#PureSchmaltz

Shirker

Shirker
Grant Wood: Fall Plowing (1931)
"I get away with nothing."

I know myself to be, above all else, a Shirker. In my time, I've left many more jobs undone than I ever completed. I'm apt to spend a day when I should be engaging in my equivalent of Fall Plowing, plowing my way through a novel in lieu of attempting to outrun the first snow outside. I tend to leave a lot on the table. I think of myself as being more able than I ever actually deliver. I shrink in the face of even modest challenges, and I feel myself defeated at the merest rumor of conflict. I contend that I am not lazy, however, for the lazy never seem to notice the work they shirk, but fail to catch the cues that inform then that they really should be doing something. Mine's a more sophisticated sort of slothfulness, one ridden with essential guilt and built upon a solid foundation of dedicated precedent. I can usually tell when I first sense a deadline whether or not I'll ever manage to get around to actually attempting to accomplish it, but I retain the expectation on my books, never writing off the obligation. Ever! I might have become most masterful at managing the resulting residue of guilt, my constant companion and, curiously, my primary inspiration.

I sense time on my tail and I know for sure that I will ultimately lose this race.

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Factsation

Factsation
RAPHAEL: The Sacrifice at Lystra c.1515-6
"How low can your bottom line go?"

The Muse recalls her mom insisting that fare is what one pays to ride the bus. This glib insight almost explains how the much-maligned US Tax Code works in practice, except that fair, tax-wise, means that those least able to pay, always pay the most as a percentage of their income. A day laborer, lacking the 'tax advantages' of owning a private jet, might pay the full fare. No billionaire ever does, nor need to, because he can take advantage of receiving certain advantages not extended to the laborer. Billionaires complain about the price, but never, ever, under any circumstance, ever pay the full fare. It's as if the rich receive special dispensation for the otherwise insufferable burden of wealth. They write off with abandon, carrying forward losses to offset any unfortunate future profits. Lose a billion early in a career, and you're golden for the next couple of decades worth of tax years. Walk away from a failing enterprise, even one you ruined through gross incompetence, and your government will richly reward you. Should the laborer walk away from a job, he'll be denied subsistence support under the presumption that he must be lazy. Real welfare queens live in luxury on the Upper East Side.

Our President, he whose name I've sworn to avoid saying, reportedly deducted $70,000 in a single year for hair styling expenses, since his gravity-defying cantilevered combover is apparently a part of his brand rather than simply a translucent inability to accept encroaching baldness.

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QuantiCategorization

QuantiCategorization
Rosa Bonheur: The Horse Fair (1855)
"I am not now nor have I ever actually been my demographic."

To produce sketches for her mid-nineteenth century painting The Horse Fair, artist Rosa Bonheur sought and received permission to dress as a man while observing dealers selling horses at the horse market held on the Boulevard de l'Hôpital in Paris. She explained that when earlier sketching at a slaughterhouse, her appearance as a woman had complicated her ability to observe regular goings on, and so she wanted to dress in the iconic smock and britches favored by male painters of the period, for she considered herself first an artist. Whatever else she might have been ranked a distant second to her presence as an artist in that context. How others perceive us can deeply affect our ability to engage in whatever we do, so most of us take care to project a persona congruent with our intentions, lest we unduly complicate our own efforts.

We live in perhaps the most prejudicial time in the history of human existence.

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MountainTime

MountainTime
Giovanni Segantini: The Punishment of Lust (AKA The Punishment of Luxury) (1891)
" … my soul will most certainly feel more at home there."

Though I might use the same clockworks to measure time wherever in the world I might find myself, time behaves differently in different places. It moves much more slowly some places than in others, the effect influencing clocks such that they fail to register any difference. I do. Perhaps you do, too. A minute is clearly not a minute everywhere. In cities, time naturally moves more quickly, though much of it seems wasted in transit between two inevitably distant points (across town) via crowded passageways. One waits much of their time away in cities. On the prairie, time moves most regularly, with little difference from day to day to day. I figure that the featureless topography influences it, as if there's nothing for it to bounce off of as it passes through. MountainTime seems most mysterious and therefore most special. Long, deep shadows render sundials essentially useless, and twilight, both morning and evening, stretches far beyond expectations, smearing each sunrise and sunset into curiously extended events.

I consider the Pacific Time Zone to be God's Own Time Zone, probably because I gestated and was born there, and inhabited that geographical space through my formative years.

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ThinAir

ThinAir
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres: The Dream of Ossian (Ossians' Traum) (1813)

"Maybe this place exists solely as refuge …"


The atmosphere has seemed memorably thick over the last few weeks. Wildfires raging across The West pushed smoke around the world, blocking some people's sun through the end of summer and into an uneasy autumn. Our horizons have flamed through successive sunrises and sunsets while every exposed surface accumulated an ashy grit. Politics, too, have densified our social atmosphere, with fear sweat creating a persistent ground fog of dread as a mortally weakened President throws distracting tantrums, spewing idle threats. The Damned Pandemic continued playing off our tenacious innumeracy, a flickering flame quietly spreading through virgin timbre, our ears deafened by disbelief. This time will be recorded as neither the best nor the worst of times, but it might well be remembered as a crime wave, with thieves weakening every institution and corruption seemingly corroding everything it touches, and touching pretty nearly everything. The future from here appears cloudy with the certainty of torrential rains, a threatening Old Testament scenario.

The Muse and I feel fortunate to have found Pilgrimage calling us up and out of our metastasizing daily routines into ThinAir, where we can't figure out how to make the television work.

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MisDisInformation

MisDisInformation
Joseph Wright: The Corinthian Maid (1782-1784)

[Josiah Wedgwood, the pioneer of pottery manufacturing, commissioned this mythological scene that illustrates the invention of the art of modeling bas-relief sculpture. Wedgwood’s own fired-clay vessels, decorated with low reliefs, would have been seen by an eighteenth-century audience as the aesthetic descendants of this ancient Greek maiden’s attempt to preserve her beloved’s profile.

The girl was the daughter of a potter in Corinth. Her boyfriend was about to embark on a perilous journey to foreign lands, taking only his spear and dog. As a memento, she traced her sleeping lover’s silhouette onto the wall. Her father then used the drawing to model a clay relief, which he baked in his kiln to create a ceramic keepsake.] NGA.gov

"The silhouette was never the lover …"

When the fabled Corinthian Maid traced her lover's silhouette, she had no intention of accurately representing him, but of hopefully capturing some significant, representative part of his presence. She understood that the small subset of his many dimensions she traced on that wall would fall far short of replacing him in his absence, but hoped the resulting bas relief might serve as enough reminder to spark some deeper sense of him than mere memory might provide. She produced information about him, but without the expectation that this information might adequately replace him. Her work produced a placeholder for his presence, information without definition.

We've been wrestling to make this distinction ever since, and probably well before that Corinthian Maid scribbled her lover's outline on that wall.

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Pilgrimage

Pilgrimage
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes - A Pilgrimage to San Isidro (between 1820 and 1823)
[The theme of the loss of identity in crowds in this painting can be seen as a precursor to expressionist painting (en.wikipedia.org)]
"Having left as someone else, he returns with his freshly blessed self again."

It might be a curiosity unique to the criminal mind to believe in the concept of a clean getaway, for there are none. One might wish there were such a thing, and even deeply believe that they have pulled one off, but once fleeing, the possibility of getting caught remains until you're arrested, and until then, you're haunted by the prospect of being found out, more refugee than free. I suppose the more dedicated sociopaths can convince themselves that they got away Scott-free, but even they are actually fleeing, even if they don't acknowledge this fact. If only they could leave themselves behind like they left the scene of the crime, they might actually escape. The fundamental problem with getaways lies in trying to flee one's self, but that one cannot be left behind. The old life might be readily abandoned, but the old self insists upon tagging along, and the old self, however unwanted by the prospective escapee, shows up on wanted posters and the gunman cannot help but drop into old haunts. Somebody will sooner or later spot them there.

Contrary to every airline advertisement ever written, there are no getaways, not really.

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Viewing

Waxing&Waning
Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten: View of a Corridor (1662)
"Let the record show that on this last day of summer, I started leaning in again."

The Muse and I live near the top of a minor mountain in a region filled with more significant ones. Ours hardly merits mentioning, but still our elevation often leaves us feeling as if we're floating above much of the rest of creation, like Greek gods or something. We nevertheless choose to live humbly here, something I believe we'd do whatever our circumstance, and we've actually lived even more humbly before, accepting waning as another part of an apparently never-ending cycle of increase and decrease, like respiration. 'As I live and breathe' translates into 'sometimes we give and sometimes we receive', with net increase or decrease more a matter of accounting periods than of any superiority or shortcoming. We do our work, grateful for having it, and too often temporarily forget the sublime beneficence of both possessing it as well as often feeling utterly possessed by it, for it fails to consume us, but seems instead insistently intent upon continually enriching us, even when it makes us no money. Living without purpose could only be worse for everybody.

That said, we're both feeling bled dry here on this final partial day of summer.

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BegendingsAgain

BegendingsAgain
Samuel van Hoogstraten: View of an Interior, or The Slippers (Between 1654 and 1662)
"I clutch my innate cowardliness along with my pearls and move into."

I consider myself to be a change chicken, especially whenever encountering some inevitable. I could offer a master class in the fine art of denial. My feet naturally drag, providing a superpower resistance few very deeply appreciate. I can defend any late status quo state until long after any foreign element's completely overtaken it. I sometimes seem to be living in the past, still taking my cues from some long ago code of comportment. I live conservatively—not politically conservatively, for that philosophy always seemed far too radical for me—but intellectually conservatively, and also culturally. I rightfully consider most improvements to be degradations and most new beginnings to be primarily shrouded in endings. My glass is neither half empty nor half full, but still overflowing with potential. I'm the one most likely to order another one just like the one before.

I have been inhabiting the NowHere for an entire quarter now, or almost.

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DateNight

DateNight
Jan Miense Molenaer: The Denial of Saint Peter (1636)
[Molenaer depicted biblical stories in his own time and surroundings,
such as representing this scene from Peter's Gospel set in a Dutch Tavern.]

" … settling in with The Maximum Cat to dream about different days …"

Denver's not so much a food desert as a food prairie. Restaurants tend toward the predictable and steady, and seem few and far between. Little mystery lurks within any of them. Reservations, not usually necessary, unless, of course, you really want to get in at a specific time without waiting. Noise, like an incessant prairie wind, seems built in, and any visit tends toward the buffeting. Our damned pandemic has slowed the usual progression of people in and out, with most preferring an outside table, but even then, overcrowding seems a prominent feature of those few more choice options still open, especially those not featuring a drive-in window. The Muse and I have simply foregone any kind of eating out other than the very occasional take-out pizza, a prominent feature of the region's flat restaurant topography, anyway. But last Friday night, we really needed to get the heck out of our same old place after months of in-house suppers, crafted by our very own hands and inspired by flattening imaginations in precisely the same space. We behaved like the cats, screaming to be let out but with no destination imagined other than Not Here.

With no specific place in mind, not exactly the recipe for certain satisfaction, though back in the day, we could usually happen upon some semblance of a satisfactory place.

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Impendings

Impendings
Sir Peter Paul Rubens The Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau About 1625 - 1628
"I left only NowHeres behind."

Summer has been eroding since early July, wasting away in place. The Dog Days came and went, replaced by a succession of cat days, warm enough that the cats preferred to stay out unsupervised all night and started turning feral again. Max, The Maximum Cat, disappeared for two successive nights before suddenly appearing without an explanation, hungry. I, of apparently little faith, had already started imagining how I might cope with such a loss, here in this ass end of a sweet season, with so many competing Impendings already scheduled. The end of summer enters with stealth exceeding even that of the littlest cat's feet. It leaves no footprints at all and manages to surprise no matter how closely I watch my clocks and calendars. Perhaps especially this year, where so much has managed to maintain so much sameness backdropped by so danged much simply staying home. The Muse and I have been aching for a road trip, but circumstances or entropy have so far successfully stymied every attempt. Big change is coming, though. I know this because I feel unusually blind to the Impendings.

The first day of fall has been scheduled to appear on a Tuesday this year, slipped into midweek as if to discourage any leading or trailing long weekend celebration.

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-finity

-finity
Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich (1818)
" … hope apparently actually does spring eternal…"

I have never considered myself an atheist, but then, I wouldn't call myself anti-theist, either. I believe in plenty and can recognize the utility embodied in the whole mythology, liturgy and all. I was raised attending a mid-century conservative Christian denomination, demons and all, and learned early of which I was better off not speaking about at all. I could not quite muster up even a half-decent belief in an old testament God, the one that looks like Moses' scowling uncle wearing a swaddling suit of so-called clothes reminiscent of nothing more than a onesie diaper ensemble with sandals; thank God, no socks. Always the sandals. The relationships between God as father and Jesus as the son of God and me as the apparent son of a mild-mannered postal worker and his I Love Lucy wife were about as clear as my father's family tree, swelling with halves and steps and even more baffling progeny. The idea of lord, let alone as savior, escaped me, and not just because I didn't believe, but because I simply could not, since I had not been raised in feudal times, understand the meaning of the terms. Still, I never really felt as if I was entirely on my own, for I always possessed an inner hopefulness, even in my most discouraging times.

I believe that hopefulness might represent what some more devout and comprehending mean when they speak of big 'G' God.

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Stewing

stewing
A group of peasants sharing a simple meal of bread and drink;
Livre du roi Modus et de la reine Ratio, 14th century.

"My country used to be …"

They are a proud people, overly so. They expend their energies defending themselves, for they seem to attract enemies, foreign as well as domestic, and they insist that these enemies primarily target their 'Way of Life,' which they seem to hold as sacred without ever very finely defining what it entails other than to declare it containing inalienable rights, not necessarily privileges, responsibilities, or obligations, and 'traditional values.' They seem to firmly believe that owning a semi-automatic rifle and a handgun will protect them from tyranny, if not necessarily from each other. They insist that registering or licensing those weapons amounts to the tyranny from which those weapons were supposed to protect them. They distrust governments, which they firmly believe to be the primary author of the tyranny they oppose. They proudly proclaim that they refuse to expose themselves to mainstream media, which they believe engages in an ongoing conspiracy to misrepresent what's actually going on. They believe themselves to be authentic representatives of The People, The REAL People, not those hangers-on and Johnny-come-lately folks diluting the gene pool. They receive their information almost exclusively via gossip and rumor, and once they get an idea in their heads, they blithely deflect any conflicting information. Point them at a fact checker and they will proclaim, without evidence, that fact checkers have been proven unreliable. They live within an echo chamber.

They seem a stupid people but believe themselves cleverer, more insightful, wiser.

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PinchOfSalt

Salt
Antonio del Pollaiolo: Battle of the Naked/Nudes, 1470
" … just when we really needed to be tipped over again."

I was blessed with little taste for salt. My lead palate cannot discern whether a dish needs salt before serving, so The Muse performs that service in the event that we have company for supper and this detail even matters. The Muse keeps the salt cellar handy at table to make up whatever deficit I deliver for dinner. I try, as the cookbooks show, to let salt start to breakdown proteins before cooking, but I work by direction rather than by taste or instinct, because I possess no salt sense. I'm aware that a man of my advancing age should limit my salt intake, but I find no reason to monitor it since I'm most likely to just forget about it altogether. I take it, though, that some find an extra pinch of salt necessary, though I have resigned myself to never understanding why. The Muse also possesses a superior taste for wine and can sense the presence of corking I cannot perceive. I sometimes doubt whether we're the same species, as divergent as our sensibilities seem.

Last week, The Muse leaned over and salted the GrandOtter's already plated supper after suddenly realizing that she'd forgotten to salt it in preparation.

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Patruns

Patruns
US Army Corps of Engineers geologist and cartographer Harold Fisk: Meander Map of the Mississippi River (1944)
"Give the Patrun a silly name and see where that leads."

Us consultants types often speak about organizational patterns of behavior, just as if an organization could behave. Often (as in always), a consultant type like me will stroll around a workplace simply observing. We might linger to chat with folks as we meander around, but any observer observing this observer might readily conclude that we're aimlessly wandering. We're actually aimlessly collecting clues to what the people working within this place do when they aren't aware of doing much of anything at all. The consultant was invited in, usually under false initial pretenses, because someone's experiencing a difficulty. Successive improvements have typically failed to completely reverse disappointing results, so the consultant's engaged in a late-stage attempt to finally get a handle on it (or resolution's described in one of an infinite array of hackneyed non-descriptive phrases, each of which essentially screams, "We have no clue what to do.) Neither do the consultants, at least not at first. A walk-about might provide a few clues, though, as certain patterns might come into sharper focus. Later, sitting with the client, the consultant will engage in another "Did you notice?" conversation, where some scales might start falling from over the client's eyes.

Though organizations, not being people, are incapable of behaving, certain patterns of engagement or outcome strongly suggest the presence of some underlying behaviors.

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MisFunction

Misfunction
Engraving of a "portable" camera obscura in Athanasius Kircher's Ars Magna Lucis Et Umbrae (1645)


"Camera obscura (plural camerae obscurae or camera obscuras, from Latin camera obscūra, “dark chamber”), also referred to as pinhole image, is the natural optical phenomenon that occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a screen (or, for instance, a wall) is projected through a small hole in that screen as a reversed and inverted image (left to right and upside down) on a surface opposite to the opening." Wikipedia

"Who's to say?"

Historians have recently concluded that seventeenth century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer sort of cheated when he painted. Rather than merely observing his subjects, they speculate that he most probably employed a Camera Obscura which projected a full color image upside down on his canvas, thereby presenting a paint-by-number sort of template for him to simply fill in with color. This revelation suggests that he might have been more draftsman than artist, though his shortcut did nothing to infringe upon the sheer beauty of his work, which capture light in truly remarkable ways. But every art has its supposed-to-bes, it's hallowed, gentrified traditions, and mere photographic replication was never acknowledged as the point of either art or artistry. A master artist was supposed to possess a certain transcendent magical sense allowing production without resorting to what purists might consider cheap mechanical tricks. Yet what is the eye but a camera obscura, with the brain righting and coloring in inverted images? We see as we do due to a considerably more complex mechanism than any simple hole in a wall, and it's a genuine wonder any of us could make any sense of anything we ever saw, let alone, agree upon proportion, color, or placement.

MisFunction seems common in all sensory processing: vision, hearing, you name it.

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TheRhodeIsland

TheRhodeIsland
Alonzo Chappel: The Landing of Roger Williams in 1636 (1857)
"As tiny as that measure might seem, it's far too large to calculate any human affect …"

The standard calibration for natural disasters in the United States has long been TheRhodeIsland. Whether measuring hurricane or hail damage, government agencies as well as our print and broadcast media exclusively employ TheRhodeIsland as the universal unit of measure of size. True devastation rarely affects less than a single Rhode Island-sized area, and seems to often spread into dozens, occasionally scores. To clarify, TheRhodeIsland represents an area equivalent to the square mileage encompassed by our former colony and tiniest state, which roughly equals the size of a typical ex-urban McMansion estate, or, one Ponderosa, that fictional ranch featured in the sixties western television series, though both The McMansion and The Ponderosa feature far less distinct boundaries than TheRhodeIsland. In spite of this state enjoying the representation of two US Senators, it features fewer bathrooms than the typical McMansion. Fun Fact: It was also the birthplace of the most radical concept in governance ever to visit this continent, or, indeed, the world: Tolerance, a practice now long fallen into regrettable disuse.

Oregon ignites, and the resulting wildfire consumes several Rhode Islands overnight.

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Revelations

Revelations
William Blake: Angel of the Revelation, ca. 1803–5
"I'm continuously moved to reflect just how unlike expectations Revelations always seem."

I seem to be living through a time where another shoe's always just waiting to drop, plots infinitely thickening, where every blessed thing I think I understand today might just be turned on its head tomorrow. I cannot honesty testify that my experience was ever different from this before, for I remember, like you remember, strings of surprising Revelations accompanying me from my earliest days, but it seems, reflecting, that the velocity just might have been steadily, subtly increasing over time, combining to produce a now dizzying result. Every damned thing seems swathed in speculation, with little probability that I'll readily recognize the upcoming outcome, which seems very likely to spawn just another interim and not any final resolution. We say that things are "up in the air," but this air seems thin and smoky, not necessarily fresh or health-giving, but sometimes more bordering upon the absolutely smothering. It probably doesn't help that we're living with a presidency produced like one of those shoddy "reality" television series, where each commercial break (and there suddenly seems to be endlessly infinite breaks for commercials) follows a fresh take on Keep-Away, almost revealing, but then, once again reporting that we'll just have to wait. They promise a brief break, but each invariably takes longer than any average attention span. I've lost focus by the time the program resumes, and the promised revelation usually turns out to be another come-on, prolonging what becomes deeply dissatisfying enough to leave me wondering after the higher purpose of my existence; hardly satisfying entertainment. I've been losing my desire to even turn on the damned television or read the Times to discover the latest "Revelations.".

The relationship between Revelations and resolutions seems disrupted right now, and this situation seems to insist upon me adopting some different expectations.

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Burning

Burning
Camille Corot: The Burning of Sodom (formerly "The Destruction of Sodom"),1843 and 1857
" … one pair of boots I'm sure grateful I remembered to grab before I left."

Around the time I first moved to Portland in the mid-seventies, the Feds changed their policy regarding their Northwest forest land. They'd previously subsidized a vast rural economy. Cut-rate logging leases encouraged an extractive industry that funded schools, roads, and other government services along with high-paying rural jobs. The locals complained that the damned EPA regulations suddenly protecting small owls and tinier fish caused it, the downfall of entire regions. People were understandably pissed when forced to move into cities or settle into lives as the suddenly working poor. They remembered their grandparents' stories about being poor back before The Dust Bowl had brought them here to the promised land. It had been every bit as good as promised to them up until then. Proud traditions were summarily disrupted and the victims usually blamed for their shifting fortunes. They'd age into a bitter conservatism still remembering when and their children would join a local underground militia, fomenting for similar to their own disruption at the top. The same sorry game played out on the other side of the country in the rust belt, as over the following third of a century, jobs evaporated with little recourse. We'd entered a deliberately disruptive time. Now, of course, Oregon's known as The Silicon Forest, though few ex-loggers work in high tech. Many remain up to their necks in debt from barely surviving and still live in once-thriving but ever-shrinking small towns that hardly seem like towns anymore; slightly wider spots along the road over to Bend or K-Falls.

The surrounding woodland was always good to these people, a genuine wonderland of scenery, recreational opportunity, and game.

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Issues

Issues
Portrait of Martin Luther by Hans Balding Grien, 1521 Woodcut
"We dare not squabble over Issues …"

I take issue with Issues, which seem to have become the primary medium for political discourse, such as it's become. Reporters ask where a candidate stands, offering hardly a thin, brittle branch for any candidate to stand upon. They speak in a curious shorthand where keywords stand in for actual questions. "Where do you stand on abortion?" one might ask, a guaranteed double-binding, damning sort of non-question almost certain to elicit a meaningless response. Abortion has become a poisonous word. Even a sentence fragment containing it seems certain to taint anyone associated with it, for it's become the primary marker of ginned up moral outrage. Nobody ever asks where a candidate stands on preserving the life of a mother, for the unborn seem to have become citizens with rights exceeding any of those enjoyed by the previously born, even though they have universally failed to qualify as citizens at all. Their primary occupation seems to have become sparking outrage, which seems quite the clever accomplishment for anyone having not yet come into this world, let alone of age.

Issues represent the gotcha game of our time.

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SolstusInterruptus

SolsticeInterruptus
Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Hunters in the Snow, 1565
" … I suspect it's only napping."

As if mistaking an afternoon for the wee hours, our summer pulled a reversal overnight. Eighty-five and terribly smoky just yesterday, I woke to snow covered ground. Roads remain bare, since we were frying eggs on the asphalt yesterday and it holds heat like a fire brick, but the trees, none even starting to turn autumn colors yet, suddenly inhabit a snow globe. A very small hummingbird visits the remnants of the hummingbird feeder's contents, still liquid, thank heavens. I'd thought to take it down yesterday afternoon as I prepped for this storm. I almost regret that I live in a time when I can know what the morrow will likely beget, for I spent the few days leading into today dreading summer's interruption. I dutifully carried almost every planter and pot to a tarp-covered basement floor, and even blew out the drip irrigation system as if it was suddenly November in early September. A whole season of sitting on the deck surrounded by sweet scented blossoms, undone but not forgotten in a single afternoon. The cats must have thought me crazy, uprooting our outside home on such a hot and smoky afternoon. My back complained, too, after the lifting was through and I was sipping a cold one and surveying the damage I'd done on the rumor of winter.

I remembered wrong when I recalled previous early snows, for twenty years have passed since the last September snowfall here.

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Synchroenicheatea

synchroe
William Blake: The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, c. 1805
"I thank heaven that the most important things tend to happen at the least convenient times."

I yesterday introduced my primary manner of living, LivingAllegorically. In in, I asserted that making meaning comprises the bulk of my life's work, that everything I perceive when looking out any window might prove to be some unlikely mirror image of me, and that it's always my responsibility to interpret whatever I experience in ways that work for me by enhancing the quality of my experience. I omitted at least half of a complete explanation, though, not wanting to muddy up the creek more than necessary to delve into such a deeply personal topic. That other half involves meaningful coincidents' apparent role when LivingAllegorically. Obviously, nobody ever manages to plan moments when a fresh insight appears. These simply seem to simply occur without volition or advanced planning, like the revelation on the road to Damascus that Saul wrote about, which was clearly not on that morning's agenda. It occurred at an apparently inconvenient time and brought what might easily be interpreted as great good fortune to a clearly undeserving character, an authentic plot twist. I believe that LivingAllegorically begs a necessity to consequently maintain a firm belief in Synchronicity, a concept, first introduced by analytical psychologist Carl Jung, which holds that events are "meaningful coincidences" if they occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related. Those meaningful relations seem to describe the mechanism animating LivingAllegorically, which might not be so much a philosophy as a manner of actually living, an endlessly active leaning in sort of engagement with life.

Synchroenicheatea seems to be a more emblematic way for me to spell the word because it seems so much more phonetic and mysterious. However one spells it, it remains a mysterious force, the presence of which won't move any needle on any Galvanometer.

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LivingAllegorically

Allegorically
Allegory of Arithmetic, Laurent de La Hyre, 1650
"I might never get to breakfast or Damascus this morning …"

In the unlikely event that any of my grandkids ever ask me what I've learned about life, I would most probably respond by telling them that life seems to me to be an extended allegory, that reality isn't one percent of what it's cracked up to be, and that I believe that making meaning might be my primary responsibility here. Nothing seems as it seems and everything, every sensory experience, every dream, might carry a vast array of alternative meanings, depending. Depending upon me. I deeply doubt that a cigar is just a cigar, even sometimes, but each radiates possibility, depending. Depending upon me. I could choose to render that Freudian smoke to be simply a cigar, but what could possibly be the point of interpreting it so unimaginatively? Better sometimes, I believe, to perceive it with a touch of wonder, to check the context and discover some more meaningful understanding. It could be the clue I'd been hoping to appear that might just lead me to resolve the great mystery, or, alternatively, I could just perceive a mundane old cigar. Vitality, in my panoply, demands this more personal engagement, where I feel obligated to at least try to unwrap some deeper meaning from every blessed event and sensory experience. A rose might well be a rose and also a rose, but I also suppose that it might also be a harbinger of anything, a semi-secret messenger intent upon finally cluing me in. It utterly depends upon me to see through its initial instance to interpret something potentially more significant. All my experiences depend upon me being present.

Saul, when on that fabled road to Damascus, experienced a perfectly Standard Type 1 Revelation.

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Humbility

Humbility
Christ in the Wilderness, Moretto da Brescia (Alessandro Bonvicino), ca. 1520
" … lurching contest to contest, certain only of losing what we already too willingly forfeited."

And it came to pass that the people became prideful, proud of their many accomplishments and haughty within their identity; insufferable in the eyes of their neighbors, even formerly close friends. Where gratitude once swelled in their chests, an insolence replaced it and a definite arrogance overtook them. They suddenly seemed to know better the choices others should make, and even took it upon themselves to lean over others' plates to cut their meat for them without even being asked. How unappreciative 'they' seemed! Polity degraded into a me-ity, a me-for-me-and-nobody-for-all self-centeredness. Invisible hands and "wise" markets subsumed human agency and they segregated financially. They claimed The Best In The World without considering. "For whom?", and were subsumed by the promise of ever-expanding profitability. They funded their military more lavishly than they supported their progeny. They devoted themselves to promoting identity, touted as both brave and free to one another, but seemed to forfeit their former Humbility for a venial form of vanity. Then all was lost.

The ability to humble one's self might be the most human capability.

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Readering

Readering
Portrait of Georges-Daniel de Monfried by Victor Segalen, 1909
"I'm feeling as if I might be a writer now."

Michael Maccoby, American psychoanalyst and leadership consultant, defined a leader as anyone with followers. Others shave pigs, insisting that some observable skills really must be present to qualify as a real leader, but I take Maccoby's side in this small controversy. It seems to me, if to nobody else, that we define many occupations in just this back-handed way. We judge singers by the size of the audiences they attract and Presidents, initially by the number of votes they get, neither by any even rough assessment of their skill. Some of the most popular recording artists torture my ears, but they're successful based upon their audience, measured by their number of listeners. This principle seems to hold true even beyond the performing arts. What's a doctor without patients? Even a librarian seems to require patrons to qualify as a true professional. Professionalism's not simply what one knows or does, but related to recognitions. Does anyone follow you? Does anyone ever listen when you sing?

Writing's no different.

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FlatEarths

FlatEarth
Wilbur Glenn Voliva's flat earth map. Modern Mechanics and Invention, October, 1931
"It can well afford to wait until we Flat Earthers catch on to its subtle significance."

In his essay The Relativity of Wrong, [The Skeptical Inquirer, Fall 1989, Vol. 14, No. 1, Pp. 35-44], Isaac Asimov presented a canny reframe of the common right/wrong dichotomy. He provocatively declared Flat Earthers' notions as not so much wrong as incomplete. For the Sumarians, who he supposed had originally concluded that the earth was flat, for most intents and purposes, their world was, in practice, flat. Earth's very slight curvature, about 0.000126 per mile, a quantity very close to 0 per mile, turns out to have been almost right and not, as moderns popularly believe, utterly and totally wrong. The truly tiny difference between zero and 0.000126 (eight inches) per mile compounds, though, as horizons expand beyond the local neighborhood. What remained obscure to the ancients became inescapably obvious to their later progeny. We might even say that most of today's more complete understandings stand atop yesterday's less complete ones. The often infinitesimal nature of significance continues to fool us as it did our forebears. Today, we have tough guys crowding together in Sturgis, apparently because, to the vestigial Sumarian part of their perception, a sub-microscopic virus shouldn't qualify as anything to get all that worried about. Right wing-nut commentators wonder what all the fuss could possibly be if we're 'only' projected to lose six percent of our population to the pandemic, and many of those folks, in their calloused imaginations, were ready to shuffle off anyway.

If this plague year should have taught us anything, it should have convinced most of us that the infinitesimals matter more than we thought.

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Measuremont

Measuremont
La persistance de la mémoire (The Persistence of Memory), Olive Salvador Dali, 1931
"When engaging in timeless anything, expect expectations to prove misleading."

I can never quite remember at first. The Muse and I bought two more cases of fresh tomatoes thinking we'd roast the contents of one and juice the contents of the other, twenty or thirty pounds each case. We'd 'processed' tomatoes many times before, but those experiences produced little more than vague recollections, not immediately accessible in any functional form. The roasting takes time and includes a cumbersome step where I'm supposed to pull the peel off each hot roasting half, just as if that were humanly possible, while scorching my fingertips. How terribly renewing! Juicing involves little more than coring, quartering, and heating, then crushing in the Foley® food mill, an inherently picky and frustrating business. I finally plug into my vestigial muscle memory and set myself to work, slicing, salting, seasoning, and roasting. The recipe says check after twenty minutes. After twenty minutes, the roasting halves seem unaffected. I set the timer for twenty more minutes and settle into finish that novel while I wait. I repeat this cycle twice more before the tomatoes seem in any way peel-able, then painstakingly set about successfully performing the impossible ritual. I'm more than two hours into what started out as a twenty minute expectation by the time I decide that I'm done roasting and it's time to start canning.

I'd gathered the little jars while the tomatoes roasted, and also set the lids to simmering on the stove top.

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WillfulWisdom

WillfulIgnorance
Fresco depicting ancient Chinese philosopher and educator Confucius (551 B.C.-479 B.C.), found in a 2,000 year old tomb in an old residential yard in Dongping County, east China's Shandong Province.
" … we generally do not seem to conform to gross generalizations."

I sincerely wish that there were a wise counterpart to the wave of willful ignorance presently washing over us. Willful Ignorance, for the unfamiliar, is a polite way to describe stupid. It's polite because it presumes adequate intelligence, which only seems fair since measuring anyone's intelligence proves inconvenient and often impossible in the course of a casual interaction, so it concludes that in spite of adequate brain power, someone's apparently worked very hard to come to a delusional conclusion. These delusional conclusions are often quite provably fallacious by employing nothing more dangerous than elementary logic and … ahem … facts, but they tend to spark a childish round of 'call and denial', an equivalent to the old I Know You Are But What Am I? game of our youth. There's no talking with anyone entranced within their own twisted justifications. They've invested heavily in a storyline unsupportable by any rational or experiential means, a genuine flight of fantasy, but apparently will not divest, probably because they cannot without forfeiting a long-trusted element of their identity. I think of Willful Ignorance as a particularly virulent form of denial, a bury-the-head-in-the-sand strategy certain to ultimately betray even the truest of true believers. My usual strategy when encountering the apparently willfully ignorant involves sort of just putting them out to pasture. They do not appreciate my questioning and I don't really need their sideways justifications' lead weight in my life. Neither of us will be in the market for evangelical transformation.

What would a wise counterpart to willful ignorance look like?

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GodGiven

GodGiven
The Creation of Adam; by Michelangelo; 1508–1512
"We're never less powerful than when we're armed and asserting our folly as some GodGiven right …"

I was up early again this morning pondering how I might distinguish between the various rights asserted by those around me. The right wing gun nuts insist that they merely enjoy a GodGiven right to bear arms, though I recall no actual scripture reporting the granting of this authority. Others proudly sing that God somehow "shed his grace on thee," which I interpret as meaning "God shed his grace on me", or somebody, though I have no clue what shedding grace might entail or what might logically result from this act. Mention of it does seem to reliably encourage pride, the sort of pride which supposedly does not immediately precede a fall of any kind. Grace seems the iffiest of gifts, whomever might bestow it, for it always seems more resident in the eye of the bestowed than anywhere else. In spite of the widespread belief in the existence of godless heathens, each and every war ever fought seems to have been engaged in by self-certified God's own representatives on this earth versus self-certified God's own representatives on this earth, and expressly for the greater glory of God; not their God, but the one and only true God, who just happened to be on "our" side.

God gets used as an excuse for almost everything, and I suspect that she's not all that pleased with these attributions.

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Hop(e)

Hop(e)
Hop flower in a hop yard in the Hallertau, Germany (Wikipedia)
"Something significant seems to have stuck with me …"

My father, who was born near the Willamette Valley German immigrant town of Mt Angel, told of working hop harvest. Long days standing on the tall bed of a high-sided flatbed truck, reaching up to cut the cords holding the twenty foot tall vines into the truck bed would leave his forearms raw. Even then, the work beat picking beans, which was stoop labor and hard on the back and also left forearms chafed. I'd seen the hop yards, since I'd grown up near the preeminent hop growing region in this country, and dreamed of growing my own someday. I'd tried several times, always with disappointing results, short, rather sickly specimens yielding few of the treasured cones. I'd crafted small pillows filled with dried cones, which are said to induce sweet dreams, but had never more than dabbled in their cultivation until this year, this seemingly hopeless growing season. I'd late last summer finally found a plant at a local nursery, for which I'd paid a small king's ransom, and planted it in front of the fine, tall cathedral window out front, thinking that perhaps it might at least yield some interesting shade. That plant grew a begrudging six feet or so before an early snow halted further progress. I pruned it to the ground and forgot about it until Spring, hoping that it might prove eternal enough to sprout up a second year.

This Spring needed hope like no other I'd known.

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ShiftIn

ShiftIn
Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun, Nicolas Poussin, 1658
"I'll relish what little's left …"

In these mid-latitudes, weather comes out of the West, moving opposed to the sun's progress. Little of consequence comes out of the East, which is where we send our weather when we're finished with it or it's finally finished with us. Occasionally, some counter-clockwise rotation kicks in to produce what we call upslope winds. These can spawn magnificent thunderstorms in the Summer and genuine dumpers of snow in the Fall, Winter, and Spring, but these bring nothing in the way of lasting change. They appear and leave almost as quickly, handing the reins back to the West winds again. The only question is always which direction, Southwest or Northwest, will the weather come. Through summer, Southwest winds prevail. One day, a ShiftIn happens and the prevailing winds starts sliding down from Idaho or Montana pulling in Northwestern weather. This ShiftIn comes quickly and never quite fully reverses again that season, a certain sign that autumn's coming, though it might have been a hundred degrees in the shade just the day before.

Real rain, not that second or third-hand stuff stuff passing up and over Arizona from the Gulf of Mexico, but genuine North Pacific rain drenches everything.

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FalseEquivalence

FalseEquivalence
Gino Severini, aged 30, at the opening of his solo exhibition, Marlborough Gallery, London, 1913
"Wallowing in FalseEquivalence demonstrates an ignorance unbecoming anyone."


One of these things is not like the other. This one statement might properly summarize human existence, for we seem to (or, at least I seem to) constantly make distinctions. When my kids were small, we parsed the entire universe into two broad categories, Yum and Yuck. With these broad two generalizations, infinite variations might exist, but no Yums ever became Yucks, and vice versa. Once initially classified, little risk of mistaking one for the other existed. One was definitely not like the other. This universe, though, cannot be parsed so conveniently. We encounter many borderline cases, greyscale experiences which might seem indistinguishably similar, though actually different. Multiple classifications are also common, such that similarly-colored objects might also be more finely graded by size or shape. As the Ancient Chinese used to insist, ten thousand differences might exist between any apparently similar objects or events, but we've evolved into ever less discerning generalists, it seems, satisfied to call both apples and oranges 'fruit,' and leaving further distinctions pat, and we're fine with that other than the occasional disagreement over classifying tomatoes. Fruit or vegetable? A fruit that tastes like a vegetable or a vegetable crudely misclassified as a fruit? Wars have started for less.

All this distinction-making might serve to help us make sense of the world, but a tremendous amount of skill seems necessary to make proper distinctions, to avoid misclassifying one thing as another when it really isn't.

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SmolderingPants

SmoulderingPants
Psalter (the 'Shaftesbury Psalter') with calendar and prayers
Origin England Date 2nd quarter of the 12th century

"We might have been born to advance higher purposes of civilization …"

We apparently love to be lied to. I find no other way to explain civilization. Societies and cultures might exist solely to maintain and reinforce myths, reassuring lies sustained for solace. We seem to not-so-secretly believe most everyone else a rube, easily fooled, many emphatically insisting not that we hold certain truths to be self-evident, but that we're good for keeping the dirty little secrets quiet. I suspect that most of us know too well how deep down lame we are inside, how utterly dependent we are upon lying to ourselves and to pretty much everyone else to maintain some cobwebby semblance of self-esteem. Even if the much-vaunted truth actually made good on its promise to set us free, we'd most likely choose to remain in slavery to the studied reassurances that, no, these pants do not make our butt look big. We've elevated the completely spurious Energy Drink Industry to comprise a significant portion of our retail economy. Need I say more? Sugar water spiked with caffeine, and some even spiked with measures of, excuse me, bull pee. I mean, how gullible must we be to drink that crap? It seems to me that this reality simply could not be without a deep and underlying identity insisting that you absolutely must lie to me and that I solemnly promise to keep the little secrets between us. We apparently sincerely believe that we cannot handle the truth.

We wear SmolderingPants which, if the old adage — where there's smoke, there's also fire — holds true, our pants are actually on fire.

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Heraclitus'Insight

Heraclitus'
On the Island of Earraid, N.C. Wyeth, 1913


"No man ever steps in the same river twice", Heraclitus, Fifth Century B.C.

"No squirrel ever entered the same deer meadow twice."

Heraclitus might just as well have said that no man ever steps into the same morning twice, or sits in the same chair, or reads the same book. Further, he might have just as credibly insisted that no two people ever read the same book, not even once. Any author might, as I have, ask, "What book did you read?" when receiving feedback about their work. We seem to live within an almost constancy, surrounded by seemingly familiar objects and people, but these relations seem surprisingly fragile as we continuously rediscover that each might not be quite what we'd earlier concluded about them. Shocking moments of inconstancy punctuate our experience here, amplified, no doubt, by our abiding sense that things properly stay more or less the same, when they don't and never have. My continuing disorientation might well be self-inflicted, but I cannot seem to uncover any balance or Golden Mean between these two apparently opposing forces: stability and flux. Heraclitus also insisted that "panta rhei", everything flows, that nothing ever stays the same. I wonder why, then, we evolved to believe so vehemently in constancy, that everything's more or less frozen in place?

Glib self-helpless pundits blithely insist that the more things change, the more they stay the same, by which they might mean that most change seems insubstantial, a rearrangement of the proverbial Titanic's deck chairs.

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'Vesting

'Vesting
Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Summer, 1572
" … 'Vesting providence with our experience again."

Most of the growing year involves much waiting, culminating in a few shortening days 'Vesting: harvesting, preserving, labeling, and storing away for later use. There's no shortage of delightful fresh produce groaning shelves this season, the produce stand suddenly the most popular stop on everyone's rounds. Would that I could find this freshness year 'round, but I savor what I find when I find it. We neglected canning tomatoes last 'Vesting season, and lived to deeply regret that decision once sequestration stripped our larder shelves. For the first time in years and years, we reduced ourselves to buying factory canned, and regretted every second of the experience. We'd thought ourselves well-enough provisioned before our world sucked in on us. By then, it was way too late to rethink, and we sucked it up and tolerated the consequences. We'd foregone perhaps the single most solidly imprinting experience of the year last 'Vesting period. We'd been traveling when the tomatoes came in and recovering through the balance of the season. We missed that chance.

Now, we insist that this must never happen again.

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HownDogAfternoon

HownDogAfternoon
Going to Market, Early Morning by Thomas Gainsborough, circa 1773
"We're partners here …"

If I'm going anywhere today, I'd be wise to go early, before the sun and the smoke and the aridity become even more determined to have their way with me. I thought I caught a patch of blue in the sky this morning. The wind shifted overnight so I woke without my eyes stinging themselves shut again. My throat feels rough and the consistency of tapioca pudding, sinuses screaming again. By the last week of August, the elements combine to produce a neigh-on to unlivable environment. The lawn feels crispy underfoot regardless of gold-plated sprinklings, thin underlying soils seemingly thinner after rainless weeks. The monsoon never showed up this year. As each day progresses, the slight almost cool of early morning gives way to another baking, the sun, even through the smoky batten burns without thinking once. The sunrise lasts much of the morning as the smoky haze extends the reds and oranges until nearly noon. Afternoon seems fit for little more than napping, perhaps in a puddle of fine dust, the way an exhausted HownDog might approach it. Time fit only for practicing hibernation. There's no place to escape to but dreams.

The view from every lookout seems cruelly foreshortened and spare. I drive in a tunnel of heavily amended air

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MuseDay

MuseDay

Mérode Altarpiece (or Annunciation Triptych) is an oil on oak panel triptych, now in The Cloisters, in New York City. It is unsigned and undated, but attributed to Early Netherlandish painter Robert Campin and an assistant. The three panels represent, from left to right, the donors kneeling in prayer in a garden, the moment of the Annunciation to Mary, which is set in a contemporary, domestic setting, and Saint Joseph, a carpenter with the tools of his trade. The many elements of religious symbolism include the lily and fountain (symbolizing the purity of Mary), and the Holy Spirit represented by the rays of light coming through from the left hand window.The central panel was completed after 1422, likely between 1425 and 1428. [en.wikipedia.org]

"She insists that she's an A-Me instead."

She despises the moniker, or certainly says that she does. I persist using it, and not merely out of perverse habit. (In her birth family, once anyone learned what you hated, that knowledge guaranteed that you'd thereafter be inundated with it.) She was by any measure born the runt of her family, a premie as we call them today, and so had to stay in the hospital for several days after her birth. She claims that this rude arrival affected her. She still remembers feeling abandoned and alone when isolated from her newly-gained home. Being third in birth order, ultimately the middle, she was born behind, destined to always playing catch up, a childhood-long competition she was destined to lose. She won the race to produce the first grandchild, though, and so was carrying him at her high school graduation, whereupon she went into exile to live with hostile in-laws and a sullen showband drummer of a husband. She coped. She lived as a band wife for almost a decade, holding menial jobs to pay bills, including a stint cutting meat in a huge packing plant and later, as a Tupperware Lady®.

She finally decided at twenty-five to put herself through school, which she managed to do in fairly short order, ultimately choosing her own curriculum to satisfy her own notions of how that work really should be done.

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Q

Q
Guy Fawkes before King James, Sir John Gilbert, Circa 1750
"They ache for judgement day."

They meet in out-of-the-way places, a shed on one member's family farmstead, warmed by a barrel fire fed with scrap lumber. Their meetings combine the camaraderie of a frat brother kegger with the solemnity of religious retreat. One member, typically the host, leads but never in a domineering way, for these men never responded well to dominion. Lifelong misfits, they hold exclusively non-professional jobs, laboring, mostly. They to a man struggle to make ends meet and always have. Those who managed to make it through high school, graduated with a certificate in serial humiliation, for they struggled with their studies, never quite grokking college preparatory courses in math, literature, or the sciences. They hold grudges, not degrees. Many showed early on real promise in the mechanical arts, auto repair, electronics, and the Future Farmers of America programs. They're all hunters. Each owns several guns and each considers these the pinnacle possessions of any freeman. They insist that they're freer than they've ever once felt and meet to garner their resources for the oncoming assaults on what they authentically revere as their way of life.

They think themselves worthy inheritors of Colonial-era beliefs, thinly evolved first or second-generation interpretations of The Rights Of Man and The Wealth Of Nations, though none have read the original documents, much less considered their many contradictions.

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deCENTcy

deCENTcy
Jean-Pierre Saint-Ours, The Selection of Children in Sparta, 1785
At the age of 7, Spartan boys were removed from their parents' homes and began the “agoge,” a state-sponsored training regimen designed to mold them into skilled warriors and moral citizens.
"I genuinely want you to win, too, though never at any cost, …"

In this world where everything seems to have a price tag and few of us understand the cost of anything, deCENTcy often seems lost in the accounting. Schemes surround and smother us. Deals get made. Compromises demanded, the Bait And Switch almost obligatory. Fair deals, the rarest of all deals. Cheap-but-Good seems more weighted in favor of cheapness than goodness. Loyalties seem far too easily persuaded to switch support to shave a few pennies off some bill. Some commodities solely serve ostentation, valued by the excess expended to acquire them, for bragging rights or simply to rub some less fortunate's face in the deal, offered only at auctions where we're perennially out-bidded. Our democracy sometimes seems like that. We wonder why we should even bother entering the game. Our politics have been up for sale to the highest bidder for generations now, and only DeCENTcy seems absent from the equation because DeCENTcy costs almost nothing, a red cent lost in rounding among bilious billions and terrifying trillions. Where's the marketplace in deCENTcy these days?

Oh, here it is, right close to home.

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LOM

LOM
Francisco de Goya, Saturno devorando a su hijo [Saturn devours his son], (1819-1823)
"The more I've experienced, the less I understand."

Birthdays increasingly become subdued celebrations as I age. A passing embrace, a few quick questions asking what they might do for me, an overwhelming number of Facebook greetings, each unexpected, of course, and each relished as a slightly embarrassing excess. I register my appreciation in a sort of passing because I do not feel as though aging or even counting ages accomplishes anything. I spent the day feeling rather full of myself, greatly gifted by the virtual presences surrounding me and I fear a little too off-putting to those closer to home. I find attempts at celebrating at root unnecessary. They elicit little more than sincere 'aw shuckses' from me, which might mean that I'm finally entering that inevitable stage of being, that I'm turning into a LOM, a Little Old Man.

I've noticing myself getting ever more stuck in my ways, as if the sum of all my days had reached maximum absorption of experience, as if my existential larder might be almost full.

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RegularOrder

RegularOrder
Going West--1933, Boardman Robinson, 1933
"I'm not fleeing anywhere …"

I've started this story three times already, discarding each iteration in growing frustration. I wanted to say how it feels for me to be alive this morning, but a certain seething crept into each attempt. I do not feel like an angry old man, just one aching for RegularOrder. I've had it up to somewhere with stupid millionaires dominating conversations. There seems to be no better indicator of absolute inanity than wealth, as if mammon actually lowers IQ. The disruptive elements, the great inventors and marketers and promoters, seem to lack any sense of RegularOrder, the baseline regulating force each of the rest of us rely upon to maintain our sanity and serenity. I feel lucky this morning to be turning three score and nine. It's my birthday, for cripes sake, and I feel satisfied enough just to take what I've been given. The decktop petunia garden's at her peak, perfume creeping up and into the master bedroom windows. My hop(e) vine's cones have grown heavy with pollen and ready for harvest. The front garden's in furious bloom attracting hummingbirds and bees and grasshoppers in profusion. The cats, still kittens a few short weeks ago, have almost learned to come back home on their own after they escape.

The wind seems to have shifted.

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GrudgeWork

GrudgeWork
The Remorse of Orestes by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1862

"La vengeance est un met que l'on doit manger froid" Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754–1838)

"Revenge is a dish best left off the menu"

Setting out to settle any score seems to reliably produce some variant of the opposite of the imagined outcome. Revenge is not, as Talleyrand-Périgord insisted, a dish best served cold, but a dish best left off the menu. One might easily imagine settling some score, as the saying goes, 'once and for all', but such action produces reverberations guaranteeing that those scales will very likely be thrown even more permanently out of balance. Should the reaction be anything close to equal and opposite, a tragic cascade will likely ensue. Dogs chasing their own tails easily then becomes the new normal, for grudge lust never finds satisfaction from any GrudgeWork, however dedicated. Getting even amounts to a distraction, always under the influence of our worse angels. The reparations exacted upon the Weimar Republic following WWI produced Hitler and WWII, even though the French and British firmly believed that their demands were just. Germany had, after all, aggressively thrust itself upon France for no reason other than its deeply held grudge over having missed building its own empire. Why not simply swipe another's empire and thereby better balance the score? We now too well know why, but we never seem to learn.

GrudgeWork properly describes our current administration's approach to governing.

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NothingAndBeingness

NothingAndBeingness
Time Saving Truth from Falsehood and Envy, François Lemoyne, 1737
" … they'd come to understand and trust that the horse knows the way."

I believe, perhaps fallaciously, that I possessed when I was born every skill I later manifested. Contrary to the historical record, not even the KnowNothings ever actually knew nothing, not even those swearing to reelect our sorry excuse for a President can truthfully claim this state, for nothing's always been fundamentally unknowable and to claim otherwise only proves my point. I have not so much assimilated others' skills, but found ways to relate theirs to my own, nascent and previously knowable until after some small or huge revelation. I perceive this world as a network of invitations in constant struggle against the forces of formal education, which seem determined to claim ownership of knowledge and skill so that they might sell it for notoriety and profit. Knowledge, interestingly, also fails to qualify as knowable, though some certainly seem to exhibit clear possession. It might be that knowledge and even understanding possess us and not the other way around, once one's found fertile ground them to usefully relate to it.

If I would have had to know how to write before writing, I might have become an eternal student, Hell-bent on learning something unassimilatable by that means.

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RueTeen

RueTeen
Mary Cassatt, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878
"Some blessed shirker inside me has been complaining …"

How many times can I repeat an activity before repetition renders it banal and boring? What begins as necessary and refreshing might well become a crushing obligation over time. A perfectly timed taste of wine too easily slumps into an unmemorable second glass or a forgettable third. I've heard of activities so enjoyable that they never eventually bore anyone into a coma, but never actually experienced one. Experience seems to sum into something quite distinct from mastery, something more akin to a tragedy of over-familiarity, rendering almost alien through studied repetition, leaving the practitioner aching only for a beginner's mind again, a refreshing starting all over again from the bottom. Our Damned Pandemic has highlighted the utter banality of many of my RueTeens, activities I now rue performing and perform with all the mindful tranquility of a slighted teen. I might agree to do anything besides what I've become altogether too accustomed to doing after the umpteenth time anticipating doing it again.

Dinner, once creative opportunity, has become an utterly boring chore.

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Chokin'

Chokin'
Fainting by Pietro Longhi, 1744
" … this, too, was intended to be a part of the deal …"

This terrarium's oxygen seems just about used up. We closed up the place as the smoke concentrated, using fans to keep the suddenly suffocating inside air moving, but it moved increasingly listlessly anyway, suddenly neither fresh nor refreshing. We continued breathing, but substituting low octane for high test air, each breath an increasingly sorry pretender to what we'd grown accustomed to experiencing. Usually, the breeze here brings continual relief down from The High Country, some of the freshest air in the world. During fire season, it billows. Nearer the fire lines, ash falls like heavy snow. Here, it's only smoke bringing persistently itchy eyes and a choking sensation deep in the throat. And there's no respite. No cool glade to escape into. No secret room in the basement unaffected by this intrusion. I choose to sit on the deck as the day grows long, nose running and eyes tearing up. I get scowled at for leaving the slider open.

We're in no real danger here.

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Smokin'

smokin'
The Smoker, a presumed self portrait of Joos van Craesbeek, 1635-36


"I closed the side window so the breeze can't push fresh puffs inside on me."

I was a dedicated smoker in my youth, sneaking smokes out on the football field during lunchtime at high school. Slinking around, I mostly learned how to sneak there. My parents were raging liberals when it came to smoking, figuring that they'd rather we not sneak around at home. My dad, brother, and I thereby inflicted second-hand smoke on everyone else in the house, not so much indifferent as ignorant of the damage we inflicted. I quit in a fit of righteous self discipline on the new year when I would turn thirty-five, figuring that smoking was a young man's game and I was headed in the wrong direction to avoid one of the dead certain afflictions should I continue the habit. The Insurance Company had just before instituted a strict no smoking policy and I didn't relish becoming one of those poor souls forevermore hovering around a drizzly courtyard. We speak now of castes and classes. When I stopped smoking, I was immediately upgraded a class. I bruised my left nipple for months after from constantly tapping my shirt pocket, checking for the accustomed pack which was no longer there to cushion my panicky inquiries.

I later picked up cigars, fine little Dominican ones which I fallaciously claimed had been hand-rolled on the thighs of virgins.

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DogWhistlingInTheDark

dogwhistling
The Poacher, Jean Pierre Alexandre Antigna
"We're the ones inheriting that wind."

By mid-August, mornings smell of campfire, though campfires have been banned since May. The primary East/West freeway across the state was yesterday closed until further notice due to a zero contained wildfire burning through Glenwood Canyon. Even the transcontinental train service was suspended until further notice. The round and about alternative route, a twisty two lane up through Aspen, was closed after a semi-truck jackknifed on a tight switchback turn. Sunrises and sunsets come in brilliant oranges and reds and our usual pristine view up the Front Range is filtered through a smutty haze. We're suddenly all smokers again, shirt collars reeking and sinuses clogging. The sign at the county park reminded hikers that rattlesnake activity has been reported in the area, so keep those pets leashed and keep yourself safe. Everyone leaves reminding everyone else to stay safe. The world seems especially dangerous right now.

The Presidential race is off and running now that Biden has named his running mate, a formidable African American/Asian woman the opposition can't yet properly denigrate.

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Disorienteering

TheArtOfGettingLost
Pierre-Auguste Cot: The Storm, 1880
" … I lagged my way back home."

Sequestering provides few opportunities to get lost in anything more diverting than another fresh novel, fleeing ever inward as an antidote to such outward sameness. Suppers eventually come to seem like reruns. Didn't we just have this last night, or was that just the night before? Exploring the unchartable territory west of boring, each little chore hardly seems worth doing, fresh adventure insecurely out of reach. I've grown to know my neighborhood perhaps a little too well. Discovery only ever happens once, after that, it's simply not discovery anymore. An ennui settles over the proceedings and forward comes to feel like warmed over receding, a form of retreat. Mid-August brings vacation season for one excellent reason. It's damnably difficult to get lost at home. I know where every left turn will take me. I understand what's just over every hill. The thrill of discovery eventually slips beyond anyone's grasp and we're compelled to just disappear in favor of some Disorienteering.

We vacate to get ourselves lost.

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Gumshoe

Gumshoe
Harry Barton Vintage Pulp Art Illustration
" … when Amazon options it for the limited series."

As an enthusiastic consumer of Detective Fiction, I fear for the future of this genre. I've not yet encountered a character in any Gumshoe novel who wears a face mask other than to bump off a liquor store, and those masks don't seem right for blunting any plague. None of the heroes seem the sort to slip unnoticed into a cocktail bar while wearing a mask, and cocktail bars have been closed for months, anyway. Where do nefarious schemes get hatched in pandemic times? I'm trying to imagine C. J. Box's Joe Pickett or James Lee Burke's Clete Purcell operating in a post-pandemic world or Longmire issuing citations for violating mask mandates. Masks might inhibit identification of the Gumshoe's prey, though I notice that John Sandford's latest thriller came out under the timely title of Masked Prey, though there were no masks prominently displayed in any part of that story.

Few advertisements, even now, six months into this pandemic, feature mask-wearing characters.

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TakingAPass

TakingAPass
Thomas Moran: Mosquito Trail, 1874
" … a full immersion experience one can almost bring back home with them."

This Damned Pandemic encourages a discernment and detachment in me. I no longer feel free to enter just any establishment. As if I possessed a picky palate, I simply will not enter any restaurant, not yet. I might consent to a drive through or an accelerated step in to grab something to go, but I will not slow down long enough to even leave a footprint on my way through. I wake some mornings aching for a decent order of hash browns smothered in green chile gravy like only an authentic greasy spoon diner can produce, but I will not reduce myself to enter any such establishment. Not yet. Not now. I sense that I'm becoming somewhat of an expert at TakingAPass, just driving past though my desire might compel me to stop. I sense myself a budding aesthetic, like a solitary mountaintop meditating wise man, though I know for certain that I remain a simple wise guy deep down inside. I'm TakingAPass because I've grown to distrust all reassurances that we're bringing This Damned Pandemic under any sort of control. We're still learning how this devil works, and until we deeply understand it, I will continue to choose to just drive by most roadside attractions, even when I'm starving for that plate of smothered hash.

Living in Colorado offers some compensations.

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LittleDeaths

goneglasses
Winter by Jean Antoine Houdon, 1787
"Background moves into foreground sometimes …"

Life presents many LittleDeaths, sudden absences disrupting flow. These experiences might seem mere inconveniences to any casual observer, but the principal deeply feels their sting. Yesterday, returning from our usual larder stocking excursion, I felt my shirt pocket for my eyeglasses and found them AWOL, missing from their pocket perch. I initiated a quick search, well experienced with discovering that I'd set them down somewhere. I could not immediately recall where I might have left them, but I reassured myself that they could not be far. As near as I could tell, they were precisely nowhere: lost, gone, disappeared. I quickly engaged in denial, sensing that they simply must be near, even going so far as to just wear my prescription sunglasses to read a chapter or three in the latest library book. It would too soon turn dusk, though, so I headed out to the drug store to score some cheaters, cheap magnifying lenses to help me make do.

I still firmly believe those glasses will show up, though I'm plotting a visit to my optometrist tomorrow morning.

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Worker

Worker
Jean-François Millet, The Gleaners, 1857
"I might have been a gleaner."

I am most emphatically NOT a Worker. I haven't punched a time clock since I was in my teens, and even then, I found that experience to be anything but uplifting, demeaning. I can't seem to count my efforts by the widely-recognized Hours Metric. I do not quote anybody an hourly rate. Back at The Insurance Company, as a young professional, the accountants drooled over the prospect of collecting activity-based data and received instead, carefully crafted fiction, for few could perform tasks without forfeiting awareness of time passing, not without abandoning the possibility of experiencing the elusive flow. I'd go down to the employee cafeteria each Friday morning, carrying my agenda which I'd once again failed to maintain in scrupulous detail, and create my fictional record of my work week just passing, careful to avoid any appearance of idleness or overage. My job demanded that I always attend to about fifteen different things at once, never once single-tasking, so any notion of activity-based accounting seemed absurd, but only because it genuinely was.

Austrian Political Economist Joseph Schumpeter explained how economists gather their data. He said that watchmen report it and that they report whatever they damned well please.

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Discretion

Discretion
Jan van Eyck: The Virgin of chancellor Rolin. (circa 1435)
"Buck up, Brother, we're in this together however we play it."

Discretion, proverbially referred to as the better part of valor, was originally intended to caution that it's generally better to avoid a dangerous situation than to confront it. Modern interpretations of this term seem to vary considerably from the traditional intention, though, as one governor after another publicly insists upon relying upon personal Discretion when taking certain necessary precautions against The Damned Pandemic, like wearing masks when in public. School principals, too, have adopted this approach, instructing students to make their own choice about whether or not to wear a mask when shoving through class changing crushes. Name one other choice a typical principal leaves up to students? Just one! Given a choice of wearing pants or not, about a quarter of high school students would gleefully observe pants-less Fridays! Should completing homework, or, indeed, all schoolwork be left up to the "Discretion" of each individual student? How about attendance?

The idea that Discretion means free to choose whatever seems upside down and backwards, but then not everyone aspires to valor.

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SlicingBread

SlicingBread
Pieter Claesz, Still life with Musical Instruments (1623)
"Bless This Damned Pandemic for reminding us how."

I speak this morning in praise of blessed inconvenience, as embodied by the once-familiar act of simply slicing bread. With the exception of that period when my mom went all Earth Mother on the family and took to baking her own bread, my early years experienced exclusively the pre-sliced variety bought day old in a small bakery for ten cents a loaf and stored in the trusty basement freezer. I saw in books photographs of the kind of bread people bought in Europe, dark, rotund, and unsliced, and I dreamed of pulling off handfuls to accompany some whiffy cheese, but we were no longer Europeans, and hadn't been for generations. As Americans, we never really thought about most of the conveniences we shared. We thought them a birthright accompanying what was more than simply The Good Life, but the very best life imaginable. Beret-wearing Communists might walk straight-faced while carrying a baguette or boule, but we never would, and not just because we couldn't.

Then I came to test taste a plain baguette and found it good. No, I found it far superior to any sponge cake imposter.

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RushingRoulette

RushingRoulette

Edvard Munch, At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo,1892
"Rushing into any roulette seems a fool's mission."

Every morning, some oleaginous politician encourages me to resume my "normal" activities, citing genuine statistics to justify their advice. I deeply doubt if they understand a word of their own justifications, for oleaginous politicians have never been elected on the basis of their deep understanding of Bayes theorem, or any other concept underlying statistical projection. Judging from the wild divergence between predicted and actual, their understanding might well be nonexistent, but true to all of us genuinely innumerate, mere failure to accurate predict hardly dissuades another morning spent hawking spurious convictions. Statistics has always been hard, mostly because our intuitions sucker us. Unbiased analysis demands an almost inhuman indifference and strict adherence to tenaciously counter-intuitive processes. Even analyzing results easily sucker-punches us, since we sometimes desperately want the numbers to agree with our a priori expectations, and when they do not, we're likely to fudge, touting the portion of the results that agree with us and burying those that don't.

We wallow in numbers now.

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StayingPut

StayingPut
Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Beheading Holofernes, ca. 1614–20
"Not stir crazy yet, not by a long shot."

In this culture, we believe that strange things will happen to us if we simply StayPut. In Buddhist cultures, stillness might be aspired for, even revered, but we're a kinetic crew over here. We're up and gone as a matter of ingrained routine. We feel as though we haven't accomplished anything unless we've gone out somewhere then returned in-between. We make many round trip runs, almost always ending up just about where we started from, but with the added benefit, I guess, of having sandwiched a gone in there between the anchoring StayingPuts. If I were to deeply immerse myself into StayingPut, I might start stalking the hallways with an axe, chopping holes in otherwise perfectly innocent doors, slathering. I maybe might even turn into a creepy isolated old cat lady, newspapers piled to the ceiling. Or a shut-in, font of endless neighborhood rumors of what I might once have been, a definite haunted house has-been. StayingPut might be the most dangerous possible state for anyone seeking greatness or notoriety, and aren't we all in the Notoriety Business now? Excuse me, please, but I just gotta leave for awhile. I'll be right back. Not going anywhere, really, just … out.

We're StayingPut for our Staycation this summer, and not just because of our Governor's Stay At Home Order.

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Circlings

Circlings
'The proportions of the human body according to Vitruvius', Leonardo da Vinci, about 1490.
" … a Muddle Ages, arguing over theology."

Our Damned Pandemic seems to have sparked a spike in circular reasoning, that form of thinking Bertram Russel once compared to larceny. We've been swiping answers we want, probably because we so want them to be true, for the nightmare to conclude, that we suddenly find ourselves capable of justifying anything and calling that conclusion perfectly reasonable. Circular solutions seem to prove their premise. Because of This, That AND because of That, This, deduction be damned. An induced solution seems to resolve the troubling problem. Hydroxychloroquine certainly seems to cure this 'flu,' except it isn't a flu and supporting evidence seems rather thin. An act of faith or firm believe gets involved and seems to securely seal the underlying logic. Hopefulness gets the better of us, inviting in a following fresh bout of despair. The meta-cycles of hopefulness and despair seem likewise circular, and we spend some days feeling as if we were circling around a huge drain.

We set our expectations innocently, stating our objective clearly. No harm and no foul.

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Sorrying

Sorrying
Jacques Louis David, The Death of Socrates, 1787
" … no identity changing required."

The GrandOtter said, "Sorry."

"Sorry about what?" The Muse replied. "Sorry about saying you were sorry?"

I imagined an infinite spiral starting with an innocent sorry then circling ever further downward, one sorry inexorably spawning another, ad infinitum. Of course, The GrandOtter meant that she was sorry, though she sometimes prefers a more present tense and says that she 'is' sorry, after which I imagine I'm witnessing sorry incarnate. I thought I was sorry, though I more probably never was anything of the kind. Perhaps I
felt sorry, which might prove to be as far from being sorry as anything could possibly be. No feeling defines anyone, for feelings come as information, not definition. One most certainly feels sorry without actually embodying that sorry state. I think we mostly forget this fact and whack ourselves with an ill-advised identity, when we were simply feeling sorry.

Sorry seems a sorry excuse and a worse apology.

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LongHaul

LongRun
First Battle of Bull Run, chromolithograph by Kurz & Allison, 1889
"Heads you win, tails we lose."

Both Union and Confederate soldiers expected the first skirmish of the Civil War to decide the conflict's final outcome. Fine ladies in carriages accompanied troops to the battlefield, expecting a diverting exposition, an amusing afternoon's competition. The Army of the Potomac outnumbered the rebel forces, which were hardly an organized army by then, but were filled with fervor. Neither side imagined the possibility that they might lose. The Union crawled chastised back to Washington that evening, and thus began a long ordeal during which the futility of the rebellion never seemed to settle in. Each side won some and lost some, but each side's dedication rarely wavered. The Confederacy quickly became a brutal autocracy, starving itself in ever-deepening delusion that their dedication might ultimately count for something. They touted Lee as the superior strategist, though he managed to lose every significant conflict. He'd won at Bull Run then went on to narrowly retreat from Antietam and Gettysburg. The terms of engagement seemed to have been set on that midsummer day in Northern Virginia. The manner of engagement largely remained intact throughout.

Both British and German troops cheered their way to the Marne in 1914, thinking themselves on an organized holiday.

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InvisibleHandiwork

InvisibleHanding
Adam Smith, Our Invisible Friend
"May we each come to more deeply appreciate our own agency."

The clever critic starts every review with some variant of, "Far be it from me to criticize, but …". That's a really BIG but, ingenuous as Hell, so I will allow myself to start this criticism more authentically. Your Invisible Friend continues betraying you. Your continuing faith in his underlying beneficence crosses the line between devotion and idolatry. Believe whatever you choose to believe, I say, but consider what each belief bestows upon thee. (I'm very likely to get preachy from here on, so proceed with care.) Any belief that continuously punishes your faith in it, ain't that great of a belief. Any faith that feeds cynicism should simply be abandoned. Any devotion that breeds a deepening sense of victimization, does damage rather than good. I know I'm not supposed to propose any hard shoulds, but please consider what your experience could become if you ditched your insidious Invisible Friend.

He has, they say, an invisible hand, one which, without human intervention, rules economic progress.

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PursuingHappiness

PursuingHappiness
Reading of Voltaire's tragedy of the Orphan of China in the salon of Marie Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin, by Lemonnier. Circa 1812
"Could anyone find full satisfaction with that?"

The Age of Enlightenment eventually brought many improvements. Previous unspeakables became openly discussed. Rights of individuals came to be held as more sacred than the formerly presumed divine rights of either monarch or church, but at best I might fairly characterize that age as a lurch forward, for none of the resulting improvements came about easily. A couple centuries of brutal warfare has left us still divided, for both liberalism and its dedicated opposition emerged from those discussions, and the arguments continue perhaps in even greater earnest. Like all great movements, The Enlightenment was never advanced by particularly enlightened individuals. Assertions were made with little supporting evidence. Convictions encouraged every variety of pseudo certainty: prejudice, bigotry, misogyny, and racism thrived within The Enlightenment and, indeed, seem to continue thriving today, for The Movement could never produce the sorts of confident certainty divine rights might have bestowed. It represented a second order paradigm shift, trading extreme faith for continuing speculation and experimentation capable of approaching improvement but only by iterating, recognizing and adapting to error. All this performed by mere humans. It was and is quite the continuing speculation that it might succeed, and yet it did and has, though also didn't and has not. The path to anywhere from there seemed paved with the scientist's patient wariness, but few followers qualified as scientists.

We seem an impatient lot. We want what we want when we want it, not later, and enlightenment demands patience above all.

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Publickity

Publickity
Entry of John II of France and Joan I of Auvergne into Paris after their coronation at Reims in 1350,
later manuscript illumination by Jean Fouquet

"Notice how I'm not promising a glowing experience or to potentially change your life …"

Today's the day! I find myself suddenly NowHere after a couple of years' preparation, ready to more publicly display my creation in an act of Publickity, by which I mean not an act of publicity intended to gin up notoriety, but a slightly broader sharing. Few have seen my most recent works, though I have more than a dozen in various stages of final completion. A book goes through many completions, an initial one followed by several subsequent ones, each accompanied by its own sense of doneness, all but the final one ultimately false but nonetheless rewarding. There's always one more pass needed: editing, sequencing, re-editing, fine-tuning, the list extends well into a small infinity. Even the final, final, final, final version carries considerable uncertainty, it still being unproven in broader contexts.

I've combined the pieces I individually posted two summers ago under the hashtag #CluelessSummer into a book-length form sporting a new title, Cluelessness.

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SelfExamination

SelfExamination
The Ouroboros and the Tree of Life, Ancient woodcut
" … consider cluelessness to be the absolutely necessary precursor to learning …"

I don't think of myself as a snake and I most certainly do not possess a tail, but SelfExamination tends to leave me feeling like a snake who's eating his own tail, Ouroboros. I finished re-re-reviewing a manuscript this morning—those repeat offender readers might remember it as my CluelessSummer project from two summers ago—and I finished reading the danged thing feeling like Ouroboros again. The manuscript seemed to end just where it had begun, having resolved nothing, not really, the initiating mystery preserved through ninety or so reflections upon it. The ancients believed life worked like this, featuring unresolving cycles destined to endlessly repeat, inquiry not definitively resolving, but perhaps only animating the universal fate. Progress, or the certain notion of it, separates us from the Ancients, for we believe in the eternal possibility of progress. We want to have arrived somewhere by the end of it, for resolution to have become the reward for paying the price of admission and the cost of subsuming attention toward the performance. We genuinely believe that we're owed release by the end, that we'll come to know that the butler did it (again).

But I don't write like that. I couldn't come to a conclusion if kidnapped, tied up, and ditched at the intersection of Over and Donewith.

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Detention

Detention
Departure of the Joads, Thomas Hart Benton,1939
"Detention offers opportunities to more deeply appreciate …"

The cats Max and Molly "accidentally" escaped again last evening as I was finishing up the grilling. Fact was that I felt in need of escaping, too, accidentally or otherwise, for my heart felt like it was no longer home here. Oh, I hold the old place dear enough, but I'd had more than enough and needed something different in my diet. The lamb and veg kabobs were nicely finishing, and those two baby eggplant featured perfect grill marks, but I'd seemingly lost my appetite for home and hearth, which had by then accumulated a half-summer's worth of shirked maintenance. I'd accumulated a seemingly insurmountable backlog of everyday ordinary activities, somehow supplanted by even more mundane things. I felt out of place at home and caught myself aching to escape, so I staged a Great Escape for the cats, who seemed doldrum-ish and anxious to roam, too. I had grilling to do and The Muse was almost through making an emergency batch of homemade Tzatziki. The cats hadn't immediately disappeared, seeming to complain about the wet deck surface an earlier rain had left behind. Not even liberation produced the exuberance I expected from them. We all felt as though we were still in Detention.

Max was waiting when I opened the slider just after three this morning, and Molly appeared an hour or so later.

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Visitations

Visitations
Théodore Chassériau, The Ghost of Banquo, 1855
" … what these Visitations seem to do to me. "

It seems to me that my departed friends never leave me for long. Once gone, they revisit, often at inconvenient times, apparently intent upon setting me onto a somewhat straighter path, for I meander on my way to pretty much everywhere. The shortest route between any two points seems utterly irrelevant to me, as I seem to insist upon usually taking some more scenic route. I set a goal then head off in another direction, my dereliction ranging behind me, weighing me down. These diversions even seem necessary, for if synchronicity is to have any chance of influencing me, it seems I must stray from any straight or narrow. My detours sometimes seem down right harrowing, for I often get lost in those woods. I seem to sometimes even abandon myself when straying, as if my underlying purpose in pursuing might have always been betraying myself. I end up lost, good and lost though it often feels bad and betrayed, as though I've cost myself my dream.

My departed friends tend to visit me then, when I'm feeling pretty near to absolutely dead-ended.

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Experteasing

Experteasing
Left panel of the Dreux Budé triptych: the betrayal and arrest of Christ,
with the donors Dreux Budé and his son Jean presented by Saint Christopher by Master of Dreux Budé (circa 1450)
" … a place where few will ever suspect you of the sin of full expertise."

When I call for a refrigerator repair, I hope an expert (but not too much of an expert) will show up. I prefer working with an upwardly mobile journeyman rather than a full master. The full master's likely to be dismissive and perhaps denigrate me for abusing the appliance while the journeyman will still be inquisitive and learning, and more likely personable. Masters tend to be grumpy and filled with apparently irrelevant details, which they're anxious to share. I won't really want to learn the complete history of refrigeration, just enough information to get my machine working again. I'm even satisfied if the journeyman has to call back to the office for additional information. The expert who can complete the repair with his eyes closed scares me.

The problem with the experts in any field might be that they tend to scare the people with whom they interact.

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ReOpeningUp

ReOpeningUp
According to Sotheby's: Cats being instructed In the art of mouse-catching by an owl
Looks more like: A cat orchestra/choir directed by an owl, with sheet music made of little drawings of mice
Oil on canvas, circa 1700

"Yea, we can hear you now."

Each conflict seems to encounter its Midway Moment, an event that, while not fully resolving anything then, clearly presages an eventual outcome. I believe that this late July week just might have provided this cue. Though we're far from through with This Damned Pandemic, we seem to finally be taking it as seriously as it had been taking us for months and months. I see clear signs that we're no longer hawking bleach or hydroxychloroquine, and even Floridians and Texans seem humbled as their ICU beds fill to overflowing. Pandemics famously continue until. Until what is never obvious, but Damned Pandemics can be damned insistent, heartlessly continuing until we somehow catch on. Then we're playing catch-up for a long while. Few seem willing early on to trust mere knowledge or experience, and most want to rely upon their instincts, which have not yet evolved to fully understand the previously unexperienced challenge. We initially reject historical analogies as preposterous. We learn, painfully slowly, then we begin engineering a reckoning, a ReOpeningUp. Something seems to need to change within us before the changes we strive to engineer around us can come to anything but naught. This was the week that prefaced something different coming.

Extremism in pursuit of anything inevitably produces the opposite of its intention.

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Backlisting

Backlisting
"Salvation visits, and the heavens open in blissful chorus …"

Back in the earlier days of this Damned Pandemic, shoppers became familiar with terms like Fragile Supply Chain, a concept every bit as interesting as Capital Asset Pricing Model or Unsecured Credit Default Swap, stuff the average Jane or Joe never found reason to care about until the National Toilet Paper Stockpile turned up empty seemingly overnight. We had come to think of toilet paper as an almost God-given right, by which I mean it had become the ultimate free good, given gratis in public restrooms everywhere without ever a thought to where it might come from. It turned out that there was a whole industry behind its production and distribution, that fairies hadn't just left the stuff within eternally easy reach. Shortages were possible, and we had no idea how we might ration the stuff. Many had never fully appreciated that the lowly toilet roll might have been a tacit centerpoint of their professional compensation package, for the employee "lounge" had never once attempted to charge for or ration the stuff, though rumor had it that the executive floor stocked a fluffier quality than did the John off the loading dock. Anyway, us consumers were shocked when we found empty shelves dominating the old TP aisle. Shortages quickly spread to the paper towel shelves, too, and we formerly privileged many were rudely introduced to the sort of austerity that hit us square in the shorts. Ouch!

Some shifted to online shopping, prompting an armada of brand new Amazon vans with their weird smiley face logo to begin rushing family-sized containers of this freshly precious stuff to every corner of the country.

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LongDistance

LongDistance
" … a history where LongDistance briefly grew ever shorter before smartly snapping back closer to its traditional borders."

Geezers have always loved to tell stories about The Old Days, by which I mean the days when this world still seemed young to them. The later days, these days where geezers experience their ever advancing age, seem downright ancient in comparison, for they feature patterns grown far too familiar to frequently surprise or even delight, while back then, every new morning brought promise and discovery. Every generation believes that this world was produced for their delight and personal enlightenment. I remember doubting the existence of history then. How could history have been if I had not been included in it? I considered everything chronicled as having occurred before I was born to be a rumor, fiction created to cover up an obvious truth, that there could not possibly be a world without me being in it. Of course life eventually beat that notion out of me, once I'd started accumulating my own history for which many had not been present to witness. Aging eventually cures self-centeredness.

Horizons seemed to have broadened since then.

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ChickenShit

chickenshit
Katharina Fritsch, Hahn/Cock, 2013
"I cannot quite imagine a payoff or penalty worth the risk just yet."

Much of what tries to pass as information emanating from the current administration (which cannot seem to properly administer anything) bounces right off me. I can't care about crowd sizes or Our President's glowing self-assessments. I know they're all lies, and I'm not surprised or deeply troubled by them. He's a troubled man publicly wrestling with himself and largely losing. It's not really a fair fight. I mostly pity the poor guy, who by many accounts, never believed that he'd ever be elected into office and never really took to The White House. I understand that he'd really rather be golfing, a man his age, accustomed to big swindles and dedicated to never working very hard. He's arm candy gone stale and bitter, no longer really fit for public observation yet addicted to the stage. He seems to live in a dismissive rage now that he's the most powerful man in the world, or was before he started shedding power in favor of force which, of course, reliably backfired on him. Then he took to lying about our Damned Pandemic, obviously not even trying for a shred of truth, and I noticed that I noticed this and watched myself turn all ChickenShit.

ChickenShit's a Junior High word describing anyone unwilling to accept an unreasonable challenge.

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AnEcologyOfUnknowability

Unknowability
Cecil Collins, The Quest, 1938
"Our limitations denote the depth of our wisdom, not the breadth of our stupidity."

The unknowable seems to bedevil me. I do okay with the Known Knows, the Known Unknowns, and even with the Unknown Unknowns, for each of these categories still contain a presumption of potential knowability. My demons inhabit an orthogonal space which I cannot quite place on any known continuum, those defined by their tenacious unknowability. My ability to know serves no purpose there, for I could not possibly compare Unknowability's content to anything known or even anything distantly suspected, otherwise it might slip into some ultimately knowable classification. Some questions are nothing more than questions, posed, perhaps, not for answering resolution but to simply endlessly resonate. Who or what created the universe and when? What will next Tuesday bring? How many angels could actually dance on the head of this-here pin? We cannot even begin to know.

I can certainly pare down some mysteries, carve along margins to come to know a few details without ever actually addressing any fundamentally unknowable.

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Gathering

Gathering
The Ghent Altarpiece: The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (interior view), painted 1432 by van Eyck
"They're well worth the occasional, exceptional, judicious risk …"

I reflected as we drove the narrow twisty road down into Boulder that I had not attended a Gathering of any sort in five full months. Focused upon sheltering in place, justifying going anyplace had become a negotiation, with just staying home usually winning the debate. Out, we became Covid invisible, proximity monitors on full alert, averted gazes taking the place of all human contact. We could move through as much of a crowd as an entry-controlled grocery store could offer without making a ripple, hardly noticing our own presence there before heading back to our altogether too familiar car which would as equally invisibly carry us back home and into isolation. But The Muse's first cousin's daughter Grace was holding a graduation recital up at their Boulder place, strict masking in place and to be held outdoors. The Muse's aunt would be there and the promise of a little family time drew us. I did not feel nearly as concerned as I expected to feel.

This was a genuine shindig attracting a crowd of perhaps sixty seated in lawn chairs across the broad front yard.

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ConSpiriting

ConSpirit
Youth of Moses, Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, known as Sandro Botticelli, circa 1481
" … some days, I even suspect myself."

Those in the know come to understand that everything's a conspiracy, and this might well be true. I gratefully live out of the know, largely unconnected, absent that conspiracy-minded spirit. I see ample evidence of a vast right wing conspiracy rooted way back in the Confederacy and dedicated to utterly undermining any threat of representative democracy encroaching on their autocracy. Most of us were certified under some form of neoliberal indoctrination, with "friendly" corporations funding special programs, even whole departments, at our so-called public universities. We come to hate commies, love Jesus, despise taxes, own guns, and distrust our own government. We weren't born wanting any of that. A conspiracy was probably behind it, but so what? So what?

ConSpiriting, that hounding sense that some deep dark conspiracy's actually behind most everything, cannot be disproven.

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WarFooting

WarFooting
Romare Bearden: Tomorrow I May Be Far Away, 1967
"Lead us, please, into temptation and deliver us into the open arms of genuine evil, for we've come to revel in our supreme sense of invulnerability, for we are free! Free …"

Our enemies show us who we are, who we become when under extreme duress. Our friends reinforce for us who we intend to be, but our enemies goad us into showing who we're capable of being when we stop trying to please. We never placate or reassure our actual enemies, but seem to seek opportunities to highlight just how evil they must certainly be underneath. We give no quarter, we take no prisoners unless forced to, and then, only begrudgingly. We have demonstrated our willingness to bankrupt ourselves when we're on a WarFooting. Nothing's too expensive then, we'll mortgage the farm and the truck and the cow without hardly considering how we might one day repay the debt. When it's war, we conscript our sons, willingly wager our futures, and forget what we learned in the past. Nothing seems too dear and we inure ourselves to committing unspeakable acts for righteousness' sake. We conscript God and all religions to sanctify our necessary insanity. We are gratefully rarely publicly warring, for we've grown to understand that we can hide what's going on in those distant war zones by keeping the press out and lying to the public about what those invisible tussles might really be about. We have no stomach for war or for the truths it discloses to us about ourselves.

I can tell that we are not on a WarFooting where our Damned Pandemic's concerned.

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Healing

Healing
Mediaeval tapestry illustrating bloodletting.
" … I'm satisfied with Healing from my latest attempt to heal myself."

I woke up this morning with a clear head for the first time in six months. The outset of the malady had somehow escaped my notice, for I was at that time filled with fresh promise. My Nurse-Practitioner had prescribed a fresh medication intended to counteract my high triglycerides level, a condition I inherited from my father and share with all my siblings. I had tried—honest, I'd tried—back during the cholesterol scare of the eighties, to find some way to combat this anomaly, but had surrendered when the prescribed medication was recalled as more dangerous than the impending disease. I'd taken to observing by far my favorite treatment, radical acceptance of the way things just seem to insist upon being. I figured, and probably not wrongly, that the state of the Healing arts had not then progressed to successfully treat what my father had only managed to unsuccessfully try to treat for the last half of his nearly eighty-five years. I'd concluded that my triglycerides were a feature and unlikely to encumber my life.

But my brother had told me about a prescription he'd started taking and my sisters chimed in that they'd begun this treatment, too, with promising results, so, though I was hardly convinced it would address my instance, I agreed to at least try it and see. I tried it and saw.

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JustPracticing

Practicing
Theodoor Rombouts: Allegory of the Five Senses, first half of the 17th Century.
"You're not actually going anywhere, anyway, JustPracticing."

When physicians ply their trade we say they're Practicing medicine. When surgeons work, we claim that they're performing. Since all surgeons are simultaneously physicians, are they Practicing when they perform? Our terms for engagement might misrepresent the nature of engagement. Are truck drivers performing a service or practicing a skill in which they've yet to achieve full proficiency? I might expect flawless service from a performing practitioner but accept a few flaws from a Practicing one. The very term practitioner suggests someone practicing, the skilled practitioner supposedly the more experienced at Practicing rather than performing. Practicing, as anyone stuck with a clarinet in 4th grade understands, does not necessarily translate into immediate or even eventual perfection. One might become much more skilled at Practicing than they ever become at performing, as every garage band member can attest. And it might well be that every performance serves as a simple extension of Practicing, albeit in some different context. Singing in the shower might prepare someone to perform on a stage, but the situations hardly compare.

Practicing seems necessary but not predictive.

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Memento Mori

Mori
Pablo Picasso, Goat’s Skull, Bottle and Candle, 1952

Memento mori: an artwork designed to remind the viewer of their mortality and of the shortness and fragility of human life.

"Plagues only seem interminable. Life remains short."

Not to wax too finely over the obvious, but The Damned Pandemic strikes me as an enormous Memento Mori. It hovers as an annoyingly continuous reminder of the proximity of morbidity, mortality, and tragedy. Threat hovering over an Eat, Drink, and Be Merry Culture so recently dedicated to ignoring these inescapable elements of existence. Excuse us, please, if we all of a sudden seem unusually pissy. I've noticed myself complaining more but curiously enjoying it much less. I never became an actual habitual complainer, thinking the practice generally unseemly, but I readily admit to finding some welcome solace in the practice, if only occasionally. My complaints seem to work like a capacitor, slowly building a charge before releasing it in a quick discharge, seemingly coming from absolutely nowhere. I'm a smoldering, slow-burn sort of guy, rarely belying my steady countenance until already over some edge. Curiously, I usually feel much better after an outburst, as if most of the cure for my complaint came from simply airing it. An ounce of finding somebody to whine to might be worth a pound of any other cure.

Now, we only have each other to whine to and we each suffer from precisely the same complaint.

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'Stitions

Stitions
Théophile Steinlen's 1896 poster advertising a tour to other cities ("coming soon") of Le Chat Noir's troupe of cabaret entertainers
"Evil might even appreciate my diligence whenever I remember to keep it at bay."

I consider myself minor-stitious rather than superstitious. This designation means that I maintain more awareness than belief. I certainly do notice when a black cat crosses my path, remain scrupulous about not walking beneath open ladders, and appreciate parking karma when it visits me, but I do not go into hiding at the drop of a black cat, open ladder, or when forced to park a quarter mile away from my destination. I believe it healthy for a modern such as myself to retain a taste for lore from the past, not to the point of foraging for newt eyes or keeping a caldron simmering, but to show respect for my ancient elders. I feel confident believing that a few of my direct ancestors believed in witches, for they were Puritans, and Puritans believed such things. I feel confident that a few of my more firmly held beliefs will have been shown up as mere superstitions four hundred years hence, for that's just something futures seem destined to do to our practices, particularly the more sacred ones. I acknowledge my primitive sides, even though they might presently mostly hide from my sight.

Many of my 'stitions stem from my relationship with synchronicity, that sometimes sense that destiny's discovered me by means of the apparently happy accident.

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Slipstems

Slipstems
Picture by Drawing Machine 1, c. 1960
"I type with one hesitant finger regardless of the keypad."

We now possess what we firmly believe to be a well-developed understanding of systems. It's systems this and systems that, everything spoken of in systemic terms. I, myself, sometimes seem little more than a minor node within some vast collection of interrelated nodes, probably contributing some essential element to achieving some unknowable. We have ample systems where the leg bone's quite obviously connected to the hip bone, and innumerable essentially unconceivable systems where mysterious viruses invade in mysterious ways. We do not seem to have a well-developed theory of unconceivable systems, though, other than to complain about so-and-so seeming to not be much of a systems thinker, and I think we suffer under this absence. I refer to these mysterious systems as Slipstems, for their subtleties seem to slip right by us. We perceive them as materially different from what they might actually be, and behave accordingly, coping poorly with the resulting feedback.

I think of systems as unforgiving monsters tamed only by understanding.

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Feckonomics

Feconomics
Richard Anuszkiewicz, Knowledge and Disappearance, 1961
"Human agency becomes evidence of absent fealty and simple want, a grave moral shortcoming."

Economics seems the most feckless profession, one largely populated with avowed blind men endlessly arguing over the nature of an imaginary elephant before them. Each wears the spectacles acquired through their religious conversion into one school or another, the sorts of schools more focused upon indoctrination than studied observation. One might claim to be of the Austrian School, an aristocratic pedigree, indeed. Another might have sworn fealty to Keynes, a mighty systems thinker who never actually settled into any particular insistence. The Behaviorists have become increasingly popular, though they fancy themselves as insurgents not aspiring to prominence within the profession. Supply-siders, rarer than exotic hen's teeth following their 2008 financial system debacle, executed a come back on the backs of whacky, self-espousing conservative Christian law breakers, only to systematically organize another feckless pilfering of the public purse for parochial allocation. It seems that only the depth and color of conviction separates these schools, each in turn becoming the favored idiot step-child of some ignorant administration.

However wise and well-informed any individual economist might have proven him/herself to be, their philosophy only ever finds utility when associated with some administration's policies, and those policies are largely framed by folks with much less understanding and perhaps even greater religious conviction than any individual practitioner.

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Bitchuals

Bitchual
Priests of Anubis, perform the opening of the mouth ritual; illustration from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer
"I have no idea who I'd be without them hectoring me."

I tell myself that I maintain my many rituals to retain my sanity, but truth told, they occasionally drive me crazy. I maintain many rituals, for I seem to be one of those beings more attuned to rhythms than melodies or rhymes. I hold an extreme sensitivity to timing, and sense in what sequences I should engage. I meditate before breakfast, never after, and insist upon fasting until after I've finished my morning writing. My doctor prescribed a pill I'm supposed to swallow a half-hour before breakfast, which disrupts my usual sequence of rituals, delaying breakfast until seemingly much later, so I can throw in my morning shaving and showering ritual before I eat. I fairly religiously maintain these little engagements, inevitably in precisely the same sequence, until long after I hear myself starting to complain about them. They sometimes seem more habitual than actual ritual, only occasionally inducing any increased mindfulness. I confess to complaining about them to myself, as if I'd been cursed with them rather than them having once been freely chosen. I might best explain them as Bitchuals now, rituals where the underlying incantation has become subvocalized complaint. I bitch to myself about 'having' to perform them.

I wouldn't trade my Bitchuals for the world and most of its charms, for it seems I'll come to harm should I disrupt my sacredly profane routine.

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Behinder

Behinder
Hare, Fruit and Parrot, Jan Fyt (Fijt), Flanders, 1647


"The hurrier I go, the behinder I get." -Lewis Carroll


Our society behaves like a still life painting aspiring to become a Walt Disney movie. Directed to stand down, we commence to running around as if simply sitting still might kill us. We had formerly proven ourselves to be an impatient lot with hungry eyes, sprinting into our future, prone to act first and think later, if ever, so I should not feel in the least bit surprised at our latest antics. Certainly some seem fully capable of simply sitting with themselves, alone with their existence, but generations cultured as Mall Rats seem more than hesitant to abandon their once reliable ship. Days off were often seen as excuses to get out and do something, and any urge to stay at home, evidence of some underlying social malady. We became public beings without apparent private life, sharing what would have once been seen as personal secrets with loosely organized audiences composed of more or less equally imperfect strangers, bound by our compulsions.

How, the pundits wonder, did the You Ess of A become the centerpiece in this latest piece of performance art?

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TheSphericalCow

cascading
"The scientist trains to understand how to propose and then let go of naive initial assumptions."

Theoretical Physicists seem to forever resort to a mythical Spherical Cow when attempting to analyze some natural phenomenon. Let's say, for instance, that said physicist wanted to consider the aerodynamics of a cow. (This sort of problem rarely comes up for consideration in the careers of chartered accountants. This might be the best reason to avoid a career in chartered accountancy.) Rather than first include all the variations a cow's body shape might add to the initial calculation, the canny physicists will employ a bit of fiction and first assume a Perfectly Spherical Cow, an utter absurdity. Given this regular shape, general principles might be easily identified to produce a rough first draft of a solution. Later, our physicist can add complications like legs, horns, hooves, and head, to iteratively produce more real world assessments. First pass assessments frequently rely upon a mythical Spherical Cow.

Much science advances in a similar fashion, building upon some deliberate fiction when first attempting to understand some phenomena.

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HeatWave

HeatWave
Die Kornernte (The Harvesters), Pieter Bruegel der Ältere (Peter Bruegel The Elder), 1565
"I cannot capture these dehydrated days for reconstitution later this year."

The petunias have finally come into their own, thirsty every other day. Those plants not yet convinced that it's actually summer probably won't amount to much this year. The deck fountain loses an inch to evaporation overnight and will need refilling by tomorrow. The yard crunches underfoot, though the grass still looks green. Everything dries from the bottom up, the soil losing moisture faster than does the foliage. I'm on watch, wary of another huge water bill, I become stingy and careful. The air feels so dry that I wake up unable to swallow, my throat desiccated overnight to the texture of dry rubber. The air feels lighter than air. A cloud tries to drop rain, but its moisture can't quite make it to the ground and leaves nothing but a smear along the far horizon. Deer graze through the neighbor's garden, pruning plants they usually avoid. I prefer a shady spot these mornings while the world awakens to face a HeatWave.

By what magic has that winter become summer? I missed the transition.

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ParodyProductions

ParodyProduction
Book illustration of Pulcinella in 1700 (1860) by Maurice Sand
" … we're each seemingly blessed with this bottomless ability …"

My first enlightenment came with a frightening realization. I really felt as though I had been successfully passing for what I deeply felt I simply had to be. I caught myself behaving as the self I'd convinced myself I simply had to be, and I, in that moment, saw right through my flimsy facade. I felt in that humbling moment, deeply ashamed at how I'd managed to game myself into that condition. I felt deep contrition, but had yet to understand who else I might pass myself off as being. I had known almost forever that nobody would ever accept the me I once knew to be most representative of myself, that I could publicly be anyone else, but never myself, one Hell of a deeply false premise. And so had begun my first and probably greatest ParodyProduction of my life. I've been living down that performance ever since.

A parody begins with a slightly twisted premise and over time tends to turn into a really bad episode of The I Love Lucy Show.

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SelfDeflection

Self-Deflection
"Maybe we can't afford to know any different …"

In this neighborhood, almost everyone comes and goes through their garage door. As a car approaches home, the door opens via remote control, the car enters, and the inhabitant exits their car inside as the garage door slides back closed. This pattern limits opportunities for interacting with neighbors. Indeed, it limits one's ability to ever even meet a neighbor. We live adjacent but largely anonymously. I see the joggers and dog walkers without usually knowing which garage door they live behind. Once buttoned up at home, most people live looking out the back of their houses, where the hillsides provides views. The front yards, dominated by the driveway, might receive little but modest attention and even less traffic. Further, covenants limit the range of potential individuation allowed by each homeowner. Colors must conform to a narrow palate and even plantings, to consistent guidelines. I just this week, while out looking at the twilit sky, met a neighbor who lives just five doors up the street. She'd been living there since long before The Muse and I moved in five years ago. We'd never seen or met each other before.

This lifestyle seems like a form of SelfDeflection to me.

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InterdependenceDay

InterdependenceDay
William Henry Fox Talbot, The Open Door, before May 1844
"Living free means living interdependently …"

Our kittens Max and Molly behave as if they'd rather I maintained an open door policy, for they feign fierce independence. They're apt to slip by me when I'm carting supper out onto the deck, though I'm more likely to accidently-on-purpose let them slip by me. They gleefully head for the stairway down to the backyard, where they munch long grass fronds —to later barf back up with their supper, which I will dutifully clean up without complaint—, cultivate garden beds, and roll around in the dirt before stealthily stalking birds they could not possibly catch. An hour or less later, and their independent spirit lags. Molly lies near the top of the stairs staring off into the distance while Max maintains his resistance, perhaps by climbing a tree. A shake of the kitty treats package brings them both fleeing back into accustomed dependency, though they shortly start sniffing and mewling around the door again, hoping to regain their independence.

Sometimes, Molly will escape and stay away for a day or longer, but eventually she'll return, contrite, looking as if she might appreciate a square meal.

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SelfReferencer

SelfReferencer
Pablo Picasso, Self-portrait with Palette, 1906


"I admit that I can usually see little further than my own nose …"


All literature seems inescapably self-referential, each work essentially self portraiture. That seems the sort of opening sentence certain to ward off all but the very most dedicated and/or delusional readers, for few want to experience another snake eating his own tail. Us readers want stories, and we're much less picky than we probably should be about where those stories come from or really what they're about. Stories can sooth readers into a supreme sense of self-control, elevating each into the role of almost omniscient observer and judge. After all, we're privy to what the protagonist thinks, his internal monologues, in ways we might not ever personally experience when observing ourselves. My internal dialogues only occasionally and perhaps accidentally distill into anything definite, and, as my dedicated Repeat Offender readers can attest, they often never reach any definitive conclusion. I roll around in my world like a wet dog on a recently clean carpet.

I have been over the past couple of weeks, working with my Genius Nephew to attempt to distill what I'm doing with my writing.

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HardWork

HardWork
Harry Brodsky, Tomato Pickers, 1938
"It's always a fundamentally unfair fight …"

All insistences that we're a HardWorking people aside, I'd rather not have to work that hard. I'd feel a member of a minority if I didn't look around me. As my brother used to ask, "You working hard or hardly working?" My honest response would be that I was hardly working. I feel fortunate to have found so-called work that seems more calling than indenture, so even engaging long hours in it hardly feels much like working. I believe that even clever Yankees found ways to leave their Pilgrim forebears' HardWork behind, creating passive income streams to replace brow sweat and aching backs. Few seem to aspire to careers solely consisting of HardWork, but most might consent to a period of it in the firm belief that they'll eventually graduate to become one of those shiny-seated suits hardly working in the front office.

Still, some HardWork remains.

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Educations

Educations
The Thinker (Le Penseur) by Auguste Rodin, model 1880, cast 1901
"It's pass/fail."

I learned more on my before and after school jobs than I ever learned in any classroom. I began as an intimidated student. Who wouldn't be, with the institution surrounding me? I later learned to become more enthusiastic, but I watched that enthusiasm leach out of me as I learned how the game was played. Even the well-meaning teachers expected me to memorize and test well, to diligently study (without once demonstrating what that entailed in a home with endless distractions), and to learn. I seemed more dedicated to preserving what I understood, defending that against threatening onslaughts ranging from math to science to foreign languages. I had no clear image of who I might become should I successfully assimilate all that orthogonal information, so I chose to hold onto what I had rather than abandon myself in favor of learning how to become anybody else. At work, I pretty quickly learned what I needed to do to thrive. School mostly taught me how to hide out until the serial assaults on my identity ceased.

The process of education deeply offended me.

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TheGoldenBlurb

TheGoldenBlurb
Narcissus by Caravaggio, 1597–1599
"Eviscerate freely, dear readers …"

My maternal grandfather seemed taciturn. He'd speak hesitantly except to poke fun, which usually seemed more mean than humorous. I knew that he'd seen a lot in his time, but he rarely mentioned his experiences beyond a few hunting stories, which I found generally uninteresting. I wondered after his manner of living, for his whole lifestyle seemed cloaked and therefore mysterious. I wonder now how he introduced himself to strangers and I realize that he never properly introduced himself to me. I remember him but admit that I did not now him well. He seemed of a different age. I'd seen the photograph of him as a barefoot school kid, with his Huck Finn-looking compatriots, back when he attended a one room school, where he'd stayed only long enough to graduate third grade. His census record lists him as a laborer, though he owned his own home on a small plot of land featuring a barn where he bedded enough livestock to service the household, chickens, a cow, and a lamb or two.

I began writing in earnest once I realized that I seemed destined for a similar fate, bequeathing little of my manner of living to my grandchildren, for I was certain the generational mystery would very likely ultimately nullify me.

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MendingNets

DeadStill
Winslow Homer, Mending the Nets, 1882
"When becalmed, mend nets."

I woke to the sound of my neighbor running a generator beneath his fifth wheel, a whale of a vehicle he surrounds with an annoying puce LED string when he parks on the street overnight. It provides just enough light to prevent anyone from plowing into it and just a tad to much for us up on the hill above to enjoy total darkness. Morning brings his predictable puttering, for he looks as though he and the missus will go camping this week, taking their whale up to some sprawling campground to, as they say, get away from it all. This morning brought a strange stillness, for the usual dawn winds failed to show up for work today. They usually get the conifer tops to tipping and whip around the aspen and cottonwoods, preventing any watering without wasting at least half of the precious water. This morning's dead calm, though, and it seems as though I'm missing a dimension. My usually animated world turned into a line drawing.

When becalmed, the fishing fleet would mend nets, for to idle away any day seemed tantamount to sin.

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TheGooseberryMeditation

gooseberry

" … transcendent scratch scars which will hopefully never heal."

Gooseberries might be fairly characterized as a bear or a bitch of a berry, depending upon one's vocabulary. I consider them near the top of my long list of culinary delights, for I find them evocative beyond their own spare attributes. A hard, tart, unpromising fruit, they grow on thorny bushes which make them a bear or a you-know-what to pick, and once picked, they demand much from any devotee. Each tiny sphere comes with a stem and a blossom end, both of which must be trimmed to do anything at all with them. My mom used her fingernails, much as The Muse does to accomplish this end. I, possessing blunt fingers, employ kitchen shears to snip off each offending appendage. This effort makes painstaking seem downright cavalier, as each quart seems to take a year or longer to properly barber.

Convenience foods offer both much more and much less than simple convenience.

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Shivility

Shivility
Philip Guston, City Limits, 1969
" … the one damned thing our Constitutional liberties do not provide."

Our melting pot seems to have become a caldron of complaints, our more perfect union defined more by its imperfections than by its inspiring aspirations, with innumerable factions, each presuming to speak for The People. Anything seems capable of sparking a fresh confrontation between passionate partisans and those they firmly believe represent some retrograde Dark Lord. Masks, strongly recommended by decent people dedicated to protecting public health, have somehow become tangled in notions of Constitutional liberty, as if protecting each other amounts to an unforgivable affront. The fabled Bill of Rights now seems the premise of an endless Bill of Wrongs enumerating endless infringements rather than encouraging civil consensus. Social Justice seems the new tyranny, as those harboring long-nurtured grudges forcefully demand a long-elusive equality, each advancement experienced as somebody's else's setback, producing a long, slow descent. Consent of the governed first requires some consent to govern by those to be governed, and no consensus seems likely to emerge. We've become an unruly herd, each seemingly dedicated to separate and inherently unequal interpretations of our common creed.

Civility cannot be insisted upon.

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Accschleptance

Accschleptance
The Third of May by Francisco Goya, 1814
"the first great picture which can be called revolutionary in every sense of the word, in style, in subject, and in intention". Kenneth Clark


"The world changed. I haven't completely kept up."

Acceptance of the NowHere seems a first step, not a final one, for any fresh acceptance will likely appear clumsy, more of an Accschleptance than a flawless integration. This seems a cruel joke, for once surviving the denial, anger, and bargaining before achieving a point where acceptance might prove possible, the cycle seems to simply start all over again with acceptance. An exhausted acquiescence might best characterize the first taste of this sort of success, more surrender than embrace. However such changes occur, they're unlikely to show anyone performing at their best. You'll be several songs into the new set before the sound check's really completed, and until then, any early audience should properly feel initially disappointed. Later some mastery might emerge. Maybe.

This first week of Summer included the tail end of Spring, a transition for both seasons and my blogging themes.

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EasingInto

Predawn1


"I dream of my own dominion while denying myself, as well."


I start my summer days slowly, waking early to waste the first few hours in a dark house gazing out into darkness. I wear a jacket, not wanting to waste an ounce of furnace fuel warming up space I'll later be desperate to cool. I step out onto the driveway to spy whatever satellite might be passing by and quietly curse the neighbor's paranoid night lights. They fear prowlers though their neighbors would just as soon somebody hauled their immobile vehicles somewhere far away where we wouldn't have to watch them rust all day and night. I suppose that I'm an annoyance to my neighbors, too, for I semi-scrupulously maintain my yard, which I do not consider to be hard work, just necessary, but in mountain communities, yards tend toward the natural, left as is, weedy and imprecise. We each display our vices, often proud of our attributes and unaware of the quiet rebukes our presence provokes. The Predawn slips like velvet across my face.

I feel master of this place in the wee, small hours.

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Gruel

Gruel
The disreputable cook from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, the Ellesmere manuscripts, c. 1410.

" … fills me up without much fuss."

My earliest culinary successes came long before any literary success arrived, indeed, back when I was still essentially pre-literate. I'd read very few books by then and found reading tedious. I relied more upon my instincts then, rarely referring to any authority before undertaking a new activity. Cooking had long interested me, but my mother was no chef. My early influences included the Cub Scout Handbook, which illustrated how to boil water over a campfire. Once out on my own and poor, I learned through sad repetition how to make supper. A friend had gifted us with an enormous cylinder of a spongy protein powder athletes use when training, and I took to incorporating that stuff into darned near everything. Most of my meals amounted to naive inventions, eatable after a fashion, but rarely choice. The mysterious powder became the primary ingredient in what I called Giant Cookie Muffins, which resembled neither cookies nor muffins, but which carried more protein on board than the typical cattle boat. They were chewy to the point of spongy, and very, very curiously textured. You've probably never eaten anything even remotely like them. I also baked bread in empty coffee cans, having no proper bread pans, and I can confidently report that it always smelled like freshly baked bread, if not always tasting precisely like it.

I made many crude casseroles in those days, dishes which could serve as breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and often did.

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Procrastidestination

procrastidestination
Scene In Club Lounge by Thomas Rowlandson, 1798

"A time will come, or not, …"

It seems to me that some days were not created to be seized. Procrastination has its rewards, not necessarily as a chronic form of engagement, but as an especially savory sort. I find wearying our long collective obsession with efficiency, for it seems to me that not every frog demands to be eaten at the beginning of every day. Some seem to beg for some contemplation, or even some strategic distraction, perhaps a clever tactical delay. Those observing might well diagnose procrastination as if that were a serious disease, and prescribe decisive action for relief, but I often find great relief in delaying an engagement, improving ultimate satisfaction that way. I seem to need to cogitate my way into some actions, for I sometimes waste my effort by simply jumping in before, for instance, determining the depth of a pond. Furthermore, few satisfactions seem to rise to the level I experience upon completion of a task I've long, or even overly-long, shirked. Plus, in those situations, I feel as though I've achieved on my terms, not the damned clock's.

Some of my forebears were strict Predestinationists.

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Irrevocableution

Irrevocableution
Instruments Of Power by Thomas Hart Benton, 1930-31, from his America Today Murals

" … while this fresh-faced image in this brand new mirror wonderingly gazed back at me."

Some say that biological evolution works only over large scales of time, but I do not believe this assertion, for my own biome seems to have been in continual transition since the day I was born. I might have been evolving daily, scaling this or that feature, never once static. I look for my reflection in my morning shaving mirror and often stare startled into that image peering back, for I cannot remember before seeing anyone precisely like that imposter staring back at me. The hair's at a different angle. The eyes slightly sunken. The nose somehow wrong. Sure, I always find at least a passing resemblance, but I'm increasingly moved to wonder why I even try to find myself there, or more precisely, why I try to find any self I might immediately recognize. I might better serve my self-esteem should I inquire rather than peer into mirrors, trying to see who I might be NowHere, rather than attempting to catch glimpses of whom I should already understand was already a past self. No man shaves the same face twice.

My old reliables either betrayed my faith in them or were never all that reliable in the first place.

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NowHere

NowHere
Changing West, one of ten America Today murals by Thomas Hart Benton, 1930-31
"Even if this Damned Pandemic never recedes …"

I went to bed last night in the there and then. Pandemics have a way of simultaneously propelling one both backward and forward. Backward into longing for how it once was and forward into hopefully pining after how it might become. Meanwhile, one remains steadfastly in the NowHere, a most curious terrain where, depending upon capitalization, it might seem indistinguishable from nowhere or a stunningly present NowHere. The longing and pining too easily become heart-bruising pushes and shoves since both objectives remain steadfastly out of reach regardless of effort expended. For short periods, longing and pining might produce some reassuring respite from any sudden, shocking trauma, but neither serves well as a lifestyle, and both in concert seem certain to result in a sort of skitzy-paranoia serving nobody well, a form of self-destructive denial. However far anyone might long or pine, they remain precisely NowHere.

When will this pandemic end? Likely not in our lifetimes.

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RaggedEndings

RaggedEnding
Achelous and Hercules, Thomas Hart Benton, 1947


"Resolution was never anything but a dream."


We all learn early how stories are supposed to end, with loose ends all tied up, signaling resolution. The novel, once unknown and new, becomes experienced and thereby old. A few, we'll refer back to again and again, not to rediscover any ending already known, but perhaps to re-experience the style and craft of the storytelling, the satisfying phrasing and deft plotting. These stories might never properly resolve, for though we do learn that the butler did, in fact, do it, that knowledge quenches nothing, but sometimes encourages a longer, perhaps life-long engagement with this author and his prose. But that describes the book world. Out here in what passes for the real world, RaggedEndings tend to be by far the most common form of resolution, where though not completely done, one must eventually simply move on. Time and tide and all that.

The last day of Spring, just over a half of a day this year, finds me surrounded by unresolved WhatNow? Stories.

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Commtroversy

Commection


"I came from The Never Can Say Goodbye Family …"


When my ninth great grandparents left England in 1637 for what would one day be called Connecticut, they broke communication with everyone not traveling with them. They spent weeks in total isolation from even land, then years before receiving any word from anyone they knew in their former home country, and then, that communication relied upon writing and paper or long-delayed word-of-mouth. Direct connection with home folks became indirect Commection, and would remain so for the rest of their long lives. No letters survive, and, indeed, letters might have never been sent, for no reliable postal service would emerge for more than a century. Messages might take months to move between what would eventually become colonies and their former home country, and not all ships safely made the crossing. Some messages were doubtlessly lost in transmission. Aside from their charter governing the terms of their obligations to their backers—for they were perhaps more capitalists than Pilgrims—they were truly on their own.

In those times, face-to-face communication fueled the vast proportion of human connections. They talked.

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NDA

NDA
A votive plaque known as the Ninnion Tablet depicting elements of the Eleusinian Mysteries,
discovered in the sanctuary at Eleusis (mid-4th century BC)


"I pray that ours won't hang around for anything like a hundredth as long."


The modern organization is fundamentally indistinguishable from a cult. It perceives its secrets as its primacy, and self-importantly considers everything it does a proprietary secret. It expects employees as well as visitors to sign the cheesiest of legal documents, the holy NDA [Non Disclosure Agreement], a contract of truly questionable authority threatening severe penalties should the signer even inadvertently spill any beans. Some of these 'agreements' also insist that anything an employee or visitor utters inside automatically becomes the sole property of the proprietor without even a distant mention of compensation for that creation. These are privileged reprobates concerned first with dominion. These questionable contracts are agreements in name only, standing more accurately as coercements, my-way-or-the-highway insistences rarely open for negotiation. If a vendor, contractor, or employee doesn't like the terms, they're perfectly free to lump it. Period.

Later, when asked a straightforward question, a disgruntled ex might legally refuse to answer by claiming their speech stifled by a prior agreement.

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Fatigue

Fatigue
Hercules Fighting Death to Save Alcestis by Frederic Lord Leighton (1869-71)


" … when Fatigue wins, everyone loses."


The front line personnel complain of Fatigue, the constant mind-numbing companion of prolonged engagement. The Fatigue enters unnoticed, while the host focuses upon tasks at hand. Standing back, though, a wave of exhaustion washes over, astounding. How could I not have noticed? Fatigue brings no excuses, though, for even more of the same awaits and relievers seem just as scarce as does time. Diving back into the fray, distinctions like night and day lose meaning. Like an engine, one seems to run much longer on empty than when nearer full. A definite pull discourages disengagement. Beyond tired, fresh space appears where energy and fear forfeit their former influence. One becomes a machine repeating practiced motion and preconscious skill. Someone's likely to have to pull you off your work. Only then might real weariness settle in.

Doctors, nurses, and EMTs know Fatigue better than do you and I.

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FourHoles

FourHoles
Earth, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, possibly 1566


"It might not say anything about me or my overblown prowess …"


The oldest political advice counsels that if your opponent's busy digging a hole, stand aside, but what to do when you catch yourself digging one, or, as in my case, find myself engaged in digging four holes? I imagined each a modest effort, though I knew the substrate beneath that flowerbed. I was building a defense against the bastard deer, who, around here, put self-respecting omnivores to certain shame, for they eat anything, everything, even prickly gooseberry shrubs and rhubarb leaves, which by international decree have been recognized as deadly poisonous to all species since at least the early Middle Ages. I'd moved my circular wire fence from my rhubarb bed to enclose the gooseberry garden after The Muse had spotted the expletive deer gnawing my beleaguered bushes, thinking that now that the rhubarb's well established and lush, the deer wouldn't be in any rush to assault it this year. Once I'd moved the barrier fence, the deer mounted armed assaults against the rhubarb, stripping every leaf from every stalk, gratefully avoiding the edible stalks, which The Muse made into a custard pie, but the damage was done. I'd need a better barrier for the gooseberries once I moved the rhubarb's original protective fence back where it apparently belongs.

Hence, the holes.

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ShelfControl

ShelfControl
Still life on a 2nd-century mosaic, with fish, poultry, dates and vegetables from the Vatican museum


"A decent pot of beans will last through a week of breakfasts and lunches if you're not too picky."


Three months ago, when the stay-at-home directives hit, you could be excused if you thought that few people had ever put much thought into the idea of maintaining a pantry. City dwellers have always struggled with shortages of shelf space counterbalanced with a choice of corner bodegas and convenient restaurants. Country dwellers have always maintained some cellar space for what they euphemistically referred to as canned goods, and many maintained more than one refrigerator and even a supplemental freezer or two or three to sustain a sense of self-sufficiency. When it's ten or more miles to the nearest store, an inconvenience market primarily selling gasoline, one quite naturally stockpiles and makes do. The professional class tended to eat out more frequently, daily lunches and a couple of suppers out each week, while the working class might have more frequently brought their own bag lunch and made their own suppers at home, often after a quick stop for that evening's ingredients on the way back.

But the stay-at-home directives disrupted these rhythms, forcing folks to suddenly attend to more than than just the meal before them.

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Ministration

Ministration

Philosophia et septem artes liberales, the seven liberal arts.
From the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century)


"When a leader pisses off their bureaucracy's Old Marys, they're posing for their own statuary; they're finished."


History seems inscribed with leaders' footprints, it's all Napoleon this and Hannibal that without properly acknowledging those who greased the gears of great revolution and, more significantly, the Pax Romanas separating upheavals. Those gear greasers came from the ranks of competent ministers, folks well out of history's limelight who designed, constructed, and maintained the vast bureaucracies which competently administered societies. We find no statuary commemorating the savvy minister, no steeples erected in fond memory of the geeks who broke only paper trails, no continents named after the genius who invented double-entry bookkeeping, but without them the touted leaders could not possibly have succeeded at anything. In our present time, with pandemic sweeping the globe, the scrupulous statisticians and hospital administrators have contributed more to containing the contagion than all the leaders proclaiming impotent dominion over it. Send me one Old Mary and I'll comfortably replace a Pentagon filled with Five Stars and a carrier fleet of sailors.

Back when The Muse worked in the property/casualty insurance industry, she interacted with many brokers and home office executives, but largely via their support staff, who typically reported to a matronly secretary who actually ran the operation, a role one broker referred to as "his Old Mary."

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InappropriateMetaphor

InappropriateMetaphor
The Solidity of the Road to Metaphor and Memory, Misha Reznikoff, 1934

"Suffering might always be the lingering effect of innocently ineffective metaphoring."

InappropriateMetaphor is the root of all evil. It enables us to perceive difference where no meaningful difference exists. It ties us to self-destructive habits, encourages international conflicts, and might convince someone to build ineffective border walls. It fuels global warming, redlining, and urban blight. It encourages disposables which last for centuries. It fuels fear and institutionalizes ignorance. It justifies dominance when cooperation would better serve. It promotes tenacious inequality and bigotry, poverty and great wealth, debilitating sickness and declining health. It makes us crazy while passing for perfectly sane. It represents manners of living as if they were necessary imperatives. It poorly informs us.

Shifting metaphors might mend anything.

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AsymptomaticSuperspreader

Asymptomatic


"Our walking shoes might finally be ready next Tuesday …"


I have come to presume that all people not wearing a mask in public are undiagnosed AsymptomaticSuperspreaders. I wear my mask to encumber my natural tendency toward AsymptomaticSuperspreading. Since I cannot definitively determine whether I'm carrying, I figure that we're all safer if I presume myself to be a dangerous presence. I know that I feel a whole lot safer when others presume the same about themselves. Sure, there's a chance that I won't immediately infect you if I don't wear my mask, but there's essentially zero chance if I do, so I take it upon myself to protect you. You're welcome. I do wonder why you don't feel compelled to protect me in return. Maybe you believe yourself not to be an AsymptomaticSuperspreader. This belief best preserves your innate ability to become one. Congratulations!

The Muse ordered the breakfast burritos the night before for pick-up at nine the following morning.

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Breakout

Breakout
Film still of James O'Neill as Edmond Dantès in The Count of Monte Cristo, a 1913 film.


"I've decided to escape."


I've managed to master about ten percent of a writer's craft in that I seem to be able to write. Raw writing, though, might amount to no more than ten percent of the craft, the other ninety percent being related to all that happens after the writing's done. Editing's in that ninety percent, but so are all the activities related to distribution: promotion, publication, and, I suppose, personality, wherein the writer projects a more pubic persona. Simply writing's a fine occupation, though it pays no bills and without some broader distribution, realizes little reach and influences few; not that writing's only justified if it influences, for it's possible to restrict a writer's work to only influence the writer or just a few close acquaintances, but a broader presence seems essential to fulfilling a writer's potential. Writing's a share the wealth sort of enterprise.

Approaching, let alone mastering writing's tail end ninety percent has always been my dread, one of those activities I wouldn't mind having done, but seem to have no passion for actually doing.

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Timemorelessness

Timemorelessness
Joachim Patinir: Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx, 1515-1524


" … we'll claim to have been there then without actually having understood anything."


We usually define time as finite, a steadily regulating entity, drawing the baseline cadence of our lives, at least in ordinary times. But we live in extraordinary times, beneficiaries of that ancient Chinese curse, so our time proceeds much more erratically. Some days constrain every effort while others seem to expand before us like a vast ocean stretching far beyond the visible or even any imaginable horizon, essentially black holes absorbing every expectation. I cannot fill these immense days, which expand time into unexpendable excess to produce the opposite of feelings of being pressed for time. Time moves languidly then, without harassing drop dead deadlines, hardly seeming like time at all. A Timemorelessness settles in, not needing management or optimization, for it seems an infinite good aching to be what more constraining times might insist upon labeling wasted, but one cannot waste Timemorelessness, like one cannot ever squander any infinite, for expending any portion of it seems to reduce the remaining only insignificantly.

I become a time Midas those days, where everything I touch turns into even more potential, rendering closure meaningless.

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Esteem-ating

Esteem-ating
Study for Nymphs Finding the Head of Orpheus, John William Waterhouse, 1900


" … and not peer darkly into any glass."


We tend to peer into the glass brightly, always perceiving better ahead. Our self-esteem seems to rely upon this curious facility, as if darker visions might utterly destroy us. Those who project more pessimistically attract few followers, for they seem simply grumbly, suffering from some form of depressive disorder. Speaking truth to power first requires speaking truth to one's self, and few selves seem very interested in anything like the truth. We want the princess to marry the prince, which recently transformed from a toad, and live happily ever after because we'd prefer to live happily ever after, too. We first seek reassurance. The depths of deflecting denial seem just as infinite as the heights of our hopefulness. A No-Man's Land stands between these defensive barricades.

In mid-April, the US suffered the equivalent of a D-Day invasion's number of dead every two days, an unimaginable volume, even in retrospect.

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Poelease

Poelease
Basquiat being “stopped-and-frisked” outside the Barbican Centre, Banksy, 2017


"I still fully expect to be harassed if not arrested with every encounter …"


Every child of the sixties learned to distrust the cops. We were at constant risk of arrest, whether from simple possession or even simpler teenage passion, the cops seen as at best spoil sports and at worst voyeurs and vindictives. We maintained vigilance, a practice which left some life-long paranoids. We'd each seen plenty of swaggering cops playing the tough guy but only very rarely encountered a compassionate one. We each expected to be run in for some inadvertent infraction before we'd graduated high school, as we practiced a clandestine, fatalistic form of civil disobedience as a simple matter of existence. We weren't bad kids, but we were at continual risk of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. These experiences formed a conviction that the Poelease were not, as Jack Web's Dragnet insisted, present "to protect and serve," but to harass and punish, an occupying force representing the forces of hypocritical Republicans. It mattered who you knew.

A friend and I were once arrested for the presumed crime of wading in a park fountain we'd both been wading in since we were small children, the arresting officer impatiently explaining that only little kids were supposed to wade in it.

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Longhair

longhair
Samson and Delilah, by Gustave Doré, c. 1860


"I'll recognize ordinary time when I see it looking back at me from my mirror again."


Since the age of twenty-five, my head has served as my chronometer, its finest granularity being the month, roughly the distance between haircuts. My face accurately measures time in days. My mustache, in fortnights, the time between necessary trims. Before the shutdown, I remained groomed as regularly as any clock works. Since, even my shaving's slipped to every other morning, often every third or even a previously thinkable fourth. My hair's gone feral, over my ears and curling along the back. I feel on track to return to my early twenties' self, frizzy pony tail dangling halfway down my back, tied behind my head with a thin rawhide strap. I for years contended that I carried the Sampson gene. Any deceitful Deliah carrying scissors could thwart my power, such as it was. I long lusted after long hair and maintained it with a reverence exceeding religious conviction. I didn't just have long hair or wear my hair long, I WAS a longhair.

Being a longhair qualified as an identity then, a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval of a certified Age Of Aquarian within.

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RecoveringGuru

RecoveringGuru
Adi Shankara with Disciples, by Raja Ravi Varma (1904)


"I make my own noise without hoping to change anyone's world but mine."


Looking at me now, you might never imagine that I was once considered to be a guru of sorts, for I was a designated thought leader and workshop teacher, and the guru designation just seems to come with that territory. As a veteran of the sixties coffeehouse music culture, I was certainly no stranger to the stage. I would balance on the three-legged high stool on the platform overlooking the place and perform my latest song to the largely distracted assembly, hoping to catch an eye, praying to be recognized, just as has every other budding singer/songwriter in the history of the world so far. That stage was never subsequently swarmed by entranced females, but I'd usually gain a heart-felt appreciation or two. Once I started consulting and teaching for real, the relationships became increasingly curious. Because I had been present, holding forth, personal insights participants experienced might end up somehow attributed to me, as if I had induced them, and maybe I had. Heartfelt appreciations sometimes became indistinguishable from veiled seductions. I was largely unaware, though home life could get complicated by a curious voicemail left for me but picked up by my spouse. Then some explaining would commence.

The cult of celebrity, even of local notoriety, did not reassure me.

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ImaginaryEnemies

ImaginaryEnemies
Crítica, engraving by Julio Ruelas, ca. 1907


" … hope springs intermittently, never seamlessly or continuously."


As society seems to crumble, live on the six o'clock news, I feel mostly moved to tap the snooze alarm. The broadcasts seem to need to cast their full color video in shadowy blacks and whites, a palette hardly suitable for representing any underlying complexity. It seems to be us versus them again in never-ending conflict. The simplicity imbedded within the storyline unfamiliar to anyone experienced in any sort of real world relationship. These seem soap opera representations, where human relations distill down to the color of a character's hat and the soundtrack's sinister tone. We each maintain our caricature characterizations of those we imagine to be our mortal enemies, mostly without ever having had the pleasure of their physical company. We remain willfully ignorant of others' intentions, if only because our fictions might prove unbelievable should they stray too far into self-contradiction. We hate more easily than we love, often holding ourselves hostage awaiting another's extension of an appreciation we ourselves withhold. There might well be far fewer bad actors than really bad plays, lines proposed to maintain a seemingly necessary simplicity, lest we grow too confused.

I watched a poorly masked so-called protestor paint graffiti on an innocently by-standing tree in the park adjacent to the statehouse this week.

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Cascade

Cascade
Destruction of the Tower of Babel by Crispijn de Passe the Elder Netherlandish, 1612:
at right men and women flee from the burning tower, at left men and women raise their hands toward two flying angels,
from a series of engravings made for the first edition of the 'Liber Genesis'


"Once prosperous farmers, they moved into a crooked little house in town to live out their days after the Cascade."


The great Cascade has already started, though the full flood has yet to reach many. Starbucks has requested twelve months of rent 'consideration' after not paying rents for the prior two months. Nearly half of the commercial enterprises in this country missed rent payments in April and May, and we're still in very early stages of this particular pandemic. This sort of situation marks only the beginning of a cascade of shortfalls, where landlords, mortgage holders, and property managers start to lose their usual inflows of cash. Insurances and other services follow soon after, with nothing left to even pay the cleaning staff and the garbage men. A building can go derelict after a few remarkably short months. The blood extraction units take over half the turnip patches as the lawyers get involved.

Prosperity has yet to be shown to trickle down, but austerity certainly does, though its trickle easily becomes a Cascade. It also trickles up.

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Thinnest

Thinnest
"
The Veiled Virgin,” Giovanni Strazza, ca. 1850s

"We inhabit a poor country, one whitewashed over blistered base coat."


Read any history of These United States and you'll learn that we've never been quite as united as we publicly purported ourselves to be. We project our stories out onto a frequently disbelieving world, for the world often sees right through our veil to perceive the underlying dishonesty and naiveté. We believe, after a fashion, though that fashion seems the very Thinnest imaginable fabric. We've mostly preferred to look good over doing genuine good, with self-interest a frequent companion. The recovery from the 2008 market crash produced a predictably thin result, with the bulk of the recovery focused upon repairing the veil, producing another remarkably thin result; perhaps the Thinnest ever. Employment rose to record levels, but so did the number of absolute bullshit jobs and scutty gig work, usually without benefits, providing only a distant appearance of prosperity. A puff of adverse breeze quickly brought down to their knees those inhabiting that house of cards.

Our pandemic defenses, too, were cardboard constructions, long starved of resources in favor of flashier uses.

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ThePandemicParadox

PandemicParadox
Rage, Flower Thrower, by Banksy, painted on a wall of a gas station in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Palestine


"Even the most powerful people on this planet cannot influence the velocity of fate."


This Pandemic seems to have promoted paradox into fresh prominence. Paradoxes shred conventional problem-solving by presenting conditions not immediately conducive to understanding or resolution. They remain mysterious and above all tricky. This one does not crisply respond to even the more well-intended interventions. Our scientists seem uncommonly wise for initially prescribing strategic retreat. Politicians predictably embraced full frontal assaults, if only to preserve the useful fiction that they were in charge, a strategy doomed to fail. The more powerful you pretend to be against a pandemic, the weaker you eventually seem. Scream all you want, offensive speech and derisive action will not succeed. Conquering paradoxes demands a certain subtlety.

Responding to any emergency with patient inquiry seems so counter-intuitive as to feel like most certainly the wrong approach.

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Bookish

Bookish
Gutenberg: Colored engraving created in about the 19th century. Artist unknown. Source: Bettman-Corbis reproductions

"I never feel wealthier than when I'm carrying a fresh pile of found books out the front portal of my local library."

I identify as Bookish in the same way that some identify as Jewish. This seems largely a genetic inheritance combined with a cultural tradition. Bookishness carries deep obligation along with certain evolving rituals, tradition compounded through diligent practice. My shelves overflow with treasured artifacts, reminders of theres and thens, wheres and whens from my past. My social and spiritual evolution seems catalogued in my library, each volume a memory of a specific place in time, most holding some residue of satisfaction or insight, though I retain a few there out of possible spite, for I have through books maintained an inner dialogue, a dialectic inquiry into the vast variety and novelty of this life, little of which I feel properly positioned to personally experience. I've despised some of this. My library and my much broader catalogue came to more than merely inform me, but to define who I've come to become. My education ongoing, settling little to nothing, yet the dialogue/monologue continues.

I read much more than I write, and might most properly identify myself more as a reader than as a writer, though few accept reader as an identity or a profession, for it pays nothing but dividends, no cash incomes.

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Relentless

Relentless
Hope by George Frederic Watts, 1886
This image shows a lone blindfolded female figure sitting on a globe, playing a lyre that has only a single string remaining.


"This relentless siphon started defying simple gravity long ago …"


My hop vine, grown seven feet in a few short weeks, sparked my insight. I've come to think of it as my Hope Vine. I'd been reveling in spring, the great respite from winter's ravages, and wondering what I was witnessing, for this fresh season's beneficence seemed … what? … oh yea, Relentless. There has been no stopping it. A crashing hail storm pock-marked a few of the more delicate leaves and blossoms, but the expansion continued in earnest the following morning. The seeds I sowed without really knowing what they might become quickly sprouted and not even the neighbor cat using their planter for his bathroom discouraged their attempted dominion. Even the chokecherry, blighted as it seems, threw out fresh branches and suckers. Not even the endless-seeming setbacks through winter seem like barriers now, for I know how their progression turned out, or at least how it's turned out so far. A clear expansion relentlessly continues, with seemingly ever greater passion, no obvious end in sight.

We inhabit a tenaciously positive feedback loop where nothing seems capable of slowing or turning forward momentum.

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Opacity

Opacity1
The Blue Kimono by Chase William Merritt, 1888

" … we must believe in something much more than nothing to amount to anything worth anything in this world."

Nobody usefully argues for full transparency because nobody really wants to see my kimono flapping open from neck to knee. A useful level of Opacity seems necessary to maintain civility, though nobody walks around wearing an impenetrable brick wall or black box. We quite properly keep our kimonos firmly belted to maintain a certain dignity, though we well understand that as a result not everything's on display. Fantasy fills in what fabric conceals, and those fantasies reveal perhaps more than any flapping open kimono ever could. Hopes and wishes, fears and dreads complete the presentation, imagination always insisting upon ever more disclosure. A delicate balance maintains decency between cleavage and knees, and not every observer seems all that pleased whatever that balance might reveal.

Any relationship predicated upon a presumption of full disclosure seems doomed from its start because only a part of anyone's impressions ever become fit for any other human's consumption

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Anticiplaytion

wildanticipation
The Sixteen Luohans by Shitao (Zhu Ruoji), 1667

" … a post-graduate course in more warmly anticipating …"

It seems as though my days used to follow a certain cadence, each inducing its own rhythm. Mondays, I'd tidy up the place. Alternate Tuesdays would find me sorting recyclables. Wednesdays, I'd stop by the library. Thursdays, I'd shop to avoid the Friday crush. Fridays, I'd poke around in the yard. Saturdays and Sundays would bring a Farmers' Market excursion or two, extreme larder-stocking, and unrushed suppers with hot jazz beating in the background. Then the radio station cancelled the hot jazz program in favor of talking heads. We filled in with RadioDeluxe, a fine production but clearly lacking in Bix Beiderbecke tracks. Winter intervened to leave us snowbound. We were gone for a couple of weeks, returning with spring to be sequestered in place, snowbound without snow, no place to go. The Farmers' Markets didn't open this spring. Alternate Tuesdays still find me sorting recyclables, but the rest of my anticipations have gone arrhythmic. I can't coherently anticipate right now.

I imagine this condition a real world test of a long-considered situation.

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Imprecision

Imprecision
Gerhard Richter: Frau Marlow, 1964

" … revealing perhaps more than any of us care to recognize about reality and truth."

Back before the pandemic, when I could sometimes go out for morning coffee, the waitperson would often respond to my order by saying, "Perfect," as if we'd managed to achieve perfection together. I'd order my usual large (not Grande, thank you, or Venti … we are not in Italy and even in Italy, I chronically forget the proper word) decaf in a china cup and receive a "Perfect" in return. I'd noticed that this response had become common, so I was never surprised or shocked, but I remained curious about how such precision had entered into the most common of all transactions. It was "Perfect" here, "Perfect" there, and "Prefect" pretty nearly everywhere, while in what passes for real life, in ordinary times, perfection remained as it always had, slightly rarer than hen's teeth.

I figured that we might have forgotten how rare perfection always was and continues to be, as production values have exponentially increased.

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I'mWithStoopid

Stoopid
"Keying Up" – The Court Jester by William Merritt Chase, 1875

"I might never know what to say to any unmasked anyone."

I asked The Muse what I might say to someone not wearing a mask in public. She responded by reporting that she'd been considering just carrying around a few of her homemades, so she could generously offer them one, on the presumption that they might not own one. I thought that a fine strategy, though I notice that she hasn't yet started offering anyone this sort of assistance. Judging from the apparent belligerence of those choosing not to wear masks, her offer seems unlikely to attract many takers, though just one might reform my pessimism. I failed to convince my grand niece that two hundred thousand empirical observations might reasonably suggest that a medication might not prevent or cure Covid-19, but she insisted that the findings might have influenced her had they come from double blind testing, the very sort impossible to perform during an actual pandemic. She was married to her perspective. The more I argued counter to her preconceptions, the stupider I seemed to become in her eyes. Stupid in anyone's eyes renders impossible any seeing eye to eye.

Even a casual observer can't help but notice that our world seems filled with utter stupidity.

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Eigenvaluing

NikPicking

"Together, we might not get anywhere but where we always go and where we seem to belong, anyway."

Each relationship seems to resolve to a certain eigenvalue, a self-similar resolution. When a relationship becomes dominated by a single personality, a Me Me Me Me Me Relationship, it resolves to an eigenvalue of one, reputed to be the loneliest number. Other relationships seem to reliably reproduce certain shapes, the triangle being one of the more common. In these, every issue seems to have three sides, like when a mother-in-law seems to get involved in every decision, the two principals might struggle to find unaided resolutions. Families quite pre-consciously replicate reliably similar shapes, some deeply influenced by a forceful father or a tenaciously unruly child. Whenever they engage, they seem to play to the same stymie. Some relationships reliably replicate dissatisfaction while others produce great delight. It's a great mystery why relationships behave in this way, but they certainly seem to eventually project certain predictable outcomes upon themselves. Some seem especially blessed and others, unusually cursed, reliably fractal, each in their own unique way.

Those trying to shape this charge, this strangely-attracting force, often simply make matters worse, adopting one after another seemingly inevitably failing improvement strategy.

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Anniverstory

Anniverstory
The End of the Song of Jerusalem, William Blake, 1827

" … what actually came to pass one day but never, ever went away."

The crabapple trees were in full and glorious bloom. The iris bed across the front had just begun showing color. The house, still white with garish blue window trim in those days before I'd stripped it to bare wood to repaint it caperberry green. The rose garden and the spreading, ancient apricot were still in their more primitive forms, time's ravages yet before them. Family and friends gathered to witness The Muse and I marrying. We'd planned a fitting celebration with fairy lights strung in trees and all along the arbor over the back deck. James flew over from Seattle to serve as our chef. We bought Copper River Sockeye filets and huge bags of fresh-cut asparagus and enough strawberries to more than feed the multitude. The Muse's Aunt Lillian tottered around the yard, leaning over her walker to pull errant weeds. Everyone who attended accepted an assignment to do something, for this would be a Do It All By Ourselves affair.

The preacher drove over from Beaverton with his partner, both heavily tattooed and pierced. The Muse's siblings and cousins came vast distances to join the celebration.

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Unmasking

Unmasking

"Clothes make up the man more than make him."

Writing this morning, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd commented on Our President's mask peccadillo, how his refusal to wear the mask his administration prescribes unmasks him and how his insistence upon constantly projecting a public personna has left him without evident personal identity. Nobody has a clue who he might really be beneath his masking exterior, which leaves him a definite minority in a society increasingly identifying itself as dedicated mask wearers. Our new masks don't so much cloak as identify who's careful and who's careless, who's courteous and who's contemptuous, who's comfortable demonstrating their vulnerability and who's in reckless denial. Curiously, as Dowd notes, our great masking seems to have unmasked who we more authentically are, with those too awfully invested in playing dress up suddenly relegated a lower social standing.

The America I grew up in performed like a continuous carnival with each in the costume commensurate to their role.

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QueuingUp

QueuingUp

"I foresee a day when meat might become, for a time, flavoring more than centerpiece entree …"


I really should have paid closer attention through Junior High, for I contend that every life lesson worth learning was woven into that experience, few of them during actual classes. Those years now seem as though they were a perfectly crafted passion play, a junior soap opera with every archetypal character present. Lunchtime seemed especially rich. Each clique would congregate around their table, territorial and exclusive. The sack lunchers segregated from those rich enough to cough up the thirty-five cents for a hot meal. Whatever the class, everyone ended up QueuingUp, waiting 'on' or 'in' line for something. Americans have never been naturally skilled at QueuingUp. Where I come from, line standing was for foreign cultures and big city people. Us small city people might line up for a football game or Forth Of July fireworks, but our daily lives rarely required us to wait for anything. Our heritage seemed to be instant gratification, except for the excruciatingly slow queue in the junior high school lunch room.

The pandemic has popularized QueuingUp like I've never seen.

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WeightingHeavily

Weighting1
Paul Cézanne, Young Italian Woman at a Table, about 1895–1900

"Pandemics progress by such insignificant increments …"


I imagine myself trapped in a waiting room with time weighing heavily upon my soul, no real place to go, Weighting. C. S. Lewis might have imagined this place, every seat as hard as an old bench and none comfortable. I stand beside my possessions, which I've stuffed into an oddly-shaped knapsack, which seems a tad too heavy and awkward to handle. I'm weary of standing and cannot quite bring myself to sit. I want to wander over toward the newsstand, but I'd have to drag my knapsack along and I cannot quite face that chore. Besides, I know what I'll find at the newsstand: stale candy I wouldn't choose to buy if it was fresh, yesterday's headlines posing as news, a haze of cheap cigar smoke ringing the place. My train (or will it be a bus?) would be running way late if it was running on anything like a schedule. My destination unknowable, departure time up in the air, I could be waiting anywhere, but I seem to be Weighting nowhere at all.

I spent much of this writing week deferring, missing even my own meager deadlines.

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NoPlaceToChide

731px-John_Tenniel_-_Illustration_from_The_Nursery_Alice_(1890)_-_c06543_08
Illustration from The Nursery "Alice", from John Tenniel's illustrations to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," 1890

"I am neither my neighbor's critic nor her champion."

Have you noticed that The Chattering Class has lost its class? No longer does mere difference of perspective divide us and discourse hold promise. Public derision widens our divisions, encouraging them, rendering unthinkable even civilly agreeing to disagree. Daring to speak my mind might find me publicly derided as a fully fledged Enemy of the State, arriving far too late for any hope of receiving redemption. "Off with her head," some social media Red Queen says, and headhunters appear to jeer and shout down. Can anyone dishonorably defend their honor? I find myself wondering, "Who stole your trike?", for the spite seems inborn, a carefully nurtured identity, a grand and glorious begrudgement of the first degree. Taking offense seems no longer offensive, but an anticipated if overly-defensive response. A simple question seems likely to bring brimstone down upon the questioner and a curious social standing upon the devil delivering it. Dogs eat dogs and pups routinely eat puppies now, every issue a dogfight to the death.

The death of civil discourse arrived on little cat's feet, greeting us as warmly as might any savior.

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IllAtEase

IllAtEase
The Raising of Lazarus after Rembrandt by Vincent van Gogh (1890).

" … having apparently traded in my innate senses for a double handful of IllAtEase."

This pandemic provides uneasy respite. The Muse suggests that we're better off if we just assume that we're infected and throwing off virus like one of those hose-tracking garden sprinklers. I imagine that everyone I encounter's doing likewise and that I'm not successfully dodging their bullets, so I slather sanitizer before and after every excursion. An ancient adage insisted that a dream come true amounts to the most insidious punishment, and the now interminable pandemic seems the perfect foil for any former aspiration to spend more leisure time with family. Time moves most slowly when held under this kind of lock and key, where nothing physically inhibits me, but where a certain moral sense suspends me in place. I do the right thing without the expected consequent feeling very good about my choice. Nobody notices my generous absences and nobody rejoices over my tacit contributions. The Muse wonders where I've gone and I respond by asking where in this constraining space I might feel safe to manifest. I feel distinctly IllAtEase.

Sleep produces no rest, but seems to encourage an ever-deepening restlessness; a Lazarus death.

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NumberPunching

NumberPunching
The Elephant Celebes, Max Ernst, 1921

" … at least one piñata short of a party."

Covid-19 case counts suggest whatever the watchman damned well wants them to suggest. Raw numbers seem to be inconsistently reported due to a near absence of testing. Some officials seriously support sponsoring fewer tests, since increased testing just seems to inflate the case numbers. Some firms and localities refuse to even discuss test results, insisting that they're thereby providing an important public service by preventing panic among people who might not properly interpret findings. One governor of an early-opening state has repeatedly privately apologized for releasing, with considerable fanfare, data which only showed a reduction of new cases because of what he later quietly referred to as "sorting errors." Who sorts data so that April follows May? Multiple times? NumberPunchers do.

A NumberPuncher professionally muddies waters.

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Crow-Ding

Crow-Ding
Plague in an Ancient City, Michiel Sweerts, c. 1652–1654
"I'm no more ready to return to what passed for normal than I was prepared to inhabit that normal when it was here before."

If we refer to a crowd of crows as a 'murder,' a crowd of HomeDespot shoppers might reasonably be referred to as a 'suicide' of shoppers, for the context seems to insist upon a shopper's acceptance of suicidal risk as the price of entry. The door monitor, outfitted in fetching blaze orange vest and weary-looking face mask, turns back no-one, but seems posted as a public genuflection to a government recommendation and not as any serious enforcement. The aisles might be marked with fresh masking tape arrows which no more than vaguely hint at a form of traffic control, but I don't know the layout well enough to understand how to get where I'm going should I follow their subtle advice. I don't even notice their presence until I'm halfway there and the side aisle seems to have been blocked off for some lift truck work. I'm stuck however I go. By the grace of one of the genuinely lesser gods, I find what I came looking for, but I abandon whatever hope I carried in with me when I see fresh chaos at the checkout stands, with unruly aisles-full of overfilled carts and impatient customers. I return my prospective purchases back to the shelf display from whence they came, wheedling my way past clutches of husband and wife tag teams leisurely blocking my way, and exit the store to slather my hands in sanitizer and slink back home. I should have known better than to have ever entered there, me and my surviving hope to find better.

My history with crowds and consequent Crow-Ding (that warning klaxon sounding in my head whenever entering a crowd) informs my relationship with them now.

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RustySpring

RustySpring
Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Angel Troubling the Pool, c.1845

'Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered; waiting for the movement of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water; whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.' John 5.2-4

" … in need of an angel or two to trouble overlong-still waters."


Spring finally arrived after six full months of winter. Through the short days and the early lengthening ones, I survived on my usual time-worn fantasy, that if I was not snowed in, I would be out in my garden, on my knees, praising all creation, troubling dirt. I fondly fantasized about really taking control of my landscaping, culling rocks and loosening soil until the yard looked like a Sunset® Magazine cover. Once spring came, though, I watched myself milling around the periphery of the pool awaiting the arrival of an angel, I suppose, as if I needed permission to begin. I thought the season a false one at first, distrusting the prankster weather, disbelieving that the snows had actually passed, even after the snowbank melted into nothing more threatening than ground moisture. I'd all winter imagined myself simply springing back after hibernation, but I found myself rusty and distinctly less resilient than I'd remembered myself being before.

Resilience seems to be one of those overblown concepts, the kind that imagine much differently than they ever manifest.

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HasteningQuickly

HasteningQuickly
Tortoise above Venetian lagoon, Melchior Lorch, 1555

"Expect the skunkworks to fizzle after stinking up the joint."

Project Management's first principle, often ignored, insists that one must Hasten Slowly, for even The Ancients understood that each human activity held a natural cadence, worthy of respect, and that attempts to violate that rhythm reliably produced calamity. The human brain seems most skilled at imagining utter impossibilities. We experience an inconvenience and easily imagine better, faster, and cheaper ways to achieve that end, means which seem likely to produce less inconvenience. In practice, most of the time (not by any means all of the time) we produce greater calamity when attempting to speed up things. We shave subtle essentials like testing, for instance, which seems to produce no immediate value, even further slowing development when productive resource gets sidetracked fixing pesky bugs. We remain steadfastly capable of reducing any effort down to apparent essentials, eliminating what we, under duress, easily classify as trivial distractions, deferring any deeper appreciation of O-ring chemistry, for instance, until an even more inconvenient time. We take great pride at 'making our date.'


HasteningQuickly becomes ever more seductive when experiencing a critical necessity, like during a pandemic.

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AskChewing

AskChewing
The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David, 1787

"My foibles seem more prominently displayed than my mastery"

I once engaged in frenzied ten hour marathons of yard work whenever Spring finally came, as if I'd stockpiled overwinter energy and it was approaching its pull date. I'd rake and prune and mow and dig, leaving a cluttered pile of debris behind me, then drag that jumble out into an uneasy pile beside the driveway. I'd call Kevin with his trailer and pay him a hundred bucks to haul that mess to the dump or cut the shrubbery into small enough pieces that I could fill the yard debris container for weeks into the future. I'd end those days utterly exhausted and also utterly exhilarated, holding a feeling of mastery and dominion that winter had so recently successfully held at bay. These were genuine red letter days, memorable for the ten thousand ways I'd managed to overcome all the usual complications, my own initiating motivation not the least of these. I would have spent the better part of at least a week thinking through an effort that only engagement could ever resolve, telling myself that I was not so much procrastinating, but carefully planning. I was actually procrastinating, for such a momentous engagement awed me from before its outset. I both relished and feared the work.

Now, I tend to parcel out the springtime yard work into two hour pieces, distributing it over the opening weeks of the season.

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Morpidity

Morpidity
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp: Rembrandt, 1632

"Our own innocence seems most vulnerable."

Up against The Ides of May, and best guess estimates of the number of pandemic casualties in the You Ess of A exceeds the number lost in all the wars we've engaged in since 1950. That's four and a half months to exceed the number of war dead over the prior seventy years, and we've been continuously engaged in war over that time. Some still doubt whether this epidemic hasn't been overblown for political dominion, with armed self-proclaimed militia "safeguarding" the "rights" of certain shopkeepers to encourage conditions shown to stimulate the virus' spread. Most of the dead seem innocent enough, having contracted the bug from inadvertent contact. I saw last night on television an interview with a top virologist who was recovering from a bout he figures he'd caught while on a flight to New Orleans last month. He wore a mask and gloves and carried his handy hand sanitizer, and had decades of experience working with killer viruses, but he still caught the damned thing. This bug respects nobody's God-granted or constitutionally-guaranteed rights to life or liberty, let alone the pursuit of simple happiness.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court overturned their governor's extension of his stay-at-home order, the justices insisting that he'd over-reached his legal powers in attempting to limit the possibility that some might otherwise needlessly die from viral infection.

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Pauseperity

Pauseperity
Adriaen van Ostade: The Schoolmaster, 1662

"What doesn't humble you makes you smug."

Our Pandemic has paused our planned prosperity. The Pestilence Horseman of the Dreaded Apocalypse rides roughshod through our society, heartlessly mowing down more than our fellows, for avoiding him drove us to flee from our jobs, our schools, and our precious, precocious society. One day, our economy seemed to be humming right along. The next day, it forgot that song: words, tune, the whole shebang. Even those who had subscribed to the widely popular Prosperity Gospel suspended their pursuit when manifestation moved from being a simple matter of personal motivation to one of humbled recognition and acceptance. Overnight, consumption turned cruelly inconspicuous when not even a stockpile of Benjamins could buy you toilet paper. We became jobless paper paupers instead of employed paper prosperous, suddenly unable to maintain appearances. Flow stalled.

The I Ching spoke of disruptive calamity overturning accustomed order, but those stories seemed more like history than current affairs.

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GroaningUp

groanUp1
"We each hold our world on our shoulder and we are each still GroaningUp …"

The Greek God Atlas held the world on his shoulders, a curious career choice. I suppose world holding's necessary work, but necessary of the sort that someone else should do. It's a utility position, one with little self-promotional possibilities, offering no leave and little potential for advancement. It's maintenance work. Though Atlas is usually depicted wrapped in swaddling clothes, I imagine him dressed in J. C. Penney khaki work clothes and Red Wing work boots, like the janitor at my grade school wore, for he, too, inhabited the nether region of my world, down where the coal furnace belched heat and the teachers fled to smoke. The place everyone knew was there but nobody spoke about.

I later came to understand that Atlas' story served as an allegory for the all too human condition, for each of us holds a world upon our shoulders.

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PandemicAmish

PandemicAmish
"I seem to have little to lose by dropping a century or two from my lifestyle."


As our pandemic disrupted lengthy supply chains, a certain simplicity seemed to emerge. The NYTimes Food Section features more recipes for dishes not traditionally found there, like beans and casseroles. Supermarket Ingredient sections seem hardest hit, with flour, pasta, and beans frequently unavailable for any price. Restrictions limiting a shopper to one or two of certain items have become commonplace. Our larder has consequently become more strategic and The Muse and I have increasingly become stockpilers, grabbing whatever's available when we spot it. The smaller shops seem better stocked. Thank heavens that our food security seems so far unthreatened, but our meals, always fairly simple affairs, have become even simpler, with fewer exotic fruits and vegetables and more reliable old familiars.

I've been reading a series of novels set around Ohio's Amish communities, and I sense a certain simplicity settling into our pandemic lifestyle.

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History-onics

History-onics
Le Désespéré (The Desperate Man), Gustave Courbet, circa 1843
"Suspended between two great mysteries, I face into another day."

I become a truly desperate man when asked about my past. I feel reasonably certain that I've had one—or several—but I don't recall specifics. I can't remember faces and must painstakingly reconstruct places and times. I didn't keep records other than journals and the few dated pieces of writing I've retained, many of them stored in formats now unreadable. Pass me a common "intake form" and I draw a blank, for I truly do not know. With considerable prompting, I might create a believable fiction, plugging dates and events to produce what might appear to be a credible history, but this will not resolve the fundamental mystery for me and will prove largely fictional in practice, should any of the details become critical for diagnosis or treatment. My past seems every bit as fictional and speculative as my future.

The pandemic has spawned a booming business in obituaries, half-page histories of those who've died.

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ExtremeDomestification

ExtremeDomestification
Relativity, lithographic print by M. C. Escher, 1953
"ExtremeDomestification seems to be positively effecting even the most feral among us …"

When under duress, I search for a reframe. My mother taught me at a very early age that toast never actually burns, but sometimes browns rather extremely. I grew to extend that response pattern into a lifestyle where my first (and often best) reaction to any adversity involved reframing the story. A bout of seasonal flu became a forced vacation. Car trouble wouldn't leave me stranded but engaging in an unplanned adventure where I might have to invent a new way to get back home. Doors didn't close behind but opened ahead. I found that I could safely reframe in response to what I otherwise might have classified as calamity, and thus retain some sense of control. I get to write my own story.

My reframing self might describe the Governor's Stay At Home Directive as ExtremeDomestification, for its effect has been to encourage transformation of what might have started as an authentic homebody into something more resembling a home soul, someone more than married to home life, but conscripted into it, sentenced to serve an indeterminate term with no reduction in sentence for good behavior.

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Pretensal

Pretensal
Self-portrait, Jacques-Louis David (1794).
He was a dictator of the arts under the French Republic.


'
Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.' Samuel Johnson, from The Idler, 1758

"I intend to cast about for reassurances without pretense."

I compensate for my persistent lack of access to The Truth by embracing candor. I can certainly describe how things seem to be to me, understanding that this perspective might not have ever had the pleasure of actually meeting The Truth, but I at least own it. I can and often do leave myself feeling uncomfortable with my candor, understanding that popularity prefers me to project greater pretense, lest someone think the less of me. It's apparently a great sin for anyone to think the less of me. While I might certainly prefer everyone to appreciate my scribblings, I've been trying to get over the need to please, for that need alone can leave me a prisoner to pretense, poised atop a teetering tower of questionable premises.

Our current administration does daily battle with candor, a fresh poster child in a long line of similar poster children posing behind pretense.

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NegativeSpace

Withouts
"Looking at a Waterfall", Geiami, 1480

"They seem to be discovering a world I desperately need …"

In the Japanese painter Geiami's Looking at a Waterfall, the focal point of the work, the waterfall, seems like negative space composed of the space leftover after he painted everything surrounding the waterfall. The painting plays positive off of negative to produce a seemingly complete image. Life, too, seems to present in this way. From my writing chair, the visible ridgeline seems projected against a negative background of sky, where nothing but 'not ridgeline' resides. The off-white wall between this room and the kitchen appears as a interruption, a negative space visually cutting off counter, chair, and floor when viewed from my writing chair. These words depend upon NegativeSpaces framing them. Even the now long-lived Stay At Home Order serves as a Negative Outcome Objective, its purpose being to avoid a result rather than to acquire one. Pandemics produce NegativeSpaces, haves and have-nots, where the have-nots seem to dominate.

I've been noticing how seductive the newly prominent NegativeSpaces seem.

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Maudling

Maudling
A satirical cartoon attacking the Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister, for the passage in April 1829 of the Roman Catholic Relief Act
"We're still nattering over tactics, Maudling our way into an increasingly perilous future of our own creation."

My first project management assignment came over a lunch, from someone I didn't at the time report to who managed a department in another division of the company. A succession of actual project managers had failed to tame an effort, so my name had come up, probably over another lunch, where his VP and my VP had reached an agreement that perhaps informally assigning Schmaltz as a sort of stealth project manager might finally tether the aspiring initiative. I was told, as a first step, to, "go get the plan." Naive me, never before having managed a project, I set out on what would become just another chapter in a never-ending saga to find a reliable plan for the initiative. I'd initially thought my predecessors delinquent for having failed to at least produce a plan, though I later learned that a) no plan had ever existed because b) the effort was inherently unplannable. Those VPs who had so blithely recommended assigning me to fix the so-called project had abrogated their responsibility, for this project had no strategic intent, and no two people I spoke with while searching in vain for the plan, agreed upon the purpose of the project. I never did manage to produce a credible plan before the executives wisely chose to cancel funding for that woe begotten excursion after the fifth or sixth time that I'd reminded them that they'd need to decide upon some strategic intent before the effort could ever hope to satisfy them.

I mention this story at this time because it seems to inform our current dilemma in our ongoing battle against the insidious Covid-19 virus.

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Doldrums

Doldrums
Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on, J. M. W. Turner, 1840


"Adventure still awaits our arrival, entirely dependent upon our short-term survival."

We left port with reports of steady trade winds ahead, though those left us after two months at sea to find us beating across the Horse Latitudes of this pandemic. We lost the steady sensation of forward progress to enter a vast sea, seemingly endless, and so our originating purpose naturally diminished until we felt as though we held no aspirations save for the most primitive personal preservation. The crew grew increasingly restless as our collective helplessness came into ever sharper focus. With stores waning and patience at a premium, a certain feral nature overcame us. We lost our usual courtesies and decorums. We completed chores listlessly and suppers became sullen affairs with little evident cheer or hopefulness. We'd entered the Doldrums.

A second breadwinner in our extended family received his layoff notice this week.

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Banqueting

Banqueting
"A Mad Tea Party" by Arthur Rackham, from a 1907 edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

" … like family turned recursive, …"


Every month or two, B. C., The Muse and I would host some sort of supper party. Often, when a group of visiting scholars or such would be in town for a conference, meeting, or workshop, The Muse would invite the whole gang, instructing me to prepare for fifteen to thirty, with no real way to verify how many might actually attend. I'd plead for information about food preferences and prejudices and eventually just end up making two or three or four suppers in one, so as to not too deeply offend the vegan, gluten-free, paleo, or pescatarian, for at least one of each was always certain to attend. I'd spend a day cleaning house and prepping food. We'd pull out the good china tablecloths and pretend that we always lived that way. The food never ended up being the centerpiece, though. The conversations filled out the proceedings as our guests made connections they could not have possibly made within the constraints of their regularly scheduled meetings.

These were inevitably enlivening evenings where, even though I'd end up staying up way past my usual bedtime, everyone seemed to leave feeling richer than when they arrived.

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Eyedentity

Eyedentity
Banksy: French Maid, 2008 (Shoreditch, London street art)
"I could claim to be adapting, but I'm more emphatically faking it for now …"

I peer into my shaving mirror and see an aging Emeritus Professor of Ancient Languages in dire need of a haircut peering back out at me. I search, it seems, in vain for my usual cues while standing at something resembling parade rest, wondering where my initiative went. The season seems to be moving as seasons do, inexorably into, while I wait like a hesitant jump-roper to leap into each new day. I can't seem to find the old rhythm most days, and even when I catch a glimpse of it, the old timing seems somehow off and I'm caught tripping over my three left feet. In pre-pandemic days, my god-given two left feet seemed to serve me well enough. That third one, apparently sprouted since the disruption, often renders me flummoxed and confused. I usually find no clear clue what I should do next, … or before, either.

Some so-called primitive cultures forbade mirrors, claiming that they encourage unseemly vanity and worse, that they might steal souls.

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ThUs

ThUs
The Mystical Nativity, Sandro Botticelli, c. 1500–1501

Forget The Melting Pot, we're more rightly a stew.

In Botticelli's Renaissance masterwork The Mystical Nativity, symbolism seems thicker than the paint. He tried to depict the end of an apocalyptic time, when, after three and a half years rampaging around in the world, The Devil and his associates were relegated back into the underworld from which they came. Creepy looking angels dance above while others embrace "men of goodwill" along the bottom of the work. Both Mary and the Baby Jesus appear larger than life, a throwback perspective from times when photographic projection was often modified, with most important objects inflated larger than supporting ones. Overall, it appears as a busy image, but depicts a joyful time, for it shows a great evil exiting the world.

Some within each generation before and since sincerely believed that they were the chosen few, the ones intended to actually experience the apocalypse, apparently a longed-for honor among True Believers.

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NewAbnormal

NewAbnormal
Composition with Fruit, Guitar and Glass, Pablo Picasso, 1912
"My job, our job, seems to be to out appreciate our Old Masters."

Abstraction did not take the art world by storm, but by slow accretion, for the art world reacted to this change not as an opportunity, but as a threat to tradition. Societies care about tradition because their identity lies there, reinforced by the familiar and seemingly threatened by difference. Past masters serve as exemplars, and gatekeepers insist upon fresh works properly respecting pre-existing works without actually plagiarizing them. Revolutions knock on doors for decades before anyone opens in response. Progress leaves snails feeling smuggy about their swiftness. Once the door opens a crack, it might seem to fly wide open in an instant, but those artists who idled in enforced obscurity for decades understand than the orthodoxy never really wanted anything to change and will continue trying to subsume them into conservative normalcy in lieu of actually accepting the changes they bring.

I hear much mumbling about new normals, generally idle speculations about what will likely irreversibly change once our pandemic recedes.

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MaskedMen

MaskedMen
" [None of us should be] above extending an ounce of accommodation for a villain not wearing an identifying mask and not one of us can see."

B. C. (Before Covid-19), masks were for Mardi Gras, Halloween, burglars and Old West Train Robbers, and the occasional Lone Ranger. We intended them to obscure identity, though cowboys assigned to the hind end of trail drives might deign to slip a neckerchief up over their faces to fight trail dust. Okay, dentists wore them, and doctors when they were tucking into a case, but most of us never seriously thought about owning or wearing a mask. Now, that part of our world's turned inside out, and the responsible among us have grown to gladly don that mask when venturing out into public.

Those first few times, I felt self-conscious.

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Evangelistic

evangenicalist
" … mostly learning how much more I evidently have to learn."

I never liked being told what to do. I found the experience humiliating when I was five and still find it annoying sixty-some years later. I live by a double standard, though, as I catch myself telling others what I think they should do with stunning regularity. My friend Wayne stopped me near the middle of one of my tellings to ask me if I'd ever considered asking him if he wanted me to clue him in before I commenced to cluing. His question shut me up and served to render me a tiny bit more sensitive about how my tellings might affect my many targets.

While I can get carried away, I reason that I might find myself in reinforcing company, as society seems to have slipped into an Evangelistic phase.

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Logistics

Logistics
Pre-war Scammell Pioneer
" … necessity being the unforgiving step-mother mother of reinvention."

If my decades working in project management taught me anything, it taught me that an ounce of properly focused logistics tends to be worth a ton of almost anything else. Though nobody ever received a Congressional Medal of Honor for clever logistical support, none of the "great" battlefield victories throughout history could have been possible without a bunch of back office shenanigans worthy of deep respect. Our struggles over responding to Covid-19 clearly demonstrate the necessity for competent administration. Sending more first responders to the front might encourage upswells of sincere appreciation from a grateful population, but we witness otherwise unnecessary sacrifice as these genuine heroes fabricate their own personal protective gear and work around all the services suddenly rendered unavailable, like testing, apparently due to some genuine Bozos handling logistics. The World Health Organization has distributed hundreds of thousands of test kits everywhere but to the used-to-be good old U. S. of A. because some back office politicking decided that we should go our own way. All by ourselves. Alone.

Battles tend to be lost for want of a horseshoe nail as shortages cascade to render moot even the grandest intentions.

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NotQuiteYetSpring

notquiteSpring
Henri Matisse: Olive Trees at Collioure, 1906


Not Quite Yet Spring

Following Winter Solstice,
Springs goes on the move,
heading northward at the stately rate
of almost eighteen miles per day,
an enthusiastic snail’s pace
but still well within a snail’s range.
A walking horse might make
slightly better time.

Those in Florida,
who overwinter in Spring,
hardly notice anything like change,

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Alchemy

Alchemy1
Ole Worm's cabinet of curiosities, from Museum Wormianum, 1655
" … a cure for the curious urge to go seeking cures."

Being human apparently roughly equates to being passingly or chronically ill, with about half of humanity dedicated to somehow healing the other half during normal times. Pandemic times lower an already fairly low bar, with virtually all of humanity suddenly in increasingly desperate need for a cure which nobody possesses yet. This condition flushes out the alchemists and their claims. A self-proclaimed church in Florida insists that they've discovered The Cure, the mother load of all cures, the one that they claim can cure pretty nearly anything, though the FDA counters that it seems an effective cure for life, in that it just might kill you. An industry thrives along society's bottomland, hawking poison and placebo with equal zeal. The deal always seems to be the same: send money and we'll disappear into the ether. Word of desperate mouths spreads the story. Innocents and charlatans seem equally vulnerable. The Cure, sometimes producing worse than whatever the disease threatened to leave.

Up until two years ago, I'd lived prescription-free for two decades.

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Retreating

Retreating
The Escape Ladder by Joan Miró, 1940
"Our sanity now seems to lie in mere reason …"

When the thoroughly modern organization wants to move forward, to spawn a fresh initiative, they call a retreat. Over the last few years, Major League Baseball has seen an unprecedented spike in home run hits after a counter-intuitive practice gained broader acceptance: hitters learned to cock their bats backwards and up instead of immediately thrusting them outward and down in that split second after the pitcher released the ball. On weekends, city dwellers fled their cities while hinterland dwellers flooded into them, intent upon a respite couple of days just getting away. Farmers left for their escape cabins in the woods. New Yorkers hopped cheap flights to Paris. Walla Wallaians headed over to Portland while Portlanders zooted over to Walla Walla. Over my lifetime, we have sought retreat as renewal.

Now, living under lock without key, we cannot so blithely retreat.

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Aloneliness

Aloneliness
Thérèse by Balthus (Balthasar Klossowski), 1938
"I deeply appreciate those of you who have proven yourselves to be dedicated repeat offenders …"

I felt Alonely this week, this isolation's permanence coming into ever sharper focus. Aloneliness feels quite different from plain old loneliness, less disquieting but also more seemingly absolute. I just pretend that I understand these boundaries now. Protests against the Stay At Home Order reinforce my resolve to respect these rules. I think those shunning face masks fools, people who revel in demonstrating that they haven't a clue what they're doing, and deep-down disrespectful. Do we not have a duty—civil, moral, or simply out of courtesy—to continue to color within these inhibiting lines? The neighbor kids don't care and their parents seem just as powerless as I to influence their clumping together. They roam my yard like they roam their own, and every other, littering rocks and overturning flower pots in exuberant play. I deeply envy their easy association, for I remember when those days were mine, surrounded by a noisy throng of siblings, neighbor kids, and sundry hangers on.

I grew up in a family with five kids. I remember spending a significant portion of my formative years fleeing from that throng, seeking some place where somebody wasn't up in my face all the time. I sought space to hear myself think

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NeutronNews

NeutronNews
"What else might decency do?"

Effectively responding to a Pandemic requires access to good information about its nature, which begins as almost entirely unknown. Speculation replaces authentic fact at first, and probably necessarily so. Later, as initial inquiries yield additional information, our understanding deepens and broadens, and our responses' effectiveness improves. Not all sources of information seem equally dedicated to publishing 'the truth and nothing but the truth,' but the truth might well be initially impossible to come by at any price. Later, as apparent facts accumulate, rough truths might appear. I say "might appear" because not all sources seem equally dedicated to reporting facts. Our well-imbedded Fake News system, for instance, rarely finds a fact worth proliferating, for every event, for them, seems more an opportunity to amplify some pre-existing perspective than to discover or learn anything new or informative. Fake News rattles the same old sword regardless of anything actually happening in the world, and I suppose this underlying (lying) consistency satisfies a certain portion of the population. Even pure bullshit carries a dedicated constituency.

Fake News outlets revel in accusing their more reliable counterparts of proliferating Fake News, echoing an ageless "I know you are, but what am I?" feature of the human condition.

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Scenario-ing

Scenario-ing
Jacob's Ladder by William Blake, 1805


And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said: "Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not." And he was afraid, and said: "How full of awe is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." — Genesis 28:10–17 Jewish Publication Society (1917)

"Which scenario wins what?"

The pragmatist insists that we're just where we are. The philosopher wonders how we know. The scientist sets out to understand well enough to definitively say, with studied degrees of certainty. The cynic, quite honestly, doesn't care. The optimist remains ever hopeful. The skeptic insists upon the benefits of doubt. The pessimist prefers to pout. The writer shares the stories which the artist illustrates. The minstrel crafts the tune. The politician shares a Spandex® truth. Each holding their own perspective; each perspective, a part of some whole. Each provides a slant none of the others could know. None holds The Truth that everyone does.

The Muse found a social media posting which insisted that The Rockefeller Foundation with the support of Bill Gates had planned our present Pandemic, then implemented that plan with the clear intent of achieving world dominion.

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DreamState

DreamState
Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing, William Blake, c.1786
"I seem to have stepped into another life which fills in the holes in the one I used to know so well."

Never much for sleep, I find that I've been vividly dreaming during this Pandemic. I had grown infamous for never needing much more than four or five hours of sleep and never remembering my dreams, but this last week or two, I've been sleeping through my three am alarm and sometimes even struggling to rise. I find myself so imbedded within alternate universes that the sunrise sometimes beats me up, an almost unprecedented occurrence. I revel in these scenarios flickering behind my eyelids, feeling warmly welcomed and more at home there than within my actual home, which has grown lonely and boring through the shutdown. I experience no empty hours in my dreams, but thrive. Last night, I bought into owning a restaurant on New York City's Upper West Side, a soon to be jazz club featuring fine but not fussy dining and first-class combos. The dream left me feeling exhilarated in ways the Stay at Home Order never has.

Humans seem capable of nearly infinite compensation.

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Stew-pid

Stew-pid
Rembrandt: The Parable of the Rich Fool, 1627

One of the multitude said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Man, who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?" He said to them, "Beware! Keep yourselves from covetousness, for a man's life doesn't consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses." — Luke 12:13–15, World English Bible

"Some days I wonder where we think we're trying to take ourselves."

I have never been judged as one of the brighter bulbs on the Christmas Tree. This makes me a more or less prototypical American, for we were originally rejected stock: refugees and convicts, renegades and conniving scoundrels. Even the Pilgrims were more budding capitalists than pious pioneers, for they arrived with backers promising wealth in exchange for their sacrifices, servicing enabling debt more motive for their perseverance in this world, if not necessarily the next. Our founding myths largely ignore these truths, insisting instead upon a certain unconfirmable self-evidence that we were somehow, unlike every other culture in the history of this world, created more or less equal. Above all, we seem to revel in characterizing our fellows as Stew-pid, so stupid that they cannot even properly spell the word describing themselves.

We have a long history of calling reason oppression and strongly resisting that trumped up oppression on Constitutional grounds.

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SiegeMeals

"I understand that my current siege mentality serves as evidence of an underlying emotional immaturity …"

Suppertime arrives even when living under a Stay-at-Home Order. We won't order out, though I've considered it twice and even resorted to take-out pizza when the ennui inertia overwhelmed me. Most days, I find that I can still face up to my responsibility to feed the household, though the larder's slipped somewhat sideways between the simple inconvenience now associated with restocking it and the curious unavailabilities attempting to restock it reveal. I wonder what it means when the veg store offers not a single potato for sale, but it seems to bode well for nobody. I find curious combinations of plenty, which cast strange shadows across the kitchen come suppertime. Accustomed combinations disappear, replaced with strange plate-fellows. Each suppertime has become a fresh WhatNow? engagement.

Before this siege began, I spent a couple of weeks crafting an array of stocks: turkey, veal, goose, chicken, and veg, so we, by fortunate accident, hold a surplus of this one irreplaceable component.

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Fiberation

Fiberation

John Everett Millais: Ophelia, circa 1851
"What else could any obedient citizen do?"

We're enjoined to avoid all but essential outings, so the term essential takes on surprising ambiguity. I cannot honestly say that maintaining my former consumption levels in any way qualifies as an essential objective. In my young adulthood, I sometimes foraged for my supper. Since, I've grown accustomed to a certain relative opulence, but just how essential could any of that be? I remember the time before there was ever wine with dinner, and those long years during the cholesterol scare of the eighties and nineties when I lived on boneless and skinless chicken breast. I became more omnivorous since, but I can't really claim the resulting variety essential. Does boredom constitute an intolerable condition? Do I really need that bag of potato chips or are they just a nice-to-have?

The Muse and I escaped for a scant two hours yesterday afternoon to restock what passes for our wine cellar.

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PanDamning

PanDamnic
Francis Danby: The Deluge, circa 1840
"The worst hard times, the best hard times, or simply our hard times?"

The rising sun tints the eastern horizon pink and robin egg blue, transforming the conifers along the ridge into silhouettes of themselves. Yesterday's spring snowfall lies heavy upon the backyard pine's limbs, gloopy frosting expertly draped. By the end of this day, the twisting road up from the interstate will have burned to bare and dry. Tomorrow, the buried sprouting springtime will have reemerged back into warm sunshine again. I might have yesterday shoveled the last snow for this season, and I'd find reason to celebrate this small liberation if I had not grown to revel in the work. We weren't going anywhere and I insisted upon shoving snow anyway, a regulating obligation in my day, admittedly made up so that I had something different than numbing sameness to do. It seems so damned peaceful here.

I understand that these are the worst of times, the leading edge of what might prove to become another Great Depression, but the general impression I've received witnessing this latest apocalypse has not seemed at all like what I imagined end times would be.

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OutOfYourASSumptions

OutOfYouASSumptions
El Greco: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, between 1586 and 1588
"'Twas always thus."

I think of the initial stage of every initiative as The Assumption, and Our President's strongly rumored and much reported task force's grand plan to reopen the country amid the current pandemic proves no exception. It seems to be emerging as an absolute exemplar of this general rule. The first iteration always seems to have been pulled directly out of somebody's BIG ASSumption. To many, it already seems unworthy of ever seeing the clarifying light of any day, more a self-portrait of narcissistic delusion than serious proposal, an embarrassment to its authors' intentions. It presumes altogether too much and also discloses waaaay too much. Couldn't there be a better way?

For the first iteration, I've grown to understand that there could have been no better way, for something needs nudging off its dime if any result is ever to come to pass.

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PandemicShopping

PandemicShopping
The Peasant and the Nest Robber, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1568
"I'll know for sure that it's safe to reopen the economy when toilet paper once again becomes a pedestrian purchase."

I feel increasingly like an old dog struggling to learn new tricks. Never that adaptable, I change when forced to and struggle to shift my studied routines. I've long considered myself an expert shopper. I hang around a supermarket's periphery, avoiding the central aisles. I hover longer in the produce section than in any other. I'm not embarrassed to exit without purchasing anything if the stuff I came to buy isn't available. Unavailability has over the past month become the new defining characteristic of shopping here. Whole aisles of empty shelves greet the aspiring shopper. Combined with the face masks and the continual Corona Veers, where erstwhile shoppers inevitably fail to maintain six feet of distance from their suspicious-looking fellows, perusing a minefield might prove more satisfying.

I'm growing to realize that selecting and purchasing amounts to something less than half of grocery shopping's allure.

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R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Respect
Procession of the Youngest King (Lorenzo de' Medici), Benozzo Gozzoli, between 1459 and 1460
"An ounce of respect counterbalances a ton of manure."

My father told stories about his older brother Dan, who was headstrong like his dad. The two boys lived with their Old World grandfather, who subjected them to severe punishment should they misbehave. Dan couldn't seem to help himself and almost daily ended up receiving a whipping and a lengthy time-out in a dark cellar room. Their father had been disowned and disinherited after acting out as an adult, though he might have known better since all but one of his siblings had been likewise disowned and disinherited before him for similar infractions. My great grandfather was doubtless a tyrant, but tyrants above all else respond poorly to perceived disrespect. My dad would plead with Dan, reminding him that things just went easier if he would at least pretend to comply instead of continuously defying. My dad grew to become a humble and deeply respectful guy, and I suppose I sort of naturally lie rather more low than I otherwise might. Dan never learned.

I will admit to a few memorable attempts to stick my thumb into an eye of authority.

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HighHollowDays

HighHollowDays
Archibald J. Motley Jr., Tongues (HolyRollers), 1929
" … segueing back into the infinitely more joyful ordinary times. Amen."

The high holy days of the Christian calendar induce a sort of seasonal affective disorder in me. I understand that these, above all other days of the year, focus upon producing cheer over depressive rumination, but the expectation that I should find joy there works like a paradox to induce the opposite. Not precisely sadness, but more of a hollowness overtakes me. These seem like hollow days of obligation, because in obligating, they undermine celebration. Requiring joy obviates every possibility for experiencing it. I'll go through the motions, but with a sinking heart.

I might lose the vibe in preparation, for my heart does tend to soar in warm anticipation that the blessed day might just this once appear as advertised, but it comes as it always came, rushing off to some semi-annual church service or sequestered at home with nothing but boring family surrounding me.

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Affronting

The_Snow_Queen_by_Elena_Ringo
The 2020 Easter Bunny
"T
he Snow Queen" illustration by Elena Ringo
from New Fairy Tales. First Volume. Second Collection. 1845
by Hans Christian Andersen
"Watch and maybe learn something new about yourself."

Easter morning brings an arctic cold front along Colorado's Affront Range. Snow starts falling well before the regularly scheduled and much-vaunted Red Rocks Easter Sunrise Service, which had been cancelled, anyway, as a part of The Governor's Coronavirus Pandemic Stay-At-Home Order. The sunrise itself seems to have been cancelled, replaced with a slowly increasing grayness seeping through sifting snowfall. The Muse rises long before any resurrection to start a batch of yeasty-sweet Hot Cross Buns. We display colored eggs in a transparent plastic tray on the kitchen table, no bunny willing to brave the swirling winds to hide them outside, where they'd just freeze and discolor the snow, anyway. Molly The Mardi Gras Mask-faced kitten and Max The Smutty-nosed Kitten sniff at the vase filled with small red tulips displayed atop the dining room table. This weather seems an affront to Easter, indeed, an affront to Spring, so we seem to be celebrating Affronting this Easter day. How to properly celebrate?

Some important something probably lurks here within this upside down, backwards and sideways holiday.

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MistOpportunities

MistOpportunities
David I of Scotland knighting a squire, 14th century
" … I exclusively pave the way I came, not the way I'm heading."

How did any of us end up here? What lucky breaks and unfortunate accidents summed to here and now? I suspect that this question might most probably deflect any How response. Though the story might make diverting legend, beyond entertainment, it probably couldn't qualify as instruction, any sort of functional How To. I think it most likely that nobody knew how until well after accomplishing any achievement, if even then, though many of us obsess over how before engaging, as if our next experience couldn't possibly fill in gaps in our prior experience. Many of us carry discovery fantasies that we might stumble into some well-placed connector who will discover what we have to offer the world, and benevolently or greedily pave our way. In my experience, which, like yours, never rises above anecdotal example, ways forward do not tend to be paved. Few have been discovered while sitting at a lunch counter at Hollywood and Vine. Heck, few of any of us ever manage to get discovered by anyone but ourselves.

I firmly believe that human progress has always been driven by synchronicity.

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ToGo

ToGo
The Night Café by Vincent van Gogh, Arles, September 1888
Reputed to be the ugliest van Gogh painting
"I'm feeling closer to some essentials now that I'm taking everything ToGo."

I'd really rather eat in a diner than any other kind of restaurant. I never feel completely at home in any of them, but neither do I feel terribly alienated there, either. I find no wine list to wonder over or small plates to challenge my patience and my pocketbook. The menu features only simple food and the atmosphere feels more like grandma's dining room than grande salon. Someone always greets my arrival as if they had been hoping I'd drop in. The decaf's inevitably crap but the food's honest, cheap, and good, if not necessarily that good for me. I order off menu, almost always the same thing, breakfast of sorts regardless of the time of day: hold the eggs, smother the hash browns, and throw a sausage on the side; maybe a biscuit to finish. I open my trusty Times with a half dozen conversations burbling around me and a running joke passing between The Regulars and the waitresses. I'd claim that I I eat in anonymity except my waitress keeps calling me, "Hon." The vibe of the place renews me more than does the meal.

I can't get that experience ToGo.

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Distancing

Distancing
J. M. W. Turner: Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, before 1844
"Distancing seems to open up spaces rarely glimpsed since the transcontinental railroad appeared."

One of my great grandmothers crossed on the Oregon Trail on horseback. The trip took months. Twenty years later, she made the same crossing in a few days by train. If anything most typifies this modern society, ever increasing mobility must be that thing. I remember our neighbors flying to attend a convention when I was small, when jet travel was still a rare and novel occurrence, at least in my neighborhood. Their mom, a slim and elegant woman, wore gloves for the trip and brought back these little packages of three cigarettes they'd handed out for free on the flight. I could see the future from there! Up until last month, planes crammed full of people wearing their pajamas as if they were lounging around on a couch at home, were departing every other minute with fares well under the price of a modest dinner out somewhere. People flew on less than a whim.

We've temporarily traded in our mobility, Distancing in solidarity and/or fear.

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Marked

Saint_Francis_of_Assisi_Receiving_the_Stigmata
Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, attributed to Jan van Eyck, c. 1430-32
"My turn will eventually come …"

At five, I was slated for a tonsillectomy. My older brother and sister were to undergo the same procedure at the same time, but when we arrived at the hospital, I was somehow deemed too anemic or something and sent home all by myself in a cab. I still remember that deep sense of relief I felt as the cab pulled away from the hospital with me thinking that I'd actually gotten away with something Scot-free. The next day, my brother and sister were granted unlimited ice cream rations in which I could not share. In a week or so, I had to go the hospital alone to get my tonsils pulled. I remember nothing about the entire adventure except for that great relief I felt when I dodged that bullet, and even though that bullet came around and got me on its second pass, getting away with something made the whole experience well worth the trip.

I suppose that everyone appreciates feeling special, perhaps because deep down inside most of us don't feel all that special.

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PrecisionAbstraction

SquareFootage
A Foot of David by Michelangelo (Detail), 1501-1504
"Imagine how smuggy I felt …"

PrecisionAbstraction has proven to be a prominent bane of my existence. I can thrive on abstraction until precision steps in. Then, I feel myself smothering. Still, I try to maintain a positive attitude. Last Spring, when I ordered mulch for The Villa's odd-shaped front garden bed, Tom The Nurseryman deflected my request by insisting that I produce a PrecisionAbstraction, the landscaping equivalent of throwing down a gauntlet. I would have to produce, as a qualifying action, a statement of how many square feet of mulch I'd need. I retired to my lair to consider this challenge.

I walked the perimeter of the bed, a space without a single regular angle.

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Pacing

pacing
The Tyger, William Blake (1794)
"What fearful symmetry, indeed."

After Max The Smutty-nosed Kitten broke curfew and disappeared overnight, I put the pets on lockdown. I might have chosen to do this out of a curious form of spite, for I've been on lockdown for almost three weeks now. I kind of cower within my perimeter, pacing with my head held down as if embarrassed by my limitations. Like our kittens, I know myself to be capable of ferocity when in pursuit, and my still new boundaries more than merely limit my range. They limit my imagination, too. I feel like a clipped-wing bird unable to soar. My mind races endlessly, to no particular end, my perimeter seeming to define more than my range, but also my possibilities.

I always thought that I understood why the tigers paced in their cage at the zoo, but I'm gaining a fresh appreciation for just what cages do, whether they be physical, limiting range, or emotional, inhibiting whim.

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Lent

Lent2
Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564–1638), Battle of Carnival and Lent

"Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the 40 days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus Christ's sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for 40 days. Lent is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities." - Wikipedia

"Does anyone ever give up procrastination for Lent?"


Not having been raised in one of the classical Christian churches, my birth family never celebrated Lent, though I gather from The Muse's recollections that Lent in her Catholic family tended to be a Freaky Friday kind of celebration, by which I mean pretty much the opposite of celebration. She remembers giving up candy for Lent, a childhood practice that she swears made Easter candy that much more enjoyable. My family had more of a barely scraping by attitude to life, and I guess we figured that every day was already more or less Lent for us. Skin and bones possess little to further sacrifice. I notice when Ash Wednesday arrives, though. I revere the tradition without actually participating in it, the same way I revere Mardi Gras, as somebody else's fracas. I usually consider giving up something for Lent, without actually carrying through. I'm plenty penitent, but never overtly.

This year, though, the Year Of Our Lord 2020, everyone gave up something for Lent, unless you happened to live in one of the nine or ten states that chose to continue regular programming through the blooming pandemic.

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-Triarchs

-Triarchs
De koning van Thule, Pierre Jean Van der Ouderaa (1841-1915),1896
"This damned plague's taking our -Triarchs and leaving only us factory seconds behind."

This pandemic has been taking the -Triarchs, the matriarchs and the patriarchs, my elders and wise ones. I feel as though the fine frescoed ceiling that has always sheltered me is blowing away, leaving me without a roof over my head. I feel myself filling with a dread certainty. As the -Triarchs leave, I watch myself shuffle nearer the top of the heap to emerge as an elder. I try to rebut this commission, for I feel far too young and inexperienced to ever take the place of anyone I so long looked up to in wonder. For they genuinely seemed to levitate above the day-to-day to live nearer infinity, timeless in their age and experience. True, they had each once seemed more like me and you, bold youth, braless or with overlong sideburns, protesting how it had always been before. They opened the doors I later strolled through. They went through first, even to their last.

The past is forever past once the -Triarchs pass, a different scale rules forever after.

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UnCountables(2)

UnCountables(2)
Print Study/Drawing from The British Museum Collection
"I wanted to be certain to get my spurious statistics straight."

I rarely publish two PureSchmaltz Blog posts in a single day. This morning, though, I spaced out my usual intention to review the receding week's posts before moving on. I couldn't imagine any elegant way to simply append the following into what I'd already published, a screed on UnCountabiles. I'll call this review UnCountables(2) to strongly suggest just how meaningless social media use statistics seem. Not that I denigrate a single one of the six hundred-some unique page view that you, my generous readers, left to me this past week. I praise every one as the miracle it certainly seems. Still, I can't quite distill any great wisdom from the numbers alone. I suspect that these counts hardly hint at the value these postings hold, especially to me. I'm grateful for every even disinterested peek their presence attracts.

On the eventual grand list of weeks, the week leaving this morning will very likely stand near the top of the upper quadrant of Helluva Weeks

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UnCountables

Uncountable
"An Old-Time Counting Room," Fell's Point, Baltimore, MD, c. 1770; drawing dated 1879.
"We shared so much together back when we still lived so fiercely independent of each other."

We might pride ourselves on our fierce independence, though none of us do very much alone. Birth, marriage, graduation, financial success and failure, not even death can be accomplished alone. Each experience occurs through intimate association. That home, so proudly all-by-yourself owned, was purchased from someone, probably painted by others, and serviced by a small legion of supporting personnel. Each birth required a father and a mother, a midwife and aide. Each marriage, even one officiated by a lowly Las Vegas Elvis impersonator, brought two people together. Death demands some other to cart off and dispose of the corpse. We accomplish nothing alone.

The daily numbers numb me.

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Emergence-y

Emergence-y
Woman Holding a Balance, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1664
"The kids still want to see the cats, up close and now …"

The neighbor kids flocked toward the front door, demanding to see our kittens. The cats, on their first foray outside, strictly supervised and extremely wary, quickly disappeared back inside. I explained the dilemma to the kids: wanting to see them up close pretty much guarantees that they might see them from afar, fleeing. Searching for them ensures that they'll never be found. If they want to see them, they'd have to be satisfied with watching them from the distance of the street, but not even that alternative guarantees that they'll see 'em. The kids, baffled by my babbling, quickly dispersed, leaving me wondering what I'd just described. It occurred to me that the cats had become a decent allegory for Emergence-y, and seeing them at all, a good example of an emergent property. Sometimes, certainly not every time, when conditions seem right to them, the cats emerge, never together, almost always one after another. Sometimes Molly emerges first and sometimes, Max. I can't ask them about the criteria they employ to determine if it's safe enough to emerge. The conditions seem to vary. I'm left with inventing various speculations about what constitute necessary and sufficient conditions, most of which seem to serve to satisfy my curiosity without actually explaining anything.

When I leave the front door ajar, they sometimes emerge.

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EventHorizoning

Attitude_Indicator
Attitude Indicator
"It's not that I have a bad attitude …"

Airplane instrument panels feature an Attitude Indicator or Artificial Horizon, which cleverly shows an aircraft's orientation to the earth's horizon. You can imagine that in three dimensional space, level might easily become an ambiguous concept, leaving a pilot disoriented when, for instance, flying through cloud or over unlevel ground. The Attitude Indicator employs a gyroscope, which works off the Earth's gravity to resist changes in pitch or roll, and comes calibrated to report deviations in degrees. Flying by visual cues alone might encourage a pilot to steer the plane along an apparently level path when actually gaining or losing altitude, or along a visually correct course when actually veering right or left from a desired heading. The Attitude Indicator aids in better orienting the pilot in space.

Similarly, people seem to maintain an Attitude Indicator of our own, in the form of our innate anticipatory sense.

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Pace

Pace
Chicago Rush Hour - 1909
"Nostalgia's not half what it's cracked up to be."

Within every pandemic, some optimist appears to cheer on the positive side of the thing. We do seem a whole lot better connected in isolation than we ever did when roaming around unconstrained. The vehicle traffic has abated to levels the streets seem to have been designed to hold. The road past The Villa sees much more foot traffic, with a steady parade of dog walkers, joggers, and couples strolling while holding hands. Kids pedal past in a nearly endless stream, and I'm sitting out front reading in the afternoon sunshine. The Pace of life has slowed to a rate I've rarely known. Home feels homier, too.

I keep losing my place in the novel I'm holding as I glance up to greet yet another neighbor walking by.

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BlindWatchmen

BlindWatchman
De Nachtwach (The Night Watch), Rembrandt van Rijn, 1642
"I admit that I just cannot tell …"

I fulfilled the role of night watchman through my father's final days, taking the six pm to six am shift, which included the witching hours. I'd sit up in one of the living room recliners and enter that coma state, aware but inert, watching; though, not being a healthcare professional, I'd diligently watch for what I knew not. I'd sometimes wander into his bedroom to watch him struggle to breathe in pitch darkness, listening for unsettling rhythms, but I mostly held my post two rooms away, watching with increasing intensity for the dawning and the end of my boring shift. A few times, alarming events occurred to which I'd respond with another frantic, completely anticipated call to the night hospice nurse. She'd arrive with aching slowness, though only a few minutes would pass, and neutralize the emergency while I waited at my post. My dad was performing a cum laude seminar in radical acceptance, having embraced his terminal diagnosis without ever insisting upon any but palliative care. I was simply there to witness what no watchman could see, often bored to my knees with the utter banality of the experience. On that morning when I watched him take his final breath, I believed that he exited out of sheer boredom with the proceedings. I felt that I could understand and even justify his response.

I figure that watchmen of old wore grand uniforms to elevate the otherwise insignificance of their role around the old castle.

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HeardImmunity

HeardImmunity
Saint Sebastian Interceding for the Plague Stricken, Josse Lieferinxe (–1508), between 1497 and 1499
Hunker down,
avoid others like The Plague,
the only cure we know so far
involves just staying away.
Talk's cheap.
Life's dear.
Nobody's immune to this damned virus,
no matter what you hear.

Pandemics bring out the crazies, the gullible babies desperately seeking protection. We hear of people too similar to us falling to the infection and understandably get to feeling itchy about its presence. Someone we trust appears to reassure us. We might come to firmly believe that those who fall ill are receiving some sort of payback, retribution for some critical shortcoming. Our news feeds reinforce our previously underlying prejudices, whatever they are, for we seem to run in herds now. If someone insists that only others contract the disease, we breathe a little easier, and might even continue to physically mingle regardless of the governor's latest directive. A pastor, a self-serving politician, a studied pitchman, an old family friend, credentials stemming more from familiarity than from any specific qualification, voices we trust seem to especially empower us. We want to believe, and so we too easily do believe. We hear salvation rumbling through our grapevine and feel protected when we're not.

Whenever chance rules, humans seem to create explanatory stories.

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TheProject'sManaging

project'smanaging
Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, J.M.W. Turner, 1812.
"The project, like the fates, is always, always, always ultimately in charge …"

Our Administration Incapable of Administering seems to be simultaneously making every single classic project management error, just as if it wasn't standing on the shoulders of millennia of prior experience. This might not be completely their fault, though I wouldn't mind blaming it on them, for nobody's ever written anything like a definitive history of project management to at least outline how it came to be and what it actually entails. Instead, little self-serving fictions written by victors filled in, extolling one or another technique or one or another so-called brilliant man. The result might as well be sold as fiction and certainly provides no clear template for reliably succeeding when managing the achievement of any novel objective. Most certainly, the "profession's" deepest roots lie in military history, for the most ancient novel objectives always involved military campaigns. Several otherwise unremarkable generals have been credited with quipping that no plan ever survives contact with any enemy. They don't generally survive contact with friendlies, either.

Each generation has strived to improve upon each prior generation's so-called practices, always somehow managing to replicate what they first complained about, producing another method that succeeds a little less often than a fair coin toss, raised to religious necessity, filled with Thou Shalts enjoining someone else to be sure and do something those someone elses never have and never would actually do.

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SimpleEconomics

Economics101
Adoration of the Shepherds or the Nativity by Gerard David, 1490
"We covet health now, and a living more ennobling than any capitalist can count."

They were by all accounts humble shepherds, though that designation seems redundant, and not only because nobody's ever filed any report even hinting at the existence of haughty shepherds. Shepherds might find arrogance and self-importance less than useless in the productive execution of their role in society, for their wards are invariably humble and rather stupid, more interested in following each other around and not really in to adoring any charismatic leader. Shepherds were almost always contractors, not sheep owners or full time employees with benefits. They worked through the season in sublime isolation with only the adoration of their sheepdog as company. Yet they were counted as full equals at the nativity, right up there with those angels who had so recently rendered them "sore afraid" and the three wise men. Their contribution appreciated without compensation, for the Nativity, like much of every society, was not an economic activity.

We speak of ourselves as capitalists, though only a relative few of us actually hold much capital.

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ToDieFor

320px-The_Immaculate_Conception,_by_Giovanni_Battista_Tiepolo,_from_Prado_in_Google_Earth
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo: Die Unbefleckte Empfängnis (The Immaculate Conception) 1767-1768
" … faunching to go out shopping again, like a genuine Parisian …"

The phrase sounds so seventies to my ear, as if I hadn't heard it in decades, but back in those days, some would actually say that such-and-such (often a cheesecake or a particularly well-marbled steak) was, "ToDieFor." I was sure then that I couldn't quite unwrap the meaning. "Do you really intend to say that tasting this slice of cheesecake would have been worth risking your life for, and that had you not successfully waded through the surrounding mine field, or if a sniper had pegged you on the way in tonight, you would have gladly gone to your maker because you would have died pursuing this perfection? Really?" I never actually engaged in this sort of cross examination, though my mind always raised one skeptical eyebrow whenever subjected to this phrase. ToDieFor? Really?

These days, the phrase's taken on another connotation for me. Under orders to stay at home, my relationship to larder stocking's changing.

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Revisiting

modigliani_collar
"Jeanne Hébuterne au col blanc"
Amedeo Modigliani - huile sur toile - 1919

"Bless every blessed one of us here."

Psychologists used to insist that Revisiting the source of trauma helped resolve the effects of that trauma. More modern practitioners doubt that this was ever the case, and that Revisiting might resurrect strong memories of the experience, but might well amplify rather than mollify its effects. Freud was great for Revisiting, and the old joke about Freudian therapy reported that the typical patient was well on their way to recovery after only thirty years of intense clinical work. Still, a look backwards from a more secure location might provide opportunities to reframe the humiliating experience, but other techniques might allow for the traumatized to reframe the meaning of the experience without dredging up anything like the full past impact of it. I'm all for leaving the past buried, but for my money, I firmly believe that reframing might be the only effective way to change the past, which might be the challenge every traumatized anyone really faces.

The headlines once again scream Recession. Some even threaten Depression. These words hardly overplay the economic situation we all face, some of us much less prepared than others. Many have never experienced such calamity before, and while this current situation might well appear potentially much worse than any past downturn, each person experiences even the most global and far-reaching one, very personally; excruciatingly personally.

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Barriers

Barrier
" … one needs to invent a pencil to fill out the requisition for ordering pencils."

The Muse, The Otter, and I are presently cordoned off after a fashion. A minister in Louisiana hosted a gathering of 150 of his faithful, he insisting that if anyone contracted the dreaded virus, he'd heal them with the Spirit of the Lord. Good Lord! People reacted similarly to the Great Plagues in Europe. People became devout, hoping to at least be buried in consecrated ground, I guess. I'm trying to be more careful than that Senator who might have infected the Republican Caucus. (Notice how I'm not mentioning divine retribution.) The governor of Idaho thinks sheltering in place should be a local decision, encouraging that self-reliant pioneer spirit that killed off a considerable percentage of would-be pioneers. We're still not testing broadly enough to even get a half-decent statistical handle on the pandemic's spread. We count bodies instead.

I might not be quite as careful as I intended to be.

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CartoonScientists

CartoonScience
The Four Humours, from Deutche Kalendar, 1498

The Four Humours are the essential bodily fluids: Yellow Bile (Choleric), Black Bile (Melancholic), Phlegm (Phlegmatic), and Blood (Sanguine). It was thought that imbalances in these humours led to illness, but that they could be redressed by changing the diet, taking medicine and by undergoing surgery or bloodletting.

" … cider and kosher salt couldn't quite qualify as essential supplies …"

I consider myself to be a CartoonScientist. Not a scientist, I have accumulated a body of understanding based upon some science reading, certainly, but also through exposure to sources as disparate as credential-less self help authors and classic Warner Brothers cartoons. Yes, Wylie Coyote taught me almost everything I know about physics. I think I might have accumulated slightly more reliable understandings than has the mythical average person, but I confirm my scientific beliefs through firm conviction rather than by anything like objective observation. I hold at least one of my thumbs upon every scale, skewing my measurements in what I imagine to be my favor. I maintain my worse habits by essentially giving myself exemptions from any ill effects which might stem directly or indirectly from those habits. I believe myself to be much healthier than average, better fed, and more psychologically mature, just like all the other CartoonScientists surrounding me.

In my lifetime, "science" has confirmed as real many times more phenomena than in all previously recorded history, producing an astoundingly overwhelming body of understanding, the bulk of it utterly lost on me.

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GhostTown

Ghost Town
"Who would I have to become to thrive there?"

I drive because there's no place to go. I know nothing's open except inconvenience stores, and they're not really anything like destination resorts. The gas tank's full, milk supply fine. In the old days, I might head for a diner, grab a seat at the counter, and order a double batch of green chile-smothered hash browns while listening to the buzz and bustle surrounding me, having a little human proximity for breakfast. Us geezers are supposed to be up and out early, chasing lost youth or purpose reading our Times, appreciating our waitresses. The diners have closed except for to-gos, and what am I supposed to do, eat in my car? Drive home with styrofoam sweating on the seat beside me? Nobody runs news stands anymore. The drive-thru window at Starbucks sucks. I drive in broad circles as predawn twilight silently slips into day.

I drive to get away from myself, that quiet, sullen voice in my head stops muttering when I'm behind the wheel.

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HomeAlone

HomeAlone
Hermit Saints Triptych by Hieronymus Bosch, c.1505
"The background bustle could recharge my spirit …"

As a card-carrying introvert, I know alone. I know Alone In A Crowd. It's my natural state! I know the reassurance of bounded solitude, where I can hear the surrounding bustle without experiencing any danger of being run over by it. I understand Watching From Afar, where the whole rest of the world seems to be performing expressly for my entertainment and enlightenment. The Muse will tell you that she's often felt the need to forcefully expel me out into the world because otherwise nothing seems to happen. I can and sometimes even have passed for gregarious. I can work a room, though it burns through my energy like a diesel dually burns through fuel. I've known and come to prefer the pleasures of the solo presence, invisible at my choosing, alone on stage performing for a room of empty strangers. Not, though, sequestered away within an entire society of the sequestered away, I'm coming to know HomeAlone.

I hardly live alone. The Muse is here twenty-four seven since The Lab ordered her stay away and work from home. TheGrandOtter's here, too, though she keeps New Zealand hours, turning off her light about the time I get up in the morning.

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AssEptness

AssEptness
"I could be that vector I've been watchful for …"

I secretly hoped that enlightenment, should it ever deign to visit me, might arrive wearing a diaphanous robe and an ethereal countenance. Certainly some of my insights have arrived like cuddly little angels, but I'm coming to a nigh-on-to certain conclusion that my enlightenment will most likely arrive with all the pomp and splendor of a horse's ass. Not to denigrate the velvety curves of the equine behind, but that particular bit of anatomy has long been more closely associated with utter foolishness than with great wisdom. I understand that Jesus, when not hoofing it himself, often rode into a new town astride an ass, a common conveyance in those times. In these more modern times, I seem to most often enter new territories as the ass itself, not astride one. A donkey's cleverness extends to almost invisibly traversing narrow trails and sometimes exhibiting serious stubbornness, but I'd never imagined that my greatest contribution to this world might be similarly cast. I prefer the narrow, rarely traveled routes and I'm coming to accept that I can be just as stubborn as any disgruntled pack animal. I exhibit what I'll label AssEptness.

For me, acceptance almost always follows a lengthy period of stubborn refusal, during the later parts of which, my heels too-well dug in, I demonstrate well enough for even me to catch just what an ass I've been.

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First PureSchmaltz Friday

SoupCanTelephone


When:
Friday, March 20 at 11am MDT (1700 UTC)
Where: https://zoom.us/j/3019315733
(Please note that this link will connect you with David Schmaltz's Personal Zoom Account. The muse added me as a valid co-user this morning.) (03202020)

The web browser client will download automatically when you start or join your first Zoom meeting, and is also available for manual download here.
Download Version 4.6.7 (18176.0301)


This meeting will be the first convened video chat with people who have accepted my invitation to join my PureSchmaltz Facebook Group. What will we do? We'll chat, which means that nobody will attempt to sell anyone anything or stress out trying to convince anyone of anything. I will begin by making some provocative proclamation. Following that, we'll see where the resulting dialogue leads us.

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AnotherBeginning

AnotherBeginning
Moses Placed in the River (detail), from World Chronicle (text in German),
Germany (Regensburg), about 1400–1410, artist unknown;
author, Rudolf von Ems.
The J. Paul Getty Museum

"Moses has been placed into the river."

I think of stories as having a beginning followed by a middle followed by an end, though most don't seem to flow that way. Stories most often feature a beginning followed by a middle which is then followed by AnotherBeginning, more Möbius Strip-like than linear, multi-dimensional and circular. Each homecoming hints at another impending adventure. Even happily ever after suggests ongoing activity, not represented by detailed description but by more general inference. Even the most finite-seeming story leaves unanswered questions which suggest more than described. I'd conclude that every ending is AnotherBeginning, but there's no clear ending in sight. Perhaps consequently, I seem perfectly capable of identifying endings. 911 seemed to delineate the end of an era which I might have chosen to grieve over as if I'd lost my innocence. It also seemed to delineate AnotherBeginning, too, though, within which I might choose to divorce myself from my past. It was, of course, both and neither, my choice, my characterization which made it one or the other or both. Both beginnings and endings seem inescapably arbitrary.

This series of stories also begins arbitrarily, on the morning of the first day of Spring 2020, a day rather near the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic, an event which only recently swept into prominence.

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NowWhat?

NowWhat?
Studies of the Foetus in the Womb, 1510-13 by Leonardo da Vinci
"The long-procrastinated change finally comes as if in a lightening flash."

The National Weather Service predicts eight to sixteen inches of snow for this last day of winter and tomorrow's first day of spring. I worked all day outside in my shirtsleeves yesterday, rearranging everything in the garage to make room for that long-dreaded second car. The little voice in my head had insisted that it could not be done, two cars could not possibly fit into our two car garage, though most of our neighbors manage to fit two into their's. Our situation seemed somehow different. "None of our neighbors need to store a king's ransom in clay flowerpots in their garages," said that little voice in my head. "Store them somewhere else," my exasperated gut whispered in response. I dutifully schlepped that king's ransom of flowerpots down the steep sidehill and neatly stacked them on top of a carefully laid tarp, sorted by size, and bordered by innumerable cat litter tubs filled with last year's potting soil. The result looked like a bivouac supply base for a garden troll army, charming and primitive. By the end of the day, two cars sat parked in that garage.

I'd walked through that garage every day since the last time I rearranged it, averting my eyes.

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FinishingUp

FinishingUp
Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (Bal du moulin de la Galette), Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1876
"Isolation's how we come to acknowledge our fragility, a superpower of immense significance."

I noticed yesterday that only a couple of days remained in this winter season. My SmallThings Stories would go on their way, replaced by another frame which I have not started imagining yet. I felt humbled creating these small stories, which started with no more than a tickle of intuition, hardly an inspiration, born of that frustration accompanying a necessity more than with any apparent foresight. Yet SmallThings now seems the precisely proper framework within which to reflect upon the three months now passing. Started on the first day of winter, with holiday grandeur impending, big things seemed imminent. After Epiphany, the days seemed to grow successively smaller, as winter days always do. Whispers started coming through from China about another viral contagion, the sort that China seems to regularly spawn; another bird flu, yet another distant swine flu. The news seemed as tiny as any that makes the back pages before it exploded, another SmallThing suddenly writ larger.

As if I needed to amplify my founding premise, Covid-19 came along to scream its underlying message.

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The Rhinoceros

Adaptability
The Rhinoceros, by Albrecht Dürer, 1515
"I'd much rather take care of anybody else."

I think of myself as eminently Adaptable, though I know I'm not. I'm certainly nobody's chameleon. I try to keep a low profile so as to not stand out. My primary defense never has been a good offense, but my diligence in remaining inoffensive and also unoffendable. I try to fit in by remaining invisible. When in Rome, I stick out like an infected thumb. The same in Paris, Prague, Vienna, and London, for I cannot even see what Adaptability might look like there. My fallback position seems to be to become even more me than I might have been anywhere else, an obvious difference in any ubiquitous crowd. I order my croissant with decaf and swallow that bitter reconstituted powder as if I enjoyed it even though I quite obviously—even to myself, even to The Muse—don't enjoy it at all. I'm a sheepish grin and bear it kind of fellow. I fake my Adaptability.

Facing a pandemic, I imagine myself somehow immune to the worst case outcome.

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AGoodTalkingWith

GoodTalkingWith
A Mortally Wounded Brigand Quenches his Thirst, 1825, Eugene Delacroix
"Wherever I might find myself, finding myself there might console me."

My cell phone wouldn't work in Farmington, New Mexico, not until I connected it via my hotel's crappy WiFi. The Muse insists that I should download the area's map from GoogleMaps, but I can't find a menu option to accomplish that. I relied upon the sixteen year old GPS in our "new" car, the display for which looks like a poor art student's crude attempt at abstraction. Most of this country continues to exist outside The Web, No Service being the most common message displayed on any hinterland traveler's cell phone. Those of us accustomed to ubiquitous 5G find this state of affairs annoying in the extremis, for we've sub-contracted half our senses to our little electronic babysitter. Navigation, entertainment, news, weather, and just staying in touch hangs by the very lamest of threads. Hopping from public wi-fi to public wi-fi, I almost forget that such connections never were in any way natural, they've just become a newer normal, at least until I leave town.

I judge airports by whether they offer free high-speed wi-fi, with good old PDX still the egalitarian standard.

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Reservations

Reservations
"I hear the phone ring but cannot make it work"

The desert surrounding Tucson seems tropical in the late winter rain. Washes and riverbeds actually feature water, though most closely resemble thick, ocher-colored pudding. Tucson's suburbs seem to stretch forty or more miles into the northernmost reaches of the vast Sonoran desert, Saguaro stately standing along steep rocky mountainsides. The road, two-lane blacktop. The excursion seems backward through time. From the gated sprawl into many centuries ago, the road passes out of these United States into sovereign native lands administered by tribal counsels: reservations. Apache, Comanche, Navaho, and Ute own much of what we refer to as the state of Arizona, a vast and apparently barren country, dusty and strange. Reservations.

The road bucks like an unbroken mustang. I simply cannot maintain the speed limit, a condition for which I feel enormously grateful.

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TheGreatLeveling

Leveling
The Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix, 1822

"Just like last year, but ever so much more so."

I will remember the crossing, not the departure or the arrival, for I found traumatic the transition between the familiar into this different. In my life, I've left so often that leaving barely registers. I slip into my departure coma and simply disappear. Arriving still seems a distant relief. The transition upset me. It might not be over yet, arrival inexplicably delayed without setting expectations for its eventual appearance. A furious easterly insistently nudged the aircraft away from its assigned course. The plane packed with refugees, or so it seemed to me, each uncertain if they should even be traveling under these circumstances and each headed for an unknown destination, regardless of what the flight manifest insisted. I could not imagine the other side and felt as if I might have nibbled off more than I could reasonably swallow this time. This would be no trip from Hell, though, it was an excursion into a greater unknown.

I think it hogwash that we accumulate greater understanding by living. For me, the mystery only deepens.

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BassingAckwards

BassingAckwards
" … the very best things in life … tend to emerge from sincere, dedicated, and inadvertent BassingAckwards."

The best things in life aren't actually things. Looking for best in the things realm might be the very best way to engage in an extended search without ever finding the object of my desire, or so my experience strongly suggests. I have stumbled upon the best things in my life, but only after pursuing actual things first. I know of no way to effectively engineer a successful search for anything truly meaningful, for the very act of engineering seems to attempt to inject altogether too much prescience and certainty into a search. One simply must start off in the wrong direction to ever come to solidly understand the deeper significance of any right direction. I insist that successful searches first engage in BassingAckwards. One begins by chasing the wrong tail, discovering distinctions by first failing to discover them. The deeper the initial disappointment, the greater the resulting realization and, perhaps, the greater the appreciation for the eventual discovery.

I declare this after once again discovering that an object of my desire more likely lies well south of my recent course, and without yet understanding just what a more proper course might entail, just that my former course appears to have represented another BassingAckwards experience.

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BeggingQuestions

BeggingAnswers
14th Century map of England
"The crisp response seems the enemy of our existence."

Ilya Prigogine whacked part of the scientific world when he declared that answering the question "How long is the British Isle shoreline?" was fundamentally undecidable. People had been dealing in this measurement for centuries before this Twentieth Century mathematician declared the question unanswerable. Prigogine pointed out that measuring the length of the shoreline depended upon answering some unscientific questions like, To what scale?" He showed that the length of the shoreline increased and decreased dramatically, depending upon the chosen granularity of the measure, and essentially melted into the infinite at a small enough scale. The length of the British Isle shoreline, he concluded, was a political question unrelated to science's objective observation. As a purely subjective inquiry, science could only stand mute in response. Certainly, surveyors could employ precision instruments to measure that length, but the measures themselves, utterly dependent upon subjective decisions surveyors made when encountering high and low tides, for instance, and a thousand other little curiosities, could only represent a compromised objectivity, and could therefore never be definitive. The question carried no clear indisputable answer and was therefore null. Encyclopedias still confidently state the length of the British Isle shoreline, without muddying explanation or just saying, "It depends," but it definitely depends.

I catch myself asking BeggingQuestions. Last night, landing in Tucson after a bumpy flight down from Denver, I caught myself asking after Tucson's altitude, though I could see that the city hardly sat upon a flat plain.

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Plague

plague
Johann August Corvinus (after Salomon Kleiner): The Plague Column in Vienna, copperplate engraving, 1724
"Not one of us seem especially blessed or cursed now …"

A stroller down Die Graben, the highest-end shopping street in Vienna, finds a magnificent Plague Column dominating the scene. Sponsored by Emperor Leopold I and finished in the late 1690s, twenty years after that last plague lifted, it sort of celebrates survival. Some cities built their plague columns in real time, while their plagues raged, to placate whatever vengeance God seemed to have been inflicting at the time, to demonstrate piety and survival worthiness. This artifact graphically illustrates suffering as well as salvation with gruesome depictions of agony supporting a gilded top featuring uplifting cherubic angels. Today, the symbolism hardly seems to spark piety in the passersby, overloaded with freshly acquired mammon. The visitor might linger to briefly ponder their own uncertain fate, but not long enough to make themselves late for the Opera.

One of the times The Muse and I visited Vienna, we were met at the airport by two separate drivers. The conference organizers had concluded that since we didn't share the same last name, we were not a married couple, so we rode into the city center in separate cars.

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PhreeDumber

PhreeDumber
La Liberté guidant le peuple by Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) 1830
"Insisting upon absolute freedom seems like just another insidious form of slavery."

Contrary to popular misconception, freedom is not now and never has been just another word for "nothing left to lose." What could this assertion possibly mean? Freedom might more reasonably be considered another word for "everything left to choose," if only because freedom seems to strongly imply an ability to choose for one's self. But freedom to choose does not impart the judgement or foresight to choose wisely. Your choice might infringe upon my choice or even upon your own well-being, and I might end up having to clean up some mess your choice produces. Unlimited freedom falls into the old Insidious Assumption Of Unlimited Resource Trap, an initially comforting latitude destined to do in somebody. Freedom only seems workable within some probably undefinable constraints. People sometimes go to war to determine these limits.

My neighborhood has rules governing what colors I might paint my house, a clear infringement upon my freedom to make different choices, though I explicitly agreed to this limit.

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BackUp

BackUp
The Pomps of the Subsoil 1947, Leonora Carrington (1917–2011)
" … further evidence that technology tends to turn evolution backwards …"

In the early morning of January 15, a message popped up on my screen while I struggled to complete my daily SmallThing, a piece about negotiating myself into engagement which I'd labeled NoGoNegation. I did not even distantly expect that this message prefaced seven weeks of irresolution, an enormous disruption to my sacred daily routine. My TimeMachine was reporting that it was unable to initiate my one of my usual hourly backups. My TimeMachine was connected to a TimeCapsule, a nifty bit of usually invisible hardware which auto-magically grabbed fresh stuff off my hard drive as that stuff appeared, making it theoretically possible to BackUp my hard drive to any point within the prior few months. In principle, I could BackUp my stuff to any hourly point over the prior few months as long as the BackUps continued uninterrupted. In that early morning, I experienced my first interruption ever.

Diagnosis ain't my strong suit if it even qualifies as a suit at all. I tend to just go buck naked when I encounter one of these mysterious messages.

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DifferentFrom

DifferentFrom
Cerberus 1824-27 by William Blake (1757–1827): Inferno VI, 13-33.
The monster Cerberus presides over the third circle of Hell, that of the Epicures and Gluttons.

"The disruption's the thing."

If one state dominates here, that state seems to be difference, yet I seem much more attuned to similarity. Difference upsets me even when routine has dulled me beyond recognition. I realized late yesterday evening that it was Friday. Twelve hours too late to create the SmallThings Story I'd previously committed to writing, I'd missed my self-imposed deadline, thereby fouling a public commitment that perhaps only I noticed myself making. DifferentFrom settled into my lap like a toddler with a soggy diaper. I did not feel welcoming in that moment, but embarrassed. DifferentFrom elicits a WhatNow?, from which one must figure out what to do next. The chain's broken. The commitment violated. WhatNow?

I've committed this same crime before.

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Chaings

Chaings
Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640): Prometheus Bound (Gefesselter Prometheus), between 1611 and 1612
"Fine metal working skills preferred because we're fixing to make Chaings again."

Prometheus (meaning "Forethought") gained a reputation as a clever trickster. He gave mankind fire and metal working, actions for which Zeus punished him by tethering him where an eagle would painfully eat his freshly regenerated liver each day, a particularly painful fate. I think of him as the prototypical change agent, for change agents tout their abilities to foresee, a boast common among flimflamming tricksters. They employ a curiously inflaming, seemingly iron-clad rhetoric (fire) which seems irreproachable, even inevitable. This speech inspires and incites a sort of satisfying insanity in others. They tend to develop self-regenerating livers, or at least seem to, as they quite often feel the need to lubricate their efforts with liberal amounts of liver-destroying beverages. The eagle, which might represent truth or fact or at least encroaching reality, cannot quell his hunger regardless of how many Promethean livers he consumes. This dance seems infinite.

Each election cycle some fresh Prometheuses appear.

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Politicnicking

Politicnicking
Édouard Manet: Luncheon on the Grass (Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe), 1863
"I trust them about as much as I trust that platter of questionable deviled eggs."

I think of politics as a sort of smoke-filled picnic, a gathering of curious choices within an equally curious context. Hobson's Choices abound. No formal menu informs any individual selection, for these meals depend most prominently upon what a participant might happen upon. Each dish bears the prominent fingerprints of its creator. Old family recipes predominate, with each mother rather proud of her "unique" contribution. Tucked between curious salads and a platter of questionable deviled eggs, the fried chicken looks a whole lot better than it ever actually tastes, the few flies buzzing around little deterrent from partaking. The burgers seem grilled by someone with great enthusiasm and even greater ignorance. The beer's inevitably lukewarm. Billowing clouds of obscuring charcoal smoke hang over the proceedings and the kids rush around like soda pop-fueled maniacs, embarrassing their parents and frustrating the vicar. We generally refer to these gatherings as celebrations of a way of life, though their real reward comes at the end of the day when everyone has successfully tucked away their leftovers and taken their sunburns to bed.

Elections fill me with existential dread, just the way any picnic might.

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ImmaculateSupper

ImmaculateSupper
Frans Snijders, Still life with small game and fruits; 1600 - 1657, Rijksmuseum, Netherlands
Cheers (or something)!

I'm more skilled at creating leftovers than I am at producing suppers. I possess no sense of proportion. I can't seem to think in realistic portion sizes anymore than I can imagine in cubic furlongs. The Tupperware® remains in near constant use, holding some once-treasure in the often fantastic notion that someone might finish it off later. We periodically purge the fridges of science projects, leaving a congealed centerpiece on the deck for the magpies. Some of that shit, not even the magpies will tackle, and so it smells up the garbage can until the following Tuesday. I understand how wasteful this cycle seems and if I could do better, I certainly would do better, but I seem stuck with this disappointing status quo. Sure, the supper looks like a feast when set upon the table. It later becomes little better than an enduring inconvenience.

Last night, though, I managed to produce what I refer to as an ImmaculateSupper, one which fully satisfies the diners while leaving no leftovers, nary a scrap.

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PanicMode

PanicAttack
Edward Williams Clay: The Times
(1837 U.S. caricature on the financial panic of that year)

"Being human hardly seems human some days."

Given the choice between fighting or fleeing, few humans seem very interested in winding their watch while choosing None Of The Above. We're suddenly consumed with an apparently urgent need to survive, especially when the situation carries little threat. We seem to be herd animals, sensitive to subtle, even non-existent cues. Someone passes you and you might well feel absolutely compelled to catch up and overtake them, goaded into a curious competition. What might happen if that other arrived at the next exit thirteen seconds before you? Whenever a situation seems to compel me into a life or death contest, I might prove wisest should I turn sanguine and dispassionately evaluate rather than start berating some other who maybe could have been my benevolent brother but which I instead insist upon turning into just another one of those. You know who I mean. A Them.

A poster on the neighborhood listserv invites nobody to panic. "Don't panic," she insisted, "but if you're wanting to stock up on face masks and tissue, you should seriously consider getting to the store before all the panic buying begins.

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SundayOff

SundayOff
Dawn: Luther at Erfurt, 1861, Joseph Noel Paton (1821–1901)
Depicts Martin Luther discovering the doctrine of Justification by Faith.


"Remember The Sabbath and keep it holy." (Hebrew: זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ) -  Exodus 20:8-11
(One of The Ten Commandments)

Not being a member of any religion, sect, or faith, I sometimes wonder if I qualify as moral. I long-ago rejected the idea that I could publicly practice a religion and remain moral, religion being a personal and private conviction in my personal and private moral code. I do not as a rule take days off, for I believe that if one's work is an honest expression of self, taking a day off amounts to sacrilege. I remember The Sabbath but remain unclear what it means to keep it holy, since I find churches and synagogues to be hostile worshiping environments. I do not worship, though I remain steadfastly grateful for all I do not comprehend, which, believe me, remains considerable. The Great Mystery doesn't seem to be aching for me to resolve it, but to distantly respect it. If Martin Luther properly interpreted scripture, which seems wildly unlikely as Scripture seems impenetrably ambiguous on pretty near every subject, even my distance from religion might be covered under his Justification by Faith notion, a masterwork of an escape clause. I more deeply appreciate the Hebrew tradition of engaging in dialogue not intended to resolve ambiguity, but to lever it to gain fresh insight. The whole God thing seems downright medieval to me.

For better or worse, we live in secular times.

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The Curious Case Of Pomegranate Molasses

Pomegranate
"Scarcity often results from a passionate and sincere lack of imagination."

I recently found a terrific granola recipe. I'd grown weary of the available commercial choices to the point where I'd just stopped buying the stuff, switching to plain steel cut oatmeal. The store-bought stuff tended to be way too sweet and often came packed with stuff no self-respecting consumer should attempt to swallow, like coconut, about as saturated a fat as exists, on the far side of even leaf lard, or so I imagine. I wanted no dried fruit, which inevitably turns into a sort of molar-cracking nut when included into the mix. I can add dried currents or blueberries to the bowl, and don't need some thoughtful individual to bake them into unchewable additions at the factory.

The Muse encouraged me to just make my own, but acknowledging myself as nobody's baker, I quietly demurred.

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Led-Gend

Led-Gend
Illustration from Legends of Charlemagne by Thomas Bullfinch, Illustration by N. C. Wyeth, 1950
"What fantastic mural might W. C. Wyeth have produced to depict MY story?"

Mary Colter, famed designer for the Fred Harvey hotel chain, always began her work by creating a rich fantasy about the building she intended to design. These fantasies had nothing to do with historical accuracy, but with design coherence. When faced, as designers inevitably are, with trade-offs, she'd refer to her fantasy to determine which alternative most closely cohered with her underlying story. Her La Posada in Winslow, Arizona, though partially dismantled into railroad offices in the sixties, still exudes a fantastic attention to small detail. A guest feels a sense of every element being precisely in its place, right for its purpose. From the wide hacienda porch around back to the great room tucked between the first and second floors, even down to the inconveniencing absence of an elevator, the place seems to be precisely what it purports to be, the legacy of a childless Spanish land-grant holder who bequeathed his inherited one hundred fifty year old home. It was none of that, of course, except Colter's Fantasy Led-Gend seems to have made it so.

I had concluded that a guiding vision needed some grounding in reality, but I might have wrongly concluded.

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ComingIn

ComingIn
"Living suddenly amounts to observing the passionate play and finding myself in it."

An average of a hundred and twenty-five unique page views passed through the PureSchmaltz Facebook Group each day last week. I find myself struggling to maintain my reputation as a loner and outsider with such crowds observing me. I've long identified with the old Five of Pentangles Tarot Card, where two street urchins pass by a warmly lit church window in the snow. The Muse always asks why I don't just go inside where it's warm. I usually respond that I do not know why. Perhaps I felt myself in the middle of my metaphorical forty days wandering through wilderness or had not dressed myself properly for entering a church, but I'd insist that I felt as though I could not belong, regardless of how warm of a welcome I might receive there. I'd continue trudging. Trudging can become habit-forming, a genuine addiction, and I might have grown to serve as its poster boy, for I have nurtured my trudge and grown accustomed to my place in society, but trudgers require a certain anonymity if they are to maintain their lowly social status. Surrounded by appreciative throngs, even a champion trudger seems a tragic parody.

I CameIn over the last week, an act almost entirely but not completely the opposite of Coming Out.

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ReEntries

ReEntering1
"We arrive home just to feel gone all over again."

ReEntering exacts the full price of absence. The longer-anticipated any repatriation, the greater that price. Twelve days gone returns to find a backlog. The place smells odd. The cat-sitter didn't take out the garbage. The dishwasher we thought we'd left running had not been turned on and had become a smelly science project in our absence. The place seemed knee-deep in cat fur. I lit a stick of that piñon incense The Muse had found in Arizona, though The Muse cautioned me to burn only one because it kicked up her allergies. Better to offload the suitcases in the laundry room rather than schlepp them upstairs full of stuff that would just need carting downstairs again. The Muse sets to sorting laundry, an activity I've learned to avoid lest I offend her delicate and mysterious sensibilities. She's still never successfully explained her sorting algorithm to me. I unload the car, perfectly packed after so many days on the road, a precise place for everything and not a single item out of place. A great undoing commences.

The kittens, predictably, do not rush to greet us.

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ColoradoWelcome

ColoradoWelcome
Building the New Road (mural study, Golden, Colorado Post Office), Kenneth Evett, 1941: Smithsonian American Art Museum
"The asylum doors once again successfully breached."

A ColoradoWelcome seems similar to a Bronx Cheer in that both terms describe the opposite of lived experience. A Bronx Cheer turns out to be nothing more than a slobbery demeaning jeer, more mocking than welcoming. A ColoradoWelcome works more like a prolonged dedication test seemingly intended to determine whether an arrival can be broken before allowing entry. Both localities prove to be tough places to live, let alone to visit, so the local Welcome Wagon® tries its darndest to chase off that newcomer or returning resident to either keep the riffraff out or, perhaps, to preserve the place exclusively for the riffraff already there. Try entering Colorado by air and you'll experience turbulence like you never imagined possible, deplaning to swear to never set foot onto another airplane again. Attempt entry by road and you'll come to experience more than you ever wanted to know about harrowing. No road leads directly to Colorado but must pass through some deeply discouraging buffer zone first. Once inside, something will encumber your passage. Escaping's every bit as daunting as gaining entry.

A hundred years ago, Colorado experienced one of those periodic squirts of All American optimism so common to the nation's history.

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Redemption

NewMexico_Spot_Alligators_1_134a5614-9ac1-4012-b9b6-0e297463a15c
"May our former blockages find peace rusting beneath a wind-whipped Southwestern sun."

Home seems unfamiliar now. Twelve days toodling around The Great American Southwest has left us accustomed to continual difference. We stage for our attempted homecoming in the most alienating place in The Great American Southwest: Los Alamos, New Mexico. This state, the quirkiest in the lower forty-eight, is neither new nor Mexico, but New Mexico, more a state of consciousness than geographic territory. Here, desert turns back into verdant mountains again. The Sangre de Cristo burn crimson each sunset. A frigid wind reminds us that we left the South behind some time ago and that we're nearer the Midwest now. We're apparently headed home.

I've dreaded this last day since the day we left, expecting a mad scramble through the Cimarron, over a treacherous Raton Pass, and along the sleezy western extent of the Eastern Plains to reach home, but our dear friends Mark and Rita reminded us of US 285, a more civilized two-lane alternative which sneaks up through the middle of Colorado, an hours-shorter and seemingly less-harrowing alternative to the most primitive of the unimproved Interstates.

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Reconnection

reconnecting
"The School of Athens" by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino
"Bad fences eventually fall, leaving the finest neighbors of all."

If I could receive my druthers, there would be no divorce, dislocation, dismemberment, or death. I do not always get my way. Some separation naturally occurs. Someone moves away. A phone number goes missing. Another commits Facebook Suicide and falls off that corner of my Earth. I slip into one of my signature periodic depressions and consume my presence with paranoia. Any of at least ten thousand individual causes might conspire to separate one from another, and once unbound, that once thriving relationship stays unfound, sometimes permanently, or seemingly so. We live in big ruts, unable to even imagine up and over the sides. We stay inside rather than venturing out. I hermit, and claim to prefer the lifestyle. The Muse might know better. She forces me up and out to wander about, to see what I might otherwise never even imagine seeing.

I'm at root a big chicken.

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WhyFidelity

WhyFidelity
The (Great) Tower of Babel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder - c. 1563
"One day, we'll plug ourselves into a recharge cord as soon as we sit in the driver's seat …"

My iPhone features so many settings that it's a genuine wonder why it works at all. I don't often use it to make or receive calls, for even with the speaker turned up just as loud as it goes, it whispers at me. Further, when traveling, I find myself more often out of range than anywhere within it. Whole cities like Tucson seem mostly comprised of dead zones. Heaven help anyone seeking a wi-fi connection, for these seem few and very far between. Starbucks® remains the travelers old reliable, though, offering clean rest rooms and decent wi-fi almost everywhere. They serve the traveler like Kinko's® used to before FedEx® took them over. The Muse downloads maps of the region to her iPhone because otherwise GoogleMaps® would mostly remain inaccessible. I tend to ignore my iPhone when traveling, so complicated does connecting become. The Muse and The Otter mysteriously remain somewhat online regardless, probably because they've mastered their settings in ways that I most certainly never will. We hop from HotSpot to HotSpot seeking to stay connected.

I can't remember how I stayed connected before cell phones, even though my connection today seems spotty and intermittent.

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Cordiality

cordiality
The Inn Keeper by Edward Charles Barnes, before 1882
"Cordiality makes our world go 'round square, with hardly a wobble."

The Iron John Brew Pub in old downtown Tucson sells beer in minimalist surroundings. The bartender greets me cordially, just what I need as I lead The Otter and The Muse into the place. I feel initially dissatisfied with the offerings, a collection of burnts and sours, but quickly enough winnow options down to a choice. The Muse chooses a Licorice Stout which she doesn't care for, though I'm intrigued by its odd herbal loading. The Otter chooses a juicy guest tap IPA. I select a Black IPA and we settle in to recover from a fragmented day, one without the benefit of lunch. Recovering from multiple traumas, The Otter experiences good and bad days, just like the rest of us, though hers seem to carry stronger amplitudes; higher ups and lower downs. She sometimes feels as though she's drowning, and this had been one of those days. The Muse and I provide what support we can, and though drowning never qualified as a spectator sport, we're certain that we cannot swim for her. We had more or less managed to drag ourselves through the day, though at times, barely. We needed cordiality.

Throughout this trip around The Great American Southwest, we've quietly relied upon Cordiality to pull us along.

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ConspicuousPresumption

conspicupuspresumption
"The most conspicuous consumption leaves one utterly depleted at the end."

The Leisure Classes escaped to The Great American Southwest, where the great American presumption of infinite resource finally came into its own. There, everything necessary to sustain life would have to be imported at considerable inconvenience, for not even water could be counted on locally. The beleaguered Colorado River, hardly a decent creek coming down out of the Rockies, quenches thirsts and greens golf courses across the region. Rich in mineral resources, Arizona naturally features vast spaces, but virtually none of the supporting resources for maintaining even a modicum of modern life. Its comparative advantage seems to be winter sunshine, of which it provides plenty, but everything else arrives by rail, semi-truck trailer, or air. Phoenix freeways reliably clog at least twice each day as commuters cross this former wasteland to travel from home to work and back. Homes here tend to be modest one-bedroom structures, with little high-rise construction. Suburbs, though, stretch beyond scorched surrounding mountains into verdant desert where cactus thrives among low-rise hacienda-style homes of every size, from cinderblock shack to extravagant cliff-dwelling. Everyone drives everywhere.

Close in, barrios dominate. Further out, huge homes.

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As-Iffing

As-If
The School Exam, 1859, Friedrich Peter Hiddemann
"Reality seems a belief-based initiative, or so our scientists insist."

Sedona sits nestled beside the seemingly insignificant Oak Creek, a watercourse which has over countless millennia carved an admirable red rock canyon, leaving soaring sandstone spires surrounding it. It seems both the most unlikely and dramatic setting for a small city. Its airport sits atop a mesa. It's reputed to hold several 'vortexes,' places where mysterious energies converge to impart special powers upon those who can tap them. Tourists—as near as I could tell in passing, the same tourists we encountered at The Grand Canyon—flock to these special spots, climbing red rock trails to bask in something not immediately obvious. The Muse, The Otter, and I slid up a slippery rock trail to find what, precisely, at the top? As Mad Magazine used to proclaim about its writing staff, The Usual Gang Of Idiots, ourselves prominently among them. A small plane practiced touch-and-goes out of the adjacent airport, buzzing the crowd of seekers. It felt like a cut-rate Lourdes without the water source. We, and supposedly everyone around us, stumbled back to our cars underwhelmed by our brush with touted greatness. We climbed up there As-If we might experience something life-changing but left feeling as though we'd suckered ourselves. As-Iffing sometimes works like this.

We returned to the car, then headed ourselves in the general direction of Phoenix, just As-If we might actually be able to drive there.

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Cantilevered

cantilievered
"Rocks can't care."

The GrandOtter and I shrank back from that first cliff edge. The Muse strolled right up to it, leaning out, peering down. Two thousand feet below, scree validated that gravity had been working there since before time began. I stood well back, finding some solid ground to sit down upon. The Otter warily edged closer. One dizzying glimpse over that precipice had satisfied all the curiosity I might ever muster. The Otter edged even closer. The Muse wanted to hop over the retaining wall so she could see even deeper down. The Otter finally edged right up to the wall. I walked back to wait in the car, unwilling to watch these darlings dangle so danged close to eternity.

The next morning, visiting another precipice, The Otter stood on a cantilevered boxcar-sized boulder snapping a 360 degree photo of the display.

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PassersBy

Passersby
Quirky building at Meteor City, AZ
" … while passing by another hundred or three distractions we won't actually stop and see."

We drive past a hundred places for every one we stop to see. We say that we're toodling, but we do a lot more passing by than stopping to see. The Great American Southwest features no shortage of roadside attractions. From rickety little Navajo kiosks to a giant meteor crater, each attraction features some sort of sign intended to attract eye and interest, and each looks genuinely interesting in its way. We've chosen the destination or two for the day, and these diversions hector us every inch of the way. Were we to stop at each, we'd never make headway, so we become PassersBy rather than visitors. By the end of the day, we'll alight somewhere and linger long enough to feel as though we've developed a feel for the place, but our experiences will remain on the superficial side of staying, hardly even visiting at all.

When I was a kid, my family would collect bumper advertising proclaiming that we'd visited Sea Lion Caves or Trees of Mystery.

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ADifferentMan

ADifferentMan
Portrait of a Merchant - Jan Gossaert - [c.1530]
"Neither are any of us."

"What's changed for you in the almost three days we've been traveling into The Great American Southwest," I asked The GrandOtter as she deftly demonstrated how to drive across a Navajo Reservation.

"
I've started learning to just F*C#IN' DO IT," She exclaimed! (The Otter's language can at times emerge sprinkled rather liberally with a backstreet French dialect.)

Once I'd ceded driving duties to this sometimes presumed overly-brittle young woman, relegating myself to the significantly lowlier role of backseat passenger, her former brittleness utterly disappeared. Certainly, mine seemed to increase, as if to maintain constant the net mass of brittleness in the universe, but hers simply disappeared. She confided that she could feel me stiffening in the seat behind her, vibrating as I held myself back from butting in too awfully much, but she'd decided to continue as if my sensibilities didn't matter. She, after all, HAD the freaking wheel. What could I do about it? Nothing, she presumed, and so she drove as if she were fully competent and eminently capable of fulfilling that critical role, critics be damned, and so she proved to be.

Over the following three hours, I gnawed a fresh hold in my tongue, but we both held fast, and it's seductive to presume that The Otter had become ADifferentPerson by the time we'd arrived, though I suspect that she had not. Not really.

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ButtClenching

ButtClenchers
Deadhorse Lookout, Utah
"Surrounded by alien territory, greater authenticity could emerge."

The Muse travels well, she of the ungainly pile of tour guides and carefully curated maps maintains our places in spaces and times. I simply drive. Having successfully fled winter dread into ParadoxCountry, we find our collective ButtClenching as we investigate sentiment and erosion on the grandest possible scale. Much accretes over the course of a typical planet's entire history, and some leavings can't help but wash away over time. This washing away displaces original deposits, leaving behind the most curious structures and shapes, just like our lives seem to do. We live on time scales insignificant when compared to the total history of this planet. Modern geologists conclude with ranges multiple times the merely unthinkable, or within a few odd million years or so. We think ourselves senior in our sixties, not a paltry sixty million, but a sixty-some single years. We stand clueless but still curious, interested in observing, though looking over and into even finite eternity can produce some serious ButtClenching.

I suspect that ancient man sought out ButtClenching as a handy antidote to ennui.

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ParadoxCountry

ParadoxCountry
Job and His Friends, 1869, Ilya Repin (1844–1930)
"I suspect that it will always be too early to tell what the outcome might become."

Winter eventually becomes too predictable, with each day bringing a wearying self-sameness. The yard remains either a steadfast beige or a persistent white, and the kitchen produces endless braises and bean pots. There are only so many variations, and those differences eventually melt into no variation at all. Foot-dragging ensues. Whatever's doing, it seems a struggle to start and an utter impossibility to complete. Frozen in place, little change or growth or improvement seems likely to emerge. Animation seems to suspend for the duration, and the duration approaches the infinite, for the more familiar spring, summer, and autumn reference points sit beneath a snowbank likely to remain in place until after Memorial Day. Getting away seems necessary, though unlikely. The Muse insists. Who would anyone have to become to effectively resist her?

From the moment The Muse, The Otter, and I pull away from our freshly snow-spackled driveway, we feel more at home.

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TheRuleOfLawyers

RuleOfLawyers
"Decency demands no less of us or of them."

We insist that we, unlike many countries, live by The Rule of Law, though it seems as though we increasingly live under The RuleOfLawyers. The law stands for what has been legislated by duly elected representatives. Lawyers stand for anything, for they trained as advocates capable of arguing any side of any issue. They seem to seek something other than truth or justice, the oft-touted American Way, but their way instead. They shamelessly shave pigs, split hairs, and boldly dare to support any position they're being paid to support. A beleaguered corp of public defenders, underfunded and over-scheduled, seem to stand alone against well-entrenched forces dedicated to denying anything they choose to deny. Absurdity reigns. Inequality under the law prevails. Respect for the law seems neigh-on to impossible.

A democracy seems at root a faith-based form of government.

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RoadTricks

RoadTricks
Grant Wood, New Road, 1939
"I imagine Kokopelli, the Road Trickster, will be guiding our way."

The Muse has been hankering after a road trip to The Great Southwest ever since we relocated to Colorado. She figures that once we finally move back to The Great Northwest, we'll live far enough away from those vast and fascinating wastelands that we'll never feel moved to visit, so she's created a deadline of sorts. If not now, then when? She holds a short list of spots she'd like to visit. As usual, I feel relatively disinterested in the undertaking. I approach long road trips with the same enthusiasm I employ for root canal surgeries. I dread them beforehand, though I usually manage to click into some semblance of a spirit somewhere along the way. I'll go, but I'll drag both feet before we leave.

I understand that I'm nobody's great gift to driving. I don't exactly hate driving, but I'd rather take a train.

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HardLabor

HardLabor
Walker Evans, The Breadline, 1933
"You're just the care-giver."

The hardest work I've ever done didn't look like HardLabor. No muscle straining resulted. It was not accomplished beneath an unforgiving sun. Nor was it undertaken under the threat of a gun bull's steely eye, and not to take anything away from all those who have suffered so, I didn't really know I was laboring hard until I was somewhere into the middle of the effort, already having bitten off more than I might reasonably chew, and destined to one day swallow. Divorce was harder than bucking bales. Quitting cigarettes nearly killed me, but quietly, in the most nerve-wracking way imaginable before then. Losing dear friends hurt worse than my muscle groups ever have. Recovering from trauma punishes more than the original trama ever thought to punish. Helping another recover from trauma seems even harder than recovering from trauma since the work's necessarily arm's length and guided by unreliable supervisors. Progress seems unlikely for the longest time.

HardLabor seems fueled by faith, a firm yet quivering belief that the effort might one day seem worth it.

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SelfWorth

selfworth
Luis Jiménez y Aranda (1845-1928) - The Bibliophiles (1879)
"Maybe value's all in other peoples' heads, but not in mine."

It's tax season so I've been reassessing my SelfWorth. I'm unsure what currency to use to calculate this value, or even if I should employ currency at all, for I'm not now and never have been a money guy. I've never had a portfolio and The Muse has kept me well away from all household accounting since she watched me attempt to balance a checkbook decades ago. Two days of frantic effort left the result inconclusive, her appalled, and me exhausted. She claimed that she could have arrived at an indisputable outcome in a few minutes. I realized that I'd always reinvented my methodology every time I attempted to balance the books, imagining complicated schemas for creating whatever might constitute balance. However otherwise exemplary my university education might have once been, Accounting had been a definite low point, since none of it made any sense to me. I queried my professors, hoping that they might be able to explain the logic behind the much-revered Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, and they told me something like, "Abandon all logic, ye who enter here," for the principles had been founded by general agreement, not logic. They quite literally made no sense and could only be conquered by rote memorization and practice, practice, practice. The university bookstore refused to repurchase my accounting texts at the end of the semester because their covers had accidentally come off due to my repeatedly throwing them against brick walls in lieu of pounding my head against them. Accounting remains a deep and uninteresting mystery to me.

But if I were to attempt to calculate my SelfWorth, what besides the unholy GAAP might I use?

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Blocked

blocked
"They've got your number, remember your name, and ultimately tame themselves."

My grandson Roman, who turned eight last week, has grown into an aspiring writer. My son Wilder reports that he's been struggling with intermittent writer's block and asked if I might give him a gift of insight into this most distressing element of every writer's existence, so here goes:

Of course writers only come in the aspiring form, because aspiration forms the soul of even very experienced writers, who seem eternally no better than their
next production. Writing brings no residuals, no resting on past laurels, not in the writer's mind, which endlessly roams ahead. A finished piece does not continue as a work in process, but extinguishes the fire that forged it shortly after it's finished. Finished pieces hold little interest for the creator, and the writer might not very well remember the details about even a piece widely recognized as a signature one. Writing serves as an extractive effort, intended to discard/ Not a building up activity creating a body of work, but a disposal activity intending to make space for something else. Writers leave the critics and fans to accumulate. The writer eliminates.

The urge to create seems most similar to the urge to take a poop.

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Out

Out
"Would I become a better man once I can tranquilly stand to spend extended isolated time with myself?"

After the fifth sequential snow day, even an experienced meditating monk aches to get Out. He'd trade nirvana for a stroll around even a usually reviled well-heated shopping mall. He might even consent to a Cinnabon® just for the sheer variety it might bring, because he's been further away from Springtime than he remembers ever being and the serene snow seems simply tedious now. Somehow, some way, he's simply got to get away, just Go. What first seemed comforting and close became almost smothering, way too close for even the comfort a warming fire might bring. He'd consent to supper at that little place in the village where the food has always been consistently lousy and the service much worse, where a simple supper won't be served until two full hours after he takes his seat, where only two employees managed to make it to work that shift and the bartender's doing the cooking. Lord knows who's tending bar. That's how far down this latest storm's taken our humble monk.

Others, ordinary folk without the monk's extraordinary ability to discipline themselves, seem mad with bottled up frenzy.

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Impressioning

RegularShapes
Claude Monet, Impression, Soleil Levant (Impression, Sunrise), 1872
"I do not remember this familiar ever before being precisely like this."

We remember Claude Monet as the original impressionist. He was widely reviled in his time, for his work seemed to violate the rules for what had constituted valid. His first impressionist image, shown above, seemed out of focus, as if the subject was moving rather than static, more smear than clear imprint. Nobody could precisely state what it represented without reading the title, and even then, critics disagreed over whether Monet had faithfully executed his label-implied intention. Today, we conveniently say that Impressionism more faithfully represents lived experience, for nothing in this life exists in so-called regular shapes or sits still while a photograph gets taken, and resulting photographs seem small and flat compared to lived experience. The photographic-quality image seems most impressionistic to our more modern eye which has grown to accept every captured image materially misrepresenting the originating visual experience.

Some seem set upon insisting that photographs are more real than any impressionist's painting, though their insistence seems overly dependant upon how one defines 'real.'

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MisConnected

DisConnected
Snap The Whip, Winslow Homer, 1872
"We can create vast networks dedicated to delivering on a fundamentally foolish notion and produce its opposite instead."

Our Internet was supposed to connect us all but seems to have achieved the opposite effect. The Greeks labeled this phenomena Enantiodromia, and considered it a natural result, that things tend to run counter to original intent. Obsession explains some of this. Over-focus easily blinds one to creeping counter influences, leaving an over-passionate pursuer vulnerable to normal stumbling blocks. Ideation, initial envisioning, tends toward idealization, so we quite naturally imagine utter impossibilities and produce opposites instead. Given free reign, we seem fully capable of running anything into the ground. Judicious constraining might seem to blunt possibility, but it also buffers against catastrophic reversals. Modesty seems more likely to produce positive results than audacity might.

The trades insist that everyone's ordering online now because it's more convenient. I live well behind this curve

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TheChat

TheChat
The Glass of Wine, Johannes Vermeer, c.1658 - c.1660
" … one of those pleasingly notorious SmallThings we maintain between us."

Deliver me, please, from the ponderous conversation. Protect me from the onerous plea. Free me from all stentorious presentations. A chat seems what I need. A rambling one without apparent purpose. I trivial one where nothing gets disclosed. I cheering one where no-one gets derided. A hopeful one where we're clearly glad to see each other up close. One devoid of discomfiting revelations, a modest meeting of the most immodest minds. A face-to-face without verbal competition, a simple sit-down around a pot of tea ,or beer, or one of those clear cocktails you sometimes seem to prefer. A "what's new' unlikely to grown older. A "not much" serious sort of chat. A plain-old ennobling fresh engagement where no demons seem welcome to unfold. A meeting without an underlying purpose. A connection intended to lead nowhere. A brief breath of sorely needed fresh air, just the two or three or four of us there.

Let Presidents and politics lie their fool heads off while we engender sweet respite.

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-Bound

-Bound
N. C. Wyeth, Snowbound
"I'm sitting by the fire looking out while also peering within."

My dearly departed friend III insisted that Boundary Was Everything, an apparently paradoxical statement in a world more recently interested in everything out-of-the-box, where boundaries exist only to be ignored. Get yourself snowed in, though, and my friend's assertion comes into sharper focus. Snowbound serves as a sort of instant self-discipline. If you can't go anywhere, you suddenly have no place to go. Whims simply stifle themselves. Whatever else my heart might desire, we're eating in again tonight. Like always, there's nothing actually on the television tonight. The fireplace shows better movies no matter how many times we've seen this one before. The cats curl up close as if trying to catch their fur on fire when the temperature difference between inside and out hangs in the upper sixties Fahrenheit. Snow continues falling after the first great shoveling. Candles glow half buried beneath that snow.

It's darker outside than almost any other night of the year. I cannot hear anything. Even the plow mumbles as it passes.

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DItY

DItY
"Done in by a tiny recalcitrant sheet metal screw."

Paleo-man did everything himself because the specialist phase of social development had yet to arrive. For eons, generations of our predecessors never thought to ask for help from any factory-trained specialist. This was a presumably proud species, self-reliant and skilled enough, though none ever once encountered even the smallest of our modern conundrums, like the justifiably terrifying tiny hex-headed sheet metal screw. Their world featured rock, wood, and leather, wild beasts and flint-prompted fire. They had no crawl space fans needing replacing. They owned no socket set with three dozen differently-sized attachments. They never watched themselves schlump back up the basement stairs to fetch that tool they'd earlier felt certain that this job wouldn't need. They had no neighbor egging them on, boasting about how easy replacing that fan would be. They never experienced DItY, the harsh reality of our modern Do It Yourself craze, for it is certainly a craze, a crazy-making preoccupation wherein an otherwise self-respecting fellow's self-esteem takes it in the shorts again and again and again. DIT, properly translated, means not Doing It Yourself, but DYtI, Doing It to Yourself.

Two little letters, one almost insignificant word, 'to,' the difference between a job well done and doing another job on one's self.

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MyBetters

MyBetters
The Beggar Maid, German school, 19th c.
"We remain more equal than we can possibly know, let alone understand."

Declaring superiority carries its own disqualification. How smart could it possibly be to declare yourself smarter than another? Likewise with beauty and every other comparator known to humankind. Humans don't seem all that kind up close. We break ranks to stack ourselves like cordwood, judging our position relative to others', taking either solace or frustration depending upon how we, as the saying goes, "stack up." The self-proclaimed morally superior stack their cards in favor of their own positioning, looking down their long noses at all those so-called "beneath" them. The Founders of our once-great republic were exclusively of a single so-called superior class. They preached an equality their lives seemed not to afford them, hoping, perhaps, to level a mountain they stood atop, for there were others on higher peaks than they could ever aspire to, divinely righted to dominate over those less than themselves. By the divinely-righted's accounting, everyone was a lesser.

White Supremacists seem like so many misguided clowns failing to catch themselves parsing the world upside down.

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AbsoluteMagic

absolutemagic
Henry Gillard Glindoni (1042-1913): John Dee performing an experiment before Queen Elizabeth I.
"I don't quite know as little as she did … yet."

Knowing seems the most over-rated ability. Not to denigrate folks who know a lot, they're welcome to their achievements, but I speak here of what we believe we need to know. This belief seems like AbsoluteMagic. The stories I tell myself, explaining why I can't do, seem to anchor what I don't yet know, as if my lack of knowing reasonably prevented me from certain doing. In practice, this insistence rarely proves true. Most of what I've actually done seemed more fueled by desire than by knowledge, the knowing emerging after or along the way toward actually having done. Certainly, I usually struggled before achieving any desired end, but most of these complications seemed beyond knowing until the moment I encountered them then figured 'em out. No amount of preparation could have helped me avoid complications, or so I conclude.

My ability to assert what I could not possibly know serves as AbsoluteMagic.

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Actnying

Actnying
Mosaic depicting theatrical masks of Tragedy and Comedy (Thermae Decianae)


"One key to successfully assimilating into any new year lies in finding yourself already in it."

The PureSchmaltz Facebook Group attracted five hundred and forty unique page views over the six days following my last summary of the prior week, which produced seven hundred and forty-two unique page views, an absolute measure of an incomprehensible metric; but hey, if it's the only number I have, it's the one I'll use. Had I expected this group to amplify my brand or promote my business, I might feel panicky over the one quarter reduction in what's euphemistically referred to as 'traffic' in the internet world, but I don't consider the members of this group to be traffic or click bait or potential commercial targets. This group and my PureSchmaltz Blog, to me, represents the way our internet was supposed to work. Please do not mistake me for a commercial entity, for I have much more riding on this endeavor than mere financial success. I've dedicated my little stories to cataloguing life as I live it here, in hopes that some day, one day, my progeny might use them to experience a few tastes of what life felt like for me while living forward from here, absent history's blurring lenses and mythology's inevitable Comedic/Tragic glorification, and also for the enjoyment of a select cadre of self-selected 'fans,' the only group for which I've volunteered to be a member.

My prior week represented a return to familiar territory, an experience I'm referring to as Actnying, action infused with denial.

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Nesting

Nesting
Las Hilanderas [The Spinners] (c. 1655–60), Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez. Museo del Prado, Madrid
"Our nest feels fuller now. So do our lives."

The Muse and I have been empty nesters for most of our lives together. Our kids were almost grown up and out by the time we connected, and aside from a few fraught months here and there, and our accompanying cats, we've been on our own everywhere we've lived. Until last fall, we'd inhabited empty nest isolation for the ten months since Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat met her maker. Then around Halloween, everything began to change when The Muse invited her sisters, a niece, and The GrandOtter to visit. Our kitten Max arrived around then, too, and the place hummed for a few days before slumping almost back into an echo-y mausoleum again. The following week, Max's sister Molly arrived to herald in a new age, our formerly empty next infested with kitten play twenty-four hours of every day. Then The GrandOtter returned for a visit which has now turned into an impending full-blown relocation, and our nest seems far from empty now.

Curiously, the place seems larger full than it ever did when empty.

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CastOffs

CastOffs

"Once loved, once reviled, then once again loved again, …"

The Villa's furnishings have never matched, each piece hailing from its own era, half of it in long-standing desperate need of reupholstering, each CastOffs in their time. The Muse and I believe that our furnishing style imparts a homier feel than more modern matching furniture might. We refer to the overriding style as Early Undergraduate in remembrance of those apartments we once inhabited where one rented a room and shared furnished living spaces, perhaps with the bottom end of a closed-off grand staircase dominating the living room and providing overflow seating space. We've acquired these pieces in second hand shops and estate sales over the duration of our relationship, always looking for quality, of course, but also for an acceptable quirkiness. Our furniture mirrors our shared experiences. One chair in our master bedroom looks like it had rickets as a child, one foreleg curiously angled. I might get around to performing surgery on it one day, but it works just fine for the purpose we intend for it for now. Some of the stuff belonged to our forebears. A rocker my great grandmother rocked me to sleep in, recovered by the ever-inventive Muse, still retaining its original satisfying squeak. A cherrywood china cabinet from a consignment shop dominates our dining room. My writing chair, a remnant of my first wife's grandfather's estate.

Each piece, like all CastOffs, holds a story, many pre-dating our stewardship, our home an Americana museum.

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IrrelevanceRevisited

RevisitingIrrelevance
Remember Uncle August, the Unhappy Inventor, by George Grosz (1919)


I want to be remembered as one who resisted the breakup of The Bell System, a regulatory change which eventually drove everyone using a leased phone to purchase one for themselves. The choices were predictably dissatisfying, cheaply built and expensive relative to the few dollars the sturdy leased one had set me back. I had been more than satisfied with the green Princess wall model hanging next to the basement stairs, its extra long cord allowing me to stretch the handset clear into the entryway and perch on the lower stairs when talking with someone. The phone I bought to replace it never hung properly and stopped working in under a year, starting an odyssey which left me doing much more for myself while paying more for that privilege. My concerns seem as irrelevant now as those of any master carburetor mechanic or revered buggy whip manufacturer for cars no longer employ carburetors and what passes for buggies these days no longer require their operator to ever employ a whip.

The first part of life seems centered around solidifying identity. Once one nails down who they are, what they are to become assumes a more prominent role, seeking relevance.

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TheStranger

Stranger2
" … choice a person makes before they can take ramifications into full consideration."

I heard myself say it, perhaps more confession than admission, "I've lived as a resident alien since I was eighteen." I'd never heard myself say that before, and my statement stuck in my craw. The suppertime conversation continued, though I noticed that it resumed without me. I eventually caught up, though I continued to carry my inadvertent little blurt along with me. Did I really mean that or was I just mugging for some non-existent camera, making another signature outrageous remark? My disclosure held fascination for me. Was it really true? Had I never, for fifty contiguous years, felt as though I was of a place I'd lived? It was true enough, I decided upon further consideration. Except for that one decade where The Muse and I moved back home, I later confided, I've felt very much TheStranger everywhere I called home. Helpfully, The Muse reflected that even there, I mostly felt like TheStranger, too.

I feel very attracted to the concept of community, of clan, of tribe, perhaps because I've experienced so very little of these in my life.

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PreConstruction

Pre-Construction
"PreConstruction always proves to be ironic milling around …"

By this time in my life, I should have accumulated more than adequate experience in the fine though under-appreciated art of PreConstruction, an essential stage in every development project commonly referred to as The Essential Milling Around Period. Each New Year throws me both forward and backward, ahead into a fresh calendar and also back to my internal drawing board to somehow determine who and what I might become this year. A new year's early weeks highlight that I simply do not yet know who I'll become. My now extensive experience within this throwback space insists that my greatest potential danger lies exclusively in deciding too early on inadequate evidence and understanding, so I'm out collecting stones, as Jerry Weinberg once characterized this activity, unprepared to declare my intentions for employing them. The resulting pile of rocks might not appear to be much yet, but only because it isn't. A few seem of exquisite proportion, potential cornerstones or centerpieces, though without a clearer Gestalt, I simply cannot yet definitively declare.

This time unsettles me. Seven hundred and forty two individual page views observed me gathering stones over the last long week.

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SmallDistinctions

SmallDistinctions
Allegory on the Blessings of Peace by Peter Paul Rubens, 1629 - 1630

"Not knowing has always been the first stage of genuine wisdom."

We do not inhabit a world crafted by large decisions but SmallDistinctions. I can't deny that sometimes HUGE effects follow some decisions, but these effects only rarely result from someone deliberately making some momentous-appearing choice, if only because nobody can accurately foretell future momentousness, and only a future can perceive large effects. Us humans seem to prefer to see ourselves as big-time decision-makers, though, and this preference carries a considerable cost. We seek to optimize when some barely good-enough option could do. We wholesale accept or reject when some smaller support or deflection might better preserve. We elect humans to high office expecting them to produce great things, when great things do not seem to be a human property or agency. Our world, like it or lump it, seems most deeply influenced by our eternally nascent ability to make SmallDistinctions encouraging well-informed choices. Standing upon such choices, wise but almost never Large decisions might be made and thereby nudge forward genuine improvement.

We insist that we have huge problems, which naturally seem to consequently require huge solutions, encouraging us to chase after largely irrelevant choices.

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Panicking

Panicking
"The tough guy who never cries seems like the bird that never flies."

When The Muse and I first got together, my life was in tatters. My second marriage had just ended, landing me back to Go without first collecting any two hundred dollars. I was living in a crummy little apartment. I felt separated from my life, a truly terrifying situation. Sunday nights, I would find myself crawling into the back corner of a closet and weeping uncontrollably, a full-blown panic attack temporarily taking over. These sessions usually lasted for two or three hours, though nobody was timing them. They'd end when I'd exhausted myself into sleep. I'd wake in the wee hours of the following morning to shamefacedly crawl into bed until dawn. The Muse seemed unflappable, observing my Panicking without taking it as a personal statement about her, a remarkably respectful and supportive response.

My Panicking pattern continued for months and months until it finally dissipated.

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LateStatusQuo

LateStatusQuo
Blind Justice by Michael Barton Miller, Ukiah County Courthouse, Mendocino, California

"We might usefully navigate using a guiding star without ever expecting to achieve it."

In LateStatusQuo, things have already fallen apart, though a society tends to engage as if they haven't. Yet. Revered traditions have become parodies of their former selves though almost everyone continues to play along. Once lofty aspirations have already evolved into mighty myths capable of sustaining themselves in spite of the clear absence of fresh confirming evidence. Disconfirming evidence itself becomes the enemy. People are judged by whether they're for or against us, and even mild support receives punishment as inadequately vigorous. The rule of law might still reign supreme, but subsequent rulings have successfully undermined the intention of equal justice upon which the law was originally drafted. The still revered 'equal justice for all' clause of the Pledge of Allegiance is amended to append 'worthy of equal justice,' for whole subclasses of once-equal aspiring citizens have become legally disenfranchised to make adequate room for those who deserve justice. Everyone else gets legally damned.

A man in Alabama might receive a decades-long prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread while a shyster investment banker who bankrupted thousands receives a 1% slap-on-the-wrist fine as part of a deal with prosecutors which included no public admission of guilt. Some lives clearly don't matter.

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Appreciating

Appreciations1
"Appreciations are grace. Try not to chase them away."

Appreciations seem almost impossible to properly deliver. My mentors taught me that a proper appreciation must be delivered face-to-face and one-on-one. Group appreciations violate this first principle of principled appreciating. I know, before schooled, I'd felt nary a qualm when tossing off a quick group appreciation vaguely targeted at "you guys." However sincere my feelings, from the perspective of the receiver, I can understand how a certain depth of feeling might have seemed lacking. I find that it's not always logistically convenient to deliver a right and proper appreciation, like when I am in a group and I can't seem to leverage a moment of alone time to target my recipient person to person. Such logistical complications usually leave me failing to mention my appreciation at all, hoping that a flash of eye contact might serve as an adequate replacement. It never is.

I believe that most of the world's ills would be easily fixable if only we could openly talk about them without rancor.

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RoeDayOh

RowDayOh
" … us Townies will never understand."

I grew up in a town with a RoeDayOh, but I'd never attended one until last night because I was a 'townie.' Townies live in the small city adjacent to ranches, but live utterly separate lives from those lived by cowboys and ranch hands. Townies do not wear Wranglers, but Levi's, and eschew almost everything to do with the covertly effeminate cowboy boots, snap-front shirts, and mangled broad-brimmed cardboard cowboy hats. Townies name their offspring Bill, Bob, or Joe, not Yancy or Wade, and not one of us ever even think of wearing fancy belt buckles or getting any closer to a live bull than a very rare steak, let alone attempting to ride on one's bucking back. Townies pray that they do not win the door prize of a $75,000 diesel Dodge Ram pick-up. We think of cowboys as overly-committed throwback cosplay characters, mimicking a history that never was. Townies maintain their own delusions every bit as alienating as any cowboy's or cowgirl's, my point being that we're cut from different cloth, fabric with little middle ground upon which to meet.

Back in the 1930s, when Hollywood discovered The West, the standard plot line would feature city slickers visiting a dude ranch where they'd be introduced to authentic Americana replete with ballet-dancing cowboys and small symphony orchestras performing impromptu Gershwin productions.

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Shakedown

shakedown
"Few of us ever read the small print."

In Manhattan, the Shakedown exists as an art form. Nobody expects to find a bargain there. The very hotel which touts its dedication to serving clients won't blush when demanding thirty or forty bucks for a substandard Continental-Style breakfast. The client will hold his cool, understanding that the place has him over a barrel. They will levy spurious service charges simply because they can. Nobody seems to pass up an opportunity to take their piece of the action. The price of admission won't actually bankrupt you over the duration of your short stay, but it might get you thinking about staying away the next time you're enticed to visit.

My Subaru dealer makes more subtle threats.

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Waiting

Waiting ...
Waiting for Legal Advice, 1857, James Campbell (1828 - 1893) (British)
" … the machine will continue to grind …"

I think of waiting as an adult time out. Most delays amount to SmallThings, a few realigning moments between actual destinations, and I'm learning to simply accept them for what they are, which is never defining, a small interruption to the regularly scheduled programming. A brief respite between some here and there no matter how interminable each might seem. A challenge to cobble together a short alternate to the expected experience. I keep an audio book enqueued on my iPhone or some other worthy distraction which I access to fill in the space. Now that we all have smart phones, every waiting moment quickly transforms into a Facebook or email scan, we're rarely truly idle. Most of our interactions with our government seem to become exercises in patience, at the post office, the DMV, the title registrar, or some other outpost of our humblingly huge bureaucracy. We anticipate these waits, bringing along a newspaper or a book with which to entertain ourselves as we idle. I prefer to watch the machine working in the same way that I gawk at the automated tortilla machine or the juice squeezing juke box when waiting for a restaurant table.

The machine seems to never idle, whether present as a single inadequately-staffed post office window or a dozen numbered windows around a waiting area with actual seating.

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DreadOfWinter

DreadOfWinter
Dead Man Alley-Winter, Millard Donald Everingham, 1940
" …Nothing to dread but dread itself."

Ennui follows Epiphany like a baby elephant follows its mother, tiny trunk grasping reassuring tail, for this world seems especially forbidding then with redeeming Spring just as far away as it will ever be this year. Self confidence falls to its lowest recorded readings since this time last year as nights infinitesimally shorten and days drag themselves through unremitting self-similarity. The New Year, so promising just a fortnight ago, seems prematurely spoiled, already past its pull date while hardly even begun. Hollows hold snow frozen into alabaster insults, lawns a uniformly unpromising beige again. I dutifully light my luminarias each dusk and retrieve the candles each dawn, attempting to demonstrate the single watt of faith remaining from Christmastime. I maintain my schedule, some days kicking and screaming myself back into the yolk, where considerable pushing and shoving ensues. Each essay breach birthed with the inept assistance of an incompetent and uncaring midwife. Such is mid-January life.

If it would only snow to seal the conviction that there's really no place to go and no reasonable way to get there if there were, but the sky remains indifferent with unpromising clouds and fierce winds pushing backwards toward the East.

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DoctorVisit

DoctorVisit
" Modern medicine seems almost identical to medieval medicine, except the leeches are larger and more impersonal. "

The Muse and I belong to a Health Network, a common modern American euphemism which means 'limited monopoly.' Once 'enrolled' and accepted, a Health Network combines with insurance coverage to become a client's one-stop service center for all things medical, from check-ups to diagnostic procedures to prescribing. Ours features a patient Portal which was obviously designed to try our patience. It looks just like an early Windoze app and performs like one, too. All communication gets funneled through this needle's eye which might send a text message reporting that new information's been posted before denying access. What was that Pastword again?

The Network suffers from all the shortcomings common to transactional associations gussied up to appear relational. I, for instance, don't actually have a doctor but a nurse practitioner, which seems fine with me. Any deeper diagnostics, she refers to actual doctors which I never actually meet since other nurse practitioners perform actual procedures. Later, the doctor will post conclusions to the Portal which might deny me access again. Every encounter with The Network finds me repeating my birthdate, address, and the last four digits of my social security number, just to confirm that I am who I purport to be. I have been known to leave a waiting room if the questioning becomes too onerous. They always ask me to report The Muse's birthdate, too, which I tell them that I do not know precisely. They've allowed me entrance anyway, so far.

My Portal record, once I access it, always insists that I have not fully completed my personal patient history paperwork, though I have completed it to the very best of my ability.

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NoGoNegation

NegNoTiation
"A day without engagement might turn into a week, then a month, then a season, and finally a year or two or three. Who would I become then?"

Some Mornings, not even deeply ingrained habit can move me off the starting line. Most days, I'm up and running without a first thought inhibiting me, but those Some Mornings resist my lead. I would much rather veg out binge-watching a police procedural, lose my soul to an audio book, so just flip through the news, not an ounce of ambition egging me forward. I almost never completely submit to these slothful enticements, though. Rather than slip under that self-negating spell, I enter into a very specialized form of negotiation, NoGoNegation. My goal seems to be the most primitive form of mastery, the motive energy to move off a single stuck dime. I need not talk myself into any but SmallThings, since even imagining accomplishing any GreatThings seems to only further demotivate me then. One tiny excuse, one modest objective and the inertia of stuckness quite literally slips into its kinetic counterpart.

I'd think that after decades of practice and consequent experience, I would have become something of an expert in this field of NoGoNegation, but I seem to start as a novice every time.

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GroanUp

GroanUp
"I'm in a much bigger body now, but more of a kid than ever."

Maturation might involve little more than repeatedly catching one's self engaging in ridiculous actions; SmallThings which, when later tallied, amount to huge differences. Youth imparts a sense of invulnerability which experience shatters, and rightfully should. Even the wins might manage to impart a few of humility's finer points. Accumulated losses might convince anyone that they're a fool a heart. I'm now a grandfather of considerable experience, The GrandOtter now present as a twenty-one year old, though I suspect that I'll forever relate to her as though she was still about eight. The ensuing years have humbled us both without making either of us particularly wiser. We share mutual respect though my advancing age tips presumptions in my favor. I am, after all, the presumptive grownup in the relationship, though I experience my self as most frequently a GroanUp.

A GroanUp has made a fool of himself frequently enough to sincerely question his own authority and omniscience.

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Wariness

wariness
"The hopeful believe in Archimedean physics yet still persistently tug on their own bootstraps …"

I feel a certain Wariness after reading the newspaper, a SmallThing. I can no longer bear to tune into the network nightly news broadcast, and even NPR has recently shifted to the edge of the bearly bearable. I never did watch Faux or listen to Limbaugh or subscribe to any of the innumerable conspiracy theories which over-populate social media, all of which seem to thrive on vague generalities, if not intended to induce paranoid feelings, fairly successfully manage to routinely do so. I firmly believe that the second amendment remains widely misinterpreted for the most cynical of reasons. I favor a wide-spread freedom from religion more than I support the Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of religion, and that mixing politics and religion inescapably poisons both.

I was born into These Paranoid States of America, where victory in WWII and a humiliating draw on the Korean Peninsula left this country too wary by half.

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ReasoningAgain

Thinking1
"What we do when we encounter these outcomes probably determines whether we drive ourselves crazy or sane."

I think, therefore I feel confused. Descartes apparently presumed much when proposing his now nearly infamous "I think, therefore I am" notion, for 'am-ing' seems to include much more than what might be properly represented in the Predicate Calculus. More people now deeply understand and employ logic than at any time in the history of the world so far, and what has that wash of Reasoning bought us? It does not seem to have brought us anything like the much-touted heaven on Earth early logicians might have presumed it might, for we seem to have neglected to purchase the Absurd Syllogism Insurance Rider which might have better protected us from ridiculous constructions leading to absurd conclusions. They say that we're all about data now and we increasingly seek computationally verifiable paths which seem to just about as reliably as prior methods, lead us into genuine Old Testament-quality temptation, even evil. Much of what I witness seems determined to defy any and all Reasoning, including but not exclusively those philosophies most firmly rooted in Reasoning. Our computers might be on the fritz.

While we might properly deduce much about our situations, much more remains beyond Reasoning.

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Rhyming

rhyming
"She quickly learned to sing along."

The most memorable poems leave behind the most curious images. A dish credibly runs away with a spoon. A huge egg tumbles off a high wall. An eensy-weensy spider, not a small or tiny one, climbs up the water spout. Tigers burn bright. Roses are roses are roses, and this otherwise redundant, tautological description stands, and taller than most every other attempt to memorialize the rose. Poetry often rhymes, but even when it fails to rhyme, it almost always exudes a rhythm scheme, a cadence which compellingly pulls the reader along. Nothing need be terribly exact unless engaging in some specialized sonnet, restrictive haiku, or bawdy limerick. The so-called nursery rhyme, many of which persist as familiar and reassuring ear worms throughout even long lifetimes, exemplify poetry for me, or po'ms, as I've grown to call these silly little spoutings to better suggest that something's missing but not forgotten from them. They might lack a scholarly decorum but compensate with a warming silliness.

Writing po'ms demands an unteachable skill.

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Timing

Timing
"This shift fools me every time."

A New Year induces an arrhythmia into the proceedings, for my life, every life, amounts to proceeding. Whether this forward momentum smoothly flows or jerks me around depends upon a seemingly subtle coherence. I mostly feel no need to fine tune my presence. It is, and is just as it is, background silence, a deeply muffled cadence. I might continue without considering my propulsion until some milestone steps into the middle of my road. Year End and New Year reliably disrupt my sublime unconsciousness, seeming to force more deliberate reflection. My reliables seize up on me and I'm unwillingly forced to rethink what I hadn't sensed myself thinking about in ages. My motions lose their continuity and my thoughts pace without concluding anything. I become a steam engine who's lost my tracks.

The past week amply illustrates this rethinking phase. My PureSchmaltz Facebook Group attracted 784 unique page views, some of which I can doubtless attribute to you and your presence here, a single point of continuity for me and I hope for you, too.

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Lying

lying
"I don't lie to myself about lying to myself."

In the beginning was a small misrepresentation, a truly SmallThing. Nothing vicious or deliberate, just a little attempt to improve the quality of my story. It exacted a small toll, a tiny tariff, and I moved on. I moved on mindful that I'd need to remember that deviation or risk my story seeming to slip into question in the future. I could over time become inured to even making distinctions between absolute truth and comparative fiction and increasingly trade in legend, like any name-brand product's advertising. Truth seems alluring only in theory. In practice, our stories need heroes and villains, damsels and dragons, disturbing beginnings and reassuring endings, not the unending ambiguity simple truth provides. I too easily justify my immersion, insisting to myself that any version providing a more easily accepted meaning might make even the occasional egregious lie totally acceptable, an improvement over an uninspiring truth.

Every great civilization was founded upon a fundamental lie, a probably deliberate inflation of potential or heritage, similar to the motivational stories each of us told to reassure ourselves that we might actually achieve what we naively aspired for.

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Squeezed

squeezed
"Take us aside and we'll register no real complaint, except for the nagging squeeze which seems as though it simply must be at root unnecessary when it might qualify as the very essence of life."

The Muse returns from work and recounts a meeting where everyone reported great satisfaction with their work, except everyone said that they felt Squeezed. Too much worthwhile work, but too little time to complete it properly, the eternal complain of the gainfully employed. The squeeze had been on since forever ago, for there never was a time where available time very closely matched expectations. This seems to be an Old Testament Problem, one that probably pre-dates recorded history. Writing that history was most likely delayed due to a lack of schedule time with competing expectations, trade-offs were made and written history deferred until more pressing business could be concluded. We're all squeezed. Even if no discrete expectations scrunched up the horizon before us, we'd still feel time pressure and wish for a tad fewer demands on our time.

I can foist a piece of this difficulty off onto human anticipation.

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Coping

Coping2
Vincent Van Gogh: Old Man in Sorrow. On the Threshold of Eternity, 1890
"We do just what we do, which might be the very wisest response any clueless anyone could ever muster."

I consider coping to be more emotional than any learned skill, and resilience, more a matter of personal pattern. Lose someone and one does what they do, and might not even notice what they're doing then. Coping amounts to one of those responses that don't necessarily register as a response. Given a significant-enough loss and a sort of auto-pilot seems to kick in without cluing in the pilot. I remember when my sister Susan died in a car accident, my youngest sister flew in for the services and I spent a long day tour-guiding her around the town I lived in. Only later did the excursion seem in any way questionable to me and she just numbly followed along. I was numbly leading, coping as I now recognize that I cope.

In the Midwest where The Muse grew up, a death prompts all the women to start cooking, usually scalloped potatoes.

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Seizing

Seizing
"As we speak cruel time is fleeing. Seize the day, believing as little as possible in tomorrow." Horace
(Historically bad advice better suited to epic works of fiction.)

"Seizings are a class of stopping knots used to semi-permanently bind together two ropes, two parts of the same rope, or rope and another object. Akin to lashings, they use string or small-stuff to produce friction and leverage to immobilize larger ropes. Seizings are not recommended for heavy loads for critical use as strain reduces the diameter of the main rope and can permit slippage even with proper construction." Wikipedia

Seizing the day does not seem to insist upon what I though it did. For me, I've long considered Seizing akin to grabbing and holding on, damn the consequences, but Seizing seems more nuanced in practice. It involves connecting, sure, but connecting with purpose and with acknowledgment of likely future stresses and strains. It is definitely not a cavalier grab, but a strategic connecting often employing small-stuff.

"Small-stuff is a nautical and knot-tying term for thin string or twine, as opposed to the thick, heavy ropes that are more often used in sailing. It is commonly used in a whipping to bind the ends of ropes to prevent fraying.

"Historically, the term referred to cordage less than one inch in circumference. Much of the small-stuff onboard ships, especially that used for decorative or fancy ropework, was made by the sailors themselves reusing materials unlaid from old and leftover pieces of larger rope and cable." Wikipedia

I sometimes watch a day slip away and chide myself for not authoritatively Seizing the damned thing before it slipped away from me, a strategy which sometimes seems more inherently self-destructive than in any way helpful.

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Scribbler

scribbling
"I might be writing a script … "

My ancient oak desktop holds two old notebooks. Its drawers hold several more. A pile of papers two feet tall sits atop the old steamer trunk across the room. My dresser top holds a couple more old notebooks, and a bookshelf holds more than a dozen completed journals. I carry a small Moleskin® in my back pocket wherever I go, and a pen in my right front pocket, for I am a Scribbler. I'm more inclined to jot down a short descriptive phrase than to snap a quick cellphone photo, for I more meaningfully retain my experiences with words than with pictures. I'm just wired that way.

My son's a Scribbler, too, though as a trained fine artist, he scribbles sketches, genuine visual images.

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Hubris

hubris
"The one who cried wolf might be tainted forever for demonstrating the audacity to confront the Hubris."

A certain Hubris seems to come with owning a system. It's yours, after all, and reason insists that it should attend to you by providing that which its designers intended it to provide for you, except systems don't actually work like that and never have. To own a system seems to be the equivalent of being owned by that system, in all the nuanced ways being owned entails. It's always got your number and always did. You quite understandably expected toast from your toaster but instead received a three smoke alarm wake-up call. Blame the toaster and see what that gets you. Resolution will demand inconvenience. You or some service representative (or, more probably, your spouse) will roll up their sleeves and get to the bottom of the difficulty, presumably forestalling any repeat performances. You'd be wise to anticipate repeat performances, though, because your toaster isn't so much first a toaster, but a system, and all systems come with unintended consequences built right in, albeit often unwittingly. A system, you see, remains capable of outwitting even its designers, for once that system roams free in the world, it will no longer find itself constrained by the breadth of its designers' imaginations. It seems to develop a conniving mind of its own.

Systems seem to insist upon a certain level of humility on the part of their owners, a wariness, a caution.

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ForeignTerritory

ForeignTerritory
"… my mind's still unlearning its preconscious tendency to date stamp everything as if it were still a year ago."

I didn't take a thousand mile train ride precariously balanced atop a freight car while fighting off muggers, nor did I swim across an unwatched patch of an icy stream or hike for days across trackless desert to arrive here, but I nonetheless feel every bit like an undocumented alien. My passage seemed precarious enough without all the pitfalls any decent Central American would have to overcome, and I feel as though I haven't quite mastered the languages and customs here, though I'm clearly on the other side of a contentious border and insecurely in ForeignTerritory now. Every New Year arrives like this, and perhaps it's the new year feeling queer around me and not dear old me to blame. Something significant's changed. I reflect that this fresh year has no experience here, either, and that I might be experiencing a contact buzz without having swallowed any of the new Kool Aid® myself. Whatever the cause, I feel at least as different as the surrounding territory seems. For now, I seem to have been passing. Now that I've disclosed my internal state, Immigration might jump my butt.

The first week of any new year used to feature mis-headed homework papers dated the year before or checks pre-dated by precisely twelve months, but nobody manually date stamps homework or even writes checks anymore, our smart appliances automatically fill in today's date on the appropriate line on every form.

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ArtificialEverything

artificial
Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet, 1854. A Realist painting by Gustave Courbet
" … a small town that grew up to still be small, but somehow less of a town for it."

South Table Mountain juts up as backdrop to the small town of Golden, Colorado. Its basalt rimrock crowns unpromising grades, draws, and washes still frequented by bear, bobcat, and small deer who browse surrounded by more rattlesnakes than I like to think about. Years ago, circa WWI, the Army built a base up against one side of it, but the rattlesnakes chased them off. A minimum security prison camp now inhabits what of that camp not ceded to the snakes, and The National Renewable Energy Lab sits just next door. High tension power line towers run across the top of South Table Mountain to service the largest beer manufacturing plant in the world along Clear Creek below. Failed attempts to build roads to the top remain as overgrown scars along all sides of the prominence. People ride horses up there, and mountain bikes, and even hike, though there's more to trip over than actually see up there. It seems a genuine bit of nowhere, offering views of Downtown Denver, not anybody's idea of a sight to treasure beholding, though the locals think of it as nature just out their backdoors.

I sat in a Starbucks, sucking down a china cup of decaf and staring up toward the top of that small mountain, realizing that almost nothing I could see bore much resemblance to nature.

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Predicting

Predicting
"The future seems perfectly capable of taking care of itself."

I woke up this morning with the genuine sense that I was suddenly inhabiting the future. The New Year arrived overnight and as usual, I couldn't quite keep my eyes open long enough to witness the fateful transition, so I faced this future in the early morning, all by myself, while the rest of the household slept. I remembered pondering this very future back when I attended elementary school, employing my newly gained arithmetic skills to calculate how old I'd be when, and the year twenty twenty always crept into my pondering. I figured that the future would very likely be much different from what my then present had been. I would be a fully-grown man by then, old, even, by my rough approximation, maybe even dead. I considered those I knew who were as old as I would be then and strained to imagine myself as how I might turn out. I never once suspected that I might still be striving and still not quite settled on who I would be when I finally grew up in the year twenty twenty, but here I am.

Almost every prediction I remember making then turned out quite differently than I'd projected.

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TheDailyRumpus

TheDailyRumpus
Le Derby de 1821 à Epsom,1821, Théodore Géricault
" … I once found it perfectly acceptable to start the day with a placid perusal of the paper."

Days begin with a thump now, the muffled sort of crash a kitten makes after misjudging a pounce, followed by a few moments of almost frantic pounding. The Daily Rumpus usually starts without me as witness. I enter the arena well after the start of the festivities to find another ornament down and the dining room table's cloth hanging at an odd angle. They've also displaced the carpet runners, making the room look like it belongs in one of those Vortex House tourist traps us kids used to plead to stop at when my dad was trying to make time on our summer vacation drive to Southern California. The food bowls will have been picked clean and the water bowl nearing empty. A plant might have been mysteriously tipped over, throw rugs knotted where they lay. Doilies lay like crumpled butterflies in the seat bottoms beneath their usual display positions along the tops of chairs. The wicker rocker will have lost its throw blanket and all will seem right with the world.

The celebration will continue for the next few hours, re-enouraged by the presence of an appreciative audience.

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Lags

Lags
" … it contains an adequate number of warts and surface imperfections …"

I hand-tooled my Production Process. I started it before I'd mastered my tools and well before I'd settled on what I would be producing. My process as well as my product have been evolving over time. Some of my process was obsoleted when Adobe® acquired FrameMaker® and decided to suspend support for the Mac version of their once-fine product. Several other pieces of the machinery became inoperable over time. There being no adequate replacements, I discovered little sneaker-net workarounds, creating a process that both defies logic and also fairly reliably produces output, as it's called. I've avoided any MicroSoft® product, finding them uniformly unusable, user hostile, and I never got over the anti-trust action that vividly described how they'd come to dominate the corporate computing market. I understood that I could definitely get better elsewhere, but that I'd never pay more, and since I was only sometimes a corporation in name only, I could not and didn't really aspire to compete in that realm. I cobbled together thises and thats and managed to produce close to what I intended.

Somedays, my hand-crafted system seems composed of Lags connected by no more than stepping stones.

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A Double Handful Of Coal

TheIdea
"Maybe I'll write two today, just to maintain my usual pace, if an additional Idea emerges."

In the beginning, there was nothing but void, and since void amounts to nothing, in the beginning there was nothing; no originating idea. Voids offer little in the way of leverage. Eventually, an Idea tottered into what had been the void's nothingness, temporarily voiding the void and leaving a sense of something in its place. Something, but nothing much more than the roughest raw material: a double handful of coal: Greater potential, yea, but little more. Few substances carry more potential and less promise than a double handful of coal, for coal, like any Idea, needs a lot of conditioning to amount to anything, and even when it amounts to something powerful, it only manages to achieve anything with great supplemental support and it leaves behind clinkers and nasty smoke; powerful perhaps for a time, but always producing nasty externalities.

Ideas seem to come in flurries when they come, if they come.

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Partum

Partum
"The creative act always retrospectively seems like a SmallThing …"

Fridays come but seem to mostly go, ever receding. A week starts, filled with promise, then ends, sometimes with the promise fulfilled, though even when fulfilled, it seems a strange sort of promise, for an aspiration never quite qualifies as a promise, it being more crap-shooty than any promise really should be. I work from Friday to Friday, with no weekends or holidays off, and at the beginning of a fresh Friday—my Monday as well as my Friday, both the beginning of a fresh week and the ending of an expended one (a Begending)—I feel more reflective than anticipatory, last Friday being my work year's sole exception. Last Friday ended my last creative cycle, GlancingKnow, marked the beginning boundary of my next cycle, SmallThings, and also heralded the start of my annual Christmas Po'm-writing cycle, wherein I write just as many fresh seasonal poems as I can in the time between Solstice and Christmas morning, this period marking my most intentionally creative week of the year.

As I noted in last Friday's reflection,
SmallerThings, rather than expanding my reach, my GlancingKnow three month enquiry left me feeling smaller, more tightly focused.

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Shaving

Shaving
"Some days, it seems to be the only thing that really matters."

The days where I've shaved before heading out the door seem to unfold differently than those days when I do not. For me, Shaving's like suiting up before entering the game. The uniform should properly not in any way affect the quality of my play, but it sure seems to. Shaved, I feel as though I'm putting forward my best face. Grisly, I know that I'm most certainly not looking my best. However mediocre my best might seem to anyone else, my less than best can't hope to compete. I feel complete after shaving, though I know I've just scraped off a fine skin layer and might reasonably feel a little less for the exercise.

I think the ritual, small though it might seem, makes the real difference.

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Kittens

Kittens
Mother Love - Paul Peel (1860 – 1892, Canadian)
" … they carry within them some innate skill to reset the rhythm of the place …"

I hold the strong opinion that every place holds a rhythm. Think of this beat as the baseline supporting the foreground melody. We more than inhabit our digs, they also invade us with the rhythm they induce. For the ten months we went without pets, much of the rhythm of our lives relied upon us to pound the drum. Aside from the magpies arriving each dawn and the weekly familiar sounds of the garbage collection trucks, The Villa's rhythms relied upon the recycling heating system to reset the tone. Sure, supper prep always reset the cadence of a day, as does cleaning up in its own curious way, but without the rhythms of a pet, it's very difficult to engage in even the more familiar melodies.

A life needs disruption, what Douglas Adams referred to as an Improbability Generator, some force to force-feed a different rhythm into the same-old status quo.

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Fulfillment

fulfillment
Laundress. This fragment is an artwork by Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin
"As long as I could maintain this slight fiction, I remained golden."

However long any effort takes to accomplish its aspiration, the accomplishment seems to manifest in a moment. Before that point, it's not quite done and after, it's clearly over and I'm on toward the next enqueued accomplishment. The weeks of preparation leading up to Christmas will condense into a single moment on the blessed morn. We work so hard to achieve something as if it might bring salvation, but the best it ever, ever brings seems to be a quick moment of satisfaction. Immediately after, the internal critic probably resumes, and later, the hamster wheel starts squeaking again. Living seems largely soundtracked by the squeaking wheel that no lubricant could ever adequately grease. Peace comes in a moment, though it departs just as quickly.

Some of us, myself included, find our fulfillments in starting fresh stuff.

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Mattering

Mattering
Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Landscape with the Fall of Icarus
"I'm not supposed to know beforehand, but propel my work with faith, …"

I seem to seek significance here, where meaning is king and obscurity dear. My reputation sticks to my heels like shadows and my futures sometimes seem so uncertain and shallow. I seek some opening, an opportunity to shine, while I seem most afraid that someone else might get 'mine.' I sometimes shimmer green-eyed jealous, zero-sum at some level, as I seek my salvation with the help of some devils. It's a tough row to hoe here, of that I've no doubt, but I still hold enough promise to believe in myself. Have I built myself a set of wings set in wax or just plowed rocky fields while surveying the hind end of an ass? I'm engaged in my business, whatever that might be besides waxing and promoting a brand you'd call me. I'm not just in this for myself, though, for I engage in the kind of work that doesn't make much dough.

Oh, some mornings I'd certainly gladly pretend to be striving and driving as I once did back when.

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ChristmasPo'ms

townsled
"These are infinitesimally SmallThings, but nonetheless infinitely significant ones for me."

It's been a couple of decades now since I took up this practice. I've never reveled, as some certainly seem to, in bestowing gifts, though I mostly object to the shopping. The mind reading or the sheer presumption that someone should heed a list someone gave them, and then become the wish fulfiller. That's a spirit killer, in my humbled estimation. Humbled because there's something about shopping that utterly erases any intention I might have carried into the shop with me. I remain capable of inspiration, but usually of the distinctly lower order variety. I cannot seem to imagine what my loved ones might appreciate from me. In the old days, I'd eventually acquiesce the buy something inappropriate and not fish that vigorously for any complements afterward. I'd hold onto the receipt, too, because it might need returning to the store. In short, Christmas bored me, all sentiments aside, so after fifty Christmases or so, I decided to do the unthinkable instead.

Well, I'm still not beyond purchasing a small gift or two, but I now focus upon creating a dozen or so little tuneless Christmas songs instead, in the form of Christmas Po'ms.

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SmallThings

SmallThing
"The greatest sin might be the belief that our reach exceeds our grasp …"

Yesterday, I completed my Autumn's work, GlancingKnow, with a post entitled SmallerThings. I'd realized that my perspective had been shrinking and that this focus had provided useful insights. Like you, I often feel overwhelmed by the apparent magnitude of difficulties surrounding me. Everything seems to have gone global in scale, yet I am little larger than I've ever been. I've expanded my coping skills, but my power and authority over the huge issues confronting me has changed little since I started out as an ignorant and disoriented little boy. Now, it often seems, I've grown to become an ignorant and disoriented bigger boy, but hardly wiser and rarely well-oriented. I seem to bounce from concern to concern, concluding that most of them exceed far beyond my reach. I some days wonder why I haven't surrendered and stopped caring so danged much about all I seem so powerless to influence.

I might represent a unique case, but I doubt it. I carry a growing suspicion that a root difficulty might be tied to my growing aspirations and awarenesses.

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SmallerThings

smallerthings
Johannes Vermeer, Woman Holding a Balance, c. 1664, oil on canvas
"Small then even SmallerThings eventually amounting to something, which isn't really a thing at all."

Rather than strive to achieve BIG things, I seem to strive to more fully acknowledge smaller ones. Tiny yet influential seems more achievable than huge and consequential. Worlds move by comparative microns, yet manage to traverse vast spaces. Ideas spark in less than an instant yet utterly transform the person holding them. How finely am I capable of perceiving? Insignificance seems first a product of my own inattention. My salvation might stand right here in the palm of my hand, and releasing its beneficence might require a hero's journey no less daunting than any undertaken out into greater-seeming unknowns. Both journeys begin with denial and offer trials to test the hero's dedication. Both feature dragons and such, and each brings out characteristics the hero always held, implicit becoming more explicit in dispatching each challenge. Heroes aren't so much made as discovered, they emerge through unanticipated recognition. Look, there s/he is, right there. No more than a GlancingKnow ever confirms it.

Understanding serves as a condensation of more vaporous information and experience.

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WindingDown

windingdown
" …nobody waves to anyone passing from the back porch of this caboose."

It seems as if a giant clockwork finally began WindingDown this week. Reliable to a split-second throughout the year, as the Solstice draws nearer, its purpose loses clarity, perhaps a gear's gone rusty. The whole mechanism will most certainly receive a reprieve come Saturday, when a new astronomical year will begin an instant after the tired, now ancient one disappears. These last few days became abstractions of themselves. The more deeply I delved into their nature, the less I seemed to understand. The more I came to understand, the less I seemed to know, even Glancingly.

The snow grows tired and gritty after two weeks and more on the ground.

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BeansForBreakfast

BeansForBreakfast
"Makes me a musical SOB …"

Most Americans interpret the phrase BeansForBreakfast as a reference to coffee. Brits might envision a can of those ubiquitous Heinz beans served over toast as a part of the Full English. I take the term literally, for beans constitute my favorite breakfast food. With The Muse traveling this week, I can partake of my favorite every meal, repeatedly reheating the pot until nothing but a few hock bones remain in the bottom of it. I proudly possess a peasant's palate, one more pleased by simplicity than by complication. Subtlety's usually lost on me. Even when I create one of my artful-looking supper dishes, each remains shit simple inside. I leave a slow oven or flaming cast iron to do most of my heavy lifting in the kitchen. My beans seem simplicity personified.

John Steinbeck insisted in his Travels With Charlie that it was possible to find a decent breakfast in every American town. Fifty some years later, this assertion no longer holds true.

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AnImpossibleRecipe

ImpossibleRecipe2
"My meal was in the making of the meal …"

I think that people think I'm simply playing coy when I cannot crisply recount for them a recipe. I honestly never really quite remember, for I rarely follow a recipe and I never take notes. I follow my instincts instead, always starting with something threatening to spoil. I'm a little girl when it comes to throwing out food, so the edgy and almost questionable serves as the basis of all my food. This time, like almost every time before, our guests at last weekend's supper simply insisted upon knowing. The Muse further reinforced their requests when she reported that her boss had reported that the soup was simply the best ever, so The Muse suggested that I might at least try to recount how I'd made what I made.

I made a soup. I wanted something hearty but also something which would not offend all those with dietary restrictions.

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Fealty

fealty
The Accolade, Edmund Leighton, 1901
"Might just as well accede to this inevitability."

We speak of fidelity in marriages, but rarely if ever mention Fealty, a term sharing the same Latin root but which seems so steeped in medieval lore as to be useless to describe any modern phenomenon. The covenant underlying every marriage contract insists upon a form of Fealty, though, a set of tacit understandings delimiting subtly significant aspects of any such union. No formal agreement ever describes these responsibilities, yet failing to fulfill them provides grounds for eternally complicating conditions. Pouting might result. A poorly suppressed rage might even build over time, leaving the infractor feeling puzzled and isolated within the union. The aggrieved party might never find words to express the depth of their disappointment, though it will quite obviously be present. Typically, neither party will discover that this class of shortcoming lies beyond words. No apology ever quite repays the debt incurred when Fealty fails to manifest. Though both parties understand that a sin has been committed, neither will find any way to adequately atone. It should have never happened and can never be undone. These little crimes undermine domestic tranquility more effectively than mid-life drum lessons ever could.

When the spouse asks whether you're driving them to the airport in the predawn hours tomorrow, the canny spouse immediately recognizes an opportunity to demonstrate Fealty to, if not the spouse, then at least to the relationship.

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EndOfTheEvening

endoftheevening
"No, it's not Christmas yet, but this EndOfTheEvening I'll not soon forget."

By TheEndOfTheEvening, The Villa's ours again. Our guests, warmly welcomed, have wandered homeward. I salted the sidewalk when I realized they'd been walking the entryway gauntlet on fresh ice glaze. Snow fell as they arrived, and with the two luminaria lighting the end of our driveway and the glittering tree in the window, the place looked perfectly seasonally festive. The house smelled warm and spicy with my kick-butt soup simmering and my Veloute Mac and Cheese slowly baking. The cheese platter covered a quarter of the kitchen table, with sparkly wine glasses lined up like patriotic soldiers beside their respective bottles while crackers covered their flank. Everyone quickly gathered in the kitchen space while The Muse and I endlessly excused ourselves, stirring soup, warming bread, checking the Mac, and somehow tearing the chickories for salad. The Brit warmly accepts a fifty degree Oatmeal Stout while his wife holds up that smokey old red, her eyes pleading for my corkscrew. I open that bottle, pour her a glassful, then settle back into distracted preparation.

More people showed up than we have places to sit in the house, not an unusual situation and nothing for anyone to complain about.

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GamingASystem

GamingASystem
The Phrenologist (1874). Lucius Rossi (Italian, 1846-1913). Oil on panel.
" … but I also sidestep the apparent necessity of learning the dodgy skill of GamingASystem, which, for me, seems its own alluring reward."

Every system, the clever ones insist, consists of a game. The purpose of play might not always be to win or to lose, they say, but it is always, always, always to learn how to "game" that system. One need never break any formal rules when GamingASystem. The most skilled play with the rules, interpreting figuratively those regulations intended to be interpreted literally, and vice versa. One might most accurately explain that they play around the rules, practices, and traditions. One counts cards or reads other players' expressions, looking for tells, hardly attending to the formalities. Hoyle might find these gamers uncouth, though truth be told, they seem to win more than their fair share of the hands without ever getting called out for violating any rules. Some insist that those GamingASystem play a much broader game, a more or less moral imperative if the goal remains eventual dominion, for without these tactics, the odds of winning rely upon actual skill in the game, or worse, random selection, as the game designer might have intended.

The Muse insists that she was gifted with an intuition which enables her to test well.

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Realizing

Realizing
Diego Rivera, Man Controller of the Universe (or Man in the Time Machine), 1934
"Vive La DIFFERENCE. Vive the same-old, too."

Once any significant change occurs, I'm usually shocked by how little actually changes as a result. Last week, I learned my literary genre, as significant a realization as I've experienced all year, and yet the following week plodded along remarkably unchanged. Sure, I felt, and deeply, a closer connection to whatever I'm actually up to, but the old time machine marched on. This past week, PureSchmaltz attracted 678 individual views, a slight reduction from the previous week's volume. (Hey, it's a metric. It's supposed to be fundamentally meaningless.) I appreciate your continued interest.

The week began with my announcing my
If-ification, that realization that I might have a normalizing, even civilizing classification after all.

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Fog

fog
"I might be embodying one of those wise men before he found his trail …"

I can tell that Christmas is coming because I'm five days into trying to locate the wreath hanger without having found it yet. Each year, the wreath hanger proves to be the last of the decorations in use. The rest of the trimmings have already been tucked away into that location in the deepest corner of the basement, so rather than re-open that closet, I find some clever little tucked away spot to store the wreath hanger, a spot so intuitive and obvious that I most certainly will not repeat the lengthy search for it next season, only to always find myself searching again the following year. This is one reliable, certain sign of impending Christmas, though, so I suppose I should be grateful for the reminder.

I was fortunate to grow up in a part of the country where this season brought dense freezing fogs.

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FalsePremises

falsepremises
"We know what work faces us now."

It doesn't take much to fool an eye. At first glance, false perspective seems true. Following the lines quickly leaves one tangled, though, and unbelieving. That initial impression sticks through a few disconfirming iterations. The image starts to seem both wrong and right, with right holding his thumb on the scale. Poisoned by the imbedded FalsePremises, judgment struggles. My eyes seem to be lying to me. How very clever of the artist to turn me against myself, to compromise my formerly reliable perspective. I've been fooled and I feel every inch the fool. How easily a single falsehood compromises anyone receiving it! A series of falsehoods produce even worse results.

I'm a sworn enemy of cynicism, yet I seem to collect more evidence to support it than I do to encourage my optimism.

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Almost-ish

Almost
"I sense that this one's Almost-ish done, though I cannot definitely say."

It's almost Christmas this morning, two weeks away from 'Eve and I haven't really started thinking about it yet. I could say that I'm almost ready to start thinking about it because Almost-ish describes the highest state of readiness I ever achieve. I can't remember ever feeling ready for anything. None of my greatest life changes were in any way preceded by adequate preparation. I led each with my left foot, departing at least a day later than planned, yet still arrived within at least one standard deviation of On Time. I subscribe to the defining tenet that there's never any adequate replacement for a sincere lack of preparation. Almost-ish represents as close as I ever get to being ready for anything.

My status quos feature elongated tails. I despise letting go.

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TrustingThisWorld

TrustingThisWorld
" … Me and this world somewhere in-between."

I watch our new kitten Molly and I wonder how she might come to trust this world, for her world seems eminently trustworthy now, yet she still lives by tooth and claw. She defends every inch of territory against even her greatest benefactors, her true champions. She has not yet come to know the reassurance a petting hand might impart or the comfort of a languid lap stretch. True, this world stands as a convicted serial son of a bitch, with a long history of betraying anyone who would ever trust in it. It seems more indifferent than deliberate, though, a blundering behemoth perfectly capable of continuing inadvertences, but probably rarely on purpose, for this world has no real need of purpose. It need never justify itself. However cruel it might seem, it merely mirrors its inhabitants.

We discover the rules we must live by, never writing them for ourselves.

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SundayDread

NewYorkTimesTruthOOH
"I dread the responsibility this practice places on me …"

I pride myself on being well read. Most mornings, I warmly anticipate fetching my New York Times from the driveway. It's part of my ritual to peel off the protective plastic bag and spread the four or five sections across the kitchen table, ready for breakfast perusing. I've already read one or two of that day's op/eds online, but I tear into the paper paper anyway. I scan the front page then delve more deeply into the back pages, looking for stories that might help me make sense of what without some inside analysis, probably wouldn't make any sense to me. I'm a paper guy from my earliest age. When I delivered these pages, I poured through each edition. They were my primary source of education, so I revere them and the journalists who produce them, except on Sunday morning.

On Sunday morning, a behemoth paper awaits me in the driveway.

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TheBug

TheBug
"I remain no more prepared to battle The Bug than I ever was …"

The Muse had plans for us to meet-up after work and attend the annual Candlelight Walk, to stroll down Golden's Washington Street, sing a few carols, and maybe grab a bite after, but I'd woken with a sore throat and a fuzzy head. I promised to lie low close to the bed and assess how fit I felt nearer the end of the day. I slept a bit and wandered around the place feeling distinctly displaced before texting her around four to report that I still felt shaky. Nothing especially alarming, just a touch of The Bug, though no Bug was likely involved. Maybe the sore throat resulted from breathing incredibly arid cat fur-infused air. I blamed The Bug but quickly recovered from what first felt like a scare. I wasn't scared for long. I'm blessed with good health. I rarely feel in any way ill and perhaps because of that, I can't seem to very easily tell if I'm ailing. My normal ranges over a wide variety of states from manic to despondent, but I do not usually describe any of them as sick. When I finally, rarely, ascribe my state to the influence of The Bug (not, notice, A Bug, but The Bug), I'm usually about half a day away from full recovery. So far.

Thanks to my nurse practitioner's prescription pad, my bathroom counter's suddenly full of plastic pill bottles, each with its own regimen printed on its label.

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If-ification

Classification
"… maybe next week will turn into being all about doing for a change."

Friday arrives again, time to look back over the past week to see what might be derived from the last seven days of PureSchmaltz' GlancingKnows. It was a tumultuous week for me, for this week my writing finally found an identity, an If-ification. I'd persisted in producing—going on ten manuscripts over the prior two and a half years—without possessing a crisp response to the apparently fundamental question: "What sort of books do you write?" I'd tried a string of cute, generally self-effacing responses, but to little benefit and perhaps inflicting some harm, but a precise classification had eluded me. Those who know would innocently ask what my works were similar to, an impossible question for any author to answer. I only manage to read three books per week, so my bibliography seems pretty thin. I do not have access to the population of potential comparable works.

Part of my difficulty seemed rooted in the great variety of classes from which to choose, which the existence of most I remain unaware.

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SchlockyEditing

schlockyediting
"Maybe I should be grateful that it seems to slow down this progression."

If I can write a book in three months, how long should it take me to edit the resulting manuscript? The correct answer turns out to be 'a lot longer than three months.' I don't know precisely how much longer, but it's definitely longer. Once completed, the editing shows that the first draft was pretty close to finish-quality from the outset, hardly more than moving the occasional dangling modifier or correcting the usual 'that' in lieu of an intended 'than.' The effort falls far short of any contemporary understanding of what constitutes work, yet it takes a very long time for me to complete it. Between compiling the pieces, properly formatting them, printing them out, reading and marking up, updating the original soft copy, then distilling into a fresh copyedited work, months might pass, much of the time spent procrastinating from the task at hand. Procrastination constitutes at least ninety percent of the effort, and it's by far the most exhausting and depleting part.

The chief difficulty lies in the inescapable fact that I'm one Schlocky editor.

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Dawning

Dawning
"Neither of us will wear western-cut slacks or string ties."

The sun seems a son of Kansas. It crawls across the sky, casting shadows for a living, before retiring to California. I know altogether too much to believably spin fresh creation myths, though I swear that I could use a few. Maybe we all could. Once I know better, I don't seem to imagine better. I adopt my reality and pretty much stick with it, no matter how poorly it serves my vitality. I feel attracted to the idea that the sun hails from Kansas, just another exported offspring of that windy weed patch of a place. I like the idea that it retires to California to wear western-cut slacks and sport a string tie, and drive a 1953 Ford station wagon with clothes pins on the fuel line.

The magpies serve as the most viable community in my neighborhood.

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Literally...

literally
Andre Derain - Three Trees, 1906
"I'm mostly focused upon the quality of your story …"

I suppose I should affix a little warning "Do not interpret any of the following Literally" on everything I write. I'm no journalist and never really aspired to become one. I do not trade in objective facts but subjective description. I appreciate that this convention relies upon my readers to perform some cursory interpretation, especially if they're expecting just the facts, but so be it. Fix those expectations first. I do not have access to the facts, and even if I did, I'm experienced enough to understand that I can't usually combine facts to produce a decent punchline. I'm not dealing in fake news. I'm not dealing in news at all. My purpose lies closer to attempting to induce insight more than knowledge, enjoyment more than education, and perspective more than acuity. Some truths lie more deeply than any fact. Some facts materially misrepresent experience.

Writing seems most often about inducing a felt sense.

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Snidely

snidely
"I'm always free to interpret a tad more generously …"

I remain surprised by how quickly even animals jump to conclusions about others. People seem infamous for our ability to conclude with almost no supporting evidence. The merest glance informs many of our actions, often resulting in anything but equal opposing reactions. Even I frequently jump first and only rarely ask questions after because my reaction seemed to need nothing more than the barest supporting evidence, if even that. I have no idea how often I'm wrong because I only very rarely find reason to second guess my instantaneously drawn conclusions. They imprint immediately and persist in spite of refuting evidence or experience. The GlancingKnow behaves as if it actually does know all.

I suppose that this facility results in certain efficiencies, but evolution never was an efficiency-seeking undertaking.

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DoubleStock

doublestock
" … nectar only fully appreciable by gods."

The Muse and I must own almost a dozen stock pots. These range from huge to mid-sized, and we regularly, as in weekly, use about half of them. We employ them for more than making stock, but we make a lot of stock. Every blessed bit of veg trim goes into an ever-burgeoning baggy in the freezer. Same with meat trim, leftover bones, and even over-ripe fruit. About a quarter of the kitchen freezer always seems filled with bits awaiting transformation in a stock pot. It doesn't ever take much material: a chicken carcass or two, a couple of quarts of veg bits, a few herbs and spices, water, heat, and time, and I'm making stock again. I might make up a small batch just for a single dish, but I most often roast up larger batches for pressure canning and longer-term use. Replacing stock when a recipe calls for water dramatically improves the resulting dish. We're stock people.

I could not seem to learn how to make delicate stock like consumme, and not only because delicate dishes do not please my palate.

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Weighting

Weighting
Norman Rockwell Visits a Ration Board, Norman Rockwell, 1944, The Saturday Evening Post

"I'll probably never learn."

The queue seems endless, progressing painfully slowly. I'm suddenly uncertain what brought me here. If I expected service, I know for sure that I have not found it yet or it has not yet found me. The system might have been designed to extract blood as a prerequisite for being allowed to donate blood. I feel like a shriveling turnip, but I will not leave. Once in line, and once hemmed in on either side, I hold territory which seems to need defending. I will not surrender, no matter how inconvenienced I feel. I hold a waning faith, but still some small potential for grace, a hope with most of its shine dulled to buff. I've already had enough but I will not be shouting "Uncle!" just yet, if ever. Probably never!

Some waits weigh more heavily than others.

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Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

PreparationPrep
"The dinner, like my GlancingKnow Story week beside it, came off like a dream …"

The Muse and I tend to spend the week before any holiday in preparation. The key to holiday satisfaction seems to be paved with Preparation, Preparation, Preparation. We need to secure little nit-picky items like Pomegranate Molasses as well as the over-sized fowl. The Muse takes the lead preparing for Thanksgiving, for she follows recipes and respects her food heritage enough to try to recreate it for holidays. I try to support her efforts by washing pots and pans AND my presence seems to throw off her rhythm, just as her presence in my prep kitchen throws off mine. She maintains a backward sink discipline to mine, for instance, as she insists on putting her dirty dishes into the clean dish sink and vice versa. She blocks off access to the disposal and completely complicates any attempt I might make to assist, as I simply must clean up her organization before I can help clean up her pots and pans, and my reorganizing her organization throws hers into arrhythmia. I'm forever walking on some tacit plot line she's following and so I eventually retreat to the further corners of the Villa and let her have her way. I justify this by saying to myself that I carry the bulk of the prep work on ferial days, so she can carry that weight on festal ones.

Last week, I started a fresh tradition, one with no cobwebs on it yet, the practice of briefly summarizing the prior week's postings.

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LearningToPlay

LearningToPlay
Baby at Play by Thomas Eakins,1876, National Gallery of Art
" … we're still managing the odd, awkward, occasional pet and heart-melting purring."

Molly spent her first few days with us cowering in the furthest back corner of the most remote room in the house, the cold and drafty room at the very end of the ductwork. I'd crawl back in there to point my finger at her nose while she eyed me sullenly at first, then suspiciously, occasionally permitting me to touch her head, sometimes even submitting to a seemingly welcome neck scratching which usually ended with her startling out of her budding delight before administering a scratching swipe and trying to take a bite out of the hand that had just been stroking her. She seemed sullen in the shelter before we'd brought her here and after hearing her life story from her caretaker there, I concluded that she'd earned her sour mood in the oldest of old fashioned ways. She could still technically pass for a kitten, though I doubted if she'd ever spent a day or even an odd morning at play. Her feral parents taught her what they could, a strong sense of self combined with powerful defensive survival skills, but between being trapped, neutered, ill and recovering from what I understood to have been two bouts of serious feral diseases, she'd apparently never learned to play.

I know, LearningToPlay seems the most oxymoronic of phrases, for play seems as though it really should be more spontaneous than learned, and needing to learn it seems at best likely to result in some wooden analogue of the genuine McCoy.

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GivenIn

acquiesce
"I suppose that I'll need to be generous toward myself; not giving up, but GivenIn for now."

I arose early thinking that I would head right out to scrape off the overnight snowfall, but the snow still fell at a forty-five degree angle and the back deck drift looked close to two feet deep. I can't really tell in the dark, but my intentions conflicted with one of my more deeply-held convictions: one should never start shoving snow until the snow has pretty much petered out. This snowfall showed no signs of petering anytime soon. I peeked out the front and found our two step entryway an alabaster impressionistic sculpture of its usual self; a Brancusi, perhaps, concrete smoothed and implacable. Arming myself with my snow shovel against this monster would be worse than a soldier heading into battle armed with a twig. I'd have to sit and watch.

My acquiescence came easily, perhaps too easily for my Take Charge snow day attitude.

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Impending

impending
"I know no company will come."

A giddiness takes over the place. Even Max The Ever-Curious Kitten senses it. Something's up, or, more properly, almost up. Everything appears perfectly normal as of this moment, perfectly normal and also odd. I know, though the sky hasn't started showing any sign yet, that a snowstorm's been moving in our direction for the last couple of days. It's slated to hit this evening, so this day already carries a last day aura, as if it offers a final chance or two. By this time tomorrow, travel will have become difficult to perhaps impossible. A gallon of milk might just as well sit on Alpha Centauri as on the shelf of the village inconvenience mart; both will become equally inaccessible by then. My mind races trying to remember what I need to do before, because there will be no doing after this storm hits.

Of course there will still be doing then, but this Impending upends my sense of continuity.

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SchlemielTime

GimpelTheFool-970x710

A portion of the cover art from a 1957 edition of Gimpel The Fool, a short story collection by Isaac Bashevis Singer, translated by Saul Bellow: Noonday Press

"A well-stocked larder seems the source of most of my supper-related satisfaction."

I have been repeatedly accused of publishing food porn photographs to my social media feeds. I suppose that I am guilty as charged, but I never post the deeper and more representative portrait of my food life. I am mostly a schlemiel in the kitchen. I cannot for the life of me follow even simple recipes. I have not yet learned how to replicate a single dish, each one a genuine original, turning out as it turns out, with repeated practice, if anything, leading me further from a perfection than my initial accidental outcome suggested I might possess the skill to produce. I cannot seem to understand all the theories governing food preparation and do not reliably intuit oven temperatures, grill heat zones, or ratios. My meals are almost universally accidental convergences, relying much more upon luck and quality ingredients than upon my skill. Still, I've accreted somewhat of a reputation as a cook, one which has done nothing to blunt my ever-deepening sense that I remain an apron-wearing imposter holding a spatula just off camera.

The Muse seems nonetheless appreciative, if only because I remain mostly a reliable preparer.

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SeasonalSourcing

SeasonalSourcing
"Our holiday tables will not feature that summer vegetable again this year, which might be Thanksgiving enough for me."

I asked the produce clerk when Buddha Hands would be on the shelf. He looked up surprised, reporting that they'd come in that morning. "We weren't gonna put them on display until tomorrow," he replied, "but I'll be happy to bring them out for you now." The Muse and I twittered in the aisle, barely able to believe our good fortune. In past years, our seasonal search for this distinctive fruit took us further than far and wide. One year, when we lived just outside Washington DC, we must have clocked well over a hundred miles on failed Buddha Hand forays, returning empty handed day after day after freaking day. This year, we happened upon a virgin stash. We'd get first dibs on a fresh boxful of these babies. The holidays began that instant.

The arrival of this fabled fruit always kickstarts a season of baking and rendering.

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DerivingWisdom

DerivingWisdom
The Court Jester Stanczyk Receives News of the Loss of Smolensk During a Ball at Queen Bona's Court (Matejko,1862).

“I see no reason to turn down any DerivedWisdom, especially if I discovered it myself.”


This week, I wrote essays which garnered 504 individual views, on a curious variety of topics, totaling just over five thousand words if I don't count the individual introductions. What do you suppose those words meant? I mean really? Individually, I might summarize them like this:

•I spoke of how I could not honestly swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth, even with the intercession of an insistently supportive god. (
MyTruth)

•I then switched to speaking about my long and largely uninterrupted twice-daily meditation practice, admitting that I feel no closer to enlightenment (whatever THAT is) than when I started, but how I still feel enormous pride in and deep satisfaction with my discipline. (
TabulaRascal)

•I wrote about the inequality money seems to inject into our justice system, perhaps disclosing how little I understand about gilt and the nature of G(u)ilt. (
G(u)ilt)

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PhysicsLesson

CatPhysics
"I needed to no more than generally understand how the slope of my stance might influence my ability to respond …"

Since our new kitten Max arrived three weeks ago, he has slowly expanded to fill every square inch of The Villa. Wherever I go, he's already there, though often hidden until I pass, whereby he pounces, perhaps targeting the leather laces on my slippers, which long ago proved themselves capable of untying themselves, though they seem to welcome a cat claw's assistance. Each pounce seems a PhysicsLesson involving opposing forces, vectors, and gravity. Always gravity. Max, who weighs only a pound or two encased in fluffy fur, executes many pratfalls, none seeming to leave any lasting damage and none dissuading him from additional attempts to understand how the physical world surrounding him works. It's one PhysicsLesson after another from long before dawn until an hour or more after I've laid my own burden down in bed.

I woke a few nights ago to find him sleeping on my head, though I didn't immediately understanding that I'd been shanghaied into the role of lab rat in yet another PhysicsLesson.

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GodSends

GodSend
"I try to remember that each initial provocation might well have come from the hand of some curiously benevolent God …"

Good fortune moves in mysterious ways. Nothing says how any experience might turn out. An apparently advantageous first move might turn south without warning. An obvious initial disadvantage might likewise at any time seem to turn itself around. How any experience turns out depends upon where I decide to place the punctuation. It ain't over until I apply the hard stop designating the end. Many of my experience extend like run-on sentences, featuring more commas and semi-colons that words, it sometimes seems, continuing until some favorable twist renders a favorable outcome. Then and only then might I feel deeply moved to stop the progression. It's all progression, no matter the number of obvious regressions appear between here and that ever-emerging there. Even the fabled fat lady might have this once chosen to sing during an uneasy intermission rather than wait clear until the end.

GodSends might not appear to have originated in the hand of any recognizable God.

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Means&Ends

Means&Ends
"Where would my dignity reside if I didn't have to try so damned hard?"

Ends never justify means. Means usually, if not justify, then certainly serve to validate whatever ends eventually emerge. Those who cut corners on their way to the top inherit a legacy of continuing paranoia. Sure, they achieved the top, but their top can never actually belong to them and they understand that they do not quite belong up there, either. Their imposter syndrome isn't delusional, but well-deserved. But, you might ask, how might one compete if the world contains plenty of cheats who don't seem to carry remorse about their underhanded techniques? Everyone else is speeding. Why shouldn't I? Discarding the decorum erodes something significant, yet subtle. One refrains from ignoring the law not because of the associated penalties, but because respecting the law serves as a means for preserving one's self respect.

If preserving this self respect seems like a shallow payoff in a venial world, you've encountered the dilemma.

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Appreciations

appreciations
Wheat field With Crows, Van Gogh, 1890 (believed to be Van Gogh's last painting)
" … you probably don't know what I would say."

I speak today of Appreciations, those most curious of the many human expressions. A single appreciation, properly done between a single one and a single other, cannot scale, though some of us more shy ones will attempt to execute a blanket appreciation addressed to "You Guys" or "everyone." These fail to satisfy the underlying purpose of an appreciation because they are at root and inescapably an expression of a personal relationship. Any relationship seems threatened by being taken for granted. Continuing proximity need not necessarily breed contempt, but more often a certain complacency, an apparent indifference to its own continuation, a natural by-product of familiarity. Eventually, repeated, such casual interaction might easily spark certain questions such as, "Does he even care that I'm here?" The universal cure for such conditions lies in the skillful application of Appreciations.

Not that Appreciating's all skill, quite the opposite.

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G(u)ilt

G(u)ilt
"The g(u)ilty seem more likely to walk away free to commit their crime again."

Our criminal justice system struggles to treat everyone equally under the law. Those who can afford expensive delaying actions tend to invoke them, deferring justice if not thereby outright denying it. Years later, the urgency of meting out justice erodes and the well-heeled defendant might find the charges dropped or simply turning moot. The poorer defendants might find admission more attractive, throwing themselves on the supposed mercy of the court or hoping to bid down the damage through sincere contrition. The merely guilty and the more g(u)ilty experience really different days in court. The guilty might hang their heads in shame while the g(u)ilty might find any of an array of deflecting blames to hide behind. Until the jury's finished deliberations and the judge pounds his gavel, all seem equal under the law. Once that gavel sounds, the g(u)ilty will more likely walk away free.

The G(u)ilt seems obvious on the wealthy man's face, but it's a face more belligerent than contrite.

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TabulaRascal

TabulaRascal
"Meditation might be my very best imaginary friend."

As a twice-daily meditator over the last forty-five years, I feel somewhat competent to speak about the practice. First, it's not what you've heard. For me, there never was any sense of Tabula Rasa, no emptying of the mind. My mind might even slip into a sort of overdrive when I meditate, more TabulaRascal than empty and open. I might even be doing it wrong, but I figure that I've been doing it my way for long enough that I might have gained license to do it however I damned well please, to accept it however it seems to come to me. For me, it requires no more than an ounce or two of light discipline, just enough to encourage me to sit and do nothing for twenty minutes at a time with no soothing background music or expressed purpose in mind. I consider this my repayment in kind, a tithe of my available time. I read in the press that few people feel comfortable sitting with nothing to do for more than five minutes. The fidgets take over and nervous energy expresses itself. I would consider even this an acceptable form of meditation rather than an example of how not to successfully engage. It's at root an exercise in simple acceptance for me.

Whatever happens, happens.

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MyTruth

TheTruth
"Anyone bringing dog shit to a Stone Soup party should be forced to swallow the resulting soup themselves …"


"Do you swear to tell The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth?" No, I'd feel compelled to decline this common invitation, and not only because I could not possibly have access to The Truth, let alone The Whole Truth, not to mention possess the superpower to access Nuthing But The Truth. This oath seems altogether too absolute, for I (along with every other human) can only access an offshoot truth, one I think of as my own: My Truth. I expect My Truth to be riddled with inadvertence, misconceptions which I have probably conflated as truth, but which perhaps represent common cognitive mistakes. I might have misunderstood an implication or two. I probably assumed some portion of My Truth to be utterly self-evident, when it doesn't seem to be self-evident to you. My beliefs and expectations likely affected not only what I perceived but also how I interpreted, catalogued, and stored my sensory experience. On close reflection, I realize that I don't feel nearly as confident of what I witnessed. I can offer only my impressions.

My impressions might well prove useful, however, even if they cannot quite meet the standards of genuine The Truths, The Whole Truths, or Nothing But The Truths.

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Doltdrums

DoltDrums
"We both want family for the holidays, but we're settling for turkey again."

By mid-November I've grown weary of braises. My larder looks like a mid-winter Moravian supermarket with overflowing bins of carrot, parsnip, turnip, celery root, potato, garlic, and onion aching for another long, slow, covered bake. I can't bare to bake anything anymore. The quick chop chore, the boring obligatory stock pour-over, the tough cut tucked in underneath, with a splash of wine or cider. This all seemed wilder and more attractive back when it was just an emerging seasonal alternative. Now, it seems like the only game in town and I know for certain, before the first die roll, that Colonel Mustard will have done the deed in the drawing room with the freaking candlestick. Not an ounce of mystery or discovery to be found within any of it.

My menu leaves me feeling stupid, uninspired.

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InFLUence

inFLUential
Eugène Delacroix - La liberté guidant le peuple
"We live almost exclusively by anonymous association."

Who's following who? Fergetabout leadership, whatever that was, we've traded in that weary old meme in favor of being seen with someone truly inFLUential. I follow, therefore I am. I must seek first to inFLUence, to infect others with my opinions, delivered so subtly and forcefully that few can resist my call. Is this really all that came of the great revolution, not so much a chain of relationships but a gaggle of clans, each following their man or woman, no longer even desiring to think for them self. I shamelessly footnote, citing some source more reliable than little old me, someone genuinely in the know, someone genuinely worthy of me following? How many followers must one have to be widely considered a thought leader? Lead me, please, not into temptation and deliver us all from evil.

Which side should I be on?

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TheOppositeOf

opposite
"Our dichotomies seem to be trying to define us …"

Opposites distract. Absolute opposites distract absolutely, dangling modifier and all. The chief difficulty with opposites lies in the simple fact that they almost never exist except as placeholders for an absolute absence. The opposite of a tree seems easy enough to conjure. It's no-tree, isn't it? But what precisely (or even imprecisely) entails a no-tree? Every blessed thing except a tree? Hardly definitive. In mathematics, opposites emerge with the simple flip of a sign, except when encountering a nothing zero or a confounding square root. Sometimes, an absolute opposite amounts to just the same thing as its opposite, flash and bone, glimpsed unreversed mirror images which might make anyone's head hurt to consider. It might be that all opposites qualify as completely imaginary, useful perhaps for comparison, a defining opposition, but nothing much beyond that.

We inhabit a world which sometimes seems floundering on a surfeit of opposites.

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BetterByes

petunia#2
Petunias #2, Georgia O'Keefe 1924

"Flipping off winter won't slow it down, …"

You might have noticed that season ends almost always offend me. They come too early or too late to properly please me, yet I strive to be prepared when the actual shift occurs. I never complain about how early winter leaves, no matter how rainy the early spring. Likewise, I usually embrace summer when it finally arrives, though fading daffodils and tulips turn that experience bittersweet. I'm usually unprepared to let go so that the following season might simply come. I am never the one discarding perfectly matured petunias just because an overnight freeze impends. You can depend on me to hatch some season-extending scheme to defer an inevitable season end. One year, I tarped up the whole deck garden to defend against an intruding frost, and the tactic worked, extending blossoms another full two weeks before a more insistent freeze finally settled in. This year, I chose the best and brightest for sequestering in a corner of the garage, and I've extended their lives at least an additional month. I've dutifully carry their pots and planters out into the bright sun on clement days and left them tucked away through now the fifth snow event of this season.

I've been secretly hoping that the bastard deer would find them and provide a demise worthy of them.

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Demoncracy

demoncracy
"The Hapsburgs were plenty happy enough. Their ungrateful peasants, not so much."

Some insist that we have the best democracy money can buy, though our Founders did not originally intend our Big D Democracy to belong within the set of purchasable things. They'd naively intended it to be differently participatory, open to all free, landowning white males. Oh, sorry. They designed it as a plutocracy, ruled by the wealthiest, which historically has usually translated into a de facto kakistocracy, government by those least suitable and capable of governing. The majority who might actually depend upon what a Big D Democracy might deliver, those not male, landowning, or free, could go piss up a tree to realize their liberty, or so sayeth our heralded Founders, who turned out to be more eloquent than prescient, for their declarations out-stretched their designs. Later generations interpreted their intentions much more broadly than they had. Landless males would gain franchise, then former slaves, then women, as our original demo-aristocracy struggled to become an ever more-perfectly liberal democratic union.

We're still perfecting.

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Prosperitease

Prosperity1
Gustav Klimt(1862-1918) / Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, oil on canvas, Neue Galerie, NYC
"I intend to bequeath no inheritance, …"

My parents were raised through The Great Depression. They instilled in their children all the phobias common to anyone raised with unresolvable want. They'd caught on early that the system was rigged against achieving prosperity, though they labored hard to achieve a modest level of financial security. My mom sewed her kids' clothes and taught her daughters to sew for themselves. My dad taught his sons to put their heads down and toil without complaint. Sloth stood as the sole unforgivable sin. We learned to get by in spite of whatever game the rest of the world seemed obsessed with. Prosperity meant not complaining about stuff that couldn't possibly matter. We had each other, and a fine home filled with make-do eccentricities. The windows might have frosted over on the inside on the coldest winter nights, but one could wear a coat to bed or throw on another hand-me-down quilt, the coal fire would be warm in the morning.

My parents never once owned a new car, and never really wanted to.

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Time-Id

Time-Id
"I continue to be my own worst tyrant."

Six days in and I'm thinking that I might have finally resolved the fall-back time change problem. Dropping daylight savings time feels like punishment to me, a cruel bait-and-switch. Just as daylight becomes increasingly scarce, we, by fiat, by mere convention, agree to swipe another hour of it from the time we need it most, from the end of already seasonally dreary days. Could there be a better way to ensure the onslaught of seasonal affective disorder? I think not!

Most years, I've become a complaining victim to this curious convention, shuffling along into longer and darker nights, but this year, I decided to take a stand.

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Interpregating

Cat_kitten_avatar-35-512
" … he seems to be Interpregating, interpreting to integrate rather than to separate."

This world seems to be continuously trying to teach me stuff. I remain a reluctant student. I suspect that I absorb most of what might eventually become learnings sub- or pre-consciously, and I feel truly grateful for this small gift, for if I had to maintain attentive concentration, I'd certainly fail to learn much of anything at all. We've acquired a kitten who reminds me what learning actually entails. The Muse and I find his antics entertaining, sometimes in a rather mean way, for he seems to endlessly play the fool for us, perhaps to teach us something. Learning seems to entail much foolishness, approximations of congruent responses morphing over time into ever more well-adapted ones. The first few attempts qualify as genuine comedy, easily observed when someone else performs but not so easily recognized when we mount the stage. We're always on stage but only occasionally aware of the observers surrounding us. We're probably always trying out some new routine, but largely unaware that we are. The more well-rounded among us might construct lives of well-practiced, numbing routine, but even these masters might continuously try out fresh variations unaware of just how silly they might seem to the rest of us.

The best I can claim about myself seems to be that I'm still learning.

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Volting

Volting
"A red state turns purple with suppressed rage before finally blowing up blue."

The Muse and I live in an area reportedly beset with voles. Our neighborhood ListServ frequently reports troubles blamed on the hamster-like critters, though we've never experienced a single instance. They're essentially invisible tunnel dwellers, browsing from the bottom up, apparently devastating some neighbors' plantings. We try to keep with native plants, not mistaking this region as part of the Northern Arboreal Belt. Trying to maintain some semblance of a classic English Country Garden here seems to buy more trouble than satisfaction, so we keep our garden aspirations modest and hopefully aligned to our seventy eight hundred arid feet of altitude. We consider the lowly vole as much a part of the native fauna as the deer and the elk, features rather than pests, and we try to live while letting them live.

Come election day, though, it seems as though the voles rush to the polls to cast votes in favor of those initiatives only a tunnel-dweller could love.

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FallTogether

FallTogether
"Small completions seem to render everything possible."

How fortunate for my life to FallTogether in the Autumn. So much these days seems to be progressively falling apart; my present great good fortune seems an outlying experience, almost a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless. I'll manage my accompanying guilt somehow. I'm much more practiced at coping with guilt than I'll ever have even half a chance of becoming at coping with good fortune, so perhaps the two will balance out each other. Months of accumulating procrastinations have been resolving themselves with little effort. I cannot claim to have cleverly planned my present state. It visited me without making reservations. Nor did I finally achieve a level of self-loathing which finally pushed me onto a straighter and narrower path. I simply seem to have stumbled into this place.

One thing leads to another.

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Reflexivity

reflexivity


"It takes someone completely immersed in a subject to explain it in ways that nobody not immersed in that subject could ever understand."

I enthusiastically reserved George Soros' latest book, a collection of essays on the subject of Open Societies. I'd read other works by this great philanthropist and self-proclaimed failed philosopher, most memorably the one where he deconstructed the 2008 market crash. I found him both insightful and frustrating, as he exemplifies the above quote. He's long railed against certain foundational tenets of economics and social science in general, arguing that these fields seem to suffer from physics envy, and attempt to find level ground by adopting perspectives that could lead to truth only when analyzing physical stuff and might reasonably only lead to useful insight when applied to human systems, those being where human judgment and preference cast deciding votes about the outcome. He characterizes social science as compromised by investigators trying to emulate their physical science counterparts while lacking necessarily separate, agreed-upon social-science methods. Building upon Karl Popper's postulate which claimed that scientific facts forever remain hypothetical—prone to undermining with a single example of falsehood—he notes that social science cannot hope to achieve even that modest end, since social sciences rely upon human perspective, always subject to change. If you've ever gone shopping for something you deeply desire, found exactly what you'd imagined, then found yourself dissatisfied when using the product of your successful search, you've experienced Reflexivity. All human system most prominently exhibit Reflexivity.

The scientist, though, seems schooled in a firm belief in objectivity, a fundamentally paradoxical perspective which seems to hold that one could muster an observation without utilizing the services of an observer.

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Thyme

Thyme
"I might even throw up a fresh shoot or two in defiance of a regulating authority hardly worth believing in."

Our thyme plant expanded to several times its original size before I brought it inside for overwintering. Its tips turned brown though its stalks still seem viable and green. It's assumed a rather wiry habit, tough to harvest and difficult to strip, stems more like twigs than herbs. I remain fully aware that I fiddled with time, attempting a premeditated extension of an admittedly over-shortened growing season. The whole herb pot, a slat wood peck basket, now overflows with mutating herbals. Relocated into a sunny kitchen corner in front of the sink, sure, but missing wind, rain, and the temperature shifts that once kept its contents pliable and young. The contents have entered another stage of life, on the first hints of life support, destined to die, but not quite yet. The tarragon yellowed in protest, though it also threw up a few fresh shoots as if mistaking this recent life change for Spring. It will most certainly never see another Spring.

Daylight Savings Time seems like a godsend to me, its annual disappearance always more a setback than a simple falling back into regular time, for there never was any such thing as regular time.

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Dayzed

25 five hour day
"I'll recover somehow."

I take too much pride in my ability to thrive with little sleep. Pride, going just before falls and all, presciences inevitable downfall. I probably over-rely on this gift, for it leaves me with scant margin. I seem to do just fine with four hours sack time, but less than that can really cut into me. I imagine that someone who routinely sleeps two of my short nights' worth, won't so much miss an occasional odd hour or two shortfall, while I most certainly will. Micro sleep usually comes with some sort of travel-related activity. The last night in Vienna might find me sleeplessly waiting up so I won't miss my obscenely early ride to the airport, but little's lost as I'd just as soon crash on the plane crossing the pond, anyway. Giving others a ride to the airport provides a similar experience but with the downside that I'll then need to drive back without losing too much of my consciousness along the way.

Of course necessary stops seem to hinder my return.

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Dismay

dismay
Portrait of Doctor Gachet, Vincent Van Gogh, 1890
" … we're likely to be recovering for a very, very long time."

The news deeply disturbs me. We have a madman in the White House. It's not that I don't understand, because I do understand while reportedly so many clearly do not yet. Yet. Did we just grow to take for granted that an election would filter out the most glaring extremes and prevent anyone actually barking mad from taking the top job? I'll grant you that we've had a bad run, from Nixon to Reagan to Bush, we've seen Presidents push around our Constitution, largely, it seems in retrospect, due to their utter ignorance of its tenets. But this guy combines ignorance with arrogance, distain with cruelty, self-dealing with amorality, and lies heaped with even more lies until his inner insanity screams for wide public recognition. Yet the wheels of Constitutional government move achingly slowly, particularly when populated with those who've sworn fealty to absolute insanity.

Corruption should have more consequences than any election.

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OnceInA...

OnceInA 8.07.17 AM
"We take turns, one day the fool and some days the fortunate child, …"

We live in extraordinary times, or so the media insists. Who among us could resist reporting that seems to so solidly confirm just how special we must be to live in such extraordinary times? The old hometown team won the World Championship for the first time in ninety-six years. "We" set several low-temperature-for-the-month records this week. Never before has "it" been so damned cold this early in the year. Surrounded by unlikely events, we don't have to pretend to be special anymore. Even acknowledging the obvious fact that several of these stats seem spurious,—I mean, who keeps track of all this crap?—nobody can deny that we seem to find ourselves living in truly extraordinary times; just like yesterday, just like last week, just like every day since time immemorial.

Every day brings another blue moon somewhere.

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Preparation

Preparation
"Failing to fully prepare might resonate nothing more alarming than the human condition …"

No one has yet discovered a fully adequate replacement for a sincere lack of preparation. Google 'preparation' and you'll receive the sort of wisdom nobody really needs. You'll hear that "failing to prepare is preparing to fail," and other equally vacuous advice. I'll excuse you if you come to believe that preparation is the universal key to success, the Midas Touch on wheels, and the one absolutely irreplaceable determiner. Preparation is clearly the key to every kingdom, except, of course, for all the ones where only a deeply sincere lack of preparation reigns. The difficulty arises when we realize that we cannot always predict when preparation will be key and when a sincere lack of preparation might better prepare. I'm noticing that many people carry a sort of civil engineering preparation philosophy. Why wouldn't one prepare before engaging in activities focused upon moving stuff through space and time? Many activities, though, can't qualify as amenable to civil engineering preparednesses. For those, some sort of non-preparation seems if not necessary, certainly justifiable.

My greatest shortcoming as a project manager was always my lack of prescience.

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DreckNology

captcha
"These are clubs I might be wise to decline every opportunity to join."

My friends host podcasts, but the technology supporting those baffles me. I sometimes think that I really should offer an audio version of my daily musings, but the gauntlet of interfaces separating me from that end reliably chases me off again. Somewhere in that chain, I encounter a Captcha barricade and I cannot for the life of me figure out what I'm supposed to be matching. They want a Pastword, too, and while they offer to allow me to reset forgotten Pastwords, that process, too, proves impassable. I experience technological damned-whatever-I-Do until I construe what seems their underlying intent. Perhaps they're paid for attempts to scale the ramparts rather than by whatever they dangle as possible inside. It's all hidden behind crude sophistications that leave me questioning just how smart our overlording technologists might not be. Nobody ever once designed an interface with me in mind.

I don't mind, or not that much.

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SnowingIn

SnowingIn
"Lord knows this world could use some concerted frittering today."

The weather reporter seems to imply that I should consider panicking. I'm not panicking, though. I know that this storm will most certainly threaten my precious mobility, but it encourages me to reconsider just where I thought I was supposed to be going from here. A lengthening list of sudden imperatives intrudes upon my serenity, but the increasing impossibility of resolving even the least of them quietly thwarts those wants. None of them fully qualified as needs and I decline a clear opportunity to become ruled by whatever I believe myself to need. What if I needed nothing more than what already possesses me in this very moment? Invulnerable to any supplemental advertising, I might revel in some temporary semi-self-sufficiency.

The snowplow plies the roadway outside, piling freshly soiled snow berms across the driveway entrance.

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BreakingIn

BreakingIn
"At least I was used to them."

Our new cat slinks around the place like a sneak thief or spy. I fancy that I understand why, for I, myself, never qualified as resilient when encountering change. I tell myself, and rather over-proudly, that I carry an extreme form of context sensitivity such that I become a very different person when I'm immersed into a different place. I could be the poster child for Heraclitus' old saw about the same old thing being different in different places. As a child, when press-ganged into visiting my aunt's family in Southern California, I'd usually hold out for two or three days before finally consenting to eat anything there. Even familiar old milk tasted different, and not better different. I could even hold out on using the bathroom until my parents would finally resort to force feeding me into restarting my essential life systems. I empathize with the new cat. How utterly strange everything must seem to him.

We imagine that holding him will soothe him rather than ourselves, but he flees behind the couch when unattended, batting idly at curtain strings, peeking around the corner until we sing out another intended-to-be welcoming greeting.

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Pending

Pending
"I, too, am my father's son, and he could not fix much of anything at all."

I sit between storms this morning. Snow still covers the ground from that last one and the weather app warns of worse than that last one to come. Pending seems a perpetual state in these mid-latitudes. Living here yields a life spent somewhere in-between. When will that next storm arrive? There's always a next front just over the horizon. Will it come from the north, west, south, or, that most dreaded of all directions here, the east? Storms from the east seem to violate the first principle of western weather, which almost always travels on the eastbound train. When a counter-clockwise flow kicks in, though, it means heavy wintertime snow or battering summertime thunderstorms. Winter gets called for a day or two of spring before resuming its seasonal status quo again. Summer snow's not unknown. Like everywhere, the locals here proudly proclaim that if the current weather doesn't suit you, just wait a minute or two and another climate might just pass through. It's high desert with seasonal monsoons, crazier than a flock of schizophrenic loons.

Snow serves as the iconic image for all of Colorado, though peaks, let alone snow-capped peaks, do not cover most of the state's surface.

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Insubstantial

insubstantial
"The considerable spaces between molecules far out-measure the span of substances themselves …"

It first seemed as Insubstantial as pollen. I had to squint to see it at all. Even then, I felt uncertain whether I should trust my vision. I'd been fooled before, moonlight casting a convincing illusion of snow, though I was prompted by the weather report to believe a real dumper was coming. Even when I stepped outside, I simply could not tell for sure whether it was really snowing or just blowing around a little freezing fog. I stopped watching, focusing my attention on my inside chores instead, and shocked myself an hour later when I found the start of substance accumulating outside. The onslaught continued into the night, finally sticking to road surfaces around sunset. I'd check from time to time, still unable to tell if it was really snowing out there, whisps of blowing snow coming off the roof edge my only intermittent clue in the porch light backlit by darkest night. The ten o'clock news reported that the freeway was shut down for the twenty miles West of us, cars and trucks spun out in what so recently lacked any substance at all.

The next morning, the deck seemed knee deep in this so recently tenaciously insubstantial substance, a genuine undeniable presence by then.

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Homing ...

Homing
"Family catches up with us, not the other way around."

Homing pigeons have nothing on me, or on any of us. A serviceable homer might reliably return to a familiar place, but people can return to places they've never been to before. Home moves like a spinning kaleidoscope for us, vectoring overlays, a twisting Venn diagram casting a wide variety of shadows. Our home seems like a mobile home, unlike the old home place which passed out of the family after my mom sold off the back forty to the neighbor with the perennially remodeling house, the shabbiest place on the block, clear evidence that she was vacating her once prominent good judgement. Before, family would gather there and feel as though we were home. After, our previous concept of home shifted and still refuses to settle.

Home seems more concept than place now, contingent upon who's present more than where we congregate.

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PTBD

550px-The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_by_Bosch_High_Resolution
Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights,
oil on oak panels, 205.5 cm × 384.9 cm (81 in × 152 in), Museo del Prado, Madrid
"I seem to be better able to recognize blessings in retrospect."

Trauma seems the most modern of disorders. Everyone I meet seems to be working hard to recover from some past experience. Unsurprisingly, most of these prior traumatic experiences lean toward the painful side of the ledger, but not all. A curious portion of these traumatic experiences seem to have been more closely associated with pleasure than with pain. While the painful ones grab the bulk of the headline space, I thought I'd today reserve a little place to speak about the other, less widely advertised ones, those traumas resulting from a surfeit of blessings, good fortune, or luck. I can speak for myself when I insist that my most difficult to recover from traumas came about because I experienced an unaccustomed stream of extremely good luck. I'd been seemingly bred for coping with negative outcomes, but found myself utterly unprepared to integrate dream-come-true quality experiences. I most often created some uproar in response, upsetting some otherwise perfect little applecart, which enabled me to quite cheerfully switch into a minor form of disaster recovery mode, a response I might refer to as PTBD or Post Traumatic Blessing Disorder.

Literature seems woefully ill-prepared to present portraits of prolonged happiness, reserving the happily ever after for a footnote very near the end of an otherwise disastrous tale.

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GreatSignificance

michelangelo-creation-of-adam
"Whether any of this amounts to anything at all, couldn't possibly be the point."

I try to imagine myself accomplishing things of GreatSignificance, though I usually struggle with my attempts. GreatSignificances only emerge from great distances, it seems, and almost never from up closes and personals. Later, perhaps much, much later, the parsing might resolve to highlight just how terribly important that by then long-distance event was. It might be important to acknowledge that in the actual moment of occurrence, its GreatSignificance had yet to emerge, however much any participant might have sensed its presence then. Within the larger scale of history, most current events resolve to fuss, perhaps fuss with feathers flying, but little more than fuss. I suspect that any odd second might spawn the greatest event in the history of our universe, but it probably won't.

I'm picky, anyway, sincerely believing that I might pick and thereby choose the activities destined to age into a legacy of personal greatness.

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BigDeal

BigDeal
"If I'm not feeling overwhelmed, I'm never feeling very much at all."

I'm at my best when under the thrall of some BIG, hairy, audacious something. I might be able to limp along with some molehill conflated into a mountain, but my mileage soon lags as if I were dragging along rather than leading any charge. I find my best resources when I'm almost convinced that I couldn't possibly access enough to satisfy the situation before me. Furthermore, I seem to need to really, really, really want some likely impossibility before I ever come close to discovering what I'm capable of producing. I initiate none of these pursuits confident of my ability to achieve closure, quite the opposite. The pall of probable failure must accompany me almost every step of the way. I might conclude my work uncertain if I actually crested the originally-envisioned peak, but for the duration of the effort, I will feel curiously compelled. I might conclude afterwards that my efforts were never really about achieving anything, but more about the heart-filled pursuit.

It doesn't work to make a BIG deal out of some obvious triviality.

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HollowSpace

hollowspaces
"No will in the universe countermand's any season's commands."

A glance out the front window into the predawn darkness convinced me that a thin dusting of snow had fallen overnight. Stepping outside, I saw that moonlight had created an optical illusion. No snow had fallen. This morning, I told myself that I would not be fooled again when I glanced through that same front window, then I stepped outside to find a light dusting of snow and no moon. The neighborhood, and by extension the whole world, seemed hollow inside, as if I live within a snow globe's confines with no possible escape route. I felt hollow inside, too, a recursion befitting the season. Septober's definitely over, Octember's clearly begun.

I'd pruned out the wildflower garden in my shirtsleeves the afternoon before, absorbing warmth from the late day sun.

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Conflating

conflating
"My weaknesses could be my greatest strengths in unlikely guise."

Conflating doesn't have to mean mistaking one thing for another. Congruent conflating means nothing more sinister than combining two separate entities to produce an integrated new whole. Incongruent conflating, though, juggles apples and oranges while imagining them the same because they both travel beneath the ambiguous flag of fruit. Add a tomato into this conflation, and a logical fallacy might become more obvious, since most of us know but cannot quite accept that tomatoes are fruits rather than vegetables. Conflations seem to say much about how one parses their world. Insanity involves employing differing parsing strategies. So does genius. Seeing similarities between traditionally divisive distinctions can create harmony or great discord. Jesus is said to have insisted that he would see the unapologetic sinner on an adjacent cross in paradise. His conflation of sinner and penitent might have blown up the distinction between good and evil. He claimed that all humans are sinners. How do we tell the good guys from the bad one, then? Hat color? Religious turmoil persists.

Conflating has become a growth industry.

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AfterEffects

AfterEffects
"How else could any of us deal with the volume of accumulating AfterEffects we inherit?"

We talk about effects, but might be more deeply affected by AfterEffects, those unanticipated externalities closure brings. AfterEffects delay that expected closure, sometimes permanently. Long after "completing" the race, the race somehow continues in the complaining of a suddenly and surprisingly bum knee where there was never before any bum knee. The race continually haunts, threatening permanent disability. My two weeks spent devotionally kneeling before my great wall refurbishing project left a little knee stiffness behind after I'd finished my extended display of agility up and down the scaffolding. I thought little of it at the time, as though it might prove to be little more than a mildly bruised ligament or less. It's been over ten days now and the discomfort seems greater now than it did when I'd just concluded. I wonder if I've deluded myself again.

This bum knee encouraged me to think about all the AfterEffect externalities I carry with me.

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Reassurances

reassurances
"We need more critics about as much as we need another alarming increase in greenhouse gasses."

I believe that reassurance must be the primary responsibility of primary educators. I'm not suggesting that reading, writing, or even 'rhythmatic should disappear from the curriculum, just that Reassurances seem an essential precedent to successfully learning anything. The ever-popular whip and chair techniques only scare students into attempting compliance. The result might well seem wooden and tentative, lacking supporting self-confidence instilled first by means of repeated Reassurances. For those concerned that prominently focusing upon reassuring might produce snowflake students, so emotionally dependent upon supportive stories that they lack the callouses necessary to get along in life, I turn a scoffing cheek. Those who rarely receive reassurances turn into the most emotionally needy, callouses and all, if only because they ARE emotionally needy thanks to the severe shortage of Reassurances in their lives.

I was always afraid of my teachers, and almost terrified of learning.

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Slurvey

"You're doing just about as well as anyone could reasonably expect, given the circumstances."

I visited my nurse practitioner last week, so I could hardly feign surprise when the easily anticipated customer satisfaction survey showed up in my message queue. My first thought insisted that I should just delete that sucker before it spread, but I felt too lazy for such decisive action then. I this morning decided to just open up the link to discover if anything there might prompt me to respond. I was pleased to find that this survey had been designed as I believe all surveys really should be designed. I could respond to any question by not registering a response to that question, a critically important feature of any useful survey, lest the designer's presumption that their target might provide useful information to any question doom the potential relevance of the whole danged instrument. I usually peruse these damned things before deleting, if I even peruse first, but this time I decided to duck through the small gauntlet of questions by not responding to any of them before completing the two designated optional boxes at the end. I told them who I was and how they might contact me, then slammed the enter key (which, predictably, exited me from that domain.)

I despise surveys because they almost always ask the wrong questions, and sometimes fail to even successfully present a single wrong question, but simply irrelevant ones.

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Playoffs

Playoffs
"I know that it's never over until it's over …"

By mid-October, even the very best major league baseball team has been running on fumes for at least a month. Whichever team embodied invulnerability through August, starts showing some cracks. A key player or two show up on the disabled list and the play-by-play commentary starts leaning toward the team that was rather than the team remaining on the field. Playoffs seem like a Special Olympics for professionals by then more capable of delivering winces than clutch hits. Games become excruciatingly tedious as recently reliable pitchers revert back to their pre-season performance levels and batters watch pitches repeatedly wiz almost over the plate. Some games see almost no scoring, so-called small ball, where strikeouts and short flies dominate what hardly passes for play. Other games turn into stumble sessions defined by errors and misjudgments. The two teams surviving this final gauntlet, one from each league, are deemed proven prepared for one final best of seven game face-off, one of which might be called due to snow.

Players show up wearing cowls and layers, and balls fly about as well as rocks.

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Nevermore

Nevermore

"Why, I wonder, has it taken so very many words to report that no words visited me today?"

What if, I wondered as I slinked down into my writer's chair this morning, I find nothing to write about today? I peeked back through the last three years of material I'd written on this date and found it good. I scrolled back through the prior couple of weeks' stuff and stumbled away impressed (if I do say so myself), but what if this morning brought the day when I found nothing remaining worth saying anything about? What if? I've seemingly invested so much of what I've grown to believe represents me being here that I fear a vacuum might make me disappear. It would be as if my recurrent delusions of invisibility had come to fruition, that my walking could no longer produce footprints, as if the shrubbery no longer whispered with my passage. I wouldn't even be a ghostwriter then, perhaps not even a ghost.

I received in my email this morning a request to connect with a fellow on LinkedIn.

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ArmchairPhilosophy

armchairphilosophy
" … nobody ever really pays the slightest attention to philosophers …"

I hold the opinion that there's no such thing as a comfortable chair and that the belief that there could be such a thing has become a burden to mankind. I freely admit that I possess a deep aversion to furniture in general, particularly to the purchase of it in any form, though I do allow inheritance as the sole proper means for acquiring it. The Muse and I own a remarkably mismatched furniture inventory. Different ages, styles, colors, and concepts combine to exude an otherwise unattainable Early Undergraduate ambiance. Each chair stands as a unique form of torture, with each most certainly its own form of torture. Oh, one might just seem comfortable upon first sit, but try staying put for a half hour. I simply cannot. I can perch for a few fleeting moments before something seems terribly awry and I simply must move myself somewhere else.

I've grown to prefer sprawling on the floor when I watch television.

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AntiSocialism

AntiSocialism
"In any contest between social and anti-social, I choose the social, even if some wag attaches a misleading -ism to the tail end of it."

We live in an era of rampant paradox. I wager that nobody understands a single slogan, yet we speak almost exclusively in slogans. We interact via a medium euphemistically referred to as Social Media, a place where anti-social speech seems expected and surprises nobody, not even those it shocks. In politics, we argue as if every issue were all or nothing and as if moderation rather than extremism was the greatest crime of our time. Trump employs the most offensive speech for those he derisively refers to as socialists, offering a clear choice, I guess, between social and anti-social candidates, with him embodying the latter. His strategy seems to rely upon confusion as its primary enlightening element, betting that he can persuade more voters with provable bullshit than his more social opponents ever can with simple truths. Truth, in his crude calculus, is socialism, pure and simple, and socialism, by definition supported by flurries of out-of-context references to obscure discredited economists, seems to be evil. Truth is thereby proven to be evil. How could it be otherwise?

I will not mention the most "socialistic" government program ever devised, the Oil Depletion Allowance, the original tax-everybody-to-subsidize-the-richest operation, and perhaps the most socially ruinous, vehemently defended by the most self-proclaimed conservative and anti-social voices.

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OilyBoyds

OilyBoyds
"Just who could I think of myself as being otherwise?"

Back in the days when high speed Internet access was scarce, I took to writing at Starbucks when away from home. I'd arrive when they opened at five am, and settle in to write at a front table looking out on a deserted street while conversation from across the shop grew increasingly loud and occasionally annoying. I'd slip in and out of my writing coma, barely aware of my surroundings. An hour or so later, I'd finish up, surprised at just how bustling the place had become. The early arrivers seemed to invariably be older men. Their conversation an unsurprising mix of sports, politics, and local gossip. They seemed insular, a self-contained little society, probably life-long friends. They seemed to be on a first name basis with the counter help. I seemed hardly a shadow there, myself.

As I've grown older, I feel a growing compulsion to get up and out early in the same way as a younger me might have felt compelled to go out in the evening to mingle with crowds.

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TheEllWord

IMG_4381
Before
Painting by D. Wilder Schmaltz, May 2001
IMG_4373
After
Photograph of the same place, October 2019
"True love doesn't guarantee a happy ending, but a more engaging life."

A friend asked me why I went to all the trouble of scraping and repainting the front of our house and I surprised myself a little bit by responding with, "Love," but I couldn't honestly explain my effort in any other way. I feel a devotion to that place, a deep sense of stewardship that might not make any sense to anyone else, but which makes perfect sense to me. Over the nearly twenty years that The Muse and I have owned the place, it's taken up a great deal of space in my heart. I might, by all rights, hate the place by now. It can be overwhelmingly needy. It's proved me the fool so many times that I by all rights should be reduced to drooling my dinner down my shirtfront. Worse, we've lived away from it longer than we've lived IN it. Maybe absence really does make the heart grow fonder.

It keeps calling me back.

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TranSitIon

TranSiTion
"I have no idea what comes next …"

The early flight out of Walla Walla departs at 5:15 AM. I wake myself at 2:30 to watch my alarm clock tick down to my scheduled wake-up time. I'm out the door before a quarter to four, struggling with my brother-in-law suitcase over-stuffed with leftover tools and work clothes. I call that suitcase my brother-in-law because dragging it around feels like I've brought a clumsy, indecisive shirt-tail relative along. I find a conspicuous spot to ditch the step=son's enormous truck and lock the keys inside, then schlepp my baggage into the terminal. Small town airport check-ins lean toward the informal until trying to pass through Insecurity, which seems over-staffed with a half dozen unbelievably busy agents hovering around the process. I'm almost first in line, but still spend fifteen minutes while two agents pour through my knapsack's contents, which I know includes at least two illegal items which I should have sequestered into a separate plastic baggie. I've carried that nasal spray and those eye drops through Insecurity for over ten years and never been busted. They ineptly reorganize everything before passing the bag back to me, curiously handing over my car key and a flash drive separately. The couple behind me receive similar scrutiny.

The airplane looks like a preying mantis, ungainly in the pre-dawn squall, the inside miniaturized.

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FiguringGround

FiguringGround
" … even if that hero only ever existed in my own mind."

I ask myself, "What am I to make of that?" because my experiences seem unendingly ambiguous. Was that a last result a blessing or a curse, or even worse? I never can tell for certain, so I face some choices. By what criteria might I judge an outcome, each of which seem to serve as a set-up for some subsequent experience in a seeming never-ending chain? Today's delay might later prove to have more properly positioned me in ways that an on-time arrival could not possibly have. Today's disappointment might well become tomorrow's godsend. Today's blessing, next week's curse. It's even worse than simple either/or. Though the patterns seem to replicate, none of any of this has ever happened before. We are the pointy end of a very long stick. We clearly perceive neither our origin or our destination.

Two weeks of intermittent effort seems to have produced an array of changes.

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Dreader

dread
" … no easy mark for all the voices that shriek through the dark."

Some seem to exude confidence. I inhabit the other end of that scale. I exude dread. I don't envision worst possible scenarios because I'm confused by the concept of worst, but I only very rarely anticipate anything turning out right. Any impending event can send my imagination spiraling into likely complications. I tend as a result to enter well-prepared for what only very rarely ever occurs, and no amount of contrary positive experience has (yet) drained me of my preternatural dreadiness. Any fresh challenge, every freaking aspiration sends me crouching into the experience. My current refurbishing project serves as a fine case in point. I fuss the finer points, sure, and also natter over the larger ones, too. My head grumbles like a zoo just before feeding time.

Am I a man of little faith?

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Workitation

workitation
"Those without long, unforgiving rows to hoe might not ever come to know …"

Plumbers work with their mouths closed. Some work demands taciturn incumbents. Long incommunicado hours foster a rich internal world. Ear worm jingles give way to recollection and quiet consideration and a kind of meditation sets in. Endless uncountable hours spent in repetitive motion does not degrade the craftsman, but seems to elevate him instead. He's not so much working as workitating, as immersed in his experience as any cloistered monk might be within his. Time loses relevance. Aching joints shed their significance. Authentic transcendence settles over the job site. Phone calls seem to come from other dimensions. Removing gloves to answer disrupts the trance, if the ringing even penetrates the serene flowing bubble. I might not be home then, anyway.

Judgement seems to sharpen within this flow.

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Yretsam

MirroredMastery
"I didn't know how to tell him that my paint choice had almost nothing to do with the end result."

I suspect that every social scientist suffers from Maslow Envy. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which presumed to delineate a set of sequential stages necessary to achieve self actualization, reverberates as perhaps the foundational presumption of most every social science. The nagging fact that it's probably wrong notwithstanding, it provides a clean and convenient framework within which to consider otherwise terribly fuzzy concepts. The fact that it's irreducible, remarkably impervious to scientific proof, only makes it more powerful. If only I could concoct such a foundational model rather than run down one that just seems so right to so very many. I'm not even a social scientist, yet I admit to carrying my fair share of Maslow Envy, too.

Back when I was still an active consultant, I employed models to impart concepts I thought my clients might find useful. Some actually proved useful

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WrestOrRant

smallplates
"I'd really prefer to depart with something other than notching in my belt on my mind."

One phrase strikes terror into my soul: Small Plates. Tapas run a close second place. I never know these days what I'll find when I step into restaurant or diner. Dinner might await me there, but it seems increasingly likely that I'll find little more than a feast fit only for a Barbie® doll and her friends. The menu might not describe the portion size, misleading my mind into believing that just because it promises roasted winter veg that they won't come reduced to a meager puddle almost obscuring the three (count 'em, three) halved fingerling potatoes vainly trying to avoid suffocation. The lamb chop up top, so encrusted with heirloom herbs and crap that it appears to have been a stillborn mistake from a faulty EZBake oven in the back. I'm still hungry just looking at it, the plate that would be supper. I'm still hungry after, so I order another consoling beer and ask the waiter to bring me a pile of fries like that woman's plate over there. He does not charge me for this supplement to my meager supper.

Restaurant has come to mean, loosely translated from the original French, "leave hungry."

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MissedAppropriation

MissedAppropriation
"I might most vehemently defend what was never really there at all."

We seem to hold many fallacies as self-evident truths. Even those who preach against the likelihood of physical evolution seem to hold social evolution as unimpeachable truth. We might not be descended from monkeys, but some (most prominently, themselves) sure seem clearly superior to others. They might even cite some behavioral psychology experiment performed on birds or dogs to justify human behavior, shrugging in acquiescence to what they might firmly believe to be immutable scientific fact while quietly discounting a raft of conflicting experimental results. They defend social status quos as god-given and progressive-minded change as the devil's own handiwork. I suppose, given random, entropy-infused experience, humans simply must project some sort of reassuring patterns onto the screen. Our projections seem drawn from simple models, side-stepping the more physically common exponential and logarithmic progressions, preferring straight-line addition of two and two over anticipating any point on a wave or curve. We fill ourselves with these fantasies and they quickly become our baseline realities.

What are we supposed to believe, anyway?

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Hard(ly)Work(ing)

HardlyWorking
"I am a man because I harbor such delusions."

My Puritan forebears would today easily be classified as masochists. They prayed hard, sure, but they worked harder, and not exclusively for the glory of any God here on Earth, but for the glory of the real estate speculators who'd financed their incursion. They arrived at Plymouth deeply indentured, beneath the yoke of powerful financial interests with the ear of the king. Their's was a speculative endeavor, certainly no sure thing. They'd traded a settled existence for an unimaginably primitive one, the sobering yoke of great debt perhaps most prominent on their shoulders. Many didn't make it. I might reasonably insist that only their myths survived.

Their myth intertwined piety with hard work, self-sacrifice in pursuit of so-called higher ends.

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IdlingTime

IdleTime

"The end, a terminal condition where IdlingTime starts threatening me again"

Forget the Chinese Water Torture. Ten years at hard labor? Kid stuff! If you want to inflict maximum punishment, mete out a sentence of a hard week of forced idleness. Prevent the convict from breaking big rocks into little ones. Set him in an isolation cell with nobody to tell him to do anything at all. Treat him as if he was not there and he'll more than disappear. Forced IdlingTime takes away even the more engaging mind. Force me to take a week reclining on a sunny sugar-sand beach and I swear that I'll go bat-shit crazy for you. Take away my keyboard. Rain me out for two mornings in a row and I already know where I'll go. I'll try to escape into sleep, but sleep won't come then. I'll look for a place to lie down, then watch my mind spin without engaging any flywheel. I'll burn my whole tank of gas without leaving anything behind to show that I was even there. True desperation.

I do not find vacation time rewarding.

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PickEmUp

pickemup
" … fifteen hundred pounds hauling a bedload of air and leaves blown in there late last autumn."

I possess no more than glancing knowledge of PickEmUp trucks. For me, they serve as an annoying presence on the road. They goad me from behind before leaving me in their dust and coal smoke. I've borrowed my share from brothers-in-law to haul the odd load of yard prunings or to move a few bed-fulls of grape skin mulch from a winery, but always with an alien's eye, the driver's seat too impossibly high a perch. The steering wheel positioned inconveniently right between my eye and the windshield, a patina of dust and grit priming dashboard and jockey box. I'd crawl between destinations feeling as though I was piloting The Queen Mary through narrow channels, the turning radius of a mile-long coal train, gun rack in the back window.

These ungainly vehicles have become an unlikely symbol of masculinity.

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RainedIn

cancelled
"What else was life supposed to be besides a series of clever recoveries from the way it was supposed to be?"

The chairs still sat atop the tables with lights still low when I showed up at 'my' Starbucks to write this morning, so I decided to try the truck stop instead. I found a welcoming wi-fi signal there, and an atmosphere much more conducive to pursuing my intention. No soundtrack blaring. No deaf regular screaming everything he says. No altogether too high-test decaf to jangle my spirit. As quiet as a library. My huge DIY project looks like it will be delayed today, with weather reports increasingly agreeing that today and likely tomorrow, too, will be rained out. Baseball games still get rained out. Sometimes schools close when the snow flies. Flights might get delayed or cancelled when threatening weather settles in, but most activities continue as if invulnerable to any kind of vagary.

Where might a person find a reliable source of disruption for their plans if not even a rainstorm can get much cancelled?

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MindlessEffort

MrMachineManual-7
"My name is Mr. Machine!"

Once I've laid out the job, my mind starts reducing it, influenced, I suspect, by The Principles of Scientific Management I've so long reviled. I am not, I insist, a machine, except, of course, when I willingly assume the role of machine while in pursuit of completing some repetitive series of tasks. Then, I'm actively searching for movements I might reasonably eliminate, seeking a pattern of least resistance, creating a simplified set of repetitive motions of the sort which might well leave behind permanent damage. I willingly, enthusiastically become a machine. The jingle from that sixties toy commercial endlessly echoes through my head: "Here he comes, here he comes, when you see him, you'd better run 'cause his name is Mr. Machine." I am become not light, not a force for goodness and right in this world, but a genuine machine.

My mind feels perfectly satisfied with my self-appointed role.

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ExpertAdvice

expertadvice
The Conjurer, 1475–1480, by Hieronymus Bosch or his workshop.
"Another spare ounce of budding expertise standing in for a ton of actual skill."

Experts tell others stuff, exercising cheeky presumptions that the advice seeker cannot validate. Some of the stuff they share seems unlikely to the point of unbelievable, but then the more complicated human activities have always seemed counter-intuitive. Charlatan experts abound. There are probably already a hot half dozen YouTube videos posted on whatever subject you need, ready, and perhaps a tad too willing to offer "good advice," each of which kind of contradicts every other, worth every penny any novice might not agree to pay for it. Real expertise seems different from the phony kind, though, and as I began yet another semi-massive Do It Yourself project, I decided to engage in the one way most seriously dedicated DIYers never would, I consulted a genuine expert.

I had reason to believe that my expert was of the genuine variety.

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Trabbeling

trabbeling

"Do not for a minute envy my mobility."

The Muse and I find ourselves Trabbeling again. Merriam-Webster defines Trabbeling as a common variant of the more common traveling, and while a variant, the term seems to better impart what I experience. The Muse Trabbels all the time these days, so her mileage varies considerably from mine. I once lived on airlines, weighted down by so many frequent flier miles that they had to seat me way up front so as to counterbalance most of the rest of the load. Then, I was a fearless flier, unruffled by turbulence normal or exceptional. Now, I've matured into more or less a complete ninny.

I presume that an airline reservation will probably fly me into the valley of the shadow of death, so I consider flying anywhere a reminder of my inescapable fallibility.

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Septober

Septober
"If I can't own up to the inescapable fact that I started out all wrong again,
I will never make anything right."

This morning dawned grey and gloomy. Septober arrived with her usual mope. Autumn never has qualified as even the second runner-up in The Hopeful Seasons Pageant, a little too much goose flesh showing during the Catalina Swimsuit portion of the competition, I suspect. We know where Septober's going. In with a mumble and then out with a slam. It signals the start of a season featuring thick socks, slamming doors, and serious preparations for another overlong hibernation. We should feel cranky when considering this nap time.

The Muse and I head out early tomorrow morning for yet another extended absence from the Villa Vatta Schmaltz High, this time to try to refinish the front of the original Villa Vatta Schmaltz before Septober suspends outside work for another year.

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KnowingNuthin

snob
"I shake my dead in weary dread
when I sense a superior beside me."

Supremacy carries the certain scent of some internal sense of its own inferiority. Lording over another seems to leave the lorder looking a lot less lofty. Feeling special doesn't seem to be anything special, we've all experienced it, but that sense of being special serves like a museum piece, meant to be exclusively displayed on interior walls. Taking it outside disqualifies in ways nobody can convincingly say without appearing a contender as superior scold. It demonstrates a disagreeable neediness in the proclaimed possessor, a separation between heart and soul we all know signals a moldy mushiness within. It hardly seems to matter where the realm of superiority lies. Holier than thou seems more than slightly similar to smarter, richer, handsomer, and cliquier. Effeteness sleeps in its own lonely backstreet.

The effete sometimes gang up.

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BegEnding

Oroboros
"I hear autumn approaching."

I never come seeking closure, though sometimes closure seems to stalk me. It whispers, "The end draws near." It promises clarity but demands that I forfeit purpose, to exchange kinetic for static, questions for settled certainty. I never feel more alive than when first setting out. That first step seems the stuff of eternity, the last seems simply past. This book making makes for the strangest bedfellows, ones who sincerely want to share my scheming, who seem to need to somehow capture my soul, perhaps to sell it for something less permanent, like gold. I'm told that something called a market stands out there. Precisely where this chimera might lurk, I do not know. I do know that nobody could possibly show me where. It might exist in the great unmappable nowhere. Its presence scares me.

I come to the end of another season, one I began, like I start all seasons, with a purpose, indistinct as all proper newborn purposes should be.

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FakeNews

Bullshit1
"Simply swallowing seems to make me sick."

Our venerable New York Times seems to have come under harsh criticism for having published a glaring omission, a shortcoming that they reported shortly after publishing. The harshest critics complained that this little incident, and it really was, in the scope of everything, a microscopic error, proves a point they'd been trying to make forever, (Or did it just seem like forever?) that the mainstream (or, in their vernacular, "lame stream") media has always been untrustworthy. The critics scream (must they always scream?) "Fake News" again, but we're deaf to their frenzied exhortations. We know that the REAL Fake News outlets never report on their own shortcomings, so na-na-na-na-na-na!

Truth is, the venerable New York Times has never once published an edition that failed to include a few errors. It has likewise never published an edition that did not feature an A Section column entitled Corrections, where the editors fess up to their own shortcomings. It also publishes readers' letters, a disturbingly large percentage of which take umbrage with something the paper published. Hardly invulnerable to criticism, seeming to embrace it instead, this whipping boy of those who insist it deals exclusively in Fake News somehow manages to maintain the self esteem to publish, then publish again. Shameless!

Well, perhaps not completely shameless.

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PatTurns

PatTurns
"I already drive an autonomous car most of the time."

I'm reasonably confident that I'm not closely related to sheep because my coat has no wholesale market and because I'm a pickier eater. In spite of the inescapable fact that I'd much rather bleat than bleed, I consider myself a notch above the typical lamb on most cognitive scales. My will seems freer and my judgement somewhat more sound, but I still seem to spend much of my life on autopilot, not really observing, thinking, or choosing for myself. My vast body of experience easily convinces me that I might reasonably just go with the apparent flow without frequently intervening to change course. Once settled into a pattern, I tend to stay down in those reassuring ruts.

I suppose that I turn where I turn because I didn't get burned by going that way the last time.

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Messo-

messo
" …to feed the needs you never genuinely had …"

I'm wondering what to call the kind of illusory examples I seem to be drenched with in my media-saturated world. I catch on that I'm supposed to sincerely want whatever's being advertised, whatever's being described, yet I know the ad and the description might only be best understood as examples of studious omission, contextless impossibility devoid of externality, a terribly alluring NuthinMuch at all. Have I become so suggestible that I swallow these seductions without catching on that they're cardboard cut-outs without the cardboard? It seems so sometimes. I understand that they tug at my heart strings. I'm supposed to want and I even do, sometimes. Other times, my heart aches as if I should be wanting but simply cannot. Someone left a Post-it® sticker on my screen door yesterday which reported that many of my neighbors have been replacing their windows, and I might want to seriously consider replacing mine, offering discounts I cannot afford to pass up. I moved the sticker to the front of my garage refrigerator so it can remind me what I'm supposed to really be wanting whenever I fetch myself a cold beer.

What IS going on here?

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Spindly

spindly
"I'll notice what left us behind."

Late Summer has a broad belly but stands on Spindly legs. Spiders spin increasingly frantic and Spindly webs, seeking to secure more of the last of their weary prey and set their egg sacks away. Pumpkin fields feature more desiccated foliage than green. Foothills regain their usual buff beige as their velvet turns back into crunchy sandpaper again. The mid-days retain their brightness and their heat, but each day's celebration rolls up the sidewalks by seven and sleeps until almost seven the following morning. We still sleep with our windows wide open, but slip out from under covers to don a supplemental sweatshirt before dawn. Flannel moves a few spaces closer to the functioning end of the clothes closet, eyeing the lightweights ahead of them as if they were already gonners. I seriously consider wearing socks again, but stave off that siren's song for now. Their time will come too soon.

The produce stand started stocking squashes and pumpkins, elbowing aside full summer's contribution to the diet

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InSpite

InSpite
"Every completed one turned out just precisely how it was supposed to."

InSpite of the plan, which I'd carefully crafted during the days before starting the little project, my anticipations quickly went to Hell. This was in no way a surprise. I would and should have been much more surprised if they hadn't. My decades of experience crafting clever plans convinces me that they are most often conceived to fall apart. This doesn't excuse slipshod planning, for shortchanging the process limits the insights resulting from a southbound effort. If nothing much gets invested in how it's supposed to be, no Oh, Shit experience will result, and these spark the insight essential to actually completing any effort in a satisfying way. Only actual experience can temper the confidence motivating the beginning. Only insight can spawn whatever's actually needed to get the job done. It's a rule or something.

The spite emanating from these sorts of realizations could power the electric grid.

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Educationing

educationing
"In practice, we're all mostly making it up as we go along, …"

Surprisingly, I don't consider myself to be stupid. By many measures, though, I'm clearly not smart, certainly not THAT smart. In school, I learned that I was not smart, with this lesson repeatedly reinforced until it became almost the only learning I retained, which might mean that I was at least smart enough to learn that I wasn't smart. I've retained that foundational lesson through my entire adult life so far, reinforcing it through near constant repetition. For instance, Denver's close-in western suburbs feature several North/South arterials. I frequently use two of the most prominent ones, Kipling and Wadsworth, yet I can almost never remember either name. I know just where they are, but when The Muse asks me which route we're taking, I might hesitate a beat before replying that we're either taking the W or the J street. Unable to recall the precise name, I offer some lame placeholder instead. I'm forever calling Wadsworth Wordsworth, which seems like a workable-enough alternative. Numbered highways don't even get placeholders out of me. The ring freeway is either 730 or an unnamed entity, I cannot seem to retain its real designation. The highway between Golden and Boulder has no name as far as I'm concerned. I think it's ninety something, maybe seven. Yet I can usually navigate without overmuch trouble, the names hardly mattering in practice.

School taught me that I don't seem to store information in crisp little recoverable packets.

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Wall-tering

IMG_4347

" … nobody but the next painter to follow will ever see the subtle complex symmetry I somehow left behind."

Today's project, should I muster enough gumption to begin, will result in a repainted wall. It's an exterior, southeast-facing wall, angled and elevated, lightly weathered by a hailstorm over two years ago. I've prepped and repainted all the south-facing walls in the period since the insurance adjuster proposed hiring painters and I replied that I preferred to do my own painting, thank you. I spoke the truth, I really do prefer to do my own painting. I work at a pace that leaves me coming in second place behind any snails in the field, but I think of myself as someone who values quality above speed. I first excruciatingly evaluate the surface from several perspectives. I stand close, then move further away, building an ever-deepening understanding of the effort facing me. I imagine how I'll begin, what tangles I'll likely encounter, how much paint I might need, and what tools I might employ. This considering might take weeks, with me finding ample reason to dread in anticipation, which might encourage me to consider even more.

I know for sure that once I begin, the work will quickly become my obsession.

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Choosiness

choosiness
"Unsettling, isn't it?"

When I was a younger man, I experienced a great revelation. This hardly qualifies as a headline-grabber because great revelations seem the sole property of youth. Older folks continue to experience their share of revelations, but they only very rarely strike them (or anyone else) as particularly great. The notion that age brings greater wisdom beggars belief, as anyone paying attention as their grandparents, then their parents, entered old age. At some point, accumulated wisdom seems to pass backwards to the following generation, often without their permission or immediate recognition. Catching on to this transfer might be the final great revelation most experience, though this ordinarily appears as a genuine "Oh, Shit!" moment.

My great revelation whispered that it's all about choice.

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Winning

winning
"They will celebrate by ceasing further play …"

I explain that I've never been terribly competitive. The Muse objects to my self-characterization, reporting that I have gotten fairly fierce at the old Scrabble board sometimes. Perhaps, I reply, but how often do I play Scrabble? It's not like I make a habit of engaging in competitive 'games.' I find every other board game aptly named. They bore me. I never really learned to play cards, chess, or the lottery. I have twice entered casinos only to realize that I didn't have the first clue how to engage in any of the 'games' there before going to find a quiet place to read. I sense the rising tension in a late-inning close call baseball game, but I never quite lose the understanding that winning and losing never mean much. There's always tomorrow or next season or never lurking around the corner. Winning's more transitory than cloud, so I don't quite understand the roar of that crowd.

Yet I do not characterize myself as a loser, either.

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Inconspicuous

inconspicuous
" … enable each of us to make choices which could leave us stepping a little more lightly as we conspicuously stomp around our Eden"

A hundred and twenty years ago, early economist Thorstein Veblen published his The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions. The book reads almost as if it were parody, like any great work of economic theory should. He noted a strong correlation in the US between what he labeled Conspicuous Consumption and status. The higher the status, the more one would willingly pay. He noted that the old 'buy cheap, sell dear' ability said to underpin capitalism was not evident among major capitalists. Quite the opposite. Maintaining status required public profligacy. He provided numerous examples, several aimed at what we now call Elite Institutions, universities that built and maintained terribly expensive Gothic enclaves. As with anyone audacious enough to commit this sort of public truth, he was eventually blackballed out of academe. He died a decidedly inconspicuous death while living in an empty shipping crate which was situated just off Sand Hill Road, where Silicon Valley's venture capitalists now maintain offices, overlooking Stanford University's gothic enclave in Palo Alto. He'd reportedly adopted a pet skunk, the only remaining company he managed to maintain through his declining popularity.

Judging by the number of McMansions and McEstates dotting the Front Range around my more humble abode, conspicuous consumption has not diminished in popularity over the intervening years.

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CityOfScolds

scold
"I propose starting with me."

I live in a CityOfScolds. Any stranger will most likely receive a cold reception. Any neighbor might get burned. Judges seem to always be on duty to notice should anyone stray from somebody's straight and narrow, and it never seems to take much to be accused of stepping over some line, especially the ones only the judge ever knew were drawn. Such constant vigilance never was the cost of anything but sure and certain humiliation and ever hardening feelings, for we're all little kids stranded in big people bodies, mistaken for omniscient when only innocently faking it through. I seem certain to offend you as you seem equally certain to offend me. I feel well-justified in calling that foul, in exhibiting my very best scowl for you, though you always seem to me to be a tad too picky with me. Maybe that dog barking really should be prosecuted as the Federal case your reaction seems to indicate that it should be. Maybe my innocent inquiry broke every tenet ever known for propriety. Maybe your piety stands more than head and shoulders above mine. We each seem to have gone into the business of failing (flaying) to fix the recent past, aghast.

We behave as if we were each justifiably offended by each others' presence. We endlessly inconvenience each other.

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Smell0Vision

smellovision
"When well-produced fantasy becomes the new reality,
what does the viewer become?"

I do not know how deeply television has influenced me. It might be that it's in the nature of TV that no viewer could ever know how deeply it influences them. What I experienced as a passive watching, though, seems to have been a more complicated interaction than I sensed. I know that in my youth, I would have chosen TV over almost any other activity, even if, as was often the case, "nothing was on." I became a fairly indiscriminate consumer, relatively indifferent to the actual content and much more intent upon experiencing that zoned-out state. Before sex, drugs, and rock and roll, TV was there. More importantly, I was eventually, always there for TV.

My folks kept their TV on every waking hour. Mornings brought The Today Show mumbling behind their morning routine. It seemed to be their morning routine.

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HotGreen

HotGreen
"Eat to excess whatever's in season."

This statement encapsulates my personal produce philosophy. I will probably shun any fruit or vegetable until I find fresh and local, but when I find fresh and local, I turn into a genuine glutton. The Muse and I share this guiding philosophy. Winters force us into crouched, defensive positions where we somehow subsist upon root veg and obscure members of the cabbage family. Sure, we could score asparagus from Peru and blueberries from New Zealand, but we'll shun those carbon-clad choices. We'd really rather starve. Spring and Summer, though, find us enthusiastically frequenting the family produce market where The Old Man drives to the other side of the state twice each week to bring back truckloads of whatever's presently in season. We dutifully buy then eat to excess whatever's fresh each week. No produce better exemplifies this philosophy in action than the audacious HotGreen Chile.

No, I do not mean Jalapeño, that seemingly ubiquitous pretender pepper, the Wonder® Bread of hot chiles. I find the Jalapeño uneatable, mean heat accompanied by the flavor of muddy lawn.

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Reating

reating
"Neither exclusively a reader nor a writer, …"

I read a lot more than I write. Reading's how I fill my writing hopper, not so much with fresh ideas, but with inspirations. I read like an interior designer surveys paint samples, not to copy anything, but to remind myself of the possibilities prose holds. I am susceptible to subconsciously replicating whatever I'm reading, so I carefully choose what I read. I've developed a ruthlessness when it comes to finishing a book or a piece of writing. If it ain't going nowhere, I won't go there with it. When asked what I do for a living, I catch myself mute. "You mean, what do I do for money?" I reply. "Nothing." I read and write instead, mostly read; Reating.

Reating isn't the most lucrative occupation. It's only necessary, which gives it its only defensible attribute.

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HomingAgain

homing
"I'm a pigeon, for sure, but not entirely one of the Homing variety."

Scientists say that it's an instinct, an irrepressible urge to return home, so they refer to it as The Homing Instinct. This label contributes nothing to my understanding of the phenomenon, though I personally experience it when returning from some travel. As the scenery becomes increasingly familiar, I start feeling like my old self again, my traveling self sliding back onto the back shelf next to where my suitcase lies between excursions. I'm a fine traveler, able to smoothly adapt to a wide range of different environments. Within a half hour of arriving, I will have located some place where I can reliably score my morning decaf and a serviceable slice of bread. I've packed methodically, so everything I might need stays ready to hand, whatever the brand name on the side of that night's hotel. I grow used to the simplicity of the traveling life, a single bag carrying all my necessities. My guitar case hogging more than its fair share of space. My knapsack haphazardly stuffed wherever it finally fits. That's it, my entire traveling kit. I'm able to carry it all in one trip in from the car.

Home presents a wholly different sort of challenge.

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Driven

Driven1
"I'm cautious as if my fate were not under my own control."

I think that it's safe for me to assert that fewer than ten percent of the people driving cars are competent drivers. This assertion isn't just my snarkier side finding a platform for whining, but the result of careful observation and recent deep immersion into my fellow drivers' behaviors out there on the open road. experienced a remarkable sampling of my fellow drivers' skill, as well as my own. It's shockingly poor, but I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. I do not consider myself to be any more a competent driver than I consider myself to be a competent writer or cook. As Dirty Harry long ago observed, a man's gotta know his limitations. Because I judge myself a somewhat less than skilled driver, I lack the confidence I consider essential to drive like any self respecting maniac might. The Muse insists that I drive like an old Italian woman, only lacking a few pounds and that ubiquitous black dress from fully qualifying. I do drive safely, which seems to drive my fellow drivers to distraction.

I carry my personal ethical underpinning. I never exceed the speed limit, except when passing another driver who has clearly demonstrated their inability to maintain that limit.

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APerfectDay

APerfectDay


"APerfectDay, the memory of which will likely never, ever go away."

I awaken before four feeling perfectly rested just before the alarm breaks silence. I clean myself up for the day before sitting to consider just what sort of day it might become. I decide upon APerfectDay, one for which the memory will likely never go away. We plan upon driving up and over Lolo Pass, as fine a piece of road as exists anywhere, two hundred plus miles of two lane Federal highway alongside the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers. It will be the last day of this year's August, hot, dry, and windless, and we will sleep many miles east of where I'm just then waking up. I grab my knapsack and head out just before five, looking to refuel The Schooner, find a block of ice to keep cold through the long driving days between here and Genesee our ZipLock® quarts of frozen wild black currents we'd picked when we passed through the weekend before. I easily find both before heading for the old Main Street Starbucks and the front window table where I've written dozens of stories over the years. The counter clerk already knows what I'm going to order, the same thing I always order, a large (I will not say, "Venti" for anybody) decaf in a china cup. She surprises me by not asking me if it's okay if she has to give me a pour-over. Maybe they've brewed ahead in anticipation of my arrival. Perfect!

I write, by which I mean to say that words come to me, a prose poem to the end of harvest.

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ReSeeding

Reseeding
" … evenings would have turned to frost and the sky would have become that most remarkable blue."

Want follows excess. The Muse and I climb up and over White Pass, a low route through the mighty Cascades, moving through late summer fields showing the tail end of seasonal excess. Vine maple and alder hold the passage of July's brutal heat in their desiccating foliage. Wheat harvested, stubble fields stand like old men with their pale bellies showing beneath too-tight tee shirts. We drive beneath cool covering cloud until we reach the pinnacle, where the sky opens wider than a clown's mouth in a dentist's chair. High dry hills watch us pass, heading home(s), through our home country one last time, a short stop where our hearts live before heading on to our most current temporary mailing address.

Excess follows want. Our decade of exile taught us more than we ever wanted to learn, thank heavens.

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ChickenLittle&TheBigChicken

BigChicken
"The sky is not falling, nor likely to."

I got punked this week. Well, I might have actually punked myself. I read this finely-written article which a trusted source had posted. I found the arguments provocative and convincing. The piece maintained that steady voice I've grown to trust. It turned out to be complete bullshit, especially engineered to punk people like me. You see, I'm at root a BigChicken. I am not generally confident or particularly assertive. I keep a low profile, over-thinking my way through issues. I'm more likely to check twice before believing any house is really on fire. I might be more concerned about over-reacting than I am about missing any BIG news. I'm no ChickenLittle. My sky has never fallen so far. I feel no compelling need to incite any passionate reaction. I'm more observer than activist.

Some people, though, have gone into the business of inciting passionate reactions.

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MillingAroundTown

MillingAroundTown
"Everyone knew that those logs rafts would never come back …"

The Muse and I will just be staying two nights in the crappy hotel on the edge of the bordering forest. I dutifully slink out to find a Starbucks in the morning since the hotel's internet service can't quite seem to recognize my laptop as a valid user. I don't mind. I usually slink out wherever we stay, unable to keep myself locked away early in a day. My eye seems drawn to the down and out, those who justifiable feel left out; though, as The Muse confided, we seem to have landed on the more fortunate side of our towering Continental Divide. I carry no good advice for anyone trapped on the opposite side, good fortune visited us, and my empathy buys nobody nuthin except for perhaps an insignificant reassurance for myself as I wander through. I did not grow up here, a place seemingly founded to provide a decent back story for anyone fortunate enough to escape. Every Western Washington mill town seemed to have been founded upon this same principle.

Hell if it is the state capitol, it failed to shed its grittier roots.

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LeftOut

catlestout

"I almost always will have left myself out when I discover, too late, that I've been left out overnight again."

Before our cats left us, they taught us that leaving them out overnight amounted to the greatest sin we could ever commit in their eyes. This did not happen very often and, to my mind, usually resulted from them being just that much too clever for us. I thought that they'd outsmarted themselves of hogging more than their share of the matrimonial bed and of sharing our overnight body warmth, that they'd lost more than we ever sensed that we'd lost. We'd stretch out into what usually amounted to already occupied territory and accept that additional space without in the moment imagining that the space represented a greater absence. The next morning, opening the door to fetch the newspaper, a grey or ginger blur would slip past me and I'd realize the crime I'd committed. I'd offer the obligatory kitty treats in apology and steel myself for a few hours of glowering stares, for I'd left one of the cats outside overnight where coyotes or owls could have spirited them away. They might have initiated the slip, but I had failed to catch it. The resulting sin got chalked up on my side of the grand ledger and I could never adequately atone.

Anyone who, like me, could never really decide upon what they wanted to be when they finally grew up, carries a sense of having been LeftOut of something.

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Ghosties

sleazeattle
"It still terrifies me today."

Some places seem permanently haunted. No subsequent contradictory experience ever erases the spookiness of these places. Once jarred, forever barred from comfortable coexistence. Seattle, or Sleazeattle, as I used to call it when I lived here, serves as that place for me. The prospect of revisiting it raised my hackles. The two days before we crossed the Cascades, I caught myself dreading our next destination, even though nearly fifty years now separate me from those times. It was always a cold city, one seemingly still struggling to outgrow its sorry start. The great fire of 1889 seemed to just encourage those who'd grown accustomed to walking its soggy board sidewalks. They built skyscrapers on unpromising fill and kept growing until it began to strangle itself with its own traffic. Hillsides held huge houses overlooking a smoky port. Slums subsumed its Southern third. It was every bit as segregated as Atlanta or Chicago or Boston. It was and remains a distinctly odd place.

Walking this morning through the Pike Place Market before opening time, I find it still just as unpromising as it ever seemed.

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ImPerfection

ImPerfection
"Dreams come true in the same way that plumb gets achieved, through artful deception."

If I look a little harder, I might glimpse sublime ImPerfection. Peaches quite naturally seem to avoid perfection, the better-shaped ones always turn out to be not quite ripe, the slightly bruised, juicer, tastier. From a slight distance, every item on offer at the Farmers' Market seems perfection incarnate. Step up to the counter and I see a thousand little reasons to turn and walk away. Maybe television has so poisoned my eye to expect every object to have been staged, properly backlit and artfully arranged, that I struggle to recognize as good as anything ever gets, which ain't perfect. I could stomp around in a continual state of learned indignation, gathering complaints and festering them into grudges, as if I had been cheated out of some birthright. The GrandOther discovers a worm in the ear of corn she's shucking. Some of the ears appear, once shed of their silk, as if they could have used some serious orthodonture work. We'll slightly unfocused our eyes as we eat, trading taste for appearance. Up close, nobody can see whether those kernels line up straight, anyway.

A little too hot or just a smidgen too cold. A little early or a little late. My world stands in approximate space where nothing exactly fits together.

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CurrantAffairs

CurrantAffairs
"It's no skin off anyone else's back when they hold as secret lore what almost nobody even cares about anymore."

Most everyone living in this region holds a few deep, dark secrets. Among the very most closely guarded, the knowledge of where to forage the best wild edibles. One can tell if they've been accepted into a family if they're entrusted with the location of the most reliable morel patch, huckleberry field, or trout stream. Outsiders need not apply, as if to keep this essential portion of deeply local identity safe from Californication. These special places were invariably originally simply stumbled upon by some fortunate forebear, who sealed his lips just as soon as he realized his great luck. Visitors hear stories, of course, tales of pick-up loads of morels, but they believe them to be mere legend or braggadocio, and so quickly discount them. This perfectly natural disbelief further insulates these Elysian Fields from further discovery and serves as a near perfect defense against outsider intrusion.

The older families refer to themselves as hillbillies.

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Poemtry

Poemtry
"The true purpose and ultimate significance can only ever come later."

Another birthday comes and another poem needs writing. Long tradition demands it. Had I never become the sort of cheap bastard who steadfastly refused to purchase presents, I might be off the hook. Instead, I chose the cheaper on the speculation that it might be good, better than the obvious alternatives. "Better for whom?," I ask as I start the annual stare down with another perfectly blank screen, hoping it might blink first. Tabula Rasa seems no great challenge for me. I dream of great inspiration visiting before simply settling in. A garden to weed, a lawn to mow, every routine chore could devolve into a simple bore, though each could become so much more. This pedestrian transformation knows no How To how, a curious emergent property, perhaps, of never knowing how. I simply must begin.

I imagine my dearest friend and I still don't know.

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SetList

setlist
"Crazy begets crazy. How else could any love last?"

After writing songs for more than half a century, I've yet to manage to maintain a half-decent Setlist. I most often grab rather blindly when The Muse insists that I perform a short set after one of our suppers. I quite often forget a chord progression or reverse important lyrics to render pitiful my performance. I then return my trusty D-18 to its coffin-like case and set about embarrassingly studying my shoes. Having written a tune hardly qualifies me to perform that tune, and even someone with my experience still needs to practice, practice, practice, even if I never really expect to make it to Carnegie Hall. I well-understand that I really should play every day, but I do not and have not, seemingly wasting my talent. In recent weeks, though, I've begun to play a bit more, fueled by a particularly embarrassing attempt to play just a single song for visiting friends. We all managed to change the subject, but that belly-flop really stung.

Any performer mostly performs for an audience of one, comprised of the most critical observer in the universe, so practicing easily becomes an exercise in serial self abuse.

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Onward

Onward
" … I've come somewhat closer to understanding the expansive rules governing the playing of the Infinite Game."

In his Finite and Infinite Games, author James Carse parsed the world into two games: Finite and Infinite. He characterized Finite Games as those played for the purpose of achieving something, typically winning. We engage in Infinite Games for the purpose of positioning ourselves to continue play. I've long thought of my life as a form of infinite play, and not simply because I seem so danged determined to not accomplishing anything. Finite games lost their allure when I started wondering why they were even engaged in. What's decided when two sports teams go head to head? Many thing, but little of any real consequence, I concluded. Mostly, they demonstrate fealty to a set of rules governing play, the occasional bean ball notwithstanding. They agree to limit their behaviors to that small subset covered by Hoyle, then sort of pretend to battle for a win. Infinite games tend toward the much less dramatic.

The Muse and I woke up this morning to face day ten of a twenty-some day road trip.

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DisTopia

DisTopia
" … whatever home this world once extended is melting away around me."

Live long enough and your world will have have turned into a DisTopia, the seeming opposite of what you'd hoped it would become. A 70,000 population home town will have mushroomed into a cool quarter million plus. The bordering verdant farmland, so picturesque and quaint, will have sprouted endless identical anonymous suburbs. Backroads will have become four lanes. Favorite haunts will have evaporated, leaving haunted replacements. Solid bedrock will have turned to sand. Your former mastery of your world will have become about as negotiable as leftover Hungarian Florint change, a pocketful of excess weight in the front of your favorite backpack. 'Tiz the way of this world, it seems, to lose whatever once sustained us.

This newer world doesn't feel half as brave as the old one seemed.

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TheOldPlace

PleasantStreet
"New owners are raising their kids within those elegantly crooked rooms and quirky yards …"

By the time I'd grown up enough to move away, I knew every square inch of that short acre. I even knew what lay beneath the landscaping, having scraped, crawled over, or cultivated every corner. I knew that the back forty, as we called the yard behind the garage, lay atop an old creek channel, and so the soil was deeply plated with ovoid rock that drained much too easily. The side yard had been planted over an ancient septic pit. The grass grew much lusher there. Dandelion and plantain favored every inch of the property and required continual scrutiny and counteraction throughout the growing season. We used to spread coal ash clinkers along the driveway in the wintertime. I'd personally dug out the bed alongside the driveway innumerable times, always finding a few half-petrified cherry pits from a tree we'd cut down decades before. I'd fill an old metal wash tub to overflowing with weeds, unwanted roots, and the Silver Maple's helicopter seeds.

TheOldPlace passed out of the family after my father passed.

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ReUniting

reuniting
"A few of these people will always be my friend."

Who did you grow up to be? Probably just who you always were before. I sincerely doubt if any of us ever grow up. Most of us tend to outgrow some of our more troubling tendencies, but most often by some form of out growth rather than by growing much taller than the least of them. Fifty years later, one might manifest a more reliably consistent version of their earlier self without really growing up much. We seem to remain the same kids imbedded within ever bigger people's bodies, still growing into who we probably always were. I speak of we when you probably suspect that I mean 'I', for I can't really know how it must be for you. If you sincerely feel as though you grew up, I say, "God Bless You," and "How did you do that?"

A fiftieth reunion of a high school graduating class comes only once, never to be repeated again. It comes at a reliably inconvenient time,

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Payshunce

payshunsh
"Maybe I can simultaneously like it AND lump it for a change."

Payshunce might be the sole necessary skill of modern life. The faster everything goes, the more everything seems to need to spool up before actually accomplishing anything. The Schooner wants to warm up before we zoot off. The laptop decides when I just want to quickly check something to not simply wake up but to desperately need a full restart, complete with demands for a half-dozen Pastwords I cannot remember in that moment of duress. Traffic moves more slowly than advertised, especially when a few drivers choose to go all Formula One on everybody and thereby slow down the overall flow. Queues naturally slow as they lengthen. It's apparently their nature. Your order won't come up until well after that fleeting wave of hunger has left the building.

One learns Payshunce by having it beaten into them, often at one's own hand.

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PoeTayToe

potato
"This pony ride's over and done."

Yes, Idaho license plates still proclaim Famous Potatoes, and quite properly so, for Idaho remains famous for its potatoes which, I guess, also renders their potatoes famous for being from Idaho. Fame works like this. The most popular category of famous people has always been Famous For Being Famous, with television celebrities topping this species. Fame must be a critical part of potato marketing, for in the East, Maine plays the Famous For Growing Potatoes Card and further West, Grant County in my native Washington state insists that they raise more potatoes than any other county in the country. Making a fuss seems necessary when dealing in a natively bland commodity. Nobody's license plate proudly proclaims Famous Tomatoes or Noteworthy Cabbage. Only the homely old potato holds this distinction: LPF, License Plate Famous.

In Idaho's specific case, the fame seems well-deserved.

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Stranging

Stranging
"He freely floats without ever coming close to feeling free."

Stranging should be considered one of the higher forms of art. It could not qualify as a science, for initial conditions inevitably evade scrutiny or systematic analysis. Strangers show up lost and build out from there, taking whatever presents itself, substance generally unknown and likely unknowable. I was blessed with the ability to feel disoriented even when staring at a properly-oriented and obviously accurate map, because North just doesn't always feel like North to me, and my feelings tend to rule. How I feel about a strange place hardly ever influences that place, though, so I wander off in wrong directions whichever way I go. I convene an argument in my head, my feet dishearteningly heading off in what will very likely turn out to be the wrong direction while my head mumbles dissent without even convincing himself. My head will chastise itself, but no argument will resolve the controversy. I might well find my way there and back again, but only by fortunate accident.

Had I tried to be a frontiersman, I would have been one of those whose bones—their story untold but nonetheless obvious—Later Arrivers find mouldering beneath an ancient cottonwood.

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Ghosting

ghosting
"We're West if, indeed, we're anywhere at all."

The Schooner runs quiet as a ghost. Inside, The Muse and I listen to old jazz, Gene Krupa pounding away on his jungle drums through Bennie Goodman's Sing, Sing, Sing. We could be front row center at that famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert, flopping to feral rhythms. Just outside, a wonderland passes by around us, with high mountain wildflowers punctuating our smooth passage. We quite literally bop through Steamboat and out onto the great basin country beyond, a landscape defined by uplifts, which naturally lift up our spirits, and spirits we seem to become. A town out there is defined as any relatively wide spot featuring a sign. Several of these exhibit no clear signs of life, but they apparently warrant a sign anyway. A scrappy ex-building or two might show where once some enterprising entrepreneur made a go of something, but the cafe sign seems permanently faded and the gas pumps have gone missing. I suspect that most of these "places" have become ghost towns now.

I think it only fitting that we flit between ghost towns out here because we seem to pass as ghosts, too.

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Guesting

guesting
"You're stuck with each other for the duration, at least try to enjoy the dance."

We're all guests here. Neither of us, none of us, have real dominion over the birds in the sky or the beasts in the field, we're stewards. Guesting entails a temporary sharing of a semi-sacred stewardship, with the guest's responsibilities no less or more sacred than their host's. They co-habitate for a spell, the host providing space for the guest to fill. A good guest will fill that thoughtfully-provided space without sucking all of the air out of the rest of the place. They'll appreciate the room, though it's never the best in the house. They will have explicitly explained their preferences and limitations before arriving. Most importantly, the guest should be present, genuinely there, for their presence will serve as their greatest gift to their host and to themselves, so show up on time for meals and limit the appeals for special handling. You represent the Big Door Prize of your stay, but never the Daddy Bear, Mommy Bear, Baby Bear, or Goldilocks. This isn't a fairy tale.

If you find yourself in desperate need of toilet paper or a plunger, speak right up; everyone's been there.

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Power

PowerButton
"it's the superpower I hold rather than the one I'm unlikely to ever possess."

I was yesterday listening to Alan Lightman's audio book In Praise of Wasting Time while mowing the lawn. He told a story from his youth about when he finally connected with a pitch in a Little League ball game. He reported that this was his first experience of power, and felt great surprise that he, a decidedly non-athletic nerd, might also be a powerful person. Later in life, he said that he looked back on that time whenever he faced daunting challenges, convinced deep down that because he had once demonstrated personal power, that he remained a powerful person at root, and so would most likely overcome whatever difficulty he faced.

I think many (if not most) of us do not carry a similar conviction.

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CumpKnee

cumpknee
" … genuine affection might be the only good reason to ever host any houseguest."

A buzz overtakes the place a week before they arrive as if the isolation pod can't quite believe it's about to become a social hub. CumpKnee's coming. The Villa will receive a thorough scrubbing, which means that I will scrub and vacuum and The Muse will dust, I long ago having lost my belief in particles too tiny for visual verification. I crawl the kitchen, utility room, and the garage hall floors, scrubbing as I go. I'll displace chairs and tables to dust mop and vacuum up all those odd bits the houseplants exhale all over the place. I unmake beds and the washing machine finally puts in a full day's work. I remake beds with fresh-smelling linen and rework the guest bath (my bath when no guests are around) and move my detritus into The Muse's bath, a so-called Master Bath within which I am not entirely welcome. I scrutinize the larder and perform an unusually picky shop, selecting stuff necessary to satisfy our guest's stated preferences.

I've become unembarrassed to ask after a prospective guest's preferences and prejudices.

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PreCrastination

precrastination
"I don't seize my days as much as they seem to seize me …"

I must have been born before my time. This world was no more ready for my arrival than I was ready to meet up with it. The world seems to have been playing catch-up since the day I was born. I've tried slowing down, honestly I have, but the world seems dedicated to tailing me, leaving me to cut the sea ice to ease its weary way. I don't mind. I'm uncertain if I could follow tail lights even if I'd ever found any out in front of me. A few years after I've lost interest in what was once a new phenomenon for me, here comes the world just waking up to that item's existence. The fabulously fresh by then seems simply old hat, for I'm off in some newly uncharted direction, making most of it up as I go along.

I have my traditions.

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Service

service
"Best Wishes! Your Customer."

My car dealer treats my like a duke. I'm there for an oil change and I'm greeted with a servile deference ordinarily reserved for visiting royalty. I ain't royalty and I ain't on no diplomatic mission. I came for my twenty four thousand mile service. Nothing more. I am nobody's "Sir." Please do not mind your Ps and Qs with me. Gimme a little shit, please, and I'll give you some in return, then we might hold some chance of connecting, of forming a relationship. Your best behavior seems wasted on me and could not possibly be any less appropriate to this situation. Treat me with less pomp and more attention to the circumstances. I'm unimpressed with that box of fresh doughnuts, which, by the way, seems most interesting to your sales associates, who have formed a steady if stealthy stream through the Customer Waiting Area since I arrived. That TV suspended above me seems more threatening than entertaining, distracting me from my reading. Nobody else's watching it, either.

Service has been earning a bad reputation for decades.

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ShootingStar

shootingStar

"I inch my way along in near total darkness beneath barely pinpricks of light."

Some nights, I wander through dark rooms, refusing to turn on any lights as if testing my muscle memory. I tell myself that I don't want to awaken The Muse, as if any force in this universe could wake up The Muse once she's down, but I feel genuinely comforted by my resulting blindness. I'm also trying to preserve my night sight for what I might find when I peer up into the sky. The neighbor's illegal upward-facing lights try to blind me from this reassuring night as I find a seat and peer up through the ambient evening air. Stars seem to congregate up here, with the occasional satellite floating across the plane. A ShootingStar streaks across before me, there then gone in an instant, more a blink of an experience than an actual one.

No matter how I might peer then, another ShootingStar will not cross my path.

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MovingOn

movingon
" …we drag that home along with us wherever we might get off to."

Out here on the edge of the West, or, as the sign over Golden Colorado's Washington Street insists, Where The West Begins, we enjoy a long tradition of MovingOn. The original inhabitants were nomadic, moving between locations as seasons suggested. Later arrivals showed up after MovingOn from some previous place, many of them nth sons without inheritance to hold them closer to home. Many of those MovedOn to somewhere else when the silver petered out, or moved into a different occupation than hard rock mining. We seem to live in temporary digs, acceptable until whatever passes for silver in our lives peters out. Westerners hold a long tradition of abandoning their past in favor of a more promising or less continually disappointing future. My own forebears rolled those big dice, came West, and somehow survived the transplants. Anyone might think that we're, as a result of this heritage, a fickle people, driving with one foot continually in the ditch, always ready, willing, and able to jump ship. Anyone would be wrong.

MovingOn the Nth time still brings all the anxiety of that first time.

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Thinking and Praying about Thoughts and Prayers

thoughtsandprayers
"Mutually Reassured Delusion absolves everyone."

I've been Thinking and Praying about Thoughts and Prayers, a solipsistic activity which extends no further than my eyebrows and no deeper than my neckline. It's a genuine echo chamber in there, with thoughts chasing prayers, then prayers chasing thoughts until the distinctions between them degrade into an oily, waxy substance that hardly flows at all. I seem more stuck now, mired in self-reference. Had I the wisdom of any second-rate god, I might have resolved this conundrum by now, but the more I think and the more I pray, the more I seem compelled to pray and the less productive my thinking seems to become. I feel like a genuine recursive mess, hoping to produce something useful, perhaps a solution, but at this point, I'd settle for a second-rate resolution. Negotiating the first SALT treaty could not have been as difficult as dealing with the damned gun lobby, and that involved uniformed Russians! And, as every school kid learned in the fifties, you can always trust a communist to be a communist, but even then, they agreed to reduce their weapons in exchange for us agreeing to reduce ours.

Sometimes, something like a Christian comity emerges between two avowed enemies, a mutual back-scratch; an 'I will if you will' agreement.

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Lib'ral

lib'ral
"It's not that we can never go home again, but that we can ONLY go home again …"

We live in a Lib'ral Democracy, yet I struggle to define just what Lib'ral means. Maybe you do, too, especially if you self-identify as a conservative or a radical. The term has been under constant attack from conservatives, radicals, and those who can't quite grok the idea of any form of governance reliant upon emergence as its central organizing principle. Yet in the nearly two hundred years since its emergence, liberalism has utterly transformed the world I inhabit from one which could not imagine what we merely take for granted today. Authoritarianism, which was pretty much the sole form of governance known to the world before, continues to assault what the vast majority of us consider our birthright, but it only has dominion to defend itself against liberalism's subtle but much stronger power. Plodding and painstaking, the Lib'ral seeks to reduce the net suffering in this world, and has succeeded beyond any of its original champions wildest dreams. This is a continuing contest between endless ebb and flow and periodic gush, and though those floodwaters seem overwhelming and permanent, they chose the long-term inevitably losing side.

Unlike you, I suspect, I've been keeping my political head down since the current incumbent stumbled into office a few million popular votes shy of a mandate.

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Health

Health
"Too much scrutiny spoils the soup."

I shrink whenever I enter a Health Food Store. I doubt many of the claims I see advertised there. I came not for salvation, but for non-hydrogenated peanut butter and cheap walnuts. I've never quite qualified as a food faddist, though I might come close to being considered a foodist. I subscribe to Michael Pollin's suggestion that I do eat food, though not too much, and mostly plants. I was raised adjacent to an Adventist community filled with proudly healthy pallid-skinned people who looked like warmed over death and lived to extremely ripe old ages. I've joined food co-ops where I rubbed shoulders with every form of eater known to man, always slipping between the queues to find the cheap but good enough stuff hidden in the bulk section there. I retain a lifelong membership in the Gluten Appreciation Society, an Adele Davis-inspired love of organ meats, and a natural aversion to all soda drinks, especially those touted as especially good for me. I believe Vitamin Water® a scam, whether it is or not, and try hard to avoid the latest recommendations regarding diet. I follow a turn of the twentieth century recipe for cooking beans.

I eat to excess whatever's in season.

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SunflowerSeason

SunflowerSeason
" …a glorious season progressing a scant fortnight per step."

In theory, a season should last about three months. In practice, a season's duration varies considerably depending upon location. Somewhere in middle America and perhaps Slovakia, spring lasts three months, everywhere else, it persists longer or less. Should one manage to stay in the same place they grew up in for the rest of their life, one would instinctively sense when a season changed. The rest of us fumble with the obvious differences between what the calendar insists and what we're experiencing outside. Here along the Colorado Rockies' Foothills, to this recent transplant, seasons seem to unpredictably lead and lag. Winter weather will probably infringe upon both autumn and spring, sometimes even summer. Even summer, though, near the middle of its advertised presence, varies from day to day, even hour to hour, leading me to propose that the traditional notion of three month seasons might have never been terribly germane. Seasons seem conveniently subdivided into better-suited sets.

Two short weeks ago, Sweetgrass Season reigned; now, SunflowerSeason.

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UnderThinking

existential
" … with meaningful insights struggling to be seen, much less appreciated, …"

I was going to write about OverThinking today, but I discovered that I'd already written about that three years ago. I caught myself in one of those rumination loops common to my practice. Prior considering will have only rarely settled anything. I believe that I could infinitely consider any topic and still fail to stumble upon much of a conclusion. Conclusions, I tell myself, seem over-rated, anyway. If I am because I think, as Descartes so proudly proclaimed, thinking might serve as a precondition to my even being here. Should I ever stop, Descartes might predict that I'd simply disappear. Not that my disappearing would necessarily set back civilization even an angry inch. Thinking serves as one of those activities which somehow survives without ever having acquired a cogent definition of itself. In that respect, thinking and I might be fraternal twins. I spend most of every day in my head, thinking, as the presumption goes, but perhaps not OverThinking so much as UnderThinking there.

UnderThinking seems an art, for its purpose couldn't possibly be simple representation.

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Rooms

huge-house-plans-with-second-floor-huge-homes-pinterest-floors-plans-love-house-plans
"It was memorable for a reason nobody could explain …"

Bradford and Hillary Keeney speak of Rooms. Should I feel constrained in the present room, I might simply move to a larger room, one capable of properly containing me. Likewise, should a room feel too roomy, I might move to a room more suited to my size. Bradford and Hillary speak metaphorically, of course, but I've been feeling overly unconstrained lately, as if my present room were considerably larger than necessary, than appropriate for my present endeavors. I feel as though I cannot fill the rooms I enter these days, as if each one had been designed to contain a larger person, a much larger personality than I bring to my game, for I hold humbled aspirations now. I no longer aspire to achieve greater things, but lately acknowledge that my accomplished achievements might well mark the high water mark of my career and my life. I understand and accept that our universe continually expands, but I find this a poor excuse to mimic it. I ain't no universe.

Or, rather, I ain't no large-infinity universe.

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EarlyMorning

EarlyMorning

"I will have in EarlyMorning warmed up the bed for him to wallow around in …"

The diners and coffee shops seem to fill with geezers first. Later, the driven corporate types trickle in, thinking that they've seized another day, only to find the territory already settled by second-cup sipping self-satisfied retirees, hard-core unemployables, and maybe a writer or two, those for whom EarlyMorning offers their sole refuge. Nobody watches them rise. Nobody's even trying to catch them along their way. They will become increasingly invisible throughout the following day. They have little left to aspire after, having found their eigenvalue, though they find great fulfillment acknowledging that they once again managed to beat that lucky old sun at his own eternal game.

Not even the magpies hear him rise.

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Downtime

Downtime
"The Muse ultimately makes this call."

I will never suspect. I might have noticed a creeping lethargy, a budding indifference, a blooming I Just Don't Care attitude, but I will not suspect that I might have contracted a bug of any sort. In my mind, one can only properly declare illness for a) a runny nose, b) runny bowels, c) sore throat, d) fever, and/or e) a broken bone; basically the same list of acceptable excuses for missing a day in elementary school. Dizzy disorientation falls well north of any threshold under which I can legally claim myself to be under any weather, since I consider it a part of what passes for my usual countenance. I get confused sometimes, as a normal part of my continuing inquiries. The Muse notices, investigates, then declares me out of the game. "There's a bug going around," she says, and I crumble into bed.

I have never made it a habit to schedule personal downtime.

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Deadheading

deadheading
"Gardening demands a certain heartlessness."

Gardening demands a certain heartlessness. It ain't all tender nurturing, but also involves a studied brutality: pruning, plucking, trimming, and the curiously-named Deadheading. No, Deadheading has nothing to do with a popular musical group from the sixties, but involves removing spent blossoms and their bud tips to encourage fresh blooming. Deadheading prolongs the purpose of planting the flowers, extending the blooming season beyond what it would otherwise have been. It's picky work, likely to damage the plant should it be clumsily performed. It tries the patience of even the more contemplative gardeners, insisting upon an extended level of focus almost orthogonal to quietly enjoying blossoming flowers.

I water our petunia planters every couple of days through midsummer.

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Exes

exes
"My first wife will forever have the flu on our honeymoon and my second will always have a cold."

My first wife had the flu for our honeymoon. My second caught a cold. My third wife caught nothing except me, an infection for which there might not be any effective cure, thank heavens. My first marriage ended after I'd fallen in love and turned into a giddy and somewhat irresponsible seventeen year old at thirty-five, my first and most significant mid-life crisis. My second marriage ended after I told a terrible lie. Accused of carrying on an affair I had not engaged in, I admitted to it after realizing that I could never convince anyone, who's identity so utterly depended upon me being such a cad, that she'd just imagined my infidelity. She despised my kids, anyway, which meant in my mind that she deeply despised me. Neither of these disconnects ever got talked out, for each was beyond words to explain. My first wife insisted that we go see a marriage counsellor, but refused to go back a second time when she discovered that the counsellor wouldn't take sides. I continued seeing her and still speak with her today. She's served as my fair witness and refuses to take pay because she insists that I'm an interesting case. My second wife just asked that I thereafter think of her as dead.

While both relations became beyond words as they moved into their ex- states, conversations continued in my head.

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TheSummerOf1969

summer-1969-lt-blue-prints

"I guess I would have swallowed most anything then, and likely did."

If you weren't there, you're unlikely to believe a word I say describing that time. TheSummerOf1969 seems in the future now, an idyllic upcoming state those of us who were there briefly glimpsed as we sped by. No, I'm not suggesting that everything was rosy then. I lived under the clear and always-present threat that I would be drafted to fight in a meaningless war half way around the globe. My hometown remained securely in the clutches of an entrenched plutocracy. But I'd somehow survived the gulag that was my high school and I really felt as though I was at least ninety percent upside. I had nothing to regret yet. I had not yet fallen hopelessly in love. I had close friends in high places, and while I didn't share their obsession with getting high, I found their presence nonetheless elevating. We fancied ourselves radical and were frantically growing our hair to prove it. Our future was finally now!

The world today isn't painted in the same alluring hues.

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BeaLonging

sunlitcloudtop
"The curtain hardly falls before another fist cloud boils up into the last of any day's sunlight."

The drenching rain comes in the third act, once the set-up drama just about ends. Some small overlap seems necessary for a smooth transition, but the drenching foreshadows the end. The credits will roll over driveways and ditches draining away the final residue and the standing water starting to seep into soil hardly thirsty by then. I might not even stay up for the final acts, since I prefer the dramatic lead-up much more than the down falling denouement. I appreciate the moisture, but worship the thunder and the lightning.

I saw what first appeared to be tall sails slipping above low clouds already in sunset's shadow.

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Fambly

fambly
"We think of ourselves as something really quite special, …"

My birth family seemed obsessed with visiting each other. We never once went on a vacation that wasn't primarily focused upon visiting family. We'd arrive and the Brownies would come out and the photographing commenced, lining up the cousins in stair step order, the sisters in mirror proximity, the in-laws as if they were genuine brothers. We also rarely stayed in motels, for there was always some family we could drop in on for at least one night when we were in transit. I suspect that we sometimes came as somewhat of a shock when, near sundown, we'd happen to be near Chico and call ahead to my mom's uncle to announce that the seven of us would be there around suppertime, but we were never once turned away, because we were Fambly.

This was my birth family's experience.

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SumMorning

SumMorning
" … because I'm already there."

A velvet curtain covered the windows overnight, so thin and permeable that the light breeze could squeeze right through its intricate weave. Morning light slipped through, too, as if the curtain's velvet has expanded to texturize the entire atmosphere. The sunrise screamed through the muffling haze that this would become one of the hotter days, but then, before the paper came, before I could rouse my upside-down American flag on it's stand, the land reclined in perfect ambience. Yesterday's extremes seemed at that early hour a bad dream, though even those extremes hardly blunted my seasonal enthusiasm. We wait through nine or ten months of disparagement for mornings just like this one, mornings which seem to last forever before seeming simply fleeting.

The flower garden's finally as fine as it's going to get, with experiment and old reliable doing their best to please.

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KeepingUp

KeepingUp
"I understand that I'm only marginally worthy of the fruits of their efforts."

I try to keep up, honest I do. I scan the morning news. I do avoid broadcast news, though. Trump's election broke my decades-long addiction to NPR. (Interns seem to have overthrown genuine journalists on NPR. I can tell because they elevate the end of every statement into a question, an annoying affectation.) The fact that it's on the tube chased me away from most televised news, though The Muse and I will sometimes watch the PBS Newshour on a Friday evening just to finish off the week; besides there's nothing else on at that hour. The various nightly newscasts, thoughtfully aired in late afternoon when we're still nose to grindstone, seem as over-produced as any campy Broadway musical. The cable alternatives have priced themselves out of our reach. We unprogrammed our remote's access to our local Faux station, but they never very convincingly pretended to be very interested in broadcasting news. They're a shameless, transparent propaganda distributor. I wonder how they keep their FCC license, or would wonder if I didn't know who was running the FCC these days.

As near as I can determine, anything our President touts as fake news is the God's honest truth news and whatever he touts as honest news is absolutely fake.

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Metalogue

metalogue1

" … a snake chasing his own tail,
still deeply uncertain what he might do should he ever finally catch up to it."

Prose comes in many forms: dialogue, monologue, diatribe, lecture, and scold, to name but a scant few of the more frequently encountered types. Fiction and non-fiction hardly stand as distinctive designations, each more dependent upon the author's intention than any pervasively factual foundation. Historical fiction can and does sometimes seem to better represent a period than does scrupulously fact-based history. Commentary takes many forms, and so might be accurately described as a meta-form, one not beholding to any standard classification. Much prose follows subtle rules that if they were ever written down, I haven't found the source document delineating them yet. To speak of these underlying forms seems to require violating those underlying forms, to go meta or mina to them, for speaking of a form seems to require sidestepping the form itself, which might subtly prohibit self-reference as a premise for employing it. My personal ethic to avoid telling people what to do cannot be conveyed by telling people not to tell people what to do, and this highlights the paradoxical territory speaking of underlying forms traverses.

People have been after me to classify my own writing, which I've always found to be a challenge. I can more easily declare what it's not than what it might be.

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Righting

righting
"Perhaps I might be an author after all."

I earlier this morning finished copyediting a manuscript I "finished" ten months ago. Copyediting and writing seem antithetical to each other, like shining the brass has almost nothing in common with building a ship from scratch, but the overall effort's uncompleted until somebody polishes that brass. I find this work to be, well, real work, unlike writing, which doesn't usually feel very much like work to me anymore. Furthermore, it feels like picky work, the sort that demands close attention without really paying for it. I'd read each piece before, even scrupulously copyediting them, though I'd never read through the whole work as if I were reading a whole work, which provided a unique experience for me to read something I'd written as if I was a scrupulous reader rather than the proud and slightly defensive author.

I felt surprisingly pleased with this author's work.

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Sturm und Drang

strumunddrang
"An old saying insists that Sturm und Drang signifies nothing"

I am not a man given to emotional outbursts. I hail from a placid valley where a summer day might passive-aggressively scorch but only rarely degrade into fearful vengeance. Colorado's Front Range experiences a different midsummer normal. Here, a July day's temperature routinely ranges forty degrees or more between sunrise and sunset, heating quickly as morning progresses before monsoonal moisture erupts. The fabled hiss of summer lawns by mid afternoon might routinely transform into brisk then fierce wind followed by first distant thunder, then terrifyingly close lightning, then drenching rain. Colorado's summer weather has serious mood lability issues, and one can reasonably expect it to turn unreasonable with little warning.

It's Texas' fault, a reasonable if slightly unfair attribution.

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ComingOfAge

Coming-of-Age
"I expect to continue ComingOfAge until my accumulated age catches up to me,
not until I finally catch up with my age. "

I'm supposed to attend my fiftieth high school reunion in a few weeks, and this event has me ruminating. I was ComingOfAge when I graduated, not yet eighteen and emotionally unprepared to accept that I'd grown up. In fact I had not then completed growing up and cannot yet admit to having finished that labor, for ComingOfAge seems an asymptotic activity, one which never fully completes its mission. I seem to have been chasing the chimera of maturity for as long as I can remember, always pursuing a mythical stable next state which seems to have always been replaced with yet another looming ascension as I grew nearer to it. I remember never having quite grown up into feeling like a fully-qualified high school student when graduation came along, just like I never quite satisfied my aspiration to feel as though I fit into my Junior High School class before graduating from there. Ditto with my grade school and preschool experiences, and ditto to every role I've attempted to assume so far.

I've grown to question whether anyone ever comes of age.

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Calculess

carbon-footprint-1
"I might be damned whatever tradeoff I choose."

'They' say that the size of my personal carbon footprint depends upon the tradeoffs I resolve, a series of this or that choices. Many of the choices come cloaked, relying upon me to be alert and aware and present enough to realize in a narrow moment that I'm supposed to be making a choice there. Like most everyone, I live much more automatically than this prescription relies upon me living. I only rarely think twice and even less often ruminate much on whatever choice I've already made, each completed action a sunk cost more than a lesson truly learned. Most of my carbon emissions result from me flipping a bloodless switch. Even so,I know myself to be a serial carbon emitter of the first order in spite (and sometimes because) of my deeply held concern about our precious climate. I'm good as far as that goes, but I'm fairly certain that it's not nearly good enough to matter.

Look, I'd take public transportation if it was available, but it's not.

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SlackerDay

fistclouds
"Aren't we all?"

The Muse and I become more insistent than actually obsessive come Saturday morning. We both know what we'll do. Beyond the age when we're obligated to attend any juvenile soccer games, we understand that Saturday morning's reserved far in advance for restocking the larder. This routine repeats itself without becoming ever the same each time, for as the seasons progress, different necessities emerge. In January, our go-to family-run produce stand's closed for the season, so we're relegated to picking through the less discerning supermarket's variety. In high July, though, that stand's finally wide-open, past the Saturdays when they offered the choice between onions and potatoes or both.

Asparagus was finished last week, other than that pencil dick, past season stuff that could be credibly hollowed out and fitted with a graphite core and used for scribbling.

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MuseGone

DCConventionCenter
"Those boundary conditions and the rhythm they encourage make my work possible."

The Muse is off galavanting this week. Part of her job involves galavanting, traveling off to conduct business somewhere else. She's done enough of this over the past decade that this week she was named Grand PooBah for Life by the Marriott Hotel Chain. This guarantees that she receives special service, a steep discount, room upgrades, and free high speed internet for life at every Marriott-owned property in the world. She almost always travels alone, leaving me to tend fort while she forays off into hostile territory. Our little fort hardly needs tending, save for watering the plants, so my schedule opens waaaaay up during these absences. Her away schedule allows for two brief check-in periods each day, one while she wends her way to her first morning meeting and another as she wends her way back to her upgraded room and high speed internet service at the end of another over-long day.

These check-ins usually find us with little news.

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SweetGrassSeason

sweetgrass
"Do not speak of yesterday or tomorrow today."

The hard luck farmers and harder luck miners who originally founded Denver were probably pretty much ready to head back to from wherever they'd come after that first hard winter and disappointing spring, until a couple of scant weeks into summer and SweetGrassSeason kicked in. Up until then, the region had meted out one humiliation after another. False springs had taunted their cabin fever. Heavy snow had isolated and humbled them. The foreshortened fall before had surrendered too quickly into an early blizzard. I imagine them forlorn with a nagging spouse questioning again just what had seemed so promising about here. But then SweetGrassSeason arrived.

The sky had been cranky, mustering up quick tempestuous thunder carrying torrential rain and hail every damned afternoon.

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StayingUp

stayingUp2
"I prefer to think of eternity not as some pearly-gated community …"

When I was about eight years old, I enjoyed no higher privilege than one I created for myself. I'd head for bed at the prescribed hour, feign almost immediate sleep until the bed check passed, then pull my bread-loaf sized radio under the covers with me and listen in to a live broadcast from The Big Y, a turnaround point on the long Main Street drag frequented by high school kids out dragging the gut. The program featured popular music punctuated with news alerts. One unforgettable night, the DJ announced the escape of a kinkajou from a traveling circus. Several nights, someone had escaped from the state penitentiary up on the hill at the far end of thirteenth street. I laid there, warmed by the radio's etherial glow, feeling as though I was situated near the center of the universe. I fell asleep satisfied sometime in the uncountable early morning hours.

A few years later, I took an early morning paper route and over the following several years, transferred that StayingUp reflex into a GettingUp one, finding them both equally satisfying, for both provided that bounded solitude I seemed to crave.

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SigjawPuzzle

sigjaw
"I'm more of a tape the box together sort of guy …"

I've put this puzzle back together scores of times. Each time, the age-worn pieces fit together a little differently. My memory holds an impressionistic representation of what the finished picture should be, mostly composed of reanimated routines snugging within old familiars, but it never seems to end up just as I remembered it being before. Each completion an off iteration of whatever had come before. Leaving crumbles the puzzle into constituent pieces, throwing them haphazardly into a box half Scotch® taped together, cover photo faded and worn. Returning pulls that box back out of the game cupboard to lay out those pieces for reassembly, tedious but necessary effort. One cannot stay away for ever and one can never return to find the SigJawPuzzle already completed.

It might not matter where I begin.

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Lagging

WoolyWilly
" … creating a self-portrait on a Wooly Willy canvas … "

I confided to The Muse that I probably should not be out. We both felt delicate, me having risen at 3am in the guest bed, having no recollection of how I had gotten myself there. The Muse, a reliable last riser, was already up. The laundry was done by seven. We'd gone out shopping at five thirty, aware that we'd left the larder bare when we'd departed for Europe two weeks before. When we arrived at the supermarket, neither of us could think of anything we needed to buy. We returned with a gallon of milk, a quart of yogurt, and a dozen eggs, all of which would remain untouched by the end of that day.

"Where are you going?" The Muse asked as I blew past the exit I had intended to take.

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Pavements

cobblestone-09
"Those weaned on concrete should struggle to absorb it all."

The flight paths into and out of Denver International Airport have not yet been paved, as evidenced by the routine insistence by every pilot of every arriving and departing flight that cabin service be either suspended three quarters of an hour before landing or delayed for a similar period after takeoff. These departures and arrivals prove to be white knuckle affairs for everyone except the flight crew, and even they give their seat belts an extra snugging tug. I find myself anxiously anticipating every departure and every return before finally submitting to the necessity of experiencing this ordeal, though I don't like or appreciate a minute of these adventures.

In the US, pavements tend toward the uniformly boring.

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RulesOfTheRoad

RulesOfTheRoad
"We expect ourselves to behave like the fully functioning adults we know ourselves to be …"

The Muse and I have traveled plenty. We're not genuine World-class travelers, but we've managed to make our way anyway. Our relationship began during a period of rather intense business travel, which we always managed, in the spirit of any fresh relationship, to make into net pleasurable excursions. A week in Winston-Salem rivaled a week in Rome, for we were younger then and so deeply in love. We learned our ropes, our RulesOfTheRoad under perhaps the most positive conditions. We learned not to take much of anything that happens very personally, for grudgy effects could sour an otherwise delightful experience. Stuff happens, inconveniences conspire, it's nothing more than their nature, but we never agreed to become pawns to their conniving games and always managed to have a vote in every outcome. We noticed early on that some people seem to travel for the pure aggravation it provides in their lives. Listening to their travel stories seemed like listening to a particularly vengeful prosecutor talking himself into filing a viscous bill of particulars. Flights arrived late. Hotel reservations lost. Dinners uneatable. Of course these minor distractions happen to everyone who deigns to move beyond the secure confines of home, but none of them amount to the stuff anyone should aspire to make into a Federal case. We early on decided that these amounted to nothing much more than plot twists and need not ever very deeply influence the quality of any outcome. So we arrived hours later than planned? We call this sort of occurrence a So What?.

We do have a few rather hard and fast rules which we intend to help ensure domestic tranquility.

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Traveling

traveling
"I expect my shadow to continue to surprise me whenever I chance to see it."

"They" say that travel broadens one. If it does, it accomplishes this end by successively narrowing perspective. From the row twenty-two aisle seat on the transatlantic flight to the semi-private compartment on a Central European train through Slovakia, remarkably tiny spaces contain most of traveling. The broadening, more a smearing, actually, must come from switching out these spaces over relatively short periods of time. Travel from Budapest to Prague involves witnessing a few foreshortened hours of quickly shifting vistas through farmland, picturesque villages about the size of a photograph of them, and through tiny train stations before finally slow-crawling into the massive train yard in Prague. Likewise, walking those old cobbled Prague streets provides no more than the narrowest perspective on the place at any one time. A walk might take one through a half-dozen remarkably narrow passages where one can't see more than a few meters ahead or behind them self. Even the view from the Prague Castle parapet provides less perspective than I might catch from our deck back home. Yet, near the end of an excursion, ten or twelve days in, I feel as though I can see much more broadly than I could from my deck back home.

We spent a few days in a genuinely tiny apartment in Budapest which featured a view clear across a narrow street.

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BurrLynn

BurrLynn
"Nuthin-particularly-special, but plenty and enough."

Berlin feels more like an extended suburb than a world capitol. It stretches from horizon to horizon to horizon to horizon, hardly rising from the horizontal plane. It clearly ain't no New York, Paris, London, Prague, Vienna, or Rome. It's looks like more of a Gary, Indiana sort of place with a few canals and a small river thrown in. It once, like many other capital cities, aspired to become the capital of the world, though by aspect alone, it hardly could have ever realistically consummated that romance. It fell, hard, dividing itself instead, a cautionary tale for any place defensively lusting after becoming some place more special than they were. It holds few treasures and more cold memories than any similarly-sized space on earth.

The more affluent neighborhoods have populated their sidewalks, making them appear no different from any other yuppie enclave anywhere in the world.

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Good&Lost

Good&Lost
"We can always choose to get bad and lost without really choosing anything."

Neither The Muse nor I seem to be immune from getting lost. Even assisted by GPS and the almost always available GoogleMaps app, we still get lost. We can't credibly blame these occurrences on the mapping software because it's just software and therefore eminently fallible. We can't always blame ourselves, either, and not only because blaming never found anything. In order for blaming to find anything, it would have to reverse the ineffable forward flow of time, which would be an unrealistically heavy lift for anybody. Blaming suggests just going back for a do-over, but there's never any going back and therefore no do-over possible. Getting lost seems an inescapable element of living and probably not that much of a problem, anyway, though it certainly seems like the problem it isn't.

I figure that getting lost serves as a force leveler, protecting me from getting what my mother would call "too big of a head."

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GrandEntrances

GrandEntrance
"We will have no opportunity to remake that first impression with another GrandEntrance."

The Romans perfected this schtick. Following some victory in Gaul or equally far-flung place, a triumphant general would ride ahead of his legions into Rome with much heraldry and trumpet-blowing. Employing the photographic technology of the time, the celebration would then be painstakingly carved into a bas relief and cemented into a city wall. An arch might be constructed over the following century or two, ensuring that this victory would live long in the citizens' memory. Today, some nerd schlumps off a long train ride to insist that he doesn't need a cab or a tram or even a subway ride. He and his lovely wife will instead drag their roller-bags through the middle of town during the height of the evening strolling hour. A lasting impression will remain, but mostly in the minds of those pulling those bags over dispassionate cobblestone. Finally arriving sweaty and breathless at their hotel, they receive the dispassionate attention of a distracted night clerk before proceeding without trumpetry to their room where they will leave a temporary bas relief of their exhaustion in the bedcovers when they rise the next morning.

The Muse and I have produced a considerable history of making GrandEntrances such as the latter.

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ClearingOut

clearout
" … open to discovering fresh futures."

At some point near the end of the first reel or the beginning of the second, the desperadoes would have done about as much damage as they could, given that a posse was at that very minute closing in on them. One of the bad guys, not necessarily the leader, would stand a little taller in his saddle and proclaim, "Let's clear out, boys!" Amid general disarray, then, the desperadoes would depart. I'm thinking about the notion of ClearingOut this morning, as The Muse and I pack up to head on toward our next destination. The refrigerator's emptied and swabbed out. Counters clean. All but the last load of garbage already sits in the bottom of the bin. The bathroom's returned to its original state, our bag's packed, and I'm an hour ahead of our scheduled departure time.

In my home life, I clear out about once a year, usually as spring threatens to cast a scornful light upon accumulated remaining winter sloth, but I never clear out to this degree except when moving.

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