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"This must be how the future comes."

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

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

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The Illusion Of Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The purpose of beer must be to provide that buoyancy.

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" … my good work took them there."

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

What made it good work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jean François Raffaëlli: The Exhausted Ragpicker (1880)

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

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

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

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

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

I didn't ask to bloom differently.

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"We'd eat dirt first, …"

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

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

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

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

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

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"What harm could it possibly do?"

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

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

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

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

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Ashes To ...

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

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

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

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"The slivers and sandpaper silicosis
hasn't slowed me down yet. Yet."

I might best define ReModeling as the willful self-infliction of repetitive motion injuries. The recent proliferation of cordless tools only seems to have exacerbated the dilemma facing any helper. Screwing in one screw seems easy enough to do, but spend the whole day screwing in one after another, with respite only accompanying the occasional dropped one, and the fingers go numb by the end of the day. Of course, any project worth doing insists upon just this sort of over-doing to ever get done. For the hardly initiated like myself, each ultimately numbing task starts as a sort of adventure, for I've likely never removed dry wall before or taken responsibility to insulate an outside wall or worked a cordless drill all by myself. The steps seem easy enough, and are, until they're amplified to the scale of any real progress. My muscles ache by the end of every day.

Not that I'm yet persuaded to play hooky.

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"Explaining it only ensures that it won't seem all that funny or insightful to anyone else."

Every family develops a unique dialect comprised of words twisted into special-purpose shapes. Some fondly recall what originated as a malapropism, like when my Dwalink Dwaughta Heidi called a maze puzzle an "amaze." Forever after, in our family, mazes became amazes. Frustrated with a boring discussion, she proclaimed that she thought we had "disgusted" enough. We now exclusively engage in disgustions, a useful cautionary reminder. It seems that as kids learn the language, they help twist it into a more meaningful form, with the folks joining in. The bedtime announcement that "it's time to go potty and brush your teeth" morphed into "time to go potty and tickle your teeth", then finally into the short form "time to pot and tick".

Many FamilyTalk terms amount to verbal shorthand, sometimes even code.

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Poetry @250_2
"I possess no body of work, only the ghostly spirits of one."

Writing poetry isn't harder than writing prose, just different, as different as playing drums rather than playing a lead instrument. Accustomed to the background stage where assonance and alliteration ply their trades, poetry lies hidden within all human speech, rarely center staged. The better prose exhibits poetry's subtle influence and seems to sing or simply hum along behind the story. When poetry moves to the front, some rules of punctuation and propriety step aside like a saxophone section when the percussion solo takes over, for poetry seems first, foremost, and always the juxtapositioning of rhythm to an at least equal presence in the search for meaning within a piece. The beat might even seem to become the melody then.

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" … I'd fly a kite over this world we know and transform it into one we recognize."

I'm thinking that there must be a simple room somewhere, one where the grandkids, The Muse and I, and our kids, too, might spend more than the gilded, terribly rare afternoon together. Two and a half years ago, amid the swirl of my darling daughter's wedding day, we spent the best part of an afternoon together in my first wife's backyard. This afternoon, the four grands, my two kids, and The Muse spent a few scarce hours together, and it was magic. We accomplished little besides the grandson's birthday party, which was out of our hands, and a quick trip to see if we could spot the sea lions haunting Willamette Falls on the swelling Willamette at Oregon City. (We did!) The wind was bite-y and brisk and the grandson, filled with sugar and adrenaline from being the recent center of attention, seemed in a typical six year old's sour mood, but the time seemed plenty sweet enough anyway. Sigh! Maybe after another couple of years slip by, we might find ourselves together again.

These days, grandparents often live far away from the lives they revere the very most.

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" If it wouldn't make believable fiction,
it's probably the truth."

I told my brother last night that the primary reason The Muse and I came 'back home' this time was because we'd been running dangerously low on family Soap Opera. Family seems to be the source of all true Soap Opera. In the near decade The Muse and I have lived away from my old home town, our Soap Opera consumption has noticeably diminished. Visitors and resident aliens in any place away from their family home place simply cannot plug into the channel that carries the deep local dirt. Sure, the odd axe murder might make the front pages, but it'll be very unlikely that the murderer or the victim went to grade school with your cousin's oldest, for that sort of detail separates genuine Soap Opera from run of the mill scandal, tragedy, or news. The juiciest news isn't fake news or national news, but family Soap Opera.

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"The meaning we're concocting happens nonetheless,
though I'm only rarely aware of its blooming presence."

When I speak of brains, I catch myself slipping into the realm of electronics metaphors. Though no wires seem evident when a brain's dissected, I confidently speak of wiring. Impulses morph into imagined circuits. Scientists search for underlying designs just as if designs just must hover to be discovered in there somewhere, and I believe. I suppose that I'm exhibiting some characteristic of brain behavior in the ways that I imagine my brain working. I deploy metaphors as though they are much more than they were ever intended to be. I concoct then buy into extended allegories before imprinting on the allegories as if THEY are the reality. I suspect that the reality lies far beyond the ability of my brain to comprehend.

Much of life seems to inhabit this same territory.

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"We listen, perhaps, to avoid fixing some feature that,
if taken away, might cause the whole freaking structure
to fail."

Work seems to naturally attract grumbles; the more physically demanding, the greater the grumbling. Psychologists and self-help authors might manage to make it to the end of their workday without finding a single disparaging thing to say, but the rest of us will end our shift with more complaints than we clocked in with that morning. The primary purpose of work break times might be to serve as a release valve, providing "workers" with the opportunity to mumble malevolently about each other, lest they blow up from the pressures building inside them.

"How was your day, honey?" might best be considered a rhetorical question, for that spouse damned well already knows the answer.

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"Who are we to question how it seems to be …?"

I measure real progress in inches. I'm certainly attracted to the ever-popular notion that some progress might be better measured in longer segments, even though these seem inevitably misleading. I'm also not immune to sometimes believing that I might, by clever application, manage to take leagues-long strides toward my more worthy objectives, but this inevitably leads to disappointing results. I figure I might have better things to occupy my shrinking time here than spending it plotting to disappoint myself. I manage to experience enough disappointments without dog-piling into the conspiracy with those who seem to be out to suck the wind out of my sails.

The grand deconstruction that is our kitchen remodel project got itself off to a strong start.

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" … how one goes about acquiring a sincere lack of skill
as the recipe for accomplishing anything."

I still blanch at any request for me to catalogue my skills. If I have skills, I must be largely unaware of them because I never think of myself as particularly skilled. I seem more often to catch myself less than entirely certain if I can accomplish anything I imagine doing. Maybe I forget between engagements. Maybe I never knew. I still engage, but with a persistent sense that I'm just a beginner, probably a pretender, hoping to somehow accomplish the best. I might be most skilled at engaging with a deep sense of uncertainty about what outcome I might produce. I cannot honestly claim to possess any but this deeply questionable "skill."

So when called to help on some project, I tend to self-select into a role that's unlikely to lead to too much calamity should my initial self-assessment prove true.

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"I suspect we’ll never know."

Boxes stacked nearly to the basement ceiling. Cupboards emptied leaving the barest shell of our familiar kitchen. The refrigerator’s already moved into the dining room for the duration. The whole back end of the house now poised to revisit The Great Depression as the demolition begins. Those rooms, the small bath and expansive kitchen with the hallway we’d always imagined would become a butler’s pantry though we never planned to hire any butler, suffered for decades from some former owner’s mid-seventies design sense. Like a Mod permanently stuck in a Sears and Roebuck interpretation of “updated” sixties Carnaby Street fashion. Narrow lapels, thin trim, too-wide bell-bottomed cabinets, misfitting doors and windows, vaguely psychedelic lighting scheme.

True to every project I’ve ever engaged with, this one’s different.

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"Whether or not anyone ever actually arrives anywhere
remains open to continued speculation."

Travel writing seems the very most dangerous sort, more seductive than the most seditious political screed and often more misleading than a Chamber of Commerce promotional brochure. A good travel writer seems rare and rather unlikely, since that writer holds a deeply vested interest in self-promotion of the Look How Fortunate I Am And You're Not variety. But travel, real travel, only very rarely lives up to its touted promise. Behind every romantic evening strolling along the Seine, lurks a cobblestone-twisted ankle or a bout of explosive diarrhea, neither of which will warrant mention in the resulting glossy magazine spread, nor should, but which results in a work of partial fiction, what Disney's Imagineers labeled Modified Authenticity: A Frontierland absent horse shit and thereby reeking of its absence.

The Muse and I are traveling

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"One foot seems to stand behind me no matter how straight I stand."

Irrelevance seems the proper reward for any lifetime spent mastering anything. I'm not sobbing into my beer, but reflecting on an apparent evolutionary imperative. I've forgotten more than half the stuff I once knew, but still know quite a bit more than even the cleverest Johnny-Come-Lately, who couldn't possibly have forgotten even half the stuff I have. Further, I've retained some truly subtle stuff, the sort of understandings that cannot be described or explained: sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth-sense stuff. The newer kids, though, still think they've reinvented the world, or are well on their way to utterly reinventing it. They worship a future that hasn't had her way with them yet while slandering a past they never knew or cared to understand. Those who won't worship that naive future or slander that trusty past seem simply irrelevant to all those who will.

Fortunately, none of this matters.

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