AnotherSpring

Destructions

structions
"So it goes."

My friend Wayner calls them "destructions." Those step-by-step illustrations printed on the back of the box, that box you inadvertently pulverized when opening, before you realized there were destructions printed on the back. He calls them "destructions" because he insists that even if you hadn't pulverized the box when opening it, the illustration on the back probably wouldn't have helped you assemble the fine product within. The destructions almost always appear to have been produced by someone for whom your native language isn't native. Also by someone other than anyone who might have actually assembled the fine product inside. They hire copywriters, out-sourcing this sort of work. It's cheaper that way.

I almost always end up assembling the fine product exactly one more time than I disassemble it.

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Trolls

tomten
"Those who seem to have no interest in hearing generously, probably forfeit their right to speak."

The Muse can tell you that I rarely read the reactions to my postings on our neighborhood listserv. Something about the context seems to encourage people to drop their pants and lead with their least attractive profile when responding. Many tend toward a scolding stance. Some delve into the demeaning. Of course I feel goaded and sorely tempted to respond, if only to set the record straight. I'm learning that it's probably not my responsibility to set straight any record deliberately twisted through less than generous interpretation. Sure it feels as though I've just been ripped a new one and of course I really want to defend my integrity, but jumping into the pig wallow, even if explicitly invited, won't improve any argument, though the pigs seem certain to enjoy the spectacle of any high-minded anyone self-debasing themselves into to the troll's native environment. The Muse reads them. I don't usually.

My next door neighbor sent a text message regretting the latest savaging of which I'd been blissfully unaware. I appreciated him with a grateful reply. A few more personal messages arrived, each appreciative and generous.

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PeakingParanoia

peekingparanoia
"I'm wary, on the look-out, peeking over one shoulder every step of every way."

I have heard about an alien concept I'll call ConfidentStrides. This term describes a totally mythical state where a person moves forward without hesitation, said to accompany personal conviction. The literature speaks of revelatory insights inducing such a sense of certainty that ConfidentStrides result. The hero or heroine marches into their future, utterly transformed, unstoppable. I refer to this state as alien and mythical because, while I've heard that such a state exists, I've never personally experienced it. Further, recognizing that I have not yet experienced it has sometimes encouraged me not to act, to sit tacitly by rather than to move forward and engage. I've yet to achieve anything by means of ConfidentStrides, which is not to say that I've never accomplished anything. I'm apparently more of a PeakingParanoia sort of person, I guess.

When challenged to do some right thing, I notice my paranoia peaking. I would, in that moment, much prefer to take a break, take a nap, perhaps cower beneath my bed.

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Distressed

upside-down-flag2
"We cannot possess what we cannot share."

I humbly post this brief explanation. You might have noticed that I've hung an American flag upside down from my deck. No, I didn't accidentally string it backwards. This was a willing, willful act, one intended to express the extreme distress my house, my home, and my country currently experience. When I read in the paper that border agents play a cruel bait and switch with the children of those seeking asylum in my country by explaining that they're just taking the child for a bath, only later taunting the helpless parent by saying that they might never see their child again. This report distresses me.

Illegally crossing the border for the purposes of seeking asylum never was a felony. It would until recently garner an infraction about as damning as a speeding ticket, a misdemeanor easily dispatched with a couple of hundred dollars, a few days in jail, and/or a ride back from whence you came.

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DiningDown

Mead-St-Station-1000x500
" …home food seems better suited to our temperaments."

The place looked okay when I spotted it from across the street. Early Friday evening, seventy eight sweet degrees, and The Muse and I are out to do something with the tail end of our week. She suggested Highlands, a neighborhood of over-priced crumbling shotgun houses with a definite yuppie vibe: dog spas, yoga studios, cafes with sidewalk seating. I agreed. We found a place to park just a block down from the main commercial strip and strolled up to see what had changed since last time. We'd both sworn to not choose that pseudo Italian place we'd visited a few times, each dinner intended to convince us not to come back. Denver doesn't seem like much of a restaurant town, so choices limit our choices.

Not that we know the place. We're true exurbans now. We complain about the lack of urban services in our exurban neighborhood, but we seem as lost as if we were from rural Kansas whenever we near the South Platte, the seasonal stream separating Downtown (both upper and lower, LoDo) from its residential counterweight to the West.

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Lottery

lottery2
"We're lucky and cursed not by the lottery gods, but by ourselves."

I don't play the state lottery, mostly because I don't know how to play it. When I stop into our local inconvenience store, I usually find somebody buying a ticket, often several. I don't know what they do with them or how winners get selected. I do know that the odds of winning seem infinitesimal, and that I'm too embarrassed to ask how one 'plays' the game. I figure that if I was meant to know how to do that, I would have already learned how. I figure that I automatically win another sort of lottery by not knowing how to play the lottery, my lottery prevents me from ever losing a dime playing that other lottery. My ignorance serves as an insurance policy against the almost certain prospect of losing whatever I spend playing that other lottery.

I suppose that I play in many different lotteries. So far, I'm winning the health lottery, though I expect to eventually lose it. That's the thing about lotteries, play one long enough and you're guaranteed to lose.

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Relevance

relevance
"I gain fresh appreciation that anything perceived to be beyond this moment
might be aching after irrelevance."

Aging might be a process by which we learn how to cope with encroaching irrelevance. What I twenty years ago thought might liberate some oppressed class, helped only a few find their innate freedom, and even then, I quake at the thought of ascribing anything I did to their discoveries. I at most served as a medium for any message I believed I carried, my audacity perhaps communicating most clearly whatever I was trying to say. I would stand up and speak. I often felt eloquent then, sometimes insightful. Those insights seem irrelevant now. Civilization seems to progress by going backwards to relearn what prior scholars and philosophers firmly believed they'd cleanly resolved. Fresh generations enter skeptical of their elders, and honor most of them by assuming they were at least misguided, but probably wrong.

Yet we, as a society, persist in sharing our insights, of audaciously standing up even when we should know that we'll later be found misguided, rightly or wrongly, it will not matter.

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TMI

flickr-amattox_mattox-neurons-20141223
"Maybe one or two of those delights might stick to you in turn."

Writers feed the monster, though we are no less susceptible to it than the least of our readers. Though not all readers consider themselves to be writers, all writers are also readers, taking in many multiples of what they ever produce. Any writer's output seems paltry when compared with the fire hose volume continually spewed in their direction. No self-respecting writer could ever let all that goody gush by without trying to take a few swallows. For a writer, the antidote for Too Much Information seems to be creating Even More Information, but, you know, a somewhat better class of it.

We serve foie gras by the spare ounce because a ton of it too closely resembles what the sous chef calls it: goose shit. Served sparingly, it's transcendently wonderful stuff. In excess, it turns to crap.

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SwingArm

swingarm
"I washed my hands with Lava® soap after I finished the job, just like a real handyman would."

My readers know me to be nobody's handyman. Sure, I sometimes dress the part, hoping that my threadbare work clothes might somehow set a context within which I might manage to select the proper screwdriver for once, but handiwork requires some content behind the context. I'm learning, but I seem to have started way behind on the grand learning curve of handyman life, so I doubt that I'll ever catch up. My workbench tends toward cluttered. The sloping garage floor leaves me struggling to prevent my handyman chair from rolling down and into my work table. I seem to be at least one tool short of completing any project, almost invariably finishing by ineptly applying some lame hack. Usually.

The Muse's swing-arm floor lamp went bzzzzzt a few weeks ago. I'm no electrician, but even I could tell that the light bulb socket looked kind of fried. I wasn't that surprised.

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Dirt

dirt
"Dirt lies in that thin layer between bedrock and sky where, on my knees, all things seem possible."

I figure anything really worth doing deserves my attentive procrastination. I'd dedicated nearly two full weeks to circling this effort, maybe closing in on starting, maybe deferring imagined agony. I kneel before the space as if performing some ritual, and perhaps I am performing a ritual, one I've repeated many times before, each instance different enough to carry great uncertainty. The sod needs removing. I don't know for sure what lies beneath it, though I imagine bedrock. Once I scratch this surface, I've committed myself to follow through whatever I might uncover there.

I fill a five gallon paint bucket with rocks for every yard I cultivate. The dirt itself seems fine, surprisingly so, featuring earthworms and decent soil. I'm surprised, maybe delighted. My muscles remember the routine.

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CleanSweep

sweep
"We can breathe again. Not necessarily breathe any more easily, but breathe."

I've never thought of myself as a slob. Few of us believe that we're the mess makers we turn out to be for everyone else. I maintain my tidinesses quite compulsively, if quietly. My "orderly" piles of books ready to my hand. My shoes lined up just so serve me just as I intended. The Muse maintains her order, too, mysterious (to me) central organizing principles and all. Tidy for me might well constitute a mess for anyone else. I stumble over The Muse's carefully placed shoes, too. The tangles between us remain largely inadvertent, preconscious resonance of a sense of order we each absorbed long before we suspected we were absorbing anything.

Cleaning, too, echoes traditions probably predating great grand parents. The Muse's sensitivity to dust and my tenacious inability to see dust might have each originated in some pioneer days survival strategy.

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ConverSayShuns

cat-and-mouse
"Rose probably knows more about me
than any other living being
and she still consents to sit on my lap
for almost ten minutes at a time …"

I most days spend more time talking to Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat than to any other living being, other than myself. Many have written on the so-called art of human-to-human conversation, but I've found little advice on chatting with my most common companions. I've never really subscribed to the notion that one should converse in strategic ways, preparing as if for a debate competition and progressing as if engaged in chess. I'm more of the dialogue sort, engaging more to see what might emerge than to demonstrate how clever or well-prepared I could be. To my mind, no one ever wins a conversation, so I never worry about whether I've succeeded in scoring my points. I believe that real conversation has no point, so I might usefully engage with Rose The Skittish or even with myself without feeling as if I'm necessarily lonely or degrading my sociability by doing so.

"Hey, Weasel Head," I often begin when conversing with Rose, for she seems to undoubtedly embody the moniker. She sort of barks in response.

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Noteworthy

Coors2
"Feels like home to me."

The town smells of roasted barley malt this morning. Home to Coors brewery for nearly a century and a half, Golden, CO often carries the signature aroma of brewing, proudly off-gassed directly into the neighborhood. Tourists travel from all over to visit the plant, a dystopian hulk of glowering towers and steaming chimneys straddling Clear Creek and stretching downstream for miles of barren warehouses and railroad-sided grain silos. I've never taken the tour myself, having a local address and all. I frequent the less known but perhaps more noteworthy Second Largest Brewery in Golden, housed in a neighborhood alley pole building and ancient milk house behind a small brick Victorian home just three blocks off the main drag. There, they pass pints and pitchers through a window in the milk house and patrons imbibe in a year-around, dog-friendly open air beer garden while seated at communal picnic tables. I'm likely to meet somebody I never met before while drinking there. The beer's also clearly distinguishable from Clear Creek's water, too, unlike the stuff Coors produces.

I'm not very attracted to the biggest and self-proclaimed best of anything, but much more to the second best, or third, or fourth, or even lower on the pecking order. The best seems a notorious self-designation, unseemly in its self regard.

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Grumbling

thunder
"Around four this afternoon, the sky should commence to grumbling again."

The summer-ish sky starts darkening by four. I notice one towering thunderhead already east of me, moving like a single advance galleon leading a following armada. Then I notice a much larger fleet wallowing in to the north. Once I slip down into the valley, I see a dark smoke-screen smear obscuring the western horizon. More sails appear. It might already be raining up at the house. The Muse dawdles leaving the lab again. My mind generates alternative scenarios for skirting mindless freeway traffic, which instantly turns stupid with the arrival of any rain. The invaders depend upon our over-confidence and I refuse to fall prey and so I freely catastrophize while waiting on The Muse.

We make home before the storm makes landfall, though distant rumbling comes from the west, up and over the mountain separating us from the true west.

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Audience

Photos_space_high_res_file_5
"If I am powerful, I am powerful not because stars speak to me,
but because I emphatically speak to stars."

Eventually, someone will ask the question wondering after your audience. Who do you think can hear you from where you stand? Whom do you intend to hear you? To whom do you imagine yourself speaking when you open your big yap? These are terrific questions and not simply because they border on the fundamentally unanswerable, the only questions really worthy of human consideration. For me, I never find a snappy answer to any of them, perhaps because of a little understood yet fundamental law of human communication. The most powerful messages come from those one never suspects capable of delivering powerful messages. We could call this The Bushwhack Principle. We easily filter out familiar sources, somehow second-guessing what they're gonna say and hearing what we anticipated rather than what was passed. How insightful could those messages likely be?

The Earth sits, from our perspective, in the middle of an apparently infinite number of light points surrounding us. Some rather close by, but most, millions of miles away. Let's say that those stars and pulsars and such represent our audience.

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TheGreatAmericanSongbook

TheGAP
"That's where our innate greatness always resided."

When my contemporaries were busy imprinting on GlamRock and headbanger Southern blues, I was distracted listening to old Frank Sinatra tapes, imprinting on the music made for a generation or two before mine; The Great American Songbook. I studied the life of Jimmy Van Heusen, the songwriter that The Chairman of the Board wanted to be when he grew up, memorized Johnny Mercer lyrics, collected Cole Porter records, and pined after the long lost nineteen thirties, a time a couple of decades before I was even born. I instantly recognize Dinah Washington's voice, pitch perfect and reputed to never, ever having required more than a single take to make a perfect rendition. I listen to Hot Jazz Saturday Night on Washington DC's venerable public radio station WAMU almost every Saturday evening and tune in to John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey's Radio Deluxe every week.

When some popular recording artist of the seventies, eighties, nineties and so on passes on, I invariably never heard a thing they recorded.

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Gardening

handplow
"I refuse to leave remaining roots to serve as witnesses to any inept beheading of weed tops."

I consider myself a student of gardening. Not a grad student, either. I'm still struggling to learn my way around soil, water, plants, and light. True, I have recovered several gardens in my time, each different, results personally paved with many, many grievous errors along the way. My greatest influence might have been an early and repeated exposure to The Victory Garden, a PBS series filmed on a former heavily compacted clay parking lot turned into an immaculate acre of garden, complete with greenhouse and a host with seventy years of experience. It all looked so easy and fulfilling, with no episodes focusing upon endless weeding and broken turning forks. Heck, that garden hardly attracted any weeds at all.

I never tried to transform a heavily compacted clay parking lot into an immaculate acre, but I have amended soil with peat, perlite, sweat, and love.

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MannersOfThinking

MannersOfThinking
" …his students can stumble upon a MannerOfThinking which might enable them to save themselves,
if only they'll stick with the pursuit."

To my mind, the greatest sin lies in telling people what they should do. Especially if I'm convinced that I really do know better. First of all, adults, even children, seem nearly immune to any sort of good advice and potentially hostile toward any intended to be good for them. We seem to want to discover and know for ourselves and when we don't, we really probably should. Much of what matters can't be transmitted as advice, no matter how good it might otherwise be. Still, many of us were early on convinced that we might usefully tap another's knowledge and somehow make it our own, either as passive witnesses like in school or as active inquisitors like in a court of law. How we come to know baffles most all of us sometimes.

Much of what we seem to know hardly qualifies as knowledge, anyway.

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EarlyDark

flowermoon
"I have some places to go where I seem to need to carry the places I've been."

My internal alarm clock rouses me before the mechanical ones set for four am. I called The Muse out to the driveway last night to witness the moonrise, a fine, fat Flower Moon, the last full moon of Spring. By three thirty, the neighborhood lies bathed in deep velvet green, an almost glaringly subtle brightness subsuming what might otherwise have been merely dark of night. Night's darkness has already begun to recede, replaced with EarlyDark, a softer and gentler form of night. Morning hasn't quite yet shown her cards. The birds won't start twittering for another hour or so. Stillness reigns. Whatever outrage might rampage through the upcoming day still slumbers, catching up on her beauty sleep before inevitably turning ugly again after breakfast. The world seems gleefully solemn, satisfied with herself, and should be.

We leave the windows open all night, fumigating the whole house with flower freshness.

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StormyWeather

stormyweather
" …the day hardly warrants remembering.
I hate it when that happens."

I knew perfectly well why there was no sun up in the sky. I'd been tracking lightening strikes for the prior couple of hours on the WeatherBug app. The line of storms had been moving steadily north and east, heading right for us. I mowed the lawn early. By the time I'd finished the chore, the temperature had dropped ten degrees and a gusty late March morning had emerged from the nearly-summer one. I'd hardly broken a sweat shoving that ancient push mower around the yard. I took this as a sign that I had been growing stronger for all my physical exertion this season, but I suspected the cooling wind. I'd opted to delay watering since the sky seemed as though it was aching to save me the trouble of hauling hose and placing sprinklers. It does little good to water when it's windy here, anyway.

The storm took her own sweet time arriving.

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AuntDavid

eyepatch
" …I insisted that I was henceforth Aunt David to him …"

Andrew, who must be eight now, always wants to take the steepest trail. Christopher, a couple of years older, insists upon zooming ahead of everyone else, blazing the trail, leaving the rest of us in his dust. Lilly stays close, intermittently screaming at Chris to slow down. I cede the lead, though I'm the only one who knows the way to the top of the peak. Everyone becomes just who they are when hiking.

I'd suggested a hike to the top of the mountain with the three middle kids, nephews and a niece, to fill that awkward hour between their arrival and supper time.

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EgyptianWalkingOnion

Egyptian Walking Onion sets -  summer
" … still actively aspiring, still learning, preserving the potential for if not better, at least different, later on."

The Muse and I cover the nearly twenty miles down to the Union Station Farmers' Market most summer-ish Saturday mornings, timing our arrival with the opening; easier parking, fewer people, more opportunities to chat with the farmers. Each week, something "new" appears on offer, or something new to me. This week's newby turned out to be Egyptian Walking Onions. I'd never seen them before, so I asked and got a long, nearly scholarly dissertation sprinkled with philosophy. These onions, like all onions, produce 'sets' atop their stalks, Eventually, these sets outweigh the stalks, causing them to fold over, placing the sets in proximity to the ground. There, the sets take root to grow a next generation. Over time, this repeated folding over to grow a next generation can result in the onions "walking" across a field, hence the name.

These onions aren't much to talk about.

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Hallmark®Holidays

Hallmark
"Today, Wikipedia informs me, is World Thyroid Day, …"

My friend Franklin recently recounted his family's Mother's Day fiasco. They'd intended to do brunch at a fine Italian restaurant, but arrived to learn that they'd already sold out of everything Franklin's lovely wife Monica wanted, so they went strolling around the neighborhood, figuring a second best would quickly appear. Every place was booked solid with reservations. They finally settled for a seventies-era steak house where they served Corn Chex® as salad croutons. Monica teaches people how to cook like their grandmothers cooked and reviles "cereal" like Corn Chex® as the embodiment of everything evil with the industrial food system. Happy Mother's Day anyway!

Franklin reported that HallMark®Holidays seem to be the most troublesome ones.

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MayAM

MayAM
"I shy away from my shovel, knowing I will barely scratch the surface of this place."

By the last week in May, the sun finally gets around to rising at a decent hour, even encumbered by daylight saving time. By five, it's hardly dark anymore. By six, the sun's well up. The mornings will lengthen for the next month or so before starting to recede back into themselves again. This final month of Spring brings seven hour mornings and eight hour afternoons. Evening arrives just before bedtime. Morning's the choice time through this month. Afternoons can slump into thundershowers, naps, and tedium, but mornings vibrate with promise and possibility.

Aspen and cottonwood finally figure out how to fluff up their leaf cover again, hardly luffing in the languid breeze.

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Reticence

reticence
"Anyone not reticent about starting a new adventure
will end up with a lot more adventure than they bargained for."

I become reticent when facing a new challenge. I understand that this culture better appreciates those who at least appear decisive, but I have never been one of those hard charging full-speed-ahead kinds of people. Even hastening slowly seems to me to exceed a reasonable speed limit at the beginning. I become reflective, sensing an impending disruption more than any possible improvement. I'm not so much interested in or obsessed with whatever end state my actions might induce, but with the beginning state they will insist upon. Who must I become to begin? What must I leave behind to start?

I call this time The Essential Milling Around Period. No project schedule ever represents this useful activity because it seems useless, trying the patience of the more decisive, apparently producing nothing of real value; no measurable deliverable, no fluff of wind in anyone's hair to represent progress, which as General Electric used to proudly proclaim, "is our most important product."

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HistoryLessen

JuneMorning
June Morning, Thomas Hart Benton

"It's a HistoryLessen to recognize how little anyone eventually knows."

When I peer into the portraits of my great great grandparents, I find the most superficial representation of these two people frozen in a forgotten moment in time. When were the photographs taken? I'm uncertain. Possibly eighteen ninety, give or take a decade. I know some of their backstory. My grandfather Elza's parents grew up on adjacent spreads in the dryland wheat country of Eastern Oregon's Gilliam County. He, on the top of Hale Ridge, some of the last land grant ground left by the 1880s. She, at the bottom of that ridge beside a year round stream. My great grandfather Nathaniel's chore as the oldest boy left after diptheria took his two older brothers involved herding his family's livestock to the stream at the bottom of that dry ridge to water them and to fetch water for household use, since their property had no water, no well, given that several thousand feet of basalt sat between it and the water table. My to-be great great grandmother Clara's family lived near the watering hole.

That story represents a kind of history which projects whatever image I might choose to infuse it with.

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PlantingSeason

PloughingItUnder
" … we've made another successful passage through the barren months."

Somewhere South of Mother's Day, PlantingSeason arrives. Sure, I'd been poking around the yard since March, but the containers which comprise most of our garden (thanks to the deer and elk, who seem to eat anything) have remained in garage storage until we could become reasonably certain the snow's finished with us for the season. The chokecherry tree's in glorious bloom, scenting the front yard with an aroma far sweeter than its fruit will ever become, or so I suppose since we've yet to see fruit on those trees. A killing frost or thunderous hail storm has managed to strike each year just as the trees reach full bloom, withering or bludgeoning the blossoms before fruit could set. This year might be different.

The bulk of our garden lives in containers on the back deck

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InstantFamily

instantfamily
"a stop just about halfway between there and somewhere else"

Families don't happen in an instant. They are the oldest and most permanent part of our lives. They predate any particular member and so far, for The Muse and I, have always succeeded in outliving any individual member. The Muse and I have never grown accustomed to living separate from family, though it seems as if the last twenty years have been for us an extended exercise in living separate from family. We hold family in our hearts much more often than we ever hold them physically near. When we come into now rare proximity with our family, our hearts sing.

The Muse's brother Carl, his wife Louise, and five of their eight kids stopped for lunch yesterday on their way to Arizona to visit her ailing parents. They'd left the evening before in their shiny new Suburban Subdivision

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Neighbors

yappy-dog
"I guess the subtlety undermined the message."


I try to comport myself as a good neighbor. Honestly I do, but I can become yippie sometimes if provoked. It takes quite a lot to provoke me. Yesterday, after about eight hours either on a ladder or crouched low on my knees painting, I'd just settled into a camp chair on my freshly painted deck to reflect on a job well done when a yippie dog somewhere down the lane commenced to yipping. It was fairly emphatic, whatever the provocation. I figured it might quiet down after a few minutes, but I was mistaken. I leaned back to meditate for a few minutes, figuring I could probably repel the aural assault by focusing my mind. Let's just say that my mind has nothing on any duck's back. Later, I was moved to write a short vituperation and post it on our neighborhood list serve. I know, unrequested advice. Now, of course, I'm crouching, fairly terrified to see what feedback I've received.

The Muse serves as translator when one of these things happens, and she read back a few of the many responses.

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Asympbotic

asymptotic
"I don't know what could possibly replace a sincere lack of foresight. "
Beware the wily asymptote,
he only knows how to run.
He quickly secures essential funding,
then never gets a hundred percent done.


Unlike the wily asymptote, I manage to get things done. Unlike him, my completions tend to happen quickly. My beginnings seem to take forever, though. I operate asympbotically, which is pretty much the opposite of the way our wily asymptote runs. He takes forever to never get completely done while I seem to take forever just getting started. Once started, I quickly complete the task, like a slacker rabbit racing a diligent but slightly misguided tortoise. Many physical operations follow the wily asymptote's path, so many that we generally forgive the asymptote's inevitable shortfall, ascribing it to nature, God's will, or plenty good enough for whatever kind of work we're engaged in. Who are we to insist upon an unnatural outcome?

For about 90% of the duration of any project, I'm convinced that it will never get completed.

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Handyman Dave

Handyman
"I become a disciplined robot for the duration."

I doubt that any military campaign ever received more detailed planning. Logistics have been swirling around unresolved in my brain for days. This morning, the wet weather finally broke, the humidity dropped twenty percentage points, and the forecast predicts no chance of rain for the next two days. I can put on the two top coats of paint on the deck railing today and even slop over into tomorrow if I must. I linger in bed, running through more obscure details, the order of application seems to trouble me most. What sequence will minimize wait time between coats? Should I mount the ladder or squat on the deck first? I suppose I should apply that annealing primer to the top rail first. It's likely to take longest to dry.

I wear a uniform every bit as steeped in tradition as any general's.

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How To Create A Vatta Schmaltz

vatta
" I imagine that I'll stand a little taller even after I climb down from the precarious rung …"

I began writing this essay three days ago, but deleted it on the first re-read, before even posting it anywhere. This act seemed perfectly congruent with the weather, which had served up sequential foggy days with intermittent showers. Little light filtered through the low-hanging clouds and little light seemed to escape through it, either. I've felt suspended here, my latest painting project sidelined until the prep coat can thoroughly dry. I read some and snoozed a little, and for the first time since last June, nearly eleven months, I finished no new piece of writing for two consecutive days. Today, I'm attempting to slip back into my groove again.

The Muse and I had no idea when we relocated here three years ago this month, that we'd barely skirted the tail end of winter.

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Gluten

gluten
"The sermon, repeated each visit, is delivered olfactorily, in glory and excelsis, a cloud of nearly overwhelming sweetness, brimming with righteousness and salvation."

I heard this week that the Potomac (Maryland) Nationals, a minor league franchise of the National League's Washington Nationals, hosts periodic peanut-free baseball nights, so those allergic to peanuts but addicted to live baseball can exercise their addiction while respecting their allergy. Allergies can sometimes seem like a laughing matter until you discover that you've contracted one. I, over the last few years, seem to have become allergic to Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat. I consider my newly-acquired affliction ironic. My daughter has a gluten allergy severe enough to remind her with headaches whenever she decides to go ahead and eat the wheat bread before her. She tries to stay with the spelt stuff, which can be decent when properly prepared.

I am an unapologetic member of the local Gluten Appreciation Society. We meet each Saturday morning in a nondescript small industrial park in Golden, Colorado, the home of the snarkily-named Grateful Bread Company, a wholesale purveyor of high-end breads that opens for retail sales only on Saturday mornings.

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Civility

civility1
"Even Slugbug can be enjoyably played without resorting to slugging anybody."

Yes, The Muse and I continue to enthusiastically play Slugbug every time we're traveling together in the car, but we maintain a certain civility when engaging. We do not, for instance, actually slug each other, like a six year old might. Yes, we do observe the catechism, "Slugbug, no slug back," but only to preserve the essential form of play. Some days, The Muse quite joyfully skunks me, spotting a hot half dozen before I spy my first. Other days, it's me holding her underwater, reveling in my easy accumulation. Honest, there's no underlying malice. It's just a game for us.

I hold open doors for whomever follows me inside. If an adjacent driver signals to change lanes, I make it my business to open enough space for their shift. I expect similar civility from those around me, but I won't hold my breath until I receive it.

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OldFashioned

oldfashioned
"All things considered, I'd rather ride the bus."

I'm old-fashioned in the way that thirties black and white films are old fashioned, unselfconsciously. I do not paint my deck while wearing a suit, tie, and broad-brimmed fedora, though I do have a deck, something almost nobody had in the thirties. I'm also familiar with more modern scientific concepts. I no longer smoke. I never could dance, but I never couldn't enviously eye Fred Astaire's smooth moves. I suspect any store larger than a mom and pop shop. I despise freeways. I don't believe in microwaves. I prefer black and white photography, including films. Current movies and music baffle me. I still listen to old radio serials on Sunday nights and hot thirties jazz on Saturday nights, finding them preferable and far superior to anything of more recent vintage, with the occasional exception of baseball.

I read a lot, something of a lost art after alternative medias elbowed their way into the arena. I'd really rather stay in an old hotel, with the bathroom down the hall, than in another anonymous Marriott.

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Suddenlies

suddenly
"I grieved the end of summer last year but hardly prepared for its eventual return …"

This world trades in Suddenlies. For the longest time, stuff stays the same, as if stuck. Then suddenly, everything changes. Spring this year seemed to take her own sweet time to come, carrying Winter's frozen water for weeks and weeks before finally melting into herself. Likewise, Spring has suddenly become Summer six full weeks before Summer was scheduled to arrive. The neighbor kids run barefoot down the same street snow covered just a week ago. The yard, dormant then, turned bright green overnight. The season hasn't changed yet, but some Suddenlies sure showed up.

Boredom might be a natural manifestation of a deep disbelief in Suddenlies.

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Chislic

chislic
"Life goes on a little richer. Bring a Pepcid®"

The Muse explains as I wonder what the heck chislic is. The menu describes what sounds like chicken fingers, breaded, deep fat fried, except with "finger steak", whatever that is. She says that it's a South Dakota thing, common bar food, a dish she's known about all of her life. I'd never heard of it. In deference to me, she orders some so I can taste without committing to a full order. I nibble a piece and gratefully leave the rest for her. Some will remain after we've both finished our meal.

The Muse pulls up the Wikipedia page describing the many variations on the dish.

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Plotting

30_plotting
" … we're leaving with the destination unknown, but only because it's properly unknowable now."

I'm up early this morning, plotting the course for the start of the return trip. I learned on the way up that The Muse had planned for a two day run back home, which took me by surprise. I'd thought we'd tuck down our heads and drive the seven hundred miles in a single day, but she insists upon toodling back like we toodled up, and I'm more than agreeable. I texted the cat sitter to please put out the garbage on Tuesday morning and set about considering how we might spent that extra day. Distances seem so vast here that we tend to stay within the same narrow escape and reentry paths, struggling to justify the additional hours any alternate might demand, but with a whole extra day to play with, plenty of choices emerge. Too many choices emerge.

If the purpose of plotting is to pre-determine how we'll go, I'm not really plotting at all.

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Birdlife

Birdlife
"Forces marshaling before the great reconquering and resettling begins."

The ruckus starts early, before the sun crests the low eastern hills, and continues well into the morning. A slow decrescendo continues until later afternoon, when the ruckus starts again. Mourning doves count continuous cadence against which grackles chitter. Robins hop nearly ten feet in the air before returning to their relentless stalking. Swallows silently swoop through. Sparrows by the dozens fine groom unturned soil. Redwing black birds noisily defend territory. Hawks and turkey buzzards surveil from a few hundred feet above. Canada geese point out every imperfection troubling their passage, leaving behind cigar butt trails. The prairie blooms first in bird life. Before dandelion and quince, before tulip and cherry, birdsong breaks the long winter silence with exuberance, the soundtrack of budding life.

The passenger jets from Minneapolis fly over a fly zone that extends clear down to the ground.

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NotGoingHome

NotHome
"We must be heading somewhere else."

The map doesn't hint at the disparity between what it represents for us and what we'll find there. The roads seem unchanged, though a few new businesses have sprouted up along the still familiar route. My first visit, twenty years ago now, and The Muse's childhood here moved away long ago, leaving what was then the future in their wake. We, hampered by memories and lingering, long-lost first impressions, reenter for the first time again. We wade through what we expected to find, hardly able to see what we find. Old relationships have become history. Relatives still familiar, though everyone's been constantly changing since the last time we came. Us, too. We feel no more than almost familiar to ourselves here now.

The end isn't coming because it already came, elbowed aside by new beginnings again.

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Reveal

reveal
"… keep the roads clearer for those of us who come here for the reveals."

Top a hill or round a bend and experience another reveal. Driving across Nebraska, off the Interstate, produces a recursive kinescope of the state. Each hill, every damned turn and twist in the road, reveals a similar yet quite different perspective. I feel as if I'm delving ever deeper into what those who observe while flying over from thirty six thousand feet see as simply flat. True, with the exception of Scott's Bluff, nothing but ghostly grain elevators loom against any horizon here. Quite false that the country is flat, or even seriously flat-ish, for it rolls and seems to swirl as we top another hill and round yet another bend.

Difference, those of us blessed or cursed to have been raised in mountain country, seems to require altogether much more drama than it actually needs.

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Blogging

blogging
"I write, therefore I blog."

I posted my first blog entry on January 12, 2006. I labeled it The Autistic Organization. My editor at the time had taken great offense at its content so it had proven unsuitable for formal publication. I figured it qualified as blog material, so I started this blog called PureSchmaltz. Choosing a 'platform' proved nearly overwhelming, a road paved with more good advice than I could use. Many strongly recommended WordPress, but I could not figure out how to navigate around in it. It seemed to have been designed for people who learned to use computers using MicroSoft software on a Windows machine, two mediums I never could figure out. I decided to limit my search to native Apple apps, and found a start-up called RapidWeaver. I've been using their software for eleven years. Not all those years have been pleasant, as this software, like all software, occasionally suffers from improvements, aka upgrades, which usually degrade the quality of operation for a few days or a few months. Still, I've found nothing better suited to me.

I'm no computer wiz.

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SouDakoda

SouthDakota
"In Sou'Dakoda, though everyone seems to drive with a lead right foot,
time isn't so conveniently hurried away."

The Muse and I are fixin' to take a toodle northeast tomorrow, heading toward Sou'Dakoda, which we should enter the morning after. We're heading up there for a family event, one of those one-of-a-kind sort of gatherings we've mostly missed in recent years. The Muse especially feels those twinges pulling her back toward her home country from this latter-day homeland. The road between here and there runs through some of the most diversely interesting territory in the nation and also some of the most mind-numbingly uninteresting spaces. The Eastern Plains of Colorado fall under the latter category. I consider them a three hundred mile long dedication test, a gauntlet sometimes featuring fierce sidewinds, monster commercial semi-truck rallies, and undifferentiated khaki-colored prairie. Even with the willows finally showing some soft green along the riverbanks, that part of the trip promises distracting desolation.

Once in Nebraska, the Sand Hills add some variety to the panorama. We'll wend our way up into and through Nebraska, for there's no other way to cross the place. Grant Wood would have felt right at home there where the two lane black top twists and twirls through rough cut gullies and draws.

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Blah!

blah1jpg
"Maybe, just maybe, a total lack of inspiration might prove to be inspiring enough today."

Boredom might be the single unforgivable sin in our chirpy, self-help society. Each of us has been schooled in the doctrine of self-determination, in at least the rudiments of self-promotion, and with plenty of positive self-regard crammed in the few remaining spaces. We are not allowed Blah! days and we are not supposed to talk about them if we experience them, for they admit to the most personal sort of failure, the kind no one can credibly claim that the dog or anybody else committed. These are all on old number one.

They tried to teach me. Perhaps I wasn't listening. Maybe I didn't want to listen.

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GoodNeighbors

derelectfence
"We all live in glassier houses than we imagine …"

I suppose that Robert Frost waxed ironic when he proclaimed that good fences make good neighbors. In my experience, good fences distance neighbors, separating more than property. I've had good neighbors and not so good ones, great fences and crappy ones, even sometimes no fence at all. I built one from scratch nearly forty years ago that still stands as sturdily as when I first set it, pressure-treated posts encased in concrete and cedar pickets painstakingly set. Somebody built a house on what was then an empty field next door, an out-sized place now glowering down on my modest little fence which I only intended to contain the kids when they were small. The kids are long grown. It's somebody else's neighborhood now.

Our latest neighborhood doesn't allow fences, this to allow the free passage of elk and deer through yards that are more mountain meadow than finely-groomed turf, though some persist in presenting the grand illusion that only a closely-cropped green expanse can offer in an arid climate. They're welcome to their water bills.

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Pegboard

pegboard1
"I find myself at peace."

I sit in the yard sale office chair with my feet up on my workbench. I just finished restaining the deck while listening to a baseball game. The home team ignominiously lost in ten innings. After four hours on my knees with paint brush and roller, I'm grateful to simply sit but still jazzed up enough to not quite want to sit still. I survey the garage in the late afternoon sun, getting up to perform some little chore before sitting back down again. I'm burning piñon incense in the background, the smoke somehow purifying the place. I've cleaned up the brushes and tray, hanging the brushes to dry. My eye wanders to my pegboard wall, the first "improvement" I added after we moved in here.

Maybe it's only the after work beer thinking, but I consider that pegboard a fine self-portrait, one perhaps improved by the fact that I constructed it without the notion that I might have been engaged in self-portraiture, completely unselfconsciously.

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Aren't

aren't
"The way things aren't might not matter much at all."

The Muse reports that she's been on a tear at work lately, fed up with what she sees as an unhealthy fixation upon the way things aren't. It's a common and powerful seduction, to parse the surrounding territory as what it most clearly isn't. Look out the window on a rainy morning and characterize the view as "not sunny." This perspective almost guarantees disappointment. More importantly, it separates the observer from the way it is. If all change rests upon the full , albeit temporary, acknowledgement of the way things are, this sort of perceiving seems to guarantee that nothing will change. How it should be, with the addition of bus fare, will get you a ride downtown. Absent that bus fare, you'll likely just get to watch the bus head downtown without you.

So much energy these days seems to be expended describing how things aren't.

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Anonymity

anonymity-1
"It seems as if nobody knows anybody anymore."

At the time of The Dismemberment, our personal and professional bankruptcies, we relocated to Washington, DC, where The Muse had found work. The settling in felt incredibly sad, with us initially sequestered in a high-rise overlooking the Roslyn, Virginia, fire station and directly beneath the approach path to National Airport. Planes passed just overhead every forty five seconds between six am and ten pm, and several sirens-blaring responses screamed out of the firehouse each day. The cats never adjusted to that apartment where the only ground they could see lay a dozen floors beneath them. They'd hop onto the railing, peer down, and scream in abject frustration. Back home, before The Dismemberment, even the cats maintained a certain reputation around the neighborhood, but none of any of that transferred for any of us. We'd become anonymous.

Anonymity imparts a ghost-like presence.

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Bottomless

bottomless
"If I burn myself out now, I might be right on time."

In my relative youth, I tried to learn how to parcel out my efforts, lest the old well run dry. The well never once ran dry, but I remained cautious of over-doing, understanding somehow that excess might bring a bill greater than I was prepared to pay. I avoided becoming a burn-out, one of those geezers mumbling into his beard, his penny spent on some youthful excess or another. I wouldn't push myself to write, for instance, but favored the old 'let it come' approach, figuring I could rely upon inspiration to fuel my progress. I used to write a song a month, or try to. Now, I meet songwriters taking a challenge to write a song a day for a month, and they do it. I can say that not every song produced in this way achieves the quality one might hope for any tune, but it's nonetheless quite an accomplishment. I can't see myself agreeing to so engage, though.

It's true that I write at least a short essay every day, but I don't think of myself as necessarily going for volume.

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SockedIn

SockedIn
"I appreciate the fog over the curious clarity of the properly formed plot line."

Living at seven thousand eight hundred feet above sea level, I sometimes find more than my head in the clouds. Here, I might wake up to a full body immersion in the clouds, absolutely SockedIn. The usual modest level of background sounds muffle to almost nothing save the screech of delighted magpies when they somehow find that bowl filled with the spoiled batch of quinoa or the crusty cat food I left out for them the night before. Trucks on I-70 disappear in the haze, their noise contained, even their headlights mere whispered hints of their passage. The dog walkers come out around sunrise regardless of the weather, the yippie pups grumbling under their breath, a welcome reprieve from their usual snippy snarling.

My head seems filled with clouds, too, fat insulating ones as my sinuses adjust to the altitude's pervasive aridity again and with my reintroduction to Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat's incessant shedding.

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Betweenings

betweening
"It's so quiet here."

For a while, everything seems like a dream. I become a rather distant observer of my own activities, separate and dispassionate. I greet the flight attendant who probably doesn't recognize that I'm disconnected, hardly present. The turbulence seems like it's happening to somebody else. I change planes in a daze, surprised to find myself at the departure gate and finding my seat just as if I knew what I was doing. I read my book and refuse sustenance, a ghost on a plane. I'm in no hurry, neither the first nor the last to board the tram to baggage claim. My bag arrives soon enough. I text The Muse to tell her that I'm on my way to the passenger pickup area, then simply wait until she arrives.

An observer might say that I'd arrived home, though my internal experience feels less definite than that.

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Endings

Endings1
"A week later, perhaps more, some fresh bright shiny will attract my attention
and I'll find myself facing forward again."

I'm not looking to watch angels dancing on the head of any pin, but I was wondering when the end began and when it might end. Mid-afternoon, my niece's husband, our contractor for the remodel, packed up and left me to prune out the apricot tree and trumpet vine, all alone in the emptier driveway. Earlier my step son helped me disassemble the jury-rigged paint shed, my home away from home for much of the effort, and haul it away to the dump. I packed the Blue Box with the surviving brushes and other supplies, stacked the keeper paint cans together, took off my smocky painting shirt, now smeared with a fresh palette of color, removed my spattered painting shoes, and closed that garage door one final time.

Dearest old friends had invited me to supper, so I timed my washing up so I wouldn't arrive late. Downtown roared with activity. I had to park two whole blocks from the restaurant. Wine bars overflowed patrons out onto the sidewalks. Music, or the rougher equivalent of it, echoed down Main Street with competing tunes. Sidewalk tables filled. It seemed like the old days again, when every Friday night was shopping night as Dam Workers with fresh paychecks filled the streets of this small city, and families sauntered through Wards, Sears, Newberries, and J. C. Penney's, fingering dry goods with buttered popcorn-slick fingers.

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SittingWithTheMess

Its-a-mess.
" … moving at the approximate speed of drying paint."

This, too, shall pass, I suppose. The final touches come more like desperate throat grabs, determined to strangle the liveliness out of the effort. Unforeseen complications reverberate through the whole structure this late in the project, after the hip bone's connected to every other danged bone in the body. Tiny discoveries set back the projected end by two days in just four days. My job as the owner/observer remains to provide some relative unflappability. I dare not lose my cool.

One of my Seven Ethical Responsibilities insists that I hold the responsibility to SitWithTheMess. Not IN the mess, for that would simply taint my presence. Not simply beside it, but With it, fully acknowledging its potentially poisoning presence without tumbling to its continuing attempts to seduce me into sitting in the middle of it. The mess might even be my friend.

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SomethingNew

woodchips
"A truly terrible influence, indeed."

Usually, when The Grand Other, our eight year old granddaughter, arrives home from school, she wants to plug into MindCrap, some sort of video game that has completely enthralled her. She will insist upon reading with her dad, a homework assignment but also, for her, more of a sacred obligation. This week, though, we've been walking down to the park to swing. Not too many years ago, she struggled to develop the coordination to properly swing, but now she quickly gains the stratosphere. This week, she's become more interested in the curly slide; more precisely, in climbing up the curly slide backwards.

She hesitantly approached the challenge, confiding that climbing the slide backwards was against the rules at school. I argued that the park wasn't school and she reluctantly tried then quickly failed to make it more than halfway up.

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Untiming

frozen-in-time-gothicolors-with-crows
" … a fool's mission, but nonetheless our only mission now."

Time slows rapidly as the end of any project nears. Gravity seems to work harder and even the simplest task takes multiples more time than expected, as if the project was trying to deflect completion. Supplies go missing. Backlogs shrink but only under ever increasing effort. Momentum stalls and a different physics takes over, one not subject to familiar universal laws. Mastery reverts into apparent naivety again. Almost any effort utterly exhausts. The tiniest task takes forever to get started and even longer to clean up after. Done hovers just out of reach, chuckling malevolently. I put my head down and continue moving forward against obviously insurmountable odds.

We could just declare the whole thing finished as it is and most would never notice the absent final polishing, but we would.

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Waiting ...

waiting1
"I'm certainly a sucker for the technology I carry around in my pocket."

I might be addicted to weather prediction. I find myself continuously checking WeatherUnderground then following up by double checking WeatherBug, comparing their predictions against each other. WU predicts light showers to start at six am. WeatherBug reports that the closest lightening strike in the last thirty minutes occurred twenty one hundred and three miles away. No need for me to duck and cover this morning. The current radar shows a snow cloud moving toward my current location. I wonder if I'll be painting shoe molding this morning or waiting for the rain to arrive instead.

The ninety percent chance of wind and rain yesterday turned out to produce a passably perfect April day with bright sun speckled with mildly threatening clouds which hopped right over us.

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StillLearningAgain

child-reading-a-book-650x400
" …all the way down and back again."

Few people learn how to play a musical instrument as adults, perhaps because once musical taste develops beyond a certain (rather uncertain) point, those initial squawky sounds stop sounding like progress but more like failure to the budding virtuoso's ear. When I first picked up that old Washburn guitar when I was in the fourth grade, every sound that emanated from that instrument sounded like sweet music to me, not like the cacophony the rest of the family heard. I "played" until the ends of my fingers blistered, then continued playing until they bled. Then I'd patch them with Band-Aids® and continue playing some more. This story perfectly encapsulates learning for me. For me, it requires a certain (rather uncertain) amount of delusion which fuels an appearance of dedication. I couldn't stop trying to play that old guitar. I remember having little choice in the matter.

Some learning requires real dedication, though.

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BeadBoard

06-beadboard
"May they grace the space … for another hundred and ten."

The bead board first appeared as an inspiration. We'd started removing that regrettable seventies wallpaper and sheetrock to find bead board beneath. Original to the house, much of it remained in near pristine condition. The Muse and I considered this find to be one of those serendipitous symbols that simply insist upon catching our attention, a once in a lifetime opportunity we 'daresn't' ignore, so we changed the plan. Rather than simply refinish the walls with newer sheetrock, we'd use the bead board to create wainscoting which would highlight the kitchen and its half bath while showcasing some of the place's heritage, a prototypical Bright Idea. "I know, we could put on a show!"

Like in the old Andy Hardy movies, turning the derelict barn into a Broadway theater for a single amateur performance turned out to be a tad bit more work than the originating Bright Idea anticipated, but the kids channel their considerable talent as well as their all-consuming delusion to, in short time, create a stage worthy of a Busby Berkeley production.

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High February

HighFebruary
"August will eventually arrive and offer no February,
high or low,
and little respite on the other side."

I imagine this season to constitute a steady progression toward summertime, but it takes wild divergences along the way. I might wake up one morning to find May outside, and another, walk smack into High February. The last few days have felt more like February than April, cold rain slipping out of low scudding cloud. The rain seems to amount to almost nothing, but accumulates in every hollow depression. The damp pervades, penetrating even my waterproof jacket and quickly seeps into my shoes. I squish around in damp socks, trying to maintain some semblance of a cheerful, seasonal Springtime attitude, but the effort exhausts me. The weather report predicts more "light rain," but it seems more like dark matter than uplifting light.

The roses and flowering crabapple were fooled, too, for they came dressed up to receive swarms of nectar-seeking bees rather than chilling rain.

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Closure

closure
"A pocket full of Closure seems a poor reward for touching the face of God."

As a project nears completion, as the long-anticipated moment of Closure nears, nobody's planning any ticker tape parades down Fifth Avenue; quite the opposite. A creeping sense of imminent demise stalks the effort, gravity works overtime while everyone else arrives late and leaves early. The workspace seems increasingly flatter, as each completed component subtracts from the breadth and width of the small universe the project unavoidably created when it began. Infinite aspiration recedes into all-too finite acceptance and the almost begrudging acknowledgement that the adventure portion of the program has ended. All the significant choices having already been made, the world no longer stretches before anybody, but shrinks around what only those who were there will ever fully appreciate. We feel somehow smaller than we thought we would. Ready the fork. We're nearly done.

In this culture, we talk as if completion was somehow the purpose of activity, as if effort were the medium and Closure better embodies the "real." The remaining artifact never fairly represents the effort invested in producing it.

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Pastwords

erase-the-past
"A quietly malevolent voice seeps from the shadows velcoming me home."

One day, little of this will matter. Maybe not today, perhaps not tomorrow, but one day. Yesterday, it seemed to matter a whole lot more than it does this morning. Perhaps tomorrow, it will slip across the boundary into not much mattering anymore. For now, it's a toleration, an experience which falls South of anything one aspires to be mindful about but which nonetheless cannot seem to be purged from foreground awareness and therefore simply screams to be tolerated instead. I'm holding my breath rather than deeply inhaling. I cower rather than standing tall. I anticipate worse than will probably occur. I've lost my password, leaving less than nothing in its place. No, I didn't forget. I never knew but was unaware that I was unaware. Now, that Pastword stares me down, double dog daring me to think back to an event I doubt ever even happened as a condition of my continuing access. I shiver along cold curbstone, in exile for now.

Let's say that I did forget my password.

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LastClass

lastclass


"I think the experience improves as one moves toward the back of the queue,
the LastClass on the plane."

In my relative youth, when I seemed to be on an airplane at least twice a week, I guarded my frequent flier status as if it was the crown jewels. I'd call thirty seconds after the earliest possible moment allowed to request upgrades and carted around a treasured pile of upgrade coupons in my knapsack. I'd board the plane first, settling into a leather seat to sip a complementary beverage before the rest of the passengers even boarded. I could lounge around in the first class lounge before the flight, though nowhere else in my life did the concept of lounging ever come up. I imagined myself living the good life, though off airplane, my life seemed basically pedestrian. I was a minor king in the air.

When I stopped traveling so much, my frequent flier status plummeted.

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Swirl

flowing-ink
"C'est la vie."

While working in the garage yesterday, I quite suddenly noticed an obstruction in my left eye, as if a long lock of hair had fallen over it. My hair's not that long anymore. I brushed whatever it was aside, or tried to, but it wouldn't leave. I sat for a moment, covering my eyes with my palms, to no avail. The swirl remained. I thought that maybe I'd just suffered a stroke, but no numbness appeared. I thought for a moment that This Was It, the great exiting wave, overcoming me when I least expected it. This really pissed me off. I felt myself prepared for a lingering death, one where I could at least showcase my detachment, but a squirt of squid ink in my dominant eye, that I had not considered and I felt completely unprepared, insulted, really.

I begged off the dinner date The Muse had scheduled with our friend and hovered around home, lying quietly listening to a baseball game and pondering my imminent demise.

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Vortexting

vortex
"The price of living might not be the soul, which seems pretty securely attached, but the spirit …"

I'm scheduled to be on an airplane morning after tomorrow and I already feel the pull. I have grown to despise flying. I suspect this feeling represents an intimation of encroaching old age, for I used to love to fly, even commuting to and from one job by air: down on Monday morning, back home Thursday or Friday night, but only for three years. Then, too, I'd retire somewhere on Sunday night and attempt to collect my spirit for the upcoming week, for flying discombobulates the spirit, even if one finds the experience uplifting, which I no longer do. I've long believed that the human spirit moves, through long tradition, at about the speed of a walking horse. Of course airplanes move a couple of orders of magnitude faster, which means that the spirit ends up chasing after the passenger until said passenger manages to sit still long enough for said spirit to catch up and reconnect. I'm reasonably certain that my spirit will be playing frantic catch-up until at least fifty years after I'm planted without this week's impending departure. I can feel the pull.

The pull comes from opposite directions.

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TheStoriesITellMyself

metalogue
"The notion that each of us holds the responsibility to turn each frown upside-down amounts to the most insidious form of despotism."

Between acts in Elizabethan theater, some character might take center stage and commence to speak. He might appear to hold forth on subjects unrelated to the performance, though the curious magic of theater tends to lend a grave significance to anything taking center stage, rendering it at least allegorical if not somehow central to the deeper meaning of the performance. These metalogues might have carried no deeper significance other than to mirror real life between the obvious artifices of the actual play, for we each confide stories to ourselves while waiting for the next act to mount the stage. I believe that these stories, often overlooked, hold subtle cues to making meaning of life.

As a writer, only a few of my more choice stories ever manage to make it into any sharable form.

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Cusp

cusp
" … I feel another cusp approaching, one that will pass without me even noticing until later."

Monday night's scant inch of snow had melted off the back deck by Friday morning, just in time for a fresh band of weather to slide down from the Northwest. Springtime along the Colorado Front Range is a season seemingly perpetually on the cusp of Springtime, toes stretched across the equinox with heels still firmly dug into Winter. Shirtsleeve days slip back into bundled up ones. The snowdrift beneath the back deck will likely hold on into mid-May. The whiteflies have started colonizing on the overwintered deck plants, taking their cue from the angle of the sun, I suppose, rather than the weather outside, which dances between delightful and frightful, and will continue like this until sometime in June, leaving just in time for Summer, which will likewise vacillate between Spring and Fall until Autumn slowly starts to dominate, sometime in late August.

I seem to endlessly live on cusps, those points of convergence neither true to their past nor to their future.

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Garage

garage
"Whatcha doing' Mr. David?"

The new car demanded a reconfigured garage. We could fit the new one in there, but with little room to spare. No way to open the rear hatch, for instance, without opening up the retracting door. Only a skinny passage from the passenger side to the steps down into the house. I'd been meaning to clean it up, anyway. Autumn and Spring, my garage gets at least a once over. In Fall to accommodate all the pots and planters, hoses and things necessary to maintain the summertime garden, and again in Spring to export out into the garden all the stuff I crammed in there the Autumn before. With The Zoom Car on to its next incarnation, I shipped the Summer tires off to the new owner, making some new space.

I put off the effort until after I'd thoroughly considered what really needed doing.

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OutToGetYou

gotyournose
"What you do next might make a world of difference."

I suppose that everyone had a loud uncle who used to play the old I've Got Your Nose Game. Even as a small child, I could see right through the illusion, though the hand suddenly grabbing my face absolutely terrified me. He inflicted no real damage except to our relationship, which was arm's length to begin with and out of easy arm's reach forever after. Who could possibly trust someone who even pretends to snatch the nose off their face? I immediately learned to keep my distance and I never trusted that man again.

The world seems filled with snatchy people, folks who amuse themselves by startling others, as sure a sign of privilege as I'm likely to encounter.

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Meanness

Hob Nail Boots
Fascism is colonialism aimed inward.

Colonialism always was an obscenity with high ideals. Still is. Following principles which insisted that trade would necessarily benefit all parties, the more powerful parties enforced this theory to the eventual ruin of their trading partners. The United States, once a group of separate colonies itself, long resisted the urge to international dominion championed by their former overseers, though it seemed less squeamish when inflicting the same barbarism upon its own inhabitants, particularly those who were steadfastly denied citizenship regardless of their obvious presence. The South, in particular, was never the gentile society it imagined rural Britain to have been, but a brutal kleptocracy that would have shamed King Herod, though Herod never published Presbyterian tracts touting slavery as being responsible for introducing Africans to Christ and therefore salvation. The North also created slave classes under the guise of free labor, which was only allowed to be as free as those in power preferred it to be.

The excesses of those times eventually undermined their own viability, opening space for more modern, by which I mean, more compassionate, compacts between The People and their society, though the powerful would persist in characterizing the more compassionate as the more barbaric.

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Museless

absence
"When everything becomes possible, almost nothing seems terribly practical."

The Muse has one of those jobs that frequently takes her out of town for a week. Originally, her assignment insisted that she spend a week away every month. Now, it's down to less frequently than that, but her absences have fully integrated as a part of her presence in my life. I'm "batching it" this week, having just dropped her off at the light rail station for the long ride out to the airport, which I've explained before, seems to have been placed closer to Kansas than Denver. We made final agreements last night while calculating when we'd have to leave the house to make the outgoing plane. If I was to drive her, we could leave as late as seven thirty but that plan would leave me driving catty corner across the Metro area during morning rush or cooling my heels somewhere until the rush ended. Light rail would mean more like a six fifteen departure but omit all but about ten miles of the seventy mile round trip for me.

"Not wanting to drive you to the airport doesn't mean I don't love you," I sort of pleaded, defending my stance.

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DeepContingency

CivilWar1
"We should … somehow wean ourselves off the need to expect simple resolving answers …"

Edward Ayers, in his brilliant essay What Caused The Civil War, recounts how The Simpsons character Apu passes his citizenship test. In response to the final exam question, What Caused The Civil War, Apu starts to go into a lengthy explanation of the political, social, and economic forces contributing to the tragedy, but his proctor interrupts him by whispering sotto voce, "Just say Slavery." We do tend to go looking for simple answers to complicated questions and even extending the more satisfying ones into culturally imperative memes. If you don't know the appropriated answer, your response implies that you don't know or, in more extreme cases, that you might be deluded. We all, after all, know that slavery caused that war, though it wasn't until the third year of the conflict that Lincoln reluctantly admitted that slavery had "eventually" caused it.

Apu's first answer was more right but also much less satisfying. Most everything cultural suffers from what Ayers calls Deep Contingency.

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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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