OrdinaryTimes

OrdinaryTimes 1.48-Phall

Phall
Summer quietly slipped away leaving the impatiens in peak bloom. The azaleas try budding again, showing a scant sampler of their Springtime color. The cardinal, freshly fledged three short months ago, has gone deep red to match the coming leaf cover. The windows will be open for the next few weeks.

I am most productive when the weather turns. A few days between parting and coming extremes feel like new beginnings. I’d much rather start something fresh than finish anything. I am falling in thrall with the fall. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.47-Phorms

formS
The Muse accompanies me to the eye doctor. Not because I’m particularly afraid of the doctor or the receptionist, but because we’re both certain that they’ll require me to fill out some forms. Last year, she dropped me off at her dentist, thinking that this act would pretty much guarantee that my excruciating cracked wisdom tooth would get looked at. She left, then they gave me a clipboard filled with blank forms. I couldn’t answer even half the questions. I went to the receptionist, explaining that I’d need to leave the office to get some information the forms wanted. Forty five minutes later, I was home digging through The Muse’s filing cabinet, trying to complete the forms. I did not find the information they needed. A couple of hours later, after The Muse emerged from another of her total isolation meetings, she called me, a little frantic. “What happened at the dentist?” she fumed. “I got a couple of calls wondering where you’d disappeared to.”

”They gave me forms,” I whimpered.

’Nuff said. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.46-Synchronicity

synch
I, too, was well-schooled in the cause and effect. I try sometimes to slip loose of the noose and ride the flow, but my callouses guide my feet and my muscle memories seem to continuously nudge me back into the causal and the effective. I am not nearly mindful enough to remind myself much of the time that another order might emerge.

Helping my dear friend find a place to live today, he’d arrived with a pile of addresses gleaned from a thorough scouring of the Internet rental listings. I drove him by three places, one of which might prove livable, and we cruised through a couple of neighborhoods that were completely out of reach. Returning home, I heard myself saying how nice it would be if we could just drive down some idyllic street, happen upon a perfect place with a big fat For Rent sign out front, and be done. I said this like it was a Disney Imagineer’s pipe dream. Completely out of reach, well within the realm of the absolutely impossible. Fantasy personified. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.45-2ndOrderWarrior

windowdoorwall
My friend Lowell works under contract to the DoD, the Department of Defense, as a second-order warrior. Rather than plot drone strikes, he works to understand and reinforce culture by studying the meanings people make and how they make them.

He tells terrific, heartbreaking stories of well-intended but ignorant first-order warriors. He recalls how the Iraqi Reconstruction effort built a power station several times before some second-order warrior thought to sit down with the local chieftains to ask what they wanted. “If you rebuild the plant over there,” one village elder reported, “We’ll just have to blow it up because that’s another tribe’s territory. If you build it over here, they’ll just have to blow it up because it’ll be on our property. We’ve been at war for generations. This is a matter of pride.” The second-order warrior, rather late in this game, identified some neutral ground that could support a shared resource between the warring parties. The next plant was never blown up. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.44-Salon

salon
In DC, honest dialogue happens in salon. A salon here isn’t a place where one connects to their inner hair drier. It’s supper and conversation, in the classic sense. A provocateur’s invited along with many appreciative listeners. We drink some wine, eat some pate, then swallow some supper and engage in off the record conversation. Tonight’s topic was foreign policy. Tonight’s provocateur had several decades of foreign policy experience. Personal friends with some of the higher-ups in the Chinese government. He once sent a cable to the then Secretary of State, saying, “Fuck you, strong message to follow.”

The news never quite captures the subtlety of the real-world. The real world seems to be inhabited with the remarkable people who quite selflessly engage in our best interests, though they might sometimes find themselves sideways to the politicals. We would be sunk without their audacity. We’re nearly sunk with it. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.43-DisAster

lightrain
A light rain caught us as we left the house this morning. Neither of us seemed enthusiastic at the prospect of facing another OrdinaryTimes Monday morning. The Muse was running unusually late, but after the snarls she’d experienced on her business trip last week, she could afford to take her time. I had a day of uncertain preparations ahead. Supper for thirty tomorrow, what can I make beforehand without losing fresh crispnesses?

It felt more like Spring than almost Fall outside. The Muse wrestled with the umbrella getting into the car. Short hop to the Metro station, the usual morning news on the radio heading back. No, wait! That’s not the usual morning news: I hear the word ’shooter’ and suspect the worst. It’s the worst Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.42-Mow-Ring

mower
I own a lawnmower with a 1911 patent stamp on it. It still works more or less like new. It features a fine hardwood handle, spindle, and roller; hard rubber tires over cast iron wheels. Steel blades every bit as sharp as one of my kitchen knives. I’ve mowed my lawns with little else for the last decade.

My nephew bought this beauty at a junk shop for a buck and bestowed it on me as a wedding present in 2002. It might qualify as the finest present I’ve ever received. I didn’t sharpen it for the first decade I owned it, not that this ever affected the fine results it produced. It’s a five blade model. It leaves lawn looking as if some manicure scissor-wielding maniac took after the grass. I’ve seen some powered eight blade babies used for putting green trimming, but I’ve never seen a domestic push mower that could produce the trim this one yields. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.41-Meh-Chanical

monkeywrench1
I am not what anyone would call mechanical. Well, not in any traditional sense. It took me about five years to figure out how to change the oil in a car, and even then, not entirely reliably. I can often select the right key to fit the backdoor lock, but only because I’ve color-coded the keys. I feel as though I’ve almost mastered the flathead screwdriver and am doing some kindergarten-level practice bouts with the mysterious Phillips head model. I prefer Vise-Grip® pliers, even though they sometimes maul the nut head.

Last weekend the master bathroom towel rack fell into the tub all by itself. It had taken up this annoying habit ever since the property manager ‘managed’ to yank it off the wall while he was mangling the blistered ceiling joint just above it. I gamely put it back up, but it seemed to have lost its will to hang, and has clattered like Fibber Magee’s closet opening into that huge soaking tub at inconvenient intervals since. I’d had it. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.40-TheBreak

Break1
Life brings two great classes of tragedies: The breakdown and The BIG break.

My break downs seemed every bit as subtle as my BIG breaks. Perhaps they arrived by bus to avoid blocking the driveway before slipping in through the barely cracked bathroom window. Every day fairly succeeded in replicating the days before until one day just could not repeat those yesterdays. I barely noticed. Nothing exploded. Nothing seemed to disappear. The Scientists claim that losing the vision in one eye elicits no immediately recognizable change in experience. Half of the screen does not go blank, or so it seems when the break down or the BIG break appears.

Nobody makes movies about this experience. Subtle works about as well in movies as it does in rock and roll. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.39-CheckingOut

checkout
I’m the sort of person who tends to have difficult check-outs at the store. Retailers these days seem more interested in data gathering than selling stuff, so checkout’s complicated. No, I do not have one of your frequent shopper cards, or, if I do have one, I signed up under an assumed name. Do you discount my purchases if I ‘belong?’ If so, I have an assumed-name affiliation. If not, I don’t.

Yesterday I bought a bunch of fall plants at the hardware store. They were all the same, so I carried one of them to the front counter. The clerk charged me for N of the one I carried, then I went to the back to cart the bunch away. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, a clerk approached my car asking if he could look at my receipt. “I called to the front and they said they hadn’t checked out any bunches of plants,” he explained. “That’s because I only schlepped one of them to the checkout stand where she replicated one by N,” I replied. I was not arrested. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.38-ChanceEncounter

chanceEncounter
People over tonight. Fellow authors from the Berrett-Koehler Publisher community. Sweet people. We gathered, we wrote, we ate a simple supper, then we told stories. The pen isn’t just mighter than the sword, it renders the sword moot. Slip over here for more ...
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OrdinaryTimes 1.37-Mean-ing

torpdo-spoon-redwhite
I heard today some shocking stories of mean-ing personified and I cried. I watched several promising possibilities disappearing, leaving no equally promising replacements. I grieve for what might have been and most certainly will never be now. I do not know yet what comes next and I’m uncertain where you’re left. I watched you being bereft and felt my own history stabbing me near that scar in my back. I have nothing wise to share.

I hope I never see it coming. I would rather be betrayed a thousand times than maintain a single cynical callus that might deflect any mean defection. Looking over my shoulder trying to catch a glimpse of someone trying to catch me inhibits my progress. I’d much rather lose any race than live so defensively. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.36-Provisioning

provisioning
I woke at three this morning, fussing about the weekend’s food. We’ve got vegetarians visiting, so I’ll be playing to my weak hand. I don’t roast the ceremonial goat head every night, but I appreciate the depth and texture a properly rendered fatty cut brings to the broth. I believe that even the most ideological or ideo-illogical vegan retains at least a vestigial palate, and I’m learning some of the tricks of the trade. We are all fat and sweet seekers, whatever form we insist upon receiving our nourishment. When the picky eaters show up, I resort to sleight of hand.

A decent veg stock gets built in three stages. The first stage, I raw cut. Carrots, parsnips, celery root and fennel top; beet, chard, and kale stems; shallots and okra tops, hot roasted for more than an hour, less than two, after being baptized in a decent olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. I want these guys of the edge of char because char compensates for the anemic color and texture of plain boiled veg. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.35-Circling

circling
In lieu of any instruction manual, I’ve been watching how I approach accomplishing. I have not been wearing a lab coat or keeping copious notes, but I’m getting the impression that I almost never do anything the easy way. I’d thought there might be a straight-forward path between there and done. If there is one, it usually eludes me. I circle around, turn back, sneak behind, then sidle in sideways on almost every objective from concocting supper to writing a song. I have found no strait and narrow.

I should be pleased. Heck, I really should be delighted with this discovery. My fifth grade teacher insisted I could move right in: choose a subject, outline the steps, then follow those steps to achievement, closure. But my fifth grade teacher, God rest her weary soul, might have forgotten about learning. In choosing a subject, I should rightfully reject several. In outlining the steps, I could decide that I didn’t know enough to outline the steps yet and go feral, sniffing along some uncharted path. Even then, the best I could ever pull off was a half-way indecent backing into a result. I never once found a front door Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.34-Dis-Qualification

Dis-Qualification
I’ve heard that some people seek qualification. I guess I’m the opposite. I revel in disqualification. I felt validated when my high school guidance counselor declared me unsuitable for college. I’ve sat for a few certification exams, but gratefully failed most of them. I do not test well. I’m proud to say that I barely pass my periodic driver’s test, mostly because the state insists upon administering it on a Windoze-like computer, which I learned long ago wasn’t designed for me to use. My darling daughter, unlike me, did really well on her SAT exams, but, disgusted with colleges that used this widely discredited qualification for admission purposes, choose to go to schools that refused to use the damned thing. I guess my perspective might be DNA deep. I certainly hope so.

I live in a world crazy for certifications. I’m surprised that I don’t have to show prior ‘proof’ of some skill to sit on the freaking toilet, but I’m confident that’s coming. With the proliferation of computing has come the inundation of surveys, assessments, and exams, each supposed to prove something. Few of them prove anything except how savvy of an exam-taker I am. I am not a savvy exam taker, and do not aspire to become one. The cost’s just too great. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.33-Problemish

falsedilemma
The news screamed either/or today. Should we or should we not? Partisans line either side of this debate just as if they could persuade the opposition to switch sides. Few suspect they’re considering the wrong question. Should consensus center along either side, nobody ever need realize what the real question could have been.

Whatever the real question turns out to be, either/or never qualifies as the real question. Either/or almost always proves to be the source of even more difficulty than a frame for a satisfying resolution. E/O offers too few choices to support satisfaction. What to do? When offered the choice of either or or, choose neither. I understand that nobody’s offered that third choice, that the unspoken social convention insists that you shouldn’t reject the offered alternatives. Someone might be offended if you refuse to choose from the proffered platter. Do it anyway. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.32-WhoMan

Human
The Muse calls ‘em Stupid Human Tricks, those tendencies we tend to not notice ourselves embodying. The expert almost never notices the over-confidence his detailed knowledge of a system induces. Almost everyone falls prey to a Law of Small Numbers, where we pre-consciously act as if small samples would exhibit the same patterns as large, statistically significant ones might. We seem encased in biases and blindnesses, each perfectly human, each also perfectly delusional.

Economists seem to be about ready to give up on the notion of rational actors engaging in purely self-interested exchanges. Recent studies suggest that even if we tried to maximize our own self-interested happiness, we are not always in touch with what might render us happy. Lottery winners end up no happier than the poorest of the rest of us. Our status quo seems most valuable to us, and we seem imbedded in a continually shifting context. We seem, as a species, very risk averse, even when we characterize ourselves as daredevils. As economists back away from earlier, more wishful presumptions about human behavior, the many professions classifiable under the broad heading of economic activities seem painfully unaware that their profession’s presumptions, too, more than qualify as questionable. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.31-BeLief

BeLief
I’m never happier than when I’m under the thrall of one of my many firmly-held beliefs. The ennobling effect works whether the belief supports an absolute truth or absurd falsehood. Anyone can logically dismantle anyone else’s belief without noticing that the purpose of holding the belief never was to support any volume of truth behind it, but the ‘lief’ it encourages; that starry-eyed conviction, that unshakeable dedication, that otherwise unsupportable optimism renders criticism moot. Belief requires no proof.

I cannot force anyone to believe anything. No matter how powerful my own belief, I cannot coerce you into sharing it. I know, you can pretend, but later, your skepticism will shine through your gauzy cover story; your lief will prove unsustainable. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.30-LightSpeed

lightspeed
The season seems to change at the speed of light. Not a dizzying, hyper-active flash, but an ambiant ambling. One morning, the sun comes up from a different angle, sharing the sky for the first time since June. A cooling moistness prevails, a clear tell that the season was changing all the time. The sun flees southward at about eighteen miles a day, much slower than a walking horse, continually, if only slightly shifting its approach angle, resulting in these moments of recognized change. It seemed everything was the same until it was not the same anymore. I feel like something’s over Slip over here for more ...
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OrdinaryTimes 1.29-MuddleClass

muddle
Give any half-way decent economist or shameless politician a podium and you’ll elicit enthusiastic support for the middle class, a concept nobody’s not in favor of. Some polling shows that many more than half of US households believe themselves to be a part of this vast, undefinable middle. We all support a chicken in every pot, which was once the symbol of the cherished space, but no more. Now, it seems, the flat screen television better symbolizes this space, along with a two car garage and granite countertops. This land where everyone’s supposed to want to own their own home and aspire to hold down a middle management position has long been fundamental to our mythos.

This myth belongs in a consumer economy held hostage to the ability and willingness of everyone to acquire stuff. Advertising encourages this desire; television, too, where we peek into lifestyles few of us even suspected we wanted to emulate until we saw some actors pretending their surroundings represented normal. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.28-Peer-Ifery

periphery
Ask me and I’ll tell you that I prefer to hang around the periphery rather than nearer center stage. You may accuse me of slinking or lurking, or even of reenacting the tarot’s five of pentangles, peering in through the church window when I could just go inside. I think of myself as a witness, an observer rather than a player. Last weekend when everyone else was playing a game of kooky kickball, joining the game didn’t even occur to me. I sat on the periphery providing color commentary instead.

I tell myself that I can get better perspective out there, and I swear this declaration is usually true. I do sometimes feel like one of those starving street urchins who can’t seem to figure out how to belong. Most of my direct experience has not been of the hands-on variety, but I am not a kinetic learner. I learn more from watching than I do from touching, and most from listening rather than talking myself. Reading isn’t vicarious experience for me, but direct. My head is the center of my universe. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.27-InnerNinny

ninny
I confessed to my friend David that I was feeling like a ninny around my long-stalled book project. I would prefer to courageously face it, but that feels like so much bluster. Whatever this book needs from me, I’m reasonably confident that bluster isn’t it.

I’m dealing with subtlety—a substance almost extinguished in the bold branding balderdash of modern marketing. Nobody organizes mass marches for subtlety. No stirring speeches promote it. No cheerleaders pump up the crowd. Almost nobody notices its presence or its absence except the author and The Muse, and they notice too well. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.26-Know-Ledge

synesth
My friend Steve explains that he doesn’t remember stuff by labels. Leaving an exam in college, a fellow student asked if he remembered The Barnes Case to answer one question. “What’s The Barnes Case?” Once she’d explained, he held forth on the patterns and principles involved, but he hadn’t catalogued that ‘knowledge’ like any database would.

Steve’s not a database, but a judge—or has been a judge for most of his career. His work’s not a matter of rule matching, since every case is different and the law ambiguous. His challenge leans toward finding common patterns that might integrate situation with precedent, dilemma with resolution. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.25-8thDay

planning1
And on the eighth day, man began to plan. He started with the end in mind, blinding himself to what stood right beside him. He assumed his way back from that future to find his presence in question. He charted his course as if he’d surveyed the territory, lighting straight and narrow pathways through crooked uncertainty until he was convinced he knew the way. He infected others with his vision, encouraging them to follow his lead, and so he led his followers deep into temptation as if to deliver them from evil. On the eight day, he planned.

On the ninth day, he planned again, reworking original notions, adapting to the inevitably unforeseen, just as if he could more clearly foresee now. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.24-ToodleTwo

route15
US Route 15 must be one of the great American drives. Swooping down from New York State into Pennsylvania, traversing wide valleys and climbing through fingers of mountains. Smooth transition from the weekend into whatever the coming week brings.

The Muse and I went on a toodle this weekend. Not a drive or an excursion or a trip, but a toodle. The rules are different. On a drive, we’re aimless. On an excursion, we know our destination. On a trip, we have at least a clue about how we’ll get from here to there. On a toodle, we throw away plans and hold principles instead.

The principle of this toodle was all about avoiding freeways. We drove about three hundred miles, only resorting to freeways for about ten miles. We considered this a win.

Freeways aren’t free and they are no way to make anything but time, which seemed beside the point on this outing. We were heading North, roughly in the direction of my nephew’s birthday party, but we deliberately avoided knowing how we’d get there on time. This was almost an excursion. We’ve taken longer trips without knowing where we were headed,







©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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OrdinaryTimes 1.23-Alignment

alignment
Some OrdinaryTimes days, just a very few, align perfectly. The Muse insists that the universe is always in perfect alignment, and I accept her wisdom, but acknowledge that only sometimes does that universal constant require no nudging from me. Today, apples fell off the tree just as I passed beneath, landing a juicy, perfectly ripe fruit right into the palm of my hand. Again and again.

I’m tempted to believe that I might have hit some turning point where this could become the new normal, but I’m not quite that needy or delusional yet. Instead, I’ll just appreciate, dog-tired, and proceed. I’m confident that there’s no particular reason behind this remarkable series. Randomness explains it adequately without diminishing the experience even a little bit. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.22-Company

company
The Muse seems to be a skillful politician. Her primary weapon might be the strategically positioned supper party. Whenever a group comes to town for a review or a meeting, she invites ‘em over for supper. The program she works for rarely sponsors any outside of work activities, so an essential channel of communication just doesn’t exist unless somebody, like The Muse, makes it happen. She does.

I don’t do much other than clean up the house and prepare the food, perhaps pull out the guitar after supper for a short house concert. Most of the conversation at table flies far over my head. It’s filled with nuanced meanings, so much so that The Muse has to later, once the guests depart, explain to me what really happened. It seemed like so much small talk but it was not. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.21-Prep

prep
At least 80% of every activity can be charged to the preparation account. At most, 20% of wallpapering involves wallpaper. Painting, too, turns out to barely engage either paint or a brush. Same story with supper.

Hours before any flame ignites, I’m plotting, pre-planning before doing anything; then peeling, chopping, and setting aside in bowls, which I set in cooking sequence. By the time I ignite any flame, supper’s set up for a fall-through. The fall-through’s usually quick. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.20-Mastery

mastery1
I enter the shop reluctantly. I’d expected a more welcoming entrance, a better neighborhood. This place, squeezed between the smoky stench of past pull-dated fried chicken oil and a multi-purpose passport photo shop, scares me. The front window needs cleaning—on the inside more than out—and shelves seem randomly-stacked. Inside, though, I’m reassured. I’m in the presence of a master.

A small man, fashionably-dressed for 1973, steps out through a beaded curtain from a dimly-lit back room. He welcomes me with a nod and a phrase I can’t quite catch, delivered in a dialect few ever used. I mumble my query, suddenly stupid, unable to properly form words. I show him and he immediately understands. His body language tells me that my difficulty is small potatoes, but that I’ll have to wait a week, maybe more, for a fix. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.19-XTRMlyOrdinary

ordinary
It was my birthday this morning so I woke up at three am but lazed around until almost four. The cats followed me downstairs and even chose to go out when I opened the front door to check on the weather. Humidity seemed to be moving back in.

I figured this was my day to do whatever I pleased, so I finished that novel so I could return it to the library. The Muse woke up grumbling that she had an early meeting I hadn’t heard about. I would have at least had her coffee waiting for her had I known. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.18-LastNight

lastNight
I was careful to leverage endings back when I still called myself a songwriter. Neurotic, perhaps, but each month-end demanded that I finish at least one more song before the next month rolled in. I suppose this jammed the usual OrdinaryTime defenses that too easily lull a creative mind into knocking off rather than creating.

OrdinaryTime might be the most powerful narcotic known to humankind. It soothes and reassures even the most talented, leaving much unfinished work in its wake. Imagine what it might do to someone as modestly talented as I. I need some jamming. Discipline can work, but unreliably. If it only took hard work, I’d have a lot more results than I seem to produce. Dangle a decent deadline before me and I’ll pretty reliably deliver. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.17-Entraining

chalkboard
By the time I entered fourth grade, I knew trouble was coming. I knew how to read and count pretty well before I started first grade, so the first three grades were easy, but I’d heard stories about fourth and I felt terrified. By fourth grade, I was supposed to start showing how smart I was by memorizing things, and I had never been smart in that way—particularly procedures. For those, I relied upon written instructions that seemed to wave hazily before me, rendering them impossible for me to commit to memory.

I did okay, though, and was even recognized as gifted, even sent to a special class where we did the fourth grade equivalent of sitting around in wing-back chairs wearing leather patches on the elbows of grey cardigans, smoking cigars and engaging in college-bound stuff. I felt like someone had made a big mistake. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.16-ManageMental

Crazy
About a hundred years ago, American society went certifiably crazy: management crazy. Before then, individuals, often collaborating with others, somehow directed their own affairs. After, people started believing things would just work better if a manager was involved. Now, we routinely speak of mis-management as if it was some kind of disease, certain to create illness and perhaps death. And when some endeavor fails, we presume it was first a failure of management rather than of execution.

Smear some of that mysterious goo, management, onto anything, and it’ll magically just work better. Efficiency will increase and waste will plummet, customer satisfaction should soar and time-to-market could be cut in half. So many marbles in our mouths, and not one of us like being managed. Most of us prefer not to be the manager, either, since that job seems the least satisfying of almost all the other possibilities. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.15-Festering

fester
I hold one principle nearest to my heart: Start with whatever’s threatening to fester. I hold this close because again and again and again, it’s proven reliable. When cooking, and stumped with what to feature that evening, this notion’s served me well again and again and again. Maybe because the threat’s not yet quite manifested, and I end up getting peak ripeness. Maybe because my situational leniency saves me a hassled trip to the purveyors. Maybe it’s just magic, but I live by it.

I’m a soft-hearted cook. I hate to toss that last leftover cup of even stuff I know won’t keep, so I have a larder half-full of questionable material. This quite naturally leads me to combine question-ables, yielding unreproduce-able results. Tonight’s supper went down easy, anyway. Tomorrow’s might as well, I figure. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.14-SteppIninSomethin

footprint
I wasn’t sure what that was next to the driver’s side door as I opened it in the grocery store parking lot. It was only clear that someone had stepped in it. I checked my shoes and concluded that it probably wasn’t me.

This wasn’t dog poo, but some graham cracker-chocolate something or other. Someone had dropped a chunk of it, someone has stepped in it, and the forensic evidence suggested it might have been me.

I did not step in it. I watched myself revert to olfactory mode when I thought I recognized my shoeprint there. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.13-Visitation

visitation
OrdinaryTimes depend upon visitations. Not necessarily visits from a Magi, but don’t bet against that. We are splayed across our everyday, dependent upon some old/new/referred friend to stop in and bust up the tenacious status quo. Go ahead. Please try to inconvenience me.

This week was blessed with a visitation. In anticipation, I vacuumed out the place. The Muse dusted: toilets sparkly, ash tray located.

I’m a lousy house guest, so busy apologizing for the inconvenience, I never consider that I might be a gift to my hosts. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.12-ShortChange

smallchange
We stopped for beers after spending the afternoon at the Holocaust Museum.

That’s one lousy way to start a story. Maybe I should start over.

We stepped out of the sweaty afternoon, hoping cast conditioned ales might be on offer at Churchkey.

That’s better...

The Muse found a stout so dark we had to turn on my iPhone flashlight app to hear our conversation. III found a bourbon barrel-aged brew that tasted to me like Sugar Corn Pops. I found a most unlikely Italian IPA called Buracracy; very nice but such a small glass.

III was buying, and he refused to run a tab, handing the server a couple of twenties. “I can run a tab if you’d like,” he offered.

”I would not,” insisted III. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.11-Greenbelt

greenbelt
We visited Greenbelt today. A community founded upon the notion that community thrives by encouraging cooperation rather than competition. The community owns the homes. Individuals purchase leases to live there. Sidewalks connect homes via green spaces, rather than lining streets. Schools, shops, and gathering places are close enough that most trips don’t require a car.

My friend III grew up in Greenbelt, his parents counted as founders. Such an idyllic childhood could have ill-prepared him for a successful life, but it didn’t. Instead, it seemed to instill a deep decency. He’s the one who’s known community since the day he was born. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.10-III

redacted
My dear friend III showed up today. We’ve known each other for about twenty years, though we don’t see each other much. He was present when The Muse and I were married, and has been our guest almost as many times as we’ve been his guest. He doesn’t allow himself to be photographed, holding to the notion that photographs swipe a bit of one’s soul. He might be the sanest person I’ve ever known.

Exile holds us far away from our longest-lived loves, surrounding us with new friends, sure, but all strangers to our past. Those who were there at the time understand the context from which we come. Much of our deepest understanding needs no stating. Most of our conversation needs little explanation. It’s easy. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.09-Friday

fri
Fridays during OrdinaryTimes, I drive The Muse to work. It’s less convenient for me to drive her downtown than it is for her to hop the Metro, but I do my larder stocking on Friday mornings, so I’m heading that direction anyway. She agrees to be chauffeured. We chat as I take our secret passage off the hill into town. She’d usually rather stick with me than hop out when I pull into the No Parking Zone across from the building that holds her office. By Friday, she’s fed up with the mindless bureaucracy. I’d rather she could tag along, too. She’s fed up and I’m fixing to stock up the feed.

With the sequester’s forced layoffs, Friday traffic feels Saturday light. We make the passage in just under a half hour. After The Muse reluctantly departs, I wheel into the on-ramp beneath L’Enfant Plaza and onto the 395. I cross the Potomac into Virginia and exit onto the George Washington Parkway, a narrow four lane where black SUVs weave through traffic like Richard Petty’s driving, wending through the floodplain beneath the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery. The signage directs me to the left lane, then the right, then back to the left again before I emerge onto US 50 heading West between Fort Myers and the Beltway Bandit hideout of Roslyn, and take the first exit, cutting an immediate right then left to climb the hill up to Wilson Blvd, where I turn left and continue my climb up into Courthouse and Clarendon. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.08-Magic

rabbithat
I remember both fondly and incorrectly the mornings I wrote my published book The Blind Men and the Elephant. To my faulty memory, I composed it effortlessly, almost stream of consciously, with little subsequent editing needed. In fact, the experience was more like walking to Georgia on my finger tips than dictating flawless prose. That time was every bit as fit and starty as today.

I believe that the finishing touches on any piece of writing erases much of the pain experienced when pulling it up out of its unlikely hat. A flood of joy washes all the blood, sweat, and fears away, leaving a sweet smelling result. This dance between whitewashed memory and blistering experience discourages me. I mean it extracts most of my courage and leaves me stunned and confused. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.07-Spire

spire
An OrdinaryTimes morning won’t naturally inspire much more than rolling over to catch more sleep. I set an early alarm anyway and make my way down the dawn-shadowed stairway to fetch the newspaper, put the teapot on the flame, and refresh the cats’ water bowl and food dish.

The Muse out-sleeps me and I try to drizzle her coffee before she stumbles down seeking extrinsic motivation. I scan the newspaper while my espresso tries to rise in its little pot. I allow myself two comics and a horriblescope reading before emptying my overnight email in-box. The Muse will be prepping her breakfast fruit by then. I’ll meditate some. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.06-OweKnur

oweknur
I rent with an owner’s mindset. I’m the guy who washes the rental car before returning it. I maintain the stuff entrusted to me as if it were my own, to my own standards. One neighbor confided that the place we’re renting looks a lot better than when the owners lived in it.

The Muse distinguishes between what she calls a Renter’s and an Owner’s Mindset. She doesn’t own the company she works for, but she acts like she does. Others seem to endlessly complain about the lack of direction they receive from above, as if their boss, their boss’s boss, or even the head of that operation somehow possessed an owner’s wisdom denied mere worker bees. A Renter’s Mindset encourages otherwise sentient adults to engage as if they are adolescent worker bees. The Muse doesn’t work so much as owns. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.05-MindNumbing

mindnumbing
Today I sing the praises of repetitive, mind-numbing work. Not the exacting, mind-filling work occupying so much OrdinaryTime, but the truly trivial but none-the-less necessary labor I’m sometimes fortunate enough to find myself engaged in. Picky weeding. Tedious cleaning. Vegetable prep.

The Good Lord provided vegetables especially for this occupation. The price of preserving 120 pounds of fine plum tomatoes includes the necessity of peeling every blessed one of those babies, and since The Muse and I will feed ourselves with the result, we must be careful to remove only that celluloid skin and the annoying stem bud. Oh, and we’d like to finish this job in a day. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.04-2MateOh

2MightOwe
Even OrdinaryTimes can be pretty darned special. When summer slips over into her better half, harvesting starts in earnest. When harvest finds her peak, The Muse and I go on the hunt for tomatoes. When we lived in The Valley, the hunt took all of fifteen minutes to drive to Milton and Rose’s truck farm, where we’d pick our own then haul ‘em home to steam up the windows. In exile here, it’s a hundred miles each way to a barn in Pennsylvania, six hours on rolling two lane blacktop, dodging the occasional Amishman’s carriage; still well worth the trip.

Each summer we produce a few dozen quarts of canned plum tomatoes, perhaps a half dozen half pints of tomato paste, and a few freezer bags stuffed with roasted tomato slices, rendered in olive oil with garlic and fresh thyme. We do not can sauce, but make it fresh from our canned tomatoes, paste, and roasted slices. We preserve ingredients rather than finished product so we can use our harvest differently every meal. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.03-Alien

alien2
I hold this sneaking suspicion that I don’t belong. I’ve felt like a stranger everywhere I’ve lived, including ‘the old home place,’ which has now passed out of the family. Home seems an alien concept.

I’m uncertain how I came to feel this way. I was the designated oddball in my birth family, which might have helped form this sense, and I reveled in that role. In my late teen years, I grew my hair long, thereby becoming an instant outcast almost everywhere I went. Later, I lived in a succession of neighborhoods I didn’t feel safe in, where I didn’t know the neighbors very well and they didn’t know me, either. I never learned the corner store owner’s name, nor he mine. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.02-Alonely

alonely
My agent classified me as a Single Acoustic Artist, which meant that I didn’t belong to a band. My current report card, if my second grade teacher was still around to fill it out, would probably say that I don’t play well with others, or, more generously, that I don’t often play with others. I spend most of my OrdinaryTime alone.

I don’t remember a single class in school in the fine art of aloneliness. Not loneliness, since I suppose everyone gets on-the-job training in that, one way or another, but aloneliness, which I might define as the ability to utilize empty time. Writers, musicians, consultants, even arm-candy spouses become expert in this curious craft. They might even appear to be the life of every party you see them attend, but nobody sees the other 99% of their time—their alonely time of which they are masters. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.01-FeedingFerals

ferals
I didn’t expect to learn so much feeding feral cats. A neighbor was ill and needed someone to take over her Wednesday morning responsibilities, and I innocently volunteered. Now, every Wednesday morning, I fill two gallon jugs with water, top off the old kitty litter tub with dry food, and grab nine small cans of wet food (something I’d never dream of feeding my domestic critters), and make my rounds.

I visit five feeding stations: one behind the neighborhood hospital, and the other four around a local shopping center. I don’t always see cats at every station, but I always find clear evidence that they have been there; them or raccoons. I always find empty food pans. Slip over here for more ...

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OrdinaryTimes 1.0-OldBeginnings

OldBeginnings
The Christian liturgical calendar classifies most of the year as ordinary time. Between Christmas and Easter, then again between Easter and Advent, many lesser holidays fall, but none qualify as extraordinary. The Greeks distinguished between festal and ferial times, formal feasting days and times when supper involves ferreting around in the back of the fridge to find whatever’s threatening to go bad. For both Christians and Ancient Greeks, most of their year featured ferreting around.

Perhaps we should celebrate ferreting. Not with parades and fireworks, but with whatever’s at hand. Could we celebrate the daily routine and thereby elevate mere existence into the realm of, if not pomp, at least some decent circumstance? I believe I could and I think I should. Slip over here for more ...

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