Rendered Fat Content


Coy Aron Seward: Mountains and Desert (1929)

"We'll be on to someplace different before then."

At first, The Muse didn't believe me when I told her we would be toodling through a part of the country where rivers don't drain to the sea. Vast areas of the inner mountain west feature no outlet to any ocean. Whatever moisture falls there either evaporates or easily slips into the thin rocky soil. Whatever runoff proves too voluminous accumulates into salt lakes or sinks where it becomes unusable for irrigation or potage. Seasonally, much of the landscape sees moisture, especially if the winter, like this one, proves snowy. In late Winter, just before Spring, the landscape seems remarkably well-watered. What looks like a greasewood desert might be slough, a few inches deep in slow water from upland snow melt. Sheep might graze there for a few weeks before being herded into the higher country to finish their season.

Our little dish bowl valley would be a basin were it not open to drainage.

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Pieter Cool: Chariot with the Seven Deadly Sins (c. 1590)

"Saidlines are not deadlines …"

The days leading up to any scheduled departure become increasingly challenging as the date approaches. My internal monologue escalates toward a frantic pitch as I enumerate fresh expectations to myself, setting Saidlines. I begin with a single relatively simple notion of something I should accomplish before allowing myself to leave, something like 'clean out the fridge,' always a good idea if I'll be absent for more than a week. If I could only leave my expectations there! I continue adding additional notions until I've amassed a burden no ten people could manage to accomplish before departing. I add these additional ones in innocence, for I don't tend to notice how onerous the list has become until after it's already overwhelmed me. Then, I'm negotiating from a position of little power or authority because that list has me by then. There's really only ever one way I will ever manage to exit and that's by deciding what I will leave undone.

I sense an underlying evolutionary imperative working here: I'm not just weird.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 2/22/2024

Charles E. Burchfield: March Sunlight (1926-1933)

I Hope To Never Fully Recover
The cost of travel these days seems to be the illness one experiences after an excursion. If we could just stay put, I imagine we might live forever, but we’re nosy by nature, and so feel we must go adventuring. While sightseeing, invisible forces stalk us. We should understand this by now, especially after That Damned Pandemic ravaged us. Those of us able to keep our heads down and huddle experienced significantly fewer ravages than those who weren’t. Travel now seems to broaden as well as flatten, the quality of these experiences filtered through the usual negative externalities. The day we decide just to stay safe might be the day we finally accept ambiance as our native state. If we weren’t supposed to change, we’d be more solid and much less fluid. If we weren’t supposed to get ill, we might never have to learn or unlearn anything we’d come to hold sacred, and none of us might ever experience the sublime sensation of getting Better or Well Again. I hope to never fully recover from this writing week’s realizations, even though I end the week two stories short. Thank you for following along!

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Charles E. Burchfield:
The Back Street [Two Houses under a Viaduct] (1931)

"It might be inhuman to learn this obvious lesson."

Language seems to be a means by which we represent by misrepresenting. There's nothing especially earthy about Earth. It's just a label, and dirt by any other name might smell every bit as musty. This can't become a problem as long as we hold the translation key. It becomes interesting when considering internal conversations where one encodes and decodes exclusively for oneself. We all employ little phrases to describe our experience to ourselves. These phrases are not necessarily meaningful to anyone else, but they only need to contain meaning for ourselves and nobody else. I continually characterize what I intend in ways that materially misrepresents my intention. I plan, for instance, to do things I should know I won't do in the way I describe them. I might insist that I'm going to jump right back into my everyday activities of daily living after laying low with a cold, though I might better describe what I'll do as Easing back into. I won't resume at cruising altitude or speed but will need some time to regain my previous momentum.

Two hours back into work after a few days of laying low, I felt as though I'd just swam a marathon.

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Urs Graf: The Healing of the Man with Dropsy (1511-15)

"We could not have experienced healing had we not first caught that terrible cold."

It feels like a miracle occurred overnight. I wake refreshed for a change, perhaps for the first time. I'd forgotten the effortlessly breathing sensation of merely being without the burden of anything intruding. Molly, so recently still a feral cat, has taken to cuddling in close on these cold nights, creating a crease of warmth between her and The Muse's comforter-covered leg. She welcomes me now as I reach to stroke her reclining body, ears to tail in the predawn darkness. She purrs like the kitten I long ago predicted she would eventually become under my tireless tutelage. She might one day soon even consent to sit on my lap. Then, her transformation into a kitten will be completed, and contentment will reign. I fear that she will never again be capable of reverting into her feral self, which means that I might not need to be nearly so wary but also that she will have finally forfeited her birthright fierceness. However close we might seem in these early mornings, she will always remain a killer inside.

I wish the world peace this morning.

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Denman Waldo Ross:
Portrait of a Young Man (19th-20th century)

"Maybe by tomorrow …"

At best, Better seems to be an incremental element, difficult to assess. The Muse asks if I feel Better today, and the best I can muster in response tends to be a lackluster "Maybe." I must measure altogether too much to draw any more definitive conclusion. I definitely felt better a few moments ago, but then my nose started running again just after I'd considered that portion of the program finished. It's fits and starts with plenty of backsliding. At best, I might be easing into Better, but I have not quite arrived there yet. I've heard stories of some people with cold-like symptoms taking weeks to finally resolve their situations. What began as no more than a slightly annoying tickle in my throat seemed to take the long route through and back out of this host organism. It's been so long, with the Damned Pandemic and all, since I had a cold that I'd entirely forgotten what the experience entailed. They sure do seem to be long-tailed infections.

I seem to remember that the sneezing represents a virus' last attempt to survive.

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Unknown artist: Ivory Grogger (noise maker), Middle East or India, (20th century)

" … almost all the actual effort should seem lost in rounding."

A recent New Yorker article (The Next Scene by John Seabrook, February 5, 2024) reports on Sir Lucian Grainge, the chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, the "largest music company in the world." In his decades in the music business, Grainge has survived many disruptions. He began his career in the LP era before facing the transition to CDs and then file sharing, each shift threatening to nudge him and his industry into oblivion. Now, AI looms. From a world where "labels were the only game in town" to one where platforms proliferate, … of the hundred and eighty-four million tracks available on streaming platforms, 86.2 percent received fewer than a thousand plays, and 24.8 percent—45.6 million tracks—had zero plays." Competing against a hundred and twenty thousand new tracks appearing online daily is tough.

Grainge dismissingly refers to most of this flood as "noise," and some of it certainly qualifies.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 2/15/2024

Attributed to Wilhelm Leibl: Head of a Man (1879)

There But For The Grace

It might be true that the best work emerges during breaks. Certainly, this principle serves as the centerpiece of OpenSpace meeting technology, that conversations in the hall will reliably prove superior to any more formally organized in scheduled sessions. For me, too, my writing seems to come to fruition more fluidly when I’m being a foreign correspondent, attempting to post from some primitive replacement for my usual office, chair, and window overlooking The Center of the Universe. I usually find some coffee shop corner where I can bum some internet and sip an Americano while composing my posting. In San Francisco, though, coffee shops no longer offer chairs to patrons. The tables remain, but the chairs are absent. I suspect they do this to keep the homeless from encamping there. I found that I couldn’t enter without offering to buy someone a cuppa and some breakfast. It’s small potatoes for me and more significant for the receiver. Decency demands this, with at least a small remembrance that There But For The Grace Go I. I’d slink back to the hotel and write in a shady corner off the lobby while listening to the city waking up around me. That fog-shrouded light remains incomparable.

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Small Jade Sculpture Representing a Crab Grasping a Branch of Blossoming Chrysanthemum
(18th century-Qing dynasty, 1644-1911) East Asia, China

" … a future better informed if not necessarily better served …"

Following Donald Trump's election in the Fall of 2016, a small group of local progressives scheduled a time to show up at the downtown office of our United States Representative to discuss issues. They were welcomed by an admin who listened and commented, but they were denied access to their actual representative. They returned each Tuesday morning for many following months until, apparently begrudgingly, she finally deigned to offer them an audience. She invited a local conservative businessman to attend, perhaps to buffer her opposition's presence. She listened after a fashion, railed against regulations, and nothing happened. Over the following years, her presence continued to be scarce. She would conduct so-called town meetings with her constituents but only announce the meeting time and location to members of her party. She'd often visit this city without announcing her arrival, conduct business privately, and then disappear back to Spokane or Washington with her opposition none the wiser. In frustration, a group conducted a rally on the courthouse lawn with the theme, Where's Cathy? Bikers showed up to drown out the speakers.

She announced her retirement last week, and the local paper quoted prominent party members, citing her unwavering support for our region.

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Unknown Artist: The Rail Candidate. (1918)

"Democracy is a form of governance utterly dependent upon such delusion."

During the presentation, I lean over to whisper into The Muse's ear, "It's rare to see a candidate simultaneously balance atop three third rails." The Candid-Ate, of course, seems oblivious. She appears to believe that her positions represent the very soul of reasonableness, and they might, within the narrow world she seems to have inhabited. We live on what must seem the fringes of her district. Her comparisons and even her metaphors employ characterizations that disclose that she doesn't know the perspectives of most of her electorate. It's okay; she's free to stand on anything during her candidacy, even abject public insanity. Lord knows the opposition often has and continues. She will be eaten alive by her competitors. I pray that her candidacy does not survive even until the primary. She's still too much the naive rookie to survive even a modestly better-informed challenge. She'll embarrass herself in anything like a public debate. She does exceptionally well in that department all by herself.

Candidacy seems like a simple extension of something most of us do.

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Peter Sekaer: Fire Escapes and Shadows (c. 1935 - 1938)

"I suppose I never had."

Our trip to San Francisco got my internal dialogue (iAlogue) generator humming. I remembered, fondly and otherwise, past lives, proximity reminding me with flashes of both brilliance and darkness. I can't help but conclude that I was probably clinically insane between the ages of forty and fifty, the period of my life when I set about to reinvent myself. Instead of ever getting away with anything, I became more emphatic examples of myself. Still, I managed to maintain a different enough lifestyle that even I struggled to describe what I was trying to achieve. I divorced and remarried twice. I created my seminal works and watched them struggle to gain acceptance. I'd escaped what I'd imagined as a great trap only to discover myself trapped at different logical levels. I might have enjoyed frequent-flier upgrades but lost the charm of unengaged Tuesday evenings. I became an EscapeArtist who ultimately never got away with anything.

I became familiar with a dozen different local rhythms, priding myself on my ability to find a decent bakery and acceptable coffee within about an hour of landing anywhere.

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Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (workshop of):
Portrait of Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (c. 1533)

" … our faith in Spring, ourselves, and this universe renewed."

"You can see a lot by looking."
-Commonly attributed to Yogi Berra

A tradition was born on January 21, 1979, when a young family decided to take their ten-month-old son for a drive in the country. It was a Superbowl Sunday, a holiday for everybody except for this young family with a fussy baby. They found the roads down into the Willamette Valley remarkably empty. The typically cool and grey afternoon seemed distinctly more Spring-like than any they'd seen since their son was born. Over that year, they'd moved out of their final college apartment and into their first home, a genuine wreck of a place with potential. The husband and father had finally graduated from university, and with the addition of their delightful son, life seemed distinctly promising. About an hour into the toodle, they spotted a field filled with sheep and a few gamboling lambs. Nothing—and I mean nothing—better screams "Spring!" and hopefulness than a green field filled with gamboling lambs.

We took our son out of his car seat and stood transfixed beside that fenceline for the longest time.

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Coit Tower mural: Works Progress Administration, Telegraph Hill, San Francisco, California
Painters: Maxine Albro, Victor Arnautoff, Jane Berlandina, Ray Bertrand, Ray Boynton, Ralph Chesse, Rinaldo Cuneo, Ben Cunningham, Mallette Dean, Parker Hall, Edith Hamlin, George Harris, William Hesthal, John Langley Howard, Lucien Labaudt, Gordon Langdon, Jose Moya Del Pino, Otis Oldfield, Frederick Olmsted Jr., Ralph Stackpole, Suzanne Scheuer, Edward Terada, Frede Vidar, Clifford Wight and Bernard Zakheim. (1934)

"Light winds no clocks."

I first came to San Francisco seeking my future. I didn't find it there. Instead, I discovered a surprisingly immature city, one more suburban-seeming than New York City, one striving more than succeeding to seem European. It was impressively large and overwhelming. I couldn’t quite imagine myself unfolding there. I came home feeling like I'd been somewhere: Stanyon Street and Other Sorrows, Potrero Hill above the fog, the Golden Gate.

Rather than being a city that never slept, it seemed like one sleeping in, its ass end beneath the Marin Headland seeming to protrude halfway to China.

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Unknown Artist (postcard): Piped Down (1907 - 1908)

"I've experienced worse."

The Muse proposes the getaways in this family. I'd just as soon stay home. After all the difficulties we overcame to secure this place, we might just as well stay put. She argues in favor of Down_Time, which seems a distraction and might well be one. I'll make no headway on completing any of those urgent chores from which I have diligently procrastinated all winter. My routine will have to go begging. In her defense, The Muse insists that I almost always end up enjoying my time away. "Things happen when you're out in the world," she proclaims, and I cannot counter. Still, I dread time away. I worry about my kittens' well-being even though we entrust them to the most loving and reliable sitter ever. They even like her!

I was not raised by a modern family.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 2/08/2024

Morris Shulman: The Writing Lesson (1935-43)

Better Acknowledge The Contradictions

Poised up here in my West-facing office window overlooking The Center Of The Universe, I must confess that I often feel far removed from everything. I use my office for creating more than for revisiting. I struggle to recreate even fond memories here. My responsibility extends no further than forward, inexorably moving beyond the experienced and past the known. Decades of experiences have not left me knowing even myself, much less anyone or anything else. I continue searching, increasingly wondering if my purpose ever was to finally find anything. I seek without the explicit expectation that I will find anything, even me, waiting at the end of my effort. I continue creating my purpose, adapting to emerging circumstances. This world, this life, and even this iAlogue Series were not as initially proposed. I proposed to find a motive rather than to frame an achievable objective. Should I achieve what I intended, I will have failed in the final performance. The reward for diligently seeking might finally be the need for even more diligent seeking. My purpose might never have been to conclude but to better acknowledge the contradictions. Thank you for following along.

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Timothy Cole: Louis Pasteur (1925)

"We are not nothing, but we're never entirely anything, either."

It wasn't until the height of the recent pandemic that the concept of being for or against vaccinations became a public question. There had always been certain conservatives who refused their shots, insisting they disrupted God's plan or bespoiled the arms of man, but most just rolled up their sleeve when asked. It had become a form of civic pride, a demonstration of fealty, and even evidence of sanity. Who in their right mind would expose themself, let alone their children, to some contagion if the means existed to avoid it? I always thought of the issue in black-and-white terms until antivaxxers emerged.

Then came stories of measles parties, where self-proclaimed rational parents would take their kids to mingle with some who were exhibiting symptoms of the most contagious disease around.

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Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes:
Old man on a swing (1825/27)

" … You'll get grumpy, too."

I was not yet an old man when my grandson Roman was born. At sixty, my lifestyle had not appreciably changed in twenty years. Some enjoyed extended adolescence, while I extended my Middle Ages. Oh, I'd seen plenty of changes—two divorces and two marriages—over those twenty years, the heights of success and the depths of failure. I wouldn't want to suggest that my life hadn't been just as much a roller coaster as yours, but still, I had enjoyed good health, if not significant wealth, and great, if not necessarily sustaining success. I had managed to greet sixty with most of my optimism intact, and it was with pride as well as joy that I welcomed my grandson into this world. I introduced myself to him as "Grumps," his grumpy grandpa, a joke, intending irony. As everyone employing irony learns, irony eventually turns on its users. I grew Grumpier each year as my old age finally started overtaking me.

I was not on hand when he was born.

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Totoya Hokkei: Trained Monkey Performing with Jingle and Gohei (1824)

" … many had been successfully entrained …"

I might be untrainable. I know something about training because I worked as a trainer for many years. Those who participated in the workshops I facilitated insisted that I was pretty good at training, too. I didn't often disclose my secret, that I steadfastly refused to train anybody, if only because I firmly believed that my "students" were much better positioned to train themselves. I'd give them permission and assign the odd exercise, but these most often served as useful distractions to direct attention away while the actual learning occurred elsewhere. My techniques would have probably proven to be lousy ways to train airline pilots, but I was never Training airline pilots. The usual cram and recall schtick couldn't help anyone learn what I was teaching, for I traded in life skills rather than theories, the knowledge that resides more in muscles than memories.

I believe that most knowledge resides somewhere other than the head and that our most significant difficulty lies in our unshakeable belief that our brains are in charge.

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Hatta Kōyō 八田高容: Scholar’s Studio:
Rakushisha no aki [Autumn at the Rakushisha]

" … overlooking the center of the universe from the edge of the familiar abyss."

Every morning, I ask myself what kind of writer I am. My usual response might surprise you as much as it surprises me. You see, I do not consider myself much of an essayist or story writer. You might have noticed that my writing style seems challenging to categorize. My stories do not seem precisely like stories. They're more vignettes, glimpses rather than fully fledged. Some seem complicated but rarely very long: three or four minutes. I think of them as songs and focus more on their rhythm than their contents when laying them down. I think of them as lyrics, for I was first and will, therefore, probably always remain a Lyricist. I almost exclusively write songs, though most still need music, or written and performed accompaniment, anyway. For me, they elicit their scores. I can hear their accompaniment in how I perform them and how I end up reading them to myself. Each story leans toward the lyrical.

Or, that's my self-image, anyway.

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Albert Sterner:Three natures (1932)

“Nature is the realm of the unspeakable. It has no voice of its own, and nothing to say. We experience the unspeakability of nature as its utter indifference to human culture.”

— James P. Carse

Now that The Muse serves as a Port Commissioner, she gets called on to attend no end of local functions: fundraisers, friend raisers, and the odd assorted barn raising. I accompany, if only in my role as Arm Candy. I attend but never feel very at home there, for while I am from here, I never felt as though I was 'of' here, for the native culture always felt pretty alien to me. If I cannot feel at home in my own native culture, where, precisely, do I feel at home? It's an interesting question because I suppose I feel most at home as an alien. After decades of working far away from home and the dog years in exile, I feel I have no culture other than that of the typical hermit in transit. The Muse complains that I don't get out much, and her complaint seems accurate; it's just that I don't understand why my not getting out much qualifies as a complainable condition. If one has no culture, I suppose one tends to stay close to home, where the differences likely seem less glaring and where one can most conveniently associate with one's own kind.

As it is, I can hardly go out in public without noticing what certainly seems like some odd anomaly to me but probably not to anybody truly 'of' this culture.

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Claude Monet: Road toward the Farm Saint-Siméon, Honfleur (1867)

" … my world ultimately most skilled at Disappearing on me."

I write this iAlogue Story for anyone who ever lost their heart pursuing love. I mean, I mostly write this story for myself. I've lost more than my heart chasing love. I've also lost my mind pursuing reason and myself while seeking to find myself. Disappearing seems the common outcome of any attempted manifestation, for how could I have possibly known how to go about acquiring what I'd never had, never known? My plans unavoidably suffer from naive notions of both outcomes and necessary actions. I generally passionately head off in some wrong direction, thinking I understand which direction to head. Later, I might come to understand that I never understood. The Gods will have been cruel or kind by then, the single common outcome being the Disappearing.

I do not get to go back home again if only because home no longer exists by then.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 2/01/2024

Elihu Vedder: Fisherman and Mermaid (1888-1889)

Unaccustomed To So Much Drama

As I was fixing my coffee this morning, a Neighbor cat, Tux, zoomed through the kitchen out of the basement. He’s always nervous when The Muse or I spot him on one of his trespasses. He’s a nice one, well-behaved, and more talented than our cats, neither of which has yet figured out how to use their cat flap door in that back second-floor window. Tux must have watched them hopping onto the deck superstructure where they can walk up the kitchen roof to meow at their flap door for The Muse or I to let them in. We’ve tried everything but have failed to teach them self-reliance. They crouch by the flap, crying for the help we rush to provide, making sure they leave outside that bird they’re holding. Had they learned to operate that door, the upstairs hall would be feathered sometimes. Tux clamored back upstairs and noisily let himself out that flap window while Molly, distracted from her breakfast, followed his progress by staring at the ceiling. Once she heard Tux landing on the deck, she was off outside for her morning’s adventures. Max, upstairs napping, was none the wiser. I took my coffee upstairs to finish creating my Weekly Writing Summary, unaccustomed to so much drama so early in the morning. Life continues in considerable earnestness, even in Heidi’s absence.

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Edouard Manet - "La Prune" [Plum Brandy] (1877)

Edouard Manet: "La Prune" [Plum Brandy] photograph, x-radiograph (1948)

" … clearly never really intended to understand anything."

My daughter Heidi was born on April Fool's Day, though she was never anybody's fool. Her birth transformed that day from one of pranks into one of deeper understanding. Foolishness runs no deeper than skin; underneath, things get serious. My daughter Heidi died on Groundhog's Day in February, the first month of Spring at this latitude, the month I always relied on to deliver hope after an exhausting Winter. Her death transformed February into FebYouWary for me, a time I approach hesitantly now, dreading its arrival. I do not dread Spring's arrival, just the Groundhog's Day re-reminder that Heidi's gone forever. I never understood Infinite until my darling daughter disappeared there. My world seems hollow without her here, trapped within the finite with me. She's free. I grieve.

February belongs to that class of words that have no proper pronunciation.

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Henry Fuseli: Thetis Mourning the Body of Achilles (1780)

"Not one of us ever was whole or normal …"

We each possess some weakness, though it often seems like it possesses us. Either way, it comes to dominate some days, crowding out intendeds for its senseless imperative. In my time, I've suffered through various afflictions, not one of them worth mentioning in their absence. The details couldn't matter. I presently feel my right shoulder more than anyone should ever feel their right shoulder's presence. This weakness goes back to last Spring when I was over-enthusiastically prepping the back deck for painting. After a couple of days of vigorous sanding I was feeling done in. I diagnosed the condition as deltoid bursitis, but it could have been anything, for a stubbed toe by any other name, to paraphrase Shakespeare, would feel the same. I hired our painter to finish that job while setting out to cure that latest affliction. I was better two months later.

I am confident I do not know what I might have done to encourage this condition to occur.

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Walter Crane: Miss Goody Two Shoes, accused of witchcraft. (1874–76)

" … these episodes make me stronger and more resilient."

I would have made one Hell of a Puritan. Always watchful, I'm rarely able to slip anything by myself. I catch myself out and then indict without anything resembling a preponderance of evidence. The merest hint of an infraction, and I'm crawling up my own ass, complaining. I then set about worrying myself back into rough compliance, if that’s even possible. It isn’t always possible. I perform a form of penance, usually accepting the accusation without much questioning before joining in with the punishing portion of the performance. Quickly incarcerated with an immutable sentence, I set about serving my time. Having fallen short, I understand that I will never stand tall. Reform's beyond question. The best that could happen might be that, over time, I find that I've forgotten so that I no longer carry the full weight of my well-deserved burden.

I was painting, an occupation in which I usually exhibit competence.

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Edward Hopper: The Evening Wind (1921)

"Just that breath of Spring reset the calendar."

In early January, I told myself that Winter was here for good. After a week or two of chilling temperatures and slick roads, I'm more than ready to hibernate until Spring. Everything freezes, even beliefs. Impossibilities come to dominate, and hope wisely recedes into some obscure corner. I go on autopilot and nap more than seems healthy. Then, I take an initiative. Just a small one, a chore I've been avoiding since we first bought this place. A typical obligation for which the proper time to dispatch it conveniently never arrived. A home properly contains a few dozen of these embarrassments. They understandably rarely, if ever, get addressed, so it seems newsworthy if one finally gets dispatched.

Just starting helps.

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Mario Bettini: Imaginem in cylindrica superficie rectè formatam in plano horizontali ritè de formare.
[To form an image on a cylindrical surface correctly formed in a horizontal plane.]
(1645 - 1655)

"I continue hunting and pecking …"

I realize that I hold, at best, a severely superficial understanding of anything. I learned enough to convincingly fake it for a time, only to discover later that my knowledge would not prove sufficient. It appears there's always a deeper understanding lurking somewhere. This principle holds doubly true for procedures, which seem to exist in layers. The definable portion might get written down, though rarely very coherently. The rest exists as tacit understanding, or perhaps it is better described as contingent understanding, details that could never hold much meaning until after considerable superficial practice. Until I'm in over my head, depth holds little significance. Then, it suddenly becomes the most important dimension, just when I discover that I have little prior knowledge or understanding of coping with its presence.

The editor replied that I'd added "sections" to the manuscript, which had caused the paragraphs to strangely break, seemingly at random.

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John Singer Sargent: Study for the Prophet Obadiah,
Boston Public Library

I'm no prophet …"

Now that The Muse serves as an elected Port Commissioner, she finds herself under increasing demand. She's already been invited to join several non-profits as a board member or advisor, her electoral success perhaps perceived as a transferable skill. She remains wary since she's not yet fully aware of all her Commissioner role might demand of her, but she accepts the invitations if only to learn what's going on here. She's seen as one of the powerful now. Like anywhere, this valley benefits from many non-profits focusing on helping the less fortunate. They try to provide safety nets but often fail to fully satisfy the needs. The poor will, indeed, always be with us. These organizations employ armies of dedicated people and many volunteers, paying back and paying forward what their success afforded them.

The Muse sometimes insists that I tag along.

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Weekly Writing Summary For The Week Ending 1/25/2024

Beatrix Potter: Mice with Candles (1903)

The New Finished
After only five and a half years of intermittent effort, I finally submitted one of my series for publication this week. The finish mirrored the process. I noticed as I skimmed through a compilation of the manuscript that I had not adequately indexed the text, so I went back through one final time to assign styles to everything: Body, Buried Lede, Caption, Verse, and Heading; this to ensure a consistent finished product and to ease making later changes. Just that morning, I discovered I’d inadvertently mislabeled my current series iOlogue instead of iAlogue. I’d felt stupid for making the mistake. Still, I felt redeemed when I immediately disciplined myself to go back and correct every instance of the error, which had proliferated in the over thirty days since I’d innocently committed it. I had to change records in my Blog master, manuscript master, Facebook intros, SubStack copies, and LinkedIn posts. This effort consumed more than two hours. With this experience fresh in my mind, I warily submitted that manuscript, aware that maintaining it would get even more complicated before publishing was finished. That manuscript’s final compilation revealed some inconsistencies in the compiling process. I submitted the damned thing anyway, noting to the editor that paragraph breaks seemed inconsistent from the source document. I figured that complication might be resolvable later. Not even that finished product was truly finished.

We labor in the misguided conviction that we might one day finish something when getting something started might be the very best we can ever hope to accomplish. Our work remains a work in process even long after we hoped it might be finished. Can’t Be Undone might be the new done.

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Arthur Rothstein: Crowds at races,
Indianapolis, Indiana

" … messier but more fully human …"

My internal dialogue rarely speaks in a single voice. It's more often an ensemble and often an unruly one. It can speak in contradictions or coherence, but it almost always features considerable noise in the channel, as if some connection was faulty. It can sometimes border on cacophony, deafening, dizzying, and more confusing than informing. It provides mixed messages that might encourage any action or any response. That level-headed reactions most often result sometimes seems like a miracle. I hear voices, some convincing recreations of voices now long past and others more similar to my own murmurings. I whisper to myself sometimes so that I can distinguish between emphatic direction and mere distraction. I seem like a ship steered by an unruly committee.

My work has always been rooted in my ability to control that crowd.

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Stuart Davis, After Mark Rothko,
After William Baziotes:
Sketches of “Max,” Mark Rothko’s “No. 19,”
and William Baziotes’ “Moonstruck”

"The fuzzy distinction between … won't become interesting until much later."

In Late January, Matter exists in one of two states: Sleeping or Not Sleeping. Not Sleeping Matter out-numbers Sleeping Matter several times, so much so that Sleeping Matter will sometimes seem a mythical state. Not Sleeping Matter often rests and might be easily mistaken for the Sleeping kind, but it differs in several ways. Sleeping Matter lacks self-consciousness, nor can it produce thumping noises like footsteps trundling down a hallway toward a bathroom. Sleeping Matter might snore, though it will deny that it holds that ability. Not Sleeping Matter tends toward grumpiness.

It's no wonder why Matter tends to bifurcate in Late January.

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Jack Gould: Untitled [tug-of-war] (1955)

"Bruising sometimes occurs …"

Not every story wants to be told. Some seem adamant about remaining private. A few seem to employ extraordinary means to prevent their author from sharing them. On the other hand, a writer must sometimes insist, regardless of how vehemently a story might resist being tamed. The Belligerence, when opposing, sometimes seems overwhelming. While The Muse snoozes, I might be engaging in hostilities few should believe could happen. My office and desktop have seen countless wee-hour battles between my insistence and those stories' stubbornness, and I have not always won. Plenty of budding stories have lost their chance of becoming shared by merely holding their breath until they turned blue or just digging in their heels. Some of the best ones refused to be chronicled by me or anybody, and that's the honest truth.

As a lifelong pacifist, I cut a curious figure when I headed into battle with this Belligerence.

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Odilon Redon:
The Lost Angel Then Opened Black Wings, from Night (1886)

" … he noticed a shadow falling over his finished product …"

An Apoplectic Angel oversees my daily production. An even more apoplectic one supervises publication. Neither can quite comprehend what I'm doing. My work follows no standard development pattern: no plot, no protagonist other than the forbidden observer and The Muse, and no apparent purpose. The implied purpose does not seem well supported by the result. Readying my Cluelessness manuscript, posted initially as my CluelessSummer series in the summer of 2018, has taken five-and-a-half years to reach pre-publication, and even then, those ApoplecticAngels second guess my intentions. They compare what I've produced with what some other writer might have created and seem to have weighted their judgments in favor of the other fella. I hesitate, perhaps fatally, at the prospect of publishing this book.

I want to reread it, hoping that a sixth time through provides the experience the first five times didn't yield.

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Adriaen van Ostade: Man and Woman Talking (17th century)

"It's a sincere form of caring to keep nodding rather than merely nodding off."

As The Muse assimilates into her new career as a Port Commissioner, her ArmCandy gets to learn previously unimaginable dialects. He had grown accustomed to her speaking in alien tongues when she signed on to work with the Biofuels program in The Department of Energy in DC fifteen years before. Learning the various terms and acronyms she began tossing around from day one was a bit of a chore. He knew his job was to help talk her down from whatever ledge her new job responsibilities had left her hanging from, even on those too-frequent three-gimlet evenings. He would listen as if he understood and grew to think himself awfully good at pretending to understand. He would occasionally toss in an innocent question and ask for a translation into generally accepted English, but usually just accepted as gibberish what seemed to hold such deep significance for her. Spouses have done no less throughout history.

Every profession carries its unique dialect.

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Henriëtte Ronner: The Musicians (c. 1876 - 77)

" … betters tend to sum to worses …"

I think of myself as a Discerning person, my internal dialogue constantly comparing this to that and that to something else, seeking, if not best, better. I have little use for best and no reasonable way to determine its presence except by direct comparison. As a Discerning person, I am continually comparing, though, considering how well I'm doing. I often feel dissatisfied without being able to imagine alternative means to improve my experience. The simple act of dissatisfaction rarely carried its antidote along. Usually, it is quite the opposite, as dissatisfaction prevents me from perceiving any alternative.

I had long been dissatisfied with how I created my Weekly Writing Summaries.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 01/18/2024

Jan Ekels (II): A Writer Trimming his Pen (1784)

Some Hand Greater Than The Writer’s
This expectation I hold that I will always possess something worth disclosing usually serves me well. Writers come to understand the redeeming power of expectation, how the otherwise trivial act of expecting often results in producing something worth disclosing. No cause-or-effect relationship actually exists, though. Something else creates the result. I sometimes believe it’s the cornering effect at work. Reduce options to one, and often, that one remaining option will seem ideally suited to whatever couldn’t have even been intended. We speak of synchronicity but more often rely upon even greater mystery than synchronicity delivers. I could have sworn when posting this writing week’s stories that I had fallen short with every one. It was not until, as usual, I slowed down to reflect upon what I’d produced that I caught the edge I hadn’t noticed I’d created. Some hands more skilled than the writers always work the keys. Thank you for following along with me here.

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Rembrandt van Rijn: The Night Watch (1642)

“ … failing to make much sense of my mission again.”

Weather dominates my news through Winter's first quarter. Every day brings another aspect into focus as a series of fronts promising change move into and over the area. One morning, snow's expected. The following: record low temperatures. I anticipate each shift as if being invaded. My sleep, normally ragged and discontinuous, turns almost non-existent as I lie there, wondering if the next assault has started yet. I cannot seem to successfully ignore it or just let it happen. It seems to want a witness, and I seem to need to witness as if it couldn't occur without me there or as if some catastrophe might ensue if I were absent. I have been slouching in a reading chair most recent nights, peering out the big front window, waiting for the latest show to start, neither sleeping nor especially alert, on NightWatch.

My internal dialogue seems muted then.

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Benjamin Gerritsz. Cuyp:
Joseph interpreting the dreams of the baker and the butler (1630)

" … just like everybody else."

My daughter Heidi, gone nearly three years now, worked as a teacher and interpreter, performing simultaneous translations for patients and plaintiffs unfamiliar with English. Her career focused precisely on what we all engage in, if less explicitly, for we are always Interpreting whatever we witness. No experience comes pre-interpreted for our convenience, and it's probably for the worst that we grow complacent over time, even losing the sense that we are Interpreting when it's all we ever do. Heidi complained of fierce headaches after a day of intentionally Interpreting. I sometimes register the same complaint. I often feel as though I never learned how to interpret and that I generally make a hash out of my attempts.

I am a particularly inept mind reader.

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Eugène Romain Thirion: Study of the Head of the Angel
for “
Joan of Arc Listening to Voices” (c. 1876)

"I have no story today because I have not a thing to say to anybody …"

My internal dialogue never was continuous. Though it usually seems uninterrupted, breaks do occasionally appear. I do not always notice, and since I'm the only one serving as witness, if I don't notice, it's as if it never happened or just as good as never happening. I do sometimes notice, though. I notice these empty slots without commentary, for any comment would nullify the Mumming effect. Mumming appears like a slip of paper placed between pages in a set, a spacer. If it serves any more profound purpose, I have never been party to it. It signifies nothing and needs no meaning attached to justify its presence. I think of and about it only in its absence, for when it's present, I let it lie or leave it lay. My internal dialogue has nothing whatsoever to say while I'm Mumming.

With all the attention presencing attracts these days, I can sometimes seem altogether too present, too aware, too much in a moment.

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Henri Martin: Silence (1894/97)

"Only I hold the power to counter that power … "

Silence surely stands as the most powerful of all the superpowers granted to mortals, though it's pure potential, so few suspect its presence. The Unspoken commands great authority in human affairs, and the Unspeakable unquestionably holds the greatest. A mouthful of Unspeakable feels like gravel. It's genuinely embarrassing. It seems illicit and dirty. It too easily convinces the one possessing it to remain silent, even perhaps unto death. The bulk of its great power comes from just this sense: if it's mentioned, great calamity might ensue. Someone might get offended. Relationships might have to be ended, friendships ruined, associations severed. A great and terrible truth might render asunder even the tenderest alliance.

The secret might consume its holder, rendering them not merely mute.

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Percy J. Billinghurst: The lion and the gnat. (1900)

"The human condition demands much worrying and little changing."

I consider myself to be a world-class worrier. I anticipate well and catastrophically. I natter better than almost everybody. I dread exceptionally well. This continual background noise in my cognitive channel might serve as my screen saver, exercising my internal dialogue without producing any overwhelming excess of anything, for gNattering produces nothing and might even disperse otherwise troubling accumulations. Nobody remembers whatever they might have been gNattering on about, for the exercise might have always been to prevent retaining. Had I been contemplating instead, I might have needed to store something for later reference, further filling my head. gNattering effectively prevented that inventory, leaving me more ready to acquire something substantial later, or not.

I understand that I only utilize some tiny portion of my brain's potential.

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Dorothea Lange: Disc used in corn fields in California.
It is drawn by seven horses. Tulare County, California
" … seems to be looking out for me."

My internal dialogue occurs on several seemingly concurrent channels, like SiriusXM Satellite Radio, which features dozens of channels, each carrying a specific type of program. I frequently listen to their Broadway channel, for instance, where I can usually access some big production numbers that lift my spirits, and their Sinatra channel, which plays The American Songbook. I mention this because my internal dialogue is not exclusively comprised of verbal interaction but also sometimes includes music, often with lyrics and sometimes without. Like with my Ruminating that I described in a recent story, my internal dialogue serves up more than conversation.

The musical channels fascinate me.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 01/11/2024

Yoon Kwang-cho: Heart Sutra (2007)

About To Happen

What would you do if your dream came true? I engineered most of my life to cope with not achieving a dream-come-true state. An encroaching dream coming true feels genuinely threatening to my well-practiced status quos. I know precisely how to cope with disappointment but feel totally unprepared to accept success, however modest. I procrastinate, hastening extremely slowly into its grasp as if it were a trap. I wonder what its embrace might bring. I puzzle over the changes it might insist upon my sacred routines, however shopworn they seem. I sense the potential that I'll have to write a different story, one I only secretly ever intended to author. Stay tuned. Something interesting's about to happen here.

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Jacob van Ruisdael:
Landscape with Figure Resting Under Tree by Stream
(not dated)

" … I can start Ruminating onto a page instead …"

Most mornings, I spend some time Ruminating before I begin writing. Ruminating seems distinct from merely thinking, for it occurs almost wordlessly. My usual narrator idles, and I seem to sort through my thoughts without classifying or, Heaven forbid, analyzing motive or meaning. It almost seems like dreaming. The theme for that day's writing usually manifests during these sessions while I sort out my emerging feelings and opinions. Old wounds might revisit to display themselves, as well as old successes. Anything's allowed. The rest of the house continues sleeping while I engage in this grand resorting.

I finish refreshed and often inspired.

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Photograph of Lincoln Memorial Youth March for Integrated Schools.
Photograph/National Archives Catalog.
Department of the Interior. National Park Service.
National Capital Parks. (10/9/1933 - 1/22/1962).

" … toward MorePerfect but not perfection …"

I admire Abraham Lincoln's facility with English. He could really turn a phrase. His most memorable moment came in his first inaugural where he spoke of our responsibility to create "a MorePerfect union." He cleverly avoided proposing perfection as a target yet deeply implied that it might lurk somewhere out there where we might move in its general direction. He managed to remain realistic while projecting an idealistic glow over the proceedings, producing one memorably masterful phrase.

MorePerfect probably describes much of my iOlogue.

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Bothe, after Paul Friedrich Meyerheim:
Apen in een atelier [Apes in the studio] (1852 - 1915)

" … a great and enduring blessing in my life …"

My chattering mind never completely shuts down. It natters away night, day, and every moment in between. It has essentially nothing to say. It never did and probably never will, yet it still serves a beneficial and essential function in my psychological ecosystem. It might be my linguistic gyroscope, that part of my iOlogue, my internal dialogue, that keeps me sane. However, anyone besides me, privy to the conversation, might reasonably conclude the opposite. The content makes no objective sense, exemplifying nonsense. It sounds, even to me, as if I'm shoving shit at myself, for it's comprised of critique and passing commentary, seemingly just so much chattering, monkeys manning my belfry.

When The Muse and I arrived in exile in Washington, DC, I noticed two distinct cultures as I walked the streets.

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Joe E. Brown:
You Said a Mouthful, [Front cover, Pamplet] 1944

Talk out of both sides of your mouth: idiom
[US disapproving (also speak out of both sides of your mouth)]

To say something that is the opposite of what you have said before or to express different opinions about something in different situations in a way that may deceive people.
—Cambridge Dictionary

" … speak out of every side of every mouth …"

I never aspired to be recognized as the pinnacle of consistency. I try to appear reasonably coherent, but I'm apt to contradict myself anytime. I was not born with a mind that remembers what's come out of my mouth in the past, so I might innocently insist upon the opposite of what I formerly absolutely insisted upon. I explain to myself that the context shifted, but I doubt my more scrupulous listeners buy that excuse, even though it probably represents the whole truth. The truth is, I might appear to be lying. This isn't a strategic choice but almost always an accident, an honest representation of what's happening inside me. I hold some convictions very loosely.

I'm the kind of witness easily badgered on the stand.

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Amedeo Modigliani: Madam Pompadour (1915)

" … frantic iOlogue might appear."

Talk through your hat: (idiom UK informal)

To talk about something without understanding what you are talking about:
"Nothing of what he said made sense - he was talking through his hat."

—Cambridge Dictionary

More often than I comfortably admit, I speak before I know. Before I know enough about the context. Before I know sufficient to knowingly comment. Before I know whether my target is even listening. I only sometimes embarrass myself after I should have embarrassed myself speaking. This occurred when I spoke too soon or had no charter to say anything. I often just wanted to stay in the conversation, to contribute my share even when—and maybe especially when—I felt I might not have anything intelligent to contribute. It's then when I tend to say something stupid and wear it as if I were wearing some outlandishly inappropriate hat that can't help but dominate my presence. I almost exclusively humiliate myself.

Strictly speaking, TalkingThruMyHat may not belong classified under iOlogue, internal dialogue.

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Thomas Rowlandson:
Doctor Syntax drawing after nature (1812)

" … that conversation could also be pure projection."

Talking with animals seems rather like talking with God. It's only troublesome when the animals start talking back, though those of us dedicated to this practice often receive responses from our partners. I do not care if these responses come from my projections or if I only imagine a conversation occurring. I receive my intended result. I feel more connected, which might be close to the whole purpose of human existence. A person isn't always available or amenable to civil discourse, while most animals agreeably absorb whatever observation I might care to share with them. Even my friend Caroline's dog Banjo, who, strictly speaking, was never a scrupulous listener, seems to appreciate my comments as he attempts to whip me into submission with his tail. He's exuberant whenever company arrives.

I swear that the primary reason I'm a cat person must be their willingness to listen.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 01/04/2024

Ben Shahn: Sideshows at the Ashville,
July 4th celebration, Ashville, Ohio

It's A Genuine Wonder
The winter holiday season provides several prominent mileage markers. I can easily anticipate whatever's coming next for several weeks before entering into January's relative wasteland. I find myself praying for weather, anything to differentiate one cold, foggy day from another. I tucked into a long-procrastinated painting project, one I'd imagined becoming a messy can of worms if started, but my dread was unrequited. As is often the case with procrastination, initiating effort disproved my delaying premise. I should feel grateful for an asperation really worth procrastinating over. Once finished, I will need to drum up another possible can of worms to properly dread or perhaps simply surrender to the January ennui. I might be in the final stages of signing a book contract. I fear that will also become a can of worms, so I have been expending some of my excess procrastination energy on not gaining closure on that effort. It's a genuine wonder I ever accomplish anything.

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Stefan Martin and Ben Shahn: Baseball (1968)

"I feel reassured then and tuck my head down …"

Besides TalkingMyselfInto, Through, and OutOf, my inner dialogue, my iOlogue, mainly consists of what I might best describe as Play-By-Play commentary. Like a sportscaster, I'm reporting on my performance in real time as the movie unfolds. Sure, I do my share of after-action reporting, but most of my attention focuses on the action happening right before me. Unlike most sportscasters, though, I also perform the role I describe. It's as if a pitcher was wired up and offering color commentary as he throws the game. If this seems as though it must be distracting, it tends to be, as you, dear reader, certainly know, for you probably fill the same role in whatever game you're calling. This must be how we each first attempt to make meaning of our performances. We'll reserve the right to make second, third, and even more guesses, but initial impressions tend to get laid down as the play progresses.

I deeply admire Play-By-Play announcers, the good ones, anyway.

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Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres:
Studies for "The Martyrdom of Saint Symphorien"
(Saint, Mother, and Proconsul)

"I fancy that I finish better whatever's left on my plate …"

I should probably be most grateful for all my many unanswered prayers, for as I have continued aging,  I have become an absolute idea generator. More bright ideas spring out of my imagination than any dozen Davids could ever follow up on, so I have, by necessity, become perhaps most skilled at TalkingMyselfOutOf. Out of doing. Out of completing. Out of starting in the first place. Most of my great ideas drift to the bottom of the very well they seem to spring from to compost or perhaps regenerate, likely for me to reject or deny them again. I suffer from idea indigestion. I rarely swallow.

I often wonder what my life would have become had I had to struggle for every alluring notion I needed to sustain me.

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Nelly Spoor: Kinderorkest in een tuin
[Children's orchestra in a garden]

" … delighted to have even a bit part in this latest ongoing production."

My iOlogue, my internal dialogue, most often amounts to a soundtrack rather than a back-and-forth conversation, a concert more than a dialogue. I serve as a passive observer, witness, and fan. I firmly believe The Great American Songbook contains most of the advice worth taking in this world. If I had my druthers, I'd re-release The Bible as a compendium of Twentieth Century pop, jazz, and show tunes with lyrics more usefully instructive than any other moral/spiritual guidebook ever compiled. The vast majority of the tunes are so-called love songs and many focus on the more practical aspects of the emotion than does the typical heavenly host. Even the occasional vengeful tune employs language in ways that render them extremely attractive and unforgettable.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's
HappyTalk, from their hit Broadway show South Pacific, typifies what I'm talking about here.

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Anders Zorn: Pilot (1919)

"Nobody ever was or ever will be an island …"

I claim to carry on an iOlogue, an internal dialogue for the purpose of navigation, but I might misrepresent the actual mechanism. I do carry on an iOlogue once inspiration visits, but inspiration visits silently, like that proverbial thief in the night, like Santa Claus, like nothing at all. However I might seek direction, it seems to take its own sweet time to come, for it owns that seeking time. The harder I strive, the longer I wait, or so it so often seems. The notion I seek doesn't speak to me so much as to tap me on my virtual shoulder to gain my attention. Once my attention focuses, the inspiration's passed and my benefactor returns to his natural state, which seems both silent and invisible. He surfaces relatively rarely even if usually daily, for the instant he appears measures in sub-seconds before he disappears again.

I speak of him as 'him,' but only for convenience.

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Unknown Artist:
Daikon Radish and Accounting Book
(19th Century)

"I'm still wondering."

I create my series off calendar. I begin each on either a solstice or an equinox so that the ends of months and years never mark the end of any series. The twelfth installment of this iOlogue Series falls on the last day of this year, 2023, and it feels right as well as proper to pull over here and at least try to take stock of what this year has wrought or what I've managed to wrought this year. Reviewing my work, I'm first taken by how little I crisply remember. It seems to have left little in any way resembling a permanent impression. I have written daily, ninety-some stories each quarter, at least two-hundred-sixty over the year in parts of five different series, yet I have to reference my archive to even remember the names of the series I labored so diligently to produce.

What must it mean to have produced so much while remembering so little?

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Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen:
Tramp Passing Through a Sleeping Village (1902)

"I still have mentors, but none better than the one I found lurking near the end of my journaling pencil."

As my fortieth birthday approached, my life grew increasingly complicated. I had not willed this change. It just seemed to visit me unbidden. Fortunately, helpers emerged as if somehow deliberately called to assist. Powerful teachers just seemed to find me and I entered into a fresh phase of learning, of living. Almost everything in my life would have to crumble before I would emerge on whatever passed for the other side, but the shift was never nearly as clear-cut or dichotomous as that. It first felt like a descent from my achievements long before it seemed anything like an improvement. I later learned that this challenge had long been considered routine, nominally labeled Mid-Life Crisis. The reality of the experience far overshadowed the seemingly benign name we'd assigned to it. In  his Divine Comedy, Dante described it: "In the middle of my life, I awoke in a dark wood where the true way was wholly lost."

I was merely on the edge of learning my most profound life lessons thus far.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 12/28/2023

Gustave Doré:
Daniel interpreting the writing on the wall (1866)

The Mysteries Will Prevail
I tell myself I keep moving forward but cannot honestly tell. I lack the perspective to determine. I follow my established as well as emerging rituals, wondering where all this might be leading while simultaneously convinced that I know full well where I'm headed. Writing seems to be one of those skills where, to be successful, one must never know before finishing. That not knowing might serve as the absolutely necessary predicate to achieving. One comes to know without knowing beforehand. The initial innocence and ignorance serve as essential leverage. No reader needs to understand any of this. In fact, the reader's experience might be improved by their misconceptions of what authorship entails. It involves much speculation and ritual with a pinch of discovery mixed in. Some weeks prove more enlightening than others. Some prove stellar. There's never any predicting except that the mysteries will prevail; there will never be any vanquishing them.

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David Deuchar:
Man Wearing an Apron, Talking with a Boy
(18th-19th century)

" … I just have to try your patience first."

I tend to be a tough sell. Try as anyone might, I often prove inconvincable by any means, or any means other than one. In the end, if I am to be convinced, it just has to be me doing the convincing. I mean I have to TalkMyselfInto it, whatever it is. I need to find my own damned reason and cannot ever quite countenance acquiescing to anyone else's. I suspect my apparent stubbornness stems from my sense that I'm natively gullible, too easily persuaded or goaded into doing what's not always best for myself. I hate to say it, but I distrust. Last night at dinner, a trainee waiter admitted that he was upselling, an admission that undermined his purpose, but he was still learning. I would that everyone attempting sales could engage so transparently. I don't mind being upsold as much as I resent being fooled. Why do salespeople seem to treat honesty as their enemy?

I often simply fail to understand at first.

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Edvard Munch: Self-Portrait in Moonlight (1904–06)

"I might one day learn just to appreciate its presence…"

My story shifts from day to day. One day, I might feel the hero, and another, the cad. More consequently, the story I tell myself about myself also constantly shifts. Whether I think myself a hero or a cad might matter. Some studies suggest that I might even be capable of talking myself into performing either role by simply repeating a story suggesting as much. SelfTalk, one of the pillars of the ever-burgeoning self-helpless industry, refers to these stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. The accuracy of these stories seems to have little to do with the effects they encourage. If I think myself a cad and tell myself stories reinforcing this notion, I might be much more likely to act out as if those stories were accurate in what might be considered a self-fulfilling prophecy. Regardless of its initial validity, I might become the story I tell myself about myself.

This notion suggests that I had best be careful when choosing my internal narrative, implying that I should nurture only the best opinion of myself regardless of my actual performance, lest my SelfTalk degrade my experience.

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Unknown: Puzzle jug (c. 1750)

"The chestnuts, alas, were inedible after roasting."

For me, holidays mainly exist in my anticipation of them. Before they occur, I feel perfectly free to imagine them becoming anything. Once they arrive, my degrees of freedom when anticipating collapse into one or two definite outcomes. By the end of the day, not even that was left: a kitchen filled with dirty dishes and some lingering puzzles about what that was supposed to be about. They were never any different. The jolly tends to leach out a day or two before the mistletoe engages and seems scarce on the actual day of. The day of becomes more focused on producing tangible results, inherently less satisfying effort than anticipating ever was. Stockings hung hold enormous potential. Once filled, they become more or less has-beens until the following ultimately hollowing season.

The absence of the need to be preparing eliminates what had been my primary motivation. It had been what had been getting me up mornings.

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Paul Cézanne: Jules Peyron (c. 1885-1887)

"There will always be the before and then the ever after …"

I am an Epiphany junkie. The urge to experience Epiphany drives me. It's what gets me up in the morning. I am always, always looking for the anomaly, the odd ant/elephant combination that might harbor an insight, for I believe Epiphany to be accessible to everybody all the time. Certain religious holidays advertise themselves as Epiphany-related, but I firmly believe that everyone retains access to the transcendent, to the glorious. It's not reserved for Sundays or Feasts of Grand Retribution but remains an everyday thing, extraordinary yet perfectly ordinary, remarkable yet common.

Remarkable Yet Common might as well serve as my tagline, for I have no personal use for the exclusive.

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Hakuin Ekaku 白隠慧鶴:
Poem on Meditation [Poem about Snow]
(Edo period, 1615-1868)

"I carry on these internal dialogues as if they might prove helpful."

I realize that every one of my dilemmas stems from dealing with essentially InfiniteSets. I define an InfiniteSet as any entity, idea, or thing that seems fundamentally indeterminate in size. These might, indeed, qualify as uncountables or just prove essentially impossible to count. Any entity so vast as to chase off any practical strategy for rendering it definite becomes infinite by default. By this definition, I am presently living an infinite life because while I know for sure it will at some time end, that ending remains essentially indeterminate. This need not goad me into profligacy, for I can always respect my potential without burning whatever candle I have remaining at both ends. I can conserve as well as consume my InfiniteSets.

I can write because language proves to be one of those essentially InfiniteSets.

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Tosa Mitsuoki:
Autumn Maples with Poem Slips (c. 1675)

"I suspect Santa experiences a similar reveal …"

For each holiday season for at least the last twenty years, I have created a poem cycle instead of buying presents. A poem cycle amounts to a small collection of poems written on more or less the same subject, this cycle's topic: the Winter holidays. I give the resulting poems to family and close friends instead of giving them something I've purchased. I devised this strategy after many years of disatisfying effort attempting to guess what gift might please which recipient. I was always a lousy guesser, and I suspected that I usually guessed wrong, though few ever confirmed my suspicion. Feigned delight resulted in gracious acceptance being the exchange's only redeeming element. In the first few years, the poems seemed an even lamer excuse for gifts, but over time, recipients grew to expect them and transferred their feigned acceptance to this new medium. Don't get me wrong, these were rarely James Whitcomb Riley-quality works. They were, by and large, lame poems exhibiting, above all, just how much it might be the underlying thought that actually counts.

I initially held myself to producing these works between midafternoon Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning.

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iAloguing With The Deafened

Will Hicock Low: Deafening the Swallows’ Twitter, Came a Thrill of Trumpets (1885)

" … a halfway decent conversation with myself."

As one newly introduced to iOlogue, the fine art of solo dialogue or talking to myself, I can report that it's a challenge, given all the foreground noise. If I didn't know better—and I might not know better—I'd insist there's a vast and insidious conspiracy against anyone even attempting to hear themself think, just as if they considered that sort of thing dangerous and to be dissuaded at every turn. Significantly, during this sacred season, the competition expands beyond all reason. Wherever I go, holiday music follows or greets me as I enter. I recognize that It's Looking Like A Lot Like Christmas without having that recognition blasted into what's left of my consciousness every time I enter a store. I know why I cannot remember what I came into the store to purchase because my inboard navigation system was short-circuited by the Musac® there.

Even when it's not the sacred season, the competition seems staggering.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 12/21/2023

Forbes Mac Bean: Public Writer (1854)

Whatever Change Was Supposed To Promise
I believe we're all here to spot curious convergences. We might try to establish routines to make our lives more efficient, but something, thank Heaven, always seems to manage somehow to disrupt them. While we struggle to reestablish what was probably never destined to be sustained, we tend to stumble upon change. We speak of change as if we might one day master it, but I believe we're destined to remain its humble or humbled servant. Our clever strategies for creating it often leave us feeling like fools while its designs for insinuating itself into our lives properly leave us gasping. We were never intended to master change but to be shifted by it. We should lose our mooring. We should lose our heading. When we can keep our wits about us, we often spot something interesting. When we lose our wits, the experience can become even more interesting. Reasoning’s definitely not required. Of course we cannot yet understand its eventual significance. It travels in relative obscurity, seemingly fueled by synchronicity, accidentlies on purpose, accidentlies bringing renewed purpose in clever disguise. This final week of GoodNuff stuff brought all of whatever change was always supposed to promise. I feel changed for the good as a result.

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Charles Folkard:
She found...ripe strawberries, poking up dark red out of the snow. (1911)

"… an appropriate backdrop for such a ragged undertaking."

I do not believe in smooth transitions but ragged ones. In theory, we finish before beginning anew, but we probably never do in practice. There's always some tail dragging behind the prow, some finishing touches needed even after a masterpiece was exhibited. I segment my days into tidy-seeming stories, but my internal dialogue discloses the underlying mess. I require much forgiveness to start before I've completely finished, but I could never begin if required to complete my prior work. Yesterday, I published my reported "last" installment of my GoodNuff Series. I even accomplished what I'd never managed before. I completed assembling those ninety-four stories into a finished manuscript. I even compiled them into a single document, complete with illustrations, suitable for submission on the same day I posted the final piece. I usually drag a finished series behind me for a very long time before I finally catch up to compiling the completed manuscript. My life seems more than littered with unfinished business.

The moment I finished compiling that series, though, The Muse mentioned that I'd misspelled something in that last story, negating my advance.

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Quiringh Gerritsz. van Brekelenkam:
A Confidential Chat (1661)

" … engaging in solo dialogue …"

It's accepted wisdom within the publishing business that an author must know his comparables. This essential knowledge becomes critical when classifying a work, and classifying has always been necessary before a work can become a marketable book, for without a classification, no librarian or bookseller could know where to display the damned thing. So, a few years ago, I asked a friend who teaches library science at a prestigious Eastern university to gift me with a classification for my work. He returned with one I found only distantly satisfying: Historical Autobiographical Philosophical Fiction. He claimed this grouping included many of the most popular authors publishing today. I felt flattered to be included in any category, let alone such a prestigious one, but I couldn't help feeling like I was still missing something.

The authors he listed as comparables didn't seem to be in the same business as I had been.

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Jack Gould:
Untitled [workmen constructing new house] (1950)

“Another GoodNuff Story's published!”

Like with all activities, "finishing" does not necessarily mean done. I say I'm writing even though the writing might take up less than half the time I spend "writing." As I said in the last installment, the writing, initiated after lengthy context and content-setting work, occurs in timeless space. I must not think too much while writing lest I disrupt what might pass for flow. I learned long ago to separate editing from writing, for instance, because the two activities remain antagonistic and seem better left sequential. Once I've "finished" writing, I begin editing. If anything, I've increased my editing efforts in more recent years. I once over-revered my native voice, preserving my hems and haws as representing greater authenticity. In most realities, many asides make for difficult reading. Editing can streamline stream-of-consciousness writing, rendering it more palatable, understandable, and, therefore, more enjoyable to read.

I start my editing passes by slowing myself down.

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Honoré-Victorin Daumier:
"Let's go..., my friend, I do not find this painting pretty..."
From the book:
L' Exposition de 1859, 11 (Le Charivari, 21 June 1859)
Original Language Title:
"Viens donc..., mon ami, je ne trouve pas..." (1859)

Writing, like all activities, has little to do with itself. The activity of writing seems almost beside the point, for much context-setting and content-framing work must occur before writing can productively commence. These set-up activities sometimes prove insurmountable, especially if a writer cannot transform many into rote routines or preparatory rituals. I think of my writing set-up routine as sacred since all I produce must first pass through it. Without it, I could produce precisely nothing, so my HowIDo explanation seems worthy of perhaps even an overly wordy presentation with pictures. Here come some picky details:

Who knows where the idea of a story originates?

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Leonard Leslie Brooke:
The eldest son refuses the old grey man
[from The Golden Goose Book]

"I am my own audience."

I have made some decisions over the years I have engaged in this writing experiment. I have been honing my skills, which always involves removing some of the blade to improve performance. Less becomes more. I would write about anything early on, for my explorations remained relatively unconstrained. I had yet to develop many preferences and had not formed what I might describe as taste. I would catch myself being myself and sometimes quake at what I witnessed. That much of my early work was uninformed by very much of a body of preferences showed in ten thousand ways. With many repetitions, some druthers emerged slowly, ranging from preference choices to down-right insistences. Mark Twain insisted that the primary difference between the common jackass and the typical human has always been that there are some things a common jackass won't do. With adequate iteration, though, even the typical human might manage to back into a list of things he steadfastly refuses to do.

I refuse to dispense advice.

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Jean François Millet: Peasants Going to Work (1863)

"If you glimpse yourself in there, you're finally seeing the other."

I write loosely autobiographical sketches, whatever that might mean. What that might mean remains an issue of considerable interest to me since I turn out to be the author of my experience, of these experiences. I harbor deep doubts that I know how to actually do what I claim to be up to. So deep run those doubts that they entice me up and out of my bed every morning to see if I might manage to prove my case to myself. Some mornings, I feel as though I've come close to approaching that purpose, but even then, I still feel aspiring.

My specific autobiographical details should properly be of little interest to any of my readers.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 12/14/2023

Ishikawa Toyonobu: Writing on a Fan (1765)

"I work for nobody but my legacy and my readers now."

I have been wondering with renewed energy what I have been doing here for the past six and a half years. From the morning I began writing this series of series, Summer Solstice 2017, I have been dedicated to producing stories every blesséd morning. This occupation has almost always been refreshing. I do not very often consider this occupation all that onerous. I have been learning—perhaps even teaching myself—that my muse proves reliable. When I ask, she delivers. I seldom even need to insist. But now, as I look at this next to last week of my twenty-sixth series, I suppose I'm bumping into one of those Is That All There Is? Moments where I feel compelled to question purpose. I began wanting to describe my manner of living, whatever that might mean, and have ended up creating an overwhelming result, something on the order of ten thousand pages. It would take me over two and a half weeks just to read through the twenty-six manuscripts. I have copyedited only a few of them to completion. Am I destined one day to cease producing new stories so that I  might focus my attention on the previously finished ones? I wonder what anyone might glean from reading them. I wonder what I might glean from rereading them.

I suspect my questions amount to completely normal ones, for nobody ever knows the ramifications of anything they're doing from the beginning. We begin in innocence—necessary and beneficial—and work toward experience. We should rightfully wonder along the way what we originally intended, whether that intention holds and has proven satisfying. As I back into the longest night of the year, my path should rightfully seem obscured. I had no real reason to believe that I knew what I was doing. I might feel perfectly free to change my justification along the way. I work for nobody but my legacy and my readers now.

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Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen:
Laundresses Carrying Back Their Work (1898)

"It might qualify as an obsession."

With one exception, whatever else I'm doing, I know what I should be doing instead. I should be doing my work instead of whatever else I'm doing unless, of course, I'm doing my work. I might be obsessed, though I confess I do not know how to do otherwise. My work calls me, and it punishes me if I do not heed it. I fear offending whichever god granted me my work, for I do not feel as though I chose it. Maybe it chose me. However it came to be, it owns me. It jealously guards my time, scrutinizing how I allocate it. I, therefore, inhabit one of two states. I'm either doing my work or playing hooky from doing my work. Doing my work does not satisfy any obligation I might hold to be doing my work. It's not worthy of reward, just not subject to chastisement.

When doing my work, I do not feel haunted by ghosts pulling me back into my work.

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Unknown: Washington swearing the oath of office (nineteenth century)

" … the only thing standing between any of us and absolute tyranny."

The Muse returned from Port Commissioner Training with new information. She'd won the election with less than a complete understanding of what she was running for then. The office had a rough job description, but then job descriptions, by long tradition, barely scratch the surface of describing actual responsibilities. Historical precedent tends to expand or contract the delineated scope, and simple preference can profoundly influence what such jobs entail. She could become an activist or a pacifist, depending. The training presented legal boundaries and explained implications. The notion that candidates cannot be required to satisfy certain conditions proved to be among the more surprising revelations.

Candidates have always been required to meet two broad conditions: that they are a citizen of a certain age of the municipality within which they intend to serve and that they swear to uphold the constitution of that same place.

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Jack Gould: Untitled (passengers on crowded city bus) (c. 1950)

"I wonder if we'll follow through."

Elizabeth, the other car I primarily use as a pickup, even though it's a luxury Lexus, was in the shop but ready to get picked up. I decided that I would, for a change if for nothing else, hop TheBus down to the shop. I could have walked it in reasonably short order, but it was a drizzly morning, and after last week's traveling, I needed something different. The Muse said she could just drop me off, but where was the adventure in that? I invited her to ride TheBus with me instead, if only to see how some of her new constituents lived. She accepted.

The Muse and I are staunch bus veterans, each hopping busses through most of our first professional careers.

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Jan Toorop: The Arrival of the Muses of Art at Architecture (1890)

" … tomorrow will bring yet another opportunity for selfless service."

The ArmCandy role requires more than merely SuitingUp. The successful incumbent must also ShowUp at a surprising variety of functions, many innocuous and many others substantive. Evenings, once reserved for rest and recuperation, become crowded with invitations. Organizations of every stripe send invitations where the Commissioner simply must appear. Her appearances with ArmCandy in tow might improve her visibility and effectiveness. I'm expected to show up invisible, sans obvious agenda, and do little more than whisper encouragement and questions. I do not have to pay attention to the proceedings. Indeed, it might be better for all involved if I reserve comment, for I'm no fool. I carry decades of group process experience and can determine when another cluster fuck's emerging. It's not the ArmCandy's job to intervene, though. I can mutely watch or quietly excuse myself when the proceedings turn too dicey.

Of course, I'm not merely The Muse's ArmCandy.

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North German: Infantry Armor (c. 1550-60)

" … may I please remember who I've been and who I became …"

Starting to explore the positives associated with my new role as ArmCandy, I experienced a sensation from the past when dressing for an outing: the feeling of truly fine shirt fabric against my skin. I surrendered my wardrobe once it became moot. When I no longer had any reason to be SuitingUp in the morning, I reverted to more practical choices. My three-piece suits fell into disuse. Even my sports coats moldered in the furthest back corner of my closet. Most eventually gravitated toward a donation bin at a local Goodwill® shop and were soon forgotten. Not so easily discarded, though, was that sensation of SuitingUp. I missed that ritual, that reassuring sequence of unfolding the laundered shirt and putting on those pants, choosing a tie to match, and filling my pockets with wallet, comb, and handkerchief. I wouldn't leave until I'd passed muster with everything in place. I felt as though I was donning my armor in preparation for combat. I probably was.

In the evening, I'd reverse the sequence.

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Paul Giambarba: The Withered Arm (c. 1960)

" … practicing holding out my pinkie finger just so …"

The Muse was invited to attend a Port Commissioner Orientation session as her first official function in her newly elected role. This would undoubtedly be the first of innumerable functions she will attend after she's sworn into office later this month. Like many elected offices, the Commissioner's role might be fairly classified as functionary since it involves performing official functions, often publicly. These will include endless lunches and official dinners, many of which the spouse has traditionally been obligated to attend. As the first female Port Commissioner in this body's history, The Muse drags along her form of First Husband rather than the more traditional aging bride. The beauty accompanying the functionary beast has traditionally been colloquially referred to as ArmCandy, a role I have now been conscripted to play.

I was not elected to the ArmCandy position.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 12/07/2023

Jean Jacques de Boissieu: The Public Scribe (1790)

To Thrive On The Absurdity
They refer to them as old haunts not because the present revisits the past there but because what's now past was present then, and we who were present were ghosts then, just as certainly as we continue to be ghosts today. Consider how much of our presence hung around on that stage to be revisited later. (Nada!) This writing week's revelation revealed simply that concept, as I attempted to explain in GhostVisiting. I barely qualify as a being, just about as much as I ever qualified as a had-been or as a has-been, either. I keep moving, hardly resting between infatuations, sincerely dreading each new attraction. I remain sincerely up to something of very little consequence. I almost exclusively accomplish the ethereal. I produce little material, rarely bothering to print off my production, that being both expensive and curiously redundant. My work should properly remain virtual, ghostly, and essentially immaterial. I amuse myself by making my keyboard click. I seem to thrive on the absurdity of this.

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Maxfield Parrish: Seein' Things (1904)

"I was once addicted to life …"

Aging seems to reduce into a process of weaning myself off earlier fixations, some of which managed to metastasize into genuine addictions while others never progressed beyond predilection. Of all the so-called skills I've acquired in this life, my begrudging ability to break entrenched behavior patterns amounts to my greatest superpower. I always initiated these terrible interventions under unadvantageous circumstances, often without a shred of evidence that I might succeed. I initially forced myself, no matter how necessary or desperate the effort. I never once wanted to grow up in that way, to finally face responsibility and make anything better. I was never courageous, never brave, though I admit that I sometimes ascribed success as the result of my dedication rather than desperation.

Meals were once a necessity.

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Albrecht Dürer: Descent of the Holy Ghost (c. 1510)

“I must be the ghost of my Christmases past …”

The Muse, my son Wilder, and I reverently stood in shock over my daughter's gravestone. The conflict inherent in seeing evidence of a member of the next generation gone took my breath. Whatever story I might have conjured to explain her absence these last two years and ten months resolved itself in granite, for there it was, the name my first wife Betsy and I had given our darling baby daughter, etched in stone, the stone of her maternal great grandmother with whom she shared the name Astrid and now her grave. I've always loved that name, and it so well complemented her first name, Heidi. Heidi Astrid, 1982 - 2021: was her presence already receding, or was ours just proceeding onward?

There are many reasons we pray that our children will outlive us here.

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Bartolomeo Pinelli:
The Letter-writer in Piazza Montanara in Rome
(19th century)

" … an utterly impossible aspiration …"

This week's excursion has taken us into territory I once inhabited, though seemingly several lifetimes ago. I have been experiencing real trouble distinguishing between now and then, and I'm finding that I revere the past more than the present. The present seems like a Fun House Mirror reflection of the familiar, similar but degraded, whatever the advertised improvement. The world has changed over the last fifty years but somehow failed to improve, for the replacements I find masquerading fall utterly flat when attempting to live up to even a distant shadow of my expectations. When home, continual exposure lessens this effect, though it's certainly still present. Traveling, I have only current sensory experience to compare with my expectations, so I live in continual discouragement.

I remember when because I still live there.

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John Singer Sargent: Olive Trees, Corfu (1909)

" … just the sort of vigilance succeeding demands."

Much of whatever ends up constituting GoodNuff stems from expectations. It seems I can guarantee better-than-expected results by merely expecting things to turn out worse. While this focus might produce an Eeyore existence, it might reasonably assure that actual experience, aside from the self-induced expecting, reliably ends up being better than expected, if only because whatever else I might propose, the worse rarely results. More often, an outcome registers a meh on the grand scale of experience, neither great nor terrible, somewhere in the middle. The outcome might only sometimes register, given the swirl of experiences stemming from a swirl of expectations. Connections easily get lost and seem meaningless. Even when I fuss and fret, my anticipations might get lost in rounding on my monthly account statement. It sometimes pays to be inattentive.

Our drive from Portland to Sleaseattle proved almost effortless, even though I'd invested so much time dreading the experience.

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Cornelis Anthonisz:
Allegorie met Waarheid, Kennis, Haat en Vrees
[Allegory with Truth, Knowledge, Hatred, and Fear]

(1507 - 1553)

"I seem to chase off worst case scenarios …"

I prepare for each of my adventures by practicing Dread. Over my lifetime, I've fed myself so much anticipatory doom that it's a genuine marvel that I have somehow survived. I might have succumbed to the effects of pre-living my demise. My salvation might no longer be possible by any means. I might have doomed myself by conjuring visions of my end whenever I even consider engaging in anything. If we get what we expect, I should rightfully expect Hellfire and eternal damnation coming, for that's surely what I have been expecting, though every damned time so far, I've somehow sidestepped that sure and all but inevitable fate. I suppose that it's never too late to fail, but my long string of successes has so far delayed the reckoning. I feel certain each time, though, that this time, I might finally be destined to succeed in failing, and so I dread anew.

I invested much of the week before this latest excursion, denying it would happen.

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Lewis Wickes Hine:
A View Of Workers In Ewen Breaker
Of Pennsylvania Coal Company

"One might, with practice, even eventually become an EasyWorker sometimes."

Whatever the profession, in this culture, we expect every practitioner to be a self-proclaimed HardWorker. Hard work, as opposed to all the other kinds of work, seems to be an integral part of the much-touted and probably mythical American Way. If we're not killing ourselves to maintain our existence, our existence ain't worth much. HardWorker seems to be the essential marker of morally upstanding people, too, for lowlifes seem best characterized as slackers. HardWorkers have no time for lowlier pursuits. They're tuckered out by the end of their shifts.

Curiously, the HardWorker designation belongs to more than just the exhausted laborer.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 11/30/2023

After Raffaello Sanzio, called Raphael:
Seated Youth Writing in Book (17th/18th century)

I Am Not As Advertised
The freshly shaven yard looks more like a golf green than anything I should be walking on. I remind myself just how powerful I always was when wielding a simple fine-toothed steel-tined rake, standing up the grass, wrenching out tangles and moss. The soil underneath seems more moist than it's been since last December, with tiny, shiny red ornamental crabapples hiding in the crevices. A flight of geese startles from the nearby creekbed, fleeing into the past participle of themselves in the process: A Fluck of Geese. The scents and colors suggest Galacia, some Old World land between empires. I am a peasant at heart here, and may I always remain one. I tried to take comportment lessons, to dress in the proper colors for each season, and to become invisible in the hope of fitting in. Proper society struggles to permit requisite variety, and so always works to undermine its stated intention. I write, and so I eventually tend to embarrass myself. I am not as advertised, thank heavens, and am in no need of reform.

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Charles Martin:
Gazette du Bon Ton, 1914 - No. 1, Pl. III:
L'Arbre Merveilleux / Costumes d'enfants pour Noël

"The magic only ever comes after I feel overwhelmed enough… "

Once the leaves fall, the street opens up, appearing much broader and longer than during Spring or Summer. With winter closing fast, the world seems to be expanding. Its expectations stretch, too. I feel humbled by the sheer Enormity of the upcoming weeks. They seem irreducibly huge, and I feel incapable of coping with the expectations they bring. More threat than promise, the holiday season falls upon us, bringing a fresh set of obligations while we seem to have yet to greatly expand our capacities. These two hands will not become three regardless of the needs encountered. These two feet will slip when the street freezes. Socks have already become a mandatory part of the standard uniform again. I feel like Atlas, expected to hold the world on my shoulder, or Sisyphus, rolling the world uphill like a boulder, only for it to slip back toward the bottom again and again. It's Autumn for a reason.

I suspect that fresh challenges feel overwhelming for that reason.

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Odilon Redon: Profile of Shadow (c. 1895)

"I'm still not doing anything except not deciding yet."

Growing up in the Inland Northwest provided ample opportunity for me to study the fine art of Indecision. I've seen innumerable books touting The Art Of Decision-Making, but I've seen none promoting its equally important opposite, for Indecision seems every bit as essential, if not more so, as its counterpart. Here, for instance, the winter weather patterns offer almost endless Indecision points. The Muse and I were planning to drive to the state's Western side. Which route should we take? In November, the mountain pass route rarely seems the best choice, for capricious snows and such complicate passage. The alternate route, down the vaunted Columbia Gorge, also offers complications with notorious winds and frequent weather changes. Two days out, Indecision rules, and while it might seem necessary to—just Decide, already!—the tenets of Indecision counsel otherwise.

In this culture, Indecision is widely considered the eighth mortal sin, following and resembling sloth, for Indecision seems like nothing, and nothing's never considered a viable choice.

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Attributed to Firuz Mirza Nusrat al-Dawla:
Practice Calligraphy [Siah Mashkh] (c. 1850-1886)

"Writers create by means of surface imperfections."

Each profession and every practice holds certain principles and actions as necessary and sufficient. We, especially fellow practitioners, hold anyone claiming to practice a discipline responsible for exhibiting these skills. Innovation comes from flouting these rules, often at the cost of early adopters' reputations. Early in his career, the art establishment did not hold Matisse to be a very skilled painter. He flouted color Conventions, for instance. The earliest Impressionists couldn't paint straight, apparently incapable of reproducing with photographic integrity. The earliest abstractionists were considered crazy, mainly because the orthodoxy could not comprehend the artists' Conventions, which were still evolving. Eventually, Matisse came to exemplify an evolved set of Conventions, as did the impressionists and abstractionists, though their Conventions, too, were later flouted by upstart practitioners.

Paul Lynch, who won this year’s coveted Booker Prize, declared, “Well, there goes my hard-won anonymity,” as he accepted his prestigious prize.

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Russell Lee: Sign. Whitman County, Washington.
The Palouse country is most famous for its extensive wheatland


" … dense fog settled around us."

Just to the north of this valley lies a rare country on this continent and in this world. Loess hills define Palouse Country, an area South of Spokane and West of Idaho, East of I-90, and North of the confluence of The Snake and Columbia Rivers, something less than a hundred miles square. Within this space lies considerable space, as if wide open was reimagined and arrayed in three full dimensions. Within its confines, tiny towns and isolated wheat stations dot a rolling landscape where wheat and lentils grow, and some of the finest barns anywhere stand. Driving through ThePalouse has always been a cleansing, a new beginning, a small vacation into another world.

I can't imagine ThePalouse when I'm not embedded within it.

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Giorgio Ghisi?, After Giulio Romano:
The Prison (16th century)

" … Trajectories upon which I warmly rely."

This week, I stumbled upon a short video of astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson describing what science has discovered about the afterlife. He was brief and unemotional as he explained that neither biology nor physics has anything to say about the subject. Neither field has uncovered any evidence that such a state exists in nature. Of course, other fields exist. Theology, for instance, seems to have little to say besides afterlife commentary, though different branches have produced different stories. Most theologies at least agree that such a state exists, though they, too, lack the observable proof any physical science requires. Theology and related fields inject a property science refuses to employ: belief. They circle their square by insisting that their perspective only works; indeed, it was only ever intended to work for those exhibiting steadfast and unshakeable belief in it. Their philosophy seems to sum to, "If you believe in it, it will manifest."

I have long jealously admired the facility with which true believers navigate this world.

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Pieter van der Heyden
Pieter Bruegel, the elder
published by
Hieronymus Cock:
Big Fish Eat Little Fish (1557)

“I hope somebody influential is praying for us.”

The cobbler and I inhabit different worlds. As I appreciated him for fixing that pair of boots, I asked him how long he thought he might continue practicing his craft. "Well, I turn seventy next week," he replied. "It mostly depends upon how long the government will let me continue." What followed left me gasping. The most remarkable spew of hearsay and innuendo I'd ever heard described a world I was not familiar with, one where our government conspires against innocent shop owners to undermine their lifestyles. "That carbon tax should have been put to a vote. It's illegitimate and will eventually raise the gas price by a dollar a gallon!" As if that would be a bad thing. How else could our government convince people to use less gas if it doesn't raise the price of it?

After The Muse and I made our awkward escape, I realized that I'd witnessed Confirmation Bias in action.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 11/23/2023

Pierre-Paul Prud'hon: Dr. Thomas Dagoumer (1819)

The Fussing Seems Eternal
I often wonder what benefit my writing provides. I engage in the sometimes requited belief that engaging might eventually accomplish something, though the progress most often seems slow and almost begrudging. Some weeks, I could swear nothing happened. Other weeks seem filled with insights and other visitations. This writing week represented a transition from a period where it might have still been possible to deny the encroaching winter into when that would no longer seem plausible. Denial or acceptance seem the stark choices. I usually tend toward choosing both, investing without going all in and denying without constructing much of a believable argument against. I often feel in suspense, between, impending. This week, I seem to have successfully transitioned from before into now, from past into my next future. I have a scant month remaining before this GoodNuff Series will be finished. I suspect that this series has been progressing normally. Once I've cleaned up the leaves, I move on to other fussing. The fussing, though, seems eternal.

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Attributed to Paolo Antonio Barbieri:
Kitchen Still Life (c. 1640)

"Bless all those less fortunate than us."

The Muse and I celebrate holidays primarily through Prep. The actual feast always turns out okay, but it takes so little time compared to completing the steps leading up to the sitting. Prep typically starts weeks in advance, with The Muse initiating some of the effort. In between, there's much gathering and sorting, considering and deciding, baking and boiling. There were times, much earlier in our relationship, when all this effort seemed unique. Now, it's taken the form of ritual, still unique enough but also terribly familiar. We solve few mysteries between larder and table, besides the pedestrian kind of finding key ingredients like
Giblets. We're not interested in what The Post and Times suggest we include on our menu, for we're observing traditions stretching back generations. And, no, there will be no Jello® salad served.

I say "we" when I mean "she” for The Muse performs the bulk of the Prep.

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Winslow Homer: The Fog Warning (1905 - 1915)

" … remind us what we cannot see …"

I hail from the country Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer must have hailed from. Come November, and through into the following year, we experience deep, sometimes freezing fogs. We locals curse their arrival as our nearby neighbors enjoy clear skies. We valley-dwellers know the curse. We lose our horizon. We lose our stars. We cannot see to the end of our own block. We drive as if suspended within space and time, both more visible than useful. We hear of the Fog of War but know The Fog of Everything, for fog becomes our baseline experience through those darkening weeks. We have The Fog of Breakfast, The Fog of Lunch, The Fog of Supper, as well as The Fog of Midnight and The Fog of Noon. Veterans have spent at least one night in Seattle after their late-night flight was forced back due to limited landing visibility here. We could see clear down to the ground but not straight ahead. Fog messes with your head.

I'm trying a fresh attitude toward our hazy resident this season.

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Jean-Baptiste Oudry:
Quizzical Bird; verso: blank (18th century)

"You might not ever be the master of your fate …"

I began my rounds confident that my mission would fail, for I had declared the unlikelihood of success as a part of my mission statement. I complained that the likelihood of finding Giblets here, so near the end of every supply chain, would very likely be tiny. Instead, I insisted upon eventual failure to maintain my haughty worldview that I would be suffering, doing without, nobly bereft. Imagine my surprise when I found my Giblets on my first stop! I'd imagined a course that would take me from shop to shop, allocating a couple of hours to the effort. Immediate success spoiled my whole premise. I guess I should have felt delighted, but I was pissed instead. I came prepared to sacrifice, not succeed. Under those conditions, success sucked!

I had not thought about this very much before this fresh experience.

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Harry Annas:
Untitled [two men holding turkeys] (c. 1950)

"We're willing to go through Hell to receive that blessing."

The Muse and I start our annual search for Giblets as the holidays approach. When we lived closer to the beginning than the end of this economy's supply chain, our search was never in vain, for supplies of everything seemed more certain. We'd often drive a hundred miles to find some fresh citron, a point of considerable seasonal frustration, but Giblets were common and widely available then. Here, nearer the Center of the Universe but further from the source of much, supplies are such that it seems more a matter of luck than anything when we manage to assemble our seasonal essentials. It would be much simpler if we had ever managed just to lie down and accept the inevitable homogenization of even our most heartfelt celebrations. Had we settled for whatever we quickly found, we would have eliminated our seasonal running around. Still, as entropy continues trying to eradicate all tradition, it's gotten to the point that we take it as a personal challenge to continue our mission unto perdition if necessary. It sometimes seems essential.

I might refer to as Giblets any picky addition anyone deems necessary to properly celebrate.

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Helen Hyde: In the Rain (1898)

"I might just as well be hibernating."

All the week before, I worked like a man possessed, for word on the street predicted their arrival. There would be the time before and then the time after, and I had work to complete before the time before ended. I admit that mine was a bogus alarm, for nothing would be won or lost whether or not I successfully prepared. I sometimes construct phony deadlines to goose myself into action. I suppose everyone does. Still, my concern seems real. I drive myself. I exceed my capacities and work through my lunch, exhausting myself as if I was making a difference—an as if that seems to work regardless of whether that difference matters. I cleared the yard of leaves before TheRains arrived, satisfying myself and maybe saving some additional effort. A soggy leaf pile, the approximate volume of a Volkswagen bus, hugs the curb out front. It seems like the largest on the block, a point of considerable pride for me and my underlying bogosity.

In my youth, I often constructed deadlines for myself.

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Karl Gustav von Amling: Autumn (1698)

" … really looking like home."

I harvest a prodigious crop of leaves each autumn. I take great pride in scraping my yard bare before the snow starts falling and in time for the final municipal leaf collection. I think of this work as a civic responsibility, but I actually do it for myself, for no other activity provides the opportunity to practice one of my minor masteries. I'm very good at raking leaves. Leaf raking can be a frustrating business, for they're surprisingly heavy, and even when they fall light and airy, they cannot be meaningfully condensed and must be removed in tiny stages. A tarpload of wet leaves weighs hundreds of pounds and feels like dragging a carcass across the lawn. A steady pace succeeds where brute force fails. Leave-taking tries patience.

It's chess played on a grander scale, requiring strategy and tenacity in more or less equal measure.

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Writing Summary For The Week Ending 11/16/2023

Karl Bauer:
Portrait of the Writer Stefan George
(19th-20th century)

When It Made Me Special, I Was Less For It
I once worked in a place I had to commute to by airplane. My work week involved predawn departures and late evening arrivals with a corporate apartment where I could never remember whether the refrigerator needed milk. I spread myself thinly then, continually leaving, saying goodbye more than I ever said, "Hi!" I learned to live alone. I almost became self-reliant but failed the exit exam. I often felt empty-handed, dependent upon resources I'd left on the other end of my commute. Traveling now dredges up those memories of when it mattered to me that I got upgraded when I'd accumulated more frequent flier miles than Croesus ever did, when I’d garnered recognition. Now, I'm relegated to the last boarding group, hopeful to be the last one on board. I'm assigned the window seat without a window or the last row, where the seats can't recline. I hope for a fussy baby nearby. I never reclined my seatback, always wary of inconveniencing anyone behind me, even if the person seated before me wasn't so thoughtful. I travel to remember why I stay home. I see it as a necessary evil, a means to another end, a mere bookend. When it made me special, I was less for it.

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Claude-Emile Schuffenecker:
Study for "Landscape with Figure and Houses" (c. 1891)

" … precisely what she's so confidently projected …"

The Muse figures that, based upon remaining ballots and her win rate so far, once the final ballot count finishes, she will have garnered 8,126 votes, precisely the number she projected she'd need to win before she even began her campaign.

In April, The Muse roused me from whatever more critical activity I was doing to sequester me in the largely unused front upstairs room.

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Artist unknown: The Dancing Fox (1766)

"By this time tomorrow …"

By the final day of an excursion, the new has worn off. Discovery, which dominated the first days, no longer rules. We know how to get from here to everywhere. We've stumbled upon enough to fully satisfy our objectives yet we still have a day to fill. We've grown listless, muscles remembering the first day's exuberance. We're sanguine, almost indifferent. We barely manage to feed ourselves.

We fill in with the remaining items we promised ourselves we'd see, but these were never our primary purpose, and they only partially satisfied.

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Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas:
Singer with a Glove (c. 1878)

" … what should I make of that?"

Gurus insist that emptying the mind encourages these experiences, though I, who've never once managed to quiet my chattering monkeys, notice perhaps more than my fair share. You know what I'm speaking of here: the Glimpsing of the extraordinary lurking within the otherwise most ordinary situation. A wrinkle in space or time impresses upon your consciousness, producing a glimpse of the profound when you had no intention of stumbling into any such encumbrance there. You were just going about your ordinary business when the infinite intruded, when beauty or profound truth or the eternal dropped in and left you breathless. Some of us experience this sensation more than others, or so we all seem to believe, though not one possesses any factual basis to hold this conviction. It might be that we're all constantly Glimpsing, that we need no special training to encourage it other than perhaps to remember to pay attention, though failing to pay attention seems to encourage it, too.

Traveling tends to increase the number of Glimpsing events, perhaps because, out of ordinary circumstances, more things just qualify as eye-catching, as unusual enough to attract this sort of attention.

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John Singer Sargent:
Venetian Glass Workers (1880–82)

" … none of them the one the artist might have intended."

As The Muse and I waited to board our flight out of The Valley Near The Center Of The Universe, I used that idle time to check messages. Like you, I maintain a tenuous relationship with my iPhone. I utterly rely upon it while it continually disappoints my expectations. I often fail to receive notice upon receipt of a text message, so I usually go for days before discovering that I received one. People have come to use texting more often than calling, which means that attempts to contact me almost always fail to reach me at first. The worst-case scenario involves a real emergency where the informing party texts me. A week or so later, I might saunter into my Messages app to find a smoldering ember remaining from some three-alarm fire.

This text had come early the previous morning, informing me that my new lenses were in.

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