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DoggedDays

DoggedDays
Pieter van der Heyden (engraver),
after
Pieter Bruegel (artist):
The Four Seasons: Summer (1570)


" … as if splooting somewhere in the middle of a frozen food aisle."


I abandon my bed just after midnight, wondering if night cooling has finally rid us of the previous day's heat. These Dogg
edDays of summer exhaust me. The Muse does not complain as I disappear to lie in front of a box fan or into the shadows of a lengthy mid-day nap, replete with disturbing dreams. These dreams further exhaust me, refreshment presently beyond my grasp. I hold my compass heading but make little progress. The Muse asks what I have in mind for dinner and I reply with a distracted, "Nothing," before resuming what I wasn't doing before she asked. Friends flee to the beach where fog and cool breezes bring respite. Here, wheat harvest continues and the air fills with chaff and dust and the scent of diesel engines. A flour mill burned down last weekend in Pendleton, victim of a bad bushing and an inattentive watchman. The initial fire was quickly drenched and a watchman posted to monitor for flareups. The watchman was pulled after a few hours and a couple of hours later, that fire flared and nobody was there to report the incident. By the time the brigade returned, the place had burned into a smoking shell, a total loss. Blame the DoggedDays of August.

August rhymes with exhausted.

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Mutualizing

mutualizing
Giuseppe Baldrighi: Lion (1750s)


" … this world is better off, too."


I start most days with a period of interspecies communication, Mutualizing, with Max our cat. He initiates these sessions. I'm uncertain about the details from his perspective, but I suspect that he's showing me appreciation and respect when he ambles into the library to hop up onto my lap and stretch out for a scratch and a purr. We share not even the odd verb, but I sense that we're conversing after a fashion. The chat always starts with some questions and tentative answers. Sometimes, he hesitates but consents to allow me to pick him up by the scruff and plop him onto my lap. Other times, he clambers up onto the chair back and climbs down my shirtfront. He quickly settles in, sometimes for no more than a minute—"Just checking in," he seems to say—and other times, he'd stay for hours if I didn't have business to attend to after an hour. He usually lingers for a half hour, sprawling, completely vulnerable, trusting and peaceful.

I cannot imagine a more reassuring way to start any day than to have a fine cat, who could easily choose sublime independence, decide to share some of his wildness with me, seemingly appreciatively.

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Sloughing

sloughing
Margaret Bourke-White:
World’s Highest Standard of Living [Silver Gelatin Print]
(1937)


"Arbeit macht frei!"


I fail to explain, even to myself, how I came to live this essentially binary existence where I'm either working hard or hardly working, producing something or Sloughing off. There seems to be no middle ground, or none that I've found. Even when I manage to tucker myself out, I have not even then earned a rest. What respite I grant myself, I account for as laziness, pure and simple. What rest I take, I consider sloth rather than rejuvenation, and I allow myself only the barest minimum. Beyond that, I start accumulating guilt about failing to properly apply myself. I consider myself to be a wasting asset, one which degrades, whatever I engage in, for I tend to fall short of full engagement, which would be a state with which I cannot quite relate, but recognize only by its absence. I'm confident that I've never experienced full engagement. I'm just a dabbler, I suspect.

I hear politicians divide our great population into two otherwise undifferentiated parts, the hard workers and the intolerables.

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Relentlessness

relentlessness
Jean Antoine Linck: Study of Weeds (1800-1850)


" … more like who I was when I started …"


I feel most impressed with the utter Relentlessness of this universe, where nothing, it seems, succeeds like excess. Particularly in this season, Summer, where I find myself up most mornings, dragging hoses, watering. Weeds which stand outside the watered perimeter thrive. I have no idea what they survive on, for the ground cracks and presents as distinctly unpromising, yet there's always something adapted to even the most wanting place. Give a patch of clover an inch and it will at least attempt to overgrow the whole lawn, growing stronger, shrugging off weed killer, multiplying before exponentiating with abandon. Each plant, each species, seems to lack a governor and quite naturally, Relentlessly, seeks dominion.

I speak emphatically about community, about giving and sharing, but our role models seem indifferent to such.

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Heap

Heap
Alfred Sisley: The Seine at Port-Marly, Piles of Sand (1875)


" … enriching our historical record …"


Future archeologists should be able to fairly accurately map our rhythm of life at The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, primarily by excavating our noble compost Heap. The Heap holds sequential record of our dining year from which even half-baked archeologists should be able to piece together a decent portrait of our preferences and practices. I noticed yesterday that we'd re-entered the Green Chile part of the year, which has always been squeezed in-between the cherry/apricot/plum Stone Fruit season and the now impending tomato time. We put up produce in turn, producing piles of pits and peels which we dutifully pile on top of The Heap, thereby laying down our gastronomic self portrait.

Very little goes to waste here.

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Unseen

unseen
Jacques Callot:
The Uneven One with a Cane, from
Varie Figure Gobbi (1616)


"I am also the sum total of what remains Unseen …"


The following day, my vision returned with a vengeance, in HDTV-quality as if to remind me of all that I had not been seeing, of all that I had not noticed, of all that had recently gone Unseen. I found it humbling to discover what I never really suspected, a prominent blindness. I gratefully never caught myself incapable of seeing. I never quite suspected the depth of my blindness, and presumed that I was experiencing just a slight reduction, a general fuzziness, but I had for months, perhaps a year or more, lost whole dimensions. The vision I experienced that next morning, following the cataract replacement lens clearing laser procedure, were nothing less than extraordinary. A fresh world presented itself to me, distracting in its detail. Colors brilliant, even the muted ones; the textures, profound.

I suspect that blindness must be one of those states that does not exist in any moment. It exists in reflection, by comparison.

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Seeing

seeing
Reijer Stolk: Gmünder See mit Traunstein (1906 - 1945)


" … no more than an annoying background mumble eliciting a muffled scream."


I might privately admit that over recent months, my vision had gone to shit, but I would never otherwise consider admitting this because vision, Seeing, seems such a personal and private experience. My optometrist commented—in no more than an aside, really—that it appeared to him that the lens installed during my cataract surgeries three years ago were starting to look a little cloudy. Cloudy, I thought? But I believed that the cataract surgery would be the last such insult to my eyes, to my vision, that they wouldn't require additional procedures. So much for belief, for I later learned that pretty much everyone who receives that surgery needs a follow-on procedure a few very short years later. I told my optometrist that I'd get back to him later on the subject, thereby entering that first stage of acceptance, denial.

A few weeks later, I'd grown weary of fuzzy perception.

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Installing

installing
Louise Pithoud:
Male and Female Bacchants Installing a Herm (1792)


"I consider them ours."


Installing comes after design and fabrication, and little of either of those earlier stages really prepares anyone for the final challenges. This is where idea finally meets its context, where imagination finds its anchor. Final boundaries and ultimate limits finally come into play. There was probably no way to fully prepare for this day other than to acknowledge it coming. The ruminating that dominated design matters little now. The overlooked will have their day. Last minute surprise will complicate the whole conception, a final reckoning occurs. Reputations might well be threatened and might be made. Be very afraid. It won't matter.

I warmly anticipated Installing the new front porch stair railing.

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Mac&Pleas

macnpleas_
Miep de Feijter:
Hans en Frans verkleed als Alkmaarse kaasdragers
[Hans and Frans work as
Alklmaase cheese carriers] (
c. 1928 - c. 1941)


" I eat my share warmed over …"


A time will come, because it always has, when I will once again be called upon to make "my" Mac&Cheese, my famous Mac&Cheese. My Mac&Cheese became famous because The GrandOtter liked it, or, more properly, loved! it. I made it for a few dinner parties, too, and many proclaimed it the very best they ever consumed. It thus became famous, though dinner party proclamations tend to be heavily lubricated and contextualized by a generalized camaraderie. Nobody ever openly criticizes dinner party dishes, and some gushing seems common to all of them, still, I had reason to believe that my Mac&Cheese was at least pretty good. I knew it was unusual, for I didn't use milk in my cheese sauce. I used stock, which makes a fine sauce without delivering what usually turns out to be a milk pudding sort of base. My Sauce Velout
é provides a better foundation for the cheese. I also usually avoid using actual macaroni in my Mac&Cheese.

Mac&Cheese is always, really about the cheese.

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IfOnly

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


" … slinked home without salvation …"


The Muse suggested a drive up to the top of The Scenic Loop to show her visiting nephew John a different part of this valley. We soon found ourselves standing beside a dusty road, threshing wheat in our palms, working on creating gluten balls for chewing. It's long been our practice in harvest season to glean a stalk or two from the periphery of a wheat field and wonder at the magic within them. The Muse counts forty-five kernels from one head, recalling how her father could count one head's kernels and fairly accurately project the bushels per acres he'd harvest from his field. The Muse reports word of bumper crops this year, with eighty bushels per acre on dry land and twice that from irrigated fields. Her dad counted forty bushels a bumper crop in his place and time.

We drive on, working that wheat paste as if it were chewing gum, up further into the mountains, since John lives in South Dakota and has rarely seen mountains.

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Periphery

periphery
Gustave Caillebotte:
Les raboteurs de parquet [The Floor Planers] (1875)


"I just live here."


When The Muse holds a gathering, I prefer to work the Periphery. I'll busy myself with some self-appointed responsibility perhaps only distantly related to the proceedings. I'll flit in and back out again and very likely spend the bulk of my time offline, on the back deck, perhaps, grilling something intended for the table later. I might greet a few people at the front door, but rather quickly disappear, only to reappear to lead a brief guided tour of recent home improvements. I'll suggest a beverage and see that it's delivered, stay for a brief conversation, then evaporate again. I'll contribute, but on my own terms.

I found it curious whenever I took to a stage as either a performer or a teacher that I never seriously intended to become anything like the center of anyone's attention.

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Break

break2
Gustave Caillebotte:
Study of a Man with Hands in His Pockets (1893)


"The Break seems beginningless until it doesn't."


Autumn sends a postcard sometime in August to preface the coming season. After a forever hot spell, one morning brings goose flesh or the strong suggestion that it might still exist, a distinct impossibility just the day before. Nothing never ends, not even nothing, not even that seemingly endless heat, the one that had so rudely interrupted Summer. Summer seems three separate seasons now that global warming has imprinted her presence. Early Summer's an extension of Spring, Mid-Summer's an ordeal, and Later Summer's Early Fall, clearly not yet Autumn, but reminiscent of it in the early mornings and later evenings. Later Summer seems a welcome respite, a Break from the frightening Mid-Summer melting point.

Cool eventually intrudes.

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Fittings

fittings
Mary Cassatt: The Fitting (1890–91)


" … we might just as well be satisfied with the process destined to ultimately delight us."


In the house I grew up in, the music room—the room with the piano and also the room where 'us kids' could isolate to practice our band instruments—doubled as the fitting room for my mom's seamstress business. She'd make wedding dresses and ball gowns, and she'd escort a steady stream of society ladies into that room to try on their new creations. Some pieces required multiple Fittings, as completion took on an iterative nature. There are apparently many elements of dress construction which can only be approximated without the person who will wear it present. Custom made clothing demands a great deal of patience. My mom would pin together seams for later sewing. Occasionally, she'd have to pull out the old seam ripper to completely redo something. It all seemed so exacting.

These childhood experiences tipped me off to the fact that complicated constructions do not come in one-and-done forms.

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Reward

reward
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardine:
The Attributes of the Arts and the Rewards Which Are Accorded Them (1766)


"I'll just have to wait and see …"


I sat in the dentist's chair feeling consigned to enduring my well-deserved penance. I had, after all, avoided dentists for more than a decade while I failed to work through a small trauma, a slight so minor, so seemingly routine, that I might have not even noticed, except I'd noticed and blown it all out of proper proportion, and there I was, collecting my just deserts. Except this work didn't seem all that onerous, especially when compared to how I'd for so long imagined it would be. Compared to my pre-catastrophizing, this was nothing. I imagined the same routine work being undertaken fifty years before under the technology and fumbling hands of my childhood dentist, Himmler Pearson, who always seemed to revel in the discomfort he imposed. More modern practices emphasize patient comfort. I almost expected to be offered a brandy and a Montechristo, but wasn't.

With little left to do but imagine through what once would have been the excruciatingly painful portion of the procedure, I began to consider what, if not punishment, if not penance, was I experiencing?

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Bloggering

bloggering
Edouard Vuillard: Orchard (1897)


"I seem to need to work in stone tablets."


I blog, and therefore, am. Am what? Well, a blogger for starters and by extension I suppose that I become a writer, though blogging isn't precisely what one might call writing, for blogging's pickier than simply writing. It requires considerable classification and codifying in order for the finished product to properly display and organize. I blog in series, relating all my production into quarterly segments, my current Againing Series, an example of this convention in action. Each addition, each fresh post, must satisfy a few qualifications before it can be published by posting. Each must have a unique title, for the blog software goes a little crazy when it encounters two identical titles, even when those titles belong to different series. Title must be unique, so, once I've decided upon a topic, which first often amounts to little more than a proposed title, I search both my blog archives and its Resource file to ensure that the proposed title has never been used before. I often find that I need to adjust what I thought would be the title to work around this uniqueness convention.

Molly or Max, my cats, might show up just about then, seeking breakfast and reassurance, providing distraction.

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Vectoring

vectoring
Jacob van Hulsdonck:
Still Life with Meat, Fish, Vegetables, and Fruit (c.1615–20)


" … a narrowing and no longer terribly elegant Broadway."


When my first wife and I moved to Portland, OR, in December 1975, we arrived as refugees. We marveled at the supermarket produce aisles after surviving two winters living in rural NE Pennsylvania, where produce seemed scarce off season. In Portland, all things still seemed possible. We took a main floor apartment on a bus route—by which I mean, the Belmont bus actually passed through our living room four times each hour— and we set about creating our future. Our future, like all futures always have, would get cobbled together by means of Vectoring, a process by which billions of possibilities get winnowed down to a single manifestation. Nobody actually understands how this process works because it has altogether too many moving parts and nobody stands positioned to monitor or even sense the presence of all of them, or even of most of them. We attend, instead, to the few within our purview and project what we expect to result.

The result famously manifests as something other than what we expected, and we might, as I did this weekend, consider how it was that Portland's present manifested out of its past.

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BagPoem

bagpoem
Yamada Hōgyoku: Dog with Bag Over its Head (1830s)


" … there could be worse fates than smothering on tradition."


Who knows where traditions get started? Who knows where they end? Some arise from innocent mistakes. Others seem more tenacious habit than anything resembling the presence of grace. A few seem genuinely sacred, in that neglecting to observe them seems more sin than oversight. Family traditions might hold no known origin, like the old apocryphal story about the preparation of the Easter ham, which had always included the traditional step of cutting one end off the ham. The youngest great-granddaughter asked her mother why she cut off the end of the ham and was told, "Because that's the way my mother prepared it." So the great-granddaughter asked her grandmother the same question and received the same answer. She finally asker her great-grandmother, who had apparently started the tradition way back during the Great Depression. "Because the only pan I owned was too small to hold the ham, Great-grandmother explained. Some traditions seem like metastasized necessities.

In my family, one tradition began as a small shortcoming.

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SynchronicitySwarm

synchronicityswarm
Yi Taek-gyun: Books and Scholars’ Accouterments
책가도 (冊架圖) (late 1800s)
Ten-panel folding screen; ink and color on silk


" … the research librarian remains a doubtful skeptic."


The Muse and I moved down the Portland sidewalk like the old hands we were, for she had just been recalling that I'd brought her to this neighborhood on her first visit, twenty-five years before. She said that she did not miss the bustle of living in a city, though, as we slipped around a clog of people doing jello shots and smoking at a sidewalk bar. The restaurant that used to tout its hundred beer taps now advertises its space for lease and this city seems weary and confused. From our hotel room, high atop an anonymous city center tower, I can look into the upper floors of a marvelous old tile-fronted office building, its upper floors just as empty as any abandoned warehouse, and no more elegant. New development continues, surrounded by vacancies and boarded up storefronts.

I feel enlivened by the variety, though, the juxtapositions attract my eye.

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Blistering

Blistering
Charles Angrand: End of the Harvest (c.1892–1905)


"Nostalgia omits many details …"


As August draws near, the annual counterpoint to deepest, darkest Winter emerges, its opposite to polar, Blistering weather. It, like most opposites, produces a remarkably similar result to its mirror: doors and windows shut tight against the outside, a kind of hibernating happening in. By eight in the morning, it's become uncomfortable out there. We've already drawn the shades and turned up the air conditioning, and set the box fans blowing. The overnight low came just before sunrise and barely fell below eighty degrees Fahrenheit, 26C. It's Blistering.

I set sprinklers in darkness, running them until an hour after sunrise, when evaporation renders them wasteful.

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Absolution

absolution
Noël Nicolas Coypel:
The Miracles of Saint James the Greater (1726)


"I can breathe again!"


Who seeks Absolution by going to the dentist? Who, that is, besides me? I hold a convoluted story about my recent relationship to dentistry, one which I'm uncertain I should share, which explains why I'm choosing to share it, under The One Must Speak What's Not Supposed To Be Spoken About Rule, one of my personal Ethical Responsibilities. That twinge suggesting I should stay mute on a subject too easily becomes an excuse to stifle myself and I'm reasonably certain that my purpose here might never have been to master self-stifling. I'm not struggling to justify disclosing embarrassingly inappropriate details, just something perhaps painfully necessary, a shortcoming and its accompanying redemption. An act of Absolution.

I do not believe that my primary purpose here was ever to pass judgement, either.

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StrongLeader

strongleader
Rembrandt van Rijn:
Man Helping a Rider to Mount a Horse (c. 1640-41)


"Vote for the one not trying to impress you."


Lord, help us, please, resist the StrongLeader's seduction, for we do not need StrongLeaders. We need leaders who can do their freaking job without continually plotting strategies for getting away with breaking the law they swore to uphold. We do not need leaders who just make stuff up as they go along, who act upon their animal urges, who hold eternal grudges. We need leaders capable of leveling with themselves and their followers, ones who eschew the trappings of power, rather than those who seem to need to impress, anyone with mommy or daddy issues. We need clear-eyed adults, ones who've dealt with their stuff, ones who might have crashed and burned before, ones who remember who they are and were. We need magnanimous ones, ones willing to kneel before their followers, in service to their supporters, ones who won't pander to get ahead. Ones with a head on their shoulders and a heart in their chest. Ones for whom good enough is best.

Il Duce, Mussolini, was the prototypical StrongLeader.

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Reverting

reverting
Jacob van Ruisdael:
Landscape with the Ruins of the Castle of Egmond (1650/55)


" … face being all grown up …"


Contrary to how I might appear to any naive observer, I have not quite grown up yet. I experience moments of maturity, sometimes stretching into full afternoons or evenings of it, but I remain capable off Reverting to earlier releases of myself with little provocation. Last evening, chopping garlic for supper, I sliced into a fingertip with the extra sharp chef's knife and instantly reverted back into a five year old child. I yelled for The Muse while rushing into the small bathroom off the kitchen where I grabbed a handful of Kleenex® and whimpered. I became essentially helpless for the balance of the evening. The Muse had to finish prepping the supper I had almost managed to finish preparing, even though it was clearly my evening to assemble supper. The Muse clucked over me, suggesting that I might need stitches, while I switched out tissues and waited for the worst of the bleeding to stop.

I felt inconsolable inside. No amount of care could have erased that error.

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Failure

failure
Paul Cezanne: The Basket of Apples (about 1893)


" … everyone eventually becomes."


There's nothing quite like being greeted at a restaurant's reception desk by the question, "Just you?" Of course the greeter means no insult, but The Muse and I always fein offense and ask, "Just? Are we not enough?" The greeter briefly blushes before going back to more important business, like where to seat these clowns. Our point being that nobody's ever "just" anything. We're much, much more and never simply one thing.

At my age, I can easily claim to have been a Failure, but not "just" a Failure, for I have also at times been a success.

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Recipe

recipe1
Barthélémy d'Eyck:
Still Life with Books in a Niche (1442 - 1445)


" … I will struggle to respond."


I am sometimes asked to recite a recipe for something I've made and I always struggle to respond because I don't usually use recipes. Oh, I might reference one to understand proportions—how much water to how much rice?—but I rarely very slavishly follow any instructions. Recipes seem the very epitome of frozen action, listing stuff as if stuff could be listed, sequencing actions as if sequence mattered. Consequently, I do not bake things because baking is too exacting, demanding slavish adherence to rules which successfully distill action into script. I'm not that kind of cook. For me, cooking seems more discovery than recitation. I'm never quite certain how to cook anything. Even if I've cooked something similar before, I've forgotten precisely how I prepared it and I did not write down my discoveries. I consequently do not cook the same thing once, let alone twice.

I am a man of simple tastes.

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Unintentionals

Unintentionals
Grant W. Pullis (attributed to):
Construction of the New York Subway (1908)


"Might just as well embrace the inevitable."


My early mentors cautioned me about unintended consequences, apparently inescapable side effects of every significant effort. Setting out to change any world will very likely set into motion forces which will certainly change something else, too, and those side effect changes might well become the effort's legacy, like that county sheriff in coastal Oregon who decided to rid the beach of that rotting whale carcass with a little dynamite. He managed to cover a sizable crowd present to witness the transformation, including news cameras from Portland, with a thick patina of rotted blubber. This one act became the entirety of his legacy, thanks to a single unintended consequence.

Other Unintentionals seem possible, though, positive ones.

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SacredDuty

sacredduty
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes:
The Sacred Grove, Beloved of the Arts and the Muses (1884/89)


" … if any of us can still muster any of that within ourselves."


While it might seem unlikely from within anybody's daily routine, I believe that we each labor within an often tacit SacredDuty. It doesn't very much matter our occupation, we each hold a similar obligation, to each other, to ourselves, to our society, however wounded or unjust each might appear to be. We hold this SacredDuty for our own good and for the good of those around us, for the good of the universe, if you will, if I dare mention it. It probably doesn't matter where any individual acquires their sense of duty, their specific marching orders, though it matters much whether an individual received theirs and whether an individual managed to hold theirs sacred, to respect it and to actually attempt to live up to it. However we're each employed, we each report to the same supervisor, the same cruel overseer, and that ruler is us, ultimately our 'I', and no other, though we each might start with a mentor, an exemplar or two who attempt to clue us in to ourselves and our duty, and to our own sacred nature, with varying degrees of success.

The House Select Committee's Public Hearings on the Events of January 6, 2020, reminds me of the presence of such a thing as SacredDuty.

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Nocturnal

nocturnal
James McNeill Whistler:
Nocturne: Blue and Gold—Southampton Water (1872)


" … revel in the respite my predawn time brings."


In the highest summer, I turn Nocturnal. My usual habit of rising early becomes more than habitual but essential to the simple maintenance of life. Oh, the mornings remain mostly tolerable, at least until around ten, then the day degrades into near unbearable brightness and glare. Working out there becomes essentially impossible, for I will not, under any circumstances, wear either short-sleeved shirts or shorts, due to an unfortunate family history with sunlight. I exclusively wear long sleeves with cuffs buttoned against the sun and my usual long' legged jeans. My only concession to the season will likely be sockless feet. I'm not wearing sandals, either. I will also wear a broad-brimmed hat or one of my many havelocks. I'm as tucked up against the summer sun as any burqa wearer might be against temptation and sin. If I'm working, I'm also wearing gloves.

What do I wear when I go to the beach?

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Inducing

inducing
Eugène Carrière: The Contemplator (1901)


" … to thoroughly enjoy not being fully there."


I'm not so much working as actively Inducing, successful to the extent that my actions entrance me into satisfying action. I could not possibly have managed to complete the work I finished yesterday had I been fully present for the festivities. I was up and out early, climbing scaffolding again, finally finishing that busy slice of wall that had long been my dread and fear, my nemesis. I had by then conquered her. I'd even removed all by myself the rubber matting the electric company lineman had wrapped around the formerly terrifying incoming electric wires, an unimaginable act a few long months before. I was for that day, the self-acknowledged master of that stripe of wall. For my final act, I called in the cable company technician to replace the worn and weary-looking cable line coming down from its anchor, and to tuck it in around the conduit pipe and tie it down with fresh zip ties so it looked as nice as the rest of the wall. No outstanding anything after finishing a couple of final touch-up soirées up to the top and back down again. Then, my reward was tearing down that scaffolding to reconstruct it one click to the right.

I was crawling all over that wall like the monkey I am not.

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EverydayMysteries

everydaymysteries
Paul Gauguin: The Call (1902)


"I just let these EverydayMysteries be …"


The older I grow, the less I seem to know for certain. This outcome surprises me, if only because I naively believed nearer the beginning of my life that I would become, if not older and wiser, at least older and more knowledgable, but this has not been my experience, unless I count stuff I've come to know for certain isn't reliably knowable. So the number of mysteries I juggle has greatly expanded while the number I manage to resolve has plummeted. I'm okay with this state of affairs if only because there seems to be nothing I can do about it other than accept and perhaps revel in it. It's just the way it is.

Earlier in my life, I dabbled with becoming somewhat of a detective, for I'd convinced myself that if I just applied myself, I could come to understand pretty much anything.

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Touched

touched
Henry Wolf: The Torn Hat (Date unknown)


"We're here to touch and to be Touched in return."


By the time I've nearly completed repainting another stripe of wall, I've Touched every square centimeter of it several times. Looking at The Villa from down the street, it seems unlikely from that distance that anyone ever touched even once every square centimeter of that looming hulk, let alone touched it several times. The property deed and mortgage papers never mention the unsettling fact that the actual price of owning this place would be the willingness, the patience, to do precisely that, or to hire another to do it for me. I entered into the agreement willingly and ignorantly. I suspect that nobody ever understands such implications in the moment when making such commitments. Those consequences come later, well after the initial thrall disperses. Then, anyone might find reason to accept that they must have been crazy to sign such a contract, then set about making it good, whatever the price.

While I busy myself touching several times every square centimeter of this place, this place is touching back, because Touched seems a two-way arrangement.

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Torn

torn
Jheronimus Bosch (manner of): The Temptation of St Anthony
(c. 1550 - c. 1600)


"… to better appreciate my many shortcomings."

"The requirements for design conflict and cannot be reconciled."

David Pye: The Nature of Design


When I'm painting, I'm also pining, for I shirk other responsibilities while fulfilling my repainting one. The rest of my little overwhelming universe does not freeze until I find time and focus to attend to them. They continue unsupervised, yellow-blooming clover conspiring to overtake my lawn, the annual purslane bloom taking root. The side of the house I'm painting is presently living up to my highest standards of maintenance while the rest of my existence slums it. I only have so much to contribute and, as David Pye reminds, the requirements conflict and cannot be reconciled, always have and always will.

The notion that I should be able to keep up, to not merely juggle all those chainsaws, but to simultaneously operate a hot half dozen of them, that seems to be the source of the problem.

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Clusters

clusters
Floris Claesz van Dijck: Still Life with Cheese (c. 1615)


"For me, it's only sometimes something …"


It would be news to nobody if I reported that things tend to happen in Clusters. Nothing much will happen for the longest time before a single week will bring a flurry of activity. Often, stuff will break down together, as if unrelated stuff were secretly conspiring and dedicated to causing only occasional trouble. Visit one repair department and you'll probably visit a half dozen in quick succession. It might be a law of the universe guiding this sort of thing.

A week ago today, I managed to swipe my watch off my arm by bumping into a crosspiece on the scaffolding.

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NightDrive

NightDrive
Charles François Daubigny: Night Effect (1862)


"Imagine how appreciative The Muse must have been!"


Of all of humankind's truly ingenious inventions, the headlight must certainly rank just below the bottom of the list, for headlights simply do not work for the purpose intended. Some do, indeed, light the way, but only paradoxically, for if they enable me to see, they blind everybody coming toward me, clearly violating the First, Do No Harm Clause of Design and Manufacture. A NightDrive easily turns into a life-threatening experience because of this one piece of so-called safety equipment. How would an automobile designer resolve this grave shortcoming? Maybe by switching to the infrared spectrum? How am I supposed to know? I'm just the victim of this design, not its inventor.

The Muse will insist that my complaint lies with the remnants of that cataract surgery I underwent four years ago this month.

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CuttingIn

cuttingin
Piet Mondrian: Composition (No. 1) Gray-Red (1935)


"The library's a function of the quality of its shelves."


Prepping finished, priming finally done, the time comes for adding color. Up until then, everything's focused upon foundation, the sole purpose being to create a consistent surface: as smooth and uniform as possible. The prime coat serves as a proof of sorts, a test to determine if the surfaces have been sufficiently worked such that they might hold the promise of a decent-looking final finish. Of course it doesn't quite satisfy the discriminating eye, so that prime coating features a little back-sliding, some additional sanding, scraping, and filling. The eye always misses something the first few times through. At the point where color comes into play, the game changes. Before, I'm focused upon the broad plain of the surface. Edges between trim and wall color become meaningless. I work when priming as if there were no edges. Once the colors come out, the whole game becomes one of CuttingIn the fine lines separating the various trims and the base wall color.

Once finished, the eye will fail to register much variation on a properly prepared surface.

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MadMen

madmen
George Wesley Bellows: Dance at Insane Asylum (1907)


"You eventually became just another part of the problem …"


Who has not caught themself working for a crazy boss? Who has not found themself laboring within some crazy-making context? Who has not caught themself questioning their own sanity as a result? That questioning one's own sanity seems to be the one reliably meaningful way for validating one's own sanity, for the truly crazy never seem to question their own context, their own motives. So much seems absolutely presumed without questioning, and those presumptions can carry considerable weight and exert much subtle influence. It properly feels as though you never learned the rules and so seem especially unperceptive to yourself. The guy in charge poisons everyone's facility to properly assess reality. This seems primarily the work that MadMen accomplish. They warp the reality around them.

The challenge for those not actually crazy comes with the resulting crazy-making context.

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FreshInfinity

freshinfinity
NASA on July 11, 2022,
released the first full-color image
from the James Webb Space Telescope.
(NASA/AFP/Getty Images)


The new image is what is known as a “deep field” observation, with the telescope staring at what NASA called a “patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground.” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson as quoted in the July 12, 2022 Washington Post

"Would that our native sense of self-importance were not expanding faster than our universe."

The James Webb Space Telescope might be the largest rear view mirror ever produced. Capable of reflecting thirteen billion year old light, it provides formerly unattainable resolution. It represents just a next step, but one doozy of a step. In my lifetime, infinity has undergone multiple radical expansions, from the planetary outward, every few years, a deeper penetration became possible, and with each further immersion, the scale of my own existence, my problems, fell from the all-consuming into the infinitesimal. If the above image reveals what's visible out there through a grain of sand-sized lens, I understand in a new way just how incomprehensible this universe must be, by which I mean, that it's clear that I understand nothing at all about anything.

I consider this reset necessary and important, for without periodic refreshers on the scale we're actually dealing with, people can and do become subsumed with self-importance.

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Dedicting

dedicting
Jean Lecomte du Nouÿ: A Eunuch's Dream (1874)


"That exquisite poison has no substitutes …"


By my accounting, I stopped ingesting nicotine a year ago. I mention that now because it's only very recently occurred to me that I have been Dedicting ever since, that I have been attempting whatever the opposite of addiction might be. I'm uncertain if I have been successful, for the Dedicting continues. I considered calling this story Dedicted, except I doubt whether I'll ever experience a definitive moment when I no longer feel either that tug or its absence, either of which constitute a sort of continuing relationship with the substance. It might be true that nobody's ever through with any physically addictive stuff, and/or that stuff's never truly through with them, for the attraction seems to go both ways. Tobacco's superpower lies deeper than just in the souls of its admirers, but also in its apparent ability to attract individuals unto itself. It seems to find its most appreciative followers.

It was a special class I once belonged to, the smokers.

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Preparings

preparings
Giovanni Battista Gaulli: Sketch for "The Four Prophets of Israel"
[for Il Gesù
, Rome] (c. 1675-1677)


" … perfect's almost just as relative as done ever was."


Preparing should be considered an exclusively plural term, since preparing rarely seems complete after a first iteration. Much suffering results from a fundamental misunderstanding presuming that preparing or, indeed, preparation, should be completable with any single pass, when few can be; so few that for most every everyday intents or purposes, one should presume preparation's plural nature and think of preparing as a process better thought of as Preparings, presuming multiple iterations. One other catch lurks within this concept, and that relates to its fundamentally asymptotic nature. How many iterations prove necessary to complete Preparations? Think of this as a Fundamentally Unanswerable Question —aka FUQ (implied expletive intended)—because Preparings are rarely ended because they've achieved what might be easily recognized as completion. No, Preparings end only when the preparer decides they're done, a decision which might come at any time and for any of a wide variety of reasons.

Kurt, Our Master Painter, taught me this fundamental principle of painting, or he certainly tried to teach me this.

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ReBeginning

rebeginning
Katsushika Hokusai: The Day Before the Beginning of Spring
(c. 1790) Publisher: Tsutaya Jūzaburōe


" … simply the sum of those restarts."


I imagine this morning that I am beginning, not merely beginning, but beginning again, ReBeginning. I've begun before. I've started way more than I've ever finished and I do not intend to correct that imbalance. Finishing seems way over-rated. The beginning's the thing. I figure that if I could only master beginning, I might be capable of anything, I might even, eventually, complete something, so I practice ReBeginning this morning in the belief —or is that a hope?—that this time, my efforts might finally amount to something.

I have been in the middle of the repainting project for so long that I can no longer remember the initiating premise for the work.

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Exhausting

exhausting
Jean François Raffaëlli: The Exhausted Ragpicker (1880)


" … simply too Exhausting to continue."


I've recently started noticing the weight this continuing Damned Pandemic exerts upon me. It's come to feel considerable, even unreasonable, and the newspaper promises even more of even more of the same, though the upcoming even more will continue becoming ever more highly evolved. It will become more communicable and craftier at evading our defenses, its offensive skills out-pacing our defenses. Since we must respond to defend, we're inevitably lagging competitors. Competing with this virus has been Exhausting, but insidiously so. It's never presented any particular hardship to me personally, for instance, to wear a mask in public or for this introvert to avoid gatherings. I rather enjoy going incognito and often chose not to go out into public places, though the option not to continue defending increasingly seems like a glaring omission. I'm just as free as I've ever been, just a little bit more constrained, yet the constraints, however small, seem increasingly limiting.

The experts label these feelings Pandemic Exhaustion and warn about its insidious influence.

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HamSandwich

hamsandwich
Willem Claesz. Heda: Still Life with Ham and a Roemer (1631-34)


" … the very stuff of despotism."


I will qualify what follows in advance, explaining that while I only rarely delve into what some might classify as political speech—as opposed to my usual more philosophical babble—I remain capable of engaging on the political level. Political talk rarely ages well, though today's story might straddle the political and philosophical, and might thereby consider itself more timeless than merely timely. Its topic seems timely, as this story has been aching for me to tell it. It's been my experience that while I'm avoiding telling a story that deeply desires to be told, whatever else I might produce tends to lack a certain substance. In that sense, it's like talking about what's not supposed to be talked about. Whatever else one attempts to talk about instead of what's not supposed to be talked about tends to miss the point, like an unmentionable elephant in the room sucking all the oxygen out of every alternative. I hope this story will prove to be pointed.

When Our Supreme Court codified the myth of fetal personhood into law, they managed to trivialize both the law and human life.

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Sleep

sleep
Charles Bird King: The Vanity of the Artist's Dream
Former Title: The Anatomy of Art Appreciation
Former Title: Poor Artist's Study
Former Title: Still Life, The Vanity of An Artist's Dream
(1830)


" … only then could the aspiring artist ever come out to play."


Of all the skills that have eluded me in this life, Sleep certainly heads the list, though I should have had adequate practice with it by now. I early identified Sleep as an enemy and alien state, and set about trying to as much as possible eliminate it from my routine. It seemed such a sorry waste of time, time I might spend doing whatever else I might please. The wee hours, those downplayed by those who've perhaps never intimately engaged with them, seemed the perfect medium for me to practice as an artist, for a budding artist needs plenty of cave time. My earliest performances were barely fit for my own experience, practice far preceding whatever perfection might later emerge. My writing, too, demanded bounded solitude and could not be produced with any sort of audience hovering nearby, and certainly not with anyone even distantly inquisitive about how it was going at any time.

So I routinely stayed up way past my designated bed time, reading with a flashlight beneath covers, hugging my warm bread loaf-sized radio to my chest, master of my own wee hours.

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HolyDays

holydays
John F. Peto: Lights of Other Days (1906)

" … Have A Happy, anyway."


Us moderns do not celebrate HolyDays, we observe holidays instead. A Holiday serves as a secularized HolyDay such that even in the unlikely event that a Holiday started out as a HolyDay, most forms of actual religious observance, of humility, charity, or dignity will have been beaten out of any formal observance. One might succeed in privately genuflecting in the general direction of something genuinely sacred, but only if no spectacle's attempted. The spectacles belong solely to the secularists now, and are often performed with passion and fervor, but only in the general direction of mammon.

It's generally considered proper behavior to wish another "A Happy" on secular HolyDays, even if the greeting grates on one's soul.

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Seasonal

seasonal
Claude Monet: Stacks of Wheat [End of Day, Autumn] (1890/91)


" … it's not usual, whatever that means."


Each season here carries certain markers which seem to suggest and regulate certain behaviors. We've been experiencing some unseasonal weather this year which has thrown off my usual anticipations and responses. I complained plenty this Spring about the rain which kept me off the scaffolding and away from my repainting project, even though we here have been cautioned to never, never, never complain about rain. This semi-arid region can always, always, always use more moisture and last year saw us limping through on much less than usual. Last summer, too little rain. This summer, a little too much so far. The wheat crop, which likes it hot and dry, has contracted rust this year. Crop dusters buzz around the valley trying to rectify that imbalance before harvest. When I step out onto the back deck at four o'clock in the morning to gauge the day's prospects, if the sky spits at me, I feel moved to surrender right then and perhaps just head back to bed. I expected Seasonal weather but received different instead.

I remain fully capable of adapting, but something's clearly missing whenever I'm forced to fallback into adaptation.

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Being

being
Jack Gould: Untitled (party in laundromat, woman being pushed in cart) (1957)


" … the perfect profession for me."


On these midsummer evenings, I like to sit in the garage with the roll-up door open, and watch. The scene before me, freshly painted siding boards poised on two by fours balanced atop old cat litter tubs, my pop-up paint shoppe, various roses and flowers, seems like a microcosm of my life. The Schooner's parked a little further down the driveway, laurel bush out-growing its space, the mock orange that refuses to bloom spreading out behind. The cats will pass through, stop for quick head scratches, then crawl beneath something and give themselves tongue baths. They'll watch, too.

This feels like the apotheosis of my Being.

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Untouchables

untouchables
James McNeill Whistler: Amsterdam Nocturne (1883–1884)


"Just imagine how capable I'll one day feel …"


Now that The Muse and I have been back in The Villa for a year and a quarter, I'm noticing an increasing backlog of undone chores. Some appear to have become permanent and threaten to migrate out of Someday Likely To Get Done status into Untouchables, or apparent ones. These I will just consider to be features rather than problems, finished as they sit, however unsightly and indicting. Some will represent me coming to accept my limitations and others, my fundamentally lazy nature. A very few will permanently seem too daunting to ever seriously consider, bridges too far or too big of britches. However they became Untouchables, I will maintain them in that state with most of the dedication I also reserve for actually completing tasks. They will become as much a part of my identity as any actual accomplishment, that spot I can't see I never shave properly, the lucky shoes which will always look scuffed and worn and yet favorites. Idiot children.

I imagine that one day I might maintain a maintenance schedule as if I meant to maintain it.

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OutOfTheBlue

outoftheblue
James McNeill Whistler: Nocturne: Blue and Gold—Southampton Water (1872)


" … an old acquaintance, an even older friend."


It should not be news to any of my frequent readers that I sometimes suffer through some blue periods. I can get down on myself and feel downright worthless, then spool into despair territory. Nothing all that scary, just part of any normal trajectory. I personally never trusted anyone who could endlessly keep it bright and sunny, optimistic even in the bleakest times. I preferred the more human leader rather than some statue to virtue, and strived to show that I was not made of stone or anything invulnerable. Still, I despise those days when I cannot find my way. I become as if I were three again, small and overwhelmed, unable to figure out how to play the games surrounding me. I often attempt to sleep through these times under the First, Do No Harm Rule. I'm no doctor, but I figure that sleep might just be the all-around best medicine for discouragement and depression.

Then, something happens. It almost doesn't matter what.

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Misplaced

misplaced
The Old Woman Who Lost Her Dumpling:
attributed used to
Suzuki Kason (1902)


"I come to rely upon the understanding of kittens …"


Pardon me, but I seem to have Misplaced my identity. I clearly remember recently having one, though I can't quite recall when it slipped my grasp. I wonder how long this condition might last, with me an apparition of my former self, or is this the new and improved me I'd so long been aspiring to meet? This one might take some getting used to if, indeed, I could ever get used to this me, this great mystery.

We each seem to stand on a spot, a spot where we seem to belong.
Most of us stand there long enough to swear that it belongs to us, our special space, our place. Then we might Misplace that spot. Maybe we're nudged aside or just fail to notice it slipping away until it's too late. Once it's gone, it's lost as sure as any tool we just sat down then could never find again. Lost as certain as the scent of last season's flowers. Lost as certain as the certainties of youth.

A certain confusion should settle in. Where I once just knew, I can no longer quite imagine. Where I once stood ground, I now seem surrounded by insubstantial air. I might have gone anywhere but I seem to have disappeared. I left no trace. I chased after myself until I was no longer clear which direction I was headed. Already lost, I complicated my position. No way back to anywhere from here.

The most curious thing about being might be that it's not constant. Physicists insist that this all resolves to waves, ebbs, flows, pulses, and currents. Things as well as their opposites, with much more dark matter than anything visible. Life has always worked like this, like motion pictures where we mostly don't quite see the tiny spaces also projected between each frame, except sometimes continuity shifts and we're suddenly seeing the spaces instead of the movie, the blanks that always came with the story. Then, it seems as if we've Misplaced something, a key, perhaps, or the story. We were supposed to have remembered something we never quite registered as knowing, being something we always just were before without even trying. Trying then resolves nothing. What manifested without effort cannot, by effort, manifest again.

I swear that almost everything just happens. Our solutions and our intentions and our dedications chase experience, imagining stories that probably never occurred. As long as I can muster a half-decent leaning into, I seem to make progress. It almost seems as if this universe demands no more than compliance. Keep moving and meaning might emerge. Keep standing and vision and perspective might be the reward. Think too much and one might notice their spot Misplaced, some significant unnamable missing. Then this mystery deepens. I come to rely upon the understanding of kittens, who seem to seek me out then, needing some extra attention, which might be the very last thing I have left to give anyone.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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Concerting

concerting
Edgar Degas: Café-Concert (The Spectators) (1876/77)


"I'd packed two pair, two for each ear …"


I avoid attending concerts. Now, of course, because of the Damned Pandemic, but before, due to the fundamentally uncontrolled nature of the performance and the audience. I never took to being herded around as if I were just another sheep in an unruly flock. I also try to avoid landing wherever crowds congregate, the parking hassles, the turnstile troubles, the behaviors I only ever see when there's a crowd surrounding me. I never learned how to behave in such venues, my reticence a reasonable result of simple lack of practice. The last concert The Muse and I attended, I spent the whole evening curled up in the fetal position, ear plugs ineffectively in, trying to avoid the caterwauling coming off the stage. Everyone else seemed delighted. I, perhaps alone in that audience, felt terrified by it; assaulted.

I think it remarkable as I watch other people show up with the right kind of chair, for only certain types of chairs are allowed into the open air arena.

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MissingMeals

missingmeals
Unknown Japanese: Set of food dishes (mukōzuke)
(early 18th century)


"My work is my reward here …"


I measure engagement by how many meals I miss when working on something. I might just fail to notice when mealtime arrives or I might find myself so focused upon whatever I'm doing that I cannot quite face pulling away, and so meal time just slips by. Other times, I find myself indecisive, unable to imagine anything like a coherent meal arriving. Why bother? Meal breaks sometimes seem like a waste of my day. It's not like I'm in any danger of drying up and blowing away. For me, most meals seem optional. If lunchtime noses past about three-thirty, I'll usually just let it slide, deciding to let supper pick up the slack. Sometimes, I abandon supper, too, usually when I'm just too tuckered to bother. By the following morning, I might regain my appetite or I might find myself focusing in and away again.

Dining out long ago lost its allure.

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Fictions

fictions
Piero di Cosimo: The Misfortunes of Silenus (circa 1500)


"Hell emerges in the absence of Fictions."


The world was going to Hell that Sunday morning, so The Muse and I decided upon a round-about route, one which might offer us a few hours beyond cell range, beyond what passes for civilization over on the West side of the mountains. We wondered if we might so easily escape the thrall. It might have been that after going to all the trouble to take the route less taken, we'd find a caravan of weary flatlanders also following our plan to escape up and out of the heat and crowds, but we were lucky and the roads were lonely. A few odd stragglers quickly passed us, leaving us to move at our own pace, to find our own cadence.

While the world went to Hell, we ascended into a Heaven of sorts.

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Strangering

strangering
Vincent van Gogh: Adeline Ravoux (1890)


"I regain my attention …"


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

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

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Hoteling

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


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


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

Hoteling's a kind of camping experience.

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DashingOff

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


"We all eventually become the genius of ourselves …"


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

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

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Suddenlied

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


"… usually expecting the unexpected …"


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

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

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Scaredy

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


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


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

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

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Againing

againing
Winslow Homer: Boy with Anchor (1873)


" … that must be my manner of living."


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

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

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Sprunged

sprunged
Robert William Vonnoh: Spring in France (1890)


"Some things never leave …"


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

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

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Satisfiction

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


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


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

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

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ContextShifting

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


"Shifting impressions flicker before me …"


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

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

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Shift

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


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


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

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

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HomeRun

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


"I remember how it was before that flooding …"


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

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

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WellAtEase

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


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


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

I might have Ill At Ease down pat, though.

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Haunter

haunter
Winslow Homer: Adirondacks Guide (1892)


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


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

My memories have not started fading yet.

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Ghosted

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

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


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

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

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Boyk

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


" … contribute his own gibberish into our conversation."


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

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

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Aaaah

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


"Reconning resolves back into itself …"


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

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

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Drizzling

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


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


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

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

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Penance

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


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


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

Life collects its toll.

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TheAges

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

"TheAges eventually reveal everything …"


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

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

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SideTracking

sidetracking
Juan Gris: Violin and Glass (1915)


" … I'm just along for the ride."


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

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

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WashingMyPhone

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


" … little wiser for my absence."


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

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

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ApparentlyMeaningless

appearantlymeaningless
Willian Frazer Garden: Trees and Undergrowth (1885)


"Appearances effectively deceive."


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

My stories comprise my most significant body of ApparentlyMeaningless work.

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YetAnotherRainyDay

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


"Cabin fever reigns while rain falls."


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

My to-do list stretches to new lengths.

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OpenWindows

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


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

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

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

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

—————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved







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NewBeginnings

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


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


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

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

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Asymtoting

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


"Almost there, but never quite …"


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

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

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LittleBoy

littleboy
Claude Monet: Boy in the Country (1857)


"May I never grow weary of yearning."


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

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

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Squelching

squelching
Günter Fruhtrunk: Cloister Garden (1963)


"My home is my cloister …"


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

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

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Vigiling

vigiling
Pierre Guérin: The Vigilant One (1816)


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


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

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

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Helped

helpedalong

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


" … I'm good to go again, together."


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

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

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Slivers

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

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


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

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

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NotAllIn

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


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


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

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

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Knots

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


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


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

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

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MovingScaffolding

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


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


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

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

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MendingMitres

mendingmitres2


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


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

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

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TopCoating

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


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


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

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

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Transplant

transplant1
Adriaen Coorte: Still Life with Asparagus (1697)


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


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

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

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Respiting

respiting
Camille Pissarro: Rain Effects (1879)


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


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

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

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ThinkingAboutThinking

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


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


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

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

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TheObserver

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


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


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

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

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Paranoiac

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

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


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

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

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Challenging

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


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


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

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

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HollowedDays

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


" … we're resigned …"


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

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

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Sleepwalking

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


"I could be participating in One Mysterious Dream."


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

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

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

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Forgivenness

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


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


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

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

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Paced

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


"Slow and steady sustains a pace."


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

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

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Recuperating

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


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


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

I wounded my knee painting.

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TheMovie

themovie
Charles Sheeler: Church Street El (1920)


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


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

Very few things are as they first seem.

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DsKnees

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


"Humility might humiliate …"


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

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

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Winering

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


" … we already live in a destination now …"


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

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

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Affinity

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


"almost identical, always unique."


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

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

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SheetMetalScrewed

sheetmetalscrewed
Thomas Hart Benton: Homestead (1934)


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


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

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

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PaintingMyHead

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


"It's always something."


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

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

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