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Gustave Caillebotte:
Study of a Man with Hands in His Pockets (1893)

"Let the inquiry fail to resolve the mystery."

The Muse and I, putting up in an ancient Bridge Tender's Shack while visiting old friends in a small hamlet on Puget Sound, encountered a culture for which we have no referent. We can register its presence but cannot reason ourselves into comprehension of it. The Yacht Culture, the denizens of which tie up their vessels at the modest town dock, which the deck of our tiny shack overlooks. The Muse Googles to find that the biggest one would sell for well over a million dollars and comfortably sleep six couples. Our friend recalls watching one embark with a crew following their captain's directions via Bluetooth headsets. Such grandeur! Such pretense!

I cannot imagine that scale of existence, the idle time required to engage in it, or the wealth needed to support it.

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Paul Signac: Chromatic Circle (1888)

" … if you woke up as somebody else again …"

What kind of person am I? This question qualifies as a trick one because it couldn't have just one answer. Like those math problems that produce ambiguous yet valid solutions, this question undermines the whole purpose of calculating, of asking. The presumption that there might be a crisp and straightforward response disqualifies any more nuanced or less precise reply, however more accurate any might be. I am many things and irreducible to any single characterization. Like everybody, I consider myself generally nice, but even I've noticed some exceptions. Keep me from my work, and I can get Surly and disagreeable, "uncharacteristically" cranky, short-tempered, and even mean. I might justify this switch to myself in ten thousand ways, but none genuinely explains such a flip. It's uncalled for, seen as unseemly, perhaps unforgivable. The least civil among us are probably just the most scared.

I depend upon myself to prevent such slides.

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John Vachon: Migrant fruit workers,
Berrien County, Michigan

" … I'd be hard-pressed not to confess …"

Problem solver that I strive to be, I too easily neglect to appreciate how things already are or already seem to be. I too easily see what's missing while peering right through whatever might be sitting there before me. I consequently miss my full share of opportunities to appreciate what I have. I see that my lawn needs mowing more than I perceive I even have a lawn that's mostly still growing despite or in defiance of the summer sun burning at it like a blowtorch. How fortunate that it hasn't gone to weeds, that I still have something to need something from me. I see the unfinished chores queue before I notice all I've accomplished. I pressure myself to keep pressuring myself when I might kick back instead.

My sensitivity to absences seems self-destructive.

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Paul Cezanne: Bathers (1890/94)

"I'm learning to believe."

The Muse turns out to be the most naturally gifted retail politician I've ever known. She might be better than Bill Clinton ever was and a damn sight more authentic, too. She insists that as a candidate (for District 2 Walla Walla Port Commissioner), she only has two responsibilities, 1) talk to as many people as possible, and 2) raise money. She's so far, with two and a half months since she registered as a candidate, excelling at both responsibilities. Fortunately, she's also assembled a crackerjack campaign team, of which I'm the conscripted and periodically competent campaign manager. Still trying to find my footing, I have yet to act like a campaign manager; but the strategy seems not to have suffered from my initial ineptness.

Not a day passes, but what she returns with another astounding story.

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Paul Cezanne: Auvers, Panoramic View (1873-75)

" … surrounded by easily investigated difference …"

The Muse insists a principal's involved. Those who live in a bowl must occasionally rear their heads above the rim to see what's beyond their usual horizon. Bowl-living demands that shift in perspective, and it needn't take much, just a patch of slightly higher ground, anyplace from which one might take a different look around.

We'd both been exhibiting extreme symptoms of late-stage vacation deprivation, our lives demanding our undivided attention again. One can only defer the necessary for so long before their defenses start to take over. Nobody notices the encroaching lack of focus at first, and few ever suspect that they'll be next to completely lose their context. We need a rest sometimes, a time away from the trivial and the essential, a spacer between our endless engagements. We prefer the Toodle, a humble form of reasonably aimless driving. Toodling's best if undertaken without much of an objective, just getting away. I'd plotted an attractive course from which The Muse, as the designated navigator, almost immediately began improvising. In this way, we would stumble upon AnotherEpic adventure where we mostly traveled by secret passages I hadn't even noticed when I first set out our course.

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Paul Cezanne:
The Bay of Marseille, Seen from L’Estaque (c. 1885)

" … impatiently waiting for my body to catch on …"

I'm never ready for Vacationing. I dread it like I dread taxes. It seems extractive, determined to undermine my sacred routines. I've never been one to take the same two weeks every August to visit the same home away from home, no familiar lake cabin or annual beach rental. For me, Vacationing usually comes as a last-minute notion. The Muse will insist that we get away when she notices a wrinkle in her schedule. Of course, we've not made reservations, and we plot our path employing accidents, invariably happy ones. We see more than we imagined seeing had we planned the excursion. We vacate for a few days and return glad to be returning, a few fresh stories captured along with some new perspectives.

When I think of Vacationing, I wonder how the watering schedule might be maintained in our absence and who will attend to the cats, not just feed them, but be their companion, for they're family and need more than just access to their feed.

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John J. A. Murphy: Athletes at Rest (20th Century)

"A discontented grumbling accompanies …"

Forced rest seems anything but restful. It quickly induces resentful feelings, even in the more practiced procrastinators, for it looks really different from playing hooky—genuine slacking. Being ordered to relax leaches much of the fun out of the effort, rendering it more work than fun. One cannot be meaningfully permitted to possess what must rightfully only be freely taken. Without that freedom, Rest becomes nothing like what the sentencing judge intends. It cannot possibly be healing. It becomes a form of avoidance, a demerit rather than an accomplishment, a ruthless, if not all that unusual, form of punishment. The urge to idle ages poorly, quickly transforming itself into simple boredom, turning its practitioner into nobody worth emulating, worse than worthless in his own eyes.

All the work not engaged in gathers around him.

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Indonesia, Central Java:
God Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles
(9th/10th century)

"I have no fallback position …"

I despise lingering. I much prefer events to come and go cleanly without smearing messes all over the countertops. My wounded shoulder (Deltoid Bursitis, the doctor diagnosed) continues lingering, leaving me feeling like a malingerer in the middle of harvest season. I've been resting as the doctor prescribed, resting then testing, for I know of no other way to determine if the ailment's past than to do things beyond the prescribed boundaries of resting. I have accumulated enough rest over the past two months to make up for every sleepless night I've ever experienced, and still, the pain returns with little encouragement. Lifting a gallon of milk recently set it off again. I am becoming surprisingly adept at using my left arm for most things.

I realize that I'm enrolled in some graduate studies in the fine and frequent art of Recovering.

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William Nicholson: An Alphabet: D is for Dandy (1897)

“ … not as anybody's Dandy, Yankee Doodle-Do, or died.”

I am not a Dandy, Doodle-Do, or otherwise. Come the Fourth of July, I do not rush out to buy my weight in fireworks. I'm more apt to hide behind the garage, praying with my eyes closed for an early cessation of whatever hostilities fueled the heavenly outrage. I do not consider the recreation of artillery barrages a fitting representation of our Democracy's intentions. We were never defined by our hostilities but by our peaceful nature. We were never the type to pick the fight, more the type to work hard to end it, though our record could be better on this one. We have been known as haughty but never in the way that monarchs can get. You know how they can get. Those dudes seem as Dandified as all get out. They look and act ridiculous. Not like Democrats or even Republicans, with exceptions notable because of their extreme departure from our usual No Dandies traditions.

We prefer the plain-spoken sort of politicians who can tell their story straight.

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