" …that old reliable sky keeps falling."

Chicken Little was right. The sky is falling. His observation was not particularly insightful, for he merely stated what might well have been obvious to any observer had they been paying attention and willing to speak their "truth." That he was later shown, to the satisfaction of his neighbors, to be a fool, merely demonstrates the iffy nature of sharing one's particular "truth" and failing to follow the party line. It had become, then as now, the overwhelmingly popular misconception that the sky was not, indeed, falling, but Master Little must have not received the memo, for it's difficult for even someone as studiously cynical as myself to believe that Little performed an overt act of dissent. He was not, by all accounts, that sort of bird.

So he spoke an obvious truth, but one that almost everyone knew polite people never publicly declare.

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"Drives me freaking crazy."

I imagine The Gods conspiring over a few beers on a particularly jocular Gods' Night Out evening, just how to drive mortals most crazy. Some, the more hard-assed traditionalists, argued that nothing beat a decent pestilence, but the younger smart-assed contingent carried that conversation after the third (or was that the fourth?) IPA. The whippersnappers convinced the others that nothing, not war, pestilence, grief, or even rampaging boogiemen hoards could beat a periodic dose of grace, undeserved beneficence. What other gift could be more shockingly humbling? What other experience could so consistently hush a haughty mouth? What other outcome better encourages acceptance of a great mystery, the very soul of The Gods' eternal branding strategy?

And so it came to pass that the least of us totally undeserving would occasionally come to experience genuine grace.

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"Momentum's grinding gearbox knows only forward …"

The LastDay arrives like a thief in the night, just like Scripture predicted it would; one minute separating familiarity and eternity. Eternity's reported to last a lot longer, but infinite, beyond anyone's ability to grasp, while the familiar seems as if I somehow possess it, though it actually exists like a kinescope image, mere flickering flashes of light and darkness. Real, of course, has always been a controversial concept, us being such unreliable observers and all. I've been reluctantly imbedded in what began as an unwanted winter, now feeling as though I'm teetering on the edge of losing something precious, for yesterday was the very last full day of AnotherWinter. I had to look it up to confirm the rumor. By 9:16AM PDT this morning, AnotherSpring will have arrived.

The thermometer insisted the temperature was thirty degrees when I left the house this morning, not an unusual Winter morning temperature.

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"Bread and water will do for now."

I would have willingly sold my soul for a pair of pliers, or gladly forfeited my kingdom, or so I swore. The contractor doesn't work weekends, no matter how close to the end we stand, which means we have only the tools I thought to bring before the job began. Next time, I swear, I'm bringing my own pliers and screwdrivers. The Muse and I arrive at more or less our usual time because we're the owners and ownership doesn't come with days off. The neighbors head off to church but we're strictly secular this Sunday, focused upon painting interior windows and trim. We'd come by on the rainy Saturday before to get started, her priming, me putting finish coats on frame exteriors. This sunny Sunday should allow us space to prep a window frame and finish coat all the windows so the contractor can reinstall them Monday morning.

The Muse works on the new window, a futuristic job with "easily" removable panes. (Easily if you know the trick, which I don't and likely never will.)

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" … what passes for ages in human-scaled terms."

Old houses serve as TimeCapsules. Pull flooring and discover clues to the past beneath. Walls hold decades-old toys somehow slipped between cracks and preserved intact. Layers of wallpaper hint at how radically tastes change and also how similar some eras seem. Not everything old seems new again, some of it just seems tacky now. The bottom layer, the presumed original stuff, showed remarkable workmanship and design. Subsequent "improvements" trended continuously downhill. Of course we believe our restoration superior to all but the original, though we have restored little beyond doorknobs, rethinking out-dated principles and employing what we think of as more aging-appropriate materials. We expect ours to last and not just cosmetically coverup, unlike some past remodels on the place.

We can date each change by the newspapers used for stuffing siding cracks and the quality of materials. The Seventies introduced a variety of then-futuristic materials that have aged about as well as potato salad left in the sun.

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"Enlightenment ain't all it's cracked up to be."

I suppose that we all live within some degree of trance, never fully mindful, never completely unaware. I think of myself as fairly fully present here, though I suspect that I'm a poor judge of my own reliability as a witness on this subject. I can get so focused upon completing a task or reaching some objective that I know I'm tuning out some of the outside world, though I doubt that I could accurately assess the magnitude of all I ignore when in active pursuit. I think of this focusing as a kind of streamlining, and while my little mind game makes me no more aerodynamic or svelte, I experience a slipperier passage than I suspect I otherwise might. I can also catch myself nurturing little grudges as my little personal sacrifices fail to fuel the easy successes I imagine them worthy of receiving.

I'm focused upon end results now, with less than a week remaining in our presence here in this grand delusional kitchen makeover.

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"A week from now, I'll be gone again."

Time turns wobbly near the end of our stay. What seemed nigh on to infinite when we first arrived has compressed into a thin slice with many contentions. Neither of us seem to comprehend what remains undone or how much of our now semi-precious time each item might demand from us. The serial certainty of plans have matured into multiple dimensions, each vying for time and attention with probably much that we still cannot yet sense waiting to bushwhack us away from completing the recognized remaining important work. Some stuff won't happen in the stillness after we leave but we cannot determine what fits into this category, so we continue to do what we do. What else could we possibly do?

The fresh patterns which renewed us just after our arrival have become too familiar now and a vestigial longing for home and ordinary time competes with our appreciation of those differences so subtly becoming unremarkable again.

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" …the great and often surprising gifts …"

I can't remember a situation in my life so far where I entered feeling fully prepared. I really could have studied harder, dressed more appropriately, brought the proper tools, shined my shoes, and remembered to eat breakfast first. My entrances teeter on the edge of pratfalls. My exits, inevitably untimely. I move like a Pachinko ball, bouncing off perfectly foreseeable barriers. When I sit down to write, I break into a little sweat, unsure, even after beginning, where I think I'm trying to get to.

I've always found offensive the idea that one might scrupulously plan anything ahead. As a project manager, I at first tried hard to satisfy the usual expectations before growing to understand that those expectations amounted to
magical expecting.

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" …shortcomings prominently displayed."

I started this project more than a decade ago. I might complete it this month. As old house projects go, this one's in no way exceptional. Every old house holds more than a single owner's lifetime of necessary maintenance and aspired after improvements. The queue of undone work remains essentially fixed, as new necessities and aspirations easily replace any completion. In our time in The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, I've removed (or had removed) all but two windows, repairing and reglazing the many double hungs. These, to my mind, are real windows. Supported by sash cord, openable both top and bottom, easily as old as the house and still in remarkably good shape.

Everyone who sees them says the same thing, that we really should replace them all with modern double-glazed and fit storm windows over the outside, like we should grow up and face the future unafraid of utterly defacing the place.

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"She'll stay behind long after I've gone."

As the Winter winds down, doors open into a recently longed-for world. I've suddenly taken to taking off my sweatshirt before I set to work, hanging it on any handy branch or fence. I'm wearing my havelock to keep the suddenly brighter sun out of my face and off my neck. Until Daylight Savings Time disrupted the steady progression, a little more sunlight, or the hint of impending daylight, greeted me as I headed out to write each morning. After, I felt like I'd been sent back to Go without the promise of two hundred dollars, but Winter's almost a goner anyway. She's on her last legs, as a no longer false Spring nudges her aside.

I'm down to working on doors and trim now, the stuff real destruction and reconstruction contractors consider to be final touches.

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"I hardly recognize the place anymore."

I stand a bit taller than the crescent of mountains protectively gazing down into this valley. Of course my perception must be an optical illusion, but Walla Walla has always thrived on illusions. From the valley floor, the sky seems to arc over its perimeter, giving the illusion of standing in the center of a half globe, a snow globe lacking only snow and a firm shake to convincingly produce a small snowstorm on demand. The weather tends to be gentle here, protected by moderating currents in the Pacific ocean, three hundred miles West, the influence swimming upstream along the broad and beautiful Columbia Gorge to impart what the Chamber of Commerce swears amounts to a Mediterranean climate, which, of course, it isn't. It's no Montana, either, but it lacks appreciable humidity to convincingly mimic Sardinia.

Promoters insist that it's a well-kept secret, and it maintains this distinction no matter how much international press the place garners.

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" …I can't seem to see the world as it is …"

The way I write sometimes lands me in trouble. I describe my observations connotatively, which means almost everything I write remains open to the reader's interpretation. I'm usually trying to describe the essentially indescribable, perhaps a writer's sole duty. This means that I heavily rely upon metaphor and analogy, constructing relationships that could not possibly exist except as floating thought impressions. I intend to tickle the mind of my reader, but not every reader ends up amused with my antics. Some quite naturally read denotatively, expecting the material to somehow reduce to factual as well as felt sense. These folks frustrate and confuse me. More properly, I struggle to comprehend denotative perception.

I worked hard to avoid studying the sciences in school because I couldn't seem to catch onto the memorization involved.

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"I seek my jollies elsewhere now."

If you check the fine print on the back of the label, you'd learn that Passion carries a short shelf life. Go ahead and Google® the word. You'll be inundated with homilies, just as if you didn't already know that Passion fuels purpose, renders success inevitable, and holds the key to that quality of life that has been so long eluding you. If you're still holding down your lunch, check that fine print on the back of the label again. Passion seems to behave like rocket fuel. What doesn't quickly burn, evaporates faster. It's a boost, not cruising fuel.

Whatever I passionately pursue seems to fuel me plenty at first.

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"The view down the block can block any wider perspective."

I tried to tune into MSNBC but couldn't catch the significance of the headline stories. The New York Times seems to describe only trivial affairs. The local paper holds more significance than the whole of the mass media put together. I can see down the block in three directions and barely as far as the back fence behind me. The Blue Mountains retain their winter leggings between splashes of the deepest blue along the ridge tops. The traffic along Blue Street seems more consequential than anything on NPR.

I'm not currently current and I couldn't care less.

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"We seem to try to avoid salvation, sometimes failing. Thank heavens."

The call came just as we were sitting down to a late supper. In our absence, gone from the remodeling project for the last half of the afternoon for the first time since we started the job, the kitchen ends up painted the wrong color. In a reported flurry of frenzied effort, the contractors had purchased the paint and finished the ceiling and all the walls, the walls in a fine yellow, Ivory, rather than the Whole Wheat we'd expected. We thought we'd been clear, but half a dozen rejected samples still populated the workspace and, truth told, the Ivory and the Whole Wheat looked very similar when wet. The Muse rejected the idea that anyone could do anything about the error that night, but the next morning, I called the paint shop to learn that the wrong color could be easily tinted into the right color thanks to Stephanie The Wizard Paint Merchant.

No real harm.

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"I'll be residing in solitary until I spring myself …"

I privately consider myself to be a world-class procrastinator. I'm no rank amateur at the practice, but recognize myself to be a professional-class crastinator, firmly believing that, like hastening slowly or meditative mindfulness, it pays subtle dividends to those who develop the practice into what we who really work at it consider to fully qualify as high art. Procrastinating can be its own reward. The dog that doesn't bark is rarely bitten. It can also be its own worse punishment, when avoidance comes seeking payback on some debt it believes I owe.

Payback can show up as a shakedown artist carrying a Louisville Slugger.

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Maybe I've earned some supper tonight."

By four pm, we shift toward the general direction of shutting down the remodeling work. Though the sun won't set for another couple of hours, the shadows have already started stretching longer and the temperature has slipped. The morning takes almost until noon to shake off the overnight chill, so we're working bankers' hours, though no banker ever worked as diligently as we seem to. I seem to have lost some of my contemplative nature, tucking my head down and just doing whatever seems to need doing, sensing that our time here grows ever shorter, even while each day grows a tiny bit longer. The clean up seems to take as much time as it takes to make the messes in the first place and everything we do leaves some mess behind. The drywall dust has been the worst so far, but the floor sanding promises even worse. We paint today.

My brother Bob reminded me of the blue box, a storage container where I'd stashed my painting supplies from the times before.

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"The conversation further degrades into the absurd
as I close the front door and head out into a chilling afternoon."

The Muse and I call her son's youngest TheGrandOther. Her older half-sister had already been labeled The Grand Otter and, in our search for a proper handle when Kylie was born, she became TheGrandOther. She's something else, which I suppose we could have reasonably expected no matter what name we'd hung on her. Now eight, she fancies herself a princess, though she reports that she's lost her crown. She's discovered lipstick, which she insists every princess uses, though not all of them smear it from halfway to their chin to halfway up their nose, producing clown lips. The clown lips suit me, though, because they seem to resonate the deep truth of her princess pose. It's pretend and we both know it.

Last week, she entered the living room after school to find the white china Buddha head in the middle of the carpet.

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" … stewardship seems to be forever."

Moderns think of ourselves as stewards more than owners. The title might insist that we own that home, but we privately acknowledge that this home will pass on to others and that we no more than steward the property until that transition occurs. We own nothing but the title. These properties own us and our loving attention much more than we ever inflict our will upon them. Our responsibilities as stewards extends no further than we believe them to extend, with some seeming to deny any inherent obligations at all, behaving like renters using up the property rather than as loving nurturers seeking to preserve it and pass it on.

I'm sort of a sucker for stewardship.

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Alberto Giacometti Disagreeable Object 1931
Illustration: Alberto Giacometti Disagreeable Object 1931
"All great decisions get made in this sort of space."

I suppose I pride myself on being an agreeable person. I find it extremely difficult to ever find anything to disagree with, for I seem naturally predisposed to look for the best, and I usually find it. I experience extreme discomfort at those rare times when I simply must demur. I might try on "yes, but" for size, but only very hesitantly ever pose a half-hearted "No!", let alone an emphatic one. My behavior probably means that I'm what the touts and frauds refer to as an easy touch, something my grandchildren deeply suspect or already know. A quivering chin and I transform into a placating boob.

Except on some issues.

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" …the kind of knowingly only we could know but could not possibly explain to anybody else."

Applying paint might be one of the minor purposes of painting, for the surface and the paint, even the brush, merely provide context within which more meaningful purposes might emerge. One can always blunt this emergence by simply fleeing from it. Plug yourself into a playlist or recorded book and lose some potential. Let your mind wander where it will instead and you'll very likely surprise yourself by engaging in a kind of MumblingMeditation.

Painting a single board won't induce the trance.

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"This must be how the future comes."

Here, Spring starts throwing feints and false promises before Winter's half finished. She's seductive but fickle, tempting with taunting tastes, windows open one day, biting breezes the next. Snow seems perpetually forecast but bypasses us for adjacent higher altitudes where she loads up the late season snowpack, destined to flood away almost uselessly. She's already loaded up the creek through town once this month and seems determined to load it up again before the Vernal Equinox arrives.

I brought the wrong clothes this trip, anticipating full Springtime by now, that I'd be painting in shirtsleeves outside.

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The Illusion Of Communication

" … we're enthralled by The Illusion Of Communication most all of the time."

The chief difficulty with communication has always been the illusion that it's occurring, that it has occurred. I might be best served by remaining stoically skeptical that I ever understand anything that The Muse tells me, and we're pretty tightly connected. Others? Forget about it. I have no prescription for fixing this apparent feature, though it leads to inevitable rework and sometimes great frustration. It also sometimes leads to great pealing cascades of laughter as we catch each other out, being human.

I'm lost in Cleveland, late for an important client meeting.

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"TheTrick might preserve the tool user's thumb,
but it won't make anyone into a carpenter."

Operating any tool requires one fundamental understanding. One must know TheTrick. Effectively using even a hammer or a screwdriver demands a functional understanding of their unique Trick. These tricks cannot be reduced to some simple command or instruction, but want a subtler sort of relationship with the tool. It might be that no one can properly learn TheTrick without first suffering some injury caused by not understanding it. This injury need not be catastrophic, but it must rise to a level causing some distress. A board ruined by not respecting TheTrick when using a manual saw might suffice. No thumb need be sacrificed to learn most tricks, though I avoid most power tools because they seem particularly unforgiving should I not fully comprehend their particular trick, and I never seem to fully comprehend any of them.

Power tool designers further complicate this situation by deeply embedding each tool's particular trick.

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" … The Crud gets to deal at least one hand every year,
and The Crud cheats at cards."

As lovely as The Walla Walla Valley has always been, it retains a kind of curse certain to visit each and every resident and visitor during the Winter months. For some, it comes in the Fall, but nobody living in this valley through the unsettled season seems able to avoid contracting what the locals refer to as The Crud. I always called it Lewis And Clark Lung, imagining a curse dating to their visit to the Valley after narrowly escaping their demise crossing the Bitterroots. The valley seemed like a little Eden to them, and doubtless was a little Eden in comparison with the Camas Prairie and trackless forests to the East, but curses seem to favor Edens somehow.

The Crud can't quite be classified as a cold.

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"I whacked my share of moles in the grand Whack-A-Mole game today."

After an over-long day in my new role as scut worker on our massive kitchen remodel, I sometimes retire to my local down the block, The Green Lantern; The Green in local vernacular, where I'm certain to make good on that old John Prine lyric and drink my beer like it's oxygen. I might have never before understood the true utility of the beverage, for it seems to contain exactly the proper analgesic to negate the effects of long hours spent stooping over, crawling under, reaching deep into, and schlepping; especially the schlepping. I enter that safe harbor dragging keel and leave with renewed buoyancy.

The purpose of beer must be to provide that buoyancy.

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" … my good work took them there."

What, I wondered to myself while scraping clean yet another reclaimed twelve foot long tongue and groove floor board, makes this particular task seem like good work to me? Scraping's more tedious than difficult if the scraping tool's sharp. It requires little technique, though the technique it does demand seems satisfyingly subtle, a light-handed sort of understanding that emerges after frustrating myself with the first few. Scraping stands solidly in the center of the scut work spectrum, one of those tasks the skilled hands mindfully avoid and the unskilled hands never quite manage to notice that needs doing. I saw that the floor laying utterly depended upon the supply of properly prepped boards, so I made a little pact with myself to see that the board supply queue never fell into stalling our critical path. I discovered a bit of identity in this task.

What made it good work?

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"The enduring question remains whether
we'll amplify our initial naivety or learn from it …"

Late in his life, after spending decades crafting schedules for The Father of Scientific Management Frederick Winslow Taylor, Henry L. Gantt (yes, the inventor of THAT charting technique) broke with his once mentor. Taylor had preached his way into an almost notorious position, like an earlier times Billy Graham, having promised with veiled threats before repeatedly failing to fully deliver. Taylor capped his professional career by assuming the role of President of the then most prominent Engineering society, where he quickly tangled up daily operations by insisting that they be run according to his rather whacky principles. He retired without shame to his estate he had purchased by swindling Bethlehem Steel out of a significant patent he'd developed when a contractor there, dying shortly thereafter. A few years before Taylor's demise, he and Gantt has "a falling out" when Gantt, a gentile North Carolinian family man, began to speak out about the inhuman tyranny of the then much-touted emerging science of Scientific Management.

Of course, subsequent generations forgot the lessons Taylor so ably exhibited in his behavior

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"I speak as if I might be an individual
but I act as if merely struggling to mimic
some indistinct caricature of someone who never was."

Americans seem to hold a fetish for The Workingman. We believe that he suffers rather gladly for his sustenance. He's exploited, but doesn't take his lot in life terribly seriously. He's up early and off to the job site where he works hard enough to sweat through his coveralls, packing his lunch which he eats with his work buddies without first washing his grimy hands. He's back on the job before the whistle blows. He engages in noble hobbies like hunting, fishing, perhaps woodworking. He's an able handyman with a well-stocked toolbox and tidy workbench. He drives a well-maintained pickup truck a few years past its prime. He'd rather drink beer than the finest champaign.

He would be uncommonly wise except he reportedly carries the wisdom of the common man, which Americans firmly believe is the very best kind of wisdom to carry.

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"I find that I'm more resilient than I previously suspected"

The repeated opportunities for me to experience total physical exhaustion might be the greatest benefit of "helping" with our massive kitchen remodeling project. I warmly anticipated that this might prove to be the case. My usual lifestyle often offers opportunities for me to experience mental exhaustion, but only rarely its physical counterpart. The two bear little resemblance. For me, mental exhaustion feels more like a form of induced depression, where my body unwillingly surrenders to an overwhelmed brain, while physical exhaustion induces an emotional serenity, much more satisfying than the mental sort ever provides.

Nine hours spent yesterday, mostly kneeling before a seemingly endlessly refreshed pile of floorboards needing their nails removed, left me shaking with exhaustion.

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"Diversity usually first appears as someone else
deliberately acting weird."

Sometimes, an otherwise pink-blooming rose will bear a white blossom. Botanists refer to these oddball blooms as "sports," and botanists propagate the ones exhibiting desirable traits to produce new cultivars. Sometimes, a new cultivar will revert back to the original's characteristics. Families produce the occasional sport offspring like me. The Muse insists that I could not possibly have come from the family I hail from, even though I have been known to sometimes revert back into exhibiting precisely the traits common to the rest of my siblings. Every child is unique in some way, but most at least bloom in the same color as their siblings. I'm apparently an exception.

I didn't ask to bloom differently.

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"We'd eat dirt first, …"

In some ways, the old home town remains the dead end I thought it was fifty years ago. The city fathers wisely put the kibosh on both the railroad and the freeway system cutting through their valley, leaving the place quite deliberately off any beaten track. It's two lane blacktop in from every direction of the compass, and, of course, two lane blacktop back out again, which has discouraged some of the more virulent operations from pillaging here. The downside of those wise decisions left this place as another typical food desert surrounded by some of the most productive cropland in the world. In season, the local produce, eaten to appropriate excess, more than compensates for the sad wintertime produce aisles.

Yes, there are exceptions and truly exceptional alternatives to Safeway's interpretation of fresh.

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"They warmly acknowledge both that we once passed by here and that we are back …"

Two weeks after arriving, this place starts feeling like home again. The first two weeks, separated with a three day swoot over to Portland last weekend, seemed discontinuous because they were. We're up early and down early, sequestered at the old place "helping" with the massive remodel all day, missing lunch most days, seeing little more than the short path between my sister's place, where we're staying, and the Villa. Last night, a Friday, we ventured out after dark to attend a gallery show opening at one of the local wineries. As we slowed into our parking place, The Muse later recalled, her usual anxiety flared until she noticed someone she knew inside. "Hey," she thought, "people know me here!"

Entering the gallery, she is met by another old friend Jacqui. Hugs exchange. "Welcome home," Jacqui exclaims, The Muse almost moved to tears.

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"What harm could it possibly do?"

I might get myself into BIG trouble with this posting. I will very likely expose the depth of my gullibility before I'm through, and might incite some flashing backlash of anger, perhaps rage from one or more of my loyal readers. I have previously freely admitted just what an idiot I can be, and the more generous among you have demurred, insisting that I might possess a compensating decency somehow justifying my continuing existence. All those conditions taken into consideration, I intend to write today about Feng Shui, a subject about which I fear I can only demonstrate my complete ignorance.

The Muse insists that attending to the tenets of Feng Sui influences the quality of our experience.

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"Even the garbage man sings to himself,
accompanied by the truck's garbage-grinding groans."

A point comes in every project where there's little for some contributors to do. The more skilled might continue apace, but the common laborers, having completed the initial demolition, idle along the sidelines, impatient with what they understandably experience as delay. We dare not disband the now (finally) oriented laborers, but we have little meaningful engagement to offer them for a time. Such forced idleness could prove to undermine whatever cohesion emerged through the busy early days, for few assignments encourage more dissatisfaction than no assignment at all. A few days or hours in the future, the effort will be up and running at full speed again, but it'll have to survive this choke point first.

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Ashes To ...

"I figure that this feature all by itself
qualifies me as fully human
and in decent enough company."

I am not a Christian in the same way that I am not a Buddhist, though I shamelessly borrow from both traditions. I relate most easily to the Deist notion as embodied by our equally non-Christian Founding Fathers, who saw evidence of deity in nature and in the higher inspirations visiting mere mortals. I take no solace in the presence of any God, vengeful or beneficent. I figure we're fine on our own here, however we came about, and I no longer labor in anticipation of any eventual reward. Life could be plenty rewarding without expecting some jackpot payoff or Hellfire damnation at the end. As a means for gaining social control, religion has enjoyed a mixed reputation, encouraging much discord as well as considerable harmony. Both the Nazis and the Allies believed that God fought on their side.

Ash Wednesday, though, qualifies as one of those Christian traditions I feel completely comfortable embracing.

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"The slivers and sandpaper silicosis
hasn't slowed me down yet. Yet."

I might best define ReModeling as the willful self-infliction of repetitive motion injuries. The recent proliferation of cordless tools only seems to have exacerbated the dilemma facing any helper. Screwing in one screw seems easy enough to do, but spend the whole day screwing in one after another, with respite only accompanying the occasional dropped one, and the fingers go numb by the end of the day. Of course, any project worth doing insists upon just this sort of over-doing to ever get done. For the hardly initiated like myself, each ultimately numbing task starts as a sort of adventure, for I've likely never removed dry wall before or taken responsibility to insulate an outside wall or worked a cordless drill all by myself. The steps seem easy enough, and are, until they're amplified to the scale of any real progress. My muscles ache by the end of every day.

Not that I'm yet persuaded to play hooky.

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"Explaining it only ensures that it won't seem all that funny or insightful to anyone else."

Every family develops a unique dialect comprised of words twisted into special-purpose shapes. Some fondly recall what originated as a malapropism, like when my Dwalink Dwaughta Heidi called a maze puzzle an "amaze." Forever after, in our family, mazes became amazes. Frustrated with a boring discussion, she proclaimed that she thought we had "disgusted" enough. We now exclusively engage in disgustions, a useful cautionary reminder. It seems that as kids learn the language, they help twist it into a more meaningful form, with the folks joining in. The bedtime announcement that "it's time to go potty and brush your teeth" morphed into "time to go potty and tickle your teeth", then finally into the short form "time to pot and tick".

Many FamilyTalk terms amount to verbal shorthand, sometimes even code.

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Poetry @250_2
"I possess no body of work, only the ghostly spirits of one."

Writing poetry isn't harder than writing prose, just different, as different as playing drums rather than playing a lead instrument. Accustomed to the background stage where assonance and alliteration ply their trades, poetry lies hidden within all human speech, rarely center staged. The better prose exhibits poetry's subtle influence and seems to sing or simply hum along behind the story. When poetry moves to the front, some rules of punctuation and propriety step aside like a saxophone section when the percussion solo takes over, for poetry seems first, foremost, and always the juxtapositioning of rhythm to an at least equal presence in the search for meaning within a piece. The beat might even seem to become the melody then.

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" … I'd fly a kite over this world we know and transform it into one we recognize."

I'm thinking that there must be a simple room somewhere, one where the grandkids, The Muse and I, and our kids, too, might spend more than the gilded, terribly rare afternoon together. Two and a half years ago, amid the swirl of my darling daughter's wedding day, we spent the best part of an afternoon together in my first wife's backyard. This afternoon, the four grands, my two kids, and The Muse spent a few scarce hours together, and it was magic. We accomplished little besides the grandson's birthday party, which was out of our hands, and a quick trip to see if we could spot the sea lions haunting Willamette Falls on the swelling Willamette at Oregon City. (We did!) The wind was bite-y and brisk and the grandson, filled with sugar and adrenaline from being the recent center of attention, seemed in a typical six year old's sour mood, but the time seemed plenty sweet enough anyway. Sigh! Maybe after another couple of years slip by, we might find ourselves together again.

These days, grandparents often live far away from the lives they revere the very most.

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" If it wouldn't make believable fiction,
it's probably the truth."

I told my brother last night that the primary reason The Muse and I came 'back home' this time was because we'd been running dangerously low on family Soap Opera. Family seems to be the source of all true Soap Opera. In the near decade The Muse and I have lived away from my old home town, our Soap Opera consumption has noticeably diminished. Visitors and resident aliens in any place away from their family home place simply cannot plug into the channel that carries the deep local dirt. Sure, the odd axe murder might make the front pages, but it'll be very unlikely that the murderer or the victim went to grade school with your cousin's oldest, for that sort of detail separates genuine Soap Opera from run of the mill scandal, tragedy, or news. The juiciest news isn't fake news or national news, but family Soap Opera.

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"The meaning we're concocting happens nonetheless,
though I'm only rarely aware of its blooming presence."

When I speak of brains, I catch myself slipping into the realm of electronics metaphors. Though no wires seem evident when a brain's dissected, I confidently speak of wiring. Impulses morph into imagined circuits. Scientists search for underlying designs just as if designs just must hover to be discovered in there somewhere, and I believe. I suppose that I'm exhibiting some characteristic of brain behavior in the ways that I imagine my brain working. I deploy metaphors as though they are much more than they were ever intended to be. I concoct then buy into extended allegories before imprinting on the allegories as if THEY are the reality. I suspect that the reality lies far beyond the ability of my brain to comprehend.

Much of life seems to inhabit this same territory.

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"We listen, perhaps, to avoid fixing some feature that,
if taken away, might cause the whole freaking structure
to fail."

Work seems to naturally attract grumbles; the more physically demanding, the greater the grumbling. Psychologists and self-help authors might manage to make it to the end of their workday without finding a single disparaging thing to say, but the rest of us will end our shift with more complaints than we clocked in with that morning. The primary purpose of work break times might be to serve as a release valve, providing "workers" with the opportunity to mumble malevolently about each other, lest they blow up from the pressures building inside them.

"How was your day, honey?" might best be considered a rhetorical question, for that spouse damned well already knows the answer.

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"Who are we to question how it seems to be …?"

I measure real progress in inches. I'm certainly attracted to the ever-popular notion that some progress might be better measured in longer segments, even though these seem inevitably misleading. I'm also not immune to sometimes believing that I might, by clever application, manage to take leagues-long strides toward my more worthy objectives, but this inevitably leads to disappointing results. I figure I might have better things to occupy my shrinking time here than spending it plotting to disappoint myself. I manage to experience enough disappointments without dog-piling into the conspiracy with those who seem to be out to suck the wind out of my sails.

The grand deconstruction that is our kitchen remodel project got itself off to a strong start.

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" … how one goes about acquiring a sincere lack of skill
as the recipe for accomplishing anything."

I still blanch at any request for me to catalogue my skills. If I have skills, I must be largely unaware of them because I never think of myself as particularly skilled. I seem more often to catch myself less than entirely certain if I can accomplish anything I imagine doing. Maybe I forget between engagements. Maybe I never knew. I still engage, but with a persistent sense that I'm just a beginner, probably a pretender, hoping to somehow accomplish the best. I might be most skilled at engaging with a deep sense of uncertainty about what outcome I might produce. I cannot honestly claim to possess any but this deeply questionable "skill."

So when called to help on some project, I tend to self-select into a role that's unlikely to lead to too much calamity should my initial self-assessment prove true.

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"I suspect we’ll never know."

Boxes stacked nearly to the basement ceiling. Cupboards emptied leaving the barest shell of our familiar kitchen. The refrigerator’s already moved into the dining room for the duration. The whole back end of the house now poised to revisit The Great Depression as the demolition begins. Those rooms, the small bath and expansive kitchen with the hallway we’d always imagined would become a butler’s pantry though we never planned to hire any butler, suffered for decades from some former owner’s mid-seventies design sense. Like a Mod permanently stuck in a Sears and Roebuck interpretation of “updated” sixties Carnaby Street fashion. Narrow lapels, thin trim, too-wide bell-bottomed cabinets, misfitting doors and windows, vaguely psychedelic lighting scheme.

True to every project I’ve ever engaged with, this one’s different.

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"Whether or not anyone ever actually arrives anywhere
remains open to continued speculation."

Travel writing seems the very most dangerous sort, more seductive than the most seditious political screed and often more misleading than a Chamber of Commerce promotional brochure. A good travel writer seems rare and rather unlikely, since that writer holds a deeply vested interest in self-promotion of the Look How Fortunate I Am And You're Not variety. But travel, real travel, only very rarely lives up to its touted promise. Behind every romantic evening strolling along the Seine, lurks a cobblestone-twisted ankle or a bout of explosive diarrhea, neither of which will warrant mention in the resulting glossy magazine spread, nor should, but which results in a work of partial fiction, what Disney's Imagineers labeled Modified Authenticity: A Frontierland absent horse shit and thereby reeking of its absence.

The Muse and I are traveling

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"One foot seems to stand behind me no matter how straight I stand."

Irrelevance seems the proper reward for any lifetime spent mastering anything. I'm not sobbing into my beer, but reflecting on an apparent evolutionary imperative. I've forgotten more than half the stuff I once knew, but still know quite a bit more than even the cleverest Johnny-Come-Lately, who couldn't possibly have forgotten even half the stuff I have. Further, I've retained some truly subtle stuff, the sort of understandings that cannot be described or explained: sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth-sense stuff. The newer kids, though, still think they've reinvented the world, or are well on their way to utterly reinventing it. They worship a future that hasn't had her way with them yet while slandering a past they never knew or cared to understand. Those who won't worship that naive future or slander that trusty past seem simply irrelevant to all those who will.

Fortunately, none of this matters.

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"Nobody can really achieve apathy
except when in pursuit of someone else's goals."

By far the most important element of every project turns out to not be the advertised objective of the project, but what I call The Project Within The Project. While the public pronouncements promote this or that feature or that or this other innovation, the real project, The Project Within The Project, looks on unimpressed. The PWTP wonders what's in it for him. He's searching for a premise to use this project assignment to assist him in his pursuit of some personally compelling goal or purpose. No matter how lofty the outside project's objective, it won't motivate much more than a half bucket of warm drool unless the people assigned manage to find their very own personal Project Within That Project.

Outside projects typically expend remarkably little energy encouraging individual contributors to find their personal PWTPs, though the outside project's success might most depend upon realizing this.

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"Airplanes fail constantly, but usually fail less than they compensate for their failures,
and thereby succeed …"

The axiom that failure starts with the first step probably serves as the oldest comment ever made about project work. Since the beginning, successions of clever practitioners have proposed methods for ensuring that their project will not repeat this most ancient of axioms, each without success. I, too, in my turn, took up with one, then another, and then yet another philosopher promising to deliver the antidote for this feature of project work. I now believe that the problem implied by this timeless insight fails to qualify as a problem at all. I consider it a feature, and as such, should properly remain unsolvable. Solutions belong to problems, not features.

I don't mean to imply that I've grown cynical from following false prophets

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" …it will certainly first feel like some terrible shrinking."

The Muse and I are preparing to leave for a few weeks. The list of preparatory tasks seems to grow as the departure time approaches. I'm at the stage of life where leaving carries little attraction. I'd just as soon stay behind while The Muse travels, and receive updates from her at the front while hanging far behind the lines. She insists, though, that I get out into the world. She says that things happen when I'm out there, and I cannot disagree. Things do happen when I leave the safe confines.

The days before departure feel like grieving.

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" … like ThinSlices of impermanence drawn prism-like through space."

This morning seems composed of thin slices slightly shimmering in the rising sunlight. The eucalyptus tree below my window takes on an etherial and impermanent look, glimmering as if on the very edge of disappearing altogether into some adjacent place. Time seems like narrow vertical wafers through which stuff moves like light cast through a prism. Color, shape, size, even weight seem to derive from an optical-like projection, easily shifted by sleight changes of perspective. The time we inhabit also inhabits us, and might slip away from any of us without any advance notice. One minute here and another minute somewhere else, a sort of mist separating one from the other, prior from present, present from next.

Permanence holds no place here.

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"Hooray for me, whoever that might be."

In this culture, in my culture, we describe individuals by associating each with one of a small number of exemplar descriptions, so-called archetypes. These comparisons don't even try to determine an individual's uniquenesses, but first attempt to classify according to some similarity, what they're like or not like. The sum of the resulting similarities stands in for an individual's description, their brand, even their identity. Failing to fit into some easily recognizable archtypicality earns one the default label of "oddball," which means unclassifiable, an unbranded range animal without clear social identity.

Billions of individuals vie for this sort of social definition, each selecting from a tiny few exemplar patterns.

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“Exactly the pitch called for at the time.”

Today, I offer heartfelt prayers of gratitude for all my previously unanswered prayers. I hold no certainty that these fresh prayers will be answered, especially since I have no idea how I’d determine if they had been answered. I remain grateful for all of my unanswered prayers, whether or not I can accurately target my benefactor. This solo dialogue quiets my spirit. My confession, even as gratitude, lightens my heart. For all the times that the good guys failed to show up near the end of the third reel, I feel gratefully humbled. For the papers from the bank, lost for months in the mail or their bureaucracy, so passionately sought after but never found, I give thanks. I’m not certain who posted the casting calls for which angels never responded, but I’ll slip in a thanks to them, too.

The primary problem with prayers seems to be the same as the difficulty with customer specification wish lists.

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This weekend, friends will gather to celebrate our dear departed friend III's (pronounced "Three's") life. My eulogy:

Viennese Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein attempted to define, in seven dense statements, what one can say to be true about this world. As part of the group that delineated the unforgiving terms of engagement in the Boolean computer age, Ludwig helped determine exactly what III spent much of his life enforcing. More than anyone I ever met, he attempted to police that narrow, mysterious territory between what we desire our machines to do for us and what we as humans could reasonably expect our machines to do. Deeply understanding this man/machine interface, III mostly chose to avoid personally relying overmuch upon machines to deliver him from even tedium. He seemed to deeply mistrust the most modern technologies, and perhaps wisely so.

He owned no smart phone.

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"In this season, I even feel unskilled at self-deception."

By the last week of January, anyone should be excused for having somehow lost addressability to who they are or even who they used to be. The weather turned skitzy more than a month before, swapping identities day to day. Shorts one day, heavy boots the next. Ordinary times slip into full festal ones then back again. Bacchanal celebrations dance the hokey-pokey with solemn religious ones. The sacred expresses itself with venial exchanges. Smugness snuggles with humility. Darkness wrestles for dominion with light. Candles curse the darkness. Darkness mumbles invective against the light. Plenty seems to placate the barren scrubland that was once my well-tended garden.

By the end of January, I'm running on vague promises.

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"Time seems altogether too unreliable of a regulator. "

I'm always astounded when I consider that time moves at a constant pace, a sleepless, silent drummer setting the background rhythm for everyone's existence. The same for you as for me. The same for Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat as for The Muse. The same for the Queen of England as for the panhandler along the freeway exit. I do not experience time as such a dependable regulator. Some days seem to crawl while others sprint. I've spent fortnight-long afternoons and split-second months. Some nights seem endless while others hardly find a moment to wink in passing. I figure this variation must be about me, if time exclusively runs regularly.

I don't seem to run that irregularly.

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Me, Myself, and Aye


"Nobody becomes invisible
just because they close their eyes."

A pivotal point in my learning how to write came when I stumbled across an arcane little volume at The Library of Congress. In it, the author(s) proposed what I'll characterize as an 'is-less' style of exposition. Since we construct language from metaphors, which must necessarily be fuzzy representations, characterizing anything as being something else makes little sense. Of course the sky isn't blue, it just looks that way. The author(s) counseled a touch more care when characterizing.

This observation whacked me up the side of my head.

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"The jarring season leaves me carrying more responsibility
than I feel completely comfortable assuming."

Autumn brings jarring work. "Canning" doesn't adequately describe the experience of skinning and seeding a bushel of green chiles or blanching, peeling, and stuffing a hundred pounds of tomatoes into jars. The long, almost meditative hours spent in fine motor repetition with a razor sharp knife leaves the lower back barking for relief. The steamed up kitchen windows while the pressure cooker weight endlessly jiggles, jars the sleepy countenance of an early Autumn afternoon.

The procedures seem timeless and hardly need remembering anymore.

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A Real S. O. B.

Man standing X Ray-602x376

"It's one thing to exhibit good judgement
but quite another to possess it."

While delivering a series of workshops at one of our National Laboratories, The Muse and I heard from almost everyone we met about what a "Real SOB" their liaison to the Department of Energy was. According to the testimony, this guy seemed to be personally responsible for most of the trouble their projects experienced. A short time later, we found ourselves in Washington DC, and we scheduled some face time with this guy. When we arrived at the appointed hour, he greeted us but asked, "I'm not certain why you requested this meeting." I replied that never having met a Real SOB, we thought we'd take the opportunity to meet one. He laughed. Our scheduled fifteen minute meet-and-greet turned into a two hour conversation.

The Real SOB is generally in the eye of the beholder …

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"Teach a man to cook and his inheritance will be tiny."

Autumn sits like a bushel basket over the Foothills this morning, filtering light into a thick sauce which moves languidly among the trees suddenly streaked with the first golden leaves. Thirty nine degrees this morning, snow just a little further up into the hills. My head feels as thick as the sunlight sauce, unwilling or perhaps just suddenly unable to think, straight or otherwise. My mother, who was famous around the assisted living facility for her toys, kept a solar powered critter on her windowsill which would dance around when the sun angled in just right. That critter would be staring numbly out the window this morning.

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"Forward's the only direction on offer here."

At about 2PM MDT yesterday, pretty much the exact moment of Vernal Equinox, a cold front moved across, dropping temperatures, spawning gusty wind, and dulling whatever sun still remained. I closed all those windows which had been open around the clock for the last few months and even thought about turning on the furnace. Later, the house began to take on that moist chill and gloomy character I’d gratefully forgotten about through the sun-drenched months. This morning, the first full day of Fall, clouds hang low and the ground seems saturated. A full herd of Elk, bugling their presence in the pre-dawn mirk, invaded the green space across the street. The season felt fully involved rather than freshly fledged.

Fall’s arrival feels like a failure to me.

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The media was filled with good advice again this morning. We should love each other, work together, and somehow stop believing that we can convince anyone we consider stupid. I feel reasonably certain none of these perfectly reasonable suggestions will find any more traction this day than they have for the whole history of human experience so far, but I could be wrong. They hold that special place in this weary world, a space I refer to as Good Ideas. Slip over here for more ...



I consider my naivety one of my more prominent superpowers. Of course this amounts to a delusion, but a generally harmless one. I could never believe the wolf would choose to always hang just outside MY door. I learned long ago that tugging sharply upward on my shoelaces could keep a turbulence-rattled jetliner aloft. I do not always expect the best, though I strongly prefer my experience when I manage to expect something other than catastrophe lurking around the next corner. Slip over here for more ...


Upon reflection, I recognize that ritual occupies much of what I emphatically refer to my as 'my life'. Rituals don't quite qualify as habits because they hardly achieve the mindless replicability of the habitual. They seem more mindful, somehow. They might have once been a choice, even an aspired-to skill, but over time, they evolved into something approaching the One Best Way, and from there began to consume portions of my free will. Slip over here for more ...


My mother was a terrorist of the very most insidious kind. She seemed fundamentally incapable of complying with any injunction. Doctor's orders barely amounted to more than invitations to dissent. She mumbled about "polutocrats" and always followed her own rough-honed sense of propriety. She danced along this precipice for ninety years before the cliff edge crumbled from beneath her yesterday. Slip over here for more ...


Like you, people have called me boss and I have called some boss, too. I have both loudly proclaimed that 'you are not the boss of me' and sotto voce whispered it to myself, mantra-like, hoping it might give me quiet strength in some overly-bossy presence. I knew the person Scott Adams modeled his iconic Pointy-Haired Boss after, and he seemed pretty much the opposite of Dilbert's characterizations of him, but then he was not my boss. Someone always seems to get elevated to the enviable/unenviable role of being in charge, whether or not they hold the formal responsibility of judging another's performance. Bossy older sisters hold no charter justifying their pedestal.

Some people seem to appreciate a strong authoritarian presence while others seem to just shrink in that kind of light. Bosses get blamed for everything, since they seem to hold superior responsibility, though they also seem rather incapable of accomplishing much of anything. They represent both the oppressive yoke and the absence of it, depending. They might try to be friendly, but who really wants to befriend someone with the authority to be your oppressor? Slip over here for more ...



The cynic already heard the punchline and doesn't think much of your joke. He's on to the game and firmly believes it's all just and only a sad parody. He purports to understand what really matters, though nothing qualifies as meaningfully significant. In the long run, he quite logically insists, we're all dead anyway. In the short run, where we inescapably exist, the cynic rather too proudly holds his head in long-run clouds, an elite perspective utterly useless for living. The cynic appreciates nothing because he subtly insists he already understands all.

Not negative but also purposefully not positive, the cynic inhabits an orthogonal plane. Slip over here for more ...



I grew up in what today seems like an unimaginably repressive regime, where the privileged wielded tremendous power over ordinary citizens. Some cities and towns still had active sundown laws which made it a crime to be within city limits after dark if you weren't white. In the South, not being white was considered 'just cause' 24/7. My public high school had mandatory ROTC for boys; essentially, conscription into military training for sixteen year olds. Young women could be denied primary public school education for violating wardrobe rules or for the crime of teen-aged pregnancy. Prostitution was formally illegal but protected by the police and business leaders, who owned the buildings housing bordellos. (Wink, wink; nudge, nudge.) The John Birch Society was considered a community service organization.
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OtterChristmas 1.10-Absence

Who, which one of us, speaks with authority about absence? No less of an authority than the Roman poet Sextus Propertius provided an early explanation in his Elegies, insisting that, "Always toward absent lovers love's tide stronger flows," or, in modern translation, 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder.' Not everyone agrees. Some insist that absence encourages the heart to wander. To whom does this heart increase its fondness for, the absent or whatever stepped in to fill the void?

The Grand Otter hopped on an airplane yesterday, which took her away, leaving what behind? Slip over here for more ...


OtterChristmas 1.9-Cold

I suspect that I had been coming down with a cold for the last several days. I can never tell. For me, illness amounts to an extended period of increasing denial, followed by an exhausted acceptance. I accepted the obvious this morning. A slight fever guides my hand.

The Otter arrived with a sinus infection which seems to have cleared up during her stay. The Muse rode her like a cowboy shadows an untrustworthy steer, ensuring she took her antibiotics on schedule, and whatever the case, she's pretty much all better now. I don't think I'm 'getting' a sinus infection, but I do feel the old internal elevator heading downward, and I'll most likely spend most of the day supine with a novel.

The Otter leaves this afternoon. Slip over here for more ...


OtterChristmas 1.8-InvisiBull

invisible (1)
We say that The Grand Otter's staying with us over Christmas, but more than half the time she's here, we don't really register her presence. She's a very private person, used to spending a lot of time by herself, hardly dependent upon us to entertain her. When she was very young, she'd trail along behind The Muse or I almost wherever we went. Now, often as not, we need to go pull her out of her lair to invite her to engage or to go anywhere with us. Slip over here for more ...

OtterChristmas 1.7-Anticipation

Christmas seems about 110% anticipation, a gas giant of a holiday with more appearance than substance. The anticipation, though, might just be plenty. The run-up features all the drama of any reality show: a definite deadline, heavy expectations, mysterious components, long-standing tradition; history, mystery, and competition. It's no different at our place. Slip over here for more ...

OtterChristmas 1.6-PieHard

The Muse has become a master pie maker. She does not, however, ply this trade casually. The anticipation of pie-making seems to drive her into a careful and calculating place where good enough isn't quite good enough, where ingredients and conditions just have to be perfect, and where otherwise normal distractions become a kind of encroaching evil. She prepares as scrupulously as any star athlete. She can be difficult to be around when she's making pie.

I love pie, in sparing and occasional spurts. Come the Fourth of July, I'd much rather eat pie than watch fireworks. My birthday cake? I always ask after pie instead. Thanksgiving? It's always all about the pie, so The Muse and I, in terms of this single metric, might be perfectly matched companions. Slip over here for more ...


OtterChristmas 1.5-ElkHeard

The hottest rumor in our neighborhood shows up on the local listserv most every morning. Someone will declare that they have family visiting and ask if anyone knows where the elk are congregating. Somebody will always respond within a minute or two. This time of year up here in the foothills, the elk watch gets more interest than the NORAD Santa Tracker. Unlike children, elk tend to be heard about but only rarely ever seen.

The Grand Otter really wants to see the elk this visit. So far, they've eluded her every attempt to spot them, Slip over here for more ...


OtterChristmas 1.4-Mac&Pleased

The GrandOtter arrives with menu suggestions. Much of our history was written in the kitchen. Our fondest memories seem to hover close to supper. Since she was little, The Otter has accompanied me on my foraging excursions. Then, she considered a bowl of ramen adequate fare. Now, her palate has broadened considerably. She responds to my pre-trip query about what she eats these days with a fairly narrow list which she quickly expands once she see's what's on offer. Mac and Cheese, "David's way" heads every list.

My way doesn't involve macaroni. Slip over here for more ...


OtterChristmas 1.3-Frankly

No matter how deeply I might feel about the importance of straight talk, the bulk of my talk seems fundamentally crooked. Not deliberate lies, more like tacit misrepresentations. Stuff not said often dominates my narrative, usually for the best of all possible reasons. The time rarely seems right for full disclosure. Much of what I mean to say never finds voice, thank heavens.

I question the quantity of deep delving any quality relationship demands of its participants. Shallow suffices for most situations, with infrequent, heart-felt deeper dives serving as welcome respite from a certain satisfactorily sustaining superficiality. I mostly skim along the surface. Slip over here for more ...


OtterChristmas 1.2-DarkMatters

magnetosphere cropped
How little we perceive. Humans have so far managed to observe not quite five percent of the matter the universe contains. Curious terms like Dark Energy and Dark Matter serve as placeholders for these significant unknowns. Whatever constitutes them are not simply unknown, but presently unknowable. I figure that this knowledge of what we cannot yet perceive might serve as insurance against self-importance. Mr. Know-It-All doesn't know all THAT much, cosmically speaking, and should shop for hats in the more modest sizes. Slip over here for more ...

OtterChristmas 1.1-Goeths

goethsI suspect that life amounts to little more than coming and going, with almost no presence involved. I seem in transit, either in motion, recalling past excursions or plotting upcoming ones, eternally between here and there, and not solidly anywhere at all. I share my address knowing it's hardly more than a way-point along some not yet defined journey, which will most likely only be known, if ever understood, considerably after the fact, as if anyone would find more than an ounce of anything tangible in any odd ton of my experience.

I am more verb than noun, a streaking blur in the foreground, hardly distinguishable from my shifting surroundings. I goeth far more than I ever cometh. Slip over here for more ...


OtterChristmas 1.0-NestingInstinct

birds-nest-flowersThe Muse and I have been empty-nesters since we met, twenty years ago. I suppose one never really gets over an empty nest. No matter how large the house, regardless of how many cats cohabit, the nest feels rather hollow inside without some regular injections of kid energy. The single-generation place always seems more house than home.

Sorting through alternatives for this holiday: should we drive to South Dakota, perhaps trundle off to Walla Walla, or just stay at home?—The GrandOtter's request to come visit easily skunked the competition. It offered the only opportunity to feather the beleaguered old nest, Slip over here for more ...



I read a couple of newspapers almost every day. I also peruse several curated sites where I trust the editors to choose something other than fake news. My friends and colleagues send me links, which I often follow, gathering ever more detailed information, much of which seems to clog my intake pipe. I try to swallow my share of the incoming, but too-often choke on the quantity if not the quality of it. I'm too-easily overwhelmed.

I try to float above my life, looking down appreciatively if not always skeptically on the proceedings. I can get lost in the details, neglecting to peer through the screaming headlines to recognize even the more universal patterns floating within. And there seem to be universal patterns in there whenever I take the mindful time to observe. Slip over here for more ...


State: Fair-PartTwo

Leaving the 4-H building, The Muse and I saunter down the promenade, further into the fair. Except for the costumes people wear, which tend toward the ridiculous, we could be a Gilded Age couple in morning coat and pinafore, strolling any public thoroughfare. Where else do people walk like that, except at the fair? I’m in hiking boots and jeans, layered tee and long sleeves on top. The Muse sports a demure dark blue shell and sandals. We both wear hats against the sun. I spot one man wearing bright orange pumpkin-print pajama bottoms, and many wearing those goofy oversized to-the-knee basketball shorts. Most carry no protection against the fierce sun.
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State: Fair

No better place to check the state of any state than by visiting the State Fair. Late now in this Trump summer, The Muse and I promise each other to get up and out early on the Sunday before Labor Day, drive the hundred and something miles down the bleakest corridor in the region, and visit. In 1869, somebody mustered a horse show in Pueblo, even then, far from the center of anything. The precedent stuck, though up-state legislators grumble each year, jealous of this one remaining annual economic boost reserved for a city otherwise left behind. Slip over here for more ...


I pulled out the old guitar this morning and doodled around with my last song, written fourteen months ago now. I'm just leaving a period where I couldn't quite bear to even pick up the danged thing, so it took me a while to remember how to play this song. Looking around for the lyrics, my memory fails me so often now, I stumbled upon this Morning Missive, written just before I finished the song and sent to my dear friends in Arizona. This piece properly describes the act of creation when The Gods decide to exhibit their foolishness and put that process in my hands. It serves as a fine reminder that I never know how to write, how to create, but that the process seems fully capable of taking care of itself and producing anyway.
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The Ancient Greeks invented democracy, but also recognized the stone in its shoe. They spoke of the Cretan who declared that all Cretans are liars. This simple declaration, Bertrand Russell later noticed, could undermine the entire structure of reason the old Greeks passed down to us.

This year, we have a Cretan claiming to run for President. The NYTimes reports on his long history of defending his public statements as "puffery", common commercial bluster: lies. He refers to his opponents as liars, which given that he's a Cretan, must mean that his statement, properly interpreted, insists that his opponents are most certainly 'not liars.’ The Cretan collapses choice into a nearly indiscernible mess. Slip over here for more ...


I admit to being a world-class ninny behind the wheel. I despise driving. I much prefer taking any form of public transportation, and not only because I can read on the bus. I seem to understand traffic rules a bit differently than many others sharing the road, if I can fairly describe their behaviors as evidence of anything like a sharing attitude. I often feel alone out there, steering a Soap Box Derby jalopy in a NASCAR race. Slip over here for more ...


As unlikely as it might seem to even the dedicated observer, the most prominent part of my personalty just has to be my InnerBunny. During the summertime here, the fields fill up with small rabbits. I unkindly refer to them as cheap protein sources for the raptors roiling around in the thermals. These rabbits seem more oblivious than fearless. They're easy for me to spot and I do not possess anything like a raptor's eyesight. They are, like all rabbits, cute, of course, and visions of Beatrix Potter dance around in my head whenever I spot one, though Colorado seems far, far away from the English countryside. I hold no animosity toward them because the deer already convinced me not to plant a garden. I am in no way a Mr. McGregor, anyway. Slip over here for more ...


The small venue jazz club featured a performance space in back and a dining room up front, with little separating the two. Sure enough, as Pizzarelli began a fine scat version of Emily, some group in the dining room started celebrating VE day, accompanied by the obligatory piercing intern cackle and the four shot-fueled guffaw. About half the audience began searching their pockets and purses for their rusty pig gelding knives while looking over their shoulders with murder in their hearts. John seems unperturbed, seasoned from ten thousand similar experiences in his life so far. This venue was clearly not the Carlyle. Slip over here for more ...


I wonder if I over-think as much as I think I do. It's true, I do often think my way through an anticipated action two, three, four, often even many more times before I take action, and even then, I might opt to take no action at all (yet). I consider my scrutiny prudent, though obviously not everyone would agree. How many thought experiments must a standard ketchup bottle survive before it's simply set aside as too complicated to open yet?

I seem to have been born to run on intuition, yet blunt my native sort of 20/20 vision with dump truck loads of conflating cognition. Slip over here for more ...



Mid-July mornings come savory-sweet, almost cold, promising punishing heat by noon. I set my alarm to an unGodly hour. I can nap through the heat of any afternoon, but I cannot as effectively dream of these fresh moments as I can experience them. Yes, it's high summer. Predawn, it's timeless here right now. Slip over here for more ...


On her way with me to fetch her little sister, The Grand Other, from after school care, The Grand Otter confided the underlying concern she'd held when agreeing to spend time with The Muse and I. Her perspective tends to shift around us, and some of the more upsetting elements of her life come into sharper focus when we're around. I have no idea why this might happen, but I could not successfully argue against this being her experience. We each hold the ability to go unconscious to frequent annoyances, and any change can bring these back into disturbing focus again.

The fundamental difficulty with any form of enlightenment seems to hover around the issue of coping. Any Jehu can stare into the eye of God, but not everyone can avoid blinding themselves with the experience. Mindfulness might bring any number of blinding revelations, none of which improve perception, absent some barely-describable ability to discern while experiencing. Full immersion too easily produces drowning sensations. Slip over here for more ...



I mentioned to The Muse that this place seems mostly populated by people who don't live here anymore. In the nearly two generations since I left my home town for the first time, almost every structure has been repurposed. New homes have sprouted on the peripheries and older ones refurbished inside. Some have gone derelict, some derelicts, refurbished. I still navigate according to a circa 1965 map, referring to places by their old names, baffling The Muse.

I can never feel certain that my eyes aren't lying to me, that I see what's there rather than what used to be there, the ghosts sometimes overwhelming my senses. I imagine my great great grandparents inside that little house that so long ago held them. Lower Main, once shoulder to shoulder taverns and bordellos now features more new construction than old. Shadows predominate. Slip over here for more ...



The Grand Otter started her first job today. She's been enraptured at the prospect, after looking for over a year with only two interviews granted in that time. She almost consigned herself to the ranks of those who would never find suitable employment until a friend vouched for her and that second interview went well. Now, performance time looms. Serving tables three to nine, her school day extended until well after dark, her days shifting from long and empty to surprisingly short and full. Slip over here for more ...


I describe my hometown, Walla Walla, Washington, as "the center of the universe, where gravity works right," because for me, it sits in the center of MY universe, and I know the place well enough that I can anticipate gravity's fickle fluctuations. Others, perhaps poisoned by early exposure to Looney Tunes cartoons, consider Walla Walla a joke location, good for a giggle and little else.

In spite of my heart-felt conviction, I began plotting my escape from this lovely little valley well before my seventeenth birthday, and I've been largely successful in my efforts to find other places to live, if not set down even remotely permanent-feeling roots. I have, instead, lived most of my adult life as a non-resident evangelist for the place I could not bear to live. Slip over here for more ...



The Scariest Person In The World can't hardly bear to go to bed at night. She's up 'till all hours, though she knows full well how early that alarm clock will ring. Her day job seems certain to exhaust her again, though she prayed hard to land it and felt especially fortunate when she did. It didn't change much.

She inherited her terror, bequeathed by her mother, and, I suppose, her mother's mother before her. A long family history of histrionics, strong-willed females exacting tribute they intended to resolve something. Whatever that something might have been, not even they ever knew for sure. Slip over here for more ...



The Grand Otter reported after the lunch stop that she had been chosen for a special program at her school. "I was like the least qualified, but they chose me anyway. It was like a five hour session on leadership."

"So, how was that?" I asked.

"You know those experiences where everything you hear just seems to mean so much, but after, you can't describe what happened?"

"Of course."

"It was like that." Slip over here for more ...



I might define culture as the set of rules delimiting the unspeakable. The unspeakable rules every human system, though we focus more intently upon what we're supposed to say so we can stay on the stepping stones and not end up slogging around in soggy shoes.

I start my consulting engagements by asking the prospective client what cannot be talked about. I explain that as an alien within their system, I could easily start yakking about forbidden topics and thereby instantly undermine my credibility. Many respond by insisting that anyone can talk about anything there, which we both recognize as absolutely unlikely, but every client's first responsibility has always been to at least try to undermine anyone they hire to help. How else could any client hope to retain their self-respect? Slip over here for more ...



He taught her to play that leaf-front girl guitar I bought her that summer before her world started falling apart. The way she took to that instrument made ducks question the depth of their relationship with water. After that first lesson, she wrote her first song. Others quickly followed.

Franklin turned out to become one of the few unconditionally positive influences in The Grand Otter's life then, for he taught her to open up just when the world seemed to insist that she just had to shut down or die. At fourteen-going-on-twenty-three, she could arrogantly ignore almost any good advice, but Franklin, side-stepping the usual defense mechanisms, invited her to open up no more than that girl guitar insisted. Girl guitars carry an insistence all their own. Slip over here for more ...



The GrandOtter says she wants to learn to drive a stick shift, and I agree to help. I feel delighted that she wants to acquire this throw-back ability. In twenty years, I figure nobody will even drive once self-driving cars become the norm, so learning to drive a stick shift will hold all the utility of knowing how to drive oxen. I, myself, never learned to drive oxen, and I deeply feel the inability. One never knows in what shape that next zombie apocalypse might leave the world, so arcane knowledge of any kind attracts my interest.

We start with the motor off, playing through shifting scenarios, intending to start imprinting that invisible gear arrangement schematic. After sixty years of stick shift driving, that pattern remains a minor mystery to me, and this blind spot becomes obvious as I set to failing to explain it. While each gear holds a specific position, finding that position relies upon more intuition, more feel, than I can explain. I realize that I have never felt completey confident I've found a gear until that gear engages. Slip over here for more ...



This family tootles. We consider the small road trip superior to almost any other form of integration. Something about the combination of the containing space The Zoom Car provides and the scenery passing by as we drive solidifies our sense of self, so this first full day of The Grand Otter's visit found us tootling. The Muse chose the destination: Estes Park, a place neither the Otter nor I had visited before. I suggested the route, the Peak To Peak Highway, a route which would keep us in back country, safely off any interstate.

I probably should't mention this, but the scenery outside hardly matters. Slip over here for more ...



Concourse A Train Platform DIA Business Center Fly Denver B(1)
She grew up in our absence. She seemed to be working on mastering twenty three at fifteen. Now that she's newly passed into her eighteenth year, though, that poise which seemed so prominently missing from her earlier attempts at maturity has arrived. Sure, remnants of gawkiness remain, but as grace notes rather than dominant melody. Somehow, out of that roller coaster ride, a beautiful young woman walks up out of the arrivals queue. Neither The Muse nor I at first recognized her. Slip over here for more ...


"To idealize is also a form of suffering." Julian Hubbard

I spent in the Library of Congress some of my happiest hours in Washington DC, reading hundred year old religious tracts. I’d kind of backed into the literature by studying the Industrial Revolution, which led me into the fascinating world of efficiency. A hundred years ago, the Western World turned efficiency crazy, the literature resembling nothing so much as fervent evangelical pamphlets. What began as a set of engineering principles quite quickly consumed nearly every aspect of American life. It exported into Germany where it spread like dandelions, even eventually infecting the newly-hatching Soviet state, where it emerged as absurdly-detailed and ludicrously-premised Five Year Plans, which brought industrial and agricultural inefficiencies that quite nearly destroyed that fledgling economy.

The insistence that the highest, even the best purpose of every profession involves instructing others in the proper application of the religion of austerity remains a burgeoning industry even today.
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Welcome to the biggest change day of the year. Throughout the year, advisors and commentators endlessly prattle about the need for change, mostly for naught. On this day, though, everything seems different without anything really changing. Over night, a whole new year began. The old fled off the bus and we can now never go back there again. Feels like a brand new, fresh and clean start.

Today delineates the point where all the previous prattle manifests into a real difference, or so it so convincingly seems. But what’s really changed? Like the day before, we woke up in a different part of the universe than where we went to sleep, but unlike yesterday morning, this morning dawned on a Brand New Year! This distinction between last year and this year stems from an agreement, a conviction, a belief, rather than a physical difference, and that phenomenon alone renders this day worthy of great celebration.

Usually, when I encounter a difficulty, Slip over here for more ...



Just another morning. Brighter than most. No hint of last night’s calamity in this morning’s serenity. The magpies arrived to see if they’d trained me yet, rejecting the pumpkin seeds I’d left on the deck railing. I quickly replaced them with stale bread broken into bird bite sized pieces. Yes, they have trained me, I agree, but I entrain to entertain Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat, who seems to enjoy the first thing in the morning bird visits. She barks at them but it’s feigned alarm. No harm done and I dispose of the stale crusts.

A shadow hangs over the place, though. The BBC chattered half the night. NPR took over just before dawn. The unimaginable settling into another disquieting new normal. I must listen to the news to somehow infuse the unwanted recent history into the body of my acknowledged story. It’s inescapable now. Denial slinks back into her shadow, not selected for this team either. Once ingested, though, the shocking taste seems to disappear. The bitter flavor lingers longer than the sweet, but both flee the palate more quickly than the long anticipation enticed it. I’m soon enough hungry again.
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The activity’s more ritual than work, more sacred than secular. Some neighbors don’t bother, just driving through the slushy to leave later frozen tire tracks likely to stay around until Spring. I’m up earlier these mornings, rising with a deep sense of purpose for a change. Even if we’re not driving anywhere, I want the sidewalks and the drive cleared by eight o’clock.

My old boots, misshapen by long summer ladder hours, sweated through and mink oil improved at least a hundred times, fit me poorly now and cripple me should I hike anywhere in them. I’ve warmed them by the fire to loosen them up enough to fit. They’re plenty fine enough to keep the snow separated from my socks. I clump out the door, carrying Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat under one arm. In her youth, she was a snow cat, a dedicated snowflake chaser returning with ice pills all along her underbelly. Now, she cowers in the corner as the garage door rises, then huddles along a front porch edge as I set to my chore.

I own no snow shovel and never have.
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I quite often develop an asymptotic relationship with my future. Though I seem to move forward at a reasonably consistent pace, whatever I imagine I’m pursuing seems just about as far away no matter how much time elapses or effort expends. I might be stiff-arming, holding manifestation back with one hand while swimming—sometimes frantically—with the other. Perhaps I have become a master at sabotaging myself. I know that my pursuit of whatever I seem to be after only rarely rewards me.

This situation could be a feature of my time in life. As I age, distances might lengthen like shadows do as the sun slips past high noon. Earlier, the horizon seemed endless and my direction obvious. Now, the horizon seems more constricted and my orientation uncertain. Relative progress seems impossible to discern and absolute progress, a once believable fiction.
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She was not born royalty.
Her father, former enemy combatant
turned immigrant,
her mother a wonk,
she, an only child.

Nor were her early years predictive.
Other than a keen eye
and a native enthusiasm,
little suggested her royal fate;
ascension neither birthright nor choice.
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You inspire me but that’s only your birthright and my responsibility.

We become our stories. Once we disappear, after we’ve gone, when we’ve left behind all the sacred possibilities every breath brings, we become our stories. Speak mindfully of nothing else. The facts don’t matter; the most terrible turmoil merely grist for this mill. We will each become the stories we tell.

They become the stories they heard. Not all of anyone, no, but some of who each of us become, while more than the simple sum of any explanation, certainly involves these parts which started by accumulating stories until subsumed into them, blended into the ones others owned themselves.
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“Have you found your tribe yet?”

“Well, no, but I expect to shortly.” Or so I reported. I had belonged to a tribe of sorts in the last place, but I expected it would and really should take some time to attract a new one in the new place. I knew I was lying, and not simply because my lips were moving, but also because of the nature of my friend’s question. Her question presumed that one finds their tribe. I might have caught this subtlety, but it slipped past me.

Who knows where one’s tribe comes from? Reflecting on my experience, I might more easily conclude that my tribes have more found me than I ever found them. No tribe hangs around anticipating getting found and, again, in my experience, the whole concept of ‘lost tribe’ seems terribly Old Testament. Tribes don’t need finding, seem to resist being stalked, and never appear in a convenient pack.
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Before The Muse left town, she asked me to see if I could finally get the Colorado license plates. We’d arrived in Colorado in late May, and it being early October already, we were tucking in rather closely to the deadline requiring new license plates within thirty days after establishing residency. Gratefully, the law defining residency seemed ambiguous enough to drive a large truck through.

On the one hand, it meant having a job here, which The Muse had from day one. On the other hand, it meant having a permanent residence, which The Deluxe Executive Towne Home, our temporary digs while searching for a permanent place, clearly failed to satisfy. On yet another hand, even once we found a permanent place, a vehicle license could only be issued if I had a Colorado driver’s license, which requires a whole other raft of evidence and proof, like utility bills addressed to me at the new permanent address, and utility bills usually arrive after living in a place for a while, like a month. By the time I received my Colorado license in the mail, we were already nearly six weeks in the new place.

The Muse had found the car title and proof of insurance, but the Colorado DMV site insisted that I’d also need a Vehicle Information Number Verification form, but it provided no information about where I might secure said form or who should do the verifying. The car also needed an emissions inspection, which the website suggested could be secured at either a state-run facility or from one of a select group of mechanics. I found what I thought was the location of the state facility for my new county and went in search of it. It was very well hidden.
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Lost Then Found

A very few excruciatingly long weeks ago, my friend Jamie changed his address. I’m uncertain about this part, but I suspect he changed it permanently. Some insisted that we’d thereby lost him, but I question that assertion. If he is, indeed, now lost to us, we might also now be lost to him, but I contend that Jamie is right this moment no more lost than we are. Of course, this statement doesn’t really say all that much, for I have been feeling quite exceptionally lost these last weeks. Maybe you have been feeling lost, too. This morning, I intend to get to the bottom of just where Jamie is now so I can ditch this disconcerting lost feeling I’ve been dragging around like outsized carry-on luggage.

When Jamie was still “with us,” he was perhaps most noticeable to me by his absence. We didn’t find or create many opportunities to meet face-to-face, yet we managed to feel as though we were in decent touch anyway. We Skyped sometimes, phoned others, exchanged emails, sometimes directly, perhaps more often as CC:s, as part of some shared group business. The last few months, I maintained a stream of correspondence I did not intend him to respond to, but even that seemed to sustain the clear felt sense of intimate proximity between us—none of that reinforced with actual proximity, mind you.

Then, when he “left,” I felt a sense of loss every bit as real as that former sense of intimacy had been.
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“Hide your heart from sight, lock your dreams at night
It could happen to you

So starts Johnny Burke’s haunting lyric to Jimmie Van Heusen’s remarkable melody. Of course they intended this song to be interpreted as a love song, and it works very well as a love song, but Burke cleverly employs the old ambiguity, playing off the peril love implies—the peril life itself entails.

“Don't count stars or you might stumble
Someone drops a sigh and down you tumble”

Burke offers no easy out, either. Wishing on stars won’t provide any protection. Love might turn on a simple sigh; life, no less so. The tone screams precarious. He is not in control. Neither are we.

“Keep an eye on spring, run when church bells ring
It could happen to you”

Anyone who’s fallen in love recognizes the absolute absence of self determination in the experience. We don’t refer to it as ‘falling’ for nothing. We no more throw ourselves into love than we carefully pre-plan our existence. Later, after we’ve clearly succeeded, we can tout our marvelous master plan, scrupulously omitting the parts chance contributed. Until then, we’re flotsam and we should know it. Slip over here for more ...


Seventy Five Hundred Feet above sea level hangs a world quite different from the one you probably inhabit. The air seems thinner, which means it comes in a form not at all unlike non-fat milk. It feels less viscous and contains considerably less ‘goody,’ as I believe the scientists refer to whatever it is that satisfies lungs. It’s skimpy, stingy, and anemic. A lungful of air here can leave a flatlander breathless. This takes more than a little bit of getting used to.

The thin air affects cooking as much as it affects the cook, and equally mysteriously. Water boils at a lower temperature which means that food takes longer to cook. How much longer depends upon some quadratic equation nobody can solve in their head. Like with all cooking, success remains a matter of feel. Those who lived their early years below a thousand feet developed a feel for cooking that seems wholly unsuited to altitude.

Moving here seems like being sent back to Go without my two hundred dollars whenever I enter the kitchen.
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As the next to last student left the lab, she disconnected her call. Whomever she was talking with, the conversation had seemed intense to the instructor, a first year tenure at this red state community college. The class is physics, a subject the instructor carries much passion for. He’d disclosed to the class that their final would consist of each submitting a creation story that explained how they happen to be here, utilizing all they learned during the course of the semester. This one remaining student had raised an eyebrow in response to his assignment. She approached with a worried look in her eye.

“Dr. David, will I flunk the class if I include Biblical references in my creation story? I love hearing about black holes and all this physics stuff, but I believe the Earth is six thousand years old and I can’t go against my beliefs when writing my paper.”

Dr. David had mentioned this possibility to me before he accepted the position. He was unsure how he would handle the question then and he was only slightly better prepared for it now. He quite firmly believes in the creation story science has constructed from rigorous observation and scrupulous projection. One of his students had even labeled him an evangelist for the passion with which he lectured, a characterization that made his skin crawl. He admits to the passion but he would never characterize himself as an evangelist, but upon reflection, he had to agree with his student’s assertion. Perhaps he is an evangelist, but he’s not promoting any faith-based acceptance. He expects proof rather than speculation, and proof requires no faith for acceptance.
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There was a time, now long past, when early September brought sweet corn to harvest. Boiling pots of water welcomed golden yellow ears. Fresh cubes of butter wore a trough mark where hot ears had been dredged through. Grins stretched from ear to ear and even an eight year old could gnaw three or four down to cob and still have room for a quarter of a watermelon, consumed primarily for the spitting seeds.

In recent years, available corn has hardly resembled the stuff we once so treasured, though it was commonplace. In Maryland, they called this white stuff sweet corn. Silver Queen, they called it. They could have called it tasteless and sweet, tough or mysterious, but I could not recognize it as corn. A successful hybridization but an utterly failed food, suitable only for compost or silage.

Earlier this year, I found a supplier here in Colorado who could provide halfway corn, a combination of yellow and white kernels which, if eaten blindfolded, approached the flavor and texture of the genuine article. I ate my share of that while pining after what my palate long ago came to know as real corn. This speckled stuff worked as a substitute but it was clearly standing in for the real thing.
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It’s nearly obligatory to reflect on each anniversary of 9-11, to look back with regret, sometimes to rekindle a sense of vengeance not yet satisfied; perhaps never to be satisfied. For others, it’s a sadness that re-emerges along with a sense of loss. Everything felt different after that and we understood without fully accepting that we would not ever be able to go back home again. This anniversary evokes nostalgia for what came before and would not be coming ever after again.

As The Muse and I limped back toward home in our rental car generously ceded to us without drop charges since airplanes were not flying in the days following, our route took us from the Southwest north and even further west through what would later be referred to as red states. We had little besides the radio to accompany us across those vast deserts, but the radio was suddenly toxic. Too toxic to listen to. A side of the American character hardly imagined before became the prominent theme. “Kill them worse than they killed us,” the radio insisted without knowing who had done the deed or what had actually been killed.

The Muse and I quickly resolved to leave the radio off.
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If writing qualifies as a skill, for me it’s a danged unreliable one. I experience days when flawless prose and even better poetry just seem to flow out of my fingertips, but also many days when I can’t coherently string two words together. Shouldn’t a skill manifest itself more consistently, or do all skills come and go at their own bidding like this?

That slugger in baseball only rarely ever slams one over the fence. He’s considered a master if he manages a hit on something between a quarter and a third of his trips to the plate, much less frequently homering, slinking back to the dugout many more times than his teammates ever baptize him with GatorAde. Surgeons, though, rarely fail to deliver their goods and carry onerously expensive liability insurance to cover the odd shortfall.

I have no access to the slugger’s or the surgeon’s internal state. Do their many successes feel like success or like impending disasters, too? One writer insisted that writing, done well, should feel like one continuous mistake in creation, and that the key to writing well lies in mastering that nagging, insistent sensation of failing while continuing to write. That kind of mastery
—a meta-skill, really, a fake-it-‘till-ya-make-it capability—might be the underlying ability defining every skill. Certainly with my writing, I experience no mastery more prominent than my now well-practiced ability to suspend my persistent disbelief in order to produce.
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The Colorado School Of Mimes

Not everyone understands that Golden, Colorado, besides being the iconic, long-term home of the Coors Brewery, also hosts the Colorado School Of Mimes. Founded in 1874 to train mining engineers, Colorado’s economy has since shifted far away from resource extraction toward supplying the ever-burgeoning entertainment industry. Introverts originally considering engineering careers find little difficulty fitting into the School’s more modern focus, as they arrive on campus so concave, faculty complain about having to wear miner’s headlamps to even call role. Born to not be noticed, today’s students find Mimes’ atmosphere perfectly congruent with their natural preferences.

The curriculum can be challenging, even for those uncomfortable with public speaking. “Public miming can be even harder to master,” claims one sophomore whose parents had previously encouraged him to join Toastmasters International. Mimes offers a minor degree in what they call Milk-Toastmasters, a course of study similar to public speaking but without the speaking part. “Holding an audience’s attention when you’re basically invisible seems like a definite impossibility,” the sophomore continues, “but the supportive faculty, many with extensive busking experience, understand how to silently encourage even the more extroverted.”
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“Commerce between master and slave is despotism.” Thomas Jefferson

The Muse thought, since we were moving into a fringe area house with an installed TV Dish® already on the roof, that she would sign up for the satellite TV service. The technician arrived while I directed the movers, who were unloading that last forgotten crate, and he encouraged me to finish that chore while he poked around, climbing onto the roof to check the dish angle and fiddling with wiring along the side of the place. After the movers left, he asked questions and poked around some more, finally coming around to the fatal question. “Do you have the power cord for the TV? I need to check reception on the actual TV before I can call the installation complete.”

Of course I didn’t have the power cable for the TV, and I told him that I had no idea where the cable might be. I found myself in the middle of one of those mornings where I just cannot properly parse the world around me. My judgement had not returned from dreamland the night before and I was barely functioning, but I found my trusty box knife and commenced to opening some boxes in the master bedroom, none of which yielded the sought-after cable. The technician would point at a box, asking, “How about that one?” I mindlessly responded by cutting open that one, then the next, then the next one after that.

I quickly began feeling assaulted, but continued with the absurd dance anyway. I was opening boxes out of any rational sequence, unable to place the contents into any proper context. I was making a mess when I needed some calming tidiness. I finally called a halt.
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Two days after taking possession of the new place, we’ve yet to spend a night there. The moving company called yesterday evening to report that they had, indeed, failed to deliver one crate. This crate included bed parts. The place still seems mostly boxes with cardboard walkways taped to floors. We unpack rather haphazardly, adhering to a first things first policy. First we unpack. We will determine the exact more permanent location for stuff once we see what stuff we have. The three months since packing erased most of my memory of what we possess and I’m discovering some serious doubts that we need all or even most of this stuff.

The last place had room to spare. This place seems just the right size. The stuff remembers where it lived in the last place, looking around anxiously for the familiar cues it does not find here. The whole unpacking’s a jumble, unguided by anything more definite than a general notion which doesn’t always work out as very workable. We inventoried every box number and label and found quite a few in the wrong room and several clearly mislabeled. No mistaking a box for the chair listed under that number on the manifest. The Muse resolved all these brain farts. I find it easier unpacking if I just have to move a box to another room and defer emptying it for now. Progress measures itself.

What was open possibility on Monday has by Wednesday morning become a more limited affair.
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After the movers had unloaded the last truck, while The Muse tried to reconcile the manifest with what seemed to have manifested in the new place, I sat with the crew while they rested in the shade beneath the empty truck. The conversation quickly turned to the economy. I knew they were being paid ten bucks an hour for carting what I considered heavy loads down that steep side yard or up that steeper stairway in the late summer heat. I wondered why they did this.

They quickly agreed that this was a good job. One said that he’d made the mistake of not finishing school, though he’d since studied to become certified as a physician’s assistant. While that paid more per hour, it offered no possibility of overtime so it actually paid less. Another reported that he’d completed a stint in the army then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, but that this was the best paying job he could find. He could work at Walmart, he noted, or as a prison guard, but the Walmart didn’t pay as well and the prison guard work was demeaning, dangerous, and ultimately dissatisfying.

I was surprised that everyone on the crew, save the elder Robert, had spent time working for the private prison industrial complex. One reported that the turnover there was extreme. They offered no training, low pay, and extremely high turnover. One reported that he has a friend who had managed to stay for nearly a year and a half, and so had more seniority than anyone including the warden. All agreed that they’d rather unload truck than go back to prison work, though one noted that he could have become a highly paid parole officer if he could have stomached that guard work for a couple of years.
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Few insights seem more worthless than the one where the writer decides that his words fail to describe what he’s trying to say. Of course they do, for words serve as no more than messenger. The content sits separate from them, depending upon some largely preconscious collaboration between the by-then absent writer and the all too present reader. The meaning sits somewhere in-between them, depending upon essentially undependable words and the meaning both will make of them.

The meaning starts, of course, with the writer. Though he does not determine exactly the meaning any reader might make of his words, he weaves his web intending. His clarity when intending influences the meaning his reader might finally conclude. He also has tricks as well as tradecraft, and he either knows how to construct a cogent sentence and a coherent paragraph, or not. If not, the clarity of his intention can’t matter, the words will no more than natter. But the specific words might matter less than the rhythm of them when strung altogether. Can they carry the intended tune?

Writing, if it is to describe anything, might need to be properly inductive first. It should impart a felt sense coherent with what’s being described, otherwise it produces paradox and confusion, like insisting that a word is a color. Nobody should believe me if I insist that the color of the word red is really RED. It’s not, no matter what I said, and the reader senses this contradiction without experiencing any sensation at all. The reader will not believe what I’m saying then, no matter how eloquent my explanation.
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FillAahSewPhee jpg
“No hard and fast rules can be laid down for survival anywhere, particularly in the farther places. Conditions vary. So do localities. Especially do individuals. Initiative on the other hand may be guided by a consideration of general principles such as those we can here absorb.” Bradford Angier- How To Stay Alive In The Woods

They always ask what skills they will learn. My brain cramps in response. I didn’t consider skill acquisition when I created the workshop. It seems many can’t quite think of workshop in any other terms.

What other terms might there be? Years ago, I read a book by the seasoned backcountry guide Brandford Angier: How To Stay Alive In The Woods. I bought the book because I mistook it for a kind of cookbook, a reference that would show me what to do. Instead, it first focused upon how to properly think about survival, with few specific ‘do this’ instructions. I later understood that this perspective was necessary because without properly preparing the perspective, how-to instructions fall like seeds on poorly prepared soil. Angier understood this, and I suppose he faced the same dilemma I face with my prospective clients who believe they lack skills when they really lack perspective, an appreciation of the key role philosophy plays when coping with difficulties.

Almost nobody intends to get lost in any woods, and we invariably forget to bring along the instruction manual for surviving these surprise ordeals. A pocketful of principles better serves us there.
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Rocky Mountain Oysters

The Colorado Rockies baseball team has a lot of balls. Their pitching leads the National League in walks, clear evidence that the team has more balls than strikes. One of the food stands at the ballpark even serves rocky mountain oysters, also known as bull testicles, a narrowly-appreciated delicacy common to cow country—well, to steer country, anyway—and a revered sacrament of cowboy culture; a smirk food. Last night’s pitcher favored the cutter, perhaps in attempt to castrate the visiting team? This metaphor failed, though, as he more effectively delivered dirt balls. The home plate umpire and the Rockies’ batboy spent the game trading bruised balls for handfuls of new ones.

I revere the humbled double-entendre euphemism above all other forms of language. It stands before us with it’s ‘flag at half-staff’ threatening without attacking propriety. It lives well South of obscenity and slightly North of innocence, implying more than it declares, leaving the listener culpable for any bad taste lingering after. It can relegate a promising politician to an alternate career ‘hiking down the old Appalachian Trail’ or sideline another into an eternal ‘wide stance’ without leaving any fingerprints at the scene. Properly employed, the messenger strolls away whistling from the crime scene without even a shred of toilet paper stuck to his shoe. Everyone knows full well he did it, but nobody ever lays a finger on him.
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Once the spiders show up, the show’s about over, though it seems as though a full third of the season remains. Spiders apparently know better. Shrubs and corners web up. Spiders dangle down into my hair and possessively dude walk across the bathroom floor. Predawn insists upon me remembering the down vest. Intimations swell from subtle hints to whispered stage direction to openly discussed secret. Summer’s ending.

School starts mid-August now instead of its proper post-Labor Day time. What so very recently seemed infinite, now feels dear and wasting. The remaining plans won’t be completed. The nursery sign says Plants Are Done. Thank You. The pantry swells with beans and potatoes even though the finest corn’s just now coming in and the tomatoes have yet to peak. I wore socks twice last week. Soon, I will never take them off.

Each season seems born immortal, only to grow into its mortality. This might be no more than the cycle of life. I recall my own immortality now, those over-long, boring, sun scorched weeks between the end of the school year and the county fair where I struggled to fill lazy hours and blanched at the threat of productively employing them. I seasoned those days with schemes, none ever maturing into concrete plans, dabbling rather than dedicating myself to satisfying even those. I lived with little more than time on my hands and that time weighed more than I could comfortably carry.

Not even summer turns out to be indispensable.
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Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat insists upon going outside very early in the day. There seems to be little she won’t resort to in getting her way on this, but she rarely has to work harder than a small attempt to smother me in my sleep. So far, she has not succeeded, and I suspect she would only disappoint herself if she did, for she intends to get me up, not put me under. Once out, she disappears for a half hour or longer. I follow her outside to lounge in my camp chair in the dark and talk myself into writing something in the predawn, weather permitting.

This morning started no different, but after that mysterious half hour, I spotted Rose batting at something beneath the office chair inside. This chair has five legs radiating from a central pillar, each with a roller wheel, creating a five-pointed star shape. Beneath that star this morning, a small mouse quietly evades Rose’s probing paws. It’s a perfect dilemma. The mouse need only step a few inches to avoid Rose’s pounces, but Rose must move a foot or more and hop a star leg to compensate. The mouse holds high ground. Rose cannot successfully counter. Finally, after several minutes of lop-sided combat, the mouse scurries off unseen by Rose, escaping through the sliding door and beneath my chair back into covering darkness. Rose, baffled at her quarry's disappearance, remained hovering beneath the office chair for the longest time.

She will spend much of the balance of the morning seeking out her lost prey.
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On the occasion of my dear friend Jamie’s death:

I last spoke with Jamie nine days before he left us. In that typical rambling conversation, I confessed that I had grown weary anticipating his departure, and had simply stopped doing it. “There will be ample time,” I respectfully explained, “to grieve after you’ve gone. I’d rather celebrate your presence while you’re here.”

“I wish you would,” he replied. “I’m tied of anticipating it myself.”

There! That got said.

Now I find myself challenged to recognize that he’s gone. I’d long wondered what I would do with my morning missives once this correspondent’s receiver disappeared. Would I continue to find good reason to crawl out of bed and take to the keyboard, and what of the result? Whom would I write for? Would these become mourning missives instead?

I could see the question going either way. I might continue to celebrate life or resent death, but I doubted I could stop writing. The habit seems in me by now. My self esteem depends upon pushing or nudging or carving something out of myself every morning; more necessary than breakfast, far more essential than sleeping in. I would continue the siphon I’d started so long before, such a very short time before.
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So very much of what I experience registers as unbelievable, and this poses a special difficulty for me. Most every object I interact with, everything I see, demands a faith-based acceptance because I simply do not understand it. Each seems too complicated, too subtle, or simply too unlikely to exist, yet there it is. I cannot comprehend how it came into being, even why it survived, so it fully qualifies as unbelievable. Unbelievable without a baseline of faith. Yet as unlikely as it clearly seems, it is, indeed, standing there in front of me.

I do not just speak of the things commonly classified as unbelievable, all the Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon technology, for these represent only the extreme edge of unbelievability. I speak to even the everyday commonplace, the routine incomprehensibles like water or beer. The bush I sit beside. The composite camp chair supporting me this very moment insists upon more belief from me than the old God of Moses routinely demanded.

I might be speaking to my own, deep and abiding cluelessness. Being pretty much uneducated, I have no grounding in the science of anything, but even science seems little more than a series of explanatory stories which utterly fail to adequately explain. Unlocking the human genome might enable much progress without ever elevating the elements analyzed into anything more than the metaphors they started out being. Science might represent no more than the systematic sharing of metaphors, the doxology of which leaves the fundamental mystery intact.
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Cherry Creek Mall would have seemed futuristic in the late sixties. Now it seems dated, a concept anchored in a transitory era not known for timeless design. At least the parking’s free. Everything else comes at a premium, and trades on that caché: You could get better, but you can’t pay more. Everything’s on sale today so you won’t have to pay more to get less than you would have ever voluntarily paid for.

Cherry Creek Mall looks like a three quarter scale duplicate of the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, Virginia, doubtless owned by the same property management company. They’ve thoughtfully provided comfortable couches and chairs for bored and terrified husbands like me to cool our heels while the spouse browses, except these islands of neutrality also hold HUGE television screens silently showing tennis matches and golf tournaments. (Is golf only played in tournaments?) I avert my face from the diversion.

I stand out of the traffic flow while The Muse hits a friendly cash machine, the only one in
Greater Denver. I make the innocent mistake of standing beside the entrance to The Body Shop which has a special sale on body butter. Buy one, get one free. The display reeks of artificial strawberry. My stomach turns and I move further down out of the direct scent stream to watch people queuing up for afternoon whipped cream caffeine at Starbucks. Slip over here for more ...


You might have noticed that my posts always feature a headline title which might or, often, might not very well describe the following content. Sometimes, the title makes no sense until the end, by which time you’ve probably forgotten the title in its obvious irrelevance. This effect might be influenced by the fact that I often leave the title blank until I’ve finished the first draft, being myself uncertain what I will be writing about until I’ve finished writing. Other times, the title draws from some deeply personal and therefore publicly subtle point nobody but I could ever discern. I generally start writing with some intention but no clear—or even terribly fuzzy—notion of where I’m going.

My best writing has never been sharply-focused. It instead toodles around, but toodles in a certain style; and if not a certain style, a rather satisfying one for me. A decent toodle in the car begins with intention but remains open to discovery along the way. It most definitely begins with a few rather simple ground rules. 1- We head off in a definite direction. North, for instance, and with 2- a purpose. Whether that purpose be lamb-looking or tomato-picking, we’re clear about what it is but 3- not at all clear about how we might satisfy that purpose. We 4- have not outlined the route, but merely declared the destination.
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I realized yesterday afternoon that even this sorry Deluxe Executive Home kitchen, with its forty watt Easybake® oven, could feel like home to me. I caught myself slipping into that state of mind where I find almost no separation between imagining and doing, perhaps the best possible manifestation of the elusive flow.

Around eleven, I realized that my old and dear friend Dan would arrive in a few hours. The Muse had supposed we would just eat out, and I’d presumed something similar until I flashed on the fact that Dan’s overnight on his way to Albuquerque would be my first opportunity to make a guest supper since before we left Takoma Park, nearly two and a half months ago. How could I pass up this opportunity?

I thought perhaps short ribs, slow roasted with veg, and a passel of those ping pong ball-sized golden beets.
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I warmly anticipate green chile season. I am counting the days. Most places, nobody knows from green chile. In New Mexico and some of Colorado, it’s a staple. When The Muse and I worked in New Mexico, we’d bring home on the plane a cooler filled with freshly roasted hatch chiles. That was before 911. Now, I suppose they’d be considered contraband. I’ve long wished to live in a land where the chile was indigenous. Now I do.

I’ve been scoping out the best chile roasters and am delighted to find that Heini’s, the produce stand I discovered on my first provisioning foray, rates as one of the very best. The permanent fireworks stands and Spanish language tax preparers’ parking lots along Federal Boulevard, especially down South nearer I-25, also feature prominently in the guides. These are neighborhoods normally shunned by proper Denverians, but not during Hatch chile season.

You buy ‘em by the bushel and they thrown ‘em into a hamster cage contraption that turns above propane burners.
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As The Muse and I returned from our morning spent measuring room dimensions and overseeing inspections at what we’re prematurely referring to as The New House, I mentioned that I sure am glad that I couldn’t have imagined the place we found to live here. My experience once again proved inadequate to support the kind of envisioning traditional New Agers of the manifesting class espouse. Like most people, my expectations have been completely prejudiced by my experience, so they couldn’t possibly have contributed to foreseeing any but the serendipitous kind, and the Western extents of greater Denver, Colorado seem unique enough to prevent stumbling upon any place alike enough to more than vaguely remind me of any familiar place.

We searched in vain. We were creating our own experience, I guess, frustrating ourselves by holding up our template for what we were looking for and finding only poor comparisons. The ceilings were universally too low, creating cave-like crawl-space halls and suffocating living rooms. I began to walk around with hunched shoulders, expecting to get stuck in some narrow doorframe. ‘House too small, yard to big’ almost became a mantra for these two piss poor monks meditating on the fundamental injustice of this world. We felt locked out. When had we lost the key?

We never had any key to any future, just one to a fondly-remembered past. Looking for then in the here and now might qualify as a lifestyle for us aging boomers, but it’s really no way to live: Looking for life in all the wrong places. For
then got all the goody sucked out of it on the way to now. Nothing but desiccation and a slowly evaporating puddle left behind.
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Today’s the day, the pointy end of time. I’ve kinda been avoiding it. Way back when yesterday was today, I felt the clear distance between then and now, but now that today’s arrived, I feel only immediacy. Now really is now.

It’s not like I haven’t been living in increasing anticipation of today, but I feel like a virgin in a biker bar here. I’ve heard an awful lot about today, I’ve even written some more or less authoritative pieces on the subject, but never experienced a minute of it until I woke up just now. Deflection doesn’t seem to work here because there will be no tomorrow for resolution. It’s now or never. (I wonder if today will be one of those days where only hackneyed metaphors work.)
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My invisibility astounds me. This lovely big old house contained me well. Sure, it quite easily and naturally kept the inside in, but it also served as a sort of fortress to keep the outside out. Now even that defensive barrier’s crumbling. The outside first started seeping in. Now it swamps the place.I wade through narrow aisles between impossible stacks of boxes. How could these few shelves and cabinets contain all of that? I declared my desk a safe zone. Nobody touch nothing on my desk. It’s now piled high with untouchables, but not for very much longer. Today, the possessions I retain control over will shrink to fill the usual suitcase and computer bag, and a box or two of otherwise unmovables, as if packed for a week’s trip rather than an indefinite journey.

The packers delight in their work as only menial laborers can. The more cerebral and physical professionals seem to lose a dimension or two when they engage. The menial laborer, the clever ones, find extra parts of themselves there. These four absolutely delightful women, two moms and their daughters, took off their shoes and got down to work. Yes, they prefer to work barefoot. Unashamedly. They engage in endless chiding, genuine laughter infuses their effort with warm meaning. While The Muse and I tried, and even took pride in how well we’d prepared for their arrival, their job entails little more than ordering our disorder, which seems to be the primary element common to all menial labor.
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Around the middle of the week following creation, day ten or eleven, God created grease. He was by then bored with the whole idea of creating anything even remotely resembling his image, having already finished a freak book full of variations on that theme, so he went all radical on himself and produced something volatile and certain to goad even the pious into taking his name in vain.

Great big gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts resulted. Schmaltz traces its heritage to that latter day variation, too. So does my kitchen. So does yours. Imagine a substance that repels water, the freaking liquid of life. Oh, it also attracts lint and odd bits of cat fur, and dirt, and the odd bug carcass. Clearly, grease ain’t looking for an invite to my table, or should not be. He doesn’t need to beg or plead for an invitation, though, because I voluntarily escort him into my kitchen, shake him up a martini, then let him have his way with me.
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Why Project Community?

I’ve been considering the work I’ve done, the work I understand. This piece might best explain what my workshop entails.

The Industrial Revolution brought with it some unintended consequences. We learned to structure work around teams, but alienated our broader communities. We learned to manage work by decomposing objectives into tasks and processes, but trivialized the very craftspeople we need to actually accomplish anything. We learned how to control execution, but at the cost of a deeper sense of discernible value. We could deduce one right, most efficient way, but lost sight of our purpose.

The Industrial Revolution also brought with it what Peter Drucker claimed was the single most profound innovation of the twentieth century, the professional manager. As organizations have flattened, the fiefdoms which justified the manager's role are disappearing, replaced by social networks more agile than formal departments and divisions. Most of the work accomplished by modern organizations is accomplished cross-functionally, by individuals mustered for the duration of an individual effort and endlessly reconfigured until people identify much more strongly with their current assignment's community than with any permanent manager, department, division, or company.
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Much of the stuff published in newspapers lacks passion. Sure, there’s ample theatricality, that studied intensity every theatergoer knows well, but little passion. I suppose passion counts as somehow unprofessional, ignoring reason and accepted logic that passes for well-formed commentary. The alternatives to passion read about as flat as a printed page, rarely elevating spirit, though sometimes awakening ire. Ire seems a poor substitute for passion.

Passion doesn’t guarantee cogency. Communicating coherently with passion, that’s one of those teenager poet dilemmas: those who feel as though they can pull it off, can’t. Like with love, deliberation ruins it. A certain kind of unconsciousness informed by considerable prior failed effort might be all that’s required, but that’s a lot. Slip over here for more ...



Engage with any consultant and you’re likely to learn that your organization needs a culture change. Culture grows rotten over time? Either a union’s insidiously trying to get more for less, or management’s playing that game; opposing parties stalemated pursuing the same end. Perhaps the organization’s moral compass’s gone haywire due to executive avarice. Maybe safety slipped down to Job #2 or #3 from its prescribed Job #1position. The possibilities seem endless. Pick your favorite reason, then get down to changing.

I can’t pick up The Washington Post without stumbling into waves of culture change recommendations: Congress “needs a culture change,” so does Metro, and The Pentagon, not to mention (which means I’m mentioning) the IRS, The DOE, DHS, and, of course, The State Department. Private companies, public organizations, even non-profits, seem in dire need of this most curious kind of change; or so say the editorial boards, attorneys general, independent watchdogs, blue ribbon committees, and every freaking inspector general in the DMV. Slip over here for more ...



It’s the middle of the night and I’m up writing, once again chased from fitful sleep by a bad dream. I’ll piddle around for an hour or two and maybe get back to bed before morning, I never know. This nightmare was a real bad one; no zombies or chainsaws, but real life events. I was taking a test.

Maybe I should call this Post Dramatic Test Disorder. Up until my seventh grade French class, I was fine with tests. I was considered one of the brighter ones, even segregated into a special gifted program; an active, enthusiastic learner. My experience in French class first exposed me to a regime of continuous testing, where the teacher, ensconced in a booth in the front of the room, listened in as students fumbled their way through their first attempt at foreign anything. I performed abysmally. There was no succeeding, only endless testing. Slip over here for more ...



We didn’t lose the place in The Great Dismemberment and Exile, when what was once our home, the center of our universe, turned into a house again. Our fond recollections romanticized the half-repainted place considerably. The first renters did more damage than good.

Three years ago, I returned to finish painting the outside, a six week epic obsession that enlisted family and friends. Last summer, I returned again, digging over the yard. This month, The Muse and I returned to find a bathroom needing replacing just as Spring pruning ached for attention. Both of the last two visits came under the guise of caring for our granddaughter, whom we call The Grand Other, while her folks dealt with her older brother’s extended illness, but that house, once our home, featured prominently, perhaps predominantly. Slip over here for more ...



I subscribe to the unlikely notion of parallel universes, though with a slight twist from the standard theory. In my multiverse, each unique world exists in the same physical space; not overlaid or merely adjacent, but completely co-equal, separated only by perspective. In my multiverse, the person standing next to me in the grocery line occupies a wholly distinct universe. We share nothing except the occasional illusion of sharing experiences.

My multiverse gets ramped up when I’m away from home. Home might be where my heart receives mail deliveries, but my feet are free to wander pretty much anywhere. Away from home, I experience more prominent sensations of inhabiting a multiverse. Out there, I less successfully anticipate other perspectives, and my tacit presumptions often surprise me. My sense of level, fair, decent, and normal strain before cascading alternative perspectives I could not have possibly ever imagined before encountering them, though I’m certain I will never understand any of them. Slip over here for more ...



My inbox overfloweth. So doth mine Facebook stream, Twitter feed, LinkedIn thread, Google+ queue, Pheed feed, newspaper, and neighborhood listserv. They swell with advice, people telling other people what to do, what the sender sincerely believes others should do/ think/ feel/ believe/ support. On rare occasions, someone will broadcast some personal insight, something they’ve personally decided to do without anyone else exhorting them. These bring sweet respite to the fetid wind that seems to otherwise blow nobody any real good.

I’ve been looking for any concrete evidence that telling anyone what they really should otta do in any way results in them following these instructions. I’m concluding that these exhortations might be for the sole purpose of feeding the exhorter and nobody else. Like the street corner screaming preacher, nobody pretending to be invisible as they slink by ever finds Jesus on their way past, though the preacher sure seems to. Perhaps the very form of the injunction shuts down the ability to follow the advice, or, I think more likely, telling just does not work. Slip over here for more ...



I seem to possess the superpower that enables me to mangle any form. Give me even a smallish index card-sized one, and I will quite reliably find myself unable to fit something into one, often several, of the handy boxes provided to contain information. I sometimes start on the wrong line, uncertain if the label hangs over or under the space provided, entering my name into the first address line. I run out of room by the bottom of the form or have a line leftover.

I score no better when completing surveys. Many forget to include a ‘none of the above’ choice, and most seem to insist upon an answer, however irrelevant my forced response might be. Slip over here for more ...



On the thirteenth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
the challenge of integrating
all the
cra ... er ... gifts she’d given to me.
The partridge, we’d long before roasted,
with a plum sauce en souffle.
The turtle doves still cooing,
day and night ... and every blessed day.
The three French hens are found out moping in the yard
after learning we didn’t much care for Heloise or Abelard.
The calling birds lost their cell plans, they say,
for overrunning their data cap in little more than a day.
I’ve now got rings on every finger
of what used to be a functioning hand,
as well as an especially ungainly one
on that adjacent thumb.
As of this morning, I count a full six dozen goose eggs,
with no end to the laying in sight.
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Some days I awaken obsessing about all I can’t do, recounting my innumerable failures to learn to do even the seemingly simple activities everyone else engages in without even thinking about them. For these, I remain the eternal rookie. No amount of repetition ever yielded mastery of these, and, truth told, I hardly hold out for any noticeable improvement now, having apparently already forfeited any possibility for improvement, radical or even small.

I consider myself a decent driver, but I should admit that I’ve not yet learned how to drive on freeways, beltways, turnpikes, or thruways. These are white-knuckle immersions for me, exhausting and terrifying. I suppose my experience stems from never having learned to pass on the right or change lanes without signaling, sprinkled with a deep aversion to driving fifteen miles per hour over the posted speed limit while riding the bumper of the car directly in front of me. I see the masters sanguinely engage in these apparently death-defying stunts, and feel bushwhacked every time. From on-ramp to off-ramp, I experience endless alarming surprises, as cars appear just where I never expected they would; without warning, without apparent strategy, other than to pass everything currently ahead of them; as if they were engaged in some kind of competition. Slip over here for more ...



Somewhere along about the Industrial Revolution, a subtle shift started in the kitchen. Before, it might have just been taken for granted that each meal would be unique. After, that each might properly aspire to become a replication. Cookbooks became books expressly not for cooks, but books for people who aspired to become chefs, and the purpose of cooking shifted a tiny bit away from creation into replication.

Before, Lord only knew what supper would be cooked on. After, every home featured a little industrial facility complete with gauged surfaces and uniform measures. There became right and wrong ways for employing this machinery. Recipes took over while intuition and craft fell ever further out of favor. Great grandma might have thrived on a pinch of this and that, but we now measure much more precisely, and what started as a small revolution eventually forfeited the very soul of our heritage. Slip over here for more ...



I despise Big Box stores. They scare me with their over-sized Elizabeth Ann shopping carts and maps purporting to show the location of everything. Saturday, The Muse and I entered one, looking for a simple household appliance, and ended up wandering over most of the floor plan before we discovered that the map had been mounted sideways, and we found someone who could tell us that they displayed this particular household appliance, not in the household appliance department, but on a different floor, next to the toilet paper department. Yes, they had a toilet paper department. Slip over here for more ...


Last summer, my dear friend Jamie learned that he was dying. That previously unexplained weakness in his arm, the doctor explained, seemed to be caused by ALS. While there’s no definitive test for ALS, he’d backed into the diagnosis by a scrupulous process of elimination. (Scrupulous process of crap, I mentally reacted to this news.) Having investigated every other alternative, the conclusion was clear. Jamie was dying. Not today, not tomorrow, but sooner, not later.

The philosophers insist that birth is the primary cause of death among all living beings Slip over here for more ...



I’ve launched today a new newsletter in preparation for my upcoming book, The Brief Consultant.

Why? I might have found a usable newsletter technology, one neither requiring me to hoodwink spam filters nor maintain special-interest email addresses. More importantly, though, it’s time. Perhaps past time.

Why should you be interested? Well, you’re probably a consultant. Most everyone is. Not many real consultants wear those intimidating suits. I know I didn’t have a clue what real consultants do when I first started consulting. This newsletter represents my clues.

Besides, I think this might be fun. Hope you decide to join me, then agree. Just fill out your email address in the handy box provided below and you’ll be good to go along with me.



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©2014 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved



Whatever the product or service might pose as, it’s always self on offer. The content gains little traction and seems transparent. They buy the person, the personality, never the product. This can’t quite amount to a clever branding strategy, either, since brand separates person from product, replacing self with some vacuous avatar. Marketing mostly fails because it’s also not about the (notional) market, but about self; present self, self in service rather than selfless servitude.

Despite what they insisted when I was in business school, connections occur by accident, never by clever strategy. Strategy might be the sole property of those who do not need it and could never use it, but feel compelled, perhaps for appearance’s sake, to look as if they could command manifestation. This observation might seem cynical rather than simple truth or even simpler experience. When they ask after my strategy for marketing the book, I feel ashamed, as if I really should have a strategy already or must immediately stop writing, stop creating, stop being that self I know so well, and start crafting what my experience understands could never positively effect anything. Then I go looking for my self again. Slip over here for more ...



P. G. Wodehouse wrote parodies. Bertie Wooster would try to pull some fast one which invariably backfired. Jeeves eventually bailed him out, but only after making sure that Bertie would get bitten a bit, but never really badly enough to dissuade from further misbegotten adventures.

I seem to create my own parodies, with The Muse playing Jeeves to my Wooster. The key to great parody might be the simple, completely human act of failing to hide something from someone else. The Wooster in me presumes he’s a lot smarter than he could possibly be, and that everyone else must be a whole lot dumber than they’re really likely to be. The result reliably produces parody. Slip over here for more ...



The way we proudly proclaim that we’re driven, you’d think we were cars or wagons, or maybe sheep. Driven to success does not, apparently, mean your mommy drops you off at the 7-11 so you can buy that Powerball® ticket. Executives insist that they drive performance, managers get held accountable for driving results, while individual contributors, the ones actually performing and producing, I guess they at least get a lift out of this.

The admission that data drives stopped being evidence of impotence about the time computers took to the desk top and Excel made everyone feel like real, live database managers. The following wireless revolution turned every action into some form of data to be sorted, sifted, stored, then mined. If you can’t measure it, they say you can’t manage it, but that’s no longer enough. Now, measures must be backed up with data because, contrary to what executives and managers proclaim, data’s really driving. Slip over here for more ...



Since I was in the seventh grade, my story has included a chapter explaining how I don’t test well. In seventh grade, I learned how to perform poorly on tests. Before then, I seemed to posses that innate ability The Muse still exhibits: I could pass most any exam I took. Since then, exam success has seemed more crap shoot than skill-related, a random event unrelated to what I know. I suppose my current state springs from my exposure to the French language, for which, like all languages foreign and domestic, I had little aptitude. Later, of course, this budding ability migrated into math, then most every subject.

I could be excused for thinking I was somehow growing dumber with each passing year, and I remain grateful for that high school guidance counsellor who headed off deeper discouragement by convincing me that I was not, as he phrased it, “college material.” I most certainly was not, and perhaps most persuasively because I then, much more than now, believed that the purpose of testing might probably be to assess my level of retained knowledge, whatever that means. The Muse insists that she can pass most any test, and always could, because she somehow figured out that testing could never say much about who she is or what she knows, but might instead assess how skillfully she navigates that alien environment, one almost completely unlike the real, lived world, where right and wrong answers exist, like some prehistoric bug suspended in amber. Maybe she’s just a good guesser, but I don’t think so. Slip over here for more ...



I feel about as adaptAble as the typical stone. I might hail from some native stream bed, but I could find myself anywhere: sidewalk, lawn, kitchen sink, inside some shoe. I suppose my very presence suggests some sort of native adaptAbility—I mean, I AM there, after all—but I feel more natively alien there than just another homebody. I feel like the resident sore thumb.

I stay on guard, watchful, uncertain of the local customs. I suppose I plot and plan, developing contingencies before engaging, because I really don’t know, can’t anticipate how even the most otherwise pedestrian excursion might turn out. Consequently, I seem more shadow than substance. Slip over here for more ...



I've been receiving ALS Challenges for the last couple of days, and I've been considering how to respond. I thought about filling a bucket with ice water then pouring it over my head while making a video of the experience, but The Muse is out of town this week and the cats, though talented, refuse to apply their skills to videography. If an ice bucket empties on my head and there's no video recording of it, could it have really happened?

I take a cold shower every day, more than one daily in the steamy summertime. I've long done this even in winter to remind me that this life isn't just comprised of warmth, but shocking experiences, too. They help keep me awake. Cold showers seem so same-old, same-old to me, and represent no real challenge. Slip over here for more ...



I calibrate each year twice, on New Years and on my birthday. Though nobody drops any lighted balls in Time Square in mid-August, my birthday feels the more significant milestone point. New Year seems to be one of those generally agreed upon celebrations, like George Washington’s perennially Monday birthday, which consensus set for the convenience of long weekend Federal employees rather than to denote any real event. I have documentary evidence that I was, indeed, born on the nineteenth of August, on a kitchen table in a country doctor’s house that served as the hospital in a tiny Eastern Oregon town.

Those comprise the facts. The rest of my beginnings might be no more than myth, for every human’s early life comes shrouded in the proud if unreliable testimony of sleep-deprived parents and siblings too young to remember with any clarity. A new child suspends history for a few years. No matter how carefully anyone might try to chronicle the baby steps, most of them will go unobserved by anyone but the child, and he will not yet have become entrained in the curious art of observation, and merely experiences without jotting even a memory for future reference. Slip over here for more ...



Jerry Weinberg used to insist that non-fiction must be a fictional notion, since all writing gets filtered through a writer first. Some so-called non-fiction seems more self-reflective than others, and perhaps this observation supports his point. Few authors, I suspect, ever get through to the bottom of writing anything without stumbling upon an unexpected, sometimes unwanted participant: self.

Likewise, Cyberneticist Heintz Von Foerster insisted that objectivity qualifies as a delusion that one could have an observation without the trouble of including an observer. The presence of an observer engaging in the observation nudges the notion of objectivity nearer the subjective end of the scale, a relative value rendered in rather definite terms. Since no observer can be certain of just how they filter what they report they observe, we might just be better off remembering Weinberg’s Insistence: non-fiction can’t exist. Slip over here for more ...



I suppose every writer lives in an echo chamber, a place where the primary dialogue unfolds while words appear. The echos sometimes deafen to the point that the writer cannot quite comprehend what’s appearing on the page, as if reading while a background radio’s playing way too loud. The words on the screen seem impenetrable then. The story, lost in inept translation.

For me, writing’s best attempted early in the morning, well before the sun comes up, before the sound of speeding Metro trains starts chewing up the solitude. If I’m up and doing in the wee hours, I might be almost accomplishing something. My head, which never seems to completely shut down even during sleep, seems most manageable then; most malleable, too. Words flow, meanings emerge, I feel my own presence. Slip over here for more ...



I’d grown tired of my story long before I caught myself repeating it. I’d felt my enthusiasm fleeing whenever I mentioned the unfinished book, not initially noticing the connection. One can apparently repeat some actions over and over and over, without noticing. Then I caught myself simply being myself, and blushed. The second time I caught myself, I began to understand the source of my shame.

My story seemed even to me to have grown into an excuse rather than an adventure, an explanation which could not possibly impart understanding. If it baffled me, how could it do any better with anyone else? My words and my music had fallen out of synch; I kept right on singing. Slip over here for more ...



I’ve hung enough wallpaper to understand that seamlessness qualifies as no more than a relative term, one of many haranguing me these days. Each declares itself by what it is not, dogs whose sole distinguishing characteristic seems to be the absence of barking. Be wary of the dog that never barks, as if you’d ever know it was there.

With wallpaper, seamlessness means one cannot easily discern where the seam might be, but it’s an optical illusion; one built upon both clever design and skillful application. Look closer, though, and you won’t miss them, for they are there. Slip over here for more ...



Because our relocation to the East Coast was kinda forced, we never divorced the left coast when we moved back here. That change left ragged liaments from our former rooting which encouraged us to feel exiled for the longest time. We decided last New Years, by fiat, to declare the exile over, but the connections remain. My excursion back into that space only re-encouraged those connections.

One should never revisit the scene of any crime or blessed event, lest the witnesses implicate you. They were there. Though you might strenuously deny your presence, they’ll have you out, and your credibility should plummet. But I didn’t deny my presence, I more than implicated myself. I explicated myself, kimono wagging in even that slight breeze. I’m exposed as a principle. I have no credible defense Slip over here for more ...



I’ve long contended that the best stuff begins under false pretenses, but I’m only beginning to appreciate how close this is to a universal law. I might restate it as ‘all pretenses prove false,’ though that statement feels altogether too radical. It’s probably true, though.

Many have written, some even eloquently, about the importance of purpose. I saw a report on a recent study which suggested that people with clear purposes might live longer than those without them. And I’ve fussed plenty in my life, trying to identify The Purpose behind whatever I was intending to pursue. Of course, even in those rare instances where I could distill my aspiration into a single motivating meme, I’d stumble across better or multiple better along the way. Crossing the finish line, I would find that I’d satisfied a purpose I could not possibly have seen or appreciated before departing. Slip over here for more ...



I take in most of my information through my ears. My eyes routinely lie to me and The Muse insists I’ve never been very well connected to my rumored sense of touch. I can tell when supper’s done cooking by the smell, but I live most of my life in dialogue; most often with myself. I can be found with my headset plugged in, listening to some podcast, where I cannot hear you calling my name. In short, I’m verbal and unsurprisingly auditory.

The past month, most of my dialogues have been with myself, a delightful companion. I’ve forgotten to plug in while weeding, for instance, and found the company so delightful within my portable echo chamber, that I’ve been playing my own soundtracks and following my own, personal inquiries. I become a machine then, able to work through otherwise long hours, finishing refreshed and surprised at the aches I find lingering. My step son can’t quite comprehend how I manage to complete so much, but my secret might lie in the fact that I’m not really working when working, but chatting with myself. Slip over here for more ...



About 90% of painting requires no paint. Preparation so dominates every job that the act of painting nearly qualifies as a vacation from the real work. In the paint store, 90% of the shelf space does not display paint, but preparation supplies. On the job, the paint cans idle while the would-be painter scrapes, sands, washes, caulks, and putties the surface in question. Calling such work painting seems equivalent to calling writing punctuating.

This is honorable work, one that discloses quite a lot about the one engaging in it. The finished product might well out-live the creator; each brush stroke potential legacy. The next one in line will know almost everything worth knowing about the previous painter of this particular surface; their patience or lack thereof, their taste, their values, their skill. Slip over here for more ...



Twenty five days into this adventure and I’m almost smothering on change. Sure, I’m still reveling in the familiar differences of my oldest digs, and I’ve been digging in the most familiar dirt, but the sideshows seem to threaten to overwhelm center stage. Look, it was straightforward. I’d watch The Grand Other, maybe putter around in the yard a bit, but The Other claims some mornings, “I don’t want to be babysat!”

”Okay,” I respond, “then we’ll grandpa sit today. You watch me.” And she does. Slip over here for more ...



I realized yesterday afternoon that I’d been here for two and a half weeks. I have a terribly long list of undone objectives, and I’ve been bustin’ my freaking hump every day. The gentility we found here before was supported by more grunt work that anyone should ever mention. Tough to reclaim that in a few days, even if those days happen to be the longest of the year.

The connections between the individual tasks take the largest toll. Wait times—for promised estimates, application forms, through the untenable hottest hours of the day—extend even the smallest tasks into tomorrow or next week. My body stiffens and aches, discouraging me from extended repeat performances, especially after a particularly productive yesterday. I see progress without feeling it. My ideals shift around tenacious realities. Slip over here for more ...



I despise learning. It disrupts my internal model of how this curious universe works, threatening me and my identity. It feels more like dying than living, more like influenza than like nurture. I don’t mind acquiring information, but reconfiguring that aging mental model hurts.

The Grand Other learns quite a bit every day. I understand why, by the end of the day, her mood devolves to cranky. Much of what she’s learning, she’s learning from teachers who seem unaware that they are teaching her anything. She a mynah bird and a skilled impressionist, mirroring almost everything she experiences. Slip over here for more ...



Progress might be the persistent illusion that something’s getting done when we’re merely rearranging deck chairs. I don’t say this to denigrate any of the fine deck chair rearrangers in any crew, for they often perform masterfully. Their’s is a performance, sometimes tremendously satisfying for both themselves and their audience(s), but it will not last. It will not settle anything. Nothing will be finished; nothing done.

I believe a balance persists through each iteration of any activity, all the elements interconnected. I can shove and dig, wash and paint, curse and praise without changing this balance, for the balance persists in spite of what I might do with the intention changing anything. I can even stand back at any convenient punctuation point and note how far I’ve come without ever knowing how far I still have to go. The effort might seem over, but it is more likely infinite; endless. Slip over here for more ...



I have no idea if I’ll ever live in this house again, this place we called home, the one we labeled The Villa Vatta Schmaltz because we felt as though we’d fallen into a vat of Schmaltz when we found it. Or was it that this house found us? This was no mere investment property. We did not even think about potential ROI. I’d never made a penny in real estate, perhaps because I’d never considered real estate investment-grade. One should never, according to my ethics, invest in anything as personal and sacred as a home. One moves because one’s moved. ROI sours the well.

Well, circumstances being what they became, we could no longer live here, though we retained the usual sense of responsibility associated with any real home. From three thousand miles away, we’ve had some difficulties overseeing or even very significantly influencing much that happens here. The place has a life of its own in our absence. We play catch-up with either an abstract ideal or a deeply-seated responsibility whenever we come back. Slip over here for more ...



Lewis and Clark and their entourage walked barefoot across a significant part of what is now Montana. Oh, there were small cacti underfoot, too. I never expect hurt to play much of a role in my adventures, but he always seems to find some way to insinuate himself in there. Drag a load of prunings to the pile and some muscle pulls funny. A hand unaccustomed to pulling that hand plow across rocky soil swells and aches the next morning. Halfway through the adventure, gravity starts pulling harder and the internal metronome assumes a slower cadence. Frantic fractures into slower motion and the goal seems to shrink further into the future than it stood before the adventure began.

I woke hurting this morning. Slip over here for more ...



For a four year old, truth seems a fungible commodity. She can and does generate more than her fair allotment of crocodile tears, but remorse seems to live only almost as long as the typical anemic fruit fly. She personifies expediency, equally savoring ill-gotten and properly-earned gains. She plays her grandparents as if the price tags still hung limply from our straw hats. She plays pretty much everyone, for the universe does in fact circle around her.

Pure ego must need such innocence to thrive. I lost that innocence long ago, trading up or down, depending upon your perspective, for more of the other stuff. My shriveled sense of self benefits from these immersions in a four year old’s centrism, though I’m apparently unable to replicate it for myself. I remain the boss, however, in matters involving permissions, even though I know full well she’s often misrepresenting her needs. She’s teaching me to say “No!” more emphatically, but also more lovingly. Slip over here for more ...



Visiting the old home town moves me to tears. Nostalgia, that curious force that opposes the notion that one cannot go home again, kicks in whenever I show up here. I ache only a little bit for the good old days, which were neither that good nor particularly old then. I’m moved by the hospitality.

Maybe absence does make hearts grow fonder, or perhaps the simple prospect of my leaving again makes it easier for others to appreciate my presence. My temporary presence might collapse what would otherwise swell into onerous obligation, freeing both my generous hosts and I from the normal day-to-day complications permanence insists upon. Slip over here for more ...



Aging seems to occur in insignificant increments. For most of most of our lives, we experience life as a relative timelessness with no more than brief glimpses of change. We ride a slow-motion train, destination well-known if largely unacknowledged, arrival indeterminate. I seem about as old as I ever was, though not quite as young as I used to be.

My mom was in the hospital again this week, admitted for observation after a bout of unresponsiveness. Her Parkinson’s might have spitballed her. The doctors couldn’t say anything but that she seemed not nearly ill enough to admit as if her condition were treatable, and well enough to release her back to her assisted living apartment where her needs overwhelm the staff. The doctor advised that we should expect to see a fairly rapid cascading of ill effects, each of which have more or less haunted her all her adult life, but now seem to be conspiring together against her survival. Slip over here for more ...



I built the composter first thing, before we’d moved all the way into that HUGE house. After years living in a tiny apartment with nothing more than a few containers for a garden, I was ready to become a real gardener again, and gardening demands tilth, well-rotted organic material, and that means composter.

I used plans from James Underwood Crockett’s Victory Garden book, what he called his Cadillac Composter. Three spaces of about a cubic yard each. The left-most for fresh material, the middle for half-done, and the right for the finished stuff; a simple, heavy wooden frame encased in chicken wire and landscaping cloth with boards stacked in milled grooves along the front. I bought a box of composting worms and started collecting every bit of organic waste I could get my mits on, but not grass clippings. Those sour the mix and are better left on the lawn, anyway. Slip over here for more ...



I hear trouble’s boiling over again in the Middle East. Somebody said Boehner’s still mumbling, explaining as malfeasance unintended consequences. Near as I can tell, the volume and velocity of rhetoric remains unchanged, except for the unmissed absence of one usually attentive observer. I scan the headlines of this small city’s daily, my Washington Post subscription suspended for the duration of this adventure, but no news seems terribly new.

The World has shrunken to about the size of a familiar backyard, Slip over here for more ...



I swear I could spend most of my days roaming around in my head. Well, I do spend many of my days there. In the East, especially in the sweltering summertime, head space seems far preferable to anyplace outside. There, the sun rises and sets like a wet blanket, varying only by the smallest degree between morning, noon, and twilight. That sun slinks through his days, and I seem to slink right along with him.

Here, I set the alarm for four am, as if anticipating some grand performance. I sit on my brother’s patio, scanning the brightening eastern horizon with a child’s enthusiasm, and the sunrise performs entrancing magic tricks. Of course my brain’s clicking away all the while, but engaging with that world rather than disengaged with it. Slip over here for more ...



History used to live in books, large tomes featuring sepia photos of people wearing suits while farming. Now, it follows me around like the neighbor’s cat, a quiet, constant presence. I’ve spent so much of my life in this town, like a wheel spinning in place, that I find ruts most everywhere I look. I’ve dug this dirt before, and I recognize then remember the small idiosyncrasies each plot carries and every plant exhibits. I’ve resolved most of these difficulties before. They’re back again in slightly different guise.

I took my sweet time the first time through, thinking I was changing for the ages, but age seems determined to convince me that nothing I do will preserver beyond a season or two. Slip over here for more ...



There’s a secret in this house. Though nobody’s even whispering it, everyone feels its presence. Deep, dark, dreaded, endlessly fretted over, nobody goes unconscious around it. It hurts to hold it, even more to keep from mentioning it. Visitors can’t quite understand.

I make up stories explaining why this might be. They range from generous to scathing; each fiction. I wonder if the shame I sense might be fictional, too.

Might not a fictional joy elbow her way into this tragedy? She would be no more real than the unmentionable. She might even maintain anonymity by being unspeakable herself, but leave a palpable enlivening behind her. Slip over here for more ...



I remember a pristine garden, edges sharp, beds clearly purposed, shrubbery freshly shaped. I recall the textures leftover after sweating out a particularly recalcitrant stump, the scrubbed-clean scent of the dirt I purposefully disturbed, improved, then raked smooth. My arm still holds a small sore spot from carrying tub-loads of castoff out to the refuse pile, as if I’d never quite recover from that transformation. As if that work would be permanent. As if I’d accomplished something.

But this world tends towards weeds, which means my work here must always be at least partly composed of cleaning up and clearing out. Planting ain’t the least of it and harvesting hardly a blip on a lifetime’s radar; passing fancy. Prepping and schlepping account for much more than 90% of owning anything. Little sitting back to rest on laurels when that laurel bush really needs pruning. It will always need pruning. Slip over here for more ...



The Muse asked me to ask whoever was sitting in the seat next to me if they would be interested in moving ten rows closer to the front of the plane so she could sit next to me. I think the wiry guy wearing the camo ball cap in that seat opined as how he figured he was just fine where he was. I flashed The Muse the no deal sign and settled in. “I gawt m’ shit up there dow’ here already.”

I never did learn this guy’s name. Never thought to ask. I secretly labeled him Demosthenes because he spoke as if he had a mouth full of marbles. Sounded like Amarillo, Texas to me, though he claimed to live in Arkansas; well, Ar-Can-sawr. I later learned that his father hailed from West Texas. My ear’s getting better Slip over here for more ...



The Muse and I declared our exile ended last New Years. After five years’ separation from where our hearts once thrived, we tumbled into a love-the-one-you’re-with acknowledgement that permanent separation might not quite work as a lifestyle. Whatever the shortcomings, subtle and obvious, of living on the edge of Washington, DC, however unlike the ‘real’ Washington, we’d be better off just splicing in here.

I suppose some people might find the opportunity to be born in the right place and the right time and never have to migrate from there, but I suspect their number continually shrinks. Most, it seems, come from somewhere else, and whether that place was heaven or hell, the gradient between then and now requires some splicing together. The exile perspective presumes no splicing, though I’m uncertain if unspliced could ever be real. Slip over here for more ...



I admit that when I first heard about the Project Management Institute’s initiative to turn project management into a profession, milk snorted out of my nose. I knew, without possessing an ounce of prescience, where their effort would lead. I wish I could have been surprised, but I’m not.

Professionalism seems more religion than guarantee. The Golden Lie insists “increasing professionalism will improve quality,” but there’s little evidence of that. Twenty years after PMI began its professionalism push, projects succeed and fail at about the same rate they always have and always will. There seems to be little correlation between knowing about how project work is supposed to be done and improving the quality of that work. Slip over here for more ...



About half of all divorced people suffer from borderline personality disorder. These are not the same people diagnosed with it, but those who live downwind from it, for their lives become chaotic and unpredictable. Those who actually have this disorder seem to be riding in the front car of the most extreme roller coaster imaginable. They like it.

This idea probably steps over that dreaded line, well into severely bad taste territory, but I’ve had a hard week. Sardonic humor helps. Sometimes. Slip over here for more ...



I say I’m getting back to normal, but I doubt anyone feels that way the DayAfter. The holiday’s past, the short vacation’s over, but who feels normal then? Besides that twinge of familiarity huffing up the hill with me, the easy oblivion that routine always brings, this does not feel normal at all. It feels almost as alien as the first day on the job. I’ve been off the merry-go-round for a few cycles and I do not feel dizzy anymore; and I do not miss the easy disorientation that passes for normal most days. This morning tastes fresh. Not even the espresso bitters its sweetness.

I might have a choice today. The break in the routine disrupted long-preconscious patterns, and I woke up on purpose today; with purpose. I felt, in the absence of the usual yoke, a real sense of destiny, of capability, of present possibility. I could not slip more deeply back into my pillow to dread this day coming. I could make it different, create a new normal, and not repeat the patterns that tired old normal seemed to insist upon Slip over here for more ...



I understand that in the Irish tradition, marriages were proposed by the hopeful groom asking his prospective bride if she would consent to being buried with his family. This strikes me as both audacious and entirely appropriate, since my own family’s history can be plotted by clusters of gravestones in only a few, very distinct locations. Whatever the vagaries of westward migration and modern rootlessness, this tradition shows every promise of surviving even this century.

In more ancient times, of course, cemeteries were largely family affairs, a corner of pastureland, perhaps atop a hill, set aside for this unwanted but necessary service. Visiting the old home place included a trek to that hilltop to remember the prior inhabitants, too. But as we began settling into and around cities, it became fashionable to set aside community park land for these purposes. Slip over here for more ...



In this culture, deep truth seems indistinguishable from deep cynicism. We learn at an early age to deeply discount the (air quotes) wisdom of anyone more experienced, AKA: older; anyone, in other words, who might know better. Just because they’ve never yet seen anything like MY brilliant strategy work, doesn’t mean it’s not brilliant. Or that it won’t work. Enthusiasm trumps experience. Naivete supplants knowledge. Youth must make its own mistakes, which tend to be the same mistakes their elders made in their time.

I’m feeling older now, probably because I have grown older. I notice my age in my growing inability to feel cynical about anything, and also in my growing acceptance of what matters. I once believed that I might have stumbled upon a bit of radically new knowledge. I now understand that my elders had staked claim to both that knowledge and its adjacent folly long before I appeared to deride them. Slip over here for more ...



A cautionary tale in two stanzas; a reminder to myself, perhaps to you, too.

My two most dreaded activities: promising and footnoting. I despise these when I get downwind of others doing them, and hate myself when I catch myself inflating these useless balloons. Political speech overflows with promises. Academic writing smothers beneath footnotes (and parenthetical asides). I am more capable of promising than anyone should be. The past no longer cares where anyone learned anything. Frequent reverent reference to the source suggests only denial on the part of the story-shower. Don’t tell, just show. Lecturers and scolds commonly exhibit these flaws. Slip over here for more ...



Nothing seems to work very well without it. Push, shove, wink, nudge, nothing really makes anything better without some ability for it to hear itself. Without some mysterious coherence, we’re never more than the simple sum of our parts, and often much less. No instruction manual ever showed how to create or even install coherence. For most, it’s either there or not; and might be the most commonly overlooked component. We might not consciously notice its absence.

I believe we each can feel its presence, though we might not have a ready name to assign to it. We might mistakenly ascribe its effect as luck, or synchronicity, perhaps superior design, though no spec sheet ever prescribes its presence. Only charlatans ever promise to deliver it. Only rubes ever agree to accept that delivery. It might be the rarest element, sufficient without ever approaching necessary; the cherry on top. Slip over here for more ...



Even a half-assed consultant can see far more choices than even their most insightful client ever could because they’re not climbing the spiral staircase, but watching their client climb. Their perspective mostly goes to waste, however, and could not possibly help their client see. Long consulting engagements often start with the so-called consultant trying to persuade their hapless client to see what they could never see from where they stand. Should the client say they can see what their ... ahem ... consultant just directed them to imagine, the half-assed consultant might feel a burst of validation without realizing that they just hobbled rather than helped.

I’ve long espoused the conviction that change arises from choice. I don’t always understand the more subtle point that choices seem scarcest whenever someone’s stuck, and I can (really, I CAN) proliferate choices forever for anyone else, but to no useful end. Until the client sees a choice, he cannot make a choice, and who knows where the insight necessary to see alternatives comes from? I don’t, though I used to believe that I did. I didn’t. Slip over here for more ...



Reason, long-presumed to be the only thing other than fashion separating us from the chimps, seems over-rated. What the old, reliable predicate calculus can represent kind of skirts around the edges of human difficulties, but we rely upon it anyway; probably over-rely upon it. Just because there’s no reasonable way to resolve something doesn’t limit choice much. Limiting choices to only reasonable ones might be the most common cause of modern difficulty.

I subscribe to the perhaps delusional belief that reason makes a better excuse than it does an imperative. Much of what everyone does every day makes little sense, it just works. If it has to make sense to even qualify to be tried out to see if it might work, we shouldn’t need to make any excuses if we’re stuck. We know the cause and it is us. Slip over here for more ...



Hooey’s hard to spot. It seems to show up dressed up like anything else; sometimes professorial, other times, harmless clown; maybe a touch pissed off, or just plain hard-to-stay-on-point distracted. We’re all prone to slip into our disembodied selves; The BriefConsultant, too.

I almost never catch myself slipping into my second person, where a disembodied ‘he’ replaces me. I’m a zombie then, looking for fresh brains, undead but not yet realizing it. I feel strangely powerful when I pad myself behind some projected persona rather than presenting myself as just my little old self. I can spew mindless he-mes as if ithey were genuine self-reflection, and I’m usually the last to know. Again. Slip over here for more ...



Falling Cow
We live in an ever-changing world, but we live within a nominal (noun-centric) language. We take snapshots of our experiences, turning motion into statuettes, verbs into nouns, then respond in kind; rather woodenly. Our representations bushwhack us a lot. We might live more securely within our language—within our objectified representations of this world—than we ever do out there where nothing ever stays the same.

I sometimes suffer from a form of noun poisoning. I’ve bestowed a name, a good meme-y one, then strut around as if I’ve conquered it, though it wasn’t an ‘it’ until I objectified my sensory experience into that handy pocket size. I doubt that anyone could ever muster a completely proper characterization. I deal in impressionistic portraits, hardly photographic quality. You probably do, too. Slip over here for more ...



StepTooFar stands prominent on the list of common unknowables. Sure, I can know in retrospect that I took a fateful step, but until then, I’m probably just hypnotizing myself again. I mention StepTooFar here because it well represents The Common Unknowables, pseudo-information everyone seems familiar with ... when observed in someone else, and generally clueless about whenever we’re doing it to ourselves. We do these to ourselves.

These are delicate subjects. Only the most dedicated masochist enjoys awakening from this dream, even though the dream seems to be dooming him to an unwanted fate. It seems way too late for anybody to do anything about much of anything. Fate seems to have already won. What now? Slip over here for more ...



“At some point during this engagement, you’ll very likely feel overwhelmingly justified concluding that you’ve contracted with the most inept consultant in the universe,” The BriefConsultant cautions his prospective client. “What we do then will determine the success of this effort.”

There, I’ve done it again. I’ve tried to chase off another client. Some won’t be so easily dissuaded, but others will. You see, I’ve deliberately committed a taboo, and one of the more powerful ones, too. Ineptitude, or, more properly stated, the appearance of ineptitude, might outrank malfeasance on the Must Be Avoided List. A stumble quite easily amplifies far beyond mere accident to tarnish even the most otherwise innocent reputation. Generosity doesn’t seem very high on anyone’s to-do list. Slip over here for more ...



Not everyone can pronounce my surname. I suppose it has too many consonants for some. For them, the sch comes out as ess and the ltz sounds like an unadorned s. Schmaltz becomes smalls. It’s okay with me. It reminds me to focus upon the small rather than the huge.

“Let me paint you a broad brush overview, Mr. Smalls.” Every client tries to first show me a big picture of their difficulty, but I’m listening for small things.

BriefConsulting doesn’t scale, but it doesn’t need to scale. How would The BriefConsultant influence an enterprise-wide initiative? Certainly not by focusing upon the enterprise, whatever that is. Size serves as a distraction, a distancing abstraction when scaled beyond small. Slip over here for more ...



Have you noticed how we structure our stories? They seem to start with good intentions before startling themselves with some surprise disappointment, then finish with either a redeeming flourish or a catastrophic crash; saved or doomed. Maybe no experience qualifies as a story without satisfying this rough plot outline. The most believable stories seem to be the most redemptive ones. Life doesn’t play out very much like this, but our stories about life certainly do.

The distinction between story and reality seems difficult to maintain. Stories too easily sneak across that unguarded boundary to inhabit the place real life lessons used to live. These invasions tangle up expectations, leaving even the most mindful anticipating salvation or doom, and little else. Clients call the BriefConsultant when anticipating doom, seeking some kind of salvation. Slip over here for more ...



Management closely trails leadership as the presumed one-size-fits-all prescription for danged near everything. When a project fails to satisfy expectations, we immediately commence to blaming the absence of either 1) leadership, or 2) management, then set about securing more of these apparently indispensable elements.

The BriefConsultant might receive a panicked telephone call about this time, when the earlier projected lifecycle threatens to become an absolutely unanticipated death spiral. Being a skeptic by nature, I almost half-listen as the prospective client recounts the many surprising L and M shortcomings so recently and shockingly uncovered. I’ve heard the story so many times before, only the reported color of Goldilock’s shoes varies from prior tellings. Slip over here for more ...



Software developers have created an encyclopedia of reusable routines they call patterns, under the notion that many systems perform similar functions and so should probably use the same processes to accomplish them. They repurposed this idea from the field of architecture, where Alexander proposed what he called A Pattern Language to describe otherwise indescribable common design aspirations. Both ideas seem founded in the modern notion that reinventing wheels constitutes wasted effort. Might as well leverage others’ work.

The BriefConsultant doesn’t think like this. While it might seem perfectly possible to classify any observed activity into a pre-existing grammar of actions, I find little leverage in this pigeonholing. BriefConsulting seems deliberately inefficient because it isn’t interested in pattern matching, but pattern pulling; patterning. Slip over here for more ...



BriefConsulting doesn’t deal in universals; BriefConsultants like me were never persuaded that we could be privy to any of the secrets behind even one of the multitudes of One Best Ways. I remain skeptical when encountering anything labeled Best Practice, curious about who licked that label before sticking it on, and why. Neither advocate nor adversary, not over-bearing or objective, I start with a BlankPage. I must seem curious in every possible sense of the word.

I can’t rightfully say that I know much, but I do hope to be learning. I try to acknowledge the here and now as here and now rather than then and there in disguise, and recognize that this moment fully qualifies as virgin territory. Nobody’s ever been exactly right here before. This fact disqualifies my experience but might more fully qualify my senses—my presence, should I somehow find the ability to sense the here and now; right here and now. Slip over here for more ...