ClearingOut

clearout
" … open to discovering fresh futures."

At some point near the end of the first reel or the beginning of the second, the desperadoes would have done about as much damage as they could, given that a posse was at that very minute closing in on them. One of the bad guys, not necessarily the leader, would stand a little taller in his saddle and proclaim, "Let's clear out, boys!" Amid general disarray, then, the desperadoes would depart. I'm thinking about the notion of ClearingOut this morning, as The Muse and I pack up to head on toward our next destination. The refrigerator's emptied and swabbed out. Counters clean. All but the last load of garbage already sits in the bottom of the bin. The bathroom's returned to its original state, our bag's packed, and I'm an hour ahead of our scheduled departure time.

In my home life, I clear out about once a year, usually as spring threatens to cast a scornful light upon accumulated remaining winter sloth, but I never clear out to this degree except when moving.

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SlightSeeing

"The world-weary traveler just wants to go back home again."

Tourist can become a difficult role to fulfill. It might appear from the outside looking at, that the tourist lives the Life of Riley: chauffeured in an air conditioned bus, put up at tour rates in first class hotels, sumptuously fed on local specialties at every stop, but the non-stop services can leave the traveller feeling done for. When does he get to decide anything? That tour guide with the gaudy pink umbrella she insists upon waving around like she's rallying troops around the flag seems to take a tad too much sense of authority from her role. The bus drivers maintain their steely-eyed gazes. Rumor has it that they're all retired Special Forces with ice water running through their veins. The fellow travelers, too, can wear on a man's patience, capable of moving no faster than a reluctant donkey, a man only rarely manages to hit his stride so he shuffles along with increasing ennui.

After a few days surveying the legacies of several century's worth of royalty, another set of crown jewels resembles nothing more than a sale display counter at Macy's.

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Hunglish

atable
"I feel like a temporary illusion here."

Walk down any street in Europe and your eye will catch some familiar words displayed on shop fronts. Typically between two words clearly in the local language, a prominent English word appears. Much in the way that a French word in an English advertisement catches the eye and imparts a certain cache even when I don't understand the meaning of the word, I suppose English in a French or Hungarian business name sets that shop apart, perhaps a smidge above, its competitors. Some of the words seem necessary. I mean what besides Burger Bar would one name a burger bar in Budapest? Pizza's pizza the world 'round. The Chinese fast food joint in our Obuda neighborhood declares CHINESEFASTFOOD beside a Hungarian phrase I suspect translates into CHINESEFASTFOOD, so why the concatenated English version? It seems that all Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai places in Budapest prominently feature English on their signs. Are these places there to serve English-speaking visitors, or does this encoding hold special meaning for the locals, too?

Menus rarely feature even a hint of English.

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You'reUp

Jean-Baptiste_Marie_Pierre_-The Rape of Europe
"The differences seem overwhelmingly superficial …"

Wherever I go, I find essentially the same old thing: people going about living their lives according to remarkably similar patterns. Different places offer different challenges for their inhabitants, but local adaptations aside, humans seem remarkably consistent in their manner of living. Some favor rice for breakfast, while others swear by strudel, while still others insist upon ham and eggs, each difference more superficial than substantial, for each rises hungry and proceeds to satisfy that hunger by relatively convenient means, largely relying upon local availability to determine preference. Some think ham and eggs unconscionable. Waffle House patrons would pass on the opportunity to choose any weird breakfast choices. (Cough, cough)

These superficialities attract much attention, though.

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FakingStock

FakingStock
"The results prove nourishing anyway."

During the earliest days of summer, a man's thoughts inexorably turn toward produce. The cherries are in, dark, firm, and glorious. Small rose-blushed apricots cannot be resisted without committing one of those sins of omission that at least one of the more vengeful gods will eventually get you for. The garlic's young, the parsley root, ancient, the celery so fresh that the root needs no peeling and the greens scent everything they touch. Though The Muse and I stroll through the Grand Market on the alien side of the Just Visiting line, I finally cannot resist. That little apartment we're staying in must have something like a stock pot, mustn't it? I could conceivably buy a small amount of braising beef, a slice of that extra fine-grained pork belly fat, and a turkey carcass with which to concoct a decent stock. It would't be very much like any of the many stocks I've seen described by fine chefs, but it might work just fine for some NuthinSpecial someone like me.

I groan our way home on the tram, my shoulders bowing beneath the accumulated weight of just a little of this and a little of that.

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DisOrientation

disorientation
" … it's just sometimes sorely needed."

Eventually, even the better-behaved gods tire of omniscience, which can become quite pedestrian even if one takes care to avoid constantly lording the ability over everyone else. It's a tricky balance, because omniscience isn't one of those senses anyone can deliberately turn off. It comes unbidden, filling in any threatening cluelessness before it can sting. But this sort of cluing in carries a sting of its own, eventually accumulating to just beyond the Dull Throb level. Then, even the most cultured god needs a break. "How about a vacation?", the ever-helpful omniscience asks, further amplifying the need for the god to take a vacation by merely asking the question. "Where to?", the god quietly wonders. "Someplace where your omniscience can take a well-deserved rest," a beleaguered omniscience wheezes.

There, the language should violate every principle of written and spoken communication.

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TravelingWithAHat

IMG_4172
" … at least in his own dazzled eyes, he looks absolutely marvelous."

Let's imagine that you're a gentleman of a certain age and that you're traveling. It's a common sight anywhere that tourists gather to see a gentlemen, even one wearing Oompa-Loompa cargo shorts, wearing a cap, a ball cap or a long-brimmed fisherman's cap featuring a Velcro® tightening strap around back. This casual headgear has become ubiquitous and hardly elevates a gentleman beyond the status of gardener, not that gardening's an ungentlemanly occupation. But when strolling the promenades of, let's say, Paris, what gentleman aspires to exude the presence of a rose trimmer or, excuse the expression, a Weedeater® operator? Few, I deign. A gentleman properly wishes at these times of promenade, to appear every bit the gentleman he probably wishes he actually was but knows himself to not be. These times demand a proper chapeau, perhaps a finely-woven palm Panama fedora, and finely-woven Panama fedoras are by nature fragile things.

When I bought mine, I asked the clerk if it was one of those Panamas I'd seen advertised as capable of being rolled up and stuffed in odd corners. He paled at my mention.

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Leifing

Leif
"One never brings the refrigerator along on a camping trip."

I'm thinking that I probably won't get away with packing light for our two week swat around Europe. The intentions start predictably pure. I targeted the smallest bag in the place and declared that one as mine this trip. You see, I'm a proud veteran of several campaigns, each of which was punctuated with logistical challenges. Schlepping oversized and overstuffed roller bags up three sweaty flights of unforgiving concrete out to street level in Rome, where the roller bags first encountered cobblestone, then dragging them toward our lodgings like they were cranky children overdue for their naps. Wrestling workshop leftovers through three bus and two train transfers following a session in a rural corner of The Low Countries to save a hundred euros cab fare. Failing to successfully stuff too much baggage into a car barely larger than the typical box store shopping cart. I've had my bruises and strained back muscles brought on by the idea that I somehow needed to take a tad too much of home along when traveling. I thought I might choose differently this time. Fat chance!

Cheap flights mean excessive bag fees, which means everyone tries to carry their doghouse onboard.

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CustomerCaring

shoeshine
"These so-called systems all seem jury-rigged to me."

The Muse ordered some makeup online … This declaration does not sound like the opening sentence of a gripping NYTimes bestselling potboiler. It hardly seems noteworthy. Everyone orders stuff online. Some people hardly exist outside of their Amazon Prime® account. I rarely order anything online because the hostile user interfaces scare me off. Every provider uses essentially the same sequence of screens to capture an order, and I reliably lose my way about halfway through these series. I understand that the underlying design must have been rigorously tested for utility, but they do not work for me. I always have to interrupt the process. I probably forgot my Pastword. I enter my credit card information incorrectly and cannot figure out how to correct the error. I inadvertently ordered multiples thanks to a hyperactive Buy button. Whatever the reason, if I don't just abandon the effort, I have to call the Customer Care line and speak to someone in Bangalore about correcting the mistake.

The Muse, however, quickly consummated her transaction.

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LivingBackwards

LivingBackwards
"Damn the dichotomies, full speed ahead …"

The old saw insists that we live life exclusively forward. Next builds upon next, no U-turns allowed. Meaning, though, seems to emerge in reflection, in LivingBackwards for a while. Reflection serves as a welcome eddy within life's relentless forward flow, where a weary fish might casually snack on a caddis fly or two. Sure, the river flows on as ever, but the fish slips out of the current to contemplate rather than endlessly compete. I believe that us fish need some reflection time to make and maintain sense of our place, a peek back upstream to appreciate what's passed and an occasional side glance to catch what we almost passed without really noticing. I seem to live my life in fits and starts as well as backward and forward flows.

Three months ago I chose FindingHome as the 'theme' of my upcoming quarter's writing.

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FutureTensile

tensile
"I'm still sprouting my tail feathers."

I felt old at twenty-five. I'd just started university, surrounded by freshmen seven or eight years my junior. I was older than my grad student TAs. My high school experience felt stale and distant. I'd probably never really studied anything in my life up to that time and though I felt old, I also felt as though I'd enrolled in a daunting game of Catch-Up. I felt dedicated, though, focused upon some future state. I wanted to have graduated more than I wanted to learn. I'd catch an early bus to make my eight o'clock, attend classes until around noon, then grab a quick lunch before reporting to my job, where I'd stay until just before my evening classes began, usually arriving home around nine-thirty, then to start my studying for the next day's classes. I went out for beers with classmates about twice during my university years, for that time felt like an extended exercise in social isolation, a solitary period where my bus rides were my primary study period. It was hard on my marriage.

I hardly noticed at the time, but my life's social fabric stretched in ways that wouldn't allow it to return to its former shape.

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Begginnings

Begginings
"I will be further from home than I've ever been …"

I can see the impending ending much more clearly than the new beginning, though neither have arrived. The impending ending casts a more believable story, as if the current plot line could not possible be broken between here and there. The following new beginning seems barely notional from here, and could turn out to be a simple extension of what I already know or could manifest as a sharp break, or even as something somewhere in between. I don't know. I do know that an opportunity for a sharp break lies just around the next corner. I'm not quite ready to let go of the current status quo, which has grown to serve me very well. I'm likewise uncertain of my ability to grasp onto a fresh thread, but then I never am.

I some days ache for change but only rarely ever try to treat those symptoms.

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Fatherhood

fatherhood

Today's FindingHome story focuses upon Fatherhood, perhaps the most misunderstood role anyone ever plays. I have wrestled with its implications since my first Father's Day, forty years ago today. I am growing to acknowledge that the meaning of Fatherhood might be found in how one actually performs in the role, not in how well one echos their prepared lines or finds his markings on the stage, but in how he engages. The expectations almost guarantee a belly flop or few, and most fathers more than fulfill this crucial part of their role.

That tie, hung in homage around the patriarch's neck this day, might easily imply that he should by all rights be hung high for his many complicities. He might not so easily absolve himself of all he did and all he failed to do. Dad's are duffuses, and absent this deep and appreciative acknowledgement, I believe that any Father's Day celebration falls well short of its potential, perhaps of its obligation. Fatherhood: no one could live or fully justify all those years of therapy without it. Happy, anyway...

"I was and will continue to be one duffus of a dad."

I think of Fatherhood as a second chance at childhood. Not a time of privilege, but of sacred obligation raised to the level of delight. The boogiemen seem bigger, the responsibilities more daunting, but it represents the next-to-last opportunity to experience innocence again. To see the world through naive eyes. To experience so much for the very first time. To break purposeful cadence and move at a much less than leisurely pace. To accept grace. To stare life directly into a face without blinking … much. (Made you blink! Made you blink!)

It brings a time of focus far away from self, an opportunity to fade into the far background in favor of those who really matter.

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Method-ology

ology
"Nobody very vehemently celebrates completing any checklist."

There's a science of that and an -ologist methodically practicing in that field. Our universe has been successfully subdivided into such specialties, the few remaining general practitioners relegated to working mere margins. The specialists take center stage now as if we're all quietly working our way toward a golden referral, validated by our need to consult with a real expert in some field we hardly knew existed before that dreaded diagnosis. How comforting to learn that someone dedicated their professional life exclusively to this narrow deep-dive deliberation. Have a difficulty? See an -ologist for resolution.

I've been searching for my home these last couple of months. Perhaps I should have consulted with a home-ologist, one more expert at finding what I seek.

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Constraints

Constraints
Pity the poor little rich boy,
raised with no constraints.
He could've been anything he wanted to be
except for what he ain't.


I am the product of my constraints, for I do what I can and never what I cannot. I curse these curious benefactors as if they were preventing me from becoming what I really, truly want to become, while they tirelessly hold the edge between here and oblivion. Every damned one of them serves as a limiting factor to frustrate my desires. Every blessed one of them seem damned determined to help me realize just who I might actually become. My clandestine constraints trip me when I rush to collect the product of my dreams, reminding me that I never was and was never bound to become the center of any universe, not even, especially even, my own.

My constraints help keep me humble.

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Vacations

notvacation
"I still have no freaking clue what to do with myself when I'm not working, preferably from home."

While planning for our upcoming trip to Europe, I received an email from a colleague in Vienna reminding us that people there are generally out of the office and on vacation in July and August. I flashed back to the many postponed and foregone vacations during my professional life. I had a knack for becoming a key person on a time-critical project whenever scheduled vacation time or a major holiday arrived, and being the good employee that I was, I would magnanimously volunteer to stay behind and work. One year, The Insurance Company sent my first wife and I, along with our two kids, to Disneyland to repay us for the planned vacation I'd sacrificed in favor of overseeing a crucial implementation which didn't end up happening on schedule, anyway. I remember what a miserable time we had there, discovering that Disneyland roughly equated to one of the inner circles of Hell. That vacation started when we returned home.

Europeans treat vacation with a seemingly imperative reverence, like the devout consider church attendance. Americans treat them the way secular Europeans treat church attendance, as one of those practices grandma might have observed but which moderns mostly do not.

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SenseOfPlace

senseofplace
"Home's not where I live, but where I'm of."

The more one wanders, the less home seems like a physical place. Repeated leavings, when combined with lengthy separations, leave no more than an increasingly vague SenseOfPlace in its place. I admit that this transformation makes little sense, for if a place is a place is a place, the physical space should at least seem to remain somewhat static in my absence, but it just doesn't. Instead, reflections, which manage to get everything but vague gists backward, come to dominate what remains of my sense of home. I might therefore catch glimpses of home wherever I find myself with only one prominent omission. I understand, even in my more entranced moments, that I project that image I so readily and warmly recognize. It's not so much out-there as disconcertingly close to in-here instead. I nonetheless feel the heartfelt satisfaction as if lighting up a long-favored and rarely savored cigar. I secretly hope The Muse won't catch me sneaking a smoke.

Still, people ask me where I'm from, which always gives me uncomfortable pause.

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SweetWeek


SweetWeek
"Shouldn't satisfaction come in such thin slices?"

Last week seemed too cold. Next week might turn unseasonably warm. One blessed week during the unresolved season, the world finally comes into focus, probably for no more than that week. The week arrives without notice, a veritable thief in the night, for no amount of anticipation or heart-felt wishing could have brought it around. It comes as a surprise, a form of grace, seemingly unbidden. I might spend a day or two before I come to realize just where I happen to find myself, then a sluggish recognition kicks in. The early morning air somehow lost her bite. The lengthening evenings hesitate before passing into night. I could leave the window open 24/7 if The Muse didn't complain of the chill only she can feel. I lose the socks.

The garden's satisfied, roots exploring through freshly-turned soil, another few handfuls of rocks tossed toward the rough yard edge.

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InfoWatcher

TMI
"I need much less of what everyone seems determined to provide ever more of."

The Muse received a FitBit® in the mail last week as part of a wellness program she joined at work. Now she wears a bracelet that counts her steps, identifies incoming emails and calls, and I don't know what-all else. She's wired. She suggested that perhaps I'd like one, too, but I declined the invitation. She photographs every supper to send to some wellness program consultant who critiques her suppers, for cripes sake, providing the sort of feedback nobody really has any use for. By the time she receives the information, she's already swallowed her supper and can only respond with remorse or a small celebration, though she might learn something for next time if she can find a place to store each fresh piece of information.

Me? I'm on a new program I'm calling InfoWatchers, an ongoing attempt to somehow limit the information assaulting me.

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Letters

Letters
" … genuine attention seems to necessarily take the slow boat between us."

Over the past two weeks, I've found three opportunities to write letters. My correspondents were in hospital, cut off from electronic communications, so I sent actual letters. Not e-mails. Not Tweets or quick Facebook commentary, but genuine actual personal letters. I first had to dredge up my faint memory of just how to format a letter, for these babies demand a specific formal: date and location at the top, etc. I next had to rethink what one includes in a proper letter, for a proper letter seems confidential. It will never go viral, or even aspire to, for it wants to be an outpouring, a heart to heart with one heart imagined and the other far-too used to hiding. Letters allow a rare sort of conversation, one-sided and many-faceted. The purpose seems to be an out-pouring, a lightening, a confiding unknown to every other medium. A letter lives on the stark edge between private and public, with a public of precisely one.

Much of history seems represented in letters.

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Vis-Ability

TheInvisibleMan
"Even The Invisible Man has his moments, or those moments have him."

Contrary to the number of FaceBook posts I make every day, I consider myself to be an intensely private man. I stopped using my Twitter account about the same time Our President started over-using his. I forgot my LInkedIn password and feel no great compulsion to remember it since its curious user interface required me to relearn how to use it every time I logged in and I admit that I never understood what it was intended to be there for, other than to broadcast the superficial specifications favored by curricula vitae, the most superficial sort of personal characterizations. Instagram couldn't capture my interest. I've lately created a private FaceBook Group where I post the bulk of my stuff to people I've specifically invited to receive it. I'm nobody's self-promoter in a culture which seems absolutely obsessed with self-promotion.

I've always preferred bounded solitude, comforted by the certain knowledge that others were nearby but not in my face.

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Viscosity

Viscosity-Chart-2-1
"Whether I move fast or slow probably has more to do with fluid dynamics …"

My first rule of project management insists that one must first find the natural rhythm of the effort, then do whatever possible to match that rhythm. I might have just as easily proposed matching the viscosity rather than the rhythm, if only because viscosity seems somehow easier to determine. The gist says that one should avoid expecting honey to flow like water. Well-understood principles govern the fluid dynamics of substances, but these principles become meaningless if one mischaracterizes the substance they're working with. Few projects in my experience ever flowed like water. It seemed that most of the executives funding the efforts presumed they would and could, an easy mistake if you've never been up to your armpits in window putty that was touted as likely to flow like water.

Different times, a project as well as a life, might well exhibit different Viscosities.

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Extraordinary

extraordinary
"The Extraordinary emerges from a meeting of my mind with the rest of my world …"

I started two years ago this month writing what would grow to become a series of seven and still counting books predicated upon the simple-seeming proposition that each day carries some Extraordinary enough experience to warrant writing about. I admit my audacity as well as the inescapable contradiction in my founding injunction, which dared me to go forth and notice the Extraordinary every damned day. Everyday experiences distinguish themselves from Extraordinary ones by the inherent infrequency of their appearance, so Everyday Extraordinary seems to violate some principle or other, but what do I know of principle? I know almost exclusively by my own personal experience, with even others' reports filtered through my, apparently unique, cognition. I proposed my predicate more as a challenge for me to disprove than for me to fully validate, though disproving it might deeply disappoint my aspiration. I wanted to believe that such an obvious contradiction might, just might, prove true, and so, it seems, it has so far. I cannot say with any great certainty what tomorrow might bring, but almost every day over the past two years has brought with it something Extraordinary hookie-bobbing along on its rear bumper. I've noticed.

My experimental quest might prove nothing more than the existence of self-fulfilling expectations, for I admit that I primed myself to become especially watchful so as to notice.

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SpringMorning

SpringMorning
"Our deck garden refuge serves as the center of this home from June into early October"

A Spring Morning shows up swollen with possibility, aching to be seized. Anything could happen. The eastern horizon starts glowing long before the sun's scheduled arrival. I check the clock, thinking I must have overslept, but I have not. The day leans ahead of herself, craning her neck across the starting gate, seemingly anxious to just get going. I can barely sit still. This will not be a day for reflection.

The Muse mentions that she misses her yard as we wander around the plant nursery.

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