Townie

Townie
"We're the same, hardly different, but seem so different, hardly the same at all."

When I tell people that I grew up in Walla Walla, Washington, most quite understandably consider me to be a country boy, though I'm not. Yes, I grew up surrounded by country, but my birth family lived in town, actually a small city featuring pretty much every amenity one might find in any large city. I went to grade and high school with country kids, ones who rode busses long miles in from farms and ranches out in what I, as a townie, considered to be the hinterlands every bit as much as my big city-bred colleagues consider my hometown to be a backwater. I was raised on Pleasant Street, a few bicycle-shortened blocks away from a corner grocery, grade school, and the primary city park. I grew street savvy cruising alleyways on that bike, discovering shortcuts, and delivering newspapers. I told The Muse when I first met her that I grew up in a Walt Disney movie. She later confirmed my assertion when she visited the place.

My small city held a microcosm of the larger world.

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YourAge

bus1
"I won’t play anything by Elton John now, even if you ask nice."

The Thirtieth of March is a national holiday in this family. It's The GrandOtter's birthday, always celebrated with a fresh poem! Here's today's:

Your Age

When I was Your Age,
I was waiting for a bus.
Not a literal bus, but a figurative one.
I imagined that some person or call
would magically appear, bundle me up,
and whisk me out of The Valley They Liked So Well, They Named It Twice.

My high school had declared me Not College Material,
so I possessed no dodge to distract me from the world
until I’d completed the process of growing into it.

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EyeSight®

EyeSight
"Complacency could, I well appreciate, become deadly, just like when I'm not behind any wheel."

The new car (as yet unnamed) came with a feature I'd never heard of before the test drive: EyeSight. I suspect that it uses some sort of radar to keep track of the traffic surrounding us. When someone slips into one of the blind spots, left or right, a small light illuminates on the corresponding exterior rear view mirror to warn us. Most remarkably, punching a button and flipping a switch invokes a special sort of cruise control that maintains a constant distance between our car and the one in front of it. If I punch in sixty five, the standard freeway speed around here, the car will maintain that speed unless the one in front slows down below that speed, in which case it will merely track behind that car at the same distance, even stopping if, as often happens here, the line of vehicles ahead slows to a stop before speeding up when that line resumes moving again, no foot required on any pedal.

I'm not always a champion of technological improvements.

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Cherub

cherub
"He even appreciates some of my taller tales, but not nearly as much as he loves his video games."

My grandson skitters around the floor at my feet. We were talking about going for a hike, but thunder snow moved in before we could get clear of the door. We went out in the backyard to play for a spell, but he just wanted to throw snowballs at me. Fortunately, he's a lousy shot. I fired back until my hands went numb, he taunting me from the deck above, me feeling like so much cannon fodder far below. I finally begged off the excursion and we came back inside where he took up with his new StarWars set, a Lego toy that, much to his continuing delight, shoots little light blue projectiles. He's been flying the Millennium Falcon around the house for a couple of hours now, with no sign of exhaustion yet.

Of course he's a little angel, though not nearly as little or as angelic as he was just a couple of years ago.

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Splatt!

Populus_fremontii_Zapata-5
"… the absolute absurdity of everything comes to a head"

The morning after the welcoming Spring snowstorm found us, my son, grandson, and I, investigating along Clear Creek, a stream lined with tall cottonwoods which were quietly dropping snow from their branches in a process we immediately labeled Splatting. Standing beneath any of these behemoths would shortly give us reason to giggle, as a branchful of wet snow might slap the side of someone face or plop onto the crown of my Borsalino. Wearing a hat seemed a definite advantage because our goal was not to avoid any Splatt!, but to receive one, even many. We plotted where might constitute the most likely place for a Splatt!, then test our theory before moving on to even splattier places.

We're dangerous, the three of us, when we get together.

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Grooven't

Groove
" … secretly hoping I won't see it here lest our eyes meeting simply chase it away again."

Disruption seems in endless conflict with flow, that mystical state from where, the Self-Helpless Industry insists, real creativity, productivity, and most every other -ivity floweth. Simple disruptions seem every bit as powerful as their larger, more complex brethren, pulling my eye off whatever ball I'm trying to stay focused upon and thereby fouling me out. A small jot of turbulence renders me unable to read the fascinating novel I carried on to entertain me through the flight. I feel trapped then, unable to do much of anything but struggle to suppress what I understand to be a completely unwarranted panic. Losing a wing could hardly induce any greater disruptive response.

I return from a lengthy absence, expecting to quickly regain the old groove, only to find that groove not nearly as smooth as I remember it being before I left. Grooven't.

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HomeCombing

homecombing
" …I did not have to plan a single move."

Arriving back at my current permanent address after seven weeks' absence feels like my first visit here except all my stuff's already arranged just as I would have organized it. I remember where to find stuff without having to think too awfully hard about it. I feel as though I've gained some prescient superpower that allows me to just move toward what I need to find it there. I vaguely remember some hint of a suggestion that I used to spend seven days out of seven behind these doors, but it seems like fiction to me. For the last weeks, every move seemed to require forethought, often followed by investigation. At first, this novelty entertained us. Later, it seemed oppressive. Supper seemed more obligatory chore than rightful reward.

We left the kitchen bare when we departed, so the first order of business just had to be stocking the larder, just with bare necessities.

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BuffCountry

buffcountry
"So much the worse for me, I guess."

Once you get about three hundred miles East from the Pacific Ocean, you enter BuffCountry. On Interstate 84, it starts just East of Hood River, Oregon, but fully emerges only after breaching the Blue Mountains' summit. To the East lies days of travel through the most obviously bleak landscape. Scorched hills. Buff brown fields. Apparent wasteland. In the West, geologic history left the land short of soil. Some more enterprising plants moved in, few of them what anyone would label really green, with grayish probably the most popular choice. The few green plants managing to make a living there only serve to amplify the contrast. Green's rare. Buff brown dominates.

My first visit to Albuquerque left me with the impression that nobody there took care of their yards.

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Receding

receding
"We're just passing through tonight."

If I stay in one place long enough, the whole world seems to snuggle in around me. What's near remains near; far away stays put. Others might move into and back out of the scene, but a serene stability settles in to surround me. I find this sensation not even a tiny bit confining, but quite the opposite. I find it liberating, for within that close confine, I sense my place in this world as well as the world's proper place in my space. We exist in a reassuring balance, one where I feel about as free as I ever expect to feel.

We headed back to Colorado early this morning before the sun had topped the still snow-capped foothills.

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ChickenLittle

chickenlittle
" …that old reliable sky keeps falling."

Chicken Little was right. The sky is falling. His observation was not particularly insightful, for he merely stated what might well have been obvious to any observer had they been paying attention and willing to speak their "truth." That he was later shown, to the satisfaction of his neighbors, to be a fool, merely demonstrates the iffy nature of sharing one's particular "truth" and failing to follow the party line. It had become, then as now, the overwhelmingly popular misconception that the sky was not, indeed, falling, but Master Little must have not received the memo, for it's difficult for even someone as studiously cynical as myself to believe that Little performed an overt act of dissent. He was not, by all accounts, that sort of bird.

So he spoke an obvious truth, but one that almost everyone knew polite people never publicly declare.

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Grace

Eric_Enstrom_-_Grace_-_bw
"Drives me freaking crazy."

I imagine The Gods conspiring over a few beers on a particularly jocular Gods' Night Out evening, just how to drive mortals most crazy. Some, the more hard-assed traditionalists, argued that nothing beat a decent pestilence, but the younger smart-assed contingent carried that conversation after the third (or was that the fourth?) IPA. The whippersnappers convinced the others that nothing, not war, pestilence, grief, or even rampaging boogiemen hoards could beat a periodic dose of grace, undeserved beneficence. What other gift could be more shockingly humbling? What other experience could so consistently hush a haughty mouth? What other outcome better encourages acceptance of a great mystery, the very soul of The Gods' eternal branding strategy?

And so it came to pass that the least of us totally undeserving would occasionally come to experience genuine grace.

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LastDay

LastDay
"Momentum's grinding gearbox knows only forward …"

The LastDay arrives like a thief in the night, just like Scripture predicted it would; one minute separating familiarity and eternity. Eternity's reported to last a lot longer, but infinite, beyond anyone's ability to grasp, while the familiar seems as if I somehow possess it, though it actually exists like a kinescope image, mere flickering flashes of light and darkness. Real, of course, has always been a controversial concept, us being such unreliable observers and all. I've been reluctantly imbedded in what began as an unwanted winter, now feeling as though I'm teetering on the edge of losing something precious, for yesterday was the very last full day of AnotherWinter. I had to look it up to confirm the rumor. By 9:16AM PDT this morning, AnotherSpring will have arrived.

The thermometer insisted the temperature was thirty degrees when I left the house this morning, not an unusual Winter morning temperature.

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SecularSunday

needlenose
"Bread and water will do for now."

I would have willingly sold my soul for a pair of pliers, or gladly forfeited my kingdom, or so I swore. The contractor doesn't work weekends, no matter how close to the end we stand, which means we have only the tools I thought to bring before the job began. Next time, I swear, I'm bringing my own pliers and screwdrivers. The Muse and I arrive at more or less our usual time because we're the owners and ownership doesn't come with days off. The neighbors head off to church but we're strictly secular this Sunday, focused upon painting interior windows and trim. We'd come by on the rainy Saturday before to get started, her priming, me putting finish coats on frame exteriors. This sunny Sunday should allow us space to prep a window frame and finish coat all the windows so the contractor can reinstall them Monday morning.

The Muse works on the new window, a futuristic job with "easily" removable panes. (Easily if you know the trick, which I don't and likely never will.)

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TimeCapsule

timecapsule
" … what passes for ages in human-scaled terms."

Old houses serve as TimeCapsules. Pull flooring and discover clues to the past beneath. Walls hold decades-old toys somehow slipped between cracks and preserved intact. Layers of wallpaper hint at how radically tastes change and also how similar some eras seem. Not everything old seems new again, some of it just seems tacky now. The bottom layer, the presumed original stuff, showed remarkable workmanship and design. Subsequent "improvements" trended continuously downhill. Of course we believe our restoration superior to all but the original, though we have restored little beyond doorknobs, rethinking out-dated principles and employing what we think of as more aging-appropriate materials. We expect ours to last and not just cosmetically coverup, unlike some past remodels on the place.

We can date each change by the newspapers used for stuffing siding cracks and the quality of materials. The Seventies introduced a variety of then-futuristic materials that have aged about as well as potato salad left in the sun.

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TheConking

conked
"Enlightenment ain't all it's cracked up to be."

I suppose that we all live within some degree of trance, never fully mindful, never completely unaware. I think of myself as fairly fully present here, though I suspect that I'm a poor judge of my own reliability as a witness on this subject. I can get so focused upon completing a task or reaching some objective that I know I'm tuning out some of the outside world, though I doubt that I could accurately assess the magnitude of all I ignore when in active pursuit. I think of this focusing as a kind of streamlining, and while my little mind game makes me no more aerodynamic or svelte, I experience a slipperier passage than I suspect I otherwise might. I can also catch myself nurturing little grudges as my little personal sacrifices fail to fuel the easy successes I imagine them worthy of receiving.

I'm focused upon end results now, with less than a week remaining in our presence here in this grand delusional kitchen makeover.

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ShortTime

shorttime
"A week from now, I'll be gone again."

Time turns wobbly near the end of our stay. What seemed nigh on to infinite when we first arrived has compressed into a thin slice with many contentions. Neither of us seem to comprehend what remains undone or how much of our now semi-precious time each item might demand from us. The serial certainty of plans have matured into multiple dimensions, each vying for time and attention with probably much that we still cannot yet sense waiting to bushwhack us away from completing the recognized remaining important work. Some stuff won't happen in the stillness after we leave but we cannot determine what fits into this category, so we continue to do what we do. What else could we possibly do?

The fresh patterns which renewed us just after our arrival have become too familiar now and a vestigial longing for home and ordinary time competes with our appreciation of those differences so subtly becoming unremarkable again.

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Unpreparedness

unpreparedness
" …the great and often surprising gifts …"

I can't remember a situation in my life so far where I entered feeling fully prepared. I really could have studied harder, dressed more appropriately, brought the proper tools, shined my shoes, and remembered to eat breakfast first. My entrances teeter on the edge of pratfalls. My exits, inevitably untimely. I move like a Pachinko ball, bouncing off perfectly foreseeable barriers. When I sit down to write, I break into a little sweat, unsure, even after beginning, where I think I'm trying to get to.

I've always found offensive the idea that one might scrupulously plan anything ahead. As a project manager, I at first tried hard to satisfy the usual expectations before growing to understand that those expectations amounted to
magical expecting.

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Windows

doublehung
" …shortcomings prominently displayed."

I started this project more than a decade ago. I might complete it this month. As old house projects go, this one's in no way exceptional. Every old house holds more than a single owner's lifetime of necessary maintenance and aspired after improvements. The queue of undone work remains essentially fixed, as new necessities and aspirations easily replace any completion. In our time in The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, I've removed (or had removed) all but two windows, repairing and reglazing the many double hungs. These, to my mind, are real windows. Supported by sash cord, openable both top and bottom, easily as old as the house and still in remarkably good shape.

Everyone who sees them says the same thing, that we really should replace them all with modern double-glazed and fit storm windows over the outside, like we should grow up and face the future unafraid of utterly defacing the place.

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Doors

doorway
"She'll stay behind long after I've gone."

As the Winter winds down, doors open into a recently longed-for world. I've suddenly taken to taking off my sweatshirt before I set to work, hanging it on any handy branch or fence. I'm wearing my havelock to keep the suddenly brighter sun out of my face and off my neck. Until Daylight Savings Time disrupted the steady progression, a little more sunlight, or the hint of impending daylight, greeted me as I headed out to write each morning. After, I felt like I'd been sent back to Go without the promise of two hundred dollars, but Winter's almost a goner anyway. She's on her last legs, as a no longer false Spring nudges her aside.

I'm down to working on doors and trim now, the stuff real destruction and reconstruction contractors consider to be final touches.

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Hometown

fisheyewallawalla
"I hardly recognize the place anymore."

I stand a bit taller than the crescent of mountains protectively gazing down into this valley. Of course my perception must be an optical illusion, but Walla Walla has always thrived on illusions. From the valley floor, the sky seems to arc over its perimeter, giving the illusion of standing in the center of a half globe, a snow globe lacking only snow and a firm shake to convincingly produce a small snowstorm on demand. The weather tends to be gentle here, protected by moderating currents in the Pacific ocean, three hundred miles West, the influence swimming upstream along the broad and beautiful Columbia Gorge to impart what the Chamber of Commerce swears amounts to a Mediterranean climate, which, of course, it isn't. It's no Montana, either, but it lacks appreciable humidity to convincingly mimic Sardinia.

Promoters insist that it's a well-kept secret, and it maintains this distinction no matter how much international press the place garners.

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Connotatively

inkblot
" …I can't seem to see the world as it is …"

The way I write sometimes lands me in trouble. I describe my observations connotatively, which means almost everything I write remains open to the reader's interpretation. I'm usually trying to describe the essentially indescribable, perhaps a writer's sole duty. This means that I heavily rely upon metaphor and analogy, constructing relationships that could not possibly exist except as floating thought impressions. I intend to tickle the mind of my reader, but not every reader ends up amused with my antics. Some quite naturally read denotatively, expecting the material to somehow reduce to factual as well as felt sense. These folks frustrate and confuse me. More properly, I struggle to comprehend denotative perception.

I worked hard to avoid studying the sciences in school because I couldn't seem to catch onto the memorization involved.

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DispassionatePursuit

passionsysphesus
"I seek my jollies elsewhere now."

If you check the fine print on the back of the label, you'd learn that Passion carries a short shelf life. Go ahead and Google® the word. You'll be inundated with homilies, just as if you didn't already know that Passion fuels purpose, renders success inevitable, and holds the key to that quality of life that has been so long eluding you. If you're still holding down your lunch, check that fine print on the back of the label again. Passion seems to behave like rocket fuel. What doesn't quickly burn, evaporates faster. It's a boost, not cruising fuel.

Whatever I passionately pursue seems to fuel me plenty at first.

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WhirledAffairs

tamarack
"The view down the block can block any wider perspective."

I tried to tune into MSNBC but couldn't catch the significance of the headline stories. The New York Times seems to describe only trivial affairs. The local paper holds more significance than the whole of the mass media put together. I can see down the block in three directions and barely as far as the back fence behind me. The Blue Mountains retain their winter leggings between splashes of the deepest blue along the ridge tops. The traffic along Blue Street seems more consequential than anything on NPR.

I'm not currently current and I couldn't care less.

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Calm-amity

6406-Ionic-Ivory
"We seem to try to avoid salvation, sometimes failing. Thank heavens."

The call came just as we were sitting down to a late supper. In our absence, gone from the remodeling project for the last half of the afternoon for the first time since we started the job, the kitchen ends up painted the wrong color. In a reported flurry of frenzied effort, the contractors had purchased the paint and finished the ceiling and all the walls, the walls in a fine yellow, Ivory, rather than the Whole Wheat we'd expected. We thought we'd been clear, but half a dozen rejected samples still populated the workspace and, truth told, the Ivory and the Whole Wheat looked very similar when wet. The Muse rejected the idea that anyone could do anything about the error that night, but the next morning, I called the paint shop to learn that the wrong color could be easily tinted into the right color thanks to Stephanie The Wizard Paint Merchant.

No real harm.

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Sandstorm

sandstorm
"I'll be residing in solitary until I spring myself …"

I privately consider myself to be a world-class procrastinator. I'm no rank amateur at the practice, but recognize myself to be a professional-class crastinator, firmly believing that, like hastening slowly or meditative mindfulness, it pays subtle dividends to those who develop the practice into what we who really work at it consider to fully qualify as high art. Procrastinating can be its own reward. The dog that doesn't bark is rarely bitten. It can also be its own worse punishment, when avoidance comes seeking payback on some debt it believes I owe.

Payback can show up as a shakedown artist carrying a Louisville Slugger.

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ShadowTime

shadowtime
"
Maybe I've earned some supper tonight."

By four pm, we shift toward the general direction of shutting down the remodeling work. Though the sun won't set for another couple of hours, the shadows have already started stretching longer and the temperature has slipped. The morning takes almost until noon to shake off the overnight chill, so we're working bankers' hours, though no banker ever worked as diligently as we seem to. I seem to have lost some of my contemplative nature, tucking my head down and just doing whatever seems to need doing, sensing that our time here grows ever shorter, even while each day grows a tiny bit longer. The clean up seems to take as much time as it takes to make the messes in the first place and everything we do leaves some mess behind. The drywall dust has been the worst so far, but the floor sanding promises even worse. We paint today.

My brother Bob reminded me of the blue box, a storage container where I'd stashed my painting supplies from the times before.

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TheGrandOther

grandother
"The conversation further degrades into the absurd
as I close the front door and head out into a chilling afternoon."

The Muse and I call her son's youngest TheGrandOther. Her older half-sister had already been labeled The Grand Otter and, in our search for a proper handle when Kylie was born, she became TheGrandOther. She's something else, which I suppose we could have reasonably expected no matter what name we'd hung on her. Now eight, she fancies herself a princess, though she reports that she's lost her crown. She's discovered lipstick, which she insists every princess uses, though not all of them smear it from halfway to their chin to halfway up their nose, producing clown lips. The clown lips suit me, though, because they seem to resonate the deep truth of her princess pose. It's pretend and we both know it.

Last week, she entered the living room after school to find the white china Buddha head in the middle of the carpet.

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Stewartship

stewardship1
" … stewardship seems to be forever."

Moderns think of ourselves as stewards more than owners. The title might insist that we own that home, but we privately acknowledge that this home will pass on to others and that we no more than steward the property until that transition occurs. We own nothing but the title. These properties own us and our loving attention much more than we ever inflict our will upon them. Our responsibilities as stewards extends no further than we believe them to extend, with some seeming to deny any inherent obligations at all, behaving like renters using up the property rather than as loving nurturers seeking to preserve it and pass it on.

I'm sort of a sucker for stewardship.

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Disagreeable

Alberto Giacometti Disagreeable Object 1931
Illustration: Alberto Giacometti Disagreeable Object 1931
"All great decisions get made in this sort of space."

I suppose I pride myself on being an agreeable person. I find it extremely difficult to ever find anything to disagree with, for I seem naturally predisposed to look for the best, and I usually find it. I experience extreme discomfort at those rare times when I simply must demur. I might try on "yes, but" for size, but only very hesitantly ever pose a half-hearted "No!", let alone an emphatic one. My behavior probably means that I'm what the touts and frauds refer to as an easy touch, something my grandchildren deeply suspect or already know. A quivering chin and I transform into a placating boob.

Except on some issues.

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MumblingMeditation

brush-clipart-house-paint-4
" …the kind of knowingly only we could know but could not possibly explain to anybody else."

Applying paint might be one of the minor purposes of painting, for the surface and the paint, even the brush, merely provide context within which more meaningful purposes might emerge. One can always blunt this emergence by simply fleeing from it. Plug yourself into a playlist or recorded book and lose some potential. Let your mind wander where it will instead and you'll very likely surprise yourself by engaging in a kind of MumblingMeditation.

Painting a single board won't induce the trance.

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