Motherist

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

20140722-in-charge8
Like you, people have called me boss and I have called some boss, too. I have both loudly proclaimed that 'you are not the boss of me' and sotto voce whispered it to myself, mantra-like, hoping it might give me quiet strength in some overly-bossy presence. I knew the person Scott Adams modeled his iconic Pointy-Haired Boss after, and he seemed pretty much the opposite of Dilbert's characterizations of him, but then he was not my boss. Someone always seems to get elevated to the enviable/unenviable role of being in charge, whether or not they hold the formal responsibility of judging another's performance. Bossy older sisters hold no charter justifying their pedestal.

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

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Sin-Eh-Schism

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

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

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BeautifulMusic

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

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

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

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OtterChristmas 1.9-Cold

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

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

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

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OtterChristmas 1.8-InvisiBull

invisible (1)
We say that The Grand Otter's staying with us over Christmas, but more than half the time she's here, we don't really register her presence. She's a very private person, used to spending a lot of time by herself, hardly dependent upon us to entertain her. When she was very young, she'd trail along behind The Muse or I almost wherever we went. Now, often as not, we need to go pull her out of her lair to invite her to engage or to go anywhere with us. Slip over here for more ...
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OtterChristmas 1.7-Anticipation

anticipation
Christmas seems about 110% anticipation, a gas giant of a holiday with more appearance than substance. The anticipation, though, might just be plenty. The run-up features all the drama of any reality show: a definite deadline, heavy expectations, mysterious components, long-standing tradition; history, mystery, and competition. It's no different at our place. Slip over here for more ...
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OtterChristmas 1.6-PieHard

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

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

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OtterChristmas 1.5-ElkHeard

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

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

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OtterChristmas 1.4-Mac&Pleased

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

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

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OtterChristmas 1.3-Frankly

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

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

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OtterChristmas 1.2-DarkMatters

magnetosphere cropped
How little we perceive. Humans have so far managed to observe not quite five percent of the matter the universe contains. Curious terms like Dark Energy and Dark Matter serve as placeholders for these significant unknowns. Whatever constitutes them are not simply unknown, but presently unknowable. I figure that this knowledge of what we cannot yet perceive might serve as insurance against self-importance. Mr. Know-It-All doesn't know all THAT much, cosmically speaking, and should shop for hats in the more modest sizes. Slip over here for more ...
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OtterChristmas 1.1-Goeths

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

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

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OtterChristmas 1.0-NestingInstinct

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

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

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LostInTheDetails

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

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

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State: Fair-PartTwo

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

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

2000px-Playing_card_heart_A.svg
I pulled out the old guitar this morning and doodled around with my last song, written fourteen months ago now. I'm just leaving a period where I couldn't quite bear to even pick up the danged thing, so it took me a while to remember how to play this song. Looking around for the lyrics, my memory fails me so often now, I stumbled upon this Morning Missive, written just before I finished the song and sent to my dear friends in Arizona. This piece properly describes the act of creation when The Gods decide to exhibit their foolishness and put that process in my hands. It serves as a fine reminder that I never know how to write, how to create, but that the process seems fully capable of taking care of itself and producing anyway.
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LiarsParadox

empty
The Ancient Greeks invented democracy, but also recognized the stone in its shoe. They spoke of the Cretan who declared that all Cretans are liars. This simple declaration, Bertrand Russell later noticed, could undermine the entire structure of reason the old Greeks passed down to us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TimelessSpace

predawn
Mid-July mornings come savory-sweet, almost cold, promising punishing heat by noon. I set my alarm to an unGodly hour. I can nap through the heat of any afternoon, but I cannot as effectively dream of these fresh moments as I can experience them. Yes, it's high summer. Predawn, it's timeless here right now. Slip over here for more ...
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OtterSpring1.10-Revelations

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

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

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OtterSpring1.9-Ghosts

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

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

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OtterSpring1.8-Job

waitress
The Grand Otter started her first job today. She's been enraptured at the prospect, after looking for over a year with only two interviews granted in that time. She almost consigned herself to the ranks of those who would never find suitable employment until a friend vouched for her and that second interview went well. Now, performance time looms. Serving tables three to nine, her school day extended until well after dark, her days shifting from long and empty to surprisingly short and full. Slip over here for more ...
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OtterSpring1.7-HometownParadox

wallawalla2
I describe my hometown, Walla Walla, Washington, as "the center of the universe, where gravity works right," because for me, it sits in the center of MY universe, and I know the place well enough that I can anticipate gravity's fickle fluctuations. Others, perhaps poisoned by early exposure to Looney Tunes cartoons, consider Walla Walla a joke location, good for a giggle and little else.

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

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OtterSpring1.6-Shards

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

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

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OtterSpring1.5-Leadersnit

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

"So, how was that?" I asked.

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

"Of course."

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

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OtterSpring1.4-Speakable

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

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

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OtterSpring1.3-Franklinly

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

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

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OtterSpring1.2-Clutching

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

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

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OtterSpring1.1-PeakToPeak

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

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

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OtterSpring1.0-Arrival

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

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

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

The insistence that the highest, even the best purpose of every profession involves instructing others in the proper application of the religion of austerity remains a burgeoning industry even today.
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SecondOrderChangeDay

MyShadow
Welcome to the biggest change day of the year. Throughout the year, advisors and commentators endlessly prattle about the need for change, mostly for naught. On this day, though, everything seems different without anything really changing. Over night, a whole new year began. The old fled off the bus and we can now never go back there again. Feels like a brand new, fresh and clean start.

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

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

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Love/Love

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

A shadow hangs over the place, though. The BBC chattered half the night. NPR took over just before dawn. The unimaginable settling into another disquieting new normal. I must listen to the news to somehow infuse the unwanted recent history into the body of my acknowledged story. It’s inescapable now. Denial slinks back into her shadow, not selected for this team either. Once ingested, though, the shocking taste seems to disappear. The bitter flavor lingers longer than the sweet, but both flee the palate more quickly than the long anticipation enticed it. I’m soon enough hungry again.
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ScoopingOut

ScoopingOut
The activity’s more ritual than work, more sacred than secular. Some neighbors don’t bother, just driving through the slushy to leave later frozen tire tracks likely to stay around until Spring. I’m up earlier these mornings, rising with a deep sense of purpose for a change. Even if we’re not driving anywhere, I want the sidewalks and the drive cleared by eight o’clock.

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

I own no snow shovel and never have.
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FactOrFriction

The_Elephant_House
I quite often develop an asymptotic relationship with my future. Though I seem to move forward at a reasonably consistent pace, whatever I imagine I’m pursuing seems just about as far away no matter how much time elapses or effort expends. I might be stiff-arming, holding manifestation back with one hand while swimming—sometimes frantically—with the other. Perhaps I have become a master at sabotaging myself. I know that my pursuit of whatever I seem to be after only rarely rewards me.

This situation could be a feature of my time in life. As I age, distances might lengthen like shadows do as the sun slips past high noon. Earlier, the horizon seemed endless and my direction obvious. Now, the horizon seems more constricted and my orientation uncertain. Relative progress seems impossible to discern and absolute progress, a once believable fiction.
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TheQueenOfEverything

QueenOf
She was not born royalty.
Her father, former enemy combatant
turned immigrant,
her mother a wonk,
she, an only child.

Nor were her early years predictive.
Other than a keen eye
and a native enthusiasm,
little suggested her royal fate;
ascension neither birthright nor choice.
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WeBecomeOurStories

Stories
You inspire me but that’s only your birthright and my responsibility.

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

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

tribe
“Have you found your tribe yet?”

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

Who knows where one’s tribe comes from? Reflecting on my experience, I might more easily conclude that my tribes have more found me than I ever found them. No tribe hangs around anticipating getting found and, again, in my experience, the whole concept of ‘lost tribe’ seems terribly Old Testament. Tribes don’t need finding, seem to resist being stalked, and never appear in a convenient pack.
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Beer-ocracy

Soybeanvarieties
Before The Muse left town, she asked me to see if I could finally get the Colorado license plates. We’d arrived in Colorado in late May, and it being early October already, we were tucking in rather closely to the deadline requiring new license plates within thirty days after establishing residency. Gratefully, the law defining residency seemed ambiguous enough to drive a large truck through.

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

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

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

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

Then, when he “left,” I felt a sense of loss every bit as real as that former sense of intimacy had been.
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ItCouldHappen

countingStars
“Hide your heart from sight, lock your dreams at night
It could happen to you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving here seems like being sent back to Go without my two hundred dollars whenever I enter the kitchen.
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CreationStory

Adam_and_Eve_by_Lucas_Cranach_(I)
As the next to last student left the lab, she disconnected her call. Whomever she was talking with, the conversation had seemed intense to the instructor, a first year tenure at this red state community college. The class is physics, a subject the instructor carries much passion for. He’d disclosed to the class that their final would consist of each submitting a creation story that explained how they happen to be here, utilizing all they learned during the course of the semester. This one remaining student had raised an eyebrow in response to his assignment. She approached with a worried look in her eye.

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

Dr. David had mentioned this possibility to me before he accepted the position. He was unsure how he would handle the question then and he was only slightly better prepared for it now. He quite firmly believes in the creation story science has constructed from rigorous observation and scrupulous projection. One of his students had even labeled him an evangelist for the passion with which he lectured, a characterization that made his skin crawl. He admits to the passion but he would never characterize himself as an evangelist, but upon reflection, he had to agree with his student’s assertion. Perhaps he is an evangelist, but he’s not promoting any faith-based acceptance. He expects proof rather than speculation, and proof requires no faith for acceptance.
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RoundingDown

sweetcorn
There was a time, now long past, when early September brought sweet corn to harvest. Boiling pots of water welcomed golden yellow ears. Fresh cubes of butter wore a trough mark where hot ears had been dredged through. Grins stretched from ear to ear and even an eight year old could gnaw three or four down to cob and still have room for a quarter of a watermelon, consumed primarily for the spitting seeds.

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

Earlier this year, I found a supplier here in Colorado who could provide halfway corn, a combination of yellow and white kernels which, if eaten blindfolded, approached the flavor and texture of the genuine article. I ate my share of that while pining after what my palate long ago came to know as real corn. This speckled stuff worked as a substitute but it was clearly standing in for the real thing.
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YellowJacketTrap

YJTrap
It’s nearly obligatory to reflect on each anniversary of 9-11, to look back with regret, sometimes to rekindle a sense of vengeance not yet satisfied; perhaps never to be satisfied. For others, it’s a sadness that re-emerges along with a sense of loss. Everything felt different after that and we understood without fully accepting that we would not ever be able to go back home again. This anniversary evokes nostalgia for what came before and would not be coming ever after again.

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

The Muse and I quickly resolved to leave the radio off.
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Skillfully

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

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

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

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

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

scaleof1to10
“Commerce between master and slave is despotism.” Thomas Jefferson

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

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

I quickly began feeling assaulted, but continued with the absurd dance anyway. I was opening boxes out of any rational sequence, unable to place the contents into any proper context. I was making a mess when I needed some calming tidiness. I finally called a halt.
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Miscellany

Miscellanybox
Two days after taking possession of the new place, we’ve yet to spend a night there. The moving company called yesterday evening to report that they had, indeed, failed to deliver one crate. This crate included bed parts. The place still seems mostly boxes with cardboard walkways taped to floors. We unpack rather haphazardly, adhering to a first things first policy. First we unpack. We will determine the exact more permanent location for stuff once we see what stuff we have. The three months since packing erased most of my memory of what we possess and I’m discovering some serious doubts that we need all or even most of this stuff.

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

What was open possibility on Monday has by Wednesday morning become a more limited affair.
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EconoMicks

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

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

I was surprised that everyone on the crew, save the elder Robert, had spent time working for the private prison industrial complex. One reported that the turnover there was extreme. They offered no training, low pay, and extremely high turnover. One reported that he has a friend who had managed to stay for nearly a year and a half, and so had more seniority than anyone including the warden. All agreed that they’d rather unload truck than go back to prison work, though one noted that he could have become a highly paid parole officer if he could have stomached that guard work for a couple of years.
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In-Between

inbetween
Few insights seem more worthless than the one where the writer decides that his words fail to describe what he’s trying to say. Of course they do, for words serve as no more than messenger. The content sits separate from them, depending upon some largely preconscious collaboration between the by-then absent writer and the all too present reader. The meaning sits somewhere in-between them, depending upon essentially undependable words and the meaning both will make of them.

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

Writing, if it is to describe anything, might need to be properly inductive first. It should impart a felt sense coherent with what’s being described, otherwise it produces paradox and confusion, like insisting that a word is a color. Nobody should believe me if I insist that the color of the word red is really RED. It’s not, no matter what I said, and the reader senses this contradiction without experiencing any sensation at all. The reader will not believe what I’m saying then, no matter how eloquent my explanation.
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FillAahSewPhee

FillAahSewPhee jpg
“No hard and fast rules can be laid down for survival anywhere, particularly in the farther places. Conditions vary. So do localities. Especially do individuals. Initiative on the other hand may be guided by a consideration of general principles such as those we can here absorb.” Bradford Angier- How To Stay Alive In The Woods

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

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

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

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

I revere the humbled double-entendre euphemism above all other forms of language. It stands before us with it’s ‘flag at half-staff’ threatening without attacking propriety. It lives well South of obscenity and slightly North of innocence, implying more than it declares, leaving the listener culpable for any bad taste lingering after. It can relegate a promising politician to an alternate career ‘hiking down the old Appalachian Trail’ or sideline another into an eternal ‘wide stance’ without leaving any fingerprints at the scene. Properly employed, the messenger strolls away whistling from the crime scene without even a shred of toilet paper stuck to his shoe. Everyone knows full well he did it, but nobody ever lays a finger on him.
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SpiderSense

spiderweb
Once the spiders show up, the show’s about over, though it seems as though a full third of the season remains. Spiders apparently know better. Shrubs and corners web up. Spiders dangle down into my hair and possessively dude walk across the bathroom floor. Predawn insists upon me remembering the down vest. Intimations swell from subtle hints to whispered stage direction to openly discussed secret. Summer’s ending.

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

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

Not even summer turns out to be indispensable.
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Cat&Mouse

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

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

She will spend much of the balance of the morning seeking out her lost prey.
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Requiem

requiem
On the occasion of my dear friend Jamie’s death:

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

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

There! That got said.

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

I could see the question going either way. I might continue to celebrate life or resent death, but I doubted I could stop writing. The habit seems in me by now. My self esteem depends upon pushing or nudging or carving something out of myself every morning; more necessary than breakfast, far more essential than sleeping in. I would continue the siphon I’d started so long before, such a very short time before.
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Unbelievable

unbelievable
So very much of what I experience registers as unbelievable, and this poses a special difficulty for me. Most every object I interact with, everything I see, demands a faith-based acceptance because I simply do not understand it. Each seems too complicated, too subtle, or simply too unlikely to exist, yet there it is. I cannot comprehend how it came into being, even why it survived, so it fully qualifies as unbelievable. Unbelievable without a baseline of faith. Yet as unlikely as it clearly seems, it is, indeed, standing there in front of me.

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

I might be speaking to my own, deep and abiding cluelessness. Being pretty much uneducated, I have no grounding in the science of anything, but even science seems little more than a series of explanatory stories which utterly fail to adequately explain. Unlocking the human genome might enable much progress without ever elevating the elements analyzed into anything more than the metaphors they started out being. Science might represent no more than the systematic sharing of metaphors, the doxology of which leaves the fundamental mystery intact.
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AlienTerritory

blindmonk
Cherry Creek Mall would have seemed futuristic in the late sixties. Now it seems dated, a concept anchored in a transitory era not known for timeless design. At least the parking’s free. Everything else comes at a premium, and trades on that caché: You could get better, but you can’t pay more. Everything’s on sale today so you won’t have to pay more to get less than you would have ever voluntarily paid for.

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

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

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

My best writing has never been sharply-focused. It instead toodles around, but toodles in a certain style; and if not a certain style, a rather satisfying one for me. A decent toodle in the car begins with intention but remains open to discovery along the way. It most definitely begins with a few rather simple ground rules. 1- We head off in a definite direction. North, for instance, and with 2- a purpose. Whether that purpose be lamb-looking or tomato-picking, we’re clear about what it is but 3- not at all clear about how we might satisfy that purpose. We 4- have not outlined the route, but merely declared the destination.
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EasyBaking

easybake
I realized yesterday afternoon that even this sorry Deluxe Executive Home kitchen, with its forty watt Easybake® oven, could feel like home to me. I caught myself slipping into that state of mind where I find almost no separation between imagining and doing, perhaps the best possible manifestation of the elusive flow.

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

I thought perhaps short ribs, slow roasted with veg, and a passel of those ping pong ball-sized golden beets.
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Inoculation

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

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

You buy ‘em by the bushel and they thrown ‘em into a hamster cage contraption that turns above propane burners.
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OnManifesting

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

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

We never had any key to any future, just one to a fondly-remembered past. Looking for then in the here and now might qualify as a lifestyle for us aging boomers, but it’s really no way to live: Looking for life in all the wrong places. For
then got all the goody sucked out of it on the way to now. Nothing but desiccation and a slowly evaporating puddle left behind.
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Today

pointyend
Today’s the day, the pointy end of time. I’ve kinda been avoiding it. Way back when yesterday was today, I felt the clear distance between then and now, but now that today’s arrived, I feel only immediacy. Now really is now.

It’s not like I haven’t been living in increasing anticipation of today, but I feel like a virgin in a biker bar here. I’ve heard an awful lot about today, I’ve even written some more or less authoritative pieces on the subject, but never experienced a minute of it until I woke up just now. Deflection doesn’t seem to work here because there will be no tomorrow for resolution. It’s now or never. (I wonder if today will be one of those days where only hackneyed metaphors work.)
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Disappearing

menial
My invisibility astounds me. This lovely big old house contained me well. Sure, it quite easily and naturally kept the inside in, but it also served as a sort of fortress to keep the outside out. Now even that defensive barrier’s crumbling. The outside first started seeping in. Now it swamps the place.I wade through narrow aisles between impossible stacks of boxes. How could these few shelves and cabinets contain all of that? I declared my desk a safe zone. Nobody touch nothing on my desk. It’s now piled high with untouchables, but not for very much longer. Today, the possessions I retain control over will shrink to fill the usual suitcase and computer bag, and a box or two of otherwise unmovables, as if packed for a week’s trip rather than an indefinite journey.

The packers delight in their work as only menial laborers can. The more cerebral and physical professionals seem to lose a dimension or two when they engage. The menial laborer, the clever ones, find extra parts of themselves there. These four absolutely delightful women, two moms and their daughters, took off their shoes and got down to work. Yes, they prefer to work barefoot. Unashamedly. They engage in endless chiding, genuine laughter infuses their effort with warm meaning. While The Muse and I tried, and even took pride in how well we’d prepared for their arrival, their job entails little more than ordering our disorder, which seems to be the primary element common to all menial labor.
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Greasy

renderedfat
Around the middle of the week following creation, day ten or eleven, God created grease. He was by then bored with the whole idea of creating anything even remotely resembling his image, having already finished a freak book full of variations on that theme, so he went all radical on himself and produced something volatile and certain to goad even the pious into taking his name in vain.

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

TrueNorthTransparent1X2
I’ve been considering the work I’ve done, the work I understand. This piece might best explain what my workshop entails.

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

The Industrial Revolution also brought with it what Peter Drucker claimed was the single most profound innovation of the twentieth century, the professional manager. As organizations have flattened, the fiefdoms which justified the manager's role are disappearing, replaced by social networks more agile than formal departments and divisions. Most of the work accomplished by modern organizations is accomplished cross-functionally, by individuals mustered for the duration of an individual effort and endlessly reconfigured until people identify much more strongly with their current assignment's community than with any permanent manager, department, division, or company.
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ChangingStory1.20-PassingOn

passion
Much of the stuff published in newspapers lacks passion. Sure, there’s ample theatricality, that studied intensity every theatergoer knows well, but little passion. I suppose passion counts as somehow unprofessional, ignoring reason and accepted logic that passes for well-formed commentary. The alternatives to passion read about as flat as a printed page, rarely elevating spirit, though sometimes awakening ire. Ire seems a poor substitute for passion.

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

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ChangingStory1.18-CultureChains

chains1
Engage with any consultant and you’re likely to learn that your organization needs a culture change. Culture grows rotten over time? Either a union’s insidiously trying to get more for less, or management’s playing that game; opposing parties stalemated pursuing the same end. Perhaps the organization’s moral compass’s gone haywire due to executive avarice. Maybe safety slipped down to Job #2 or #3 from its prescribed Job #1position. The possibilities seem endless. Pick your favorite reason, then get down to changing.

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

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ChangingStory1.19-PDTD

test2
It’s the middle of the night and I’m up writing, once again chased from fitful sleep by a bad dream. I’ll piddle around for an hour or two and maybe get back to bed before morning, I never know. This nightmare was a real bad one; no zombies or chainsaws, but real life events. I was taking a test.

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

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ChangingStory1.17-Housme

IMG_0512
We didn’t lose the place in The Great Dismemberment and Exile, when what was once our home, the center of our universe, turned into a house again. Our fond recollections romanticized the half-repainted place considerably. The first renters did more damage than good.

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

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ChangingStory1.16-AnotherPlanet

waygate_to_the_multiverse_by_nitro912gr-d33ivir
I subscribe to the unlikely notion of parallel universes, though with a slight twist from the standard theory. In my multiverse, each unique world exists in the same physical space; not overlaid or merely adjacent, but completely co-equal, separated only by perspective. In my multiverse, the person standing next to me in the grocery line occupies a wholly distinct universe. We share nothing except the occasional illusion of sharing experiences.

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

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ChangingStory1.15-ShThFuUp

439px-SHUT_UP^_NAME,_RANK,_SERIAL_NO._ONLY^_-_NARA_-_515415
My inbox overfloweth. So doth mine Facebook stream, Twitter feed, LinkedIn thread, Google+ queue, Pheed feed, newspaper, and neighborhood listserv. They swell with advice, people telling other people what to do, what the sender sincerely believes others should do/ think/ feel/ believe/ support. On rare occasions, someone will broadcast some personal insight, something they’ve personally decided to do without anyone else exhorting them. These bring sweet respite to the fetid wind that seems to otherwise blow nobody any real good.

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

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ChangingStory1.14-Mis-formed

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

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

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ChangingStory1.13-InTeGrationDay

13thDay
On the thirteenth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
the challenge of integrating
all the
cra ... er ... gifts she’d given to me.
The partridge, we’d long before roasted,
with a plum sauce en souffle.
The turtle doves still cooing,
day and night ... and every blessed day.
The three French hens are found out moping in the yard
after learning we didn’t much care for Heloise or Abelard.
The calling birds lost their cell plans, they say,
for overrunning their data cap in little more than a day.
I’ve now got rings on every finger
of what used to be a functioning hand,
as well as an especially ungainly one
on that adjacent thumb.
As of this morning, I count a full six dozen goose eggs,
with no end to the laying in sight.
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ChangingStory1.12-CantDo

cantaloupe
Some days I awaken obsessing about all I can’t do, recounting my innumerable failures to learn to do even the seemingly simple activities everyone else engages in without even thinking about them. For these, I remain the eternal rookie. No amount of repetition ever yielded mastery of these, and, truth told, I hardly hold out for any noticeable improvement now, having apparently already forfeited any possibility for improvement, radical or even small.

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

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ChangingStory1.10-NeverAgain

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

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

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ChangingStory1.9-WickedWhich

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

ALS1-300x263
Last summer, my dear friend Jamie learned that he was dying. That previously unexplained weakness in his arm, the doctor explained, seemed to be caused by ALS. While there’s no definitive test for ALS, he’d backed into the diagnosis by a scrupulous process of elimination. (Scrupulous process of crap, I mentally reacted to this news.) Having investigated every other alternative, the conclusion was clear. Jamie was dying. Not today, not tomorrow, but sooner, not later.

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

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TheBriefConsultant

David2
I’ve launched today a new newsletter in preparation for my upcoming book, The Brief Consultant.

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

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

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

Thanks!

PureSchmaltz

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©2014 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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ChangingStory1.8-Self-eek

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

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

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ChangingStory1.7-Parody

oops1
P. G. Wodehouse wrote parodies. Bertie Wooster would try to pull some fast one which invariably backfired. Jeeves eventually bailed him out, but only after making sure that Bertie would get bitten a bit, but never really badly enough to dissuade from further misbegotten adventures.

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

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ChangingStory1.6-Data

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

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

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ChangingStory1.5-Testing

testing-testing-123
Since I was in the seventh grade, my story has included a chapter explaining how I don’t test well. In seventh grade, I learned how to perform poorly on tests. Before then, I seemed to posses that innate ability The Muse still exhibits: I could pass most any exam I took. Since then, exam success has seemed more crap shoot than skill-related, a random event unrelated to what I know. I suppose my current state springs from my exposure to the French language, for which, like all languages foreign and domestic, I had little aptitude. Later, of course, this budding ability migrated into math, then most every subject.

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

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ChangingStory1.4-AdaptAbility

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

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

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PureSchmaltz-ALS-Bucket-Challenge

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

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

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ChangingStory1.3-DayOne

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

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

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ChangingStory1.2-Observing

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

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

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ChangingStory1.1-Dewing

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

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

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ChangingStory1.0-Catching

catch1
I’d grown tired of my story long before I caught myself repeating it. I’d felt my enthusiasm fleeing whenever I mentioned the unfinished book, not initially noticing the connection. One can apparently repeat some actions over and over and over, without noticing. Then I caught myself simply being myself, and blushed. The second time I caught myself, I began to understand the source of my shame.

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

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SpliceOfLife1.21-Seamless

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

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

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SpiceOfLife1.20-Bi-Bye

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.19-Purposed

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.18-Word-ing

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.17-Paint

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.16-SpareChange

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.15-UnSettled

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.14-Learning

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.13-Progress

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.12-Home

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.11-Hurt

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.10-Truth

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.9-Hospitality

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.8-Aging

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.7-Compost

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.6-TheWorld

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.5-HeadWork

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.4-History

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.3-Secret

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

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.2-Weeding

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.1-Marbles

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

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

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SpliceOfLife1.0-Departure

splice1
The Muse and I declared our exile ended last New Years. After five years’ separation from where our hearts once thrived, we tumbled into a love-the-one-you’re-with acknowledgement that permanent separation might not quite work as a lifestyle. Whatever the shortcomings, subtle and obvious, of living on the edge of Washington, DC, however unlike the ‘real’ Washington, we’d be better off just splicing in here.

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

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Pro-Fessional-ism

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

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

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HardWeek

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

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

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DayAfter

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

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

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OralMemory

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

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

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True-th

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

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

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Pro-Missing

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

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

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Co-Hear-ence

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

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

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Gently

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

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

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Who-ey-Two-ey

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

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

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Who-ey

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

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

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Object-ivity

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

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

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StepTooFar

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

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

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Ineptitude

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

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

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Smalls

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

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

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

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FableTales

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

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

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Project-ionManagement

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

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

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Patterning

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

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

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BlankPage

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

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

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Re-late

network
I might be a little late arriving at this recognition; not that I haven’t been bombarded with clues since before you-know-who outgrew his diapers. I was always related, but couldn’t relate. I competed instead, seeking superiority. Who would settle for parity when the possibility of dominion begins batting those long eyelashes?

I tell a passable, but unconvincing story. Everyone says we’re all about community, but we have yet to develop a convincing dialect to support that assertion. Most often, community serves as code for .community, abbreviated to .com, which means I want to sell you something. If you buy, you belong. If you buy again, you belong more. If you buy early and often, you’re a best customer, qualified to receive special attention. Slip over here for more ...

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Sides

shapes-special
Most controversies seem to demand the taking of sides. Even though most every controversy has fewer or many more than two sides, the invitation always comes addressed to either or to or. This narrowing of perspective might be characterized as the root cause of the controversy, though no one engaged in resolving it would ever suspect that the cause was meta to the maelstrom. This paragraph explains the human condition.

No day ever goes by but what I’m invited to stand up for this or its logical counterpart, that. I’m challenged to show my true colors, as if they could not possibly include a rather fuzzy grey. My clients insist that I see their world through their eyes, and I surprise myself when I find I’m almost able to, but without the conviction they bring to the experience. I might be able to appreciate the sides they see without actually seeing or ever really believing in them. Slip over here for more ...

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SacredResponsibility

gordian-knot1
I’ve grown to understand that every client holds the sacred responsibility to at least try to thwart my every attempt to help them. Most seem fully capable of fulfilling this obligation without anyone reminding them to do anything. Even those who innocently mistake me for a helpmate eventually understand that I would not help them, if only because I couldn’t. No matter how diligent, knowledgeable, insistent, or clever they or I might think I am, they’ll still have to untie their own Gordian knot. I need to be diligent anyway, to deflect their insidious pleas for help, and knowledgeable enough to recognize that line I should not wander beyond, and insistent in my belief that my client is fully capable of untying their own knot, and clever enough to successfully engage in this dance.

The BriefConsultant might be mistaken for help, or even for a helper, but he cannot be either. The role, properly deployed, might involve more shoving back out onto the ice than rescuing the apparently inept skater. The client is usually the source of his own difficulty. He might as well be the source of the resolution of that difficulty, too. Slip over here for more ...

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ExpertTeasers

expertTeasers
The Muse was reading out loud juicy bits from an Inspector General report about a project she’d been watching augur into ever deeper ‘yogurt’ for months, and I heard myself responding, as distracted husbands often will, “Amateurs! Amateurs!” Most of us have seen what happens when someone with great expertise in one area finds them self assigned to an area they have no experience with. The new context easily gets mistaken for some familiar one, and with little more than the raw power of authority driving, auguring ensues. Experienced contributors might get savaged for resisting change when they mention complications only visible to someone, unlike the designated leader, with practical experience.

These adventures almost never turn out well. Often, it seems, the clueless decision maker will amplify his own cluelessness by engaging his expertise. Some manage to transcend this downward trend, though this seems to demand an almost inhuman ability: the unlikely ability to demonstrate expertise in NOT being an expert. Slip over here for more ...

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Leafing

leafing
Most folks dispatch their leaves in the autumn. I hold onto to mine over winter. Sure, I shove them off the lawn and into the beds, but there they stay until the snow stops threatening. Along about the second week of April, I have a lot of leafing to do. Even then, I intend to hold onto those babies for a year or two, setting them in black plastic to cook down into something the soil might appreciate.

Beneath that blanket, Spring’s about two weeks more advanced than it otherwise might have been. The soil seems moist but not saturated like the unprotected areas ended up. No moss grew under there, either. Some tender herbs even survived. Slip over here for more ...

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Dscvr

Dscvr
This morning finds me almost back home from our excursion, our toodle, into the DeepSouth. I left with no more than beliefs about what I might find there and I return with some of those beliefs intact, but with many of them thrown into uneasy question. The world doesn’t seem to much care what I believe about it and my perceptions of the world might twist whatever I think I’m seeing. I am confident as I return that I did not see The Deep South, but I might have caught fresh glimpses of me perceiving there. To look at something different, even something I expect to be different, qualifies as an act of discovery; not so much discovery of that object, but of my own act of perceiving.

Back home, my anticipation and perception mostly seamlessly integrate, so there’s little gradient for me to experience perception, or, indeed, for me to really see whatever I’m looking at. The world convincingly appears just as I expect it to appear. This can be a dreary state, a numbing where the vitality characteristic of discovering seems absent. Leave that familiarity, and more than the landscape changes. I might become more alive. Slip over here for more ...

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Dogsology

encouragement
Nobody talks much about the genuinely awful aspects of creating. It seems at root a form of compulsion, sometimes obsession. It might be most satisfying when completed, but by then, of course, it’s no longer there, but past. It’s mostly lonely work, done under the most isolating imaginable conditions. Anticipating a new project can quite understandably seize up even the most previously productive creator.

When my friend Franklin first mentioned his brilliant distinction between talents and gifts, I quite naturally believed that it might be useful, perhaps necessary, to enumerate exactly what my gifts might be, to nail down the source of my talent. He pointed out that talents are merely the mediums within which gifts manifest themselves, rather like the canvas a painter might gift with paint or a cello gifted with a player’s inspiration. So I began decomposing toward a toward a presumed essence, believing that if I could name that tune, I’d be better able to play it. Slip over here for more ...

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JayWaking

JayWaking
N-Awl’ns wakes with a thud muffled by a sweet, persistent haze. Nights stretch into next days here; reveling lasts until it flames out, regaining only a cinder of consciousness at first light. The early streets are empty save for the dedicated joggers and the service and construction workers. Everyone else seems to sleep in, or to have just not regained consciousness yet.

I’m out early continuing a quest to find one order of hash brown potatoes, which seem to have slipped out of the American morning into myth or legend. I find a small deli whose menu promises reward, but delivers the modern compromise I call SmashBrowns: outsized Tater Tots® smashed flat. These represent compromise because nobody seems to win anything in the transaction. The customer loses texture, taste, and satisfaction while the proprietor loses another could-have-been satisfied customer. Contrivance (or connivance) takes another hand. Slip over here for more ...

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Visiting

visitor1
I never had a bucket list. I went to Paris and avoided long lines of tourists by not visiting the Louve. In London, I succeeded in somehow utterly avoiding the queen. When I visit anywhere, I’m more interested in experiencing what living there might feel like, so I go find a laundromat or a grocery store and see. I ride the bus rather than hail that cab, or I walk. No better way to get to know anywhere than by hoof. I despise wax museums, salt water taffy factories, cute crap shops, and every imaginable kind of guided tour. I am not a tourist.

Tourists, in my humble opinion, give visiting a bad reputation. Towns and cities around the world encourage tourists, though, building intricate traps to lure them in, and managing to attract people who seem perfectly satisfied forking over sixty bucks to clop along in a carriage behind a weary dray horse to look at throngs of less fortunate tourists on foot. Slip over here for more ...

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Crossroads

crossroads.jpg.w560h420
Legend claims that Robert Leroy Johnson sold his soul to the devil at a Mississippi crossroads to become a legendary bluesman. The Muse insisted as only The Muse can insist that as long as we’d gone to all the trouble of driving to Mississippi, we should cross it on third tier backroads so that we might actually see the country we were passing through. I was in no disposition to argue, since her insistence exactly mirrored my intention. We stuck to the slow roads all the way to the Pontchartrain causeway.

Wisteria was blooming in the woodlands we passed, and azaleas and dogwoods, too; April all dressed up like the middle of May. I expected blistering poverty, and the typical shotgun house might look like a shack anywhere else, but they’re common here; an old tradition, a familiar adaptation to the climate and the land. It all looked alluring on this Spring afternoon. Slip over here for more ...

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Prejudiciary

prejudiciary
When I entered first grade, I was assigned to a special class for people who didn’t speak right. I might have inherited my Missouri drawl from my great grandparents, who, being the children of Oregon pioneers, spoke funny. Nobody in the DeepSouth could have unnerstood ‘em either.

That special class apparently broke me of my infirmity because I now quite convincingly pass as a TV Newscaster American, which means I affect little regional accent at all. The Muse complains that nobody here understands anything she says and she has to ask a couple of times for a repeat before even a crude understanding emerges. Me, too. Slip over here for more ...

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Bluegrasp

clawhammer
Charleston, West Virginia might be the best example of what Mr. Potter was aiming to do in It’s A Wonderful Life. It seems at least one George Bailey short of a wonderful place. The Muse said it looks like an Orc village, and seemed particularly terrifying after our quick zoot down through spring snow-covered mountains. We’d abandoned our earlier notion of wending through the lower intestinal tract of Appalachian coal country in favor of better traveled roads once we’d surveyed the depth of the slush remaining after winter’s overnight surprise revisit.

Our first rule of roading insists that no earlier idea ever metastasize into an obligatory plan. We shift as the spirit or the Gods move us to shift, and these shifts happen without remorse or regret. We live only in the moment, more or less. We retain some vague memory of where we intend to end up without shackling ourselves to any particular means.

We high-tailed our threatened vestigial tails out of that sour Charleston valley before the air bourne chemicals could get us too much, heading for Kentucky’s bluegrass country. Kentucky seems civilized compared to West Virginia; perhaps gentrified. The grass is disappointingly not even the faintest hint of blue, but brown nearer the eastern border this time of year and increasingly green in the ever lowering elevations as we cruise west. Gilded horse farms dominate, each surrounded by what seems like miles of white rail fences in perfect condition. Manor houses by the score. Slip over here for more ...

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DeepeningSouth

southmap
The South mystifies me, and the Deep South terrifies me. I’ve successfully avoided visiting it until now. Since we relocated into the still mysterious northern reaches of the region five years ago, The Muse has been lobbying for a drive through that situation I’d shunned. I suppose this goosing passes as one of the primary responsibilities of any halfway decent muse, to encourage exploration of nether regions.

The map situates it below, though I know that’s merely convention speaking. On a globe, there can only ever be over; any other representation materially misrepresents and can impart a curiously certain Northern sense of lordly superiority, a malady I recognize in myself. I know my birthplace was an accidental artifact of birth, and that others were similarly situated then imprinted upon their birthplace as home. We can’t escape this. My ancestors trudged across The Carolinas, Virginia, and Kentucky, each identifying with places I never believed I could relate with. I am curious whether I might find vestigial familiarity in this land I’ve for so long shunned. Slip over here for more ...

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PhormPhobic

phorm
I have no serious fear of BIG data because I understand where the little data that eventually accumulates into BIG data originates. I’m a part of it, so I’m certain that the data has plenty of subtle inconsistencies imbedded in it; it’s an honest divergence, originating in the natural ambiguity of language. Given the opportunity to fill out the same form fifty times, I’d very likely complete it fifty different ways. A new way every time, if only because I’d be learning.

Of course this ‘raw’ data will accrete and accumulate, eventually manifesting BIG results which will be queried (the perfect verb for this operation) to produce ‘answers’ or ‘insights’ or ... something. Slip over here for more ...

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AttentionSpanner

spanner
I anticipated that after forty-some years of uninterrupted twice-daily meditation, I might have the focusing prowess of a yogi. No dice. I’m as easily distracted as I ever was, though I might, perhaps, have improved my ability to jump back into the stream I seem so easily ejected out of. I sometimes engage in ways that evaporate time when I’m engrossed in constructing a poem or an enticing piece of prose. Sometimes just picking up the old guitar transports me.

I seem easily distracted. This declaration weighs in at the rough equivalent of ‘I seem remarkably human,’ and serves as no real distinction at all. The advertisers understand and exploit this universal human trait. The supermarket surrounds me with so much visual stimulus that I lose all awareness of what I take in. My brain devolving into a mush of subliminally suggested memes, I try hard to shop on the periphery, lest the deep, dark corridors between completely subsume by intentions and free will. Slip over here for more ...

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SocialFracking

frackingzone
I’ve taken to calling those flow-interrupting comments that bomb out a conversation thread SocialFracking. There’s both good and bad SocialFrack. The good might turn a terrible tank before it crushes the shared garage. The bad kind feels like losing your mantra; you might not notice instantly, but when you do notice, you’ll have to start all over again.

I unfriend chronic SocialFrackers (colloquially referred to as simply “frackers”) because they distract me from the business at hand. They engage like under-recognized precocious children; smart-mouthed, dumb-assed, understandably unappreciated. They seem to wear their grudge on their shoulder, proudly, as if a spangly epallette. They suck all the civility out of discourse. My life’s way too short to let them hang around for long. Slip over here for more ...

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Writing

quill
I usually introduce myself as a writer, not because I make a living writing, but because I spend most of my time either writing or thinking about writing. It might be my obsession. It kind of sucks as obsessions go, though it’s gratefully not illegal yet.

Writing doesn’t pay much of anything, and it’s tedious, lonely work. There is a trade aspect to it, but that seems convoluted enough to prevent most people from entering it. Some writers have agents who take care of the business end of the business. I have an editor or two who welcome anything I submit. Slip over here for more ...

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Scale

scale1
She was rapt all through his description of his work. Then she asked the poison question. “Does it scale? If you can do this with an organization of a hundred, how would you do it in one with thirty thousand?”

He spent the next two days working out how that might happen, or, more properly, utterly failing to work out how that might happen. Finally, in some frustration, he figured out something. The answer, the definitive answer to her question just had to be no. He answered her question, so why did he feel as though he’d failed? Slip over here for more ...

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TheLastStorm

laststorm
Most observers figure this will be the last storm of the season. Well, the last big storm, but nobody really knows. Arctic air still roams freely south of the Mason-Dixon Line and tropical moisture hasn’t had its hall pass revoked yet. Get those two delinquents together and it’s anybody’s guess.

The Last Storm brings a touch of nostalgia with it. I’m always on alert when the Weather Service issues a Storm Watch. I become, well, watchful, I guess, anticipating the morning’s shoveling duties, making sure the long underwear’s laid out, double checking the old boots and the supply of ice melt. I triple check the larder lest I find myself without milk, beer, or fresh salad greens, the three primary food groups of this transition season. Slip over here for more ...

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Sprung

sprung1
Winter hasn’t quite let go yet. Last year, it never really came. This year, it’s the house guest that can’t take a hint. A week ago, the back door was blocked by ice and snow. Today, the yard’s covered in crocus. Monday will be yet another snow day here.

I was worried that the capricious weather might freeze out the earliest flowers, but they seemed to have thermostats telling them to close up tight, and I can see no damage as they open up wide again. They were extra eager to bloom this March. The moment that last deep snowfall melted off, up they came and more than welcome they were, too. Slip over here for more ...

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Be-Longing

be-longing
I felt the hollowness when they asked what skills I might bring to the collaboration. Skills, I thought? I’m supposed to have skills? I checked my pockets, but my hand came back out holding only a few coins; small change. “I have quite a bit of experience,” I explained, “but none of it seems to have resulted in anything I’d really consider to be skills.” I felt thirteen again.

I might be a member of that group with a perpetual member numbering one, but changing every day. I learned that I was supposed to be something when I grew up, but I’ve either never grown up or failed to become in spite of considerable personal and professional growth. The evolution seems incomplete. Slip over here for more ...

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Difference

difference
The possibility of disappointment, even failure, increases whenever I pursue impossibles. I shouldn’t have to remind myself to check for impossibility before starting a project, but I seem to almost always forget. I might be so blinded by the glimmer streaming off my bright, shiny objective that I flat-out forget to confirm the likelihood that there might possibly be a there over there where I swear I’m going. When there’s no there there, I’m not really gonna get anywhere, no matter how caring my intentions.

One of the great pitfalls involves the whole-hearted pursuit of change. This often occurs in groups, when someone whips folks into enough of a frenzy that they temporarily lose their minds, convinced that they might reasonably, for instance, change their culture. Whatever the anticipated need or the imagined benefits derived from this kind of effort, success seems slim, though this one might (I said might) be destined to become the precedent-setting first instance of successful culture changing registered in history so-far; but probably not. Slip over here for more ...

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Bluster

snakeoil1
The boundary between fact and fantasy only seems wider than it used to be. Commerce has long been exempted from any legal obligation to tell the truth about anything; us emptors have always been well-advised to caveat plenty, because the promotional material probably promises much more than the product could possibly deliver. They play liar’s poker, and each of us gets to sit in the rube’s chair at the table.

This is nothing personal. Bluster quite naturally expands over time. Stretching any truth encourages its ever greater elasticity. Advertisements intend to persuade, not inform, though much promotional material appears informational. If it was paid for by someone expecting to recoup their outlay, I should expect that it might well say anything to separate me from my money. Slip over here for more ...

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Optim-eyes

fairytales
“We are poisoned by our fairy tales.”
Don Henley
The End Of The Innocence


I listen to the language around me. I listen deeply. I hear insistent preference for The Fairy Tale Form, a descriptive style that might well acknowledge difficulties but also demand resolution, too, almost as if living happily ever after must be the primary purpose of any stumble. We intend this, I suppose, to encourage us. We don’t so much see as optim-eyes, subtly projecting hopes over the top of our fears. This passes as the primary coping strategy of the modern age. Slip over here for more ...

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HellPing

hellping
I remember when the road to Hell was barely a rough track, primarily paved with the odd good intention. Today, thanks to social media, the road’s more like an eight lane beltway, endlessly circling a burgeoning metropolis. You see, social media has given good intentions unprecedented reach. What was once no more than an occasional wink and nudge has become a continuous, unblinking stare and a disturbingly hard shove. The infrequent, useful ping has become an unrelenting HellPing, good advice morphed into a nasty vice, with advertisements attached. Slip over here for more ...
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ResterRant

blindfold21
I rarely ‘eat out.’ I long ago grew weary of the blind man’s bluff game the so-called hospitality industry plays. What other industry demands that its customers choose from deliberately misleading lists of possibilities featuring the vaguest possible descriptions of their products, expecting their customer to select satisfying results? Who could possibly know what passes for hash browns here? Or home fries? Or even mashed potatoes? No way to know without sleuthing around to other customers’ plates, but even then, looks can be so deceiving.

Ask the poor (literally, slave-waged) server. Who knows what s/he might recommend? Just try and often fail to anticipate what the budding food artiste in the kitchen will produce from what the food accountant says he can spend. Even assuming the chef can cook (not a universally safe assumption), the result amounts to a crap shoot. Slip over here for more ...

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Leaving

leaving
John Gorka once noted that anyone living with their baggage packed, leaves more often than they ever come back. This spot-on observation describes the feeling for both the host and the visitor. However warm or cold any reception or stay, leavings never come easily. Nobody ever intended to stay beyond their welcome, but nobody welcomes leaving.

Leaving seems like grown up stuff, hard and ungratifying work requiring an almost inhuman discipline. I imagine that it must be good for somebody, but the repacking and the heading out cracks even hardened hearts. I seem to shrink from the backside of any adventure. Heading back’s no heading out experience, even when we take an unfamiliar route back home. Slip over here for more ...

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Foreigner

foreign
I’ve been fortunate to visit several different countries and to live for short periods within different cultures. No master of my native tongue, I made no attempt to master the daily life phrases guide books phonetically describe, but relied instead upon what I labeled the point and click method, as if I were an enterprising two year old and the locals benevolent interpreters. We’d triangulate toward a rough understanding, language being only one of a wide variety of methods for comprehending. This technique turned out to be a humbling tactic, inhibiting most every pretense, and a gratefully humanizing one.

Had I stayed longer, I suppose verbal language might have emerged. Just visiting, I could at best observe and rather crudely adapt. Still, I managed to feed, transport, and house myself, albeit with a considerable measure of help from my new, temporary friends. I was, after all, a foreigner. Slip over here for more ...

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Stranger

stranger
I should be no stranger to being the stranger by now. I’ve spent much of my life shuttling between here and there, sometimes including somewhere else entirely. My normal state seems surrounded by strangers which I suppose qualifies me as a stranger in even most of my neighbors’ eyes. Curiously, it doesn’t feel terribly strange to me to feel like a stranger.

The first twenty or so years of my life was just the opposite, I knew many of the people I came in contact with, and they knew me. This might have been simply the result of growing up in a small city, living in the same house in the same neighborhood, never having to change schools. Understandably, I calibrated myself to recognize this state as normal, and that it must be somehow strange to be a stranger. That innocent level setting guaranteed that my next four decades would find me in exile, displaced, a stranger to almost everyone around me. Slip over here for more ...

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Confessor

confessor
The visitor seems to naturally fall into the role of confessor. Perhaps this transformation occurs because the visitor carries a certain anonymity. Unlike the town priest who will still be there tomorrow and the next day, and also unlike the trusted old friend who might know the history a bit too well, the visitor has neither history nor legacy in your space, and so serves as the perfect vessel for offloading troubling secrets.

As a consultant, I’ve grown to expect my client’s whispered confessions. I hear about a lot more than the business difficulty, that’s for sure, and this should not be surprising since the business no more lives in isolation from the rest of its principal’s existence than the principal does. Those admissions carry the patterns reinforcing all the client’s complaints as well as clues to their resolution. I often need to engage no more fully than lending an attentive ear for my client to hear themselves resolve their own trouble. Slip over here for more ...

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Scholar

Scholar
I failed to persuade them to invest in the full three and a half days. They opted for two half day ‘over-views’ instead. I reluctantly agreed, knowing nothing was likely to change from such a quick, shallow dip. This was a world-class university, overflowing with smarts, confident that their people would be able to instantly absorb any information. Problem was, I wasn’t dealing in information.

I would be received as the visiting scholar, one who’d spent his life studying his specialty, one who had distilled whole libraries into a single simple meme. Sitting in my presence should transform something. Hearing me speak, however briefly, should spark enough understanding. I wasn’t really dealing in understanding, either.

The visiting scholar holds mythical stature, expected to not merely understand, but to instantly impart understanding. As if he’d done the leg work, proved the claim, mined the ore, smelted the precious metal, and stamped the coins he’ll just hand out to anyone attending his lecture. In fact, the scholar holds more questions than answers, and might be best understood as the inheritor of the unanswerable question. This query requires caretaking, a patient, persistent, and nurturing hand to hold; one that will, in time, pass it on to a following generation. Slip over here for more ...

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VisitorPass

visitor
Remember the satisfaction a hall pass could bring? It meant that I was special, released from the regular programming, on a formally sanctioned mission away from the ordinary. Whether a restroom or an extracurricular activity called, I was on my own, traversing otherwise no-man’s land, bullet-proofed for the duration. Even if that particularly hostile assistant principal noticed me and asked, I carried a guaranteed get out of jail free card, transforming this usual suspect into a Teflon® visitor.

Supposedly all grown up now, I gain a certain self-satisfaction wearing the badge of a visiting contractor. I have a desk drawer half-filled with used visitor badges, each a testament to my past temporarily special statuses. Security would welcome me, seek my signature, then pass me a custom-made credential before opening the gates to the compound. I’d usually require an escort as if a visiting dignitary, an envoy from the future. Slip over here for more ...

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JustVisiting

justvisiting
I should be a seasoned visitor by now, though I’ve squandered too many of my past comings and my goings judging my surroundings. Perhaps the journalists refighting the Cold War from atop those mis-installed toilet seats in Sochi remind me that the responsibilities of every visitor include suspending judgment. Of course you’re surrounded by difference. Harsh judgment, even generous judgment only blunts otherwise sharpening experiences.

Of course this world feels disordered; and no, I will not be eating on my normal schedule. I might well be poisoned, forced to settle for what I would never agree to swallow on home ground. My schedule might shred, commitments abandoned. I will lose sleep, time, money, and some of that precious dignity, all perfectly reasonable tariffs every visitor must pay. Oh, and I seem to be visiting much of the time these days. Slip over here for more ...

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Prosperity

prosperity
I read the financial press with increasing interest because I might be the only one to notice this pattern behind sure-fire prosperity. Yes, I have a degree in business administration, but nobody even hinted at this golden goose egg when I attended university. (I admit it, my university days probably occurred well before the emergence of the modern goose.)

Used to be that a company succeeded by producing some product or service which they sold for a ‘price’, generating ‘revenues’, which through careful ‘cost management’ would distill into ‘profits’, thereby attracting ‘investors,’ who’d front cash without any explicit agreement to return even a penny of it. Yes, I admit that this sounds silly nowadays; backward. Byzantine, and perhaps it was. Slip over here for more ...

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TwelfthNight

leatheryleaves
On The TwelfthDay of Christmas, night fell. A mighty Chinook wind had blown through over the eleventh night, stealing away most of the snow. Squirrels had for days been purposefully pulling huge leathery oak leaves from the layer I’d left protecting the gardens from the winter; extra nest insulation against the coming Polar Vortex bitter cold. I do not know how they know it’s coming.

The TwelfthNight isn’t about the second coming, but the first one; set aside for the feast celebrating God becoming man, not man becoming God-like. Slip over here for more ...

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EleventhDay

pied-piper-king-williams--001
An old year ended on the EleventhDay of Christmas.

The Muse and I piled old magazines high on the dining room table and started snipping images. For many New Year’s Eves before The Exile, we’d created collages for each New Year. This involved cutting pictures more or less at random from old magazines, then arranging and gluing them onto poster board. A friend who long ago introduced us to this practice insisted that the resulting ‘work’, over the following year, would manifest whatever it depicts. Slip over here for more ...

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TenthDay

palm
On the Tenth Day of Christmas the whole world went silent. The scholar in the basement stumbled upstairs into the kitchen to brew his coffee. He solemnly declared that the house had become boring. He was right.

The traveling tornado brothers left after breakfast, marking the official end of the festivities portion of this holiday. I fell into a coma-like nap. The Muse reclaimed her sewing room. Quilting subsumed her. Slip over here for more ...

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NinthDay

armbone
On the NinthDay of Christmas my family gave me some Christmas attitude.

I should have at least suspected, but I didn’t learn until nearly the end of the boyz’ visit that both were accomplished soloists. They’d given little hints of their musical abilities, but they’d been cloaked and clandestine. The last night, though, as we were finishing supper, The Muse explained that since I hadn’t pulled out the guitar during the whole visit, there would be some music that night. Slip over here for more ...

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EighthDay

eighth
On the Eighth Day of Christmas, The Muse gave me a day with my nephew. Before he arrived, we’d planned to have many long rambling conversations after he arrived, but with the rug rats roiling around the ankles, we’d barely managed well-intended mumbles between wrestling one or the other of them into rough acquiescence. I’d mentioned visiting Arlington National Cemetery with the boyz, but The Muse insisted we leave them ruffians behind. She’d keep them engaged with a game of Monotony (you might recognize it by its registered trademark ‘Monopoly’) and by making a big batch of anise candy. (Yes, the boyz quickly perverted the candy name into ‘anus’; snicker, snicker. ... Boyz.)

The purpose of this excursion was not to visit the cemetery, but to provide a premise for some unencumbered conversation. The barriers to unencumbered conversation seem legion, and only some decent distractions ever provide the context necessary for it to emerge. Slip over here for more ...

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SeventhDay

respite
On the Seventh Day of Christmas, I chose to offer a choice. My nephew was showing some of the strain of single parenthood, and while he’d promised to escort the boyz to see an Egyptian exhibit and one of the Mall museums, I offered him a day off instead. “Just wander around the town,” I suggested. “The boyz won’t mind.”

Fact was, I figured everyone would be better off if bedraggled dad wasn’t expected to yet again wrangle them kids through another wildly distracting situation. I could apply some of my strategic inattention, which wouldn’t disturb the young ‘uns a lick. He’d have to be on call throughout if he went, and he looked frazzled. Gratefully, he jumped at the chance. Slip over here for more ...

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SixthDay

airandspace
On the Sixth Day of Christmas, cabin fever settled in. Losing our minds, we decided to take the boyz to the Air and Space Muse See ‘Em.

The A&S Muse See ‘Um is conveniently located on the far side of a very scary suburban ghetto halfway to the Blue Ridge Parkway from our place, ringed with several competing layers of multiple-lane freeways which serve as parking lots most of the day. I packed a decent snack if not a lunch, and even though Georgie had weenied out on breakfast, we bravely headed out. Two minutes later he was pleading for the snack bag. (Told ya!) Slip over here for more ...

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FifthDay

220px-Calligramme
On the fifth day of Christmas I’d hoped I might see a pile of brand new poetry.

I hold this tradition, perhaps now festered into an obsession, that I spend Christmas Eve afternoon into Christmas Day dawn writing poems, creating what I’ve grown to call my annual Christmas Cycle. This year was no different. I began by collecting a few seasonal images that might prove inspiring and, as usual, by fussing a lot. Slip over here for more ...

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FourthDay

Roman-Book
On the fourth day of Christmas my nephew’s boyz brought me one first class, life-affirming conspiracy.

I prefer the company of kids. Not because kids are so sweet. Perhaps because they are just as capable of meanness as kindness. They are, to an individual, every one of them, a pirate until acculturated. After that, they’re a bit worse. Slip over here for more ...

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NoComment

nocomment
My daily newspaper The Washington Post, like every newspaper with an online presence, offers the opportunity for every reader to comment on every published article. Facebook, Twitter, /*you_name_it*/ also offer comment spaces. My friend Mark holds the opinion that the comments often say a lot more than the article they comment upon. Me? I can barely bare to read them.

They seem to offer the same sort of experience as one finds observing the typical autopsy, what might have once been human, laid bare and violated. No, my nose isn’t disjointed because somebody’s comment peed on my birthday cake. Yes, my sense of propriety feels offended. Slip over here for more ...

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ThirdDay

afraid
On the ThirdDay of Christmas, I took my nephew’s boyz to the park, mostly to get outside in the spitting snowstorm in hope of catching some Christmas spirit. Georgie said he wanted to stop for Gelato on the way to the park, but I suggested it always tastes better when your patootie’s half-frozen off.

The boyz were a few years too old for the gym equipment, which they quickly started stressing to what seemed near their limit. I finally called a halt to the destruction, and Ronnie turned into a defensive attorney, questioning my judgment in the matter. I could see the spring threatening to pull loose from the concrete base and the wild gyrations which simple momentum might have propelled Ronnie and that kiddie butterfly ride into the face of another kid. I couldn’t quite encourage Ronnie to listen, him being so busy ignoring my perspective and all, so I left. Up and walked away, not looking back. Slip over here for more ...

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SecondDay

Emergency
On the SecondDay of Christmas, the universe gave to me ...

Medical emergencies might be God’s way of taking cuts in line. They come unbidden, the forbidden unhidden; nobody knows they’re coming, a universal multiple choice test. The proper response involves immediately dropping every plan in favor of the unanticipated, and this cannot be simple, especially if insurance gets involved. Slip over here for more ...

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FirstDay

tiger
On the first day of our Christmas, my nephew’s oldest asked me why I called it Tiger Butter. His query prompted me to expound on the ancient history of the term. The original recipe called for a single melted tiger, which, I explained, was extremely difficult to acquire, since tigers are notoriously late sleepers and tiger butter has always been exclusively a breakfast item. Later, for convenience more than anything, butter was melted instead, though the original name stuck. Slip over here for more ...
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Home-bound 1.9-Bound

bound
Bound might have more meanings than any respectable word should. Like many English words, it means its own opposite, but also its own orthogonal: captive and moving, an abrupt movement, a continuing one, also no movement at all. It bounds, bound and determined to be bound no longer. (Could I be bound and NOT determined, too?)

Home-bound holds every ounce of bound’s ambiguity. Was I heading home or stuck there? Maybe I was simply leaping towards? Perhaps all of these simultaneously. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.8-Alley-Gator

alligator1
When I was five or six years old, my grandfather took my brother and I on a little road trip. My folks were supposed to meet up with us the next morning, but this Friday afternoon, we loaded into grandpa’s red pickup and headed toward his place, a hundred and fifty miles away. This was my first excursion out into the world unaccompanied by my folks, and I left spooked. Arriving at our destination, grandpa decided we needed some entertainment, though it was already well past our usual bedtime when we arrived, so he dropped us off at the local theater, to an already in progress double feature horror show.

The main picture was a gem called The Alligator People, and it scared the socks off my brother and I. We fussed plenty, trying to decide if we could just leave or if we had to stay until the end. The Cobalt 40 scenes didn’t spook us half as much as the alligator guy did. We’d never imagined the world was anything like this. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.7-Somewhere

somewhere
I freely admit that I over-idealize this place. I favorably compare it, weighing plusses and minuses with my thumb secretly fudging the scale. I ignore plenty, imagine some, and reframe even more to accomplish this. I claim innocence under the ‘honor thy father and mother’ clause.

Less forgivable might be my many minor slanders against our exile place, a fine, even delightful place that doesn’t seem to sit quite as comfortably on my palate. I am prejudiced against my step-mother town, where I currently, physically live, and prejudiced in favor of the mother that raised me, where I can only visit now. This judging wears me down. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.6-SmallThings

smallthings
Our exile sits in the middle of a megalopolis, one of the recognized great metropolitan areas of the world. There, any excursion might lead to me brushing elbows with some celebrity; greatness. Noteworthy events originate there, echoing across the world. I casually stroll past landmarks, places where, in an earlier life, I travelled far to simply see. Now I barely notice my own passage by them.

Almost nothing of the internationally noteworthy class ever happens here in my home valley. Most people have never heard of this place, and nod distractedly whenever I fail to explain where and what it is. Some newspaper this week declared this valley a “wine Mecca,” whatever that means, since wine isn’t served in Mecca. The main street is predictably called Main Street. The rich seem to be getting richer and the poor, poorer, but everyone sometimes shops at the same Safeway. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.5-Ex-Pression

Locust
Grasshoppers and locusts hold exactly the same genes, indistinguishable each from the other. For the last hundred and fifty years, since Mendel, scientists have been increasingly convinced that the lowly gene must be the key that explains the mystery of mutation, the wonder of evolution. Math could perfectly model these observations. The process seemed obviously straightforward. Of course, we should have known, it would someday prove if not exactly wrong, at best overly simplistic.

In any human, microbial cells outnumber human ones by ten to one. I am genetically 80% cow. If genes hold the code, who interprets that code? Apparently, something called gene expression does. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.4-BroadShoulders

broadshoulders
Topping Touchet Hill, I felt my shoulders spreading out, stretching from horizon to horizon across this wide frozen valley. The Blues an icy mirage hovering along the Eastern extent, the Columbia Gorge slipping behind. Our passage had been surprisingly effortless; haunted by grave predictions, but that freezing rain front dissipated over the Coast Range and never touched the Gorge. Multnomah Falls fell through an ice chute into a snow-frosted canopy. We fell just as effortlessly through the long, familiar rimrock and cottonwood, road screaming beneath us.

Distressed to discover that the Pheasant Grill was closed, for sale sign replacing the predictably welcoming entrance. No Honker Burger this trip. On to the aptly-named Boardman for a Bozo Burger instead. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.3-Content-Meant

contentment
I made no appointments yesterday. I rose early, accomplishing nothing before sunrise. The Muse had some things to do, but I had family to attend to. My Dwalink Dwaughta Heidi mentioned that our conversations just seem to pick up where ever they left off last time, and that my lengthy absences seem indistinguishable from short ones; we’re that comfortable together.

Same story with my son. We seem to pick up the set-up just short of yet another punch line. The grandson quickly assimilated me into his conceptual world view, even learning my preferred greeting, “Gimme some wing, man,” accompanied by suggestive bent arm flapping. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.2-UncleDad

rearview
I lost ordinary time with the first great divorce and dismemberment. Living in a tiny apartment in an iffy neighborhood then, I’d see my kids on weekends, where pent-up guilt would drive me to try to make each visit special, as if something extraordinary might lengthen our time together or deepen our connection to each other. Quite a lot of that time was spent in the car, ferrying between adventures, as if searching for someplace we might actually belong.

The second great divorce and dismemberment seemed worse, demonstrating my failed attempt to find a safe place for us to simply experience ordinary time together. I called myself Uncle Dad, a weekend visitor choking cheerfulness out of my broken heart. I made up truly terrible traveling tunes and spent too much time talking through my rear view mirror. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.1-Coming

homecoming
The leave-taking was about a tenth as tough as I anticipated it would be. A brief tussle through security when I inadvertently drew my library card instead of my driver’s license, quickly resolved. Tolerable turbulence in spite of a historical winter storm raging a few thousand feet below us over the Midwest. A two hour delay changing planes in Denver, where The Muse and I have spent plenty of time. That felt like a home-turf layover. I’d seen that winds were gusting over thirty miles an hour out of the Columbia River Gorge today, and again, true to my timid rabbit temperament, I pre-lived an aerial Posidan Adventure almost until we were on final approach in Portland. We spidered in, the pilot finally finding that third wheel before a gust could overturn us.

Once unshackled from the accustomed discomfort of our exile, The Muse and I cruise quite competently. Slip over here for more ...

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Home-bound 1.0

homebound
We leave in the morning for home. We leave this exile, homebound. This place of weirdly warm winter temperatures for country more accustomed to winter’s vagaries. I wonder if we’ve lost our edge, our ability to stand in the freezing fog. I wonder how home might feel after this long exile.

I hesitate packing my bags, finally concluding that I’m just better off stuffing everything last minute in the morning. No regrets. Little opportunity to succumb to the temptation to iron what the luggage will only wrinkle worse. No first guessing; I’ll leave with whatever accreted then and suffer or enjoy the consequences. Slip over here for more ...

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TheAmericanDiaspora

diaspora
My family, probably like your family, has been leaving for nearly five hundred years. We speak vaguely about our origins, never fully appreciating the filters our genome has passed through, as if we were somehow still mostly German or Scotch/Irish; Catholic, Fundamental Protestant, or Jew. We are now made more of the stuff we’ve passed through than we are of where we came from. We’re only passing through here. It doesn’t quite feel like home should.

Most raised in rural America moved far away from their roots, not fully appreciating, until the holidays come around, their sacrifice when pursuing opportunity and survival. Then, vestigial familiarities haunt us. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.6-NoLedge

ledge
I left the salon conversation feeling angry. The subject: Common Core, yet another revolutionary strategy for utterly transforming the primary education system employing BIG data and frequent feedback-producing examinations. “The results will be demonstratively worse in the short-run,” our evening’s provocateur reassured us. “The data will most certainly show that our students have been performing more poorly than the old, poor data showed, but once we start measuring the right things, students scores will start to improve.”

This assertion seemed about as unlikely as every other confident prediction accompanying every other revolutionary strategy for utterly transforming primary education I’ve watched crash and burn over the last more than half century. Primary educators seem more prone to seduction by The Next BIG Thing than anyone, with the possible exception of your standard Snake Oil Salesman. The wise S.O.S. cautions their ‘fish’ that the elixir might taste unimaginably horrible and could leave the severely deficient feeling much worse in the short run. In the longer run, of course, the canny S.O.S. will have beat town, leaving no forwarding address. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.5-Dot2Dot

dot2dot
Doesn’t matter where I start. It matters THAT I start, but I could begin anywhere then work out from there. No, I do not have a picture of the end result in mind before I begin. More often, I feel inspired: some interesting thought just popped into my head, usually while distracted, often in the shower. Then, writing becomes an imperative. I must find my keyboard and start.

The first sentence just blurts out, though it’s often right and survives every editing pass to remain there on top. From there, I scan the immediate neighborhood, certain that some likely lilly pad will appear. I often hear it calling me, echoing the sound of the seed sentence, without pretense. I hop over there, listening carefully then, bending the initial inspiration only slightly to lightly echo emerging rhythm and assonance. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.4-ThreeThirty

alarmclock
The best alarm clock never rings. I set it, sure, before falling asleep the night before, but I awaken long before it ever starts ringing. Some dream woke me, still streaming story like sea foam streaking off some surfacing submarine. I turn off the alarm while fumbling for my glasses in the dark, holding a short phrase sleep passed to me to carry into this world. I slip into my slippers, quickly brush my teeth, and somehow avoid tripping over either cat as I creep downstairs to awaken my keyboard, repeating that phrase all the way.

It’s three thirty this morning; cold and dark outside. The light from my office window casts long shadows of the garden furniture across the garden wall. Not even the squirrels stir out there. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.3-PhiloSophy

PhiloSophy
“Philosophy begins when you don’t know where to look for an answer.” Philip Kerr, Hitler’s Peace

Anyone setting out to accomplish anything should encounter some daunting contradictions, otherwise they’re probably dozing at the wheel. When selecting a method, none available should exactly fit the situation. When acquiring resources, some will prove unavailable and others abundant but of undesired quality. Even selecting a goal should seem to demand encumbering compromise. No recipe ever baked a cake.

Filling these inevitable gaps seems to require a meta-understanding, acknowledgement of the gaps and acceptance of the personal responsibility for seeing them filled. While we might well rely upon experience and knowledge to guide us up to the edge of any gap, something else bridges it. Almost anything but experience and knowledge might work. Luck, even.

But being human, most of us will try to reason ourselves across. We’ll pull out the Rules of Thumb bag we keep hidden in the front hall closet or dredge up the clouded over laminated card containing what we once chose to be our ethical imperatives. Almost all of us will rely upon what feels like a sixth sense, a quiet angel who rides on one shoulder, whispering in our ear. Each of these comprise our philosophy.

Far from the distraction from action it’s sometimes characterized as being, philosophy might well be our constant, if often quiet, companion. While we might effortlessly describe technique, the reasoning and world view behind that technique remains largely undiscussable, perhaps because that reasoning seems at root unreasonable. I could mention the Münchhausen trilemma, named after the mythical hero who managed to pull himself and the horse he was riding out of quicksand by merely pulling up on his own hair; an illogical impossibility. Proving any truth or falsehood easily devolves into one of three popular techniques, hence the trilemma: Circular argument, where theory and proof reinforce each other, Regressive argument, where each proof begets another--ad infinitum, or by far the most popular, Axiomatic argument, where we “just know” it’s true. Much of what we hold to be self evident, isn’t, but an axiomatic insistence instead.













©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved












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Brief 1.2-MissedUnderstanding

missedUnder
I’d perfectly stated my brilliant idea. Nobody else seemed to understand. Was I suddenly speaking Swahili? Had my thoughts turned to mush? Had I lost my silvered tongue?

My identity felt it first, turning ghostly pale. Maybe I’d become overly ego involved, no longer dealing in ideas but self. To miss understanding my idea might mean I do not exist, or exist distinctly enough. I cannot even muster a decent me without connecting with you.

I’ll try the same message louder, I might even s-l-o-w down, hoping the disconnection came from faulty volume or hasty presentation. These tactics never work. Never. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.1-Universe-ality

spectralpatterns
Franklin calls me on my shit. When my whining exceeds the limits of propriety, he pulls me over to issue a helpful warning. When I don’t quite understand how lost I’ve become, he points me home. He fairly steadfastly refuses to tell me what I really should do, but he can look down his nose at me, and even on a stop-action Hangout® display, I can see that he’s caught me out. Shortly thereafter, I catch myself out, too.

Authoring involves an awful lot of foiled self-deception and foibling self disclosure. It shaves the old pig until it squeals and scurries home. Home isn’t just where the heart resides, but it sits smack dab in the center of the universe. Franklin insists that the key to universality lies hidden in the deeply personal. The more personal, the more likely others are to find themselves peeking out through the prose. The one thing we all have in common might be that we all experience the personal, and we each recognize the presence of the universal in that seemingly least-likely place. Slip over here for more ...

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Brief 1.0-Id-Entity

cigar
Most of every writer’s day will be spent alone. Writing must be the most solitary sport, an internal Olympic competition featuring cognitive Greco-Roman wrestling, conceptual Winter Biathlon, and solitary synchronized swimming. The games always involve dredging up to translate, rediscovery more than invention, rearranging the same old notes into new-sounding tunes. Like with all games, the boundaries deeply influence play and the rules, originally arbitrary, seem inexorable now.

The trick, once mastering bald aloneness, lies in daily re-mastering it, for solitude serves as no more than soil within which unlikely seeds might sprout, where the completely cognitive and conceptual push beyond the leaf litter into space where anyone might experience them. What blooms seems so very different from the parent seed or rhizome that even the solitary gardener might mistake them for volunteers, accidents of potential, nutrients, and time. Slip over here for more ...

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