#PureSchmaltz

HistoryLessen

JuneMorning
June Morning, Thomas Hart Benton

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

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

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

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PlantingSeason

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

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

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

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InstantFamily

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

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

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

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Neighbors

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


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

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

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Asympbotic

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


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

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

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Handyman Dave

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

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

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

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Gluten

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

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

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

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Civility

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

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

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

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OldFashioned

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

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

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

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Suddenlies

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

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

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

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Chislic

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

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

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

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Plotting

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

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

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

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Birdlife

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

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

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

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NotGoingHome

NotHome
"We must be heading somewhere else."

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

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

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Reveal

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

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

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

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Blogging

blogging
"I write, therefore I blog."

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

I'm no computer wiz.

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SouDakoda

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

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

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

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Blah!

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

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

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

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GoodNeighbors

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

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

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

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Pegboard

pegboard1
"I find myself at peace."

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

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

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Aren't

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

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

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

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Anonymity

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

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

Anonymity imparts a ghost-like presence.

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Bottomless

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

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

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

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SockedIn

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

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

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

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Betweenings

betweening
"It's so quiet here."

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

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

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Endings

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

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

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

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SittingWithTheMess

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

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

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

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SomethingNew

woodchips
"A truly terrible influence, indeed."

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

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

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Untiming

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

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

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

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Waiting ...

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

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

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

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StillLearningAgain

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

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

Some learning requires real dedication, though.

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BeadBoard

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

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

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

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High February

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

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

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

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Closure

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

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

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

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Pastwords

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

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

Let's say that I did forget my password.

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LastClass

lastclass


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

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

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

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Vortexting

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

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

The pull comes from opposite directions.

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TheStoriesITellMyself

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

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

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

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Cusp

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

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

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

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Garage

garage
"Whatcha doing' Mr. David?"

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

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

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OutToGetYou

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

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

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

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Meanness

Hob Nail Boots
Fascism is colonialism aimed inward.

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

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

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Museless

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

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

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

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DeepContingency

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

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

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

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Townie

Townie
"We're the same, hardly different, but seem so different, hardly the same at all."

When I tell people that I grew up in Walla Walla, Washington, most quite understandably consider me to be a country boy, though I'm not. Yes, I grew up surrounded by country, but my birth family lived in town, actually a small city featuring pretty much every amenity one might find in any large city. I went to grade and high school with country kids, ones who rode busses long miles in from farms and ranches out in what I, as a townie, considered to be the hinterlands every bit as much as my big city-bred colleagues consider my hometown to be a backwater. I was raised on Pleasant Street, a few bicycle-shortened blocks away from a corner grocery, grade school, and the primary city park. I grew street savvy cruising alleyways on that bike, discovering shortcuts, and delivering newspapers. I told The Muse when I first met her that I grew up in a Walt Disney movie. She later confirmed my assertion when she visited the place.

My small city held a microcosm of the larger world.

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YourAge

bus1
"I won’t play anything by Elton John now, even if you ask nice."

The Thirtieth of March is a national holiday in this family. It's The GrandOtter's birthday, always celebrated with a fresh poem! Here's today's:

Your Age

When I was Your Age,
I was waiting for a bus.
Not a literal bus, but a figurative one.
I imagined that some person or call
would magically appear, bundle me up,
and whisk me out of The Valley They Liked So Well, They Named It Twice.

My high school had declared me Not College Material,
so I possessed no dodge to distract me from the world
until I’d completed the process of growing into it.

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EyeSight®

EyeSight
"Complacency could, I well appreciate, become deadly, just like when I'm not behind any wheel."

The new car (as yet unnamed) came with a feature I'd never heard of before the test drive: EyeSight. I suspect that it uses some sort of radar to keep track of the traffic surrounding us. When someone slips into one of the blind spots, left or right, a small light illuminates on the corresponding exterior rear view mirror to warn us. Most remarkably, punching a button and flipping a switch invokes a special sort of cruise control that maintains a constant distance between our car and the one in front of it. If I punch in sixty five, the standard freeway speed around here, the car will maintain that speed unless the one in front slows down below that speed, in which case it will merely track behind that car at the same distance, even stopping if, as often happens here, the line of vehicles ahead slows to a stop before speeding up when that line resumes moving again, no foot required on any pedal.

I'm not always a champion of technological improvements.

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Cherub

cherub
"He even appreciates some of my taller tales, but not nearly as much as he loves his video games."

My grandson skitters around the floor at my feet. We were talking about going for a hike, but thunder snow moved in before we could get clear of the door. We went out in the backyard to play for a spell, but he just wanted to throw snowballs at me. Fortunately, he's a lousy shot. I fired back until my hands went numb, he taunting me from the deck above, me feeling like so much cannon fodder far below. I finally begged off the excursion and we came back inside where he took up with his new StarWars set, a Lego toy that, much to his continuing delight, shoots little light blue projectiles. He's been flying the Millennium Falcon around the house for a couple of hours now, with no sign of exhaustion yet.

Of course he's a little angel, though not nearly as little or as angelic as he was just a couple of years ago.

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Splatt!

Populus_fremontii_Zapata-5
"… the absolute absurdity of everything comes to a head"

The morning after the welcoming Spring snowstorm found us, my son, grandson, and I, investigating along Clear Creek, a stream lined with tall cottonwoods which were quietly dropping snow from their branches in a process we immediately labeled Splatting. Standing beneath any of these behemoths would shortly give us reason to giggle, as a branchful of wet snow might slap the side of someone face or plop onto the crown of my Borsalino. Wearing a hat seemed a definite advantage because our goal was not to avoid any Splatt!, but to receive one, even many. We plotted where might constitute the most likely place for a Splatt!, then test our theory before moving on to even splattier places.

We're dangerous, the three of us, when we get together.

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Grooven't

Groove
" … secretly hoping I won't see it here lest our eyes meeting simply chase it away again."

Disruption seems in endless conflict with flow, that mystical state from where, the Self-Helpless Industry insists, real creativity, productivity, and most every other -ivity floweth. Simple disruptions seem every bit as powerful as their larger, more complex brethren, pulling my eye off whatever ball I'm trying to stay focused upon and thereby fouling me out. A small jot of turbulence renders me unable to read the fascinating novel I carried on to entertain me through the flight. I feel trapped then, unable to do much of anything but struggle to suppress what I understand to be a completely unwarranted panic. Losing a wing could hardly induce any greater disruptive response.

I return from a lengthy absence, expecting to quickly regain the old groove, only to find that groove not nearly as smooth as I remember it being before I left. Grooven't.

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HomeCombing

homecombing
" …I did not have to plan a single move."

Arriving back at my current permanent address after seven weeks' absence feels like my first visit here except all my stuff's already arranged just as I would have organized it. I remember where to find stuff without having to think too awfully hard about it. I feel as though I've gained some prescient superpower that allows me to just move toward what I need to find it there. I vaguely remember some hint of a suggestion that I used to spend seven days out of seven behind these doors, but it seems like fiction to me. For the last weeks, every move seemed to require forethought, often followed by investigation. At first, this novelty entertained us. Later, it seemed oppressive. Supper seemed more obligatory chore than rightful reward.

We left the kitchen bare when we departed, so the first order of business just had to be stocking the larder, just with bare necessities.

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BuffCountry

buffcountry
"So much the worse for me, I guess."

Once you get about three hundred miles East from the Pacific Ocean, you enter BuffCountry. On Interstate 84, it starts just East of Hood River, Oregon, but fully emerges only after breaching the Blue Mountains' summit. To the East lies days of travel through the most obviously bleak landscape. Scorched hills. Buff brown fields. Apparent wasteland. In the West, geologic history left the land short of soil. Some more enterprising plants moved in, few of them what anyone would label really green, with grayish probably the most popular choice. The few green plants managing to make a living there only serve to amplify the contrast. Green's rare. Buff brown dominates.

My first visit to Albuquerque left me with the impression that nobody there took care of their yards.

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Receding

receding
"We're just passing through tonight."

If I stay in one place long enough, the whole world seems to snuggle in around me. What's near remains near; far away stays put. Others might move into and back out of the scene, but a serene stability settles in to surround me. I find this sensation not even a tiny bit confining, but quite the opposite. I find it liberating, for within that close confine, I sense my place in this world as well as the world's proper place in my space. We exist in a reassuring balance, one where I feel about as free as I ever expect to feel.

We headed back to Colorado early this morning before the sun had topped the still snow-capped foothills.

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ChickenLittle

chickenlittle
" …that old reliable sky keeps falling."

Chicken Little was right. The sky is falling. His observation was not particularly insightful, for he merely stated what might well have been obvious to any observer had they been paying attention and willing to speak their "truth." That he was later shown, to the satisfaction of his neighbors, to be a fool, merely demonstrates the iffy nature of sharing one's particular "truth" and failing to follow the party line. It had become, then as now, the overwhelmingly popular misconception that the sky was not, indeed, falling, but Master Little must have not received the memo, for it's difficult for even someone as studiously cynical as myself to believe that Little performed an overt act of dissent. He was not, by all accounts, that sort of bird.

So he spoke an obvious truth, but one that almost everyone knew polite people never publicly declare.

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Grace

Eric_Enstrom_-_Grace_-_bw
"Drives me freaking crazy."

I imagine The Gods conspiring over a few beers on a particularly jocular Gods' Night Out evening, just how to drive mortals most crazy. Some, the more hard-assed traditionalists, argued that nothing beat a decent pestilence, but the younger smart-assed contingent carried that conversation after the third (or was that the fourth?) IPA. The whippersnappers convinced the others that nothing, not war, pestilence, grief, or even rampaging boogiemen hoards could beat a periodic dose of grace, undeserved beneficence. What other gift could be more shockingly humbling? What other experience could so consistently hush a haughty mouth? What other outcome better encourages acceptance of a great mystery, the very soul of The Gods' eternal branding strategy?

And so it came to pass that the least of us totally undeserving would occasionally come to experience genuine grace.

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LastDay

LastDay
"Momentum's grinding gearbox knows only forward …"

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

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

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SecularSunday

needlenose
"Bread and water will do for now."

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

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

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TimeCapsule

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

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

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

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TheConking

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

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

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

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ShortTime

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

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

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

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Unpreparedness

unpreparedness
" …the great and often surprising gifts …"

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

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

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Windows

doublehung
" …shortcomings prominently displayed."

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

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

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Doors

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

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

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

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Hometown

fisheyewallawalla
"I hardly recognize the place anymore."

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

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

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Connotatively

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

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

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

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DispassionatePursuit

passionsysphesus
"I seek my jollies elsewhere now."

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

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

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WhirledAffairs

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

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

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

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Calm-amity

6406-Ionic-Ivory
"We seem to try to avoid salvation, sometimes failing. Thank heavens."

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

No real harm.

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Sandstorm

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

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

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

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ShadowTime

shadowtime
"
Maybe I've earned some supper tonight."

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

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

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TheGrandOther

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

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

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

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Stewartship

stewardship1
" … stewardship seems to be forever."

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

I'm sort of a sucker for stewardship.

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Disagreeable

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

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

Except on some issues.

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MumblingMeditation

brush-clipart-house-paint-4
" …the kind of knowingly only we could know but could not possibly explain to anybody else."

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

Painting a single board won't induce the trance.

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Springing

springing
"This must be how the future comes."

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

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

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The Illusion Of Communication

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

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

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

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TheTrick

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

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

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

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TheCrud

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

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

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

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Beer

moritz-s-a_u-l-p2aml00
"I whacked my share of moles in the grand Whack-A-Mole game today."

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

The purpose of beer must be to provide that buoyancy.

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GoodWork

OldPaint
" … my good work took them there."

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

What made it good work?

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Schedules

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

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

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

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TheWorkingman

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

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

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

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Exhaustion

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

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

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

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Sport

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

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

I didn't ask to bloom differently.

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ShoppingSmall

shopsmall
"We'd eat dirt first, …"

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

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

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HomeCaming

HomeCaming1
"They warmly acknowledge both that we once passed by here and that we are back …"

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

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

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FengShui

FENG-SHUI4
"What harm could it possibly do?"

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

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

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Idle-ick

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

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

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Ashes To ...

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

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

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

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ReModled

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

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

Not that I'm yet persuaded to play hooky.

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FamilyTalk

972871ae38e3d4ca2dc524205621cc56
"Explaining it only ensures that it won't seem all that funny or insightful to anyone else."

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

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

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ASimpleRoom

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

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

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

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SoapOpera

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

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

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Wired

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

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

Much of life seems to inhabit this same territory.

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Grumbles

250px-MagooAndDog
"We listen, perhaps, to avoid fixing some feature that,
if taken away, might cause the whole freaking structure
to fail."

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

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

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Inches

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

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

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

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HiddenSkills

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

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

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

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Demolition

demolition
"I suspect we’ll never know."

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

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

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TravelWriting

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

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

The Muse and I are traveling

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Irrelevance

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

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

Fortunately, none of this matters.

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TheProjectWithinTheProject

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

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

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

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TheGravityProblem

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

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

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

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Leaving

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

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

The days before departure feel like grieving.

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ThinSlices

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

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

Permanence holds no place here.

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Archtypicality

vanity
"Hooray for me, whoever that might be."

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

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

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Gratitude

catch
“Exactly the pitch called for at the time.”

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

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

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EulogyIII

thereof

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

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

He owned no smart phone.

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Youdentity

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

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

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

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Time-ish

time-ish


"Time seems altogether too unreliable of a regulator. "

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

I don't seem to run that irregularly.

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Me, Myself, and Aye

closedeyes

"Nobody becomes invisible
just because they close their eyes."

A pivotal point in my learning how to write came when I stumbled across an arcane little volume at The Library of Congress. In it, the author(s) proposed what I'll characterize as an 'is-less' style of exposition. Since we construct language from metaphors, which must necessarily be fuzzy representations, characterizing anything as being something else makes little sense. Of course the sky isn't blue, it just looks that way. The author(s) counseled a touch more care when characterizing.

This observation whacked me up the side of my head.

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Jarring

MasonJar

"The jarring season leaves me carrying more responsibility
than I feel completely comfortable assuming."

Autumn brings jarring work. "Canning" doesn't adequately describe the experience of skinning and seeding a bushel of green chiles or blanching, peeling, and stuffing a hundred pounds of tomatoes into jars. The long, almost meditative hours spent in fine motor repetition with a razor sharp knife leaves the lower back barking for relief. The steamed up kitchen windows while the pressure cooker weight endlessly jiggles, jars the sleepy countenance of an early Autumn afternoon.

The procedures seem timeless and hardly need remembering anymore.

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A Real S. O. B.

Man standing X Ray-602x376

"It's one thing to exhibit good judgement
but quite another to possess it."

While delivering a series of workshops at one of our National Laboratories, The Muse and I heard from almost everyone we met about what a "Real SOB" their liaison to the Department of Energy was. According to the testimony, this guy seemed to be personally responsible for most of the trouble their projects experienced. A short time later, we found ourselves in Washington DC, and we scheduled some face time with this guy. When we arrived at the appointed hour, he greeted us but asked, "I'm not certain why you requested this meeting." I replied that never having met a Real SOB, we thought we'd take the opportunity to meet one. He laughed. Our scheduled fifteen minute meet-and-greet turned into a two hour conversation.

The Real SOB is generally in the eye of the beholder …

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Light

childfishing
"Teach a man to cook and his inheritance will be tiny."

Autumn sits like a bushel basket over the Foothills this morning, filtering light into a thick sauce which moves languidly among the trees suddenly streaked with the first golden leaves. Thirty nine degrees this morning, snow just a little further up into the hills. My head feels as thick as the sunlight sauce, unwilling or perhaps just suddenly unable to think, straight or otherwise. My mother, who was famous around the assisted living facility for her toys, kept a solar powered critter on her windowsill which would dance around when the sun angled in just right. That critter would be staring numbly out the window this morning.

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Motherist

motherist
My mother was a terrorist of the very most insidious kind. She seemed fundamentally incapable of complying with any injunction. Doctor's orders barely amounted to more than invitations to dissent. She mumbled about "polutocrats" and always followed her own rough-honed sense of propriety. She danced along this precipice for ninety years before the cliff edge crumbled from beneath her yesterday. Slip over here for more ...
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TheBoss

20140722-in-charge8
Like you, people have called me boss and I have called some boss, too. I have both loudly proclaimed that 'you are not the boss of me' and sotto voce whispered it to myself, mantra-like, hoping it might give me quiet strength in some overly-bossy presence. I knew the person Scott Adams modeled his iconic Pointy-Haired Boss after, and he seemed pretty much the opposite of Dilbert's characterizations of him, but then he was not my boss. Someone always seems to get elevated to the enviable/unenviable role of being in charge, whether or not they hold the formal responsibility of judging another's performance. Bossy older sisters hold no charter justifying their pedestal.

Some people seem to appreciate a strong authoritarian presence while others seem to just shrink in that kind of light. Bosses get blamed for everything, since they seem to hold superior responsibility, though they also seem rather incapable of accomplishing much of anything. They represent both the oppressive yoke and the absence of it, depending. They might try to be friendly, but who really wants to befriend someone with the authority to be your oppressor? Slip over here for more ...

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Sin-Eh-Schism

void
The cynic already heard the punchline and doesn't think much of your joke. He's on to the game and firmly believes it's all just and only a sad parody. He purports to understand what really matters, though nothing qualifies as meaningfully significant. In the long run, he quite logically insists, we're all dead anyway. In the short run, where we inescapably exist, the cynic rather too proudly holds his head in long-run clouds, an elite perspective utterly useless for living. The cynic appreciates nothing because he subtly insists he already understands all.

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BeautifulMusic

Falloutshelter
I grew up in what today seems like an unimaginably repressive regime, where the privileged wielded tremendous power over ordinary citizens. Some cities and towns still had active sundown laws which made it a crime to be within city limits after dark if you weren't white. In the South, not being white was considered 'just cause' 24/7. My public high school had mandatory ROTC for boys; essentially, conscription into military training for sixteen year olds. Young women could be denied primary public school education for violating wardrobe rules or for the crime of teen-aged pregnancy. Prostitution was formally illegal but protected by the police and business leaders, who owned the buildings housing bordellos. (Wink, wink; nudge, nudge.) The John Birch Society was considered a community service organization.
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TimelessSpace

predawn
Mid-July mornings come savory-sweet, almost cold, promising punishing heat by noon. I set my alarm to an unGodly hour. I can nap through the heat of any afternoon, but I cannot as effectively dream of these fresh moments as I can experience them. Yes, it's high summer. Predawn, it's timeless here right now. Slip over here for more ...
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SecondOrderChangeDay

MyShadow
Welcome to the biggest change day of the year. Throughout the year, advisors and commentators endlessly prattle about the need for change, mostly for naught. On this day, though, everything seems different without anything really changing. Over night, a whole new year began. The old fled off the bus and we can now never go back there again. Feels like a brand new, fresh and clean start.

Today delineates the point where all the previous prattle manifests into a real difference, or so it so convincingly seems. But what’s really changed? Like the day before, we woke up in a different part of the universe than where we went to sleep, but unlike yesterday morning, this morning dawned on a Brand New Year! This distinction between last year and this year stems from an agreement, a conviction, a belief, rather than a physical difference, and that phenomenon alone renders this day worthy of great celebration.

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Love/Love

love:love
Just another morning. Brighter than most. No hint of last night’s calamity in this morning’s serenity. The magpies arrived to see if they’d trained me yet, rejecting the pumpkin seeds I’d left on the deck railing. I quickly replaced them with stale bread broken into bird bite sized pieces. Yes, they have trained me, I agree, but I entrain to entertain Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat, who seems to enjoy the first thing in the morning bird visits. She barks at them but it’s feigned alarm. No harm done and I dispose of the stale crusts.

A shadow hangs over the place, though. The BBC chattered half the night. NPR took over just before dawn. The unimaginable settling into another disquieting new normal. I must listen to the news to somehow infuse the unwanted recent history into the body of my acknowledged story. It’s inescapable now. Denial slinks back into her shadow, not selected for this team either. Once ingested, though, the shocking taste seems to disappear. The bitter flavor lingers longer than the sweet, but both flee the palate more quickly than the long anticipation enticed it. I’m soon enough hungry again.
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ScoopingOut

ScoopingOut
The activity’s more ritual than work, more sacred than secular. Some neighbors don’t bother, just driving through the slushy to leave later frozen tire tracks likely to stay around until Spring. I’m up earlier these mornings, rising with a deep sense of purpose for a change. Even if we’re not driving anywhere, I want the sidewalks and the drive cleared by eight o’clock.

My old boots, misshapen by long summer ladder hours, sweated through and mink oil improved at least a hundred times, fit me poorly now and cripple me should I hike anywhere in them. I’ve warmed them by the fire to loosen them up enough to fit. They’re plenty fine enough to keep the snow separated from my socks. I clump out the door, carrying Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat under one arm. In her youth, she was a snow cat, a dedicated snowflake chaser returning with ice pills all along her underbelly. Now, she cowers in the corner as the garage door rises, then huddles along a front porch edge as I set to my chore.

I own no snow shovel and never have.
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FactOrFriction

The_Elephant_House
I quite often develop an asymptotic relationship with my future. Though I seem to move forward at a reasonably consistent pace, whatever I imagine I’m pursuing seems just about as far away no matter how much time elapses or effort expends. I might be stiff-arming, holding manifestation back with one hand while swimming—sometimes frantically—with the other. Perhaps I have become a master at sabotaging myself. I know that my pursuit of whatever I seem to be after only rarely rewards me.

This situation could be a feature of my time in life. As I age, distances might lengthen like shadows do as the sun slips past high noon. Earlier, the horizon seemed endless and my direction obvious. Now, the horizon seems more constricted and my orientation uncertain. Relative progress seems impossible to discern and absolute progress, a once believable fiction.
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WeBecomeOurStories

Stories
You inspire me but that’s only your birthright and my responsibility.

We become our stories. Once we disappear, after we’ve gone, when we’ve left behind all the sacred possibilities every breath brings, we become our stories. Speak mindfully of nothing else. The facts don’t matter; the most terrible turmoil merely grist for this mill. We will each become the stories we tell.

They become the stories they heard. Not all of anyone, no, but some of who each of us become, while more than the simple sum of any explanation, certainly involves these parts which started by accumulating stories until subsumed into them, blended into the ones others owned themselves.
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Tribe

tribe
“Have you found your tribe yet?”

“Well, no, but I expect to shortly.” Or so I reported. I had belonged to a tribe of sorts in the last place, but I expected it would and really should take some time to attract a new one in the new place. I knew I was lying, and not simply because my lips were moving, but also because of the nature of my friend’s question. Her question presumed that one finds their tribe. I might have caught this subtlety, but it slipped past me.

Who knows where one’s tribe comes from? Reflecting on my experience, I might more easily conclude that my tribes have more found me than I ever found them. No tribe hangs around anticipating getting found and, again, in my experience, the whole concept of ‘lost tribe’ seems terribly Old Testament. Tribes don’t need finding, seem to resist being stalked, and never appear in a convenient pack.
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Lost Then Found

Jiminy
A very few excruciatingly long weeks ago, my friend Jamie changed his address. I’m uncertain about this part, but I suspect he changed it permanently. Some insisted that we’d thereby lost him, but I question that assertion. If he is, indeed, now lost to us, we might also now be lost to him, but I contend that Jamie is right this moment no more lost than we are. Of course, this statement doesn’t really say all that much, for I have been feeling quite exceptionally lost these last weeks. Maybe you have been feeling lost, too. This morning, I intend to get to the bottom of just where Jamie is now so I can ditch this disconcerting lost feeling I’ve been dragging around like outsized carry-on luggage.

When Jamie was still “with us,” he was perhaps most noticeable to me by his absence. We didn’t find or create many opportunities to meet face-to-face, yet we managed to feel as though we were in decent touch anyway. We Skyped sometimes, phoned others, exchanged emails, sometimes directly, perhaps more often as CC:s, as part of some shared group business. The last few months, I maintained a stream of correspondence I did not intend him to respond to, but even that seemed to sustain the clear felt sense of intimate proximity between us—none of that reinforced with actual proximity, mind you.

Then, when he “left,” I felt a sense of loss every bit as real as that former sense of intimacy had been.
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ItCouldHappen

countingStars
“Hide your heart from sight, lock your dreams at night
It could happen to you

So starts Johnny Burke’s haunting lyric to Jimmie Van Heusen’s remarkable melody. Of course they intended this song to be interpreted as a love song, and it works very well as a love song, but Burke cleverly employs the old ambiguity, playing off the peril love implies—the peril life itself entails.

“Don't count stars or you might stumble
Someone drops a sigh and down you tumble”

Burke offers no easy out, either. Wishing on stars won’t provide any protection. Love might turn on a simple sigh; life, no less so. The tone screams precarious. He is not in control. Neither are we.

“Keep an eye on spring, run when church bells ring
It could happen to you”

Anyone who’s fallen in love recognizes the absolute absence of self determination in the experience. We don’t refer to it as ‘falling’ for nothing. We no more throw ourselves into love than we carefully pre-plan our existence. Later, after we’ve clearly succeeded, we can tout our marvelous master plan, scrupulously omitting the parts chance contributed. Until then, we’re flotsam and we should know it. Slip over here for more ...
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CookingWithAltitude

CowboyCookery
Seventy Five Hundred Feet above sea level hangs a world quite different from the one you probably inhabit. The air seems thinner, which means it comes in a form not at all unlike non-fat milk. It feels less viscous and contains considerably less ‘goody,’ as I believe the scientists refer to whatever it is that satisfies lungs. It’s skimpy, stingy, and anemic. A lungful of air here can leave a flatlander breathless. This takes more than a little bit of getting used to.

The thin air affects cooking as much as it affects the cook, and equally mysteriously. Water boils at a lower temperature which means that food takes longer to cook. How much longer depends upon some quadratic equation nobody can solve in their head. Like with all cooking, success remains a matter of feel. Those who lived their early years below a thousand feet developed a feel for cooking that seems wholly unsuited to altitude.

Moving here seems like being sent back to Go without my two hundred dollars whenever I enter the kitchen.
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CreationStory

Adam_and_Eve_by_Lucas_Cranach_(I)
As the next to last student left the lab, she disconnected her call. Whomever she was talking with, the conversation had seemed intense to the instructor, a first year tenure at this red state community college. The class is physics, a subject the instructor carries much passion for. He’d disclosed to the class that their final would consist of each submitting a creation story that explained how they happen to be here, utilizing all they learned during the course of the semester. This one remaining student had raised an eyebrow in response to his assignment. She approached with a worried look in her eye.

“Dr. David, will I flunk the class if I include Biblical references in my creation story? I love hearing about black holes and all this physics stuff, but I believe the Earth is six thousand years old and I can’t go against my beliefs when writing my paper.”

Dr. David had mentioned this possibility to me before he accepted the position. He was unsure how he would handle the question then and he was only slightly better prepared for it now. He quite firmly believes in the creation story science has constructed from rigorous observation and scrupulous projection. One of his students had even labeled him an evangelist for the passion with which he lectured, a characterization that made his skin crawl. He admits to the passion but he would never characterize himself as an evangelist, but upon reflection, he had to agree with his student’s assertion. Perhaps he is an evangelist, but he’s not promoting any faith-based acceptance. He expects proof rather than speculation, and proof requires no faith for acceptance.
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RoundingDown

sweetcorn
There was a time, now long past, when early September brought sweet corn to harvest. Boiling pots of water welcomed golden yellow ears. Fresh cubes of butter wore a trough mark where hot ears had been dredged through. Grins stretched from ear to ear and even an eight year old could gnaw three or four down to cob and still have room for a quarter of a watermelon, consumed primarily for the spitting seeds.

In recent years, available corn has hardly resembled the stuff we once so treasured, though it was commonplace. In Maryland, they called this white stuff sweet corn. Silver Queen, they called it. They could have called it tasteless and sweet, tough or mysterious, but I could not recognize it as corn. A successful hybridization but an utterly failed food, suitable only for compost or silage.

Earlier this year, I found a supplier here in Colorado who could provide halfway corn, a combination of yellow and white kernels which, if eaten blindfolded, approached the flavor and texture of the genuine article. I ate my share of that while pining after what my palate long ago came to know as real corn. This speckled stuff worked as a substitute but it was clearly standing in for the real thing.
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YellowJacketTrap

YJTrap
It’s nearly obligatory to reflect on each anniversary of 9-11, to look back with regret, sometimes to rekindle a sense of vengeance not yet satisfied; perhaps never to be satisfied. For others, it’s a sadness that re-emerges along with a sense of loss. Everything felt different after that and we understood without fully accepting that we would not ever be able to go back home again. This anniversary evokes nostalgia for what came before and would not be coming ever after again.

As The Muse and I limped back toward home in our rental car generously ceded to us without drop charges since airplanes were not flying in the days following, our route took us from the Southwest north and even further west through what would later be referred to as red states. We had little besides the radio to accompany us across those vast deserts, but the radio was suddenly toxic. Too toxic to listen to. A side of the American character hardly imagined before became the prominent theme. “Kill them worse than they killed us,” the radio insisted without knowing who had done the deed or what had actually been killed.

The Muse and I quickly resolved to leave the radio off.
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Skillfully

shellgame
If writing qualifies as a skill, for me it’s a danged unreliable one. I experience days when flawless prose and even better poetry just seem to flow out of my fingertips, but also many days when I can’t coherently string two words together. Shouldn’t a skill manifest itself more consistently, or do all skills come and go at their own bidding like this?

That slugger in baseball only rarely ever slams one over the fence. He’s considered a master if he manages a hit on something between a quarter and a third of his trips to the plate, much less frequently homering, slinking back to the dugout many more times than his teammates ever baptize him with GatorAde. Surgeons, though, rarely fail to deliver their goods and carry onerously expensive liability insurance to cover the odd shortfall.

I have no access to the slugger’s or the surgeon’s internal state. Do their many successes feel like success or like impending disasters, too? One writer insisted that writing, done well, should feel like one continuous mistake in creation, and that the key to writing well lies in mastering that nagging, insistent sensation of failing while continuing to write. That kind of mastery
—a meta-skill, really, a fake-it-‘till-ya-make-it capability—might be the underlying ability defining every skill. Certainly with my writing, I experience no mastery more prominent than my now well-practiced ability to suspend my persistent disbelief in order to produce.
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The Colorado School Of Mimes

mimes
Not everyone understands that Golden, Colorado, besides being the iconic, long-term home of the Coors Brewery, also hosts the Colorado School Of Mimes. Founded in 1874 to train mining engineers, Colorado’s economy has since shifted far away from resource extraction toward supplying the ever-burgeoning entertainment industry. Introverts originally considering engineering careers find little difficulty fitting into the School’s more modern focus, as they arrive on campus so concave, faculty complain about having to wear miner’s headlamps to even call role. Born to not be noticed, today’s students find Mimes’ atmosphere perfectly congruent with their natural preferences.

The curriculum can be challenging, even for those uncomfortable with public speaking. “Public miming can be even harder to master,” claims one sophomore whose parents had previously encouraged him to join Toastmasters International. Mimes offers a minor degree in what they call Milk-Toastmasters, a course of study similar to public speaking but without the speaking part. “Holding an audience’s attention when you’re basically invisible seems like a definite impossibility,” the sophomore continues, “but the supportive faculty, many with extensive busking experience, understand how to silently encourage even the more extroverted.”
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Tyranny

scaleof1to10
“Commerce between master and slave is despotism.” Thomas Jefferson

The Muse thought, since we were moving into a fringe area house with an installed TV Dish® already on the roof, that she would sign up for the satellite TV service. The technician arrived while I directed the movers, who were unloading that last forgotten crate, and he encouraged me to finish that chore while he poked around, climbing onto the roof to check the dish angle and fiddling with wiring along the side of the place. After the movers left, he asked questions and poked around some more, finally coming around to the fatal question. “Do you have the power cord for the TV? I need to check reception on the actual TV before I can call the installation complete.”

Of course I didn’t have the power cable for the TV, and I told him that I had no idea where the cable might be. I found myself in the middle of one of those mornings where I just cannot properly parse the world around me. My judgement had not returned from dreamland the night before and I was barely functioning, but I found my trusty box knife and commenced to opening some boxes in the master bedroom, none of which yielded the sought-after cable. The technician would point at a box, asking, “How about that one?” I mindlessly responded by cutting open that one, then the next, then the next one after that.

I quickly began feeling assaulted, but continued with the absurd dance anyway. I was opening boxes out of any rational sequence, unable to place the contents into any proper context. I was making a mess when I needed some calming tidiness. I finally called a halt.
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Miscellany

Miscellanybox
Two days after taking possession of the new place, we’ve yet to spend a night there. The moving company called yesterday evening to report that they had, indeed, failed to deliver one crate. This crate included bed parts. The place still seems mostly boxes with cardboard walkways taped to floors. We unpack rather haphazardly, adhering to a first things first policy. First we unpack. We will determine the exact more permanent location for stuff once we see what stuff we have. The three months since packing erased most of my memory of what we possess and I’m discovering some serious doubts that we need all or even most of this stuff.

The last place had room to spare. This place seems just the right size. The stuff remembers where it lived in the last place, looking around anxiously for the familiar cues it does not find here. The whole unpacking’s a jumble, unguided by anything more definite than a general notion which doesn’t always work out as very workable. We inventoried every box number and label and found quite a few in the wrong room and several clearly mislabeled. No mistaking a box for the chair listed under that number on the manifest. The Muse resolved all these brain farts. I find it easier unpacking if I just have to move a box to another room and defer emptying it for now. Progress measures itself.

What was open possibility on Monday has by Wednesday morning become a more limited affair.
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EconoMicks

EconoMicks
After the movers had unloaded the last truck, while The Muse tried to reconcile the manifest with what seemed to have manifested in the new place, I sat with the crew while they rested in the shade beneath the empty truck. The conversation quickly turned to the economy. I knew they were being paid ten bucks an hour for carting what I considered heavy loads down that steep side yard or up that steeper stairway in the late summer heat. I wondered why they did this.

They quickly agreed that this was a good job. One said that he’d made the mistake of not finishing school, though he’d since studied to become certified as a physician’s assistant. While that paid more per hour, it offered no possibility of overtime so it actually paid less. Another reported that he’d completed a stint in the army then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, but that this was the best paying job he could find. He could work at Walmart, he noted, or as a prison guard, but the Walmart didn’t pay as well and the prison guard work was demeaning, dangerous, and ultimately dissatisfying.

I was surprised that everyone on the crew, save the elder Robert, had spent time working for the private prison industrial complex. One reported that the turnover there was extreme. They offered no training, low pay, and extremely high turnover. One reported that he has a friend who had managed to stay for nearly a year and a half, and so had more seniority than anyone including the warden. All agreed that they’d rather unload truck than go back to prison work, though one noted that he could have become a highly paid parole officer if he could have stomached that guard work for a couple of years.
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In-Between

inbetween
Few insights seem more worthless than the one where the writer decides that his words fail to describe what he’s trying to say. Of course they do, for words serve as no more than messenger. The content sits separate from them, depending upon some largely preconscious collaboration between the by-then absent writer and the all too present reader. The meaning sits somewhere in-between them, depending upon essentially undependable words and the meaning both will make of them.

The meaning starts, of course, with the writer. Though he does not determine exactly the meaning any reader might make of his words, he weaves his web intending. His clarity when intending influences the meaning his reader might finally conclude. He also has tricks as well as tradecraft, and he either knows how to construct a cogent sentence and a coherent paragraph, or not. If not, the clarity of his intention can’t matter, the words will no more than natter. But the specific words might matter less than the rhythm of them when strung altogether. Can they carry the intended tune?

Writing, if it is to describe anything, might need to be properly inductive first. It should impart a felt sense coherent with what’s being described, otherwise it produces paradox and confusion, like insisting that a word is a color. Nobody should believe me if I insist that the color of the word red is really RED. It’s not, no matter what I said, and the reader senses this contradiction without experiencing any sensation at all. The reader will not believe what I’m saying then, no matter how eloquent my explanation.
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FillAahSewPhee

FillAahSewPhee jpg
“No hard and fast rules can be laid down for survival anywhere, particularly in the farther places. Conditions vary. So do localities. Especially do individuals. Initiative on the other hand may be guided by a consideration of general principles such as those we can here absorb.” Bradford Angier- How To Stay Alive In The Woods

They always ask what skills they will learn. My brain cramps in response. I didn’t consider skill acquisition when I created the workshop. It seems many can’t quite think of workshop in any other terms.

What other terms might there be? Years ago, I read a book by the seasoned backcountry guide Brandford Angier: How To Stay Alive In The Woods. I bought the book because I mistook it for a kind of cookbook, a reference that would show me what to do. Instead, it first focused upon how to properly think about survival, with few specific ‘do this’ instructions. I later understood that this perspective was necessary because without properly preparing the perspective, how-to instructions fall like seeds on poorly prepared soil. Angier understood this, and I suppose he faced the same dilemma I face with my prospective clients who believe they lack skills when they really lack perspective, an appreciation of the key role philosophy plays when coping with difficulties.

Almost nobody intends to get lost in any woods, and we invariably forget to bring along the instruction manual for surviving these surprise ordeals. A pocketful of principles better serves us there.
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Rocky Mountain Oysters

baseonballs
The Colorado Rockies baseball team has a lot of balls. Their pitching leads the National League in walks, clear evidence that the team has more balls than strikes. One of the food stands at the ballpark even serves rocky mountain oysters, also known as bull testicles, a narrowly-appreciated delicacy common to cow country—well, to steer country, anyway—and a revered sacrament of cowboy culture; a smirk food. Last night’s pitcher favored the cutter, perhaps in attempt to castrate the visiting team? This metaphor failed, though, as he more effectively delivered dirt balls. The home plate umpire and the Rockies’ batboy spent the game trading bruised balls for handfuls of new ones.

I revere the humbled double-entendre euphemism above all other forms of language. It stands before us with it’s ‘flag at half-staff’ threatening without attacking propriety. It lives well South of obscenity and slightly North of innocence, implying more than it declares, leaving the listener culpable for any bad taste lingering after. It can relegate a promising politician to an alternate career ‘hiking down the old Appalachian Trail’ or sideline another into an eternal ‘wide stance’ without leaving any fingerprints at the scene. Properly employed, the messenger strolls away whistling from the crime scene without even a shred of toilet paper stuck to his shoe. Everyone knows full well he did it, but nobody ever lays a finger on him.
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SpiderSense

spiderweb
Once the spiders show up, the show’s about over, though it seems as though a full third of the season remains. Spiders apparently know better. Shrubs and corners web up. Spiders dangle down into my hair and possessively dude walk across the bathroom floor. Predawn insists upon me remembering the down vest. Intimations swell from subtle hints to whispered stage direction to openly discussed secret. Summer’s ending.

School starts mid-August now instead of its proper post-Labor Day time. What so very recently seemed infinite, now feels dear and wasting. The remaining plans won’t be completed. The nursery sign says Plants Are Done. Thank You. The pantry swells with beans and potatoes even though the finest corn’s just now coming in and the tomatoes have yet to peak. I wore socks twice last week. Soon, I will never take them off.

Each season seems born immortal, only to grow into its mortality. This might be no more than the cycle of life. I recall my own immortality now, those over-long, boring, sun scorched weeks between the end of the school year and the county fair where I struggled to fill lazy hours and blanched at the threat of productively employing them. I seasoned those days with schemes, none ever maturing into concrete plans, dabbling rather than dedicating myself to satisfying even those. I lived with little more than time on my hands and that time weighed more than I could comfortably carry.

Not even summer turns out to be indispensable.
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Cat&Mouse

Mouse
Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat insists upon going outside very early in the day. There seems to be little she won’t resort to in getting her way on this, but she rarely has to work harder than a small attempt to smother me in my sleep. So far, she has not succeeded, and I suspect she would only disappoint herself if she did, for she intends to get me up, not put me under. Once out, she disappears for a half hour or longer. I follow her outside to lounge in my camp chair in the dark and talk myself into writing something in the predawn, weather permitting.

This morning started no different, but after that mysterious half hour, I spotted Rose batting at something beneath the office chair inside. This chair has five legs radiating from a central pillar, each with a roller wheel, creating a five-pointed star shape. Beneath that star this morning, a small mouse quietly evades Rose’s probing paws. It’s a perfect dilemma. The mouse need only step a few inches to avoid Rose’s pounces, but Rose must move a foot or more and hop a star leg to compensate. The mouse holds high ground. Rose cannot successfully counter. Finally, after several minutes of lop-sided combat, the mouse scurries off unseen by Rose, escaping through the sliding door and beneath my chair back into covering darkness. Rose, baffled at her quarry's disappearance, remained hovering beneath the office chair for the longest time.

She will spend much of the balance of the morning seeking out her lost prey.
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Requiem

requiem
On the occasion of my dear friend Jamie’s death:

I last spoke with Jamie nine days before he left us. In that typical rambling conversation, I confessed that I had grown weary anticipating his departure, and had simply stopped doing it. “There will be ample time,” I respectfully explained, “to grieve after you’ve gone. I’d rather celebrate your presence while you’re here.”

“I wish you would,” he replied. “I’m tied of anticipating it myself.”

There! That got said.

Now I find myself challenged to recognize that he’s gone. I’d long wondered what I would do with my morning missives once this correspondent’s receiver disappeared. Would I continue to find good reason to crawl out of bed and take to the keyboard, and what of the result? Whom would I write for? Would these become mourning missives instead?

I could see the question going either way. I might continue to celebrate life or resent death, but I doubted I could stop writing. The habit seems in me by now. My self esteem depends upon pushing or nudging or carving something out of myself every morning; more necessary than breakfast, far more essential than sleeping in. I would continue the siphon I’d started so long before, such a very short time before.
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Unbelievable

unbelievable
So very much of what I experience registers as unbelievable, and this poses a special difficulty for me. Most every object I interact with, everything I see, demands a faith-based acceptance because I simply do not understand it. Each seems too complicated, too subtle, or simply too unlikely to exist, yet there it is. I cannot comprehend how it came into being, even why it survived, so it fully qualifies as unbelievable. Unbelievable without a baseline of faith. Yet as unlikely as it clearly seems, it is, indeed, standing there in front of me.

I do not just speak of the things commonly classified as unbelievable, all the Dick Tracy and Flash Gordon technology, for these represent only the extreme edge of unbelievability. I speak to even the everyday commonplace, the routine incomprehensibles like water or beer. The bush I sit beside. The composite camp chair supporting me this very moment insists upon more belief from me than the old God of Moses routinely demanded.

I might be speaking to my own, deep and abiding cluelessness. Being pretty much uneducated, I have no grounding in the science of anything, but even science seems little more than a series of explanatory stories which utterly fail to adequately explain. Unlocking the human genome might enable much progress without ever elevating the elements analyzed into anything more than the metaphors they started out being. Science might represent no more than the systematic sharing of metaphors, the doxology of which leaves the fundamental mystery intact.
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AlienTerritory

blindmonk
Cherry Creek Mall would have seemed futuristic in the late sixties. Now it seems dated, a concept anchored in a transitory era not known for timeless design. At least the parking’s free. Everything else comes at a premium, and trades on that caché: You could get better, but you can’t pay more. Everything’s on sale today so you won’t have to pay more to get less than you would have ever voluntarily paid for.

Cherry Creek Mall looks like a three quarter scale duplicate of the Pentagon City Mall in Arlington, Virginia, doubtless owned by the same property management company. They’ve thoughtfully provided comfortable couches and chairs for bored and terrified husbands like me to cool our heels while the spouse browses, except these islands of neutrality also hold HUGE television screens silently showing tennis matches and golf tournaments. (Is golf only played in tournaments?) I avert my face from the diversion.

I stand out of the traffic flow while The Muse hits a friendly cash machine, the only one in
Greater Denver. I make the innocent mistake of standing beside the entrance to The Body Shop which has a special sale on body butter. Buy one, get one free. The display reeks of artificial strawberry. My stomach turns and I move further down out of the direct scent stream to watch people queuing up for afternoon whipped cream caffeine at Starbucks. Slip over here for more ...
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About

Herserys
You might have noticed that my posts always feature a headline title which might or, often, might not very well describe the following content. Sometimes, the title makes no sense until the end, by which time you’ve probably forgotten the title in its obvious irrelevance. This effect might be influenced by the fact that I often leave the title blank until I’ve finished the first draft, being myself uncertain what I will be writing about until I’ve finished writing. Other times, the title draws from some deeply personal and therefore publicly subtle point nobody but I could ever discern. I generally start writing with some intention but no clear—or even terribly fuzzy—notion of where I’m going.

My best writing has never been sharply-focused. It instead toodles around, but toodles in a certain style; and if not a certain style, a rather satisfying one for me. A decent toodle in the car begins with intention but remains open to discovery along the way. It most definitely begins with a few rather simple ground rules. 1- We head off in a definite direction. North, for instance, and with 2- a purpose. Whether that purpose be lamb-looking or tomato-picking, we’re clear about what it is but 3- not at all clear about how we might satisfy that purpose. We 4- have not outlined the route, but merely declared the destination.
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EasyBaking

easybake
I realized yesterday afternoon that even this sorry Deluxe Executive Home kitchen, with its forty watt Easybake® oven, could feel like home to me. I caught myself slipping into that state of mind where I find almost no separation between imagining and doing, perhaps the best possible manifestation of the elusive flow.

Around eleven, I realized that my old and dear friend Dan would arrive in a few hours. The Muse had supposed we would just eat out, and I’d presumed something similar until I flashed on the fact that Dan’s overnight on his way to Albuquerque would be my first opportunity to make a guest supper since before we left Takoma Park, nearly two and a half months ago. How could I pass up this opportunity?

I thought perhaps short ribs, slow roasted with veg, and a passel of those ping pong ball-sized golden beets.
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Inoculation

popcornman
I warmly anticipate green chile season. I am counting the days. Most places, nobody knows from green chile. In New Mexico and some of Colorado, it’s a staple. When The Muse and I worked in New Mexico, we’d bring home on the plane a cooler filled with freshly roasted hatch chiles. That was before 911. Now, I suppose they’d be considered contraband. I’ve long wished to live in a land where the chile was indigenous. Now I do.

I’ve been scoping out the best chile roasters and am delighted to find that Heini’s, the produce stand I discovered on my first provisioning foray, rates as one of the very best. The permanent fireworks stands and Spanish language tax preparers’ parking lots along Federal Boulevard, especially down South nearer I-25, also feature prominently in the guides. These are neighborhoods normally shunned by proper Denverians, but not during Hatch chile season.

You buy ‘em by the bushel and they thrown ‘em into a hamster cage contraption that turns above propane burners.
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OnManifesting

template
As The Muse and I returned from our morning spent measuring room dimensions and overseeing inspections at what we’re prematurely referring to as The New House, I mentioned that I sure am glad that I couldn’t have imagined the place we found to live here. My experience once again proved inadequate to support the kind of envisioning traditional New Agers of the manifesting class espouse. Like most people, my expectations have been completely prejudiced by my experience, so they couldn’t possibly have contributed to foreseeing any but the serendipitous kind, and the Western extents of greater Denver, Colorado seem unique enough to prevent stumbling upon any place alike enough to more than vaguely remind me of any familiar place.

We searched in vain. We were creating our own experience, I guess, frustrating ourselves by holding up our template for what we were looking for and finding only poor comparisons. The ceilings were universally too low, creating cave-like crawl-space halls and suffocating living rooms. I began to walk around with hunched shoulders, expecting to get stuck in some narrow doorframe. ‘House too small, yard to big’ almost became a mantra for these two piss poor monks meditating on the fundamental injustice of this world. We felt locked out. When had we lost the key?

We never had any key to any future, just one to a fondly-remembered past. Looking for then in the here and now might qualify as a lifestyle for us aging boomers, but it’s really no way to live: Looking for life in all the wrong places. For
then got all the goody sucked out of it on the way to now. Nothing but desiccation and a slowly evaporating puddle left behind.
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Today

pointyend
Today’s the day, the pointy end of time. I’ve kinda been avoiding it. Way back when yesterday was today, I felt the clear distance between then and now, but now that today’s arrived, I feel only immediacy. Now really is now.

It’s not like I haven’t been living in increasing anticipation of today, but I feel like a virgin in a biker bar here. I’ve heard an awful lot about today, I’ve even written some more or less authoritative pieces on the subject, but never experienced a minute of it until I woke up just now. Deflection doesn’t seem to work here because there will be no tomorrow for resolution. It’s now or never. (I wonder if today will be one of those days where only hackneyed metaphors work.)
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Disappearing

menial
My invisibility astounds me. This lovely big old house contained me well. Sure, it quite easily and naturally kept the inside in, but it also served as a sort of fortress to keep the outside out. Now even that defensive barrier’s crumbling. The outside first started seeping in. Now it swamps the place.I wade through narrow aisles between impossible stacks of boxes. How could these few shelves and cabinets contain all of that? I declared my desk a safe zone. Nobody touch nothing on my desk. It’s now piled high with untouchables, but not for very much longer. Today, the possessions I retain control over will shrink to fill the usual suitcase and computer bag, and a box or two of otherwise unmovables, as if packed for a week’s trip rather than an indefinite journey.

The packers delight in their work as only menial laborers can. The more cerebral and physical professionals seem to lose a dimension or two when they engage. The menial laborer, the clever ones, find extra parts of themselves there. These four absolutely delightful women, two moms and their daughters, took off their shoes and got down to work. Yes, they prefer to work barefoot. Unashamedly. They engage in endless chiding, genuine laughter infuses their effort with warm meaning. While The Muse and I tried, and even took pride in how well we’d prepared for their arrival, their job entails little more than ordering our disorder, which seems to be the primary element common to all menial labor.
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Greasy

renderedfat
Around the middle of the week following creation, day ten or eleven, God created grease. He was by then bored with the whole idea of creating anything even remotely resembling his image, having already finished a freak book full of variations on that theme, so he went all radical on himself and produced something volatile and certain to goad even the pious into taking his name in vain.

Great big gobs of greasy, grimy gopher guts resulted. Schmaltz traces its heritage to that latter day variation, too. So does my kitchen. So does yours. Imagine a substance that repels water, the freaking liquid of life. Oh, it also attracts lint and odd bits of cat fur, and dirt, and the odd bug carcass. Clearly, grease ain’t looking for an invite to my table, or should not be. He doesn’t need to beg or plead for an invitation, though, because I voluntarily escort him into my kitchen, shake him up a martini, then let him have his way with me.
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Why Project Community?

TrueNorthTransparent1X2
I’ve been considering the work I’ve done, the work I understand. This piece might best explain what my workshop entails.

The Industrial Revolution brought with it some unintended consequences. We learned to structure work around teams, but alienated our broader communities. We learned to manage work by decomposing objectives into tasks and processes, but trivialized the very craftspeople we need to actually accomplish anything. We learned how to control execution, but at the cost of a deeper sense of discernible value. We could deduce one right, most efficient way, but lost sight of our purpose.

The Industrial Revolution also brought with it what Peter Drucker claimed was the single most profound innovation of the twentieth century, the professional manager. As organizations have flattened, the fiefdoms which justified the manager's role are disappearing, replaced by social networks more agile than formal departments and divisions. Most of the work accomplished by modern organizations is accomplished cross-functionally, by individuals mustered for the duration of an individual effort and endlessly reconfigured until people identify much more strongly with their current assignment's community than with any permanent manager, department, division, or company.
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ChangingStory1.20-PassingOn

passion
Much of the stuff published in newspapers lacks passion. Sure, there’s ample theatricality, that studied intensity every theatergoer knows well, but little passion. I suppose passion counts as somehow unprofessional, ignoring reason and accepted logic that passes for well-formed commentary. The alternatives to passion read about as flat as a printed page, rarely elevating spirit, though sometimes awakening ire. Ire seems a poor substitute for passion.

Passion doesn’t guarantee cogency. Communicating coherently with passion, that’s one of those teenager poet dilemmas: those who feel as though they can pull it off, can’t. Like with love, deliberation ruins it. A certain kind of unconsciousness informed by considerable prior failed effort might be all that’s required, but that’s a lot. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.19-PDTD

test2
It’s the middle of the night and I’m up writing, once again chased from fitful sleep by a bad dream. I’ll piddle around for an hour or two and maybe get back to bed before morning, I never know. This nightmare was a real bad one; no zombies or chainsaws, but real life events. I was taking a test.

Maybe I should call this Post Dramatic Test Disorder. Up until my seventh grade French class, I was fine with tests. I was considered one of the brighter ones, even segregated into a special gifted program; an active, enthusiastic learner. My experience in French class first exposed me to a regime of continuous testing, where the teacher, ensconced in a booth in the front of the room, listened in as students fumbled their way through their first attempt at foreign anything. I performed abysmally. There was no succeeding, only endless testing. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.18-CultureChains

chains1
Engage with any consultant and you’re likely to learn that your organization needs a culture change. Culture grows rotten over time? Either a union’s insidiously trying to get more for less, or management’s playing that game; opposing parties stalemated pursuing the same end. Perhaps the organization’s moral compass’s gone haywire due to executive avarice. Maybe safety slipped down to Job #2 or #3 from its prescribed Job #1position. The possibilities seem endless. Pick your favorite reason, then get down to changing.

I can’t pick up The Washington Post without stumbling into waves of culture change recommendations: Congress “needs a culture change,” so does Metro, and The Pentagon, not to mention (which means I’m mentioning) the IRS, The DOE, DHS, and, of course, The State Department. Private companies, public organizations, even non-profits, seem in dire need of this most curious kind of change; or so say the editorial boards, attorneys general, independent watchdogs, blue ribbon committees, and every freaking inspector general in the DMV. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.17-Housme

IMG_0512
We didn’t lose the place in The Great Dismemberment and Exile, when what was once our home, the center of our universe, turned into a house again. Our fond recollections romanticized the half-repainted place considerably. The first renters did more damage than good.

Three years ago, I returned to finish painting the outside, a six week epic obsession that enlisted family and friends. Last summer, I returned again, digging over the yard. This month, The Muse and I returned to find a bathroom needing replacing just as Spring pruning ached for attention. Both of the last two visits came under the guise of caring for our granddaughter, whom we call The Grand Other, while her folks dealt with her older brother’s extended illness, but that house, once our home, featured prominently, perhaps predominantly. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.16-AnotherPlanet

waygate_to_the_multiverse_by_nitro912gr-d33ivir
I subscribe to the unlikely notion of parallel universes, though with a slight twist from the standard theory. In my multiverse, each unique world exists in the same physical space; not overlaid or merely adjacent, but completely co-equal, separated only by perspective. In my multiverse, the person standing next to me in the grocery line occupies a wholly distinct universe. We share nothing except the occasional illusion of sharing experiences.

My multiverse gets ramped up when I’m away from home. Home might be where my heart receives mail deliveries, but my feet are free to wander pretty much anywhere. Away from home, I experience more prominent sensations of inhabiting a multiverse. Out there, I less successfully anticipate other perspectives, and my tacit presumptions often surprise me. My sense of level, fair, decent, and normal strain before cascading alternative perspectives I could not have possibly ever imagined before encountering them, though I’m certain I will never understand any of them. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.15-ShThFuUp

439px-SHUT_UP^_NAME,_RANK,_SERIAL_NO._ONLY^_-_NARA_-_515415
My inbox overfloweth. So doth mine Facebook stream, Twitter feed, LinkedIn thread, Google+ queue, Pheed feed, newspaper, and neighborhood listserv. They swell with advice, people telling other people what to do, what the sender sincerely believes others should do/ think/ feel/ believe/ support. On rare occasions, someone will broadcast some personal insight, something they’ve personally decided to do without anyone else exhorting them. These bring sweet respite to the fetid wind that seems to otherwise blow nobody any real good.

I’ve been looking for any concrete evidence that telling anyone what they really should otta do in any way results in them following these instructions. I’m concluding that these exhortations might be for the sole purpose of feeding the exhorter and nobody else. Like the street corner screaming preacher, nobody pretending to be invisible as they slink by ever finds Jesus on their way past, though the preacher sure seems to. Perhaps the very form of the injunction shuts down the ability to follow the advice, or, I think more likely, telling just does not work. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.14-Mis-formed

mis-formed
I seem to possess the superpower that enables me to mangle any form. Give me even a smallish index card-sized one, and I will quite reliably find myself unable to fit something into one, often several, of the handy boxes provided to contain information. I sometimes start on the wrong line, uncertain if the label hangs over or under the space provided, entering my name into the first address line. I run out of room by the bottom of the form or have a line leftover.

I score no better when completing surveys. Many forget to include a ‘none of the above’ choice, and most seem to insist upon an answer, however irrelevant my forced response might be. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.13-InTeGrationDay

13thDay
On the thirteenth day of Christmas,
my true love gave to me
the challenge of integrating
all the
cra ... er ... gifts she’d given to me.
The partridge, we’d long before roasted,
with a plum sauce en souffle.
The turtle doves still cooing,
day and night ... and every blessed day.
The three French hens are found out moping in the yard
after learning we didn’t much care for Heloise or Abelard.
The calling birds lost their cell plans, they say,
for overrunning their data cap in little more than a day.
I’ve now got rings on every finger
of what used to be a functioning hand,
as well as an especially ungainly one
on that adjacent thumb.
As of this morning, I count a full six dozen goose eggs,
with no end to the laying in sight.
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ChangingStory1.12-CantDo

cantaloupe
Some days I awaken obsessing about all I can’t do, recounting my innumerable failures to learn to do even the seemingly simple activities everyone else engages in without even thinking about them. For these, I remain the eternal rookie. No amount of repetition ever yielded mastery of these, and, truth told, I hardly hold out for any noticeable improvement now, having apparently already forfeited any possibility for improvement, radical or even small.

I consider myself a decent driver, but I should admit that I’ve not yet learned how to drive on freeways, beltways, turnpikes, or thruways. These are white-knuckle immersions for me, exhausting and terrifying. I suppose my experience stems from never having learned to pass on the right or change lanes without signaling, sprinkled with a deep aversion to driving fifteen miles per hour over the posted speed limit while riding the bumper of the car directly in front of me. I see the masters sanguinely engage in these apparently death-defying stunts, and feel bushwhacked every time. From on-ramp to off-ramp, I experience endless alarming surprises, as cars appear just where I never expected they would; without warning, without apparent strategy, other than to pass everything currently ahead of them; as if they were engaged in some kind of competition. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.10-NeverAgain

neveragain
Somewhere along about the Industrial Revolution, a subtle shift started in the kitchen. Before, it might have just been taken for granted that each meal would be unique. After, that each might properly aspire to become a replication. Cookbooks became books expressly not for cooks, but books for people who aspired to become chefs, and the purpose of cooking shifted a tiny bit away from creation into replication.

Before, Lord only knew what supper would be cooked on. After, every home featured a little industrial facility complete with gauged surfaces and uniform measures. There became right and wrong ways for employing this machinery. Recipes took over while intuition and craft fell ever further out of favor. Great grandma might have thrived on a pinch of this and that, but we now measure much more precisely, and what started as a small revolution eventually forfeited the very soul of our heritage. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.9-WickedWhich

which
I despise Big Box stores. They scare me with their over-sized Elizabeth Ann shopping carts and maps purporting to show the location of everything. Saturday, The Muse and I entered one, looking for a simple household appliance, and ended up wandering over most of the floor plan before we discovered that the map had been mounted sideways, and we found someone who could tell us that they displayed this particular household appliance, not in the household appliance department, but on a different floor, next to the toilet paper department. Yes, they had a toilet paper department. Slip over here for more ...
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ChangingStory1.8-Self-eek

sepiame
Whatever the product or service might pose as, it’s always self on offer. The content gains little traction and seems transparent. They buy the person, the personality, never the product. This can’t quite amount to a clever branding strategy, either, since brand separates person from product, replacing self with some vacuous avatar. Marketing mostly fails because it’s also not about the (notional) market, but about self; present self, self in service rather than selfless servitude.

Despite what they insisted when I was in business school, connections occur by accident, never by clever strategy. Strategy might be the sole property of those who do not need it and could never use it, but feel compelled, perhaps for appearance’s sake, to look as if they could command manifestation. This observation might seem cynical rather than simple truth or even simpler experience. When they ask after my strategy for marketing the book, I feel ashamed, as if I really should have a strategy already or must immediately stop writing, stop creating, stop being that self I know so well, and start crafting what my experience understands could never positively effect anything. Then I go looking for my self again. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.7-Parody

oops1
P. G. Wodehouse wrote parodies. Bertie Wooster would try to pull some fast one which invariably backfired. Jeeves eventually bailed him out, but only after making sure that Bertie would get bitten a bit, but never really badly enough to dissuade from further misbegotten adventures.

I seem to create my own parodies, with The Muse playing Jeeves to my Wooster. The key to great parody might be the simple, completely human act of failing to hide something from someone else. The Wooster in me presumes he’s a lot smarter than he could possibly be, and that everyone else must be a whole lot dumber than they’re really likely to be. The result reliably produces parody. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.6-Data

data
The way we proudly proclaim that we’re driven, you’d think we were cars or wagons, or maybe sheep. Driven to success does not, apparently, mean your mommy drops you off at the 7-11 so you can buy that Powerball® ticket. Executives insist that they drive performance, managers get held accountable for driving results, while individual contributors, the ones actually performing and producing, I guess they at least get a lift out of this.

The admission that data drives stopped being evidence of impotence about the time computers took to the desk top and Excel made everyone feel like real, live database managers. The following wireless revolution turned every action into some form of data to be sorted, sifted, stored, then mined. If you can’t measure it, they say you can’t manage it, but that’s no longer enough. Now, measures must be backed up with data because, contrary to what executives and managers proclaim, data’s really driving. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.5-Testing

testing-testing-123
Since I was in the seventh grade, my story has included a chapter explaining how I don’t test well. In seventh grade, I learned how to perform poorly on tests. Before then, I seemed to posses that innate ability The Muse still exhibits: I could pass most any exam I took. Since then, exam success has seemed more crap shoot than skill-related, a random event unrelated to what I know. I suppose my current state springs from my exposure to the French language, for which, like all languages foreign and domestic, I had little aptitude. Later, of course, this budding ability migrated into math, then most every subject.

I could be excused for thinking I was somehow growing dumber with each passing year, and I remain grateful for that high school guidance counsellor who headed off deeper discouragement by convincing me that I was not, as he phrased it, “college material.” I most certainly was not, and perhaps most persuasively because I then, much more than now, believed that the purpose of testing might probably be to assess my level of retained knowledge, whatever that means. The Muse insists that she can pass most any test, and always could, because she somehow figured out that testing could never say much about who she is or what she knows, but might instead assess how skillfully she navigates that alien environment, one almost completely unlike the real, lived world, where right and wrong answers exist, like some prehistoric bug suspended in amber. Maybe she’s just a good guesser, but I don’t think so. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.4-AdaptAbility

multitool
I feel about as adaptAble as the typical stone. I might hail from some native stream bed, but I could find myself anywhere: sidewalk, lawn, kitchen sink, inside some shoe. I suppose my very presence suggests some sort of native adaptAbility—I mean, I AM there, after all—but I feel more natively alien there than just another homebody. I feel like the resident sore thumb.

I stay on guard, watchful, uncertain of the local customs. I suppose I plot and plan, developing contingencies before engaging, because I really don’t know, can’t anticipate how even the most otherwise pedestrian excursion might turn out. Consequently, I seem more shadow than substance. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.3-DayOne

DayOne
I calibrate each year twice, on New Years and on my birthday. Though nobody drops any lighted balls in Time Square in mid-August, my birthday feels the more significant milestone point. New Year seems to be one of those generally agreed upon celebrations, like George Washington’s perennially Monday birthday, which consensus set for the convenience of long weekend Federal employees rather than to denote any real event. I have documentary evidence that I was, indeed, born on the nineteenth of August, on a kitchen table in a country doctor’s house that served as the hospital in a tiny Eastern Oregon town.

Those comprise the facts. The rest of my beginnings might be no more than myth, for every human’s early life comes shrouded in the proud if unreliable testimony of sleep-deprived parents and siblings too young to remember with any clarity. A new child suspends history for a few years. No matter how carefully anyone might try to chronicle the baby steps, most of them will go unobserved by anyone but the child, and he will not yet have become entrained in the curious art of observation, and merely experiences without jotting even a memory for future reference. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.2-Observing

observe
Jerry Weinberg used to insist that non-fiction must be a fictional notion, since all writing gets filtered through a writer first. Some so-called non-fiction seems more self-reflective than others, and perhaps this observation supports his point. Few authors, I suspect, ever get through to the bottom of writing anything without stumbling upon an unexpected, sometimes unwanted participant: self.

Likewise, Cyberneticist Heintz Von Foerster insisted that objectivity qualifies as a delusion that one could have an observation without the trouble of including an observer. The presence of an observer engaging in the observation nudges the notion of objectivity nearer the subjective end of the scale, a relative value rendered in rather definite terms. Since no observer can be certain of just how they filter what they report they observe, we might just be better off remembering Weinberg’s Insistence: non-fiction can’t exist. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.1-Dewing

dewing
I suppose every writer lives in an echo chamber, a place where the primary dialogue unfolds while words appear. The echos sometimes deafen to the point that the writer cannot quite comprehend what’s appearing on the page, as if reading while a background radio’s playing way too loud. The words on the screen seem impenetrable then. The story, lost in inept translation.

For me, writing’s best attempted early in the morning, well before the sun comes up, before the sound of speeding Metro trains starts chewing up the solitude. If I’m up and doing in the wee hours, I might be almost accomplishing something. My head, which never seems to completely shut down even during sleep, seems most manageable then; most malleable, too. Words flow, meanings emerge, I feel my own presence. Slip over here for more ...

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ChangingStory1.0-Catching

catch1
I’d grown tired of my story long before I caught myself repeating it. I’d felt my enthusiasm fleeing whenever I mentioned the unfinished book, not initially noticing the connection. One can apparently repeat some actions over and over and over, without noticing. Then I caught myself simply being myself, and blushed. The second time I caught myself, I began to understand the source of my shame.

My story seemed even to me to have grown into an excuse rather than an adventure, an explanation which could not possibly impart understanding. If it baffled me, how could it do any better with anyone else? My words and my music had fallen out of synch; I kept right on singing. Slip over here for more ...

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SpliceOfLife1.21-Seamless

hillofbeans
I’ve hung enough wallpaper to understand that seamlessness qualifies as no more than a relative term, one of many haranguing me these days. Each declares itself by what it is not, dogs whose sole distinguishing characteristic seems to be the absence of barking. Be wary of the dog that never barks, as if you’d ever know it was there.

With wallpaper, seamlessness means one cannot easily discern where the seam might be, but it’s an optical illusion; one built upon both clever design and skillful application. Look closer, though, and you won’t miss them, for they are there. Slip over here for more ...

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SpiceOfLife1.20-Bi-Bye

bi-coastal
Because our relocation to the East Coast was kinda forced, we never divorced the left coast when we moved back here. That change left ragged liaments from our former rooting which encouraged us to feel exiled for the longest time. We decided last New Years, by fiat, to declare the exile over, but the connections remain. My excursion back into that space only re-encouraged those connections.

One should never revisit the scene of any crime or blessed event, lest the witnesses implicate you. They were there. Though you might strenuously deny your presence, they’ll have you out, and your credibility should plummet. But I didn’t deny my presence, I more than implicated myself. I explicated myself, kimono wagging in even that slight breeze. I’m exposed as a principle. I have no credible defense Slip over here for more ...

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