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Tidying

Tidying
Margaret Bourke-White: "Atomic Number Thirteen" (1939)⁠

⁠"No longer simply SettlingInto, but here, home at last."

Nine weeks into this SettlingInto saga and we're still beset with boxes. Each week, we make a little headway, but after the earliest days, unpacking has remained an intermittent element of our lives here. I chose to leave my library in boxes until after repainting and flooring work's completed. I didn't relish restocking shelves just to have to tear them down again in a few weeks or even a few months. Consequently, we've developed blind spots. One opened box has stayed in the same place, half unpacked, since the early days, so long that its presence has become normal and therefore invisible. No urge to finish the job overtakes either of us. We hold higher priorities. The Muse invited a couple over for supper and insisted that we tidy up the place in preparation. I sensed a fierceness behind her request for a little help, knowing that I would be in for something. She jumped in before breakfast, focused. I joined in later, but since I was cooking and she, alone, held the grand intention, I got off easier, just vacuuming and cleaning my bathroom. Nine rooms and a grand staircase later, I felt less like a slacker. The only way I could imagine cleaning the shower was to take off my clothes and clean while showering, a semi-humiliating resolution.

The Muse reorganized the kitchen (again) while cleaning it. I found space to more permanently place clutter thriving on our inattention.

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Tending

Tending
Édouard Manet: The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil (1874)
"I'm now blessed with the sacred obligation to tend what we built …"

I think of myself as a caretaker. Now that The Muse and I have largely reclaimed the yard, which really needed very little real work to reclaim, now that Planting's pretty much concluded, Tending time arrives. Sure, odd corners still remain enqueued for my attention, but a proper garden retains some wild uncultivated and uncultured space, for balance if for nothing else, a touch of Wabi-Sabi in the mix. The Muse disagrees with me on this point, not necessarily philosophically, but practically. The wild corner could get out of hand, but then a caretaker like myself understands this, too, and keeps a watchful eye. I hold no grand plan for Tending our garden and I've yet to solidify any routine, other than to remember to water the front porch fuchsias and the kitchen garden. Everything else might be capable of taking care of itself, or so I tell myself lest I feel overwhelmed by my budding obligations. Nobody else in this world is capable of Tending this particular garden, and truth told, not even The Muse knows the rhythm of this place as well as I, for I accomplished more than designing it. I scraped and scratched and schlepped this yard into creation. The yard taught me how to tend it as I worked it.

Ten thousand little cues only hinted at what this garden needed, and I'm still learning how to read the cues remaining.

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Lightening...s

Lightenings
El Greco: Allegory: Boy Lighting Candle in Company of Ape and Fool (1589-1592)
"I feel delighted just being here!"

The light never leaves for long this time of year. By four in the morning, the eastern horizon already stands clearly backlit with promise. Darkness has not yet overtaken the yard when I stumble out to close the garage door after supper, after nine. Days last nearly an hour longer here then did Front Range and DC days, and nights barely settle in before roused and on their way again. Late afternoon light grows fierce and we flee to the shady backside of the place once we've fetched the afternoon paper. I sit beneath the sacred apricot to relish the softening evening arriving. The cats follow the sun through the day, usually choosing the sunniest spot to warm their rapidly shedding fur and wait for The Grand Other's after school arrival and afternoon treat time. Light keeps about the same hours I keep here and throughout our exile, I never adapted to more southern latitudes' spring and summer days, hot, humid, short, and stingy with light. I suppose the lightning bugs were compensation, charming yet inadequate.

My readers have commented that my writing has taken on a lightening since I started SettlingInto here.

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StumpThe

StumpThe
Wassily Kandinsky: Composition X (1939)
"The checker might come to recognize us coming and feel the compelling need to take a break just when we're ready to check out."

I know myself to be a mystery to myself. Not a complete mystery, but enough of one to occasionally leave the detective puzzled, a real head-scratcher. I often wonder in vain, resolving nothing before deciding to just move on to the next thing in line. I work diligently, like a bee, but with little sustaining purpose. I don't, for instance, write four books each year to sell four books each year, but apparently for no ultimate reason at all. I often engage as a simple matter of form or custom. I'm unsure why I decide to mow my lawn just so, it just seems proper to do so, and so I dedicate a part of myself to replicating that pattern. Routines stick in my head and if I don't wake up dead, I'm engaging with them before the sun starts showing each morning. I flop down into fallow hours, too, apparently without good reason. The Muse might find me not exactly napping mid-morning and ask if I'm feeling okay, and I am but something's taken over my mind and I feel compelled to noodle it to ground. I'm unsure why. I frequently stump myself. I could be both the guest and the panel on What's My Line? and feel just fine about that. I'd guess correctly about the same percentage of the time as the real panel might, and wrong often enough to keep the proceedings entertaining.

The Muse and I play a game when we're shopping, one in which we enlist the hapless checker without asking.

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Whinering

Whinering
Randolph Caldecott: Illustration for "The House that Jack Built", from The Complete Collection of Pictures & Songs (1887)
"I'm not sorry for this understanding."

I have a confession to make and an apology to offer my loyal readers. I confess to being an inveterate, though largely closeted, whiner. I'm apt to whine like a petulant five-year old when stymied or otherwise overwhelmed. I'm an embarrassment to myself, especially when my whining slips out in public, such as here, yesterday, when I described my Sequencing challenges. I sincerely apologize for my unseemly behavior. A man my age should be able to hold his water with more dignity than I displayed. In way of explanation, not in any way trying to excuse my outburst, I might explain what my insolence seems to be teaching me. You see, later that day, after letting my frustration fly, I set about organizing the very workbench I'd earlier maligned. I might ascribe my sudden turnaround from stuck to productive as an accidental convergence, though I'm seeing more of a pattern than an isolated incident emerging. It seems to me that my Whinering might have been if not causative, perhaps a pivotal piece of my sudden turnaround. It might have been that once I'd so improperly expressed my frustration, even proclaiming it a normal and perhaps necessary element of any half-decent SettlingInto, my stuckness spell seemed broken and I could proceed less encumbered. My growing self-disgust with my stuckness grew until the stuckness could no longer support itself. My petulance paid off.

I might have found a less publicly humiliating way to chase away my frustration. I usually do,

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Sequencing

Sequencing
Followers of Hieronymous Bosch: The Vision of Tundale (circa. 1520–30)
"I am eating my own dog food."

Back when I taught my Mastering Projects Workshop, I was taken by how casually project sponsors tossed around their project's "vision." I came to call them All Ya Gotta Do Injunctions because they inevitably misrepresented underlying complexity, as if merely spreading wings enabled flight. I tried to prepare project workers for the types of tangles they'd likely encounter when (never if) they tried to nail down these flippant notions into some achievable form. The Muse called these "visions" dormatives, after Gregory Bateson's word for vacuous terms, those dripping with only apparent meaning but lacking any practical interpretation. One can tie one's self up for ever or longer trying to achieve best or deliver to a dormative request. It always becomes an act equivalent to poking a stick into a hornet's nest when trying to transform any visionary demand into something physically possible to produce and, generally speaking, a fool's mission to intend to satisfy its author with any result. Delivering any vision always turns into somewhat of a nightmare, and one of my intentions when creating Mastering Projects had been to help prepare participants to face this simple fact. Project work ain't no bed of roses.

It's one thing to know for certain what always happens but quite another to experience this predicted effect. In fact, forewarned serves as little protection against effects in execution.

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Anvernursery

Anvernursery
Randolph Caldecott: "And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon",
from Hey Diddle Diddle and Bye, Baby Bunting. London:
George Routledge and Sons. (1882)
"Pups, not Big Dogs."

The Muse and I were married on this day nineteen years ago. This day lives in the opposite of infamy for both us and our families. We remember it as having been a perfect celebration, one of those gatherings where everything fell perfectly into place. More important than our logistics working out, albeit with considerable improvisation, we'd designed the ceremony as an act of community, not merely a presentation. Rather than simply inflict our wedding on anybody, we invited everyone accepting our invitation to find something to contribute, some means to engage such that they might feel as though they were more a part of the business than mere witness to it. I'll never forget The Muse's aged Aunt Lillian cleaning up the ferns alongside the gazebo or the last minute run Rich and I made to a local nursery to buy some mulch, for cripes sake, to clean up the pond border. We'd invited our friend James to fly over from Seattle to chef the festivities and The Muse's sisters, each accomplished in the kitchen, pitched in, though if I remember correctly, James in his role of chef at times took that big knife he held a little too literally.

We bought whole Copper River Sockeye Salmon and flats of local strawberries and about a ton of fresh asparagus and spinach, all sourced that very morning from local growers and suppliers, the menu as representative of the season in this valley as was ever devised.

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Dreading

Dreading
William Blake: The Casting of the Rebel Angels into Hell -
illustration to Milton's 'Paradise Lost' (1808, pen and watercolour on paper)

"One day I might come to behave as I know I should."

Dreading serves as the primary moderating force in my life here. Were it not for Dreading, I might run rather roughshod into every opportunity, and only fools ever run into opportunities or burning buildings. I tell myself that I'm "considering" or "planning", though I'm really quite actively procrastinating, albeit in a decidedly passive-aggressive manner.

I did not really want to replant those tulip bulbs I'd removed when weeding out the front walk garden beds, the work just needed doing by someone.

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PuttingUp

PuttingUp
Wassily Kandinski: Various Actions (1941)
" … partly just reward and partly well-deserved punishment …"

Any half-decent exile includes much hopeful longing, many if-onlies. "If only the damned deer weren't everywhere, we could have a real garden instead of this make-shift deck one." If-onlies provide a valuable service. They keep open active aspiration, which proves incredibly nourishing to any soul feeling stranded on a seeming desert island. Some exile years utterly depend upon longing to remain survivable. Dreams predominated some months, delusions, others, but overall, we experienced exile as a sort of out-of-body experience. We compensated by perhaps over-inhabiting our future and under-appreciating our present. Now that we're back and SettlingInto, we no longer have the option of living so far ahead of ourselves. We've entered a stage where the primary barriers to our dreams coming truer lie in our hands and not just an indistinct future's. We've entered the Put Up or Shut Up stage of dreaming. Nothing's any longer sufficiently resolved by talking about what we intend to do, but only by accomplishing something. Sure, excuses still cling and linger. After a dozen years gone, even those newer habits seem hard-ish to break, but it's now our job to take those reins and ride for all we're worth. We're in The PuttingUp Stage.

It seems fundamentally unfair to criticize any action I was not directly involved in, not that, like anyone, I haven't frequently engaged in this.

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Plantings

Plantings
Pacino di Buonaguida: Illuminated manuscript detail of a miniature of a garden or flowery field referring to 'Prato' in Tuscany. (circa 1302-1343)
" … fresh beginnings rather than an irreparable ends."

SettlingInto roughly divides into stages which only become distinct later. In the moment, I find myself focusing upon the body of my present effort without very much considering whatever comes next. We created no grand master plan, not even a sketchy one, preferring to follow feelings or intuition or something to produce an emergent garden. God creating Eden was probably no different. This strategy leads to what might have been predictable blockages in the flow, encouraging certain discontinuities which appear as surprises which might delight or frustrate. A few days seem inevitably lost to gear switching, simple confusion, or natural hesitancy. I tend to get lost sometimes, and not just garden variety lost but the second-order kind where I'm not only lost but also lost to the fact that I'm lost. This past week, the tracks have been throwing off a few sparks as if my smooth running train might jump its rails. Soil preparation, the digging portion of the production, essentially done, it came time for planting and I caught myself hesitating, even procrastinating in the face of this fresh phase. We consequently find a backlog of plant purchases piling up beneath the apricot tree awaiting placement and, as usual, this situation seems to be all on me.

I suppose that a skilled therapist might find my hesitancy's root cause.

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MidnightCreeping

MidnightCreeping
Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Sentier dans le bois (circa 1874-1877)


"I have other habits which overtake me sometimes and drive me to commit equally minor crimes for all the very best reasons."


I would have pleaded passionate excess or perhaps temporary insanity, for had I been arrested in my youth on May Day, I would have most certainly been guilty as charged. No, I had not participated in any violent protest on that day or bumped off a bank. I would have probably been charged with some form of criminal trespass for sneaking into some fortunate soul's yard around midnight for the purpose of liberating a few of his choicer flowers. May Day reminds me of this once perhaps over-proud tradition which I practiced with diligence and without supervision for well over a decade. Before I had my own gardens, I'd one night each year take it upon myself to swipe a few of another's excess blossoms to craft a May Basket for my love. It would be a simple thing, often crafted from a page torn from a notebook or a cut down paper bag, but it would mean something. It would mean that I'd risked my freedom to express my ardor. It would mean that I had not forgotten. It encouraged the sort of domestic tranquility only ever known by hardened criminals who'd made a clean getaway. I'd return to my innocent ways in days following and stay on the proper side of the law until over the night before the next May 1st. I was a studied recidivist.

The Muse and I now count ourselves among the fortunate souls who have a yard overflowing with flowers on May 1st.

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Hoops

Hoops
Wassily Kandinsky: Squares with Concentric Circles (1913)
"
I'll retell the story often and bore everyone but myself with it."

The Bakery closes at three pm on Saturday and does not open again until 8am Wednesday. It's worth the wait, but its eccentric schedule makes it impossible for me to get fresh bread on a whim. I need to plan ahead. Similar story with the butcher, who closes Sundays and Mondays. The greengrocer closes at six on Fridays, opening again at 7:30 Sunday morning. I can always head for one of the godless supermarkets where I have to settle for something mass produced, but I'd rather support the local operations worth frequenting, so I maintain an ever-increasing number of special calendars. The nursery's open Sunday in season, but closed both Monday and Tuesday. The other nursery's closed on Saturday but otherwise open every day. County offices close at 4pm. Nobody keeps regular hours anymore.

SettlingInto demands some jumping through such Hoops.

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StrangeAttractings

StrangeAttractings
Wassily Kandinsky, Painting with Green Center (1913)


"That whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent." Ludwig Wittgenstein

" … all influence, no substance."

Were I to follow Wittgenstein's advice, I wouldn't say much. Many might argue that this outcome would seem far superior to the present alternative, myself included some mornings. I have felt moved, however, to attempt to consider some StrangeAttractings SettlingInto sparks, though I hold no clear description or cogent explanation, for their presence seems real enough to attract me, though the particulars continue to escape me. I suspect that I'm engaging with some sort of field here, that the strong sense of an abiding absence during exile, even though I continued to remain just as present there as I ever had been anywhere, just in a different location, was the result of mysterious forces or perhaps a field. I came to feel at home-ish even there, but never felt precisely home. Each place felt more like a rented room encased in finite time, temporary and impermanent. I only ever laid down shallow roots there, though the soils eventually became familiar, as if they were mine, but only for a season. I felt the transplant there, able to survive but not to thrive. Equatorial summers and arctic winters reminded me that I never would become a native. Here feels different and always has, but I cannot explain that difference, not even to myself. I say, half in jest, that gravity just works right here, though I remain dead serious about that statement.

I think it both hilarious and ironic that the field of physics, the study of physical properties, has increasingly become a field of philosophy.

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Doctoring

Doctoring
Herbert Ploberger: Self-Portrait with Opthalmological Models [Selbstbildnis mit Opthamologischen Lehrmodellen] (1928-1930)
"I'll hope for continuing good fortune …"

I'm the guy on which insurance companies make their money, for I have been blessed with generally good health. I exhibit no chronic conditions. My joints remain serviceable. I stopped smoking before it got me, so far at least. I ascribe my condition to a raft of very likely mythical causes. I avoid sodas and always have. I decaffeinated myself at 35, figuring I had better things to do with my body than rev up its engine. I avoid fad diets and acknowledge no allergies other than a recently encroaching one to cats, which I generally deny to myself. I have my faults and hold them close, figuring that they're nobody's business. I'm probably mentally unstable, but what sane person isn't, these days?

That said, I have generally avoided visiting doctors.

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ConnectingInto

ConnectingIn
François Boucher: La Pêche à la Ligne (1757)
" …something deeper and somehow more permanent than just another pedestrian passing."

Shortly before we left our exile in Colorado, I searched for someone to remove a tree on our property. Not personally knowing anyone in the tree removal business I resorted to a Google search which connected me to a service which reminded me what I despised about exile. Without even clicking any links, I had apparently been spotted searching. Within minutes, I received three calls from tree removers volunteering to stop by and provide a free quote for completing the work. I agreed to one fellow's offer and a few minutes later, it couldn't have been more than a half hour, he was in my yard inspecting my tree. Shortly after he left, another guy drove by and, seeing me in my yard, stopped to introduce himself as an expert tree remover. I asked how he found me and he clued me in. He subscribed to a referral service called HomeAdvisor® which provided him leads, at twenty-five bucks a pop. I replied that I'd not requested any service, that he was the second tree remover to just show up. This pissed off the tree guy since he was out twenty-five bucks for a false lead. I promised to call someone to complain for him, but when I called, I connected with just another victim of the pyramid scheme, who worked innocently following leads from he didn't know where. He received a cut of something for each lead he passed on. The whole system seemed astoundingly anonymous and bloodless, relationships without all the bother of relating to or with anyone else, hands-free handshakes.

I decided not to remove the tree.

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Catpanions

Catpanions
Jean Siméon Chardin: The Ray (1725–1726)
"They always greet our returns like delighted children …"

Our cats Max and Molly received the worst of the move. While The Muse and I just had to drive familiar cars for two days, the cats had little car traveling experience and much less predilection to enjoy it. I drugged them with kitty CBD, a cannabis derivative advertised as a mild sedative. It worked, perhaps too well, for they both experienced zombie passages, hardly themselves, with Max crashing hard and Molly uncharacteristically cuddling close with her head in my lap. Both refused breakfast, even kitty treats, after our Ogden overnight, and Molly fought like Hell to avoid returning to her carrier for the walk back to the car. Both survived the trip.

I imagine that for them, our arrival must have seemed like landing in Oz.

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Plumbering

Plumbering
Marcel Duchamp: Fountain (1917)
photograph by Alfred Stieglitz at 291 art gallery following the 1917 Society of Independent Artists exhibit.

"How terribly innovative!"

The First General Rule of Innovation states that the more convenience any innovation delivers, the more difficult that innovation must be to fix should it break. Innovations always eventually break and when they break, they exhibit enantiodromia, the tenacious tendency for things to turn into their opposite. Great convenience becomes even greater inconvenience. Years of steadfast duty erases in an instant, replaced by dread and frustration. Once revered, twice feared and forever thereafter reviled, for the user sees behind the curtain and begins to understand that the innovation only amounted to some well-disguised sleight of hand trick and not really a marvel of modern technology at all. Underneath, it's generally nothing more sophisticated than two sticks rubbing together, and often much, much less. I present our shower faucet as Exhibit A in my argument.

Of all innovations, innovative plumbing tends to fail most spectacularly.

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ScalingInto

ScalingInto
A study of Hygrophorus puniceus, one of the many watercolours of mushrooms created by Beatrix Potter (Circa 1897)
" … only ever really experienced by accident when actively not finding whatever you were seeking."

We tell people that we're going up to hunt morels or pick wild blackcurrants, but we're really ScalingInto. The forests here have not made anyone's top ten lists, thank heavens. As Western forests go, they first appear rather pedestrian, neither imposing nor particularly vast, trees of a uniformly modest size. Fires have ravaged but left lots, little of any of it virgin. Peaks tend toward softly rounded rather than starkly spired and by mid-May, few remain snow-covered. There's a softness to the place not immediately apparent. These woods come into focus from ground level, not any overlook. Down there and inside, it's magical.

I sense in the spring here that I've been plopped into a Beatrix Potter painting.

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Puttering

AmendingCommandment
Umberto Boccioni: The Street Pavers (1914)
" … a place to celebrate recent accomplishments while my next grand obsession lurks in waiting."

I caught myself Puttering yesterday afternoon, after I'd finished screening those long two cubic yards of compost and working it into the soil. That composting effort had consumed two full weeks, since I was also breaking up planting beds, which required much weeding and digging. I felt as though I'd really accomplished something but felt at loose ends. I couldn't quite bring myself to just surrender to sloth upon finishing. I mended a troublesome hose connection and read the installation instructions for that fancy hose caddy, though I concluded that the hose caddy probably constituted a full project and not a proper focus for Puttering. I watered the garden and got the little fountain there working. I hammered an old length of rebar into a rose garden corner to prevent the hose from dragging through the bushes, then I sat and watered some more. It had been a six week sprint since we arrived here, a race against an overly enthusiastic springtime determined to out pace planting season. I had spent most days in the yard, weeding or reconfiguring, and it occurred to me as I folded up the tarp and swept the driveway that the digging portion of our SettlingInto was ending. Time for a little Puttering.

Puttering's not hardly work.

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TheLittlestLie

TheLittlestLie
Alice Rahon: La Conjuration des Antilopes (1943)
"Whatever we decide might well rely upon TheLittlestLie to survive."

I consider self deception a high and necessary art. I doubt that I could start even a little project without believing that better-than-likely would result. I tend to jump in with both feet first rather than taking tentative steps, the better to indenture myself to outcomes. I focus upon my lost investment and force my way forward thanks to my little self deceptions. Before I'm finished, though, I usually face some reckoning, a point beyond which even TheLittlestLie can't crawl forward. I negotiate myself back into some semblance of the truth again before I can continue across the finish line, or so I tell myself. The testimony of anyone as practiced at lying as I've become should properly be thoroughly questioned. My whole life might be rooted within successful self deceptions.

In truth, I've been lucky.

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TheNuclearOption

TheNuclearOption
Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau: The Shepherd David Triumphant (circa 1895)
"The lion won this round."

I think of myself as shepherding our garden. I suspect that a shepherd's primary talent lies in his patience. Sheep won't hurry. They can be influenced but not through hysterics, same as gardens. Nothing replaces slow and steady when digging dirt or herding sheep. I spend most of my gardening time on my knees in penitent service to the soil which, after all, I am trying to coax into doing my bidding for the season and hopefully longer. I go after the cheatgrass first, removing every trace of rhizome however deep it might run. I loosen the soil before adding compost, peat, and perlite, then I work that in as if I'm mixing cake batter. I might work each bed three or even four times before I'm satisfied enough to water in the result to confirm proper drainage. It's slow work best attempted at a steady pace. I tend to lose full awareness of my immediate surroundings when I'm in my gardening trance. Time loses meaning. I'm in no particular hurry then.

Occasionally a shepherd encounters a mortal enemy to his flock.

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UntanglingWeb

UntanglingWeb
Lancelot Speed: Thick Spider’s Web, Woodcut Illustration from The Red Fairy Book by Andrew Lang (1890)
" … clear evidence that I'm successfully SettlingInto here."

I had just finished soaping myself from head to foot and stepping into the full spray to wash myself off when I spotted something on the shower floor. A spider! One of those fat jumping jobs, crouching between my feet. I thought I might have been transported into the middle of a thought experiment or one of those psychological tests intended to assess character, performed on grad students. "You're soaped up and standing in a shower stall when you notice a spider between your feet. How do you react?" I tried to protect it, but didn't turn off the water. Employing the curious logic common to those in the middle of showers, I did not for a second consider turning off the taps. I felt extremely vulnerable. The shortest distance between there and able to offer assistance seemed to run through at least showering off first and not past immediately turning off the taps before offering assistance, so I tried to stand between the shower head and the spider. The spider, for her part, had crouched down in the classic horror movie cowering position, legs protecting body from the threatening comet. I quickly washed off the soap then turned off the water.

I could not tell while drying myself off whether that spider had survived her ordeal, nor could I quite accept that I had, albeit inadvertently, caused the accident.

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ImposingRhythm

ImposingRhythm
Alice Rahon: Gato Nocturno (circa 1941)
"Whatever I seek also seeks my presence."

Moving in induces temporary anarchy which might well become permanent. The things I cannot find seem to rule my mind, displacing fluid motion. I move around rather than through, so much of living seems a detour. Halfway anywhere and trajectory changes, lengthening each excursion and decimating schedules. Much just happens when it happens or simply fails to occur at all. Lunches missed, suppers delayed, alarm clocks wake randomly or fail to ring at all. Catchup serves as the default condiment and dominant occupation. Hurrider going, slowing progress, with occasional glimpses of limited successes. The remaining unpacking rooms appear to be trending toward permanent mess. Some stuff seems destined for cordoning off, boxes of unmentionables and unthinkables better left for Pandora to sort through. Early days limp by.

Later, shards of schedules emerge to suggest nascent rhythms, different tempos for different tasks, but with an increasing sense of fitness for purpose.

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DejaRue

DejaRue
Enrico Scuri: Euridice recedes into the Underworld (19th century)
"The Muse and I continue SettlingInto our fresh Eden At The End Of One Curious Oregon Trail."

The Muse and I spent the day seeking without finding much reassurance. We were visiting Portland, the city we'd left twenty years before, after we'd realized that we'd very likely never be able to buy a Villa Vatta Schmaltz there. My folks were aging and I imagined that moving close might be of some help to them and also reconnect me to my broader family. Whatever the excuse, we found a suitable house and our meager offer was accepted. We'd purchased our very own money pit and home, one we'd come to love both in spite of itself and because of what we'd done to it. Though we'd be exiled from actually living in it for twelve long dog years—a lifetime, really—we'd one day return to attempt SettlingInto again. Not so with Portland, for we'd abandoned the place as essentially unlivable for us, but we still relied on it as a source of supply and occasional reassurance. Portland had died for us, but we'd still return and try to resurrect it for a long weekend and to visit grandkids, my son and daughter, and old friends and suppliers. Saturday morning had always shown Portland well and left me feeling proud to be a part of it, but with This Damned Pandemic and last year's riots, it stands as hardly a shell of its once energizing former self. I felt every bit like Orpheus attempting to revive Eurydice, and every bit as successful.

The old reliables either exist no more or are closed pending recovery.

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MonauralTyping

MonauralTyping
Vincent Van Gogh: Self-portrait-with bandaged ear (1889)
"I pray we could all be so lucky."

A well-weathered Truck Repair sign appeared on our left as we entered the tiny crossroads town of Biggs, Oregon, dragging what was left of Elizabeth's (our SecondCar) front engine splash guard, which had been rudely torn loose by a traffic cone thrown up by the semi-truck traveling just ahead of us forty miles back. That splash guard, a PVC plate intended to protect delicate under engine parts from road splash, had finally broken loose with a disturbing clatter ten miles earlier. We'd pulled onto the freeway verge to find the guard hanging my a single connector. The Muse suggested that if we just kept driving, it might fall off all by itself, and after considering our location, we agreed to slowly continue our journey. We were nearly ten miles from the tinier town of Rufus, which might have a mechanic. At slowed freeway speed with fourways flashing, the plate seemed capable of floating above the road surface so we rattled into Rufus, but found no mechanic waiting. I took this opportunity to limp down one of the few remaining sections of the original Columbia River Highway toward Biggs, where, I reasoned, a mechanic might await our arrival, since, as the name implies, it was Biggs, small but bigger. As we entered the town, that sign appeared.

I slowed and turned off onto a rough gravel side road, dragging that plate once it lost lift as we slowed our speed.

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Lyzdexic

Lyzdexic
Leonardo da Vinci, Annunciation (1472)
"I'd honestly rather be nobody else but me, even if I cannot always reliably remember how to spell anything."

I had a few spare minutes, so I decided to stop by the library and register for a library card. I'd read the prior week that our little library had finally opened again after more than a year closed to visitors and it sits only a few blocks from The Villa, so, why not? I found a parking place in the shade and walked up the hosta-lined path to the back door just as if I was family. I found the door locked. I studied the Covid-19 compliance sign several times, each reading leaving me baffled. The sign clearly stated that the library was open between nine and seven and it was twelve fifteen. I tried prying open the doors, certain some mechanical failure had just locked me out. I read the sign again, reaching the same conclusion. Then, a woman opened the door from inside and asked if she could help me. I told her that I just wanted to register for a library card and she replied that the library was presently closed, but that I could come back after 1pm and fill out the form then or I could complete it online anytime. I told her that I would fill out the online form, though I already knew that I would not be able to complete it. I looked at the sign again and that time, it clearly announced the open hours of one to seven, not nine to seven. It seemed as though gremlins had just played a trick on me. Later, attempting to complete the online registration form left me stymied, just like most online forms leave me. I'd have to register in person later.

I bought a new lawn mower this week.

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Haircuts

Haircuts
“You have much gold upon your head,”
They answer’d all together:
“Buy from us with a golden curl.”
She clipp’d a precious golden lock,
She dropp’d a tear more rare than pearl,
Then suck’d their fruit globes fair or red:

From
Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti
Illustration by
Arthur Rackham for 1933 edition
"Now they want to sell me product."

I feel fortunate to have been raised in the fifties. Yes, I remain painfully aware of how down right backward we were then, but we still had barber shops. Now, we might be waking up, but we seem surrounded by salons and stylists rather than barbers. For many, this evolutionary shift seems welcome. I, myself, have preferred the more artistic hand of a competent stylist over the clipper-wielding barbaric barber, but things have gotten out of hand. Finding a competent stylist remains a daunting challenge and once found, definite loyalties take over. As with many trades, the best have full schedules and only reluctantly accept new clients, though wannabes appear in legions. One cannot tell upon first encounter whether he's lucked into a skilled one or a pretender, though certain tells suggest. SettlingInto demands that I find a competent stylist, but nobody can push the sort of happy accident this entails. It's at best a random walk at first.

I should explain that I do not like getting haircuts.

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Worlds

Worlds
Godefridus Schalcken: Young Boy, Dressed in a Blue Robe, Holding a Lighted Torch (1692)
" … I return to my world, which I never left, to dream my own dreams by myself …"

E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one—the motto of these so-called united states, has always seemed a troublesome notion to me. I see great and often glorious variety and wonder what benefit homogeny might bestow. I take some pride in remaining unclassifiable, a lone wolf, a member of no uniform group, unwilling to become a member, as Groucho famously grumbled, of any group inviting him to join. Further, it seems to me that we do not, as widely insisted, share a world, but that we each inhabit a world, indeed a universe, unique to us. I admit to considerable overlap, swarming recursions of Venn diagrams, but that for each, the resulting world seems unique to each, and not nearly as shared as might be naively presumed. The difficulties of life shift if we presume great difference rather than essential similarity. No One Best Way could possibly prevail. Charity might spring from understanding that we're each inescapably isolated and not part of some presumed larger whole, and never could be. We might have motive to come together if we understand that we're inescapably apart and isolated. Out of many, regardless. We inhabit Worlds together, not a single place.

My history seems different from yours.

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DiastolicDays

DiastolicDays
Jackson Pollock: Autumn Rhythm (1950)
"It took me more than I took it."

Every once in a while I rediscover that I was not born a machine. Each rediscovery seems original, like this essential dichotomy had never before occurred to me. Following each revelation, I quickly slip back into another flowish state, only to later be rudely awakened from it again. I progress in such fits and starts, as if I had not quite mastered my clutch pedal. I haven't mastered much. I might reach out with enthusiasm, but I tend to eventually overreach, never certain when enough amounts to enough. I prefer to exceed my own expectations, or try to. I make optimistic plans, which might be the best way to disappoint myself in actual execution. I have never been a reasonable person.

I know I've exceeded my design capabilities only after exceeding them, and the cues usually fool me.

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MuckingUp

MuckingUp
Frédéric Bazille - The Little Gardener (1866-1867)
"I feel most myself when I'm immersed within that alluring somewhere else."

I emit a sound very similar to that expelled by an Olympic weightlifter pressing five hundred pounds whenever I stand up after a long day gardening. This groan does not accompany any particular discomfort. I'm not in pain. I feel a little stiffness in my back, sure, but I feel more grateful for than regretful about this sensation. It means something. My muscles, too long accustomed to exile's idleness, seem to be waking up and they ache with satisfaction. I cannot seem to help myself. My right hand, the one that wields my hand plow, goes a little numb sometimes, but quickly regains sensation. It has yet to hamper my two and a half typing fingers. Normal neuropathy. I filled the enormous yard waste two-wheeler about a half hour after last week's collection and I have at least a half bin already backed up for next week's load. I'm dumping some yard waste in with the regular garbage just to rid myself of it. I some days prey for a pickup.

I fancy myself an old fashioned gardener, my one more recent concession having been an electric mower which I've been borrowing. I remain still frozen at the prospect of actually owning one.

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ByThePeople

ByThePeople
Mark Rothko: Street Scene, (1937)
"Who said I don't need to?"

Marble staircases soft as butter underfoot reveal a modest interior. Modest yet massive, as the stone lends its cold gravitas to this public place. Delicate glass shades gilded fixtures. Our county courthouse was built by public subscription. Individuals pledged personal funds to erect it back when boosterism amounted to expressing personal pride of place, of ownership, and a confidence that this corner of the state really would become something someday, that, however otherwise unlikely, we'd eventually grow into feeling worthy of this space. I'm still working on that last part. Before it became popular to perceive a government created by we, the people, as a nefarious other—a self-revulsion difficult to contemplate—we sought to unite us, however ineptly, and sometimes succeeded, this wedding cake building stands as a monument to hopeful optimism.

The Muse and I are registering to vote.

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