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Giuseppe Arcimboldo: Vertumnus (1591)
"The house remains in charge. I, it's vassal."

When my to-become first wife and I were living together on the unheated sleeping porch of her shared apartment on 19th in Seattle's U District, a pane in one of the windows which comprised most of three walls of her room somehow broke. I don't remember the circumstances under which the damage occurred and that detail's probably not important. I took it upon myself to fix the damage, me an eighteen year old with absolutely no experience fixing broken window panes and no tools. I would not have even qualified as an apprentice, but someone of slightly less position on the grand hierarchy pecking order. I was a Novitiate, one interested in dedicating myself to successfully fulfilling the assignment but without sufficient understanding to even begin understanding what that effort might entail. I also lacked even an apprentice's supervision. I had yet to discover if I had the necessary stuff for even becoming an apprentice, which requires a certain attentive interest along with an acquiescing spirit. Headstrong novitiates need not apply, neither should haughty apprentices. I was merely aspiring to become capable of completing that self-assigned commitment and didn't even know that.

I'd watched my dad fix broken window panes, including one I'd created with one over-heavy Thursday morning Oregonian through one of my customer's windows.
Having watched, I committed my first error, which often entails believing that watching another produces experience. It's a common enough fallacy, encouraged by every movie and social media convention known to anybody. We're a monkey-see-monkey-do culture now. Where we once accepted the tutelage of our elders, we now tune into YouTube to watch videos. Much of every craft involves almost incantations, the odd mumblings and underbreath cursings common to attempting to fit any two things together. Each profession, each craft, maintains a specialized vocabulary. The curse essential for properly tightening a sheet metal screw simply does not work any magic on a wood screw. The glazer, too, learns a few choice terms helpful in chiseling out broken windows and also in producing flawless putty finishes. Without these injunctions, even with the proper tools, no Novitiate stands much of a chance for success. Novitiates never know anything about any of this, they don't even suspect it. They tend to be virgins who still subscribe to the fuzzy bunny and stork principles of human procreation.

I visited a hardware store, but didn't ask any questions, not wanting to appear ignorant, a sure sign of a Novitiate shopping. Every odd hardware store clerk in the universe can see a Novitiate coming from several miles away. Their attempts at appearing coolly knowledgable do not even rise to the level of laughable. They're just sad and would be tragic if not for the fact that their failure will bear no witnesses. It will occur all alone, in deeply personal circumstances, and remain the only known way to ever learn any better way. Eventually, usually, a Novitiate learns to expose or even revel in their own ignorance and commences to asking questions, even admitting that they don't know much of anything, even doing this light-heartedly. Following this development, advancement becomes possible but in no way assured. Many alters remain to worship under and many sacrifices loom ahead, but admitting ignorance, even to himself, produces possibilities otherwise untouchable.

I bought a can of glazing putty, a fresh pane of glass, and some glazing points. I remembered that the apartment came with a small hammer. I wondered what else I might need. A mentor might have mentioned a pair of stout gloves and a ladder, but I was underfunded and wouldn't have been able to afford those supplies, anyway. I'd have to make do, as all Novitiates always have. I was poised on a lesson I could not see coming. Boy Scout well-preparedness could only sidestep some important learnings.

I mention this story because I notice that I'm a Novitiate again this morning, setting out to do some work I've never before attempted. I've never even seen this work done, but I certainly aspire to have done it, which serves as neither necessary nor sufficient preparation for actually achieving anything. I bought some chisels recommended by a hardware store clerk who knew what he was talking about. I have considerably more—like fifty years' worth—experience in being a Novitiate, so I tell myself that I recognize certain patterns. I've survived more initiation rituals and blunders than I can remember. I understand at least that I ain't anybody's hight priest. I might have also qualified as a willing apprentice to this place. Lord knows that I've been subjected to plenty of unbidden teachings. The house remains in charge. I, it's vassal. I'm hopeful that this work will look better than did my glazing on that long-ago broken window. It kept out water but never warranted lingering over.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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