" … it shades no one unless it intends to shade us all."

Liberty seems more a collective than individual property. Our forebears fought to secure the opportunity to govern themselves, not to ensure that any individual could just do whatever they want. There were innies and outies, of course, so some felt oppressed under the yoke of 'their' so-called freedoms. The conflict was not settled when the British retreated. It simmers, occasionally boiling over, even today, perhaps because of this one complication, that liberty never was and never could have been the property of any individual. It must belong to all.

Free speech, for instance, never was the same as loose talk. The guarantee to say whatever I want does not extend to yelling fire in any crowded theater or cursing at grandma's table.

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The Banality of the Banality of Evil by Banksy

"We're better than that, even after we catch ourselves having been no better than that."

Seeing it probably won't enable you to know it, or even recognize its presence. Understanding lags considerably, and acceptance lags even further behind. Its presence will likely startle you. Its influence will already be draining your life force before you catch on that you're being had, or have already been had. Evil does not at first organize any occupation parade, no show of overwhelming force. It seems to first seep in, putrefying from the inside out, leaving the peach apparently pristine until you try to pick it up. It will seem banality incarnate, more banal even than that, imminently ignorable until it becomes nearly inexorable.

It will not be dismissed. You will need to forcefully escort it to the door, so it remains essential that you always remember where to locate the door and to remain mindful of the conditions necessitating removal.

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"Maybe what doesn't kill me might make me stronger, or insolvent, one of those."

I'd find it difficult to converse with my tax accountant if she wore a face mask. Maybe an early exposure to Beagle Boys comics left me with an unnatural fear of anyone wearing a mask, but I find health care professionals inherently terrifying. I understand that they're trying to limit my exposure to their germs and their exposure to mine, but the affect leaves me more wary that wide open. Our exchanges, otherworldly. My defenses immediately stand up taller. I'm on-guard. I might suffer from White Coat Syndrome, a tension encouraging higher than normal blood pressure readings when I'm in the presence of anyone who might be able to reasonably interpret those readings. It's a double bind.

I have no clue how our health care system works. The Muse seems to have at least the patter down. She can spout 'out of network' and 'copay' as if she understands the theory and the practice. I fumble for the insurance card, clear that I understand nothing printed on the face of it.

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"A spare ounce of acceptance seems to achieve more than any metric ton of impossibility."

Writer Molly Backes recently tweeted about what she calls “The Impossible Task." The Impossible Task might appear perfectly pedestrian unless considered by someone suffering from depression. Under the influence of depression, pretty much any aspiration might appear impossible to achieve. The lofty desire to refill a prescription or the Utopian urge to mow the lawn today might qualify as functionally impossible to achieve. Theoretically and even practically, these objectives might appear perfectly possible, but functionally, they might lie far beyond my reach. The old self-helpless adage which insists that the impossible just takes a little longer seems silly for anyone feeling as though the touted 'a little longer' amounts to infinity.

I fully understand that in this culture, my culture, we presume a positive outlook. Any welcoming embrace of any standard impossibility seems to qualify as evidence of the presence of a positive outlook, even should the objective fully qualify as theoretically or functionally impossible. We do not normally consider anyone exhibiting symptoms of positive outlook delusional, but plucky.

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" … the poem comes out as if missing all the spaces between the words …"

When she was in high school, The Muse played drums in a garage band. She's always had a more sensitive rhythm sense than I. As my songwriting and performing matured, I grew to appreciate rhythm as the cohering force. A song properly backbeat can hardly go wrong, while one losing its thumps can hardly sound right, however otherwise precisely I might play the notes. The rhythm, almost always much less intricate than the melody, subtly rules the whole performance without anyone hardly noticing. The drummer and the base hold the foundation, wherever the primary and descant instruments might wander. They'd be utterly lost without them.

I believe that every activity holds a natural rhythm. Find it and, like the soaring piccolo, I'll remain at least in step, an essential congruence one mostly only notices when it's absent. Lose it and nothing I might try will seem to work.

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"Becoming seems to be what we really are when we insist that we are anything at all."

Defining "done" was one enduring difficulty every project I ever worked on, lead, or consulted with experienced. Some adopted the curious First Customer Shipped metric, which insisted that the project was done when the first customer's order was free on board a truck. Others presumed that when they'd successfully tested fixes for and integrated all critical bug reports, the project had ended. In actual experience, though, the project team inevitably continued their efforts long after the designated completion date, for that first customer, upon receiving the first instance of final product would experience unanticipated difficulties that only the development team could resolve and additional critical bugs would emerge even after testing and integration were successfully completed. Eventually, the end product would be more or less integrated into the finished product maintenance stream, though members of the original development team might never completely divorce themselves from the product.

I learned that whatever the product developed, it never left a state of becoming.

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"Not a problem for any of us, but a feature of us all instead."

The truly clueless seem stuck on literal meanings, as if any word could be delivered without nuance or subtext, when every utterance comes cloaked in some sort of ambiguity. It's a wonder anyone can ever communicate anything to anyone else. Different people employ different encoding tactics some of which instantly impart meaning while others only begrudgingly disclose it. While I might never reliably interpret the contents of any book by its title, considering the many elements present on the cover often helps me feel as though I do understand what I stoop to pick up off the shelf. The design says more than the title, but without words. The designer chose the color for its reliability in inducing a certain attraction within the prospective reader. I might identify a thousand interacting elements there, each sufficiently ambiguous to leave me either wondering or certain. Taken together, these design elements make a statement beyond, beneath, and behind what the title might impart. All communication seems to work like this.

On days where my awareness seems especially tuned in, I might consciously catch one in a hundred or a thousand of these cues.

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"Just being here seems to spawn more difference than anyone could ever comprehend."

A Difference seems to stand at the very top of the list of 'things' people say they want to make, well above 'supper' and even 'trouble.' The statement itself strikes me as banal, though I know it's supposed to seem supremely inspirational. I, myself, think of myself as a difference skeptic. When comparing myself with the context within which I stand, I see little leverage. I'm a small guy imbedded in infinite infinities, tiny in comparison with almost everything else. Sure, I hold BIG ideas and sometimes even great notions, but the possibilities seem the very opposite of endless, even before I add in the insidious effects of time. I figure that if I really want to make a difference, I just need to close my eyes for an instant, then open them up again. The challenge seems to lie in noticing what's different then.

Even when I accept that I might make some difference, I tend to think in inappropriately grandiose terms. I want to make a BIG difference, so I start gnawing on something much bigger than anyone could effectively chew, let alone eventually swallow.

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"I pray that no one will take me very seriously."

I consider myself to be at root a ninny, and not a particularly apologetic one, neither. As the ninny I consider myself to be, I fail to fully qualify as a coward, for I am known to stand up and be counted on some occasions, but I hold few strong convictions. I keep a low-ish profile. If you want to pass me, be my guest. I'll even slow down to make it easier for you. If you want to take advantage of me, I'm wide open. Not naturally suspicious of my fellows, I'd rather anticipate the best than the worst of everyone. I prefer avoiding competitive games, and not just because I hate to lose, but because I hate to see anyone lose. Winning zero sum games offends me, even when I win.

I figure that there's not really any leverage in being pushy or shove-y. Better approaches exist.

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"We seem destined to continually surprise each other."

Any conversation broaching the topic of good citizenship seems destined to follow the same sorry trail that conversations about being a good christian usually take, and that trail tends to terminate in irresolvable recriminations within which no citizen, good or otherwise, ever feels very good about themselves. They lean toward the Thou Shalts, which all by themselves seem antithetical to anything other than the dominion of some authority over everyone else; hardly anyone's idea of civility. When I speak of good citizenship, I intend to speak more of the I Wills, the rather personal covenants I hold myself responsible for abiding by, whether or not anyone else even knows that I hold them. For citizenship seems a painfully personal proposition, the never fully resolved answers to the question, "What will I agree to do for the mutual benefit of everyone else?", not what society demands that I contribute. Good citizenship never was a matter of simply obeying the law, but of abiding within it, which sometimes seems to demand working hard to change it or even to civilly disobey it. Like I said, it's a personal thing, but a personal thing writ larger than any individual.

It's a personal thing in context, that context being innumerable others also pursuing their personal things, the boundaries of each person's pursuit essentially undefinable but not necessarily indiscernible, for each individual seems first free to attend to those surrounding them, to respect their space and reasonably expect them to respect your space in return.

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"The end does, indeed, come like a thief in the night, but then so do new beginnings."

We all understand what to do if, when, at first, we fail to succeed. We try, try again. But what should one do when failing after achieving a certain degree of mastery? Regardless of the previous level of play, failure always remains a possibility. In the early years, the budding apprentice grows to accept that some percentage of his efforts will very likely prove fruitless. The journeyman grows to increasingly rely upon success to manifest, and might even explain these wins as evidence of his growing skill. The master, though, tends to perform in front of larger crowds who amplify his own anticipation of success. Then, a stumble disappoints others, too. We all know what that can do to you.

The blithe response to a master failing tends to be, indeed, a blithe response, a faux-cheerful, aw-shucks chuckle. At least that's the way it might appear on the outside.

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"Just like life. Exactly like living."

I do not ever speak TheTruth. I almost always speak MyTruth, and almost never tell an outright lie. I might fudge details to impart a higher-quality story, but I only very rarely embellish anything into its opposite, at least that's what this guy admitting that he never speaks TheTruth insists. I seem to me to be the only difference between TheTruth and MyTruth, for MyTruth appears to accurately represent only me to myself, never everyone to anyone else. Others might perceive something less than genuine in my confessions, yielding TheirTruth, which might seem considerably less than genuine to me. Nothing irks me more than someone contradicting my characterizations of MyTruth, as if they could possibly know better than I what only I could possibly know. Bottom line: I am not now nor will I ever be (nor do I aspire to ever become) the holder of TheTruth. You might as well entrust the family jewels to the tender care of a cranky two year old.

MyTruth seems slippery enough for a guy like me to handle.

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" … clinging remnants of our previous naivety about the nature of a difficulty …"

Can we all agree that we're surrounded by problems? Might we agree that they seem to be getting ever worse, more intractable? Certainly, the vocabulary of the times seems infused with problem language. The casual invocation of this 'P' word might have, at least to my mind, became a fresh category of problem, for many of the difficulties described as problems really hardly satisfy the criteria for problem-ness. I believe that if we could just clean up our language a bit, many of our most intractable-seeming 'problems' would cease to remain problems. I'm not saying that they might not still exhibit the troubling characteristics of genuine difficulties, but at least, perhaps, we could reduce the overload of problems haunting us.

There's something about a problem that seeks a solution.

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"a recipe for creating dystopia"

Karl Marx insisted that religion was the opium of the people. These days, though, I think that opinions have replaced religion as the opium of the people, or maybe, to wax more thoroughly modern, the Oxycodone of the people now. I call them Opinums in side-smirking homage to their addictive presence.

The phone rings and it's someone seeking my opinion on the subject of Death Taxes. I ask what the heck he means by Death Taxes and he sounds a little stunned by my question.

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"I figure a pot of beans probably won't do any harm."

I've never lived a particularly well-regulated existence. I've never had a difficult time making it on time to any job I held, usually arriving early and staying late. I burned midnight oil for more than the first half of my life and lit the predawn lamp through the other half so far. I do more than get by on fewer than the recommended hours of sleep. I serve no meal at any regular time, breakfasting five or more hours after rising in the morning and rarely sitting down to supper until well after seven at night. I've grown to despise regular hours, which seem more designed for the convenience of farmers and industrialists than for the benefit of hunter-gatherers like me.

The rhythms persist, however.

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"a breath of breeze through glistening trees."

I think of myself as a square peg. Always have. Likely always will. I seem to thrive only in bespoke contexts, ones custom made to house my particular eccentricities. When someone asks me who I am, I think to myself, "What an exquisitely impossible question to answer." However I might search the standard stereotype archive, I seem to come up empty-handed. Even constructing an N-dimensional Venn diagram of overlaps seems simply impossible, resulting only in odd lot, ant/elephant combinations, almost but not entirely unlike whatever I might reference within it. My favorite response has usually been, "David," which, of course, amounts to no response at all, for we live in a time immersed in BIG 'I' Identity, where to fail to identify with at least one of the more popular stereotypes renders one essentially irrelevant. It's as if the 'I' in identity must associate with an even larger 'O' in Others for an individual to be considered even relevant.

It's a fine paradox, and one complicit in much of the depressively low self-esteem floating around society. If I am not you, or at least an awful lot like you, why should you like me?

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"I consider competition to be a mental illness,
hell bent to destroy all who engage, a snake eating its own tail."

Competition is a form of self destruction. Initially, it might seem designed to merely conquer competitors, but repeated, it turns into the opposite of its original intention, ultimately undermining the competitor himself. Even the Ancient Greeks recognized this subtle curse, and counseled great caution whenever engaging as if competition might accomplish something positive in the longer term. How much better to cooperate, though people being people, we seem more than capable of turning even generous cooperation into some form of a Holier Than Thou competition.

The contest seems necessary, though, so we struggle hard to get ahead, to leave the weaker sisters in our dust. Then, of course, we hold culpability for the violence visited upon our weaker sisters.

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"They're already loosing steam."

If you want to learn what I think, ask me, then wait, perhaps for a very long time. If you want to know how I feel, ask, then prepare to wait even longer. I am a walking echo chamber, filled to the brim with contradictory, often conflicting perspectives. I remain steadfastly uncertain, humbled in my acceptance of the tenacious indecipherable surrounding me, eternally teetering on the forward edge of another great unknowable. In lieu of knowing for sure, I question. Of course I exhibit preconscious, essentially autonomous behaviors, though I'm hardly aware enough of them to explain them to myself, let alone to anyone else. On the scale of the grand action/reflection dichotomy, I'm sitting somewhere inside the mirror, considering.

My preference for reflection makes me a lousy fascist, for fascists value action, even reaction, above all else.

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"I ain't telling nobody."

I knew today would become extraordinary the moment I reached into my underwear drawer and found my MagicUnderpants on top. I don't know how this pair earned its designation. Perhaps they just look more distinguished than all the others, but I knew when I purchased them that they would become my favorite. And the have. When wearing these babies, I fly confident that my airplane can't possibly fall out of the sky. I sense that parking karma will lead me around all day, leaving empty parking spots adjacent to front doors. Good things happen to me every day I wear my MagicUnderpants.

My other pairs just don't seem to do the trick and I do not know why.

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"Time might tell whether my relationship with religion proves wise or clueless."

Like most of the people inhabiting this world, I don't consider myself religious. I was raised in white middle class America which some report as not possessing a culture. I attended a white bread, right of center Christian church in my youth but never noticed Jesus attending. I identified as more a Just Visiting distant relation than a full member of the congregation, though I'd always volunteer to help set up or tear down the multi-purpose room. The doctrine eschewed smoking, but my dad smoked. My mom could wax irreverent about the dichotomies between what was preached and what was practiced and I guess I considered church as somehow distinct from religion, certainly from spirituality.

I thought bible lessons allegorical, unconvincing as literal truth, useful perspectives but certainly not holy writ. I thought that if The Bible was the literal word of God, God needed a decent copy editor.

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"I grab just where I think it is only to find that it must be somewhere else instead."

Before you begin reading this posting, please reference Google (or even Bing!) and look up the definition of Thinking.

I'm fairly certain that most readers did not accept this invitation, but it hardly matters. Had you refreshed your memory with the formal definition of Thinking, I doubt that you came away any clearer about the meaning of the term. Google or Bing! Images related to the term Thinking, and you'd be no better off. Light bulbs, empty dialogue clouds, and photos of people scratching their heads greeted you, didn't they? If effective communication relies upon those involved sharing a common understanding of the topic's meaning, we seem to be sunk before we've even begun considering Thinking as our topic of the day, but since I'm really investigating the many facets of cluelessness, we might be starting at something close to exactly the proper spot. At least I think we might be.

I've thought of myself as a thinker all my life. I hold no advanced degree in thinking, mind you, but I've nonetheless thought of myself as more of a thinker than anything else.

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"The net result of learning should properly be a slightly higher class of cluelessness, never Feyness."

In the days when The Muse and I facilitated workshops, we studiously avoided introducing any sort of lifeboat drill-type exercises into the curriculum. These were the sorts of games requiring the group to expel someone from the group, the kind of "play" we commonly see on so-called reality television programs. We never believed that these simulations very accurately portrayed real-world situations. Quite the opposite, we thought them suggestive of tactics relatively useless in anyone's real world workplace. Besides, they tended to make the learning space unsafe, and our primary watchwords for our workshops were, "Safety First." If we could not create a safe learning environment, we would be culpable for inhibiting deep learning, and nobody attends any workshop so that they can hold their facilitators culpable for inhibiting their deep learning.

Learning seems to require some sense on the part of the aspiring learner that they might have a decent chance of actually learning something, that they could not possibly leave the experience without having found something useful for themselves.

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"We seem imbedded in Vastnesses wherever we stand."

The Muse and I live in The American West, a territory defined by its vastness. She hails from the Upper Midwest, also vast, but more two-dimensionally so, though the sky there amply fills in for soaring snow-covered peaks when galleons of thunderstorms spewing lightening float overhead. We lived for a time just over the Maryland line from Washington, DC, in a tiny municipality shoehorned into scores of small towns and aging neighborhoods which summed into a claustrophobic kind of vast. We currently live in a small village poised upon so-called foothills which almost anywhere else in this world would easily qualify as a vast mountain range. We seem imbedded in Vastnesses wherever we stand.

I was born in a small town and raised in a small city, each of which passed for vast for me in their time, later to find themselves relegated to some more minor classification.

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"I finally decided that maybe I could live with myself again, so I did."

Grudges have become badges of honor, honoring some past insult. We wear them like deep sea diving boots, hardly handy for tap dancing, or even walking around. They seem to ground us but tend to sink us instead. Still, social and political movements feature grudges as a part of members' required uniform. One cannot join without prominently displaying their grudge. Stadiums fill with supporters seemingly present to show off their personal grudge to others, some competing to demonstrate that their grudge is bigger than anyone else's. Just as if they could fix the past by dragging a particularly wounding part of it around with them, they engage in a kind of group primal therapy, howling at their common misbegotten moon.

It might be that nurturing the memory prolongs the past slight's life.

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"To pursue it might be to forfeit any possibility for ever experiencing it."

Throughout recorded history, mankind's unending quest for good enough has been goobered up by a few over-achievers, who, having reached a perfectly satisfying meadow halfway up the mountain, insisted upon turning their walk in the woods into some kind of extreme sporting event. They pine after that rarified, stony space above the tree line, where winds whip around lightening bolts. They want excellence. Their search seems endless, their lifestyles, downright obsessive. They become relentlessly proud owners of dissatisfaction, ever ranging even further upward. The rest of us, perhaps a little cowed in the presence of such seemingly misguided determination, feel moved to move no further. We're suddenly much more attracted to gratitude for what we've already achieved and acceptance of the way things currently are. We'd rather nap on our already acquired bed of laurel than go searching for unlikely eagle feathers.

I've noticed that business seems to have gone downhill since embracing the theology of excellence.

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"I figure the whole truth will be better approximated in a volume to be published ten years from now and surrounded by enough context to bring today into clearer perspective."

Early yesterday afternoon, my Facebook Feed announced the latest breaking news. I followed the link to learn that this particular piece of breaking news was a lengthy analysis of news expected to break later that afternoon. Experts waded in to explain background and foreground, some even projecting the effects this impending breaking news might have once it actually broke. I wasted five unredeemable minutes of my afternoon on this floss. Later, the news the earlier announcement predicted, came to pass as breaking news, which washed over the late afternoon as no surprise, an anti-climax whetted by overlong anticipation. The earlier broadcast captured the gist of the actual event, with some details probably unavoidably miscast. The final breaking story, though, had by then lost much of its potential impact. I caught myself skimming through the details, more seeking to confirm the earlier implanted news than to broaden my understanding.

Breaking news might by necessity be about ninety percent distraction.

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"As if to keep the universe in proper synch, you have no clue what's going on with me, either."

I'm driving that car you're trying to pass. Yes, I know the road looks clear ahead. It's a clear, sunny day. You zoomed up to ride my rear bumper and you're gesturing with both hands in frustration. I know you want me to drive faster. I'm not trying to act as obstinately as I must appear. What's wrong with me? A grave shortcoming. I'm driving at the speed limit. We've passed two speed limit signs since you started crawling up my tailpipe. Perhaps you were too distracted to notice? I'm noticing for you, I guess.

Why? Why can't you coerce me into driving more recklessly?

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"I consider an improvement anything that might shift it into even a slightly more malleable form…"

Paradoxes can make us stupid, but also uncommonly wise. Alexander demonstrated great wisdom when encountering that stupid knot prophesied as determining his fate. Rather than choose to untie or not, he rent the knot in two, rendering it absolutely irrelevant, forever thereafter neither tied nor untied. Few of us show such presence of mind when finding ourselves in a paradox's grip. Few of us ever seem to realize just what we're dealing with, so we trot out one of our half dozen or so trusty problem solving strategies, none of which could possibly produce the faintest twitch of surrender in even a low-order, run-of-the-mill paradox. The paradox is never the problem not realizing what we're facing turns out to be.

Damned if you do and also damned if you don't hardly circumscribes the range of available choices, of which there exist in any instant an infinite number from which to choose.

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" … it's subsequent sortings all the way from every here to every there, to the end of every line"

With his Dichotomy (illustrated above) the Ancient Greek Mathematician Zeno proved long before any of us were born, the logical impossibility of moving between any here and any there. While his logic was sound, his conclusion, curiously, was not, as I just demonstrated by walking all the way downstairs AND BACK! Logic works like this sometimes.

In my youth, I took a job as a bull hand dancer in an asparagus factory. My job involved performing the first sort on freshly blanched asparagus passing along a conveyor belt. Lift truck drivers in blue hard hats would dump huge steaming bins of the stuff replete with everything from chunks of fence post to freshly steamed snake and mouse carcasses which needed to be removed from the stream, and not only because they wouldn't fit into the little white containers which would later be flash frozen, labeled, and rushed to the frozen food section of local grocery stores. The first sort was rough, nothing like fine finish work. I'd yank out the obviously awful and line up as many spears as I could given the conveyor's speed. A long line of secondary sorters beneath my position on the conveyor performed ever finer sorts, resulting in containers capable of passing the quality control inspector's gimlet eye at the far end of the line.
Dichotomy works like this.

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"They're disposable just after they seemed like the only possible One Best Way."

The above quote might qualify as one of the most clueless utterances ever. To act without expectations seems to be a recipe for not acting, but then I might not quite be Zen enough to comment. I cannot imagine acting without expectation though I recognize that expectations probably encourage most of the cluelessness in the universe. Still, expecting seems a perfectly human feature that leads us all into considerable trouble. I doubt that just omitting the expecting amounts to anything like sage advice. We are the ones who lead ourselves into the bulk of the temptations we encounter, but I can't quite believe that we're automatically screwed because we continually expect.

Like with cluelessness, the problem might not very fairly represent the problem. How we cope with this feature might hold some clue about what to do short of stifling one of our primary motive forces.

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"… they still bite more than they ever bark."

When did you finally stop beating your dog? The best accusations come imbedded with presuppositions, unstated premises, darned near impossible to counter. This dog accusation "presupposes" both that you have a dog and that you sometime in the past started beating it, for how could you possibly stop beating your dog if you'd never started beating it in the first place? But wait! You say you do not now nor have you ever owned a dog? So much the better for the accuser, who can play The Denial Card. I mean, if you won't even admit to having a dog, how much further from repentance could you possibly be?

I frequently see this dance initiated as a means for tangling rather than resolving differences. Notice how the accuser avoided making any actual accusation.

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"Like Mad Magazine, but, you know, real."

I've learned more in my life so far from Alfred E. Neuman than I have from Albert Einstein, and Neuman is a fictional character. I sometimes fancy myself a smart person. Just how dumb is that? I might conclude my summertime inquiry into cluelessness right here. Einstein, as insightful as he doubtless was, couldn't hold a half-melted birthday candle to Neuman, entertainment-wise. Can you imagine Spy vs. Spy in the hands of the celebrated physicist? People seem to require some absolute stupidity to attract their attention. A graphic novel about the history of 20th century physics was stickier than everything else I'd ever read on the subject. Eggheads love to read comix. What do stupid people read? Oh, the really stupid ones don't read, or … can't … read, which renders them social pariahs to all those to can and do read.

Some of the stupidest people I've met in this life held advanced degrees from prominent universities. Some of the smartest, failed to graduate high school.

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"I wonder some days when human existence will be edited out as altogether too messy."

I recently read about some study suggesting that gene editing doesn't work quite the way I'd thought it does. It's not a simple matter of snipping and pasting. Genes resonate changes more deeply than a simple delete or paste metaphor might suggest. Unanticipated mutations sometimes result. The connections appear to be much more complicated than our present understanding leads us to believe. Our modern day gene splicers might in the future seem no more skilled or insightful than a medieval medicine man does to us today, all leaches and humors and stuff.

We live in The Age of Editing. Forget about original content, repurposed content reigns now.

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"They only ever seem right after seeming just wrong for the longest time."

I wrote my first song when I was in the 4th grade. It was stupid and derivative and absurdly simple, but I'd just taken up playing a guitar and like everyone else in my generation who came into close contact with a guitar, I found that it magically turned me into an accomplished poet and brilliant social commentator, at least in my own mind. The trance quickly became self-reinforcing. The more songs I wrote, the more I wanted to write, with no saturation point visible or audible from within the spell. I thought myself doing very well. I grew up to "be" a musician or, more accurately, I grew up to be a song-righter. I was never that accomplished at playing the guitar, avoided covering others' tunes, and stayed close to my own songbook. I never was anything like a human jukebox but I always wrote songs.

My earliest songs seemed indescribably precious to me then. I've forgotten most of 'em. A few through the years, though, seemed to stick and became an alternate identity for me.

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"What in the heck am I supposed to do here?"

I swear that there's nothing I can't do if the conditions are right. When the conditions are wrong, though, it seems that there's hardly anything that I can do, or at least that I can do right. Now, if my nose were more sensitive to sniffing out right conditions, I'd belly flop much less. I belly flop plenty. I'll own this little inability, though I might claim that my training's been complicit in complicating my life. I've been more trained in how to do things than I was ever oriented in how to sniff out conditions, even necessary pre-conditions. Conditions seem to take up their position out on the far perimeter of my activities. I often forget to check for their presence before I begin and even when I remember to check, they're likely to slip past me.

Gregory Bateson spoke eloquently about context, the great unseen influence. He claimed that one could arrange a space such that the arrangement itself subliminally informed those who entered it.

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" …reviews prove unreliably subjective …"

The eyeglass fitter at my optometrist recounted how she's worn these contact lenses designed to reshape her eyes while she slept. They worked, eventually reshaping her eyes to 20/30 acuity, which objectively rates as even better than the normal 20/20. Having had glasses since she was a little girl, the fresh correction left her feeling disoriented. She could not imagine how she could drive a car with vision like that. Her eyes finally corrected themselves to something more like 20/20 and she could see just fine again. Her story highlights the difference between the objective and the subjective worlds we simultaneously inhabit. The quants calculate best while the rest of us rely upon fuzzy felt-senses, which might well uniquely interpret for each observer. Perspective matters to us who live in the subjective world. We're extremely context-sensitive in ways the quants could never calculate.

The Style section provides lists enumerating various bests: best movie, best bagel, best baseball player. Your preferences might well vary unless you've figured out how to subjugate your tastes in preference to the popular ones, a slick trick, indeed, and one the media seems determined to help each of us master.

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A Mentor Passing

"He didn't need to say anything else."

I suppose that Estranged stands as a valid phase of every mentoring relationship, for these sorts of associations were never chartered to become eternally continuous. They serve as leg-ups, nudges to help someone over some hump and somehow putrefy if overly prolonged. I think that both parties understand from the inception that the terms of engagement won't allow for real friendship to emerge, though the exchanges always seem warm enough.

My relationship with Jerry Weinberg, who passed yesterday, lasted about fifteen years, which is long by any mentoring standard.

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" Truth was never as popular in junior high as most every lie, and so grew up rather shy about its native social acceptance."

Would you prefer that I lie and promise to tell you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when the whole truth usually has a few elements besides the truth imbedded within it? The truth of the matter might be (must be?) that it's never wholly whole, but only because it can't be. It can't be because us humans tend to be unreliable recording instruments. We seem prone to seeing what we anticipate rather than what's actually there. We remember what doesn't shut us down rather than what we experienced. We are subjective beings, never objective observers, and so prove unreliable conveyors of any absolute, truth being prominent among them.

Yet we still, sometimes smugly, believe ourselves capable of discriminating between a truth and a bold-faced lie, and we are not always incorrect in our assessments.

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" In trust we trust. Amen."

Our new car, The Schooner, has very few moving parts. I expect in a few years to be able to buy a car with absolutely no moving parts. Once, cars were mostly moving mechanical parts. No longer! Now they're smart, or at least much smarter. Many of the formerly laboring mechanical parts have up-sold themselves into management positions thanks to the marvels of electronics. Our new car is a thinking car. It anticipates for us so we don't have to. It's not rocket-scientist brilliant or anything. It just maintains vigilance where ours might wane. It helps keep us safer and just that little bit saner, too. It almost seems benevolent, a friend.

A friend until something goes wrong

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"I never feel more here than when I am immersed in some author's somewhere else."

I read a lot of books, well over a hundred a year, maybe twice that. I rarely remember anything I read, not in any detail, but then I try to avoid the types of books requiring me to remember much. I almost exclusively read fiction because it seems much more real, although there's not really any genre BUT fiction since even so-called non-fiction gets filtered through authors who perhaps unavoidably fictionalize whatever they put down, wrapping their stories in the trappings considered appropriate to "real" storytelling: hero, journey, challenges, and triumphant return. I consider myself an exacting reader in that I only rarely finish a book unless its prose pleases me, either in construction or concept. I consider myself to be a prose chameleon, my own writing quietly influenced by whatever I happen to be reading at the time, so I'm careful to quickly discard trash. I read all the time.

I'm in and out of the library several times each week, often daily. I scrupulously return any book I've finished the same day I finish it or the very next day at the latest. I always figure someone might be waiting for me to put it back into circulation.

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"Never give them a passing thought," …

This week, a Facebook friend (a designation with which I intend no derision) asked me who I wrote for, by which I interpreted him to mean, who do I imagine reading my stuff. His question sparked quite a bit of old tinder because I never could find an answer to that seemingly perfectly uncontroversial question. I once again encountered what I consider for me to be a fundamentally unanswerable question, though it gets down on one knee and seemingly begs for a response, and a straightforward one at that. Certainly, if I write, an object of my efforts must be present, if only in my mind. There isn't and I don't.

I realize that by admitting this omission, I might be violating a first principle of marketing: Thou Shalt Have A Target Market, except I'm not marketing, but writing.

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"We're here in the middle, comforted by the edges we imagine constraining us."

I understand nothing about as well as I understand infinity, by which I mean, hardly at all. Like infinity, nothing can appear in a surprising variety of quantities. I can experience Plenty of Nothing as well as NothingMuch. Likewise, infinity can come in any of, dare I suggest, an infinite number of discrete forms. Even Forever After might hold a shorter shelf life than Ever And Ever, for instance. The concept that neither nothing nor everything comes in specific single-serving packets should set me back on my heels. It might be that this explosion of variety never comes into play until one thinks they're experiencing nothing or everything. Then, a multiverse appears.

Some mornings, I rise convinced that I have nothing to say.

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" … seemingly, suddenly, self-licking ice cream cones."

The VP of HR called me into his office to discuss a troubling complaint he'd received following my last workshop. Two participants had taken umbrage at a metaphor I'd employed, insisting that it clearly demonstrated that I was racist. Pretty certain that I could not possibly be fairly characterized as racist and curious about where this conversation might go, I showed up, though I arrived wary. I'd gotten tangled up around misunderstood metaphors before and felt fairly certain that I understood where this conversation would go, for there's no counter-argument to anyone's firm conviction. There's also no way to fix this sort of past. I sat quietly as the VP failed to explain my error to me. I hardly mounted any defense. I knew before I showed up that I would not be asked back to deliver another workshop.

I permanently deleted that metaphor from my patter.

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"We love who we love."

If you want to experience the human condition, watch sports. It hardly matters which one. Baseball works best for me because I naively presume to understand the game, but soccer or football or golf will suffice. Each relies upon the fan believing that they know something about the game, though the numbers strongly suggest that they could not possibly know very much. The baseball fan up in the cheap seats wearing the porkpie hat and holding a kraut-smothered dog in one hand and a frosty Iron City in the other, could hardly be expected to grasp the statistical swirl they witness. They, like me, focus upon probably irrelevant elements, fully expecting that they can predict what might happen next. That home run hitter, coming up to the plate, brings with him the strong statistical probability that he will return to the dugout deeply disappointed, but the fan sees the opportunity to pull ahead in a lurch.

I guess it does't matter how many times the fan's expectations end up being disappointed. Enough homers happen to encourage that hope essential to encourage any supporter to hope yet again.

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"I remain an apprentice in this life …"

Somebody wiped the slate clean overnight. Whatever had backed up and accumulated over the last week simply disappeared. By the end of this week, another clog will have appeared, detritus remaining from the fresh aspirations coloring this sunrise and the few to follow. For one moment, I feel as though I've caught up. I leave The Villa refreshed. On the drive down to the lab, The Muse muses over the clog before her. Everything coming due at exactly the same time. No time in reserve for her upcoming week. It's spent before it's lent.

I've got my circuit. Gas up the car. Stop at the hardware store for parts to fix The Muse's leaky toilet. Pick up that special roast the coffee shop agreed to make up for me.

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"A degree of difference, persisted over time and distance, results in a lot of difference …"

By the middle of summer I start to catch on that this season ain't gonna quite turn out the way I'd envisioned it. This recognition should come as no real surprise because 'not turning out as expected' might simply be the nature of things as they've always been and therefore most probably always will be. I still plan ahead, anticipating some facility never before in evidence. I stop near the middle, taking stock of my progress to always find it wanting in some material way. I have even shown myself capable of chewing on myself for failing to achieve whatever it was I'd earlier convinced myself that I would have achieved by now. It all seems such a ridiculous swirl.

I'm not very goal-oriented. I do not now nor have I ever maintained a bucket list. I hold my aspirations rather loosely.

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"Acceptance speaks loudest of all."

What better demonstrates cluelessness than KnowingBetter? I suspect that it's not the knowing that contributes to the sense of cluelessness but the bettering. KnowingBetter seems to set up a sort of competition, a one-up, which easily sours any encounter. The intended betterment encourages a kind of resentment from the one being bettered at, or from the one being battered by the attempted betterment, for no one actually achieves the objective of demonstrating that they KnowBetter. They achieve at best a tentative nomination for inclusion in the Asshole Hall Of Infamy instead, for turning what might have been a collegial sharing of knowledge into a pissing contest.

I've noticed that I feel smarter when in the presence of a genuinely smart person.

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"It's become the Go space on the seemingly otherwise completely built out Monopoly® board …"

When Ben Franklin first proposed the creation of the US Postal Service, the now-humbled post office, he envisioned a strategy for instilling the presence of the federal government in every town and hamlet in what until then had been a divided collection of colonies. The postmaster would be the duly selected representative of that far distant machine which remained otherwise invisible to the average citizen. Over the past thirty years, successive attempts to manage our postal service as though it was the business its founders never intended have left it no better off than any under-inventoried K-mart awaiting closure. What once carried a grave sense of place and authority now holds all the ambience of an ill-maintained men's room. It's still a go-to starting place to receive a raft of government services, but one feels as though you really need to squint hard and use both hands pulling those services to the surface.

As one after another government service has been slight-sized, many needs now go begging.

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"The Plan Says rarely qualifies as a good excuse."

I've spent most of my working life so far anticipating futures. I advanced in my career to the point where I was sought after as a teacher of the dark art of projecting useful shadows on far walls. I eventually realized that I paid for every moment I spent planning for any future by forfeiting my present; my presence. I became an acknowledged expert at pre-living life, but remained a rather rank amateur at actually living it.

I believe that I understand that no existence could hope to be complete without balancing some mix of presence and absence, whether that absence be spent in review or anticipation. Obsessing over the past seems somehow equivalent to obsessing about any future,

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"I only know it when I feel it."

Many seem to conflate love and like. I'd love to tell you why, but I don't know why. I think, perhaps, I'd really rather like to tell you, but the common idiom insists that I oversell my motivation by insisting that I'd love to tell you. I would if I could but I can't. Perhaps such conflations originate in our inability to properly define the term love. Love fails the noun test—it's clearly neither person, place, nor thing—though everyone uses it as a noun. It seems to be a terribly personal emotion without a specific universal referent. Ask what it's like and you'll receive a flood of profound banality in return. Some say that God is love, which, by The Commutative Law Of Is, means that love is also God. Go figure.

Fall in love and lose your mind, though losing your mind has never been shown to be a clear path to God.

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"It's messy here, but human."

Democracy seems as if it might be a terrific way to govern the clueless. After centuries of spotty results presuming divine rights and absolute authorities of kings, popes, and potentates, The Founders chiseled out a radical alternative: Hows about we ask The People what they want and focus the government on achieving that? Version 1.0 seems rather crude to our eyes, a couple of centuries and change after the founding of this republic. Version 2.0 seemed better, at least more promising, though some of the new promises faced steep opposition by foot-and knuckle-draggers who struggled with the realities of equal justice for all. They'd apparently become accustomed to unequal justice, where their thumbs weighed more on those revered blind scales of justice.

We're eyes wide open now, I think, ever more closely scrutinizing our intentions against our delivery. We inevitably fall short, though finding that we're still falling short seems a perfectly normal and expected outcome for the avowedly clueless.

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"Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

I think of myself as a great proponent of folk wisdoms. They tend to be tricky, though, with unexpected nuance lurking behind what everyone automatically takes for granted by the five thousandth time they've heard it. Absence does seem to make the heart grow fonder, doesn't it? But this chestnut applies to more than separated lovers. I've noticed that the very best moment in the life cycle of any project tends to happen around the very start of the effort, when the outcome still seems glowy and perfect, before the accumulated disappointments and compromises have had their way with the originating big, bright idea. Before emerging knowledge had grounded the balloon. Nearer the end, familiarity tends to have bred considerable contempt, and by then even the early champions would drive a stake through the effort's heart, given half a chance.

TheFonderHeart might prove to be a tell, an indicator of considerable cluelessness.

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" …the long-banished philosopher, our long-lost best friend."

About a decade ago, while browsing in The Library of Congress, I happened upon a field of study I'd not previously encountered, The Philosophy of Science. I ordered up a pile of books on the subject to my study desk and over the following weeks, read through several of them. Since Descartes, the philosopher, once one of the principals of scientific enquiry, had been more or less banished from the laboratory in favor of more physically-oriented observers. The practice of I Think, Therefore I Am might be better characterized by the phrase I See, Therefore I Am. The philosopher might bring unseeable into the conversation, muddying otherwise clear inquiry. Heck, the philosopher might rail on about the nature of 'is-ness' itself, seemingly endlessly questioning the very base of observation as the principle tool of enquiry. Objective assessment nudged out the subjective.

I over-simplify, for living, breathing, thinking, actively observing people populated the ranks of science, and so the philosophical never fell too far beneath the surface, like one of those public secrets needing no confirmation or commentary.

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" … either overwhelmed by Too Much Information or underwhelmed by far too little."

Cluelessness carries a paradox. Too little information cannot always be resolved by simply providing more, like water resolves thirst or food, hunger. Too Much Information can induce cluelessness every bit as vacuous as too little. The detailed specification might leave the fabricator overwhelmed. On the other hand, mere rumor probably won't suffice as meaningful instruction, either. The more anal systems analyst might insist upon producing essentially executable pseudo-code while the more cavalier coder prefers to iteratively refactor, no sweet spot seems to exist in the middle of this eternal muddle.

The Bible opts for analogy and metaphor, seeking to induce rather than instruct, but then many insist upon interpreting as if they were not interpreting at all, sticking to the literal meanings as if those weren't interpretations, then blaming the resulting tangles on heresy and worse.

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"Some desires seem best served by being denied their denouement."

Pagans, philosophers, scientists, and poets have been diligently considering TheGreatMystery at least since the beginning of recorded history, and probably much longer. While great progress seems to have been made, our inability to report that we're even close to solving TheGreatMystery might say most about the nature of that mystery. TheGreatMystery persists, perhaps more amused by our machinations than informed by them. Competing theories seem to simply thicken the plot.

I greatly admire the Jewish Talmudic tradition, where sacred texts are endlessly studied and discussed with the intention of gaining greater insight but without the expectation that TheGreatMystery encoded there might ever be resolved.

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"If I deceive myself, and I do, how inhuman would it be to exclude you from my grand Deception?"

I consider myself a fundamentally honest person, perhaps because my many false pretenses have migrated into spaces I rarely ever think about anymore. I doubt that even I know the truth about myself now, if I ever did. I question what utility complete authenticity might buy me. I am not quite what I appear to be. Confessing just how deceptive my appearances might be seems to offer little utility for anyone. I'm not sitting on a murder most foul, committed in passionate insanity, but where should I draw the line? As a somewhat public persona, I studied the arts of clever projection. I understand that appearances matter and that people tend to judge harshly when their unconscious expectations get disappointed. For appearances' sake, I deceive, and quite deliberately.

Some forms of cluelessness seem absolutely benign, unlikely to wound anyone involved.

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"My elementary school teachers unwittingly taught me that Nobody Can Tell Nobody Nuthin' …"

I hold the firm conviction that nobody can tell nobody nuthin'. In this case, the double negative works both ways, and I fully intend it to carry the apparently contradictory message. Part of the phrase insists that nobody can tell anyone else anything. The other, that one cannot ever fail to communicate something when trying to tell another something. Pundits persist, though, trying to convince the dedicatedly disbelieving. I believe that they fall into a shallow cognitive trap when thinking that they might hold the power to clue in others. Though their words are unlikely to be interpreted in any way they anticipate, so thick the membrane protecting people from unexpected information, they (we!) persist.

Our elementary school teachers might have taught us something, demonstrating a curious superpower whenever they'd call on us to respond to their trick question with a simple response while the whole danged class watched.

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"Our spontaneity IS our superpower."

I decided to write about Cluelessness because I'm not that bright, myself. I often feel stumped enough to conclude that I might justifiably claim that I'm not quite bright enough to qualify as not that bright. The Muse insists that I complicate my life by over-thinking it. I can appear aloof and dismissive even when I try to appear engaged and inclusive. I read others poorly, which means, in my experience, I read others about as well as they read me. Being a cypher to myself, being misread by someone else fails to very deeply disturb me. I figure that some things aren't really meant to be read.

I've delved into several self-assessment instruments, managing to keep a straight face through most of my delving.

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"Memes do not manufacture memories but convictions."

Given the difficulties learning brings, I do not wonder why I seem to hold tenaciously to whatever I've managed to absorb. Letting go and letting something new come in feels like an exercise in unflushing a troublesome toilet. Once that shit's sorted and gone, I won't ever want to reexamine it. My attitude stems not from sloth but prudence. If learning's risky, unlearning might well raise merely risky to some obscene exponent of itself. I've seen what I've seen and cannot blithely ever unsee it. My initial impression, which sunk deeply into bedrock, does not seem to simply wash away with a light bleach solution. I've got what I've got.

Advertisers rely upon this understandable reticence to engage in unlearning. They project memorable impressions which they know you won't be able to easily, if ever, shake.

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" … I work diligently to stay within budget …"

I warily read my Times each morning, choosing what to expose myself to, and, perhaps more importantly, carefully, mindfully, avoiding what I do not feel I can "Afford To Know", to use my friend David Thompson's descriptive term. I suspect that we're each selective when subjecting ourselves to potentially disruptive information, the news that might well be "fit to print," as The Times touts, but somehow nonetheless, too personally costly to actually read. Go ahead and accuse me of overly-carefully tending to my cocoon. Dirty Harry insisted that a man has to know his limits, and while I can't exactly describe where my limits lie, I carry deep notions about what sort of company they keep.

Whole areas of subject matter, in this way, fall outside my range of interest.

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"… leaving the possibility for great delight to emerge
from an otherwise completely pedestrian activity."

Every Saturday morning, The Muse and I go on TheHunt. We explain that we head out to restock the larder, but we're actually on The Hunt. Nobody could reasonably label this activity shopping because, while we maintain an indistinct list of aspired-tos, we have little idea if we might find those or where we might find them. We do have a route, an old and largely reliable route, culminating at a supermarket, which serves as the source of last appeal, where what we were not fortunate enough to find might be approximated. TheHunt exists because we don't actually know or, perhaps more accurately, we refuse to accept good enough as good enough.

We know some who religiously head for Costco because they can reliably acquire their heart's desire.

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" … defensiveness, too, eventually becomes an exclusively positive feedback loop,
an a priori universal, StudiedCluelessness."

Maintaining some cluelessnesses requires focused study. Given the proliferation of contradictory information floating around, defending any perspective against discouraging intrusions seems an inevitably hopeless undertaking. We live and we learn. Learning unavoidably entails reconfiguring earlier convictions to construct ever fresher understandings, some of which might well later prove misguided. We live and learn just how full of shit we used to be. Some, though, seem relatively invulnerable to the vagaries of the learning cycle, sticking by earlier guns as if they represented inviolable truth in spite of the presence of heavy conflicting evidence.

If your livelihood depends upon swallowing bullshit, you'll likely swallow bullshit. You might not appreciate the mouthfeel, but you will be forgiven for at least pretending that you savor it.

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"Gilded clouds greet each sunrise and surrender every evening."

Lupin blossoms creep up the small hill out back, starting at the bottom in late June. By mid-July, they've moved into the backyard. Yarrow stretches out of the garden bed. The damned deer have been gnawing off the rhubarb leaves again. Conifers finished their pollen throwing to settle into being background again. Rabbits wander freely. A gang of turkey vultures wheels overhead searching for untimely death. Grasses recently greening from the ground up have set this year's seed and begun their browning from the top down. I set my sprinklers in pre-dawn darkness before the breeze kicks in.

Windows stay wide open day and night. We chase the few flies that enter through the screen door we cannot seem to remember to close behind us.

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"I might settle into this fresh reality, but probably not."

The Muse and I call a narrow convergence home. Several busy roads merge into a single six-lane vulnerable to all the usual vagaries. I often choose to take one of the two most prominent two-lane alternatives rather than try to drive my camel through that needle's eye, though sometimes, even the back routes close down. A surprise Spring snowstorm can shut down the whole shebang, leaving us stranded along the way. Clogs are common, flow disruptions expected, except when they aren't. It seems to be the nature of traffic jams that they only occur when least expected and therefore least prepared for. We can't live in a constant state of readiness, and the demon traffic gods understand this, waiting for peak inattention to strike.

A seemingly small slowdown.

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"What if authenticity was the coin of this realm …?"

I hold beliefs that make no logical sense. I have no clear sense of what constitutes logical sense. I am easily confused. I can't tell you how anything works. I'm often surprised. I make mistakes multiple times each day. I cannot seem to write legibly. I cannot sort laundry in a way that satisfies The Muse, who holds a laundry sorting algorithm which she cannot coherently explain. I have relatives who believe that the earth is no more than a few thousand years old. I do not 'know' how to write, type, or read, though I write, type, and read every day. I once scored well on an IQ test without knowing for sure what most of the correct answers were. I can only barely pass a driver's license test, but I fancy myself to be a good driver.

I'm always with stupid. I am an extremely mobile universal stupidity machine.

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"They count on fingers unimaginable to me and perhaps unimaginable to them as well."

I consider myself to be a counting-on-my-fingers type guy. This self-image supported most all of my pursuits until about fifth grade. Long division won't yield to finger power. Neither will most of the most troubling difficulties (aka "problems") I encounter in this life. What smug scientists label 'higher level' thinking seems necessary to crack more advanced mathematics and most other truly troublesome questions. Two plus two almost never equals four anymore. Neither does seven minus three. I seem to need to stumble into some alternate strategy besides counting on my fingers to successfully unwind even the most seemingly pedestrian problem these days.

I suspect that simply classifying myself as a counting on my fingers type guy nudges me about halfway toward resolution, though.

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"I'm more of a browser, myself."

At thirteen, I agreed to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior. I had no idea at the time what that agreement entailed or, indeed, what it might mean. Even today, a lifetime later, I still can't grok what it means. I had not been a hellion in my youth and carried no deep regrets or vile misdemeanors into my teen-aged years. Indeed, I've rather naturally not strayed too awfully far into the venial as an adult, never really attracted to the low life. I don't have to try too terribly hard to behave decently. Not that I'd ever consider holding myself up as any sort of exemplar, but I'm an indifferent sinner if, indeed, I really qualify as a sinner at all. Not that I'm a saint, either. I can carry murder in my heart for careless drivers, heartless landlords, and the more studiedly clueless, though I can't really see myself carrying out the crime.

I imagine Personal Lord and Savior to be a kind of superhuman personal shopper sort of role.

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"Curtains turn frantic whenever someone slides open the door again."

The wind in "Sou' Dakoda" is nobody's friend and everyone's near constant companion. The Muse insists that it doesn't so much blow as suck, nothing standing in its way from Northern Saskatchewan, Western Wyoming, or the Gulf of Freaking Mexico. It rarely sucks west. A still day hardly ever visits and never comes anywhere near to wearing out its welcome when it does, leaving with the familiar groaning weather vane in the night. The ground's usually firmly enough tacked down to prevent blinding dust, but a fine gritty film seeps in around every window's trim. The porch feels like sandpaper underfoot. Wind turbines spin effortlessly, endlessly.

The Schooner nudges along, goosed or rudely shoved aside. Verges ripple like shimmering grease as the sidewind screams through the grasses there.

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" …a simple flexing finger might welcome even a stranger home."

Section roads checkerboard the state of "Sou' Dakoda." East River—that is, east of the Missouri—where the land lies essentially flat, section roads seem to run in an expansive one mile grid; every mile, another section road appears. Most are gravel and provide access to cropland and farmsteads. They're numbered according to their distance from the state's borders. This morning, I'm writing near the intersection of 139th Street and 412th Avenue. It's not uncommon to find section roads numbered in 1/2 increments. This whole state, however lonely it might seem, has been thoroughly surveyed and settled.

The dust reappeared yesterday.

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"Nobody can credibly critique another's celebration."

Nobody can credibly critique another's celebration. Each to their own. Some only find satisfaction with a big brass band; others, a quiet beer. Cheer's in the ear of the one who's cheering, never the one's who's jeering. Your hip-hop sounds like noise to me. So much the worse for me. Holidays bring the need for genuine tolerance. Some just seem to need to celebrate by disrupting their neighbor's tranquility. Accusing someone of making war on Christmas only further fuels the presumed conflict into perhaps a genuine one.

Some say the world will end with a firecracker, others, with an ice chest overfilled with beer.

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" …traces of their passage still remain."

As we neared Watertown, The Muse started musing about her grandmother's heritage. Her mom's mother's birth family had lived in and around Watertown for a few decades around the turn of the last century, and since we were in the area and running early, she proposed that we exit from the eighty mile per hour rat race route and toodle over to see what we could find while she reconstructed some history. That side of her family were what was then derisively referred to as bohunks, Sudaten German Catholics displaced from Germany following religious wars a couple of hundred years before. They'd immigrated in through Baltimore then migrated inland to central Minnesota before settling into what was then Dakota Territory, before statehood. We don't know exactly what these people did for a living, but it's a good bet that they were laborers. Most migrants into this area at the time worked at least part time for the railroads who had recruited laborers by the thousands from their home countries.

The South Dakota countryside on the third of July easily passes for an extended park stretching further than any eye can see.

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" …the sort of ball Jesus would play."

Over root beer floats at the Dairy Queen after the game, I asked why they did this, this being ChurchLeague slow pitch softball. "Why wouldn't you?", was the response. Never having belonged to any church in my entire adult life, the idea had never occurred to me. My team sport of choice has always been solo yard work, being the extreme introvert and homebody that I am. I have trouble meeting up with myself, so the idea that a dozen folks might manage to converge at the same place at the same time throughout an early summer season to play a series of weeknight and weekend games baffles me. In theory, it seems possible, but in practice, impractical, but in this small midwestern city, impracticality seems little encumbrance to actually pulling off such an unlikely anything.

My brother-in-law and I had just watched a double-header, home team losing both games. The play seemed baseball-ish, varying only in degree from the baseball I'm accustomed to. The balls are day glow yellow

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"It gathers each of us, native born and adopted along the way, into her wide-spread skirts …"

The prairie hasn't read the memo yet. It still thinks it's Spring though Summer's nearly two weeks on. Eight inches of rain in the last week has left the corn tall and deep green with muddy feet. Wildflowers smear expanses of prairie grass coming into full fuzzy head now. The thermostat hasn't found its upper reaches and we run with the sun roof and side windows wide open, more ambient than we had any reason to expect. We both seem born to this place. The Muse because she was born to here, me, I suppose, because some of my forebears homesteaded just south of here. The Muse is headed BackHome.

In our part of this culture we say that we "go BackHome." Most of our generation moved away somewhere. The prior generation was no different.

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"I'll be gone until I'm not gone anymore."

Denial is the first stage of vacation. The few days leading up to departure swell with stiff-arming tactics. The list of preparatory must-dos grows as one thing, then another blunts apparent progress. By the morning before, I face a numbing blank wall of possibilities I feel certain might hang us up for at least a day. By the night before, that list reduced to a final one or two, I resign myself to the high likelihood that we might even leave on time.

I figure the unknown blunts me. It slows me down, disabling whatever others experience as excitement at the prospect.

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"tomorrow will deliver a fresh faced opening in the turmoil"

I have no more than an hour each day I can call my own. Though I might spend most of every day alone, save for Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat's ever watchful eye, only that brief time really feels as though it completely belongs to me. Just after sunrise, I'm the only one moving. The yappy neighbor dogs still snooze. Even the freeway across the gulch fairly whispers at that hour. The Times hasn't yet arrived. The Muse wraps herself in emphatic covers, sucking every second out of her last hour of sleep. I've been up puttering for over an hour by then and feeling restless.

I step outside to immerse myself in the moist, cool stillness. Even in the middle of a heatwave, that early morning hour caresses. I'm up and just have to get out.

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"I could swear that an early summer morning is more eternal and more designed than a statistically accidental convergence …"

Things fall apart. More than ninety percent of stuff purchased today will be discarded as garbage within a month. Everything displayed within the BIG box store has the same destination. Energy, while conserved, is also more or less continuously disbursed into higher forms of entropy: heat, wind, tidal motion, photosynthesis; each further disbursing energy until indistinguishable, unmeasurable. We retain memories of lower forms of entropy and hardly sense the higher forms. What's here today continues its inexorable run, each tree temporarily suspended between seedling and dust. Nothing ever stays the same.

We speak of change as though it were the exception rather than the continuous norm.

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" … you might as just well be mumbling."

Me, myself, and I never considered becoming a trio, for we are one and the same perspective using three different names. I can describe you, from my perspective, and you, me, from yours, each fulfilling the role of second person, like a back-up. Me and my shadow have always been two distinct entities, speaking not as one but as opposites. While me, myself, and I speak from personal experience, like me and you do, explicitly owning the perspective we share, my shadow, whom I refer to as TheThirdPerson, exclusively speaks as though he were not there. Instead of proclaiming that he saw something, he hints that something was seen, leaving nothing more than an innuendo of ownership behind. Product descriptions and scholarly papers read as though nobody wrote them, an anonymous voice mouthing hollowed-out phrases.

Such writing works far more effectively than knock-out pills.

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" … by the last guest's departure, I will have somehow managed to have done it again."

The night before, sleep won't come. My mind had become a nattering checklist ticking off items while I tossed and turned. The Muse had invited twenty or thirty, more or less, over for a supper the following evening and I, as usual, assumed my proper role as cook. The "Pork Shoulder Butt Roast" had been soaking in its sou vide bath for a day and a half, to be finished off over a slow, smoky hickory fire the following day. Two chickens were marinating in lemon/herb d'provence goop. A whole steelhead fillet waited attention in the cold corner of the fridge. Two dozen San Marzano tomatoes and a couple of Vidalia sweets were queued up, destined for salsa. A hearty half dozen different beers hovered in the garage, awaiting ice. I would be prepping all the following day.

I think it axiomatic that all great work emerges from some annoying disadvantage, sleep deprivation most common and cluelessness not unknown. No well-rested adventurer ever achieved anything, only the stupidly yawning, painfully limping, and disturbingly impaired even need apply.

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"I could have had plenty good enough, but dug in my danged heels insisting upon The Best instead."

Nothing better encourages the human comedy than the concept of best. Whenever it enters a conversation, meaning flees to be replaced by abstraction. Ask someone to recommend The Best place for dinner and they might provide an opinion. Take that advice and you'll learn to question their perspective in the future. Many companies self-proclaim themselves to be The Best. Some rating agency, that is, a company in the business of absolutely discerning The Best, will publish their annual top ten best places to work list. If you'd ever worked inside any of those places, you'd deeply question the findings. Our search for best might be inbred, instinctive, but innate capacity does little to inoculate against the resulting obvious cluelessness.

Best exists as a comparator, not an absolute designation.

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"Maybe I could blame the sugar high."

Before any truth becomes substantiated, it seems to exist in tentative suspension, a rumor-like state awaiting validation. Most of us don't hardly wait. Screw the grain of salt, we're wide open and suggestible. We believe what attracts our ear and reject what repels it. The freshest news seems to ache for echoing. By the time it's become fully validated, it's already anchoring the fifteenth page of the Times. The cover screams for attention. We rarely see the back pages where the details emerge.

It seems that those most up on the breaking news exude a particularly clever kind of cluelessness.

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"I live close to home …"

I cope with living in the Greater Denver/Front Range region by mentally cordoning off parts of it. Early on, as we explored the area, I silently swore to myself that I would thereafter make it my business to ensure that I would never return to this or that neighborhood or town. I could not have explained exactly why some places failed to pass muster, and I'm uncertain if I even now could explain my exclusion process, but I've come to realize that I'd roughly marked off what I would think of as "my" territory. I would never have to learn about or overly concern myself with any of the area outside of my selected territory, for I would maintain it as more than simply unfamiliar, but unknowable. I would remain clueless about them.

Most of the Denver Metro area now lies within my temporal no-man's land.

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"I generally find that I can well afford to continue with my cluelessness …"

I sometimes use the term Clueless to mean the opposite of its denotive meaning. I can certainly seem clueless because of an obvious lack of clues, but I sometimes feel overwhelmed by a rather un-obvious abundance of them, especially subtle ones. In retrospect, by gazing into my rearview mirror (the one where things sure do appear to be a whole lot closer than they are), I finally register what seems like should have been obvious before, when I wandered as if clueless when merely unable to see forest for the proliferation of trees. I believe that clueless only rarely means an absolute absence of clues, but rather a curious inability to winnow them down into any immediately useful form. I focus upon foreground when the real story's unfolding in background or I'm simply not paying close enough attention, or even too close of attention.

When I observe another wallowing in obvious cluelessness, I often wonder how it could be that they cannot see all the feedback trying to inform them. The inability seems willful.

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"I've been deceiving myself through the worst of it
just hoping to make the best of this someday …"

I will excuse you if you mistakenly conclude that I know what I'm doing here. I have been what I consider fairly diligent in my pursuit of the various masteries of life, but I know without even delving very deeply down that I've yet to realize my aspirations. Decades ago, I quite deliberately chose to just get on with my life rather than wait around for any mastery to appear. I was aching to get moving and not so much impatient, for I'd idled a considerable time, but disgusted with inaction. This decision brought with it the apparent necessity of deceiving myself, for my sense of being an imposter could otherwise overwhelm me. I proceeded as if I were capable when I knew with certainty that I wasn't, not yet.

I still don't know how else one might pursue mastery without beginning that pursuit long before having achieved what one pursues.

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"I firmly believe that there's always a pony in there somewhere,
no matter how much horse shit fills the stall."

Because I inhabit a tightly-coupled, deeply inter-related universe with only my sense-making apparatus with which to comprehend, I don't always understand what's going on around me. Or maybe I should say that I too often believe that I understand when I could not possibly understand. My dilemma doesn't make me in any way special, for it seems that each of us inhabits the same (or very similar) tightly-coupled, deeply inter-related universe and we each possess roughly similar sense-making capabilities, so we're all pretty much in the same boat. Sure, we each consider someone a whole lot stupider than us and also a few we consider much smarter, but our senses seem puny when compared with the surrounding universe. Our shared inheritance might be best characterized as Cluelessness. For all we know, all we couldn't possibly know looms far larger around us. Always.

I can't quite bring myself to characterize our native Cluelessness as in any way a problem. It's just the way it is, and it brings with it certain advantages as well as disadvantages.

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"So it goes."

My friend Wayner calls them "destructions." Those step-by-step illustrations printed on the back of the box, that box you inadvertently pulverized when opening, before you realized there were destructions printed on the back. He calls them "destructions" because he insists that even if you hadn't pulverized the box when opening it, the illustration on the back probably wouldn't have helped you assemble the fine product within. The destructions almost always appear to have been produced by someone for whom your native language isn't native. Also by someone other than anyone who might have actually assembled the fine product inside. They hire copywriters, out-sourcing this sort of work. It's cheaper that way.

I almost always end up assembling the fine product exactly one more time than I disassemble it.

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"Those who seem to have no interest in hearing generously, probably forfeit their right to speak."

The Muse can tell you that I rarely read the reactions to my postings on our neighborhood listserv. Something about the context seems to encourage people to drop their pants and lead with their least attractive profile when responding. Many tend toward a scolding stance. Some delve into the demeaning. Of course I feel goaded and sorely tempted to respond, if only to set the record straight. I'm learning that it's probably not my responsibility to set straight any record deliberately twisted through less than generous interpretation. Sure it feels as though I've just been ripped a new one and of course I really want to defend my integrity, but jumping into the pig wallow, even if explicitly invited, won't improve any argument, though the pigs seem certain to enjoy the spectacle of any high-minded anyone self-debasing themselves into to the troll's native environment. The Muse reads them. I don't usually.

My next door neighbor sent a text message regretting the latest savaging of which I'd been blissfully unaware. I appreciated him with a grateful reply. A few more personal messages arrived, each appreciative and generous.

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"I'm wary, on the look-out, peeking over one shoulder every step of every way."

I have heard about an alien concept I'll call ConfidentStrides. This term describes a totally mythical state where a person moves forward without hesitation, said to accompany personal conviction. The literature speaks of revelatory insights inducing such a sense of certainty that ConfidentStrides result. The hero or heroine marches into their future, utterly transformed, unstoppable. I refer to this state as alien and mythical because, while I've heard that such a state exists, I've never personally experienced it. Further, recognizing that I have not yet experienced it has sometimes encouraged me not to act, to sit tacitly by rather than to move forward and engage. I've yet to achieve anything by means of ConfidentStrides, which is not to say that I've never accomplished anything. I'm apparently more of a PeakingParanoia sort of person, I guess.

When challenged to do some right thing, I notice my paranoia peaking. I would, in that moment, much prefer to take a break, take a nap, perhaps cower beneath my bed.

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"We cannot possess what we cannot share."

I humbly post this brief explanation. You might have noticed that I've hung an American flag upside down from my deck. No, I didn't accidentally string it backwards. This was a willing, willful act, one intended to express the extreme distress my house, my home, and my country currently experience. When I read in the paper that border agents play a cruel bait and switch with the children of those seeking asylum in my country by explaining that they're just taking the child for a bath, only later taunting the helpless parent by saying that they might never see their child again. This report distresses me.

Illegally crossing the border for the purposes of seeking asylum never was a felony. It would until recently garner an infraction about as damning as a speeding ticket, a misdemeanor easily dispatched with a couple of hundred dollars, a few days in jail, and/or a ride back from whence you came.

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" …home food seems better suited to our temperaments."

The place looked okay when I spotted it from across the street. Early Friday evening, seventy eight sweet degrees, and The Muse and I are out to do something with the tail end of our week. She suggested Highlands, a neighborhood of over-priced crumbling shotgun houses with a definite yuppie vibe: dog spas, yoga studios, cafes with sidewalk seating. I agreed. We found a place to park just a block down from the main commercial strip and strolled up to see what had changed since last time. We'd both sworn to not choose that pseudo Italian place we'd visited a few times, each dinner intended to convince us not to come back. Denver doesn't seem like much of a restaurant town, so choices limit our choices.

Not that we know the place. We're true exurbans now. We complain about the lack of urban services in our exurban neighborhood, but we seem as lost as if we were from rural Kansas whenever we near the South Platte, the seasonal stream separating Downtown (both upper and lower, LoDo) from its residential counterweight to the West.

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"We're lucky and cursed not by the lottery gods, but by ourselves."

I don't play the state lottery, mostly because I don't know how to play it. When I stop into our local inconvenience store, I usually find somebody buying a ticket, often several. I don't know what they do with them or how winners get selected. I do know that the odds of winning seem infinitesimal, and that I'm too embarrassed to ask how one 'plays' the game. I figure that if I was meant to know how to do that, I would have already learned how. I figure that I automatically win another sort of lottery by not knowing how to play the lottery, my lottery prevents me from ever losing a dime playing that other lottery. My ignorance serves as an insurance policy against the almost certain prospect of losing whatever I spend playing that other lottery.

I suppose that I play in many different lotteries. So far, I'm winning the health lottery, though I expect to eventually lose it. That's the thing about lotteries, play one long enough and you're guaranteed to lose.

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"I gain fresh appreciation that anything perceived to be beyond this moment
might be aching after irrelevance."

Aging might be a process by which we learn how to cope with encroaching irrelevance. What I twenty years ago thought might liberate some oppressed class, helped only a few find their innate freedom, and even then, I quake at the thought of ascribing anything I did to their discoveries. I at most served as a medium for any message I believed I carried, my audacity perhaps communicating most clearly whatever I was trying to say. I would stand up and speak. I often felt eloquent then, sometimes insightful. Those insights seem irrelevant now. Civilization seems to progress by going backwards to relearn what prior scholars and philosophers firmly believed they'd cleanly resolved. Fresh generations enter skeptical of their elders, and honor most of them by assuming they were at least misguided, but probably wrong.

Yet we, as a society, persist in sharing our insights, of audaciously standing up even when we should know that we'll later be found misguided, rightly or wrongly, it will not matter.

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"Maybe one or two of those delights might stick to you in turn."

Writers feed the monster, though we are no less susceptible to it than the least of our readers. Though not all readers consider themselves to be writers, all writers are also readers, taking in many multiples of what they ever produce. Any writer's output seems paltry when compared with the fire hose volume continually spewed in their direction. No self-respecting writer could ever let all that goody gush by without trying to take a few swallows. For a writer, the antidote for Too Much Information seems to be creating Even More Information, but, you know, a somewhat better class of it.

We serve foie gras by the spare ounce because a ton of it too closely resembles what the sous chef calls it: goose shit. Served sparingly, it's transcendently wonderful stuff. In excess, it turns to crap.

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"I washed my hands with Lava® soap after I finished the job, just like a real handyman would."

My readers know me to be nobody's handyman. Sure, I sometimes dress the part, hoping that my threadbare work clothes might somehow set a context within which I might manage to select the proper screwdriver for once, but handiwork requires some content behind the context. I'm learning, but I seem to have started way behind on the grand learning curve of handyman life, so I doubt that I'll ever catch up. My workbench tends toward cluttered. The sloping garage floor leaves me struggling to prevent my handyman chair from rolling down and into my work table. I seem to be at least one tool short of completing any project, almost invariably finishing by ineptly applying some lame hack. Usually.

The Muse's swing-arm floor lamp went bzzzzzt a few weeks ago. I'm no electrician, but even I could tell that the light bulb socket looked kind of fried. I wasn't that surprised.

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"Dirt lies in that thin layer between bedrock and sky where, on my knees, all things seem possible."

I figure anything really worth doing deserves my attentive procrastination. I'd dedicated nearly two full weeks to circling this effort, maybe closing in on starting, maybe deferring imagined agony. I kneel before the space as if performing some ritual, and perhaps I am performing a ritual, one I've repeated many times before, each instance different enough to carry great uncertainty. The sod needs removing. I don't know for sure what lies beneath it, though I imagine bedrock. Once I scratch this surface, I've committed myself to follow through whatever I might uncover there.

I fill a five gallon paint bucket with rocks for every yard I cultivate. The dirt itself seems fine, surprisingly so, featuring earthworms and decent soil. I'm surprised, maybe delighted. My muscles remember the routine.

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"We can breathe again. Not necessarily breathe any more easily, but breathe."

I've never thought of myself as a slob. Few of us believe that we're the mess makers we turn out to be for everyone else. I maintain my tidinesses quite compulsively, if quietly. My "orderly" piles of books ready to my hand. My shoes lined up just so serve me just as I intended. The Muse maintains her order, too, mysterious (to me) central organizing principles and all. Tidy for me might well constitute a mess for anyone else. I stumble over The Muse's carefully placed shoes, too. The tangles between us remain largely inadvertent, preconscious resonance of a sense of order we each absorbed long before we suspected we were absorbing anything.

Cleaning, too, echoes traditions probably predating great grand parents. The Muse's sensitivity to dust and my tenacious inability to see dust might have each originated in some pioneer days survival strategy.

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"Rose probably knows more about me
than any other living being
and she still consents to sit on my lap
for almost ten minutes at a time …"

I most days spend more time talking to Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat than to any other living being, other than myself. Many have written on the so-called art of human-to-human conversation, but I've found little advice on chatting with my most common companions. I've never really subscribed to the notion that one should converse in strategic ways, preparing as if for a debate competition and progressing as if engaged in chess. I'm more of the dialogue sort, engaging more to see what might emerge than to demonstrate how clever or well-prepared I could be. To my mind, no one ever wins a conversation, so I never worry about whether I've succeeded in scoring my points. I believe that real conversation has no point, so I might usefully engage with Rose The Skittish or even with myself without feeling as if I'm necessarily lonely or degrading my sociability by doing so.

"Hey, Weasel Head," I often begin when conversing with Rose, for she seems to undoubtedly embody the moniker. She sort of barks in response.

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"Feels like home to me."

The town smells of roasted barley malt this morning. Home to Coors brewery for nearly a century and a half, Golden, CO often carries the signature aroma of brewing, proudly off-gassed directly into the neighborhood. Tourists travel from all over to visit the plant, a dystopian hulk of glowering towers and steaming chimneys straddling Clear Creek and stretching downstream for miles of barren warehouses and railroad-sided grain silos. I've never taken the tour myself, having a local address and all. I frequent the less known but perhaps more noteworthy Second Largest Brewery in Golden, housed in a neighborhood alley pole building and ancient milk house behind a small brick Victorian home just three blocks off the main drag. There, they pass pints and pitchers through a window in the milk house and patrons imbibe in a year-around, dog-friendly open air beer garden while seated at communal picnic tables. I'm likely to meet somebody I never met before while drinking there. The beer's also clearly distinguishable from Clear Creek's water, too, unlike the stuff Coors produces.

I'm not very attracted to the biggest and self-proclaimed best of anything, but much more to the second best, or third, or fourth, or even lower on the pecking order. The best seems a notorious self-designation, unseemly in its self regard.

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"Around four this afternoon, the sky should commence to grumbling again."

The summer-ish sky starts darkening by four. I notice one towering thunderhead already east of me, moving like a single advance galleon leading a following armada. Then I notice a much larger fleet wallowing in to the north. Once I slip down into the valley, I see a dark smoke-screen smear obscuring the western horizon. More sails appear. It might already be raining up at the house. The Muse dawdles leaving the lab again. My mind generates alternative scenarios for skirting mindless freeway traffic, which instantly turns stupid with the arrival of any rain. The invaders depend upon our over-confidence and I refuse to fall prey and so I freely catastrophize while waiting on The Muse.

We make home before the storm makes landfall, though distant rumbling comes from the west, up and over the mountain separating us from the true west.

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"If I am powerful, I am powerful not because stars speak to me,
but because I emphatically speak to stars."

Eventually, someone will ask the question wondering after your audience. Who do you think can hear you from where you stand? Whom do you intend to hear you? To whom do you imagine yourself speaking when you open your big yap? These are terrific questions and not simply because they border on the fundamentally unanswerable, the only questions really worthy of human consideration. For me, I never find a snappy answer to any of them, perhaps because of a little understood yet fundamental law of human communication. The most powerful messages come from those one never suspects capable of delivering powerful messages. We could call this The Bushwhack Principle. We easily filter out familiar sources, somehow second-guessing what they're gonna say and hearing what we anticipated rather than what was passed. How insightful could those messages likely be?

The Earth sits, from our perspective, in the middle of an apparently infinite number of light points surrounding us. Some rather close by, but most, millions of miles away. Let's say that those stars and pulsars and such represent our audience.

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"That's where our innate greatness always resided."

When my contemporaries were busy imprinting on GlamRock and headbanger Southern blues, I was distracted listening to old Frank Sinatra tapes, imprinting on the music made for a generation or two before mine; The Great American Songbook. I studied the life of Jimmy Van Heusen, the songwriter that The Chairman of the Board wanted to be when he grew up, memorized Johnny Mercer lyrics, collected Cole Porter records, and pined after the long lost nineteen thirties, a time a couple of decades before I was even born. I instantly recognize Dinah Washington's voice, pitch perfect and reputed to never, ever having required more than a single take to make a perfect rendition. I listen to Hot Jazz Saturday Night on Washington DC's venerable public radio station WAMU almost every Saturday evening and tune in to John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey's Radio Deluxe every week.

When some popular recording artist of the seventies, eighties, nineties and so on passes on, I invariably never heard a thing they recorded.

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"I refuse to leave remaining roots to serve as witnesses to any inept beheading of weed tops."

I consider myself a student of gardening. Not a grad student, either. I'm still struggling to learn my way around soil, water, plants, and light. True, I have recovered several gardens in my time, each different, results personally paved with many, many grievous errors along the way. My greatest influence might have been an early and repeated exposure to The Victory Garden, a PBS series filmed on a former heavily compacted clay parking lot turned into an immaculate acre of garden, complete with greenhouse and a host with seventy years of experience. It all looked so easy and fulfilling, with no episodes focusing upon endless weeding and broken turning forks. Heck, that garden hardly attracted any weeds at all.

I never tried to transform a heavily compacted clay parking lot into an immaculate acre, but I have amended soil with peat, perlite, sweat, and love.

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" …his students can stumble upon a MannerOfThinking which might enable them to save themselves,
if only they'll stick with the pursuit."

To my mind, the greatest sin lies in telling people what they should do. Especially if I'm convinced that I really do know better. First of all, adults, even children, seem nearly immune to any sort of good advice and potentially hostile toward any intended to be good for them. We seem to want to discover and know for ourselves and when we don't, we really probably should. Much of what matters can't be transmitted as advice, no matter how good it might otherwise be. Still, many of us were early on convinced that we might usefully tap another's knowledge and somehow make it our own, either as passive witnesses like in school or as active inquisitors like in a court of law. How we come to know baffles most all of us sometimes.

Much of what we seem to know hardly qualifies as knowledge, anyway.

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"I have some places to go where I seem to need to carry the places I've been."

My internal alarm clock rouses me before the mechanical ones set for four am. I called The Muse out to the driveway last night to witness the moonrise, a fine, fat Flower Moon, the last full moon of Spring. By three thirty, the neighborhood lies bathed in deep velvet green, an almost glaringly subtle brightness subsuming what might otherwise have been merely dark of night. Night's darkness has already begun to recede, replaced with EarlyDark, a softer and gentler form of night. Morning hasn't quite yet shown her cards. The birds won't start twittering for another hour or so. Stillness reigns. Whatever outrage might rampage through the upcoming day still slumbers, catching up on her beauty sleep before inevitably turning ugly again after breakfast. The world seems gleefully solemn, satisfied with herself, and should be.

We leave the windows open all night, fumigating the whole house with flower freshness.

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" …the day hardly warrants remembering.
I hate it when that happens."

I knew perfectly well why there was no sun up in the sky. I'd been tracking lightening strikes for the prior couple of hours on the WeatherBug app. The line of storms had been moving steadily north and east, heading right for us. I mowed the lawn early. By the time I'd finished the chore, the temperature had dropped ten degrees and a gusty late March morning had emerged from the nearly-summer one. I'd hardly broken a sweat shoving that ancient push mower around the yard. I took this as a sign that I had been growing stronger for all my physical exertion this season, but I suspected the cooling wind. I'd opted to delay watering since the sky seemed as though it was aching to save me the trouble of hauling hose and placing sprinklers. It does little good to water when it's windy here, anyway.

The storm took her own sweet time arriving.

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" …I insisted that I was henceforth Aunt David to him …"

Andrew, who must be eight now, always wants to take the steepest trail. Christopher, a couple of years older, insists upon zooming ahead of everyone else, blazing the trail, leaving the rest of us in his dust. Lilly stays close, intermittently screaming at Chris to slow down. I cede the lead, though I'm the only one who knows the way to the top of the peak. Everyone becomes just who they are when hiking.

I'd suggested a hike to the top of the mountain with the three middle kids, nephews and a niece, to fill that awkward hour between their arrival and supper time.

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Egyptian Walking Onion sets -  summer
" … still actively aspiring, still learning, preserving the potential for if not better, at least different, later on."

The Muse and I cover the nearly twenty miles down to the Union Station Farmers' Market most summer-ish Saturday mornings, timing our arrival with the opening; easier parking, fewer people, more opportunities to chat with the farmers. Each week, something "new" appears on offer, or something new to me. This week's newby turned out to be Egyptian Walking Onions. I'd never seen them before, so I asked and got a long, nearly scholarly dissertation sprinkled with philosophy. These onions, like all onions, produce 'sets' atop their stalks, Eventually, these sets outweigh the stalks, causing them to fold over, placing the sets in proximity to the ground. There, the sets take root to grow a next generation. Over time, this repeated folding over to grow a next generation can result in the onions "walking" across a field, hence the name.

These onions aren't much to talk about.

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"Today, Wikipedia informs me, is World Thyroid Day, …"

My friend Franklin recently recounted his family's Mother's Day fiasco. They'd intended to do brunch at a fine Italian restaurant, but arrived to learn that they'd already sold out of everything Franklin's lovely wife Monica wanted, so they went strolling around the neighborhood, figuring a second best would quickly appear. Every place was booked solid with reservations. They finally settled for a seventies-era steak house where they served Corn Chex® as salad croutons. Monica teaches people how to cook like their grandmothers cooked and reviles "cereal" like Corn Chex® as the embodiment of everything evil with the industrial food system. Happy Mother's Day anyway!

Franklin reported that HallMark®Holidays seem to be the most troublesome ones.

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"I shy away from my shovel, knowing I will barely scratch the surface of this place."

By the last week in May, the sun finally gets around to rising at a decent hour, even encumbered by daylight saving time. By five, it's hardly dark anymore. By six, the sun's well up. The mornings will lengthen for the next month or so before starting to recede back into themselves again. This final month of Spring brings seven hour mornings and eight hour afternoons. Evening arrives just before bedtime. Morning's the choice time through this month. Afternoons can slump into thundershowers, naps, and tedium, but mornings vibrate with promise and possibility.

Aspen and cottonwood finally figure out how to fluff up their leaf cover again, hardly luffing in the languid breeze.

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"Anyone not reticent about starting a new adventure
will end up with a lot more adventure than they bargained for."

I become reticent when facing a new challenge. I understand that this culture better appreciates those who at least appear decisive, but I have never been one of those hard charging full-speed-ahead kinds of people. Even hastening slowly seems to me to exceed a reasonable speed limit at the beginning. I become reflective, sensing an impending disruption more than any possible improvement. I'm not so much interested in or obsessed with whatever end state my actions might induce, but with the beginning state they will insist upon. Who must I become to begin? What must I leave behind to start?

I call this time The Essential Milling Around Period. No project schedule ever represents this useful activity because it seems useless, trying the patience of the more decisive, apparently producing nothing of real value; no measurable deliverable, no fluff of wind in anyone's hair to represent progress, which as General Electric used to proudly proclaim, "is our most important product."

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June Morning, Thomas Hart Benton

"It's a HistoryLessen to recognize how little anyone eventually knows."

When I peer into the portraits of my great great grandparents, I find the most superficial representation of these two people frozen in a forgotten moment in time. When were the photographs taken? I'm uncertain. Possibly eighteen ninety, give or take a decade. I know some of their backstory. My grandfather Elza's parents grew up on adjacent spreads in the dryland wheat country of Eastern Oregon's Gilliam County. He, on the top of Hale Ridge, some of the last land grant ground left by the 1880s. She, at the bottom of that ridge beside a year round stream. My great grandfather Nathaniel's chore as the oldest boy left after diptheria took his two older brothers involved herding his family's livestock to the stream at the bottom of that dry ridge to water them and to fetch water for household use, since their property had no water, no well, given that several thousand feet of basalt sat between it and the water table. My to-be great great grandmother Clara's family lived near the watering hole.

That story represents a kind of history which projects whatever image I might choose to infuse it with.

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" … we've made another successful passage through the barren months."

Somewhere South of Mother's Day, PlantingSeason arrives. Sure, I'd been poking around the yard since March, but the containers which comprise most of our garden (thanks to the deer and elk, who seem to eat anything) have remained in garage storage until we could become reasonably certain the snow's finished with us for the season. The chokecherry tree's in glorious bloom, scenting the front yard with an aroma far sweeter than its fruit will ever become, or so I suppose since we've yet to see fruit on those trees. A killing frost or thunderous hail storm has managed to strike each year just as the trees reach full bloom, withering or bludgeoning the blossoms before fruit could set. This year might be different.

The bulk of our garden lives in containers on the back deck

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"a stop just about halfway between there and somewhere else"

Families don't happen in an instant. They are the oldest and most permanent part of our lives. They predate any particular member and so far, for The Muse and I, have always succeeded in outliving any individual member. The Muse and I have never grown accustomed to living separate from family, though it seems as if the last twenty years have been for us an extended exercise in living separate from family. We hold family in our hearts much more often than we ever hold them physically near. When we come into now rare proximity with our family, our hearts sing.

The Muse's brother Carl, his wife Louise, and five of their eight kids stopped for lunch yesterday on their way to Arizona to visit her ailing parents. They'd left the evening before in their shiny new Suburban Subdivision

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"I guess the subtlety undermined the message."

I try to comport myself as a good neighbor. Honestly I do, but I can become yippie sometimes if provoked. It takes quite a lot to provoke me. Yesterday, after about eight hours either on a ladder or crouched low on my knees painting, I'd just settled into a camp chair on my freshly painted deck to reflect on a job well done when a yippie dog somewhere down the lane commenced to yipping. It was fairly emphatic, whatever the provocation. I figured it might quiet down after a few minutes, but I was mistaken. I leaned back to meditate for a few minutes, figuring I could probably repel the aural assault by focusing my mind. Let's just say that my mind has nothing on any duck's back. Later, I was moved to write a short vituperation and post it on our neighborhood list serve. I know, unrequested advice. Now, of course, I'm crouching, fairly terrified to see what feedback I've received.

The Muse serves as translator when one of these things happens, and she read back a few of the many responses.

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"I don't know what could possibly replace a sincere lack of foresight. "
Beware the wily asymptote,
he only knows how to run.
He quickly secures essential funding,
then never gets a hundred percent done.

Unlike the wily asymptote, I manage to get things done. Unlike him, my completions tend to happen quickly. My beginnings seem to take forever, though. I operate asympbotically, which is pretty much the opposite of the way our wily asymptote runs. He takes forever to never get completely done while I seem to take forever just getting started. Once started, I quickly complete the task, like a slacker rabbit racing a diligent but slightly misguided tortoise. Many physical operations follow the wily asymptote's path, so many that we generally forgive the asymptote's inevitable shortfall, ascribing it to nature, God's will, or plenty good enough for whatever kind of work we're engaged in. Who are we to insist upon an unnatural outcome?

For about 90% of the duration of any project, I'm convinced that it will never get completed.

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Handyman Dave

"I become a disciplined robot for the duration."

I doubt that any military campaign ever received more detailed planning. Logistics have been swirling around unresolved in my brain for days. This morning, the wet weather finally broke, the humidity dropped twenty percentage points, and the forecast predicts no chance of rain for the next two days. I can put on the two top coats of paint on the deck railing today and even slop over into tomorrow if I must. I linger in bed, running through more obscure details, the order of application seems to trouble me most. What sequence will minimize wait time between coats? Should I mount the ladder or squat on the deck first? I suppose I should apply that annealing primer to the top rail first. It's likely to take longest to dry.

I wear a uniform every bit as steeped in tradition as any general's.

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How To Create A Vatta Schmaltz

" I imagine that I'll stand a little taller even after I climb down from the precarious rung …"

I began writing this essay three days ago, but deleted it on the first re-read, before even posting it anywhere. This act seemed perfectly congruent with the weather, which had served up sequential foggy days with intermittent showers. Little light filtered through the low-hanging clouds and little light seemed to escape through it, either. I've felt suspended here, my latest painting project sidelined until the prep coat can thoroughly dry. I read some and snoozed a little, and for the first time since last June, nearly eleven months, I finished no new piece of writing for two consecutive days. Today, I'm attempting to slip back into my groove again.

The Muse and I had no idea when we relocated here three years ago this month, that we'd barely skirted the tail end of winter.

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"The sermon, repeated each visit, is delivered olfactorily, in glory and excelsis, a cloud of nearly overwhelming sweetness, brimming with righteousness and salvation."

I heard this week that the Potomac (Maryland) Nationals, a minor league franchise of the National League's Washington Nationals, hosts periodic peanut-free baseball nights, so those allergic to peanuts but addicted to live baseball can exercise their addiction while respecting their allergy. Allergies can sometimes seem like a laughing matter until you discover that you've contracted one. I, over the last few years, seem to have become allergic to Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat. I consider my newly-acquired affliction ironic. My daughter has a gluten allergy severe enough to remind her with headaches whenever she decides to go ahead and eat the wheat bread before her. She tries to stay with the spelt stuff, which can be decent when properly prepared.

I am an unapologetic member of the local Gluten Appreciation Society. We meet each Saturday morning in a nondescript small industrial park in Golden, Colorado, the home of the snarkily-named Grateful Bread Company, a wholesale purveyor of high-end breads that opens for retail sales only on Saturday mornings.

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"Even Slugbug can be enjoyably played without resorting to slugging anybody."

Yes, The Muse and I continue to enthusiastically play Slugbug every time we're traveling together in the car, but we maintain a certain civility when engaging. We do not, for instance, actually slug each other, like a six year old might. Yes, we do observe the catechism, "Slugbug, no slug back," but only to preserve the essential form of play. Some days, The Muse quite joyfully skunks me, spotting a hot half dozen before I spy my first. Other days, it's me holding her underwater, reveling in my easy accumulation. Honest, there's no underlying malice. It's just a game for us.

I hold open doors for whomever follows me inside. If an adjacent driver signals to change lanes, I make it my business to open enough space for their shift. I expect similar civility from those around me, but I won't hold my breath until I receive it.

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"All things considered, I'd rather ride the bus."

I'm old-fashioned in the way that thirties black and white films are old fashioned, unselfconsciously. I do not paint my deck while wearing a suit, tie, and broad-brimmed fedora, though I do have a deck, something almost nobody had in the thirties. I'm also familiar with more modern scientific concepts. I no longer smoke. I never could dance, but I never couldn't enviously eye Fred Astaire's smooth moves. I suspect any store larger than a mom and pop shop. I despise freeways. I don't believe in microwaves. I prefer black and white photography, including films. Current movies and music baffle me. I still listen to old radio serials on Sunday nights and hot thirties jazz on Saturday nights, finding them preferable and far superior to anything of more recent vintage, with the occasional exception of baseball.

I read a lot, something of a lost art after alternative medias elbowed their way into the arena. I'd really rather stay in an old hotel, with the bathroom down the hall, than in another anonymous Marriott.

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"I grieved the end of summer last year but hardly prepared for its eventual return …"

This world trades in Suddenlies. For the longest time, stuff stays the same, as if stuck. Then suddenly, everything changes. Spring this year seemed to take her own sweet time to come, carrying Winter's frozen water for weeks and weeks before finally melting into herself. Likewise, Spring has suddenly become Summer six full weeks before Summer was scheduled to arrive. The neighbor kids run barefoot down the same street snow covered just a week ago. The yard, dormant then, turned bright green overnight. The season hasn't changed yet, but some Suddenlies sure showed up.

Boredom might be a natural manifestation of a deep disbelief in Suddenlies.

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"Life goes on a little richer. Bring a Pepcid®"

The Muse explains as I wonder what the heck chislic is. The menu describes what sounds like chicken fingers, breaded, deep fat fried, except with "finger steak", whatever that is. She says that it's a South Dakota thing, common bar food, a dish she's known about all of her life. I'd never heard of it. In deference to me, she orders some so I can taste without committing to a full order. I nibble a piece and gratefully leave the rest for her. Some will remain after we've both finished our meal.

The Muse pulls up the Wikipedia page describing the many variations on the dish.

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" … we're leaving with the destination unknown, but only because it's properly unknowable now."

I'm up early this morning, plotting the course for the start of the return trip. I learned on the way up that The Muse had planned for a two day run back home, which took me by surprise. I'd thought we'd tuck down our heads and drive the seven hundred miles in a single day, but she insists upon toodling back like we toodled up, and I'm more than agreeable. I texted the cat sitter to please put out the garbage on Tuesday morning and set about considering how we might spent that extra day. Distances seem so vast here that we tend to stay within the same narrow escape and reentry paths, struggling to justify the additional hours any alternate might demand, but with a whole extra day to play with, plenty of choices emerge. Too many choices emerge.

If the purpose of plotting is to pre-determine how we'll go, I'm not really plotting at all.

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"Forces marshaling before the great reconquering and resettling begins."

The ruckus starts early, before the sun crests the low eastern hills, and continues well into the morning. A slow decrescendo continues until later afternoon, when the ruckus starts again. Mourning doves count continuous cadence against which grackles chitter. Robins hop nearly ten feet in the air before returning to their relentless stalking. Swallows silently swoop through. Sparrows by the dozens fine groom unturned soil. Redwing black birds noisily defend territory. Hawks and turkey buzzards surveil from a few hundred feet above. Canada geese point out every imperfection troubling their passage, leaving behind cigar butt trails. The prairie blooms first in bird life. Before dandelion and quince, before tulip and cherry, birdsong breaks the long winter silence with exuberance, the soundtrack of budding life.

The passenger jets from Minneapolis fly over a fly zone that extends clear down to the ground.

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"We must be heading somewhere else."

The map doesn't hint at the disparity between what it represents for us and what we'll find there. The roads seem unchanged, though a few new businesses have sprouted up along the still familiar route. My first visit, twenty years ago now, and The Muse's childhood here moved away long ago, leaving what was then the future in their wake. We, hampered by memories and lingering, long-lost first impressions, reenter for the first time again. We wade through what we expected to find, hardly able to see what we find. Old relationships have become history. Relatives still familiar, though everyone's been constantly changing since the last time we came. Us, too. We feel no more than almost familiar to ourselves here now.

The end isn't coming because it already came, elbowed aside by new beginnings again.

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"… keep the roads clearer for those of us who come here for the reveals."

Top a hill or round a bend and experience another reveal. Driving across Nebraska, off the Interstate, produces a recursive kinescope of the state. Each hill, every damned turn and twist in the road, reveals a similar yet quite different perspective. I feel as if I'm delving ever deeper into what those who observe while flying over from thirty six thousand feet see as simply flat. True, with the exception of Scott's Bluff, nothing but ghostly grain elevators loom against any horizon here. Quite false that the country is flat, or even seriously flat-ish, for it rolls and seems to swirl as we top another hill and round yet another bend.

Difference, those of us blessed or cursed to have been raised in mountain country, seems to require altogether much more drama than it actually needs.

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"I write, therefore I blog."

I posted my first blog entry on January 12, 2006. I labeled it The Autistic Organization. My editor at the time had taken great offense at its content so it had proven unsuitable for formal publication. I figured it qualified as blog material, so I started this blog called PureSchmaltz. Choosing a 'platform' proved nearly overwhelming, a road paved with more good advice than I could use. Many strongly recommended WordPress, but I could not figure out how to navigate around in it. It seemed to have been designed for people who learned to use computers using MicroSoft software on a Windows machine, two mediums I never could figure out. I decided to limit my search to native Apple apps, and found a start-up called RapidWeaver. I've been using their software for eleven years. Not all those years have been pleasant, as this software, like all software, occasionally suffers from improvements, aka upgrades, which usually degrade the quality of operation for a few days or a few months. Still, I've found nothing better suited to me.

I'm no computer wiz.

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"In Sou'Dakoda, though everyone seems to drive with a lead right foot,
time isn't so conveniently hurried away."

The Muse and I are fixin' to take a toodle northeast tomorrow, heading toward Sou'Dakoda, which we should enter the morning after. We're heading up there for a family event, one of those one-of-a-kind sort of gatherings we've mostly missed in recent years. The Muse especially feels those twinges pulling her back toward her home country from this latter-day homeland. The road between here and there runs through some of the most diversely interesting territory in the nation and also some of the most mind-numbingly uninteresting spaces. The Eastern Plains of Colorado fall under the latter category. I consider them a three hundred mile long dedication test, a gauntlet sometimes featuring fierce sidewinds, monster commercial semi-truck rallies, and undifferentiated khaki-colored prairie. Even with the willows finally showing some soft green along the riverbanks, that part of the trip promises distracting desolation.

Once in Nebraska, the Sand Hills add some variety to the panorama. We'll wend our way up into and through Nebraska, for there's no other way to cross the place. Grant Wood would have felt right at home there where the two lane black top twists and twirls through rough cut gullies and draws.

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"Maybe, just maybe, a total lack of inspiration might prove to be inspiring enough today."

Boredom might be the single unforgivable sin in our chirpy, self-help society. Each of us has been schooled in the doctrine of self-determination, in at least the rudiments of self-promotion, and with plenty of positive self-regard crammed in the few remaining spaces. We are not allowed Blah! days and we are not supposed to talk about them if we experience them, for they admit to the most personal sort of failure, the kind no one can credibly claim that the dog or anybody else committed. These are all on old number one.

They tried to teach me. Perhaps I wasn't listening. Maybe I didn't want to listen.

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"We all live in glassier houses than we imagine …"

I suppose that Robert Frost waxed ironic when he proclaimed that good fences make good neighbors. In my experience, good fences distance neighbors, separating more than property. I've had good neighbors and not so good ones, great fences and crappy ones, even sometimes no fence at all. I built one from scratch nearly forty years ago that still stands as sturdily as when I first set it, pressure-treated posts encased in concrete and cedar pickets painstakingly set. Somebody built a house on what was then an empty field next door, an out-sized place now glowering down on my modest little fence which I only intended to contain the kids when they were small. The kids are long grown. It's somebody else's neighborhood now.

Our latest neighborhood doesn't allow fences, this to allow the free passage of elk and deer through yards that are more mountain meadow than finely-groomed turf, though some persist in presenting the grand illusion that only a closely-cropped green expanse can offer in an arid climate. They're welcome to their water bills.

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"I find myself at peace."

I sit in the yard sale office chair with my feet up on my workbench. I just finished restaining the deck while listening to a baseball game. The home team ignominiously lost in ten innings. After four hours on my knees with paint brush and roller, I'm grateful to simply sit but still jazzed up enough to not quite want to sit still. I survey the garage in the late afternoon sun, getting up to perform some little chore before sitting back down again. I'm burning piñon incense in the background, the smoke somehow purifying the place. I've cleaned up the brushes and tray, hanging the brushes to dry. My eye wanders to my pegboard wall, the first "improvement" I added after we moved in here.

Maybe it's only the after work beer thinking, but I consider that pegboard a fine self-portrait, one perhaps improved by the fact that I constructed it without the notion that I might have been engaged in self-portraiture, completely unselfconsciously.

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"The way things aren't might not matter much at all."

The Muse reports that she's been on a tear at work lately, fed up with what she sees as an unhealthy fixation upon the way things aren't. It's a common and powerful seduction, to parse the surrounding territory as what it most clearly isn't. Look out the window on a rainy morning and characterize the view as "not sunny." This perspective almost guarantees disappointment. More importantly, it separates the observer from the way it is. If all change rests upon the full , albeit temporary, acknowledgement of the way things are, this sort of perceiving seems to guarantee that nothing will change. How it should be, with the addition of bus fare, will get you a ride downtown. Absent that bus fare, you'll likely just get to watch the bus head downtown without you.

So much energy these days seems to be expended describing how things aren't.

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"It seems as if nobody knows anybody anymore."

At the time of The Dismemberment, our personal and professional bankruptcies, we relocated to Washington, DC, where The Muse had found work. The settling in felt incredibly sad, with us initially sequestered in a high-rise overlooking the Roslyn, Virginia, fire station and directly beneath the approach path to National Airport. Planes passed just overhead every forty five seconds between six am and ten pm, and several sirens-blaring responses screamed out of the firehouse each day. The cats never adjusted to that apartment where the only ground they could see lay a dozen floors beneath them. They'd hop onto the railing, peer down, and scream in abject frustration. Back home, before The Dismemberment, even the cats maintained a certain reputation around the neighborhood, but none of any of that transferred for any of us. We'd become anonymous.

Anonymity imparts a ghost-like presence.

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"If I burn myself out now, I might be right on time."

In my relative youth, I tried to learn how to parcel out my efforts, lest the old well run dry. The well never once ran dry, but I remained cautious of over-doing, understanding somehow that excess might bring a bill greater than I was prepared to pay. I avoided becoming a burn-out, one of those geezers mumbling into his beard, his penny spent on some youthful excess or another. I wouldn't push myself to write, for instance, but favored the old 'let it come' approach, figuring I could rely upon inspiration to fuel my progress. I used to write a song a month, or try to. Now, I meet songwriters taking a challenge to write a song a day for a month, and they do it. I can say that not every song produced in this way achieves the quality one might hope for any tune, but it's nonetheless quite an accomplishment. I can't see myself agreeing to so engage, though.

It's true that I write at least a short essay every day, but I don't think of myself as necessarily going for volume.

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"I appreciate the fog over the curious clarity of the properly formed plot line."

Living at seven thousand eight hundred feet above sea level, I sometimes find more than my head in the clouds. Here, I might wake up to a full body immersion in the clouds, absolutely SockedIn. The usual modest level of background sounds muffle to almost nothing save the screech of delighted magpies when they somehow find that bowl filled with the spoiled batch of quinoa or the crusty cat food I left out for them the night before. Trucks on I-70 disappear in the haze, their noise contained, even their headlights mere whispered hints of their passage. The dog walkers come out around sunrise regardless of the weather, the yippie pups grumbling under their breath, a welcome reprieve from their usual snippy snarling.

My head seems filled with clouds, too, fat insulating ones as my sinuses adjust to the altitude's pervasive aridity again and with my reintroduction to Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat's incessant shedding.

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"It's so quiet here."

For a while, everything seems like a dream. I become a rather distant observer of my own activities, separate and dispassionate. I greet the flight attendant who probably doesn't recognize that I'm disconnected, hardly present. The turbulence seems like it's happening to somebody else. I change planes in a daze, surprised to find myself at the departure gate and finding my seat just as if I knew what I was doing. I read my book and refuse sustenance, a ghost on a plane. I'm in no hurry, neither the first nor the last to board the tram to baggage claim. My bag arrives soon enough. I text The Muse to tell her that I'm on my way to the passenger pickup area, then simply wait until she arrives.

An observer might say that I'd arrived home, though my internal experience feels less definite than that.

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"A week later, perhaps more, some fresh bright shiny will attract my attention
and I'll find myself facing forward again."

I'm not looking to watch angels dancing on the head of any pin, but I was wondering when the end began and when it might end. Mid-afternoon, my niece's husband, our contractor for the remodel, packed up and left me to prune out the apricot tree and trumpet vine, all alone in the emptier driveway. Earlier my step son helped me disassemble the jury-rigged paint shed, my home away from home for much of the effort, and haul it away to the dump. I packed the Blue Box with the surviving brushes and other supplies, stacked the keeper paint cans together, took off my smocky painting shirt, now smeared with a fresh palette of color, removed my spattered painting shoes, and closed that garage door one final time.

Dearest old friends had invited me to supper, so I timed my washing up so I wouldn't arrive late. Downtown roared with activity. I had to park two whole blocks from the restaurant. Wine bars overflowed patrons out onto the sidewalks. Music, or the rougher equivalent of it, echoed down Main Street with competing tunes. Sidewalk tables filled. It seemed like the old days again, when every Friday night was shopping night as Dam Workers with fresh paychecks filled the streets of this small city, and families sauntered through Wards, Sears, Newberries, and J. C. Penney's, fingering dry goods with buttered popcorn-slick fingers.

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" … moving at the approximate speed of drying paint."

This, too, shall pass, I suppose. The final touches come more like desperate throat grabs, determined to strangle the liveliness out of the effort. Unforeseen complications reverberate through the whole structure this late in the project, after the hip bone's connected to every other danged bone in the body. Tiny discoveries set back the projected end by two days in just four days. My job as the owner/observer remains to provide some relative unflappability. I dare not lose my cool.

One of my Seven Ethical Responsibilities insists that I hold the responsibility to SitWithTheMess. Not IN the mess, for that would simply taint my presence. Not simply beside it, but With it, fully acknowledging its potentially poisoning presence without tumbling to its continuing attempts to seduce me into sitting in the middle of it. The mess might even be my friend.

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"A truly terrible influence, indeed."

Usually, when The Grand Other, our eight year old granddaughter, arrives home from school, she wants to plug into MindCrap, some sort of video game that has completely enthralled her. She will insist upon reading with her dad, a homework assignment but also, for her, more of a sacred obligation. This week, though, we've been walking down to the park to swing. Not too many years ago, she struggled to develop the coordination to properly swing, but now she quickly gains the stratosphere. This week, she's become more interested in the curly slide; more precisely, in climbing up the curly slide backwards.

She hesitantly approached the challenge, confiding that climbing the slide backwards was against the rules at school. I argued that the park wasn't school and she reluctantly tried then quickly failed to make it more than halfway up.

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" … a fool's mission, but nonetheless our only mission now."

Time slows rapidly as the end of any project nears. Gravity seems to work harder and even the simplest task takes multiples more time than expected, as if the project was trying to deflect completion. Supplies go missing. Backlogs shrink but only under ever increasing effort. Momentum stalls and a different physics takes over, one not subject to familiar universal laws. Mastery reverts into apparent naivety again. Almost any effort utterly exhausts. The tiniest task takes forever to get started and even longer to clean up after. Done hovers just out of reach, chuckling malevolently. I put my head down and continue moving forward against obviously insurmountable odds.

We could just declare the whole thing finished as it is and most would never notice the absent final polishing, but we would.

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Waiting ...

"I'm certainly a sucker for the technology I carry around in my pocket."

I might be addicted to weather prediction. I find myself continuously checking WeatherUnderground then following up by double checking WeatherBug, comparing their predictions against each other. WU predicts light showers to start at six am. WeatherBug reports that the closest lightening strike in the last thirty minutes occurred twenty one hundred and three miles away. No need for me to duck and cover this morning. The current radar shows a snow cloud moving toward my current location. I wonder if I'll be painting shoe molding this morning or waiting for the rain to arrive instead.

The ninety percent chance of wind and rain yesterday turned out to produce a passably perfect April day with bright sun speckled with mildly threatening clouds which hopped right over us.

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" …all the way down and back again."

Few people learn how to play a musical instrument as adults, perhaps because once musical taste develops beyond a certain (rather uncertain) point, those initial squawky sounds stop sounding like progress but more like failure to the budding virtuoso's ear. When I first picked up that old Washburn guitar when I was in the fourth grade, every sound that emanated from that instrument sounded like sweet music to me, not like the cacophony the rest of the family heard. I "played" until the ends of my fingers blistered, then continued playing until they bled. Then I'd patch them with Band-Aids® and continue playing some more. This story perfectly encapsulates learning for me. For me, it requires a certain (rather uncertain) amount of delusion which fuels an appearance of dedication. I couldn't stop trying to play that old guitar. I remember having little choice in the matter.

Some learning requires real dedication, though.

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"May they grace the space … for another hundred and ten."

The bead board first appeared as an inspiration. We'd started removing that regrettable seventies wallpaper and sheetrock to find bead board beneath. Original to the house, much of it remained in near pristine condition. The Muse and I considered this find to be one of those serendipitous symbols that simply insist upon catching our attention, a once in a lifetime opportunity we 'daresn't' ignore, so we changed the plan. Rather than simply refinish the walls with newer sheetrock, we'd use the bead board to create wainscoting which would highlight the kitchen and its half bath while showcasing some of the place's heritage, a prototypical Bright Idea. "I know, we could put on a show!"

Like in the old Andy Hardy movies, turning the derelict barn into a Broadway theater for a single amateur performance turned out to be a tad bit more work than the originating Bright Idea anticipated, but the kids channel their considerable talent as well as their all-consuming delusion to, in short time, create a stage worthy of a Busby Berkeley production.

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High February

"August will eventually arrive and offer no February,
high or low,
and little respite on the other side."

I imagine this season to constitute a steady progression toward summertime, but it takes wild divergences along the way. I might wake up one morning to find May outside, and another, walk smack into High February. The last few days have felt more like February than April, cold rain slipping out of low scudding cloud. The rain seems to amount to almost nothing, but accumulates in every hollow depression. The damp pervades, penetrating even my waterproof jacket and quickly seeps into my shoes. I squish around in damp socks, trying to maintain some semblance of a cheerful, seasonal Springtime attitude, but the effort exhausts me. The weather report predicts more "light rain," but it seems more like dark matter than uplifting light.

The roses and flowering crabapple were fooled, too, for they came dressed up to receive swarms of nectar-seeking bees rather than chilling rain.

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"A pocket full of Closure seems a poor reward for touching the face of God."

As a project nears completion, as the long-anticipated moment of Closure nears, nobody's planning any ticker tape parades down Fifth Avenue; quite the opposite. A creeping sense of imminent demise stalks the effort, gravity works overtime while everyone else arrives late and leaves early. The workspace seems increasingly flatter, as each completed component subtracts from the breadth and width of the small universe the project unavoidably created when it began. Infinite aspiration recedes into all-too finite acceptance and the almost begrudging acknowledgement that the adventure portion of the program has ended. All the significant choices having already been made, the world no longer stretches before anybody, but shrinks around what only those who were there will ever fully appreciate. We feel somehow smaller than we thought we would. Ready the fork. We're nearly done.

In this culture, we talk as if completion was somehow the purpose of activity, as if effort were the medium and Closure better embodies the "real." The remaining artifact never fairly represents the effort invested in producing it.

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"A quietly malevolent voice seeps from the shadows velcoming me home."

One day, little of this will matter. Maybe not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but one day. Yesterday, it seemed to matter a whole lot more than it does this morning. Perhaps tomorrow, it will slip across the boundary into not much mattering anymore. For now, it's a toleration, an experience which falls South of anything one aspires to be mindful about but which nonetheless cannot seem to be purged from foreground awareness and therefore simply screams to be tolerated instead. I'm holding my breath rather than deeply inhaling. I cower rather than standing tall. I anticipate worse than will probably occur. I've lost my password, leaving less than nothing in its place. No, I didn't forget. I never knew but was unaware that I was unaware. Now, that Pastword stares me down, double dog daring me to think back to an event I doubt ever even happened as a condition of my continuing access. I shiver along cold curbstone, in exile for now.

Let's say that I did forget my password.

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"I think the experience improves as one moves toward the back of the queue,
the LastClass on the plane."

In my relative youth, when I seemed to be on an airplane at least twice a week, I guarded my frequent flier status as if it was the crown jewels. I'd call thirty seconds after the earliest possible moment allowed to request upgrades and carted around a treasured pile of upgrade coupons in my knapsack. I'd board the plane first, settling into a leather seat to sip a complementary beverage before the rest of the passengers even boarded. I could lounge around in the first class lounge before the flight, though nowhere else in my life did the concept of lounging ever come up. I imagined myself living the good life, though off airplane, my life seemed basically pedestrian. I was a minor king in the air.

When I stopped traveling so much, my frequent flier status plummeted.

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"C'est la vie."

While working in the garage yesterday, I quite suddenly noticed an obstruction in my left eye, as if a long lock of hair had fallen over it. My hair's not that long anymore. I brushed whatever it was aside, or tried to, but it wouldn't leave. I sat for a moment, covering my eyes with my palms, to no avail. The swirl remained. I thought that maybe I'd just suffered a stroke, but no numbness appeared. I thought for a moment that This Was It, the great exiting wave, overcoming me when I least expected it. This really pissed me off. I felt myself prepared for a lingering death, one where I could at least showcase my detachment, but a squirt of squid ink in my dominant eye, that I had not considered and I felt completely unprepared, insulted, really.

I begged off the dinner date The Muse had scheduled with our friend and hovered around home, lying quietly listening to a baseball game and pondering my imminent demise.

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"The price of living might not be the soul, which seems pretty securely attached, but the spirit …"

I'm scheduled to be on an airplane morning after tomorrow and I already feel the pull. I have grown to despise flying. I suspect this feeling represents an intimation of encroaching old age, for I used to love to fly, even commuting to and from one job by air: down on Monday morning, back home Thursday or Friday night, but only for three years. Then, too, I'd retire somewhere on Sunday night and attempt to collect my spirit for the upcoming week, for flying discombobulates the spirit, even if one finds the experience uplifting, which I no longer do. I've long believed that the human spirit moves, through long tradition, at about the speed of a walking horse. Of course airplanes move a couple of orders of magnitude faster, which means that the spirit ends up chasing after the passenger until said passenger manages to sit still long enough for said spirit to catch up and reconnect. I'm reasonably certain that my spirit will be playing frantic catch-up until at least fifty years after I'm planted without this week's impending departure. I can feel the pull.

The pull comes from opposite directions.

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"The notion that each of us holds the responsibility to turn each frown upside-down amounts to the most insidious form of despotism."

Between acts in Elizabethan theater, some character might take center stage and commence to speak. He might appear to hold forth on subjects unrelated to the performance, though the curious magic of theater tends to lend a grave significance to anything taking center stage, rendering it at least allegorical if not somehow central to the deeper meaning of the performance. These metalogues might have carried no deeper significance other than to mirror real life between the obvious artifices of the actual play, for we each confide stories to ourselves while waiting for the next act to mount the stage. I believe that these stories, often overlooked, hold subtle cues to making meaning of life.

As a writer, only a few of my more choice stories ever manage to make it into any sharable form.

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" … I feel another cusp approaching, one that will pass without me even noticing until later."

Monday night's scant inch of snow had melted off the back deck by Friday morning, just in time for a fresh band of weather to slide down from the Northwest. Springtime along the Colorado Front Range is a season seemingly perpetually on the cusp of Springtime, toes stretched across the equinox with heels still firmly dug into Winter. Shirtsleeve days slip back into bundled up ones. The snowdrift beneath the back deck will likely hold on into mid-May. The whiteflies have started colonizing on the overwintered deck plants, taking their cue from the angle of the sun, I suppose, rather than the weather outside, which dances between delightful and frightful, and will continue like this until sometime in June, leaving just in time for Summer, which will likewise vacillate between Spring and Fall until Autumn slowly starts to dominate, sometime in late August.

I seem to endlessly live on cusps, those points of convergence neither true to their past nor to their future.

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"Whatcha doing' Mr. David?"

The new car demanded a reconfigured garage. We could fit the new one in there, but with little room to spare. No way to open the rear hatch, for instance, without opening up the retracting door. Only a skinny passage from the passenger side to the steps down into the house. I'd been meaning to clean it up, anyway. Autumn and Spring, my garage gets at least a once over. In Fall to accommodate all the pots and planters, hoses and things necessary to maintain the summertime garden, and again in Spring to export out into the garden all the stuff I crammed in there the Autumn before. With The Zoom Car on to its next incarnation, I shipped the Summer tires off to the new owner, making some new space.

I put off the effort until after I'd thoroughly considered what really needed doing.

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"What you do next might make a world of difference."

I suppose that everyone had a loud uncle who used to play the old I've Got Your Nose Game. Even as a small child, I could see right through the illusion, though the hand suddenly grabbing my face absolutely terrified me. He inflicted no real damage except to our relationship, which was arm's length to begin with and out of easy arm's reach forever after. Who could possibly trust someone who even pretends to snatch the nose off their face? I immediately learned to keep my distance and I never trusted that man again.

The world seems filled with snatchy people, folks who amuse themselves by startling others, as sure a sign of privilege as I'm likely to encounter.

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Hob Nail Boots
Fascism is colonialism aimed inward.

Colonialism always was an obscenity with high ideals. Still is. Following principles which insisted that trade would necessarily benefit all parties, the more powerful parties enforced this theory to the eventual ruin of their trading partners. The United States, once a group of separate colonies itself, long resisted the urge to international dominion championed by their former overseers, though it seemed less squeamish when inflicting the same barbarism upon its own inhabitants, particularly those who were steadfastly denied citizenship regardless of their obvious presence. The South, in particular, was never the gentile society it imagined rural Britain to have been, but a brutal kleptocracy that would have shamed King Herod, though Herod never published Presbyterian tracts touting slavery as being responsible for introducing Africans to Christ and therefore salvation. The North also created slave classes under the guise of free labor, which was only allowed to be as free as those in power preferred it to be.

The excesses of those times eventually undermined their own viability, opening space for more modern, by which I mean, more compassionate, compacts between The People and their society, though the powerful would persist in characterizing the more compassionate as the more barbaric.

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"When everything becomes possible, almost nothing seems terribly practical."

The Muse has one of those jobs that frequently takes her out of town for a week. Originally, her assignment insisted that she spend a week away every month. Now, it's down to less frequently than that, but her absences have fully integrated as a part of her presence in my life. I'm "batching it" this week, having just dropped her off at the light rail station for the long ride out to the airport, which I've explained before, seems to have been placed closer to Kansas than Denver. We made final agreements last night while calculating when we'd have to leave the house to make the outgoing plane. If I was to drive her, we could leave as late as seven thirty but that plan would leave me driving catty corner across the Metro area during morning rush or cooling my heels somewhere until the rush ended. Light rail would mean more like a six fifteen departure but omit all but about ten miles of the seventy mile round trip for me.

"Not wanting to drive you to the airport doesn't mean I don't love you," I sort of pleaded, defending my stance.

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"We should … somehow wean ourselves off the need to expect simple resolving answers …"

Edward Ayers, in his brilliant essay What Caused The Civil War, recounts how The Simpsons character Apu passes his citizenship test. In response to the final exam question, What Caused The Civil War, Apu starts to go into a lengthy explanation of the political, social, and economic forces contributing to the tragedy, but his proctor interrupts him by whispering sotto voce, "Just say Slavery." We do tend to go looking for simple answers to complicated questions and even extending the more satisfying ones into culturally imperative memes. If you don't know the appropriated answer, your response implies that you don't know or, in more extreme cases, that you might be deluded. We all, after all, know that slavery caused that war, though it wasn't until the third year of the conflict that Lincoln reluctantly admitted that slavery had "eventually" caused it.

Apu's first answer was more right but also much less satisfying. Most everything cultural suffers from what Ayers calls Deep Contingency.

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"We're the same, hardly different, but seem so different, hardly the same at all."

When I tell people that I grew up in Walla Walla, Washington, most quite understandably consider me to be a country boy, though I'm not. Yes, I grew up surrounded by country, but my birth family lived in town, actually a small city featuring pretty much every amenity one might find in any large city. I went to grade and high school with country kids, ones who rode busses long miles in from farms and ranches out in what I, as a townie, considered to be the hinterlands every bit as much as my big city-bred colleagues consider my hometown to be a backwater. I was raised on Pleasant Street, a few bicycle-shortened blocks away from a corner grocery, grade school, and the primary city park. I grew street savvy cruising alleyways on that bike, discovering shortcuts, and delivering newspapers. I told The Muse when I first met her that I grew up in a Walt Disney movie. She later confirmed my assertion when she visited the place.

My small city held a microcosm of the larger world.

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"I won’t play anything by Elton John now, even if you ask nice."

The Thirtieth of March is a national holiday in this family. It's The GrandOtter's birthday, always celebrated with a fresh poem! Here's today's:

Your Age

When I was Your Age,
I was waiting for a bus.
Not a literal bus, but a figurative one.
I imagined that some person or call
would magically appear, bundle me up,
and whisk me out of The Valley They Liked So Well, They Named It Twice.

My high school had declared me Not College Material,
so I possessed no dodge to distract me from the world
until I’d completed the process of growing into it.

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"Complacency could, I well appreciate, become deadly, just like when I'm not behind any wheel."

The new car (as yet unnamed) came with a feature I'd never heard of before the test drive: EyeSight. I suspect that it uses some sort of radar to keep track of the traffic surrounding us. When someone slips into one of the blind spots, left or right, a small light illuminates on the corresponding exterior rear view mirror to warn us. Most remarkably, punching a button and flipping a switch invokes a special sort of cruise control that maintains a constant distance between our car and the one in front of it. If I punch in sixty five, the standard freeway speed around here, the car will maintain that speed unless the one in front slows down below that speed, in which case it will merely track behind that car at the same distance, even stopping if, as often happens here, the line of vehicles ahead slows to a stop before speeding up when that line resumes moving again, no foot required on any pedal.

I'm not always a champion of technological improvements.

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"He even appreciates some of my taller tales, but not nearly as much as he loves his video games."

My grandson skitters around the floor at my feet. We were talking about going for a hike, but thunder snow moved in before we could get clear of the door. We went out in the backyard to play for a spell, but he just wanted to throw snowballs at me. Fortunately, he's a lousy shot. I fired back until my hands went numb, he taunting me from the deck above, me feeling like so much cannon fodder far below. I finally begged off the excursion and we came back inside where he took up with his new StarWars set, a Lego toy that, much to his continuing delight, shoots little light blue projectiles. He's been flying the Millennium Falcon around the house for a couple of hours now, with no sign of exhaustion yet.

Of course he's a little angel, though not nearly as little or as angelic as he was just a couple of years ago.

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"… the absolute absurdity of everything comes to a head"

The morning after the welcoming Spring snowstorm found us, my son, grandson, and I, investigating along Clear Creek, a stream lined with tall cottonwoods which were quietly dropping snow from their branches in a process we immediately labeled Splatting. Standing beneath any of these behemoths would shortly give us reason to giggle, as a branchful of wet snow might slap the side of someone face or plop onto the crown of my Borsalino. Wearing a hat seemed a definite advantage because our goal was not to avoid any Splatt!, but to receive one, even many. We plotted where might constitute the most likely place for a Splatt!, then test our theory before moving on to even splattier places.

We're dangerous, the three of us, when we get together.

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" … secretly hoping I won't see it here lest our eyes meeting simply chase it away again."

Disruption seems in endless conflict with flow, that mystical state from where, the Self-Helpless Industry insists, real creativity, productivity, and most every other -ivity floweth. Simple disruptions seem every bit as powerful as their larger, more complex brethren, pulling my eye off whatever ball I'm trying to stay focused upon and thereby fouling me out. A small jot of turbulence renders me unable to read the fascinating novel I carried on to entertain me through the flight. I feel trapped then, unable to do much of anything but struggle to suppress what I understand to be a completely unwarranted panic. Losing a wing could hardly induce any greater disruptive response.

I return from a lengthy absence, expecting to quickly regain the old groove, only to find that groove not nearly as smooth as I remember it being before I left. Grooven't.

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" …I did not have to plan a single move."

Arriving back at my current permanent address after seven weeks' absence feels like my first visit here except all my stuff's already arranged just as I would have organized it. I remember where to find stuff without having to think too awfully hard about it. I feel as though I've gained some prescient superpower that allows me to just move toward what I need to find it there. I vaguely remember some hint of a suggestion that I used to spend seven days out of seven behind these doors, but it seems like fiction to me. For the last weeks, every move seemed to require forethought, often followed by investigation. At first, this novelty entertained us. Later, it seemed oppressive. Supper seemed more obligatory chore than rightful reward.

We left the kitchen bare when we departed, so the first order of business just had to be stocking the larder, just with bare necessities.

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"So much the worse for me, I guess."

Once you get about three hundred miles East from the Pacific Ocean, you enter BuffCountry. On Interstate 84, it starts just East of Hood River, Oregon, but fully emerges only after breaching the Blue Mountains' summit. To the East lies days of travel through the most obviously bleak landscape. Scorched hills. Buff brown fields. Apparent wasteland. In the West, geologic history left the land short of soil. Some more enterprising plants moved in, few of them what anyone would label really green, with grayish probably the most popular choice. The few green plants managing to make a living there only serve to amplify the contrast. Green's rare. Buff brown dominates.

My first visit to Albuquerque left me with the impression that nobody there took care of their yards.

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"We're just passing through tonight."

If I stay in one place long enough, the whole world seems to snuggle in around me. What's near remains near; far away stays put. Others might move into and back out of the scene, but a serene stability settles in to surround me. I find this sensation not even a tiny bit confining, but quite the opposite. I find it liberating, for within that close confine, I sense my place in this world as well as the world's proper place in my space. We exist in a reassuring balance, one where I feel about as free as I ever expect to feel.

We headed back to Colorado early this morning before the sun had topped the still snow-capped foothills.

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" …that old reliable sky keeps falling."

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

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

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"Drives me freaking crazy."

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

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

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"Momentum's grinding gearbox knows only forward …"

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

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

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"Bread and water will do for now."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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" …the great and often surprising gifts …"

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

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

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" …shortcomings prominently displayed."

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

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

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

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

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

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"I hardly recognize the place anymore."

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

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

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

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

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

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"I seek my jollies elsewhere now."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No real harm.

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

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

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

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Maybe I've earned some supper tonight."

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

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

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

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

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

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" … stewardship seems to be forever."

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

I'm sort of a sucker for stewardship.

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

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

Except on some issues.

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

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

Painting a single board won't induce the trance.

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"This must be how the future comes."

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

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

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The Illusion Of Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The purpose of beer must be to provide that buoyancy.

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" … my good work took them there."

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

What made it good work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I didn't ask to bloom differently.

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"We'd eat dirt first, …"

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

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

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

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

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

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"What harm could it possibly do?"

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

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

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

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

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Ashes To ...

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

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

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

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