December 2018

Mapsing


" … a fate no Muse could ever sanguinely agree to accepting."

The Muse insists upon holding a paper map when we travel. Even so, we often leave The Villa having forgotten the requisite charts, which starts the explanation of why we have so many maps in that box in the garage. Before we're very far down the road, she'll notice the absence and commence a small fussing. My job if I'm driving will then become to find some place for her to purchase a map of the territory we're fixing to traverse. Gas stations, once reliable sources of high quality roadmaps, have become iffy outlets. Variety stores, drug stores, even supermarkets will likely disappoint. The essence of any search seems to lie in the unlikelihood of ever successfully concluding it. We search anyway.

The supermarket clerk expresses its regrets while I wait at the Starbucks counter where they're "pouring over" our choices for the day.

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Passing


" … one of those ex-stage stops where the exit sign proclaims No Services (for me)."

The Muse and I have been traveling the last three days, reaching our destination yesterday and readying to head back to The Villa early this morning. We've passed scores of small towns and former stage stops, most hardly warranting a glance, let alone any deeper inquiry. We found ourselves fortunate to on the way overnight in a formerly unknown little town, one originally founded with the unlikely name of Hole In The Ground, though the founders later upgraded it to something more conventional. Today, it's a proud little place mostly off any well-beaten path, the sort of town that time might have not completely forgotten, but one where its name comes begrudgingly to even time's lips. It's not entirely anonymous, but might as well be for most passages and travelers.

We passed through Las Vegas, overnighting there with one of The Muse's gracious nephews and his family. Vegas, as it's generally referred to, seemed the perfect peek into an apparently not so distant dystopian future.

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DrivingCrazy


"Maybe we were both crazy beforehand."

The Muse and I drive each other crazier every time we drive. I'm amazed that we still consent to enter the car together and head out onto the road. Around town toodles never rile us much. It takes a freeway for our true insanity to emerge. You see, we do not now nor have we ever shared what she calls a threshold. This threshold delineates the speed one considers prudent. To her, I always drive like an old Italian woman, lacking only a few pounds and a black dress from fully embodying the look. To me, she drives like Mr. Toad on his famous Wild Ride, apparently distracted while madly passing everything in sight. I never, ever, even in my wildest dreams exceed the speed limit. She considers it perfectly prudent to exceed it by five or more miles per hour. She spends her passenger seat time distracting herself so she won't notice that we're making a whole lot less headway than she'd projected. I spend my passenger seat time frantically hanging on with both hands while pleading with her to slow the you-know-what down.

By the end of the day, we're exasperated with each other. I've developed a charley horse in my thighs from hours of fruitless bracing for impacts that wondrously never came. She notes that I seem all shocky.

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EmptyNesting


"I suspect that those magpies will miss that cat every bit as much as I will."

The Muse and I escorted Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat out of this shop-worn world. Rose, skittish to the end, peed all over The Muse's lap on the drive over to the vet's. I'd pleaded for just wrapping the cat in a towel to save her the indignity of riding in a cage, and The Muse assented. Her's was a tearful parting for us, huddled as we were like refugees over her silken body. We returned to an EmptyNest, a house demonstrably less home than the home it had been a short time before. The Muse was working from home. She returned to her laptop and I retreated to the master bedroom to read or pretend to read. My reading companion, my lap robe, was no longer there, a catnip mouse in the middle of the floor evidence of her recent tenancy.

She'd imprinted on a calling cue. I'd tap twice on my lap and she'd show up, yawning and tousle-haired from some semi-secret lair, and mount my lap, there to survey the surrounding territory as I read or fitfully reflected trying to connect with another elusive idea.

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Christmas'Eve


"Christmas will be here by then and a fat goose will be sputtering toward its eventual demise."

Christmas' Eves seem to meld into a single contiguous memory, overall indistinct. The traditions overlapping, sometimes contradictory, because everyone's in a blended family now, in-laws, out-laws, jurists, and priests. More a convergence than a celebration, another attempt to fit orthogonal expectations into a single place and time. I earlier spoke with my brother and he was expecting twenty. The Muse and I expect the usual two. We've hosted a few slightly larger gatherings since we left the hometown, so-called exile Christmases, but we usually settle on the same old two. I'm distracted writing my Christmas poems, so she takes the lead cooking something special. She decorates the tree which typically won't have any presents beneath it. Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat, under the weather this year, usually pokes around the edges, imprinting on one or more of the lower-hanging ornaments. The Nakamichi will knock out very traditional Christmas tunes, Rosemary Clooney and Barbra Streisand. A fire will warm the place.

This year, I finished writing my Christmas poems early, so I can take the evening off. I've spent so many Christmas Eves locked in mortal combat with the written word that I feel like an alien in my own home this evening.

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RealMagic


"When she finally accepts that you genuinely want to help, RealMagic occurs."

RealMagic seems so subtle I might miss it. It never pops up out of a spot-lit top hat or suddenly surprises anyone like that! It slips in almost always unaware to utterly change everything after there. It's like that first glimpse of Vienna through jet-lag amplified fog, a quiet mental jog, an irreversible changing of tracks. One never goes back after RealMagic visits, nor wants to. There's never any saying, "No," because it's hardly a choice. Even should some selection get involved, every alternative appears as a relative slog when compared. Usually, though, it just slips through and utterly changes you.

RealMagic seems to exist most intensely in language.

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Soytenty


"I remain almost certainly uncertain."

I've grown to deeply suspect certainty of any stripe. My skepticism about even death and taxes sort of drives me forward or at least seems to sustain me. I use the word 'seems' more than any other, for I sense a lurking uncertainty behind my every observation, my every utterance. I dread the day that I might be called to tell 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth' because I deeply doubt my or anyone's ability to satisfy that injunction. I might at best prove capable of telling the story as I believe at that moment I witnessed it, but I should remain uncertain if I saw what happened or some mix of projections of what I expected to happen and what never really happened at all. On the face of this confession might lie a tragic disconnect or a godsend of an appreciation. I can't be certain which or even if either might be the case. I suppose that this means I get to choose.

Earlier in my existence, I thought that certainty lay near the purpose of my existence. I might accumulate knowledge such that most of my experience would be wrapped in some form of sure bet. I'd have learned where to walk and where to avoid, what to eat and what to decline, who to associate with and who to shun, but this operation has never actually run that way. The examples I employed to guide me always seemed sufficiently unique as to leave a rather glaring gap between what I knew and what I wanted or needed to know. This apparent feature confused me for the longest time. I vacillated between believing myself rather stupid or terribly insightful, again uncertain which pole to properly classify my confusion. Only the absence of certainty seemed defining, and if certainty served as the success metric, I could only properly classify myself as a serial failure.

The Muse can testify to the number of situations I shrink from.

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CastlesOfCards


"I seek not to undo my past, a genuine fool's mission,
but to better understand and more deeply appreciate it as well as my present."

By the time anyone lives to my advancing age, they live in a CastleOfCards. Construction started long before the builder could comprehend that they were building anything, let alone the philosophical, moral, ethical, and logical foundation of their later life, their later lives. Key stones laid with little appreciation of the global ramifications of their local choices, the place ultimately gives a bad name to the term 'hacked.' Even the more thoughtfully-designed pieces stand atop elements never intended to support more than an odd adolescent notion. Habits replicated across decades pulled large portions of the construction out of true. When I abandoned one or another habit in favor of one better suited to then present circumstance, walls supporting the new focus clearly never foresaw that shift. As one ages, whole wings might simply crumble into useless piles. The laird hardly abandons his castle simply because it's started crumbling out from beneath him and his court. Nobody ever starts over again, demolishing what was built in utter ignorance of future needs. Everyone lives in a hacked CastleOfCards.

It's not until older age that most will consent to a general reconsideration of the place.

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Begendings


"I believe I'll next focus my attention upon my beliefs …"

Had I intended to arrive somewhere by now, I should properly feel disappointed, but I intended no forward progress. I set out to slide sideways for a season and I seem to have accomplished that modest objective. I did not start with the ending in mind, but with an enquiring mind. I wondered what might happen if rather than plot my moves, I expected that my moves might coalesce into some semblance of a plot. I expected to sometimes veer off topic, temporarily stumped over my next move. I hoped that I might stumble into some interesting territory, that I might gain insight rather than more complete understanding. I might have ended up more clueless than I began, but what could I have to hide? I believed that I'd lost some appreciation for the fundamentally circular nature of life. Altogether too forward-looking and therefore less tolerant of the potentially enlivening lateral slide. I'd likewise split sideways into notional sides, too, left and right, right and wrong, the ups and downs of an orthogonal plane. Maybe direction need not matter.

I intended to investigate space, to stumble upon something or even nothing at all.

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HollyDave's


" … each celebrating a holiday called Good Old What's It's Name."

Think of a holiday, any holiday, and a set of standard images might come to mind: candles for Chanukkah, witches and black cats wearing witch hats for Halloween, a turkey wearing a Pilgrim hat for Thanksgiving, Santa sipping a Coke® next to a decorated tree for Christmas. We all know the memes. Interestingly, though, none of us ever experience any holiday as portrayed. We identify with the iconography even though our family does things a little differently. Maybe we're a ham instead of a turkey family, or we celebrate Christmas without Santa's haunting presence, not even exchanging presents, certainly not boughten stuff. Each family detours from the advertised standard such that each collective holiday becomes a set of extremely personal experiences. Some open presents on Christmas Eve, others on Christmas Morning, and still others on Epiphany. I dare say that the majority of Yuletide celebrants would never self-identify as Christian, which seems fine since Christians kind of swiped a pre-existing pagan celebration for their own, anyway. Each unique form of celebration might well elicit a single common spirit, though, and maybe that's what we each celebrate, whatever the form.

Me? I observe HollyDave's, a uniquely personal end of the year holiday. It's sort of Christmasy and kind of Chanikkahy, a little bit pagan yet hosting ample silent, solemn stillness.

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TakingStock/MakingStock

" … at least try out trying to do without before freaking out about the absence."

An impending end of a season, like an approaching yearend, brings out the auditor in me. I feel moved to engage in inventorying. What had I acquired? What expended? What remains after the passage of this latest period of existence? How might I value that flow of goods and services, and the not-so-goods and trespasses? Much of what came to pass simply passed back into the ether from whence it appeared, no longer here and unverifiable anywhere now. There were fusses and feathers, though little remains of their presence. What does remain hardly represents the hopefulness or dread by which experiences and stuff originally appeared. A few scant shards remain like the frozen vegetable peelings clogging my freezer's shelves, souvenirs from a hundred suppers otherwise forgotten now. I purge that inventory, roasting it off into an enormous batch of stock, the water of life, leftovers reduced back into essence.

I learned this year to roast my stock.

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Male-ing


" … an annual renewal of my relationship with my father, who taught me much worth fondly remembering."

I love visiting my US Post Office. Strictly speaking, it's really our post office, but I feel a deeply personal attachment to the place. My father was a postal clerk for over thirty-five years, and my mom used to bundle us kids up to go fetch him after his shift. We'd enter the back after crossing the loading dock, an entrance reserved for postal employees, or so the sign said, and while I knew we weren't strictly authorized to enter, we were family, so nobody called us out. Quite the opposite, everyone called us in with cat calls (my mom was somewhat of a "babe"). In those days, postal clerks smoked while sorting mail, so the place smelled of oiled wood floor, paper, and sweet cigarette smoke, with maybe a hint of machine oil wafting in the background. The sorting floor was a warren of sorting racks and stacks of boxes. Sometimes, a few crates of baby chicks peeped plaintively in the corner, attracting us kids to poke our fingers in through the air holes because that's what kids are supposed to do. Otherwise, who could call them cute?

My dad always claimed that the USPS was far superior to any other delivery service. "Only USPS employees take an oath," he said, and he took his oath seriously.

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Schleep


" … while The Muse snoozed placidly beside me."

Sleep has never been much of a friend for me. A tough state to enter and a tougher one to remain engaged in, I find it more of a schlep than a sweet embrace: a Schleep, if I dare coin a term. I dutifully set my alarm before retiring, but almost always wake a half hour before it gets around to reminding me to get up again. I maintain a routine my doctor frowns over, insisting that my brain could not possibly adequately reinvigorate in the scant time I allocate for that purpose. I don't know anything about adequacies. I simply take what I seem to tolerate without over-worrying about how deficient my habit might leave me. I subscribe to a notion that everyone carries a unique rhythm into this life. Those fortunate enough to find that rhythm and manage to somehow match it seem especially fortunate. Those who scour the self-help shelves looking for outside advice so as to conform to somebody's sense of normalcy might never properly settle in.

When some event disrupts my curious rhythm, I become dysfunctional. Illness or exhaustion might encourage me to wrestle with my dozy adversary more than might prove beneficial to me. More sleep generally leaves me feeling more depleted; less, more enlivened.

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BidingTimelessness


"I'll hardly notice either time or mind."

Healing happens within a timeless state. It occurs at scales beyond or before sensory experience, absolutely invisibly. Nor can anyone hear healing happen, or smell it, or taste it, or watch it happening. One can notice that it happened but never witness it in action. Time seems to work like this, too, that second hand measuring off what happened rather than anything happening. Watching it seems the one certain way to distract from actually experiencing it, as if anyone could experience time at all. Time accumulates into infinitesimals, my many years of life now distilled into flashes and glimpses of indeterminate duration, meaningless both in dimension and duration now. Timelessness might be the same sensation as meaninglessness, the same as each one of the lessnesses, for their very label assigns them to negative space, territory with no finite reciprocal opposite. The lessnesses come as close as we ever come to experiencing nothing at all.

The doctor passed me a passel of don't as I left the surgical center. My optometrist handed me a few more the next morning. Though I feel every bit myself, I'm enjoined to monitor myself as if I was not yet quite fully myself. They probably put the wrong guy in charge.

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PointsOfLight


"The key to living the good life lies in being easily impressed."

Living up here near eight thousand feet brings one clear benefit. The night sky rises much higher above at altitude. The mist and dust largely dispersed, nights remain clear enough to see many more PointsOfLight. Even satellites visit us up here, easily visible floating across from horizon to horizon a hundred and more miles above us. During the day, several jet planes remain visible at all times, most heading due West towards California, but a few always heading to seemingly every compass point. Heavies heading toward Hawaii. Prop jobs bound for Aspen. Who knows where they're going? Winds up there tend to remain fierce even when no weather moves through. We live below severe turbulence even when our trees aren't whipping in the wind.

My optometrist Dr. Joe says the procedure to reposition the displaced lens implanted in my first cataract surgery appears to have been successful, though another week's wait will better confirm.

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smallDay


"Sights hardly recognized. Vision still impaired."

The day after TheBIGDay dawns tiny. Maybe the shadow of the recent BIG event still blocks most of the dawning sun. Maybe my eyes have been blinded to anything scaled larger than a finger hold. I might not care about big things anymore, not right now. I'm back into the world, my recently repaired right eye staring as though through a wad of wool, my forehead sticky with remnants of the gooey tape the nurse used to hold that creepy eye protector in place. I moved like a lame zombie before sleeping like a soggy dirt clod, waking around 2AM to wonder if I could see any better than I ever could before. In the darkness, with that eye protector still in place, I listed heavily to starboard as I stumbled into my bathroom to survey the damage in the mirror. I removed the plastic barrier but could tell without peeking that my vision remained impaired.

No news, not yet. A few days might clear the cloudy covering to reveal a world improved. I read the morning news with my one remaining working eye, sighing with pend-up impatience. More time waiting for some sign of improvement.

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TheBIGDay


" … mechanics trade not in forgiveness and grace but in grimaces and unintended mistakes."

Today's THE day. Anticipation's finally over. The over-long wait, the thrumming great uncertainty, the fussing and worry fall away today. The planning's moot now, the preparation phase completed. The coordination of all the picky pieces won't ever matter again. I won't even remember the adaptations which had become my new normal, not after today. Tomorrow that dream will have come true or a nightmare will have ensued. Whichever comes to pass, aspiration will have slipped past. A breach in the wall separating past from future opens before me now, promising only future ever after. The past will be gone by the end of this day, this BIGDay.

This seems to be the way we parse our time, into preparation and passage, pre- and post event times, with a narrow, one-way bridging alleyway between.

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NotCollegeMaterial


"I consequently never learned the fine arts of football or basketball appreciation, binge drinking, or proper socializing."

Visiting with a high school guidance counsellor when I was about halfway through high school, I received one of those life-defining bits of advice. Reviewing my transcript in progress, the counsellor remarked that I was NotCollegeMaterial. Not that I'd been aching for a college career. That counsellor was correct in that I had never seen myself as college material, but to have even a minor authority confirm my self-assessment seemed a mixed blessing. Before, it had been a choice. After, it felt like an edict, as if no matter what I might accomplish, the 'powers that be' had identified me as uniquely unqualified. This was a bit of a blow. I'd known that I was nobody's mathematician or linguist. In those days, college admission required at least two years of successful foreign language study, and I'd failed to assimilate French and German, so I was cornered. I was then more interested in my guitar, anyway, and figured that I might one day become a star once I was discovered. Not a mainstream celebrity, for sure, but one of those narrowly-appreciated underground types never heard on top forty radio.

I figure that I got more of an education not being college material than I ever could have acquired had I passed that second year of German and stopped calculating on my fingers.

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TheMissingIngredient


" … the blessings rain down anyway."

Each holiday, one item becomes prominent by its absence, like an exiled newborn king. Some years it's a spice, others a vegetable or a fruit. Each year this whatever-it-is encapsulates the purpose of the celebration, the search for some seasonal satisfaction. Buddha Hand Citron filled this role for several years, and still threatens each year to reprise its performance, so The Muse and I start seeking sources for this curious fruit by November first. The Muse bakes for the holidays, and holiday baking demands candied citrus peel, the most exotic of these being citron, a fruit that has no pulp, just peel, the exemplar of candying potential. In the early days, we'd start asking after citron in the early fall, expecting to eventually find it displayed pre-processed in small plastic containers in some supermarket's produce section alongside iridescently dyed lime, orange, and lemon peel; little chunks of irradiated glop. But some places don't do citron, have never heard of it, which for us prompted one of those searches seemingly without end, initiating a true seasonal tradition.

We become magi without a guiding star, increasingly frantically seeking some treasure nobody else seems able to relate to.

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HouseCleaning


"If anyone tells you married life is bliss, slap 'em with a wet broom."

The Muse and I don't share everything. We don't, for instance, share a HouseCleaning ethic. What's clean for one of us doesn't quite pass muster for the other, so HouseCleaning days turn stressful for both of us. I try to stay out from underfoot, choosing an opposite side of the place to focus my efforts, hoping she'll get occupied somewhere else until I can finish, but the plot rarely unfolds that way. I'll be elbow deep in some special gift of a job, like dusting "her" plant shelves, and she'll show up to find the work somehow shoddy, or at least not quite the way she'd envisioned it being done. Yes, I moved every plant. Yes, I removed the shelves to clean both top and underside, but she'd wanted to move the shelves, too, so though I'd finished every shelf and returned the plants to the same places they'd inhabited before, she removes them again so she can move the shelves and vacuum beneath them. I go aargh!

A few iterations of this and I escape to the kitchen, figuring can clean the stovetop in peace. Three minutes later, she's occupied the sink to water the plants there while I stand aside, holding a dripping washrag waiting for access to the sink again.

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Vulnerability


" …my Vulnerability tucked in tight around me."

To the extent that I acknowledge and accept them, I concede that my vulnerabilities might be my superpowers. They mark boundaries which I only rarely cross, so they seem to keep me safe. I also acknowledge that some of those vulnerabilities represent otherwise meaningless limitations I impose upon myself, like my steadfast refusal to drive on I-25. I can be certain that I will never die on I-25 if I steer clear of it. I can't imagine not feeling vulnerable around that road. The Muse knows that I'm afraid of many situations and that avoidance remains my go-to strategy for coping with these. I've survived so far, but not without a shrinking feeling that my world has been steadily shriveling around me.

I chalk my default strategy up to a studied humility.

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LagTime


" … just another unrealistic expectation encountering reality again."

Project people are forever trying to calculate how much time their project will take to complete. It's a non-trivial calculation utterly dependent upon unknowns, so assumptions rule the effort. In the best of all possible worlds, a task that should take no more than two days might easily consume a week or more, and not because those assigned to it slack off. I used to guide my workshop participants through an exercise intended to help them calculate more realistic flow times. How much time does an individual scheduled for forty hours of work in a week actually have at their disposal to apply to work during that week? It was always a shocker when the average answer came out to be around sixteen hours. The balance of the work week would be spent on absolutely necessary, non-value add activities which could not properly be catalogued as being 'on task.' The actual available time would prove to actually be available for assigned work, but little more. The number varied little between industries and over time. This might represent something of a universal principle in action.

A colleague explained to me what it's like to work in a startup. He said it was as if everything required the invention of a pencil.

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ConfirmationBias


"Just me and my many shadows wrestling toward another resolution."

I knew I wasn't an objective observer, though I could have hardly suspected the depth of my biases. As both the observer and the observed, I could hardly hold myself to any benign standard of objectivity, for I have a self-image to uphold. Like any complex system, self-preservation is job one for me, and so I'll likely discount any incoming information threatening my conception of myself. I'll most likely perceive each disconfirming bit of data as a Black Swan, present but meaningless, even if it shows up in a majority of my glimpses. I fancy that I know myself, too, though I sort of understand that the me I believe I know so well changes constantly and invisibly to anyone watching as closely as I watch myself. A long-span series of infrequent observations might more likely highlight changes obscured by continual vigilance. I most often see not who I am but instead project instead who I once believed myself to be.

I avoid mirrors. They lie unashamedly.

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GivingAGoodGoddamn


"Count your blessings, mind your 'q's, it might not much matter what else you do …"

Stumped over what to give this season? Give AGoodGoddamn. The cynically resigned will not give AGoodGoddamn, and will proclaim their resignation from the highest steeples, steeples which were originally erected by those who seemed to care at least AGoodGoddamn, maybe several of them. Fools for their faith, however foolish that might have seemed and still might seem today, they built their ridiculous steeples anyway, then commenced to ring big brass bells from the tops of them, attracting attention as well as lowly curses. How audacious! How goddamned foolhardy! How holy! The commandment insists that we not take the Lord's name in vain, but AGoodGoddamn does precisely the opposite. The stifled GoodGoddamns denigrate the holy spirit, exchanging it for an indifferent, cheap, highfalutin, nowhere knock-off. Just try to be here now and give at least one GoodGoddamn on your way through!

Imagine that everyone really is your sibling, that nobody qualifies as an even half-assed them. Give AGoodGoddamn.

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StollenSunday


" … a warm and festive season blooming here inside."

The westerlies wrestled with a cold front heading South, promising but not yet delivering some sifting snow. It sure felt cold enough, though, as the first concerted cold settled in around the place. The fireplace burned all day long. The ovens contributed their part, too, for this sunny freezing Sunday marked the start of the season. The prior weekend, The Muse peeled oranges, lemons, and limes, candying the result along with eerie Buddha Hand citron fingers chopped small. The countertops had been stacked with baking trays overflowing with waves of drying peel, disrupting our regular routine through the week. I finally found some space for them atop the larder fridge in the garage so I could concoct my suppers in some semblance of peace, just in time for The Muse to turn the kitchen into a Stollen factory.

She made fruitcakes first, a cool dozen little loaves reeking of brandy and rich spice.

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Literature


" … hardly the high-brow notable kind."

I feel reasonably confident that I am not a literary snob, though I do maintain certain rather uncertain standards. I have not read many of the classics, and those I have perused, I found dated and stiff. Not that I could't appreciate the skill it must have taken to create them, more that the skill had not seemed to have aged that well. Shakespeare could certainly jot down the decent sonnet, but his iams seem labored and lost on me, the rhythm often obscuring the purpose. I've never really cared for riddles and confounding word play. I appreciate flowery speech but tire of the unending garden. I despise writing that leaves me feeling ignorant and uninformed, which might leave me snob enough, unwilling to bend over to meet an uncompromising author halfway.

I grew up in a home with plenty of reading material.

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TheNinnyGene


Smirking in response.

Everyone carries 'triggers' capable of reducing them into a ninny at times. TheNinnyGene expresses at what eventually become predictable times. Though most manage to keep the presence of this response secret (often even to themselves), those who come to know a person come to clearly see through whatever denying smokescreen their loved one might deploy. I feel reasonably confident that even Chuck Yeager carries TheNinnyGene. Given the right (by which I mean the wrong) conditions, he'd crap the cockpit of a P-38. I'm no different. Set me in the prep area of a surgical center, and my heart rate will attempt to set a new world land speed record while my blood pressure convinces the SurgTech that I'm preparing to stroke out on her watch. I feel perfectly placid during these events, with no sensation of horror movie hysterics. It's just my NinnyGene expressing itself.

My GP seems interested in identifying the source of my situational ninnyness, an exercise which I comment seems way too Freudian for me.

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