world, both deeply questionable propositions. The most paranoid behave as if they are on a mission from God, an affectation that I suspect God, should such a being exist, finds deeply disturbing but hardly surprising, for if we were actually made in God's image, God should be intimately familiar with Paranoiac reactions, and so understand the choices presented and selected.

I suspect that paranoia's a choice, a particularly seductive one, and one which starts with a single victim before working outward from that middle to infect others both inadvertently and also on purpose.

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Challenging

challenging
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas:
Study for "Young Spartan Girls Challenging Boys"
Former Title: Study for "The Young Spartans Exercising"
Alternate Title: Petites Filles Spartiates provoquant des Garcons /
Spartan Girls Provoking the Boys (c. 1860-61)


"I'm just wrestling down another run-of-the-mill conundrum."


From where I stand atop the scaffolding, I cannot quite see into the one valley on my roof that manages to catch every bit of debris that passes by. There's a clog of accumulated leaves, Maple tree whirligigs, and hardened mud rendering the gutter in that corner, the only inside corner along that roofline, essentially inoperable. When it rains, water pours over the gutter and down onto the fiberglass roof of my cold frame, sounding like an arrhythmic timpani behind the rain's otherwise quiet patter. This clog hangs just above the slice of wall I'm currently Challenging myself to repaint.

I was taught that in order to feel fully alive, a person needs at least one great and almost overwhelming Challenging expectation hanging over their life.

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HollowedDays

HollowedDays
Cornelis Huysmans: The Hollow Road (c. 1700)


" … we're resigned …"


Our mostly feral cat Molly supervises the day-to-day operations around The Villa Vatta Schmaltz. She tends to be the first to notice whenever something, anything's changed. She's sniffing scornfully around the difference, just as if to determine who might be to blame for this latest outrage. I'm convinced that she'd rather everything just stay the same from day to week to year. She insists upon regular meal times and comes sniffing around should I somehow miss the deadline. She's capable of moping when she's denied her way. She's loving, in her fashion, which sometimes means she's slashing at a hand that was only trying to reassure her. She trusts no human.

The times when The Muse goes away for a few days upsets Molly most.

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Sleepwalking

sleepwalking
Honoré Daumier: The Hazard of Sleeping on a Journey (1843)


"I could be participating in One Mysterious Dream."


"I will take to the morning on the first day of my life,
and wander through the sparkling dew and sunshine,
and let her icy tingle wipe the sleep out of my soul,
for it seems to me I surely have been dreaming all this time;
but I almost half remember,
this one mysterious dream,
that came upon me just before I rose."

—One Mysterious Dream (A lyric I wrote back in the seventies)

I'm uncertain whether I'm Sleepwalking through this part of my life since I have little with which to compare my present state of mind, state of mind being at best a fleeting sort of experience, and not the sort to hang around to serve as the basis for any comparison, but I feel as though I might have recently been less than fully attentive.

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Forgivenness

forgivenness
Pier Leone Ghezzie: The Prodigal Son (c. 1720–30)


" … looking for some more Forgivenness to replace it."


If anything, age, maturity, further deepens my sense of inadequacy. What might have begun as a quiet stumble has by now established itself as a repeated pattern, a part of my personality, no longer merely transitive information but established definition. I still hold aspirations, though I mostly successfully hold them at bay. I do not wake up most days with any renewed sense that I might outgrow some long ago established shortcoming. I usually wake up accepting who and what I seem to have become, not often aspiring to overcome or get beyond anything. Some days' though, I'm tempted to ignore the preponderance of evidence and believe again, if only for a few fleeting moments, that I might hold different fates, untapped abilities, long hidden skills that might liberate me from some long-standing embarrassing shortcoming. These beliefs almost never deliver on their innocent promises, and leave me nurturing what I might call Forgivenness for myself again.

I think of Forgivenness as the self-bestowed state allowing acceptance of apparent fate.

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Paced

paced
Xiao Yuncong 蕭雲從: Album of Seasonal Landscapes, Leaf G (previous leaf 7) 山水圖冊 (1668)


"Slow and steady sustains a pace."


All activity seems to possess a pace, a rhythm most natural to its motion. This cadence doesn't always immediately disclose itself. It seems common for initial engagement to feature effort sometimes wildly out of synch with this natural one and it's not at all uncommon for the first few results to suffer somewhat from this absent understanding, too rushed or too painstakingly formed. Either can affect the quality of both the result as well as with the experience of producing the result. Initial discomfort often results from some mis-match between the adopted and the natural pace of a piece of work, and diagnosing this difficulty tends to be complicated, in that too many unknowns enter into the equation. A milling around period's often necessary before an appropriate Pace can emerge, often after investing altogether too much effort. One wonders how anyone could maintain a practice until stumbling upon a rhythm and pace that makes it easy in comparison.

I've long preached about the necessity of finding this natural rhythm but I'm realizing with repainting The Villa, that I had and still have no clue about how to induce this understanding.

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Recuperating

Recuperating
Unknown: Twenty-Armed Dancing God Ganesha,
Remover of Obstacles
(10th century, India, Madhya Pradesh)


" … the true meaning of life was presented on a day
when I was tucked up on the couch, Recuperating from something."


In the middle of it, Recuperating feels indistinguishable from slacking. The inactivity seems identical. I struggle to interpret my condition with the generosity it might not wholly deserve, for if I were true to my upbringing, I would have already cleared myself for reengagement and ended this forced idleness, but I am not true to my upbringing. I have been more or less actively rebelling against my upbringing since before I was fully brought up, and I seem unlikely to change my behavior now. It's not that I was raised by wolves. I mostly revere my parents intentions, even though they were sometimes difficult to discern. My most generous interpretation insists that they always meant well even if they weren't always able to do as well as they intended. In that, I was raised to be like them, but a point came where I needed to make my own decisions, my own choices, and beyond that point I needed to become my own parent and, curiously, my own child.

I wounded my knee painting.

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TheMovie

themovie
Charles Sheeler: Church Street El (1920)


" … none of it can ever be usefully interpreted literally …"


I believe that I am immersed within a movie produced especially for my edification and occasional enlightenment. The scenes I witness reflect something about me, always allegorically, and it's always up to me to interpret what they're trying to say. Some days I pay close attention. Other days, I doze. I know for certain that I miss much that might have proven significant had I paid closer attention, but it remains a significant part of the human condition, to which I'm no less subject than you, to not always pay close enough attention such that opportunities to more deeply understand quite naturally slip by. Nobody else can interpret my movie for me and I can never interpret anyone else's movie for them, either, and not just because I cannot quite see their movie from my perspective. Sometimes, a movie appears that was apparently produced for communal consumption. In those cases, more than one might watch and make shared meaning from the experience. This world is a complex multi-plex, with innumerable simultaneous movies running on an almost infinite number of screens.

Very few things are as they first seem.

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DsKnees

dsknees
Unknown Artist from Mexico, Guerrero, Olmec: Kneeling Figure (c. 1200-600 BC)


"Humility might humiliate …"


That part of planning asking the planner to list vulnerabilities always bugged me. Even I knew that the known vulnerabilities posed little threat, if only because one tends to cringe in sympathetic anticipation whenever anything threatens a known vulnerability. The real vulnerabilities prove to be unlistable. It's their very nature. I, for instance, when starting to repaint The Villa's exterior, would never have thought to identify my knees as anything like a vulnerability. Thanks to a persistent insistence to avoid jogging, skiing, and spinning, my knees have never bothered me. I am not now nor do I ever expect to be enqueued for knee replacement surgery, but six weeks into the effort, D'sKnees have become an unanticipated issue.

Perhaps it was those days spent grubbing out the swamp elm roots behind the garage that first prompted the pain.

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Winering

winering
Willem Claesz Heda: Still Life with a Gilt Cup (1635)


" … we already live in a destination now …"


I remember when this valley evoked not a single notion of wine. Decades later, its very identity seems inexorably tied to the stuff. A place once revered for peas became one renowned for wine, with wineries dotting the rural byways and tasting rooms lining Main Street. It's a small city story many aspire to replicate, from backwater to tourist destination, from home town to boom town. I woke from my Rip Van Winkle dream to find myself living in The Napa of the North and I doubt that I will ever successfully adjust to this shift. Cute Crap Shoppes have taken over my once practical central business district. The Goodwill Store's moving out beyond the edge of town, some tourist attraction soon to follow into its space. Barrel Tasting Weekends, periodic seemingly spontaneous celebrations, bring grid lock to downtown and lines of expensively-clad tour bike riders wandering around in circles.

The Villa Vatta Schmaltz still sits on the same three way corner it was built on a hundred and sixteen years ago when this was the edge of civilization and streetcars swept through our streets.

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Affinity

affinity
Leaf from Gratian's Decretum: Table of Affinity
(c. 1270-1300) Italy, probably Naples, 13th century


"almost identical, always unique."


I met Mark and The Muse on the same day, September 14, forever after a holiday, a day for celebrating Affinity, a mysterious attractor, a ceaseless benefactor. I cannot recount or recall how it was that we found ourselves so connected. It seemed quite natural at the time, nothing entirely unexpected yet also something absolutely extraordinary. It seemed as if we could always finish each other's sentences, always understand, always empathize. Now, when Mark visits, old patterns revisit, too. An ease. A conversation cadence more than familiar, so natural as to beg identification. We just are together, picking up wherever we last left off, continuing the narrative where it had always seemed to be headed.

Mark and his wife Rita were the first to visit The Muse and I when we entered into exile.

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SheetMetalScrewed

sheetmetalscrewed
Thomas Hart Benton: Homestead (1934)


" … there's always a trick and … the experts always neglect to mention it …"


It turns out that if I volunteer to serve as my own housepainter, the universe will quite unselfconsciously presume that I am also by extension signing on to become my own sheet metal worker. How this natural expansion occurs remains a mystery, but that it occurs seems indisputable. I set about to paint a slice of south-facing wall, this one with a downspout hanging on it. I ask Kurt, who serves as my painting consultant because he's a real painter, if I really need to take down the downspout to properly paint that face. He reassures me that it's completely optional. I can choose whichever without compromising my highest intentions. I admit that I'm more opposed to the idea of taking down the downspout than actually opposed to the taking down of it, for the idea complicates my simple-minded notion of what I'm supposed to be up to. I signed on to serve as my painter, not, by extension or otherwise, my own sheet metal worker. That downspout was fabricated out of sheet metal and while I know little about painting, I know much less about sheet metal working. I know nothing whatsoever about sheet metal working, so if I were to decide to take down that downspout, I would by extension, again, be agreeing to become my own liability, even more than agreeing to become my own housepainter rendered me. I'd step over that invisible line and crossover into truly clueless territory.

Yea, I ultimately decided that I would have to take down that downspout if I were going to properly paint that wall.

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PaintingMyHead

paintingmyhead
Unknown Artist(s): Busts of Bodhisattvas
[from Mogao Cave 321,
Dunhuang, Gansu province, East Asia, China]
(Tang dynasty, 618-907)


"It's always something."


I first negotiate with myself. The scaffolding always seems impossibly high, higher than it actually stands. It looks modest enough when standing beneath it, but climb up onto the second tier and a primal fear leaks into me. I gaze at that top tier from there and cannot quite imagine myself transported up there. It seems flimsy, however securely assembled. It seems too narrow. There are no railings up there, just a wall face and soffit, not quite six feet above it. I stand transfixed as if any option other than upward existed. I favor my good knee then, pretending that the other hadn't been wounded from too much penitent kneeling on rough concrete and scaffolding. I finally nudge myself upward, having lost or won the negotiating, depending upon how I judge the outcome. In that moment, I feel as though I've lost, but I was burning precious daylight and needed to just get on with the proceedings, wherever they might be leading me. I feel as though I've entered the famed Valley of the Shadow of Death then, and I'm proceeding. Another painting day's begun.

If I could live with myself, I would run in some other direction, but I made myself a promise and I intend to deliver on it, Hell or High Water, maybe both.

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Sprinting

sprinting
Edouard Manet: The Races (1865)


"I might just as well surrender to this feeling."


This Spring, this Reconning Spring, has moved slowly, dragging what passes for her feet every inch of its way. One day, sunny, the next three, raining and cold, some days snowing, other days just blowing, it's been inhospitable if also welcome weather. It's been welcome weather because last year, these rains never arrived. We sat here watching July and August's wheat harvest dehydrate in the fields, expectations for yields steadily plummeting. Conversation out at the Ranch Supply leaned toward catastrophe. Nobody had seen anything very much like it. No end ever came into sight right into August when the worst case descended. Wildfires raged in the mountains and a heat dome hung low over the valley. Every day dawned clear if smoky and the sprinklers ran overtime all summer. The fuchsia didn't make it.

I've admitted to hiding behind this weather, of taking solace that I could too easily justify slow walking into this season, for I was facing a daunting personal challenge. I'd committed myself to repainting the Villa, to repairing the damage I'd caused when last trying to defend it against inexorable aging, but my heart wasn't in it.

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DoubleBound

doublebound
Georges Seurat: Seated Woman with a Parasol
[study for La Grande Jatte]
(1884/85)


" … I hover on the edge of some fresh enlightenment."


I often experience what I internally mischaracterize as some sort of a problem even though no obvious solution occurs to me. These difficulties can remain remarkably persistent, essentially unsolvable for the longest time. Many of them I never resolve even though they might continue to bedevil me. Sometimes, I just conclude that the difficulty out-smarted me. This conclusion does little for my self esteem, but then I already knew that I had little to hold in very high esteem to begin with. I was just confirming facts already more than adequately evident when I failed to solve the problem that might not have been a problem in the first place. Many of these are dilemmas, damned whatever I do choices. A few fully qualify as DoubleBinds, which I might define as difficulties which straddle contexts, existing in more than one place at once, and therefore conventionally unresolvable from within any single context, or so they appear. My life, like yours, overfloweth with DoubleBinds.

It might be helpful if we each had finished at least some Post Doc work in Theoretical Physics, for if we had, we might find ourselves better positioned to cope with these damnable DoubleBinds we're forever discovering invading our lives.

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LilacSeason

lilacseason
Anselmus Boëtius de Boodt: Sering
[Syringa vulgaris] (1596 - 1610)


" … though this news was never once reliably reported anywhere."


I am reliably informed that this world has already gone to Hell. Reliably informed yet still disbelieving, I somehow manage to face each new morning, influenced for certain by Molly our cat and her first thing in the morning enthusiasm. She's tripping me down the dark staircase, often trilling in apparent anticipation, hopping up onto the dining room table as I pass, to mug for a head scratch our even a full length body stroke. She quivers in anticipation of what comes next. Next, she'll race me into the kitchen where she'll vault onto the kitchen table, glancing back to make certain I followed, where she'll position herself for what must serve as a great conformation for her, her first thing in the morning ration of kitty treats, which I pile up on a piece of newspaper before her. She digs in, every bit the trencher I know her to be at heart, submitting to ever more enthusiastic stroking on my part. I pet her in humble and sincere appreciation for her reminder, served that same time every morning, that this world has not necessarily already gone to Hell, nor does it really seem to be headed in that direction. For that moment if for no other, all's right with the world, whatever calamity flashes just over the horizon.

In the same way that Molly's enthusiasm reassures me every morning, when Spring finally arrives after weeks of unconvincing promising, the world around me takes up Molly's morning role and commences to exhibit considerable enthusiasm for life as it just is in that moment.

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Incivility

incivility
José Guadalupe Posada Aguilar: Ballad of the Snail
[Corrido del Caracol] (19th century)


"Damn me to that kind of Hell if you will."


The small pick-up truck parked in front of Popular Donuts featured a tailgate spray painted with the words Fuck Biden. That sight was enough to convince me that I didn't want any donuts that day. I felt deeply disturbed, embarrassed for the pick-up's owner, who, I suspected, had fallen in with a bad crowd. I remembered back to my late grade school days when I first encountered people my age behaving like "adults." I placed adults in quotes there, because even then I recognized that those people were more mimicking their elders than behaving like them, for there seemed a touch of the perverse in a fifth grader dabbling in four letter words and stolen smokes. The effect just embarrassed me and I quickly slipped away from those guys and tried to give them wide berth going forward. I thought them trouble if only due to their decidedly uncivil performance. They didn't so much seem grown up or liberated, as degraded, and they were voluntarily doing that to themselves! I decided that I would choose not to use that sort of language, not even to myself. I still, when I hit my thumb with a hammer, scream "Danged Nab It!" rather than some four letter deep blue facsimile of it. I won't even cuss when it's just me about.

I consider this convention to be a necessary element of civility, and Incivility to be early evidence of rot.

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Unemployable

RP-P-2018-698
Pieter Schenk: Carefree life in Hsin-yang (1702)


"We will never satisfy the formal definition of Hard Working …"

People ask me if I'm retired and I reply that I'm not, just Unemployable. I believe that unemployability has become a common state for people of a certain uncertain age. For some, Unemployability comes early and for others, later, but I dare suggest that it eventually comes for most. This amounts to no tragedy, for employability seems to be a self-liquidating state. The very act of holding a job undermines an incumbent's ability to hold that job. Eventually, this contradiction does in the job or the incumbent or both, often resulting in the incumbent's growing sense that he just can't bear to do that anymore, coupled with a conviction that to continue doing that might well prove terminal. Eventually, no amount of money in this world could properly compensate the afflicted individual. No "opportunity" sufficiently attracts. In other cases, more like my own, an individual simply grows to lack baseline skills necessary to successfuly maintain employment. He becomes a buggy whip in an automobile world. I, for instance, cannot operate a PC or type with more than two and a half fingers, both terminal shortcomings in today's competitive job market.

Unemployability seems distinctly different from obsolescence, for the Unemployable are far from idle.

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Structural

Structural
James Abbott McNeill Whistler: The Unsafe Tenement (1858)


"I'm much more skilled at the consequently superficial …"


I specialize in superficial strategies. I was the one who imagined such a thing as Brief Consulting, a philosophy rooted in the firm if not always fully justified belief that most difficulties might be fairly easily co-opted via clever reframing, that insight might often trump knowing, and that we mostly suffer from varying degrees of The Normals. It was a radical perspective dressed up as conservative approach since it only infrequently insisted upon anyone making any structural changes. It accepted the way things are as the way things are, and didn't often aspire for very much different. It was more about coping than changing, anyway.

I still find little to criticize about Brief Consulting.

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Inistential

inistentiel
Albrecht Dürer: Celestial Map of the Southern Sky
[Imagines coeli meridionalis] (1515)


" … we are the existential threat …"


We seem to inhabit a world beset with existential threats. An existential threat, for those who, unlike me, do not collect lengthy terms like fishermen collect worms, imperils our very existence. In other words, should an existential threat come to fruition, it would destroy us. Polly Pureheart faced an existential threat when Snidely Whiplash tied her to that railroad track, though I never understood why he chose to do that. Had a train come along while she was tied there, it would have been the end of her. Fortunately, Dudley DoRight's horse Nelly noticed something amiss and carried Dudley to the scene of the impending existential threat, where he was able to easily neutralize Snidely's trumped up existential threat on poor Polly, who, as a result, fell in love with Nelly, if my memory serves me correctly. Existential threats, as this story demonstrates, are very serious business.

We might also inhabit a world beset with what I might call Inistential threats, imagined perils we project, which certainly seem to us to qualify as existential threats.

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ThinkingUnder

ThinkingUnder
Attributed to Ignace-Joseph de Claussin, after Jean Jacques de Boissieu: Oude man in denkende houding (1805 - 1844)


"I make progress, then, depending upon how utterly stupid and uninquisitive I can remain …"


I have been accused of over-thinking on many occasions, perhaps because I tend to think as a first defense. It's my default response. Like all default reactions, this one does get over-used if only because it's almost always the one already saddled up and ready to go whenever anything happens. This results in a fair number of false positive reactions, where I apply precisely the wrong leverage in response to some otherwise ordinary perturbation. This amounts to perfectly normal behavior, though it often appears absolutely crazy. I imagine myself producing similar results whatever response I favored. If I tended to burst into tears in response to anything, I would seem well-adapted some percentage of the time, but I'd mostly build a reputation for being weepy. I suspect that most of us favor some pre-loaded reaction and thereby tend to react strangely some of the time. My thinking responses do not really qualify as wholly unreasonable, though thinking can sometimes violate the First, Do No Hard Clause under the standard rules of engagement.

Much work is by nature properly considered mindless.

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FairTrading

fairtrading
Juan Gris: The Painter's Window (1925)


" … the new dog teaches the old dog a new trick or two."


The Repeated Offender reader of these musings will remember Kurt Our Painter, who was a prominent figure during our extended Grand Refurbish last year. Kurt proved an able sidekick, teaching me about the practical application of paint, which turned out to be a surprisingly—shockingly— philosophical endeavor. Kurt carries an easy half century experience as a professional painter, and he's still learning, for painting, like most activities, I suppose, never was a simple matter. Of course, any Jehu can slop the stuff, though sloppy painting does disclose a definite lack of character. Real painters are painstakingly careful, patient even beyond their own belief, and wise. They change the world one mil at a time or less. They refer to accumulating paint in mils, though measuring actual depth proves impossible.

When painting, Kurt taught me that a single mil of paint sufficiently covers any lightly-used surface.

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AgingInSpace

aginginspace
Mayfield Parrish: Painting for cover of 30 Aug 1923 Life magazine


" … enjoying the journey though I knew where it was leading."


I find myself presently engaged in a rare effort, though I suspect that such activities might well become more frequent and more common in upcoming years. I claim to be repainting three sides of The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, an activity I have already in this lifetime engaged in once. What Makes this iteration different? I reasonably and fully expect that this time will be my last time erecting scaffolding around this building. If this work ages as planned, this place will not require another coat of paint in my capable lifetime. It will certainly need repainting in the far distant future, but by then, I do not expect to be physically capable of performing this service, however much I might wish to. It's genuine pain-in-the-butt grunt work, so it wasn't precisely a gift I gave myself when I decided to perform this job, yet I felt gifted.

I imagined myself savoring each brushstroke, immersing my full consciousness into the experience, painstakingly burning the effort into permanent memory, however foreshortened that might prove now.

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PhilosopherWork

philosopherworkman
Maxfield Parrish: The Lantern Bearers (1908)


"The philosopher's wary."


I have my heart set on a blue front door. Kurt Our Philosophical Painter reappears in my stories this week as he returns to finish the door we left undone in deference to Winter as we otherwise completed our Grand Refurbish. I'd intended to replace the rickety front screed door, thereby making it possible to secure the front even with the door removed, and that screen was replaced earlier this month. I peeked out my office window to see a crew of two exit their truck and head for the porch. I opened the door before they'd knocked and welcomed their presence. The new screen was fully installed less than an hour later. I didn't help much because they'd caught me immersed in my PhilosopherWork so I wasn't dressed for workman work. I find myself continually shifting gears between one persona and the other. Which am I really? Neither and both.

The philosopher in me prefers to work in slippers.

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HomingPlace

homimgplace
Marsden Hartley: “Still Life” (1932-1933)


" … our point of real reference."


It may be that there's no place like home, but I'm noticing that there's really no place like the HomingPlace, that place from which one continues the infinite homing search. It seems that search never ends. For me, my old home place is not a place of rest. My Reconning didn't cease when The Muse and I retook possession, but increased both in pace and purpose, for my Reconning finally had a base from which to once again sally forth from again and again and again. I might roost here, but this old place more prominently serves as a point of departure than a place of repose. I'm clearly going somewhere. So's The Muse.

When on exile, our Reconning seemed more like practice than purposeful.

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CaughtUp

caughtup
French (cartoon)/South Netherlandish (woven):
The Unicorn Purifies Water (from the Unicorn Tapestries)
(1495–1505)

"None of us run this race to win it …"


I complain that I'm behind just as if I was ever what even a generous interpretation might consider CaughtUp. As near as I can tell from here, I was born behind and I have been falling ever further behind since. Even when I accomplished something, I recognized that I could have done more had I really applied myself like I know I could have. Whenever I accept a fresh assignment, it lands on top of the pile of unfinished business I already have open and cluttering my desktop. When I finally organize something, a few bits of whatever it is won't quite fit into my new classification scheme, such that a strict judgement of the finished product should be that my product isn't quite finished. I maintain many backlogs, just as if they'd ever become anything else. Finished and done largely seem like acts of abandonment. I graduated from both high school and university with unfinished business. It took me a while to understand and accept that graduation resolved nothing except that I'd never be able to clean the plates I left partially eaten there.

I almost remember a time when I had actually CaughtUp.

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HighApril

highapril
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: At the Circus: The Spanish Walk
[Au Cirque: Le Pas espagnol]
(1899)


"… maybe saunter over to the neighbor's …"


Both Max and Molly, our cats, were scheduled for their annual vet visit Tuesday morning. Anticipating trouble from Molly, who remains steadfastly standoffish and feral, I dosed her with enough CBD to mollify a moose. Even so, I slipped into my heavy leather yard gloves before attempting to pick her up and tuck her into her carrier. I pulled off that move without a hitch, but Max had witnessed the kitnapping and just to help, Molly began crying most plaintively, which clearly alarmed Max. Wary then and probably remembering his past cat carrier experiences, he bolted. Then we played an extended game of catch or, more properly, failure to catch. I did manage to nab him twice as he passed by, but only because he's so deep down good natured that he likely couldn't quite muster the belief that I intended him harm. I stuffed him into his carrier, or tried to, and he managed to contort himself into a ghost and exit while I shoved him in. After two failures, I gave the game to him and decided that I would just have to explain his absence and seek another appointment, taking Molly in alone, which would probably be better, anyway.

Molly, probably thanks to the CBD, performed beautifully, submitting to touching and probing from a stranger, something she won't usually agree to at home among family, and all was well with the world.

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Interruptus

interruptus
Juan Gris: Portrait of Pablo Picasso (1912)


"Higher education, lower expectation."


The pace of classes at university fascinated me. Assignments came without regard to the size of my plate or any preexisting condition. The fact that some other class featured unrealistic expectations in no way inhibited every other class from having them too. These conflicts could not be resolved. Such was the paradox of higher education. One was chided to become a good student, but not even the best student was really expected to complete every assignment, to read every chapter, to ace every exam. Those who excelled were like The Muse, who was born with the ability to pass any test, even if she'd not studied, because she understands how to ace tests, I guess. I was not so blessed.

My university days were filled with guilt over all I could not complete.

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Finishing

finishing
Juan Gris: The Sunblind (1914)


"Some future unobservant audience will most certainly be impressed …"


I say that I'm refinishing this door, but I do not expect to reach an end. A time will come when I will choose to abandon this effort as either lost or good enough, essentially equivalent conditions, and focus my attention elsewhere, but for now, for today, I focus here. So much of my life seems to carry just this quality, where I'm not actually doing whatever I'm declaring myself doing. I do not intend to misrepresent my actions, for with this kind of work, misrepresentation might be the only possible representation. I say I'm finishing. I might be refinishing, but I do not labor to reach an end. I labor to begin and to properly attend.

This door was once damaged beyond all hope of repair.

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Refelance

refelence
Vincent van Gogh: Self-Portrait or Portrait of Theo van Gogh (Paris, Summer 1887)


"[I] never learned to trust popularity."


I might fairly characterize modern life as a search for relevance. Certainly media, public as well as social, a prominent presence in our Damned Pandemic-separated lives, operates under a strict perversion of the Democratic process, where the number of views/likes/shares/comments determines relevance. I'm uncertain who first proposed simply voting as a means for determining relevance, but majorities have since voted in favor of the most remarkable and remarkably stupid things. It seems rather rare that a number one-rated program comes anywhere near being the best program produced that year. Same with recordings. Same with films. Same, too, with seemingly almost everything. Popularity in the polls has become the new relevance, a condition to which I'll assign a potentially more telling term, Refelance, meaning 'referred relevance.'

How does an artist, a creator, any producer determine relevance?

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Resturrected

resturrection
Raphael: Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1502)


" … already arrived and on the path intended …"


Perhaps the gravest error when Reconning lies in the usually innocent attempts to plot courses to the past. We know the past much better than we know our future, so it seems a smaller stretch of imagination to project that rather than to muster fresh visions, but resurrecting's no less speculative and much more dangerous. This universe, for better or for worse, runs exclusively forward, from past toward future, and any attempt to reverse this sequence should properly create serious consequences, however unintended. That a major world religion was predicated upon resurrection seems curious if also telling, for Jesus' great works all came before the resurrecting rather than after. After, he managed an ascension, which I guess amounted to another separation, with promises, of course, but he seemed just as gone after ascension as he seemed just after crucifixion, leaving an observer to wonder what resurrection accomplished other than to confuse a question. After ascension, the legend remained, plenty powerful and present, same as just after he first departed.

I suppose I speak heresy or disclose my lack of biblical literacy, but on this Easter morning, I find myself considering another sort of celebration than one focusing upon defeating death with resurrection.

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Reprieving

repreiving
Thomas Hart Benton: City Activities with Dancehall
from America
Today mural (detail), 1930–31


" … this universe appears to be self-correcting …"


I imagine this to be a self-correcting universe. I suspect that this notion comes from the inescapable fact that nobody really has the slightest influence over this universe's trajectory and that most of its business occurs on scales which could never have the slightest direct effect on anybody. It's a continuously playing movie which never once repeats but which appears so uniform as to appear familiar. My plans might not always come to fruition, but among the infinite alternative resolutions, at least one workable substitute very reliably seems to show up. Eventually. The net effect seems to be an infinite engagement in which I for some reason choose to involve myself in finite segments, some of which do not work out but for those that don't work out, I receive a Reprieve. An alternative appears to, if not precisely save the day, preserve potential.

That's not to say that I've never been disappointed.

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ExilesReturn

exilesreturn
Thomas Hart Benton: Outreaching Hands from America Today mural (1930–31)


" … to seek dignity rather than desire."


An Exile'sReturn feels no less traumatic than his exit, for both events demand skills not previously in evidence in our hero's experience, however vast. He left only because he could not possibly stay, hardly a proper preparation for anything following. He returned because he'd finally earned passage, but after such a long absence that he would not be returning to from whence he once departed, but into a rather darkening sunrise. In most ways, an Exile'sReturn turns into yet another exile, an extension of the discontinuity begun when he first fled into exile, unaware that he would never, could never, return. It would be, he comes to understand, off-handed adaptation from there on. It would be a great blessing that he returned just as unaware as he departed. Understanding, in probably this world's greatest blessing, always comes later, after confusion and well before wisdom. An Exile'sReturn proves revealing.

After eons of ceding one's heart's desire, one might recognize that hearts know little.

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ThirdYear

thirdyear
Thomas Hart Benton: "America Today" Mural (detail), “Coal” (1930–31)


" … it sure is a good thing that The Muse and I relocated to overlooking The Center of the Universe …"

As the ThirdYear of Our Damned Pandemic began, its prolonged presence seemed to foreshorten our future. That April, our prior years' toodles around Paris and the French countryside seemed almost epic adventures dredged up from prehistoric times, times long past and unlikely to ever return, like an innocence forever lost, like coal once was. The Muse and I have so far dodged the Covid bullet, whether through early and frequent vaccination, obsessive masking, or dumb luck, nobody can say. Certainly people every bit as scrupulous as us fell prey and others who seemed scandalously pass
é stayed safe. Most recovered fully, but not all. A million people just in this country are absent today who wouldn't be gone had Covid-19 not come along. It remains, ebbing and surging, leveraging large number laws, quietly disappointing hopes and dreams.

The routine seemed perfectly sustainable at first, as any fresh experience might.

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AtHardLabor

_hardlabor
Thomas Hart Benton: Steel from America Today mural (detail) (1930–31)

"I know, ironic."


I seem to need to relearn a simple lesson each Spring, just as if each prior Springtime hadn't taught me the same damned thing. I leave my long Winter hibernation with aches and pains I can never remember acquiring. It's not like the season had demanded too much of me. Aside from a few simple snow shovelings and some firewood carrying, I hardly stretch a muscle once the Autumn leaf harvest is in. I still awaken with a grumbly back or something. It's always something. A muscle group complaining without a discernible cause. I limp around and attempt my annual stoicism performance, which fools and entertains nobody, especially me. Eventually, even The Muse catches on that I'm aching. I take my ibuprofen and attempt to carry on, avoiding strenuous activity.

Then I relearn that I need some strenuous activity to iron out Winter's remaining wrinkles.

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Hesitance

hesitance
James Gillray: The cow-pock,
-or-The wonderful effects of the new inoculation!
- Vide - the Publications of ye Anti-Vaccine Society (1802)


"I'm more of an amateur than that."


He who hesitates might be temporarily lost, but not often permanently so. The one who tries to seize the day to appear decisive more easily loses himself, but doesn't seem to notice. I usually opt for Hesitance over decisiveness if only because I only rarely ever seem to possess enough information to justify engaging very quickly. I tend to sidle up to experiences, suspicious of their impact and influence. I do not usually readily volunteer. I am an avowed and proud foot-dragger. I prefer to catch up rather than rush ahead. I'd really rather that you go first. I'm not being polite, just cautious.

Try as I might, I cannot quite manage to characterize my Hesitance as a vice.

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ZenosReality

zenosreality
Pellegrino Tibaldi: Zeno of Elea shows Youths the Doors to Truth and False (Veritas et Falsitas) (C.late 1580s)
Fresco in the Library of El Escorial, Madrid


" … we might never notice ourselves incapable of stepping into the same river once."


It has long been a popular pastime among mathematicians and logicians to poke fun at the humble Zeno of Elea, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who left a memorable, subtle, and profound legacy of observations. He was the one who posited that one can never step into the same river twice and also the guy who cared enough to ask after the barber who shaved only those who didn't shave themselves, and wonder who shaved that barber's chin. Zeno pointed out how no arrow could logically hit any target, since each would subsume its progress by halving remaining distance, which could never logically resolve into any end point. His observations are today usually seen as provocations, interesting if largely irrelevant little insights into the limits of logical reasoning when explaining actual experience.

But we are not merely logical beings.

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SmallWinters

springsnow
Itō Takashi: Spring Snow at Kamikochi (1932)


"My boot lugs still carry soil they picked up last season …"


It's funny, but I don't remember this much variety in prior springs here. Snow spots the backyard this morning where The Muse and I planted her new Mirabelle trees yesterday afternoon. An almost fierce wind kept me off the scaffolding again and the cold will prevent me from painting today, forcing me back inside just after I'd started feeling the rhythm of this season. As if to throw my timing off, it's almost winter this morning, as I was finally prepared for spring. Of course our Colorado springtimes featured full-blown blizzards, but here in these gentler elevations and under Japanese Current influences, I just expected more consistency than this.

If I went back and checked, though, I suspect that the record would show just this slow build of the season, even including some SmallWinters in it.

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Permissions

permissions
Johann Michael Rottmayr: Apollo Granting Phaeton Permission to Drive the Chariot of the Sun (1690/95)


"I remain just as free as I'd ever care to be …"


As a gentleman of a certain age and social position, I suspect that many might suspect me of being free, or of at least feeling free to choose to do whatever I might choose to do, but that second suspicion would be far from the truth about me, a truth that only I could ever properly see. I have this gatekeeper inside me, and he decides for me what I might engage in and how. He's a stingy bastard, protective, and won't allow me to engage in just anything. He'd say that he at least tries to maintain certain "standards," but he administers them inconsistently enough that not even I can always predict what he'll permit and what he'll disallow. He insists that he's protecting my interests as he inhibits my freedom of movement and my liberties, not nearly as free as I might at first appear to be.

Consequently, I maintain a list of things he's frequently denied to me, if only to save myself the humiliation of him having to remind me again what kind of person I'm not.

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AttractingAngels

attractingangels
William Blake: The Angel Appearing to Zacharias (1799–1800)


"None of us ever was an island."


It's long been a matter of contention among theologians just precisely what human actions best serve the intention of AttractingAngels. Some insist that contrition works most reliably. Others vote for humility. Still others stand on the side of righteousness, believing that angels tend to hang with like-minded spirits. I anecdotally believe that angels seem to be attracted to trouble such that if I want to see an angel, all I have to do is get myself into some sort of trouble, even the generally irredeemable kind. If I can keep my eyes open and pay attention then, in my experience, I soon learn that whatever I did, innocent or not, if it resulted in trouble, it probably ended up attracting angels. Even sins tend to be fairly reliable attractors. In my humble experience, the kinds of angels I end up attracting do not seem all that picky about who they help. They're like the Lone Ranger but without the silly costuming. They mostly seem indistinguishable from any regular Jane or Joe. They'll let you know they're there.

Last night, I drove over to a nearby airport to fetch The Muse, who was returning from her first genuine business trip since the start of The Damned Pandemic.

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GrapeHyacinth

grapehyacinth
Publisher William Curtis in The Botanical Magazine, Hand-colored engraving #23727 (1791)


"I am not my name, either …"


In Spring, I channel my spirit flower, the humble, lovely, GrapeHyacinth. He embodies the season like no other bloom, an early riser and also a real eye catcher, he's up and at it before most others have broken ground. He's easily found and effortlessly, endlessly spreads into lawns, always beyond original intentions. He's utterly without pretension, simple, beautiful. He's neither grape nor hyacinth, but GrapeHyacinth, in that curious way that English allows a negation to become an identity. He is precisely not what he's named, but almost entirely something else.

I cannot bear to mow over that piece of lawn into which my sacred GrapeHyacinths have spread.

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Scaffoldingly

scaffoldingly
Shubha Taparia: Crescent (2021)


"I seem to need to expose myself to a certain amount of danger …"


I may have identified the source of my sense of disconnection with the recent changing of the seasons. After a long and lonely enough Winter season, Spring should have welcomed me with open arms and I really should have stepped right in there for a reassuring hug. I became stand-offish instead, as if Spring were trespassing upon my private space. I had become complacent over the final few weeks of that bleakest season, wasting opportunities to engage in this or that project, seemingly satisfied to lean back and let a little time pass by me. That was never satisfying work, but more of a defensive effort. After The Grand Refurbish ended mid-December, I'd retrenched, feeling aimless. The Muse was after me to finish a few projects, but I remained steadfastly disengaged, fitfully napping. Nothing really seemed worth doing after engaging in such a grand and satisfying furbish. Every alternative engagement just seemed to fall tragically short of something. I practiced moping.

Yesterday, Kurt Our Painter brought over his pickup truck to help me fetch scaffolding so that I could start a rather modest repainting of The Villa's outside.

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Ninja

ninja
From Suikoden of Japanese Heroes (Yeiyû Yamato Suikoden,
英雄日本水滸伝)
Publisher: Kujioka-ya Keijirô (c. 1843)
Scene:
Ogata Shuma (later Jiraiya) raising his sword to kill a python attacking a large toad,
Jiraiya is portrayed as being a ninja.


" … more lifestyle than profession."


I'm afraid that I feel compelled to break with a semi-sacred tradition and report that I am a Ninja. Yes, anyone engaging as a Ninja was cautioned in their training to keep their true identity secret, though no clear punishment was associated with violating this warning. I well understand the complications this disclosure might create, for the first and most enduring response to any Ninja disclosing their secret tends to be incredulity. Nobody ever believes it. They treat this confidence as a joke, since no Ninja in the history of this world so far ever looked like they might be a Ninja when they're out of costume, and, indeed, the costuming might well account for ninety percent of a Ninja's magic. Ninja-ing's a cosplay occupation.

I've confided this secret before, though never quite this publicly.

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Pruning

pruning
Kanō Sanraku: Set of sliding doors of Plum tree (early 17th century)


" … the Sum total of all I could not bear to Prune."


With Spring comes the great cutting back, the annual Pruning effort which eliminates unwanted excess while encouraging new growth. Pruning makes space for both new and different. It co-opts default repetition while heading off degradation. Even weeding might be considered a form of Pruning, since it, too, eliminates some life to encourage others.

I have always been a reluctant pruner, hesitating with my hedge trimmers and shy with my clippers.

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Muse-led

muse-led

Charles Meynier: Apollo and the Muses, (late 18th century)
Polyptych, from left to right:
Polyhymnia, Muse of Eloquence
Erato, Muse of Lyrical Poetry
Apollo, God of Light, Eloquence, Poetry and Fine Arts with
Urania, Muse of Astronomy
Clio, Muse of History
Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry


"Almost anything proves possible given perspective and well-informed choice."


I am not navigating by means of the nearly infamous Ded Reconning, which plays off past positions to imagine future ones. Christopher Columbus was reputed to have been a master Ded Reconner, famous for "finding" North America when he was searching for India. My reconning, the kind I employ here, might be properly referred to as Alive Reconning, for it relies much less upon the fates and intuition than does its Ded Reconning cousin. I might even suggest that I am never entirely alone when I'm navigating, for I firmly believe that my Reconning has always been inspired by muses, Muse-led.

I speak of The Muse when referencing my wife, but I speak now of The Muse
s who guide my trajectory when I'm unable to guide it myself, which is usually.

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Incompleteness

incompleteness
Paul Cézanne: Maisons parmi les arbres (circa 1904-06)


" … never finished, just contributed."


If I were charged with grading my performance so far in my life, I would not assign an immediate 'A', and not a 'B', either; nor a 'C', 'D', or even an 'F', and not only because I have not yet finished performing. I suspect that I still have an act or two left, perhaps even a few more full productions to produce, but I harbor few delusions that any future performance might nudge my grade up into the exemplary range. I am pretty much who I am. I no longer stay up late studying to achieve the next level of anything. Those who love me, love me. Those who do not, don't. I'm not completely uninterested in flipping my critics or in chasing away my fans, but I certainly do not invest much sweat toward achieving either. I am just about who and what I am, no more and little else. So what grade would I assign to my own performance so far? I'd award a big fat Incomplete, the orthogonal judgement, the forgotten achievement. Whether any fat lady's sung or not, my performance ain't quite finished yet.

Famous composers and artists left behind unfinished symphonies and paintings, so do us less famous brethren.

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Scrounging

scrounging
Vincent van Gogh: Shoes (1886)


"Without such provocations, I might never feel truly inconvenienced."


Scrounging tends to be one of the early casualties of prosperity. The dumpster diver becomes a WalMart shopper and a trajectory changes forever. Aging, though, can shift certainties to reintroduce the vagaries one might not have even noticed losing. Proud ones might faunch at the shift, feeling as though they've been assaulted or rendered undignified by it. The lucky ones might notice a certain vitality reentering their lives as what they'd grown accustomed to perceiving as their birthright is formally denied them. Insurance companies seem particularly adept at denying access once considered sacrosanct. For me, after The Muse shifted health insurance companies, the inheriting operation refused to pay for a refill for the only prescription I felt certain actually delivered on its promise. They were, of course, absolutely obtuse about their reasoning, never once actually confirming what they'd done, leaving it up to pharmacy clerks and nurses to attempt to interpret their intention and deliver their message.

As near as any of us could tell, they'd denied the refill request in spite of doctor's orders and expressly because the prescription actually worked.

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Securing

securing
Jean Metzinger: Man with a Pipe (Portrait of an American Smoker) (1911-12)


" … acknowledging this simple fact."


Two full years since my friend Thomas strongly suggested that I install a PastWord security application, I finally invited my tech guy over to install the system for me. I'm nobody's application installer, apt as I am to not quite understand the app's authors' intentions and instructions being inevitably inaccurate and imprecise, I much prefer to hire a professional to perform installations. I quickly felt satisfied with this decision as a fresh and new dizzying array of terms and functions flashed before me. My job was relegated to repeatedly entering a single PastWord as each installation stage progressed. Brian The Tech Guy somehow managed to resurrect long lost PastWords and convert them to new uses, like actually providing access for a change instead of simply serving as barriers to entry. I realized as he installed this package that I had been living incredibly insecurely, my only potentially saving grace being that I'd set up my systems in such a convoluted manner, that nobody could have ever been very likely to crack the codes, though they most prominently kept my systems secure from myself.

I, like everybody, possess a long, shadowy, and largely insecure history with security.

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Narrowing

narrowing
Jean Metzinger: Landscape (Marine, Composition Cubiste) (1912)


" … what I imagine to be their essence."


I've been noticing that the range of my Reconning radar has been Narrowing since The Muse and I returned from exile. On exile, I maintained awareness of more than just my immediate vicinity, but also of the goings on 'back home.' Back home, I do not reciprocate my interest. I doubt that I'll ever return to Colorado's Front Range. I think of it as a place we holed up in for a few years before repatriation. Now home, I've lost interest in that place, which never felt terribly hospitable or home-like, anyway. I never held more than a tactical interest in the local politics since I planned no future or legacy there. It's now become a good riddance for me.

Before exile, The Muse and I roamed a wide area.

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Gettin'

gettin_
Jean Metzinger: At the Cycle-Race Track (Au Vélodrome) (1912)


"I'd just stopped paying such close attention to what I wasn't doing."


I'm Gettin' over the idea that I need to be Gettin' over ideas. I might instead get under, around, or through, or, alternatively, I might simply let a condition be. The idea that I might one day get back to normal might perhaps prove the most poisonous possible aspiration. I seem to too easily imagine that I once experienced conditions I had never actually experienced, my old, fondly remembered, largely fictional Old Normal. Memory's a notoriously unreliable mentor. I try to take things as they come and often fail, falling into one of apparently many cognitive traps. Just day before yesterday, I complained here of feeling
StovedUp, as if that were a treatable condition rather than a statement of simple fact. I've felt StovedUp before and I most probably will feel StovedUp again. I might even find that I'm more frequently feeling StovedUp these days and pine after the time when StovedUp had not become my new normal. I only imagined it as a permanent condition, but, then again, nothing's permanent except perhaps that sense of permanence that sometimes visits.

I toughed out my StovedUp-edness.

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SurpriseSpring

suprisespring
Julian Schnabel: Rose Painting (Near Van Gogh’s Grave) V (2015)


" … just not quite prepared for it this time."


Though I thought I was paying close attention, this Spring successfully snuck up on me. I'm struggling to get into synch with it. Most years, I would have already sorted through seed packets and sliced out at least one nursery visit by now, but I have barely soiled my overall's knees yet. I just cannot seem to find the rhythm of this season. After all those years in exile dreaming of how it would finally be when we were back in The Villa Vatta again, this turn of events seems particularly disappointing, perhaps tragic. It might be a bout of Dream Come True Syndrome, where the object of long affection becomes the opposite once secured, where the true love only lives in anticipation of finding it, and withers as soon as it's actually touched. Or, it might well be something considerably less insidious. How could I possibly tell which?

I've started baby steps.

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StovedUp

stoveup
Egon Schiele: The Family (1918)

"A reckoning might be impending …"


The Muse and I arrived out of exile one year ago today. We found an empty house waiting patiently for our arrival. We set up the inflatable bed in the living room then set about settling in. The Muse's son's family had not quite finished moving out, so I spent the next day helping to relocate their stuff out of the basement in preparation for the moving van arriving the following day. The rest, as they say, is history. Few days would be spent idle until the following winter. We shaped up the yard and repainted the front porch before setting about to refurbish nine rooms, floors, walls, ceilings, windows, and doors. I spent the last day possible to paint outside, finishing painting the exterior trim on the last window before settling into a long-ish idle winter. I'd supposed that I'd earned a break, but three months off have only left me feeling StovedUp for spring.

I have aches and pains the likes of which I never once had when we were on exile.

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Stages

stages
Jean Metzinger: Paysage coloré aux oiseaux aquatiques (1907)


" … it's all a series of silly games we play with passionate sincerity."


I began this Reconning Series because I sensed that I had entered a new stage of life. Typical of my species, I suspected that I'd detected this change considerably after the change had already occurred, but I still felt almost compelled to take a little deeper look and consider ramifications. One of the saddest cheap human tricks involves essentially engaging at the wrong logical level, for instance, engaging in age-inappropriate ways which might include wardrobe dysfunctions up to behavioral ones. Few sadder sights assail anyone than a person wearing some follow-on generation's fashions, the sixties grandma wearing Carnaby Street or the once distinguished gentleman in day-glo bell bottoms. These errors transcend mere faux pas to enter the realm of pathology, perhaps even treatable conditions. I suspect that many of these transgressions occur inadvertently and demonstrate more ignorance or personal insensitivity than volition. Few volunteer to appear the fool.

Yet many still manage to appear foolish, if not in their own eyes than pretty much everyone else's.

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TheRoadToWashtucna

roadto
Rolling Hills of Palouse: Wojtek Powiertowski (2016)

"One goes nowhere to unburden."


I long ago noticed that every road in this part of the country seems to go to a little place that’s almost no place at all, Washtucna. Drive along I-90 between Spokane and Seattle and it seems that every exit between Sprague and Ritzville mentions Washtucna. Same story driving US395 between Pasco and Ritzville and US12 between Walla Walla and Lewiston, and WA127 between Colfax and the Pommeroy cutoff, every intersection points the way to Washtucna. It’s the center of the universe surrounding the center of the universe within which I live. It’s actually a very small and shrinking town plunked down in the center of a geographic square maybe seventy miles on a side. Bordered on the West by the mighty Columbia River, the East by the humble Blue Mountains, the North by I-90, and the Oregon border to the South, with the Snake River running its last stretch right through the middle before joining the Columbia. Within that square lies inarguably some of the finest cropland in the world and also some of the worst. Geologists refer to the stuff Washtucna sits on as scabland, basalt scrubbed almost barren by a series of Ice Age floods, leaving a dry Coulee country not quite large enough to qualify as grand, yet still plenty impressive.

Why would anyone willingly choose to take any of the many roads leading to Wadhtucna?

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MidnightCreep

midnightcreep
Camille Pissarro: Boulevard Montmartre in Paris (1897)

“I wrote it so that I would know what I was thinking.”


My work’s signature element must be that I engage in it almost exclusively in the wee hours. I’m a MidnightCreeper. I might forgive anyone for believing that I’m a little shy about my profession, for I engage in it so damned stealthily. Aside from the fact that I’ve lately, since reinhabiting our Villa Vatta Schmaltz, taken to writing in perhaps the most exposing window in the place, I remain terribly private and secretive about my practice. Few pass by to spot me writing in my wee hours and even then, I most often write in near total darkness, my desk only illuminated by the faint glow my laptop screen makes, my eyes dilated like a lemur’s, my silhouette essentially invisible from out there.

I remain rather embarrassed by my peculiar practice, which I think of more as ablution than actual profession.

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Distantcing

distantcing
N.C. Wyeth: from Robinson Crusoe, Cosmopolitan Book Corporation edition (1920)

" … I feel as though I am still free floating …"


Between my career and our grand exile, I grew accustomed to being away from home. I always felt as though I adapted well to road life, but I see that I will most likely be more tied to one place, our Villa Vatta Schmaltz, in the future. Not even Our Damned Pandemic sequestered me at home at first, for it arrived at the start of our last year of exile, stranding me in our final interim home rather than what The Muse and knew to be our real one. Finally arriving home, I hardly knew how to comport myself. I'd been short-timing myself for so many years by then that I'd become more attached to my shadow than to my actual presence. You see, as a passing entity, one gets excluded from many of the rights and obligations of full citizenship. One votes, of course, in local elections, even if on exile, but one probably does not feel as though they're contributing to any personal future by so doing, since the one certain thing always remains that you will not still be there by then. On exile, one never possesses a local future, only a far away one, and only then if lucky. One forfeits a full present local identity for the duration of exile duty.

Washing up back home felt both enormously relieving yet also deeply disturbing, for I'd grown accustomed to the emotional as well as the physical Distantcing.

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NextSteps

nextsteps
Johannes Vermeer: Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (c. 1657–1659)


"This is how our world progresses."


Beginning might break surface tension but it does little to nothing to determine NextSteps. These seem barely implied by initial movement, uncertain even of the direction taken so far, for little distance was covered and no clear rhythms or end points have yet come into focus. The first few postings of any new series sort of try on identities, hoping something clicks, for the Author aspires to create something capable of making some sort of difference. The significance of his topic choice not yet obvious, similar past beginnings managed to step up to and into their own importance, but there's nothing insisting that this one must or will step up to or into until it does and already has. I mark my time to hold my place in line. NextSteps emerge awkwardly every time.

Breaking surface tension, though, amounts to the first great success of this series for me, for nothing's written, either, insisting that surface tension might be broken this or any time.

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Begineering

beginnering
Claude Monet: The Japanese Footbridge (1899)


"I am a begineer!"


The first full day of Spring and I find myself Begineering. Beginning a fresh series, sure, but also Reconning, investigating this new space I attempt to create. I chose Reconning as the name of this series because it lately occurs to me that I have been either outrunning my past manners of living or am very likely to be out running many of them soon. Like many in my generation, I was able to extend my adolescence far beyond my childhood, and my mere adulthood well into middle age, and my middle age out to beyond its relevant range, leaving me in uncharted and largely unwanted territory. I never aspired to achieve either majority or dotage, but they seem to have almost successfully conspired to overtake me. I could die my hair and seek Botox® injections, or find some semblance of dignity in my eventual downfall. We all know for certain where this path is heading, but not its timetable.

No need to go all morbid about this.

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Whimper

whimper
Johannes Vermeer: The Concert (circa 1664)

"Thanks for coming to my table."

The final essay in my Authoring Series should wrap up my investigation, and I suppose that this piece might manage to do precisely that, though it won't succeed in the way I'd imagined it might when I started this series three months ago. Then, I had the writer's equivalent of visions of sugar plums dancing around in my head, for I, as seems so often the case, began this enquiry under innocently false premises. I'd imagined that Authoring might result in some sort of a publishing contract and a physical book sitting coquettishly on some bookstore shelf somewhere. How nineteen forties, right? We're in the twenty-first century now and you might not remember the last time you set foot inside a bookstore, and online book shopping's different enough to not really qualify as book shopping at all. Further, the book market has been static since 2007 when 400,000 new titles were shoved into it. Today, four million new titles compete for the same shelf space, much of it virtual. My publisher, the one who published my best selling The Blind Men and The Elephant back in 2003, reports that the only books that stand much of a chance in today's cluttered market are ones tied to an existing marketing plan, a subscribed workshop offering or a frequent keynote speaker. That's not my manuscript. It's not my aspiration, either.

It might be that Authoring's no longer as I imagined it might be back when I started this enquiry.

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Patience

patience
Vincent Willem van Gogh: Rain (Saint-Rémy, November 1889)


"Whatever it becomes, comes later."


I don't fear that we'll not get clear through all of Authoring's Stations of the Cross before we run out of time to explore them here, I know for certain that we'll run out of time. Running out of time seems Authoring's common companion, for Authoring as a craft and as a profession turns out to be one of the longer cycled occupations. This seems fitting if only because once published, a manuscript becomes essentially immortal. Even if it joins the ranks of the majority of published works and gets quickly returned for pulping, those three copies submitted to The Library of Congress will account for something, and anything shelved in that permanent collection remains forever retrievable. That said, Authoring's Fifth Station of the Cross simply must be Patience, for Authoring will not be rushed. Even the fast track to publication seems terribly pedantic, with checks and unbalances complicating each and every step. Even then, an error or two might occasionally get chiseled into granite, but the intention of publishing flawless works mostly works. Authoring features innumerable moving parts.

My folly at setting aside a quarter year to consider Authoring says much about the profession.

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Promotion

promotion
Sassetta AKA Stefano di Giovanni: The Agony in the Garden (1437-1444)


"This Fourth Station ain't worth my tarrying over."

And so we come to the Fourth Station of the Authoring Cross, Promotion. I have nothing authoritative to say about Promotion, for I have never mastered it. The real underlying reason I began this enquiry into Authoring had everything to do with Promotion, and, specifically, SelfPromotion, which I've long recognized as my Achilles Heel, as I explained in my earlier Reconsidering series. For someone with a degree in Marketing, I seem a particularly inept marketer. I shudder whenever I'm called to say a few supportive words about my work and either feel as though I'm bragging or underplaying, often both. I had hoped that a more focused considering of Authoring might enable me to find a more comfortable frame within which to place this Fourth Station and its many expectations, but as I watch the calendar moving toward the expected ending of this endeavor, I realize that I'm no closer to feeling any more comfortable with promoting my work than I ever was. I feel as though I've played this game to stymie again after specifically re-engaging again to learn how to play around or beyond stymie. I feel about ready to accept that I actually am me, and that the earlier instances of myself which I thought were perhaps just underdeveloped manifestations might have been instead finished pieces and I've been in denial for decades. This result does not surprise me.

I've been shopping the usual marketplaces.

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FutureFocus

futurefocus
Georges de La Tour: The Fortune-Teller (probably 1630s)

"The universe couldn't care less what you decide."

Much of whatever Authoring entails occurs on the broad plain between writing and publishing. There, the Fundamentally Unanswerable Questions reside, serving as apparent barriers between the writer and his aspiration to become a published Author. These questions also serve as the raw material for utterly transforming the Authoring experience both for the better as well as for the worse. As barriers, they reliably produce what certainly feels like worse experiences, at least until they encourage some breakthrough thinking that transcends the initial trouble. What started as a continuation of the story about writing evolves into a deeper and richer story situated above and slightly to one side of the writing as well as to whatever story the manuscript attempts to tell. This perspective emerges from what seems like overly extended wandering in wilderness, from an abject loneliness and deep isolation, from genuinely not knowing, the sure source of all understanding.

Authoring's Third Station of the Cross might well represent the lion's share of the whole Authoring experience.

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Voce

voce
Orazio Gentileschi: David Contemplating the Head of Goliath (c. 1610)
" … it's absolute magic!"


I'll call the Second Station of the Authoring Cross Você [pronounced Voe Che], because it mostly deals with the Author's manner of speaking. The writer writes while the Author shapes. The writer creates rough approximations in relative isolation, each piece produced in absence of any broader context. Once the writer completes the pieces, the Author can set to aligning those chunks into a more continuous whole. Você becomes primary among the various elements of this aligning process because it's the subtlest piece and also the one most easily noticed as absent. The voice the reader finds speaking out of the page must be recognizable, not different from chapter to chapter, beginning from end. Further, the Você stands above and beside the story and serves as the medium within which whatever story gets told. It's often best when as innocuous as the almost still and silent voice each of us knows as our own internal one, our conscience, if you will. Whatever the Author chooses as the work's Você, aligning and preserving that timbre might be the underlying purpose of the so-called Proofing pass, which superficially seems to mostly focus upon spelling and ridding the draft of dangling participles.

A great editor can preserve and even amplify the Author's voice better than even the Author could.

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TinyShifts

tinyshifts
Coëtivy Master (Henri de Vulcop?): Philosophy Consoling Boethius and Fortune Turning the Wheel (about 1460–1470)


"The greatest significance tends to hide in the tiniest focus."


I yesterday mentioned The Authoring Stations of the Cross, my sense of Authoring's underlying sequence. My sense has shifted since I started this Authoring enquiry, but shifted in unanticipated ways. Like you (I suspect), I focus upon what might make a big difference, figuring I can always fine tune the tiny side stuff, so I set about looking for whatever might make a huge contribution in my understanding of Authoring. As I near the end of the enquiry, I realize that TinyShifts seemed to have made the most significant differences, perhaps a contradiction, though not, upon reflection, a particularly surprising one. If change sometimes seems frustrating to create, it's often due to focus. I'm so intent upon seeing significance that TinyShifts slip right through my diligence. My futures tend to slip in when I'm paying attention to stuff that couldn't possibly make much difference. Authoring's no monolithic practice, but a series of almost insignificances only the experienced appreciate. Authoring's very likely to slip right past even the attentive at first because us attentive ones tend to focus upon the wrong scale, by which I mean, way too large.

I see now that if I shift just a couple of things in my daily practice, I will have much better integrated Authoring into my routine.

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