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"Momentum's grinding gearbox knows only forward …"

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

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

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"Bread and water will do for now."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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" …the great and often surprising gifts …"

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

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

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" …shortcomings prominently displayed."

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

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

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

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

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

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"I hardly recognize the place anymore."

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

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

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

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

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

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"I seek my jollies elsewhere now."

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

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

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

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

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

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"We seem to try to avoid salvation, sometimes failing. Thank heavens."

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

No real harm.

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

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

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

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Maybe I've earned some supper tonight."

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

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

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

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

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

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" … stewardship seems to be forever."

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

I'm sort of a sucker for stewardship.

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

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

Except on some issues.

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" …the kind of knowingly only we could know but could not possibly explain to anybody else."

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

Painting a single board won't induce the trance.

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"This must be how the future comes."

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

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

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The Illusion Of Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The purpose of beer must be to provide that buoyancy.

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" … my good work took them there."

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

What made it good work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jean François Raffaëlli: The Exhausted Ragpicker (1880)

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

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

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

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

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

I didn't ask to bloom differently.

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"We'd eat dirt first, …"

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

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

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

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

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

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"What harm could it possibly do?"

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

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

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

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

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Ashes To ...

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

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

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

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

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

Not that I'm yet persuaded to play hooky.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much of life seems to inhabit this same territory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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"I suspect we’ll never know."

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

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

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

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

The Muse and I are traveling

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

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

Fortunately, none of this matters.

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"Nobody can really achieve apathy
except when in pursuit of someone else's goals."

By far the most important element of every project turns out to not be the advertised objective of the project, but what I call The Project Within The Project. While the public pronouncements promote this or that feature or that or this other innovation, the real project, The Project Within The Project, looks on unimpressed. The PWTP wonders what's in it for him. He's searching for a premise to use this project assignment to assist him in his pursuit of some personally compelling goal or purpose. No matter how lofty the outside project's objective, it won't motivate much more than a half bucket of warm drool unless the people assigned manage to find their very own personal Project Within That Project.

Outside projects typically expend remarkably little energy encouraging individual contributors to find their personal PWTPs, though the outside project's success might most depend upon realizing this.

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"Airplanes fail constantly, but usually fail less than they compensate for their failures,
and thereby succeed …"

The axiom that failure starts with the first step probably serves as the oldest comment ever made about project work. Since the beginning, successions of clever practitioners have proposed methods for ensuring that their project will not repeat this most ancient of axioms, each without success. I, too, in my turn, took up with one, then another, and then yet another philosopher promising to deliver the antidote for this feature of project work. I now believe that the problem implied by this timeless insight fails to qualify as a problem at all. I consider it a feature, and as such, should properly remain unsolvable. Solutions belong to problems, not features.

I don't mean to imply that I've grown cynical from following false prophets

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" …it will certainly first feel like some terrible shrinking."

The Muse and I are preparing to leave for a few weeks. The list of preparatory tasks seems to grow as the departure time approaches. I'm at the stage of life where leaving carries little attraction. I'd just as soon stay behind while The Muse travels, and receive updates from her at the front while hanging far behind the lines. She insists, though, that I get out into the world. She says that things happen when I'm out there, and I cannot disagree. Things do happen when I leave the safe confines.

The days before departure feel like grieving.

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" … like ThinSlices of impermanence drawn prism-like through space."

This morning seems composed of thin slices slightly shimmering in the rising sunlight. The eucalyptus tree below my window takes on an etherial and impermanent look, glimmering as if on the very edge of disappearing altogether into some adjacent place. Time seems like narrow vertical wafers through which stuff moves like light cast through a prism. Color, shape, size, even weight seem to derive from an optical-like projection, easily shifted by sleight changes of perspective. The time we inhabit also inhabits us, and might slip away from any of us without any advance notice. One minute here and another minute somewhere else, a sort of mist separating one from the other, prior from present, present from next.

Permanence holds no place here.

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"Hooray for me, whoever that might be."

In this culture, in my culture, we describe individuals by associating each with one of a small number of exemplar descriptions, so-called archetypes. These comparisons don't even try to determine an individual's uniquenesses, but first attempt to classify according to some similarity, what they're like or not like. The sum of the resulting similarities stands in for an individual's description, their brand, even their identity. Failing to fit into some easily recognizable archtypicality earns one the default label of "oddball," which means unclassifiable, an unbranded range animal without clear social identity.

Billions of individuals vie for this sort of social definition, each selecting from a tiny few exemplar patterns.

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“Exactly the pitch called for at the time.”

Today, I offer heartfelt prayers of gratitude for all my previously unanswered prayers. I hold no certainty that these fresh prayers will be answered, especially since I have no idea how I’d determine if they had been answered. I remain grateful for all of my unanswered prayers, whether or not I can accurately target my benefactor. This solo dialogue quiets my spirit. My confession, even as gratitude, lightens my heart. For all the times that the good guys failed to show up near the end of the third reel, I feel gratefully humbled. For the papers from the bank, lost for months in the mail or their bureaucracy, so passionately sought after but never found, I give thanks. I’m not certain who posted the casting calls for which angels never responded, but I’ll slip in a thanks to them, too.

The primary problem with prayers seems to be the same as the difficulty with customer specification wish lists.

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This weekend, friends will gather to celebrate our dear departed friend III's (pronounced "Three's") life. My eulogy:

Viennese Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein attempted to define, in seven dense statements, what one can say to be true about this world. As part of the group that delineated the unforgiving terms of engagement in the Boolean computer age, Ludwig helped determine exactly what III spent much of his life enforcing. More than anyone I ever met, he attempted to police that narrow, mysterious territory between what we desire our machines to do for us and what we as humans could reasonably expect our machines to do. Deeply understanding this man/machine interface, III mostly chose to avoid personally relying overmuch upon machines to deliver him from even tedium. He seemed to deeply mistrust the most modern technologies, and perhaps wisely so.

He owned no smart phone.

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"In this season, I even feel unskilled at self-deception."

By the last week of January, anyone should be excused for having somehow lost addressability to who they are or even who they used to be. The weather turned skitzy more than a month before, swapping identities day to day. Shorts one day, heavy boots the next. Ordinary times slip into full festal ones then back again. Bacchanal celebrations dance the hokey-pokey with solemn religious ones. The sacred expresses itself with venial exchanges. Smugness snuggles with humility. Darkness wrestles for dominion with light. Candles curse the darkness. Darkness mumbles invective against the light. Plenty seems to placate the barren scrubland that was once my well-tended garden.

By the end of January, I'm running on vague promises.

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"Time seems altogether too unreliable of a regulator. "

I'm always astounded when I consider that time moves at a constant pace, a sleepless, silent drummer setting the background rhythm for everyone's existence. The same for you as for me. The same for Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat as for The Muse. The same for the Queen of England as for the panhandler along the freeway exit. I do not experience time as such a dependable regulator. Some days seem to crawl while others sprint. I've spent fortnight-long afternoons and split-second months. Some nights seem endless while others hardly find a moment to wink in passing. I figure this variation must be about me, if time exclusively runs regularly.

I don't seem to run that irregularly.

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