GoodNeighbors

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

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

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

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Pegboard

pegboard1
"I find myself at peace."

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

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

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Aren't

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

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

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

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Anonymity

anonymity-1
"It seems as if nobody knows anybody anymore."

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

Anonymity imparts a ghost-like presence.

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Bottomless

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

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

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

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SockedIn

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

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

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

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Betweenings

betweening
"It's so quiet here."

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

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

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Endings

Endings1
"A week later, perhaps more, some fresh bright shiny will attract my attention
and I'll find myself facing forward again."

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

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

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SittingWithTheMess

Its-a-mess.
" … moving at the approximate speed of drying paint."

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

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

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SomethingNew

woodchips
"A truly terrible influence, indeed."

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

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

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Untiming

frozen-in-time-gothicolors-with-crows
" … a fool's mission, but nonetheless our only mission now."

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

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

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Waiting ...

waiting1
"I'm certainly a sucker for the technology I carry around in my pocket."

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

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

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StillLearningAgain

child-reading-a-book-650x400
" …all the way down and back again."

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

Some learning requires real dedication, though.

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BeadBoard

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

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

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

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High February

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

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

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

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Closure

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

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

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

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Pastwords

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

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

Let's say that I did forget my password.

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LastClass

lastclass


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

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

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

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Swirl

flowing-ink
"C'est la vie."

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

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

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Vortexting

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

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

The pull comes from opposite directions.

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TheStoriesITellMyself

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

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

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

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Cusp

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

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

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

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Garage

garage
"Whatcha doing' Mr. David?"

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

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

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OutToGetYou

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

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

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

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Meanness

Hob Nail Boots
Fascism is colonialism aimed inward.

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

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

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Museless

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

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

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

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DeepContingency

CivilWar1
"We should … somehow wean ourselves off the need to expect simple resolving answers …"

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

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

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