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Concerting

concerting
Edgar Degas: Café-Concert (The Spectators) (1876/77)


"I'd packed two pair, two for each ear …"


I avoid attending concerts. Now, of course, because of the Damned Pandemic, but before, due to the fundamentally uncontrolled nature of the performance and the audience. I never took to being herded around as if I were just another sheep in an unruly flock. I also try to avoid landing wherever crowds congregate, the parking hassles, the turnstile troubles, the behaviors I only ever see when there's a crowd surrounding me. I never learned how to behave in such venues, my reticence a reasonable result of simple lack of practice. The last concert The Muse and I attended, I spent the whole evening curled up in the fetal position, ear plugs ineffectively in, trying to avoid the caterwauling coming off the stage. Everyone else seemed delighted. I, perhaps alone in that audience, felt terrified by it; assaulted.

I think it remarkable as I watch other people show up with the right kind of chair, for only certain types of chairs are allowed into the open air arena.

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MissingMeals

missingmeals
Unknown Japanese: Set of food dishes (mukōzuke)
(early 18th century)


"My work is my reward here …"


I measure engagement by how many meals I miss when working on something. I might just fail to notice when mealtime arrives or I might find myself so focused upon whatever I'm doing that I cannot quite face pulling away, and so meal time just slips by. Other times, I find myself indecisive, unable to imagine anything like a coherent meal arriving. Why bother? Meal breaks sometimes seem like a waste of my day. It's not like I'm in any danger of drying up and blowing away. For me, most meals seem optional. If lunchtime noses past about three-thirty, I'll usually just let it slide, deciding to let supper pick up the slack. Sometimes, I abandon supper, too, usually when I'm just too tuckered to bother. By the following morning, I might regain my appetite or I might find myself focusing in and away again.

Dining out long ago lost its allure.

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Fictions

fictions
Piero di Cosimo: The Misfortunes of Silenus (circa 1500)


"Hell emerges in the absence of Fictions."


The world was going to Hell that Sunday morning, so The Muse and I decided upon a round-about route, one which might offer us a few hours beyond cell range, beyond what passes for civilization over on the West side of the mountains. We wondered if we might so easily escape the thrall. It might have been that after going to all the trouble to take the route less taken, we'd find a caravan of weary flatlanders also following our plan to escape up and out of the heat and crowds, but we were lucky and the roads were lonely. A few odd stragglers quickly passed us, leaving us to move at our own pace, to find our own cadence.

While the world went to Hell, we ascended into a Heaven of sorts.

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Strangering

strangering
Vincent van Gogh: Adeline Ravoux (1890)


"I regain my attention …"


Other than passing through on the freeway, I'd never even thought to stop to see what might welcome me here, so I arrived without preconceptions, as a genuine stranger. This city could have been anywhere. I had no emotional attachments here. The waterfront attracted my eye, but I could not recall, if, indeed, I ever knew, the name of the bay. The city looked worn but worked over, as if considerable effort had been applied to prevent it from simply becoming derelict, with mixed results. This was clearly nobody's Disneyland. Its rough edges seemed prominent. I had never wondered about the history here, how it might have managed to turn out this way. I would be Strangering here within this mystery.

I much prefer to walk when Strangering, for driving moves me too quickly for me to see very much.

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Hoteling

hoteling
Gustave Doré: Liberty (c. 1865–75)


" … we still hold the instinct to survive … hospitality."


After two and a quarter years of housebound isolation, I find myself in a hotel room this weekend. I was once a frequent guest, traveling for business. One year, I managed to stay in more than one hotel room per week on average, and I stayed in a few of those rooms for more than a week, so I must have really been on the move that year. I became accustomed to the patterns and rhythms of modern Hoteling, which seem so different from the Grand Hotel tradition. No longer does one use the lobby as an extended sitting room, for instance, taking to an overstuffed chair to read or simply people watch. Modern hotel lobbies seem reserved only for transitions, for checking in and checking out and nothing else. They usually feature little furniture other than a front desk and a concierge stand. Everything's self service.

Hoteling's a kind of camping experience.

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DashingOff

dashingoff
Fan Qi 樊圻: Album of Miscellaneous Subjects, Leaf 4 山水花鳥圖冊 (early 1650s)


"We all eventually become the genius of ourselves …"


My friend Franklin reported that he'd participated in some online gathering that garnered him more clients than any other single event in his career, over a hundred. He went on to complain that he'd been invited to participate late in the cycle and so had not prepared his presentation as carefully as he most certainly would otherwise have. He's usually more careful than that, painstakingly preparing, often, it seems, almost asymptotically, as in preparing almost to the point of never actually achieving 'prepared.' This time, though, starved of sufficient time, he hacked out a quick almost good enough contribution and was fortunate to garner more paying clients than ever before from a single presentation.

Had he had adequate time, there's really no telling how many more clients he might have found.

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Suddenlied

suddenlied
France, Lyon(?), early 16th century: Time (From Chateau de Chaumont Set) (1512–15)


"… usually expecting the unexpected …"


Occasionally, I'll decide to write about a topic only to discover that I'd already written a piece with that same title. As you doubtless noticed, I make up a fair number of my story titles by fiddling with otherwise serviceable words, trying to better fit them to my purpose. My blog software keeps me honest by disallowing duplicate titles, complicating my life if I inadvertently try to slip one by, requiring some messy searching and deleting to correct the oversight. This morning, I innocently attempted to write a story about
Suddenlies, only to discover that I'd already covered that topic in a post from five years ago. I considered just reporting that story under the Againing banner, given that I've chosen repeating as my overriding notion this quarter. Then I decided that the very fact that this title came up twice might suggest that I'm dealing with a universal experience, a pattern notable for its subtle repetition, that I had just then been Suddenlied again.

As I said in the earlier story, things tend to continue unchanged until some suddenly appears.

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Scaredy

scaredy
William Blake: The Book of Job: Pl. 12,
I am Young and ye are very Old wherefore I was afraid
(1825)


" … some days I even manage to muster an appearance …"


I often feel afraid. It never takes much. The prospect of engaging in even the smallest activity can raise the hairs on the back of my neck, rendering me frozen for a spell. The serial insult of mounting the scaffolding some days drives me into an almost comatose state where I just cannot function. The Muse asks me if I'm alright, and I am alright, just cowering from another phantom. I eventually manage to face whatever dread presented itself and evaporate it by merely moving into it. Once I begin, whatever surface tension prevented my entry seems to disappear and I'm free to go about my activity, certain only that I've sidestepped calamity for then and that it might well return again tomorrow. I slink from place to place, mustering up either courage or foolhardiness in turn, never especially brave or foolish.

When I agreed to serve as a delegate to the state convention, I figured that I'd just attend virtually since the organizers in the party had touted that they'd designed a convention which would not discriminate against those unwilling to mingle inside a superspreader event.

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Againing

againing
Winslow Homer: Boy with Anchor (1873)


" … that must be my manner of living."


For the eighteen hundred and twenty-sixth time in an almost unbroken chain, I sit down this morning to write yet another missive. I hold one intention prominent, the very same one I've held for each of the preceding mornings. I intend this one to be different than all of the others. A different title, a different focus, at least a slightly different perspective. Some insist that each of my postings, each little chapter, sums to pretty much precisely the same thing and that, while not exactly nothing, isn't ever very tightly focused, either. None of them convincingly concludes yet each seems to be up to something. I've explained before that I intend to project here a manner of living, not explaining how to live or even how to live better, but rather merely how it seems to be that I go about my living. I've previously established that I do not hold myself to be in any way an exemplar, an example of how one ought to go about living, going so far as to insist in one collection of stories just how Clueless I've always been. My most prominent purpose seems to be exposition.

That said, I also write my stories to remind myself what it is that I'm doing.

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Sprunged

sprunged
Robert William Vonnoh: Spring in France (1890)


"Some things never leave …"


A short ninety-one days ago, I landed on this shore which, today, starts heading for the door, chased off by overwhelming forces. The Solstice shoves away the powers that brought it about, Spring, which does all the heavy lifting, carrying in the longest day of the year. Spring leaves just before the beginning of the slow decline which, a mere one hundred eighty-two days hence will find us facing the final few days before Christmas from the shortest day of the year. Fear Summer, I say, and Autumn. Winter starts the renewal Spring finishes. The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer will squander their inheritance, leaving us with less light and ever later sunrises. Spring was always the life-giver, Summer, the taker.

By the day before the Summer Solstice, Spring has sprung and just about Sprunged, an irretrievable state.

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Satisfiction

satisfiction
Kobayashi Kiyochika: Pomegranates and Grapes (1879-1881)


" … I sit each morning in an office window overlooking the center of the universe …"


I trade not in the truth, but in truths, for truths come in such variety that only plurals can properly represent them. I pity the absolutists who seek THE truth and nothing but, for they seem to unnecessarily limit the range of satisfactions possible from their enquiry, whatever it might be seeking. The desire to boil anything down into a single essence just seems to spoil the seeking. A proper conclusion tends toward the ambiguous, at least recognizing the influence differing perspectives might bring to something. Very little of what any of us experience amounts to either science or engineering, and most of what I sense might be best classified as tenaciously unsettled; could be this, might be that, or perhaps it's something else. I must, it seems to me, frame my experiences in some way that works for me to achieve satisfaction. Often, I suppose, this work results in what I might agree amounts to Satisfiction, a flavor of fact that's not above employing fiction to produce satisfaction. I make up stories.

I've long held as an ethical responsibility the need to make the most generous possible interpretations when I lack access to better information.

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ContextShifting

contextshifting
James McNeill Whistler: Man in Plaid Shirt (Not dated)


"Shifting impressions flicker before me …"


It seems perfectly representative of how change works when, with me focusing intently upon whatever I've decided to change, the context within which I labor shifts instead. It might even be that change usually works like this, that the budding change agent always labors under some misconception that whatever he's doing might prove directly useful, when it more often sums to something different than expected. I seem to mostly experience ContextShifting, which changes the meaning of whatever I'd been so intently 'fixing.' It's not so much that I'm powerless, just relatively clueless. It might be that the resulting change was what I would have wanted had I been adequately prescient at the beginning. Change seems more often what we receive rather than what we directly engineer, our job, my job, largely to make up some story that eases acceptance and encourages gratitude toward what I never really intended.

I might focus upon context if I really want more directly influence outcomes, but I question whether I really want that level of control.

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Shift

shift
William Blake: The Pastorals of Virgil, Eclogue I:
The Blasted Tree (1821)


" … There never could have been one best way …"


I began this Reconning Series by declaring myself a Begineer, a skilled purveyor of starts rather than of finishes. I never feel very certain where my beginnings might be heading and I'm almost always absolutely clueless about the ending. When it comes time to draw conclusions, I typically lose my crayon and go still and silent, for I must not be in the transformation business. I might be more an evolutionist, and a slow one at that. I head off in a direction without really knowing where that compass heading might be leading me and with little more than a vague notion in my mind of what kind of an ending might result. Unsurprisingly, then, nearing the end, I sense no great understanding emerging from this particular wandering. The enquiry, rather than any specific conclusion, might have been the purpose of this enquiry, too.

The typical metric measures "Shift," often in something like tectonic units.

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HomeRun

homerun
Harold Edgerton: Child Running [Bob Edgerton] (1939)


"I remember how it was before that flooding …"


It's two hundred and forty-five miles from the Villa to my old neighborhood in Portland, a distance I know better than any distance on this planet. I've driven that distance in every possible weather, in every season, in sickness as well as in health, and stopped at every exit along the long way at least once, probably more than once. Without too much prompting, I can muster up some personal story about every exit along that route, stories of joy and despair, hope and frustration. No other route better illustrates my life, for it represents my HomeRun, my primary route home as well as my primary route away. My home has been on each end at times, sometimes here and other times there, never in-between.

I've crawled that route on glare ice, taking two days to navigate across.

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WellAtEase

wellatease
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Elles: The Seated Clown,
Mlle Cha-u-Ka-o (1896)


" … a clear violation of my intention of doing nothing for a change."


I consider my inability to do nothing a serious personal shortcoming. Over the last sixty years or so, I have focused the bulk of my attention upon doing stuff, often toward being up to something, sometimes even to accomplishing shit. My life's properly been all about creating what was not there before my passage, just as if any of that might make a difference. And I understand from reports from the field, that I did manage to make some differences, local, personal, not necessarily global. I studied the lessons in self-discipline and stayed mostly true to those intentions. I never lingered in bed in the morning. I didn't surrender myself to degradation long enough to do any permanent damage. I've come through, but with this little personal shortcoming intact. It seems to me as though I might have managed to learn how to do nothing by now, to not feel so ill at ease when unengaged, but to feel instead a certain WellAtEase sensation, where the world seems well enough without me obsessing about the quality or volume of my current contribution. Just sayin'.

I might have Ill At Ease down pat, though.

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Haunter

haunter
Winslow Homer: Adirondacks Guide (1892)


" … destined to become the eye beholding the beauty …"


Make no mistake, I am here as a representative of the past. While my powers once focused upon my abilities to disrupt and introduce disquieting futures, my sole role now seems to have coalesced into one focused upon representing what once was. Consequently, children and small dogs suspect me, and with good reason, for their remit opposes mine. Both the kids and the smaller puppies should properly be attempting to make some difference, although in the small dog's case, their effort's destined to be fruitless, if only because small dogs seem frivolous and ineffective by design. The children, though, rightfully take umbrage with how it was and with how it's been, and so wade right in with whatever might prove different, and can't seem to help it, while I steadfastly stand with the past.

My memories have not started fading yet.

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Ghosted

ghosted
Paul Gauguin: Manao tupapau [She Thinks of the Ghost
or The Ghost Thinks of Her)] (1894/95)

"I doubt if I'm here this morning."


Returning to the scene of a former life reliably induces the sense that I have become a ghost. I almost remember the details of my daily life there, but not quite. I perceive in general gists, relative positions, though distances seem distinctly different, whether foreshortened or lengthened, funny somehow. I recall how I used to slip down to the corner market to buy a pack of smokes but I cannot for the life of me remember how it felt to be panicking over a needed nicotine fix. My whole life then must have been perpetually suspended upon that knife edge separating a fleeting serenity and a more permanent insecurity. I inhabited what I would one day recall as a heaven on Earth, but had one devil of a time living in it then.

Times were hard. money, scarce, success uncertain, even unlikely.

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Boyk

boyk
Paul Gachet: Six Etchings: Head of a Kitten, Part of a set. (1895)


" … contribute his own gibberish into our conversation."


House cats do not speak English because their owners tend to slip into an irreproducible dialect of the language whenever their "kitten" appears. A stalwart cat becomes a kitten, regardless of its age, and jazz-like variations of its given name start spewing from said owner's yap. I have inexplicably begun calling my own "kitten" Max, Boyk. Perhaps just to get along or maybe because he knows from whence his cat food floweth, he responds as if he recognizes himself in that alien sound. I caught myself holding forth to him on the etymology of his latest Pet Name, as if he would quite naturally understand or be interested when I suspect he's just used to my babbling. He might even find my plumy-toned mumbling reassuring, a familiar sound in the otherwise quiet as a mouse early morning house.

Boyk, for those discerning readers, is a derivative of 'Boy Kitty,' a classification I often catch myself proclaiming when encountering Max in the wild.

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Aaaah

oooh
Suzuki Harunobu: Young Man Reading over a Young Woman’s Shoulder (1765 - 1770)


"Reconning resolves back into itself …"


As I approach the fifth anniversary of the start of my daily writing practice, I also see another impending ending. This series, this Reconning Series, seems to be heading in the very same direction its nineteen siblings met. I began each series on a solstice or equinox and wrote as if attempting to discover something. Each a Hero's Journey, in the full Joseph Campbell sense of that term. I'd depart reluctantly, still attached to the recently completed but not then feeling as though I'd achieved closure. I'd persist, meeting the usual collection of dragons and bugaboos, more or less vanquishing each in turn, before finding myself at the always surprising end of yet another writing season, attempting to celebrate a homecoming of sorts. Each felt more like a combination homecoming and departure again, because each was both, or at least I experienced them as both. Before the carcass of the old series had even cooled, I was off in some new direction.

As I mentioned in yesterday's story, I sustain myself as if a bird of the field, taking advantage of the natural abundance surrounding me.

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Drizzling

drizzle
Utagawa Kunisada: A Man in Nightly Rain (1835 - 1836)


" … in need of some Drizzling to remind me what I was trying to accomplish …"


Yesterday reminded me why I'd planned to finish repainting The Villa's exterior before full summer visited. Working in at best partial shade with an almost fierce sun beating down upon me, I found no escape from my labor. I shifted into one of my many dissociative states, the one my father taught me about long before I turned eight years old. I tucked my head down as if that make me invisible and worked, forcing myself ahead, step by step, insisting that I finish. I can become quite the taskmaster sometimes. My neck turned bright red as the sun found its inexorable way through or around my havelock's shade. I sweated through my overall bib.

Afterwards, I sat in shade rehydrating with beer and wondering what I thought I was doing here.

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Penance

penance
circle of Jean Bourdichon: Leaf from a Book of Hours: King David (c. 1500)


" … if not precisely wiped clean, at least a shade tidier …"


I'm not so much repainting The Villa Vatta Schmaltz as I am performing Penance for past mistakes. When The Muse and I bought this place, I was then a naive homeowner. Indeed, I doubt that I would have agreed to purchase this house had I been even half as experienced in home ownership as I am now, for I was a reluctant student of the dark arts of home ownership and I remain a wary graduate of innumerable hard knock lessons. Not that I'm complaining, for I doubt that I could have even hoped to be half the man I am today had this old place not put me through my paces, serially, often cruelly. I hold no grudges. I count most of those lessons as blessings, several still in considerable disguise. A few, I continue to hold genuine contrition for having committed, though a couple of those sins were clearly more incurred by omission than any personal action I might have taken.

Life collects its toll.

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TheAges

TheAges
Rembrandt van Rijn: Self-portrait (c. 1628)

"TheAges eventually reveal everything …"


How fortunate for me that I inhabit this particular time slice in history. I sit here this morning, surrounded by TheAges, much of their story as yet unwritten. Creation's probably only beginning, precursor very likely hardly hinting at upcoming marvels. I try to remember that much of what I take for granted today was unavailable to even the most powerful people in the world a scant few generations past. I see no reason not to believe that the future, the one within which I might at best aspire to become a small footnote, won't deliver similar wonders. Born neither too late nor too early, I seem to be suspended here. I am in no particular hurry.

Almost five years ago now, I began this portion of my journey.

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SideTracking

sidetracking
Juan Gris: Violin and Glass (1915)


" … I'm just along for the ride."


"I had planned" are the keywords of my efforts this Spring. Whatever I claim to be doing, I'm probably, in any observed moment, very likely to be SideTracking rather than accomplishing whatever "I had planned." I admit that I hold conflicting objectives and that these conflicts cannot be resolved. I figure that this probably amounts to a completely normal condition, such that anyone would be hard pressed to even remember ever inhabiting any other state. We as a species tend to stack our obligations up in messy collections, with one pile inevitably infringing upon another and another upon another, and so on, ad infinitum.

My intentions are never for naught, though they do suffer from considerable buffeting.

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WashingMyPhone

washingmyphone
Lucian and Mary Brown: Untitled
[baby standing next to bath tub] (c. 1950)


" … little wiser for my absence."


Much of the work I engage in around The Villa either induces a trance in me or requires that I induce a trance in myself as a precondition for participating. I cannot seem to retain my wits about myself when I'm attempting to complete some mindless task, but must first become adequately mindless myself. Different tasks require different trances and varying degrees of that magic mindlessness, and it can be a real challenge to shift and then switch back after completion. I can attest that I am not always successful, and frequently find myself stumbling only partly present into whatever comes next.

I will occasionally even embarrass myself like I did last night when I was juggling between starting supper and switching out of my paint scraping overalls.

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ApparentlyMeaningless

appearantlymeaningless
Willian Frazer Garden: Trees and Undergrowth (1885)


"Appearances effectively deceive."


Much of my training focused upon engaging in purposeful work, activities worth my investment, yet I've spent the bulk of my life engaged in ApparentlyMeaningless effort. This experience does not mean that I have largely invested my time in meaningless work, because there's often a huge difference between the ApparentlyMeaningless and the absolutely meaningless, and I might question whether absolutely meaningless even serves as a meaningful category, given how meaningfulness tends to emerge from even the most ApparentlyMeaningless work. The flat ceiling perhaps serves as the epitome of ApparentlyMeaningless effort. Why do we go to the considerable bother of constructing and maintaining flat ceilings when there's absolutely nothing but custom encouraging that effort? Flat is hard, yet we insist upon it.

My stories comprise my most significant body of ApparentlyMeaningless work.

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YetAnotherRainyDay

yetanotherrainyday
Gustave Caillebotte: Paris Street; Rainy Day (1877)


"Cabin fever reigns while rain falls."


The low pressure preceded the rain's arrival, then hung around as it settled in. Yesterday morning dawned sunny. Today's slipped in unnoticed behind a thick cloud veil. I heard the distant dripping through the brief night, downspouts hardly even amused at the trickle coming off the roof. The snowball bushes have almost lost their blossom for this season. They sometimes grace us with a second blooming in the early Fall, but it's not at all clear why. We're moving beyond the damp season now and into the desiccating one. We live by a single principle here, that we never complain about moisture in whatever form it appears. We must at least pretend we're delighted by its presence, however unpleasant its persistence.

My to-do list stretches to new lengths.

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OpenWindows

openwindows
Édouard Vuillard: Landscape:
Window Overlooking the Woods (1899)


For the first June in our twenty-plus year tenancy in The Villa Vatta, all the original double hung windows freely open and close, both top and bottom sash. This might seem like a minor accomplishment, but it precisely represents how us homeowners measure progress toward full possession. It seems entirely unremarkable that this accomplishment required twenty years of intermittent effort, because great things, or, at least, the greatest of things, exclusively manifest via lengthy intermittency. We're busy and our priorities, continually shifting, serve as no definitive determinant of what we might complete or when. We're essentially simultaneously working on everything and so, working on nothing. It's a genuine wonder that anything ever turns up as done. We're well accustomed to works in progress. It remains the normal homeowner's primary lifestyle.

I noticed the windows working because this week, after a lingering March, OpenWindows season seems to have begun with the First of June.
When we first moved in here, this same time of year, not every window would yield to opening. Many had broken window weight cords and a couple had been painted shut, a felony even in friendly courts. I imagined then a future time when I would spend the bulk of my homeowner time reclining within an environment of my own making, where pretty much everything worked and there were no rooms we'd bar from visitors. Kitchen, baths, stairs, and porches would all have been finished and operating as intended. The place might even exude a faint scent of fresh limes. It would be The Muse's and mine and no others'.

The Muse found the first blossom of what will become a very large and spreading climbing rose, which she's planned to take over the pergola over the back deck. When we first moved in, that rose's predecessor dominated that space, scenting the back half of the place in this very season, providing a plenty good enough reason to want to open windows wider than we could force them at that time. I hope to repaint the pergola before that rose takes over, then once that rose covers the back, another of those quiet little metrics of ownership will have manifested. The Muse will sit beneath that rose's essential shade on even the hottest summer days and feel well-covered. Just another outward sign of our inward ownership, each a source of quiet pride.

The massive Refurbish we accomplished last year completed something more than half of the outstanding fixes we'd imagined necessary. The exterior repainting I'm attempting to accomplish between rainstorms this Spring, will, when finished, represent a huge accomplishment, a combination penance and advancement. I keep whispering to myself, with distinctly mixed emotions, that I will never be repainting this place's exterior again, but I know for certain that I will catch myself wandering around the perimeter at some point in the future, marveling at what I completed and how I managed to finish. As of this writing, completion remains a speculation. I'm making slow progress and when asked this week how much longer the work would take, I plead No Contest. It's not at all clear, as, of course it should be unclear, if I will ever manage to finish, what with all the high priority distractions encumbering forward progress and my own failing motivation. It's a genuine wonder anything ever gets done, but when OpenWindows season comes, I'm reminded why I begin.

—————————

I always feel tempted, come another Friday morning, to find some over-riding metaphor to represent the events of the receding week. Something like the local Walgreens might feature in a full page, full color advertisement stuffed into a Sunday supplement, declaring their OpenWindows Week Sale, just as if whatever the heading declared constituted some real reason for celebrating by slashing regular prices. Nothing, apparently, says "Happy!" like a fifteen percent price reduction! It's a continuing seduction for me to produce just such a reduction, the briefest of summaries, to what, precisely, save my loyal readers the trouble of doing what they apparently relish, reading my stories? The stories were what they were and came without forward designs. I did not write any of them so that they might be conveniently digested into composite mush. Such, I guess, is my writer's experience.

I began this writing week reveling in
Slivers. "I search for and maintain my knowledge-bases, but I also often catch myself engaging based upon mere Slivers of intuition, and they're not often wrong. I have no proof, no systemic scientific evidence, but anyone who's ever lived, ever thrived, should already understand that it's not just knowledge that drives their successes."

I next wrote about a bless
éd form of dependence in Helped. "We're not here to isolate. Nobody is. We're here engaged in an essentially communal endeavor, part of the purpose of which simply must be to find premises for engaging together."

I reported from the site of yet another vigil called to remember a fresh set of victims in
Vigiling. "The candles we hold give in to the wind. Some spend the whole time relighting their neighbor then receiving a relight from them. Back and forth and forth and back again."

I engaged in what some might have interpreted as whining about This Damned Continuing Pandemic in
Squelching, the most popular posting this period. "My home is my cloister, I should not want. My own backyard should be green enough pasture, but isn't always."

I reported on what simply seems obvious in
LittleBoy. "I take it as a first principle that every adult male carries a LittleBoy around inside him. Some days, the adult's in charge, but many, he's not."

I next considered the type of effort, exceedingly common, where the ending proves elusive, in
Asymtoting. "I might find myself in one of Virgil's more curious circles of Hell, where I'll just keep working until infinity appears. Or, it could be some undocumented circle of Heaven where I'm destined to pursue my heart's desire without ever once actually possessing it. Almost there, but never quite, Asymtoting to my own delight."

I finished my writing week praising my many
NewBeginnings. "To be indentured to some imminent satisfaction might produce the most satisfying possible experience. Supper savored in advance usually surpasses any one actually swallowed."

What over-arching meaning might I propose for my writing week just passed? It truly does not matter, for whatever I might propose might well conflict with one you'd supposed. Better, most likely, to let those stories lay where they landed. Each, I suspect, contained some Sliver of universal truth, slivers we each sometimes forget. How we're Helped here. How our Vigilings never for naught. How life does, indeed, sometimes seem to insist upon each of us Squelching significant pieces of our story. How we carry a LittleBoy within and how we sometimes seem to be endlessly Asymtoting rather than accomplishing anything, our only redemption coming early each morning like another in a seemingly endless series of NewBeginnings! Thank you so very much for following my ramblings, even if I steadfastly refuse to summarize them for you, though I will, in season, sometimes consent to opening some windows.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved







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NewBeginnings

newbeginnings
Marsden Hartley: The Last of New England—The Beginning of New Mexico: (1918–19)


" … with hungry eyes we run into the day."


Depending upon how I parse my life, it's either comprised of endings or beginnings, and probably both. I'd wager that my life, and any life, features many more beginnings than endings, though, again, depending upon what I consider a beginning and an ending. I've grown to think of every morning to at least represent, if not precisely 'be', a NewBeginning, where the slate, if not exactly wiped clean, seems to lose some clutter. My life seems much simpler at three in the morning than it ever does at noon. By sunset, which in early June at this latitude comes ever nearer 9PM, with twilight stretching until well after ten, I'm never certain when the end of any day has finally come. It arrives after I've already headed for bed, where I dream of fewer complications and the promise of a mulligan.

If only each new morning actually brought a NewBeginning, a Dorian Gray Day where history's relegated to an odd attic corner and I have no reputation.

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Asymtoting

asymtoting
William Blake: Colinet’s Journey:
Milestone Marked LXII Miles to London,
from The Pastorals of Virgil (1821)


"Almost there, but never quite …"


Everyone insists that everyone needs at least one overwhelming, almost infinite aspiration in their life. Well, they actually insist that others need that. For the most part, everyone's pretty much satisfied with aspirations that they can wrap their arms around, for those infinite buggers too easily overwhelm. Our whole essentially reductionist understanding of project management utterly depends upon an ability to chunk infinites into more infinitesimal pieces, then assuming that linear strings of finite activities might somehow expand to satisfy some more infinite need. This does not always prove to be the case. In fact, it might be that this is the rarest of all possible cases and that the normal case cannot be covered by standard project management understanding and its dependence upon finites. The more typical case seems to attempt to muster infinites to produce infinites by a process I might call Asymtoting.

Asymtoting seems more like driving a car in which one cannot quite see over the dashboard or reach the pedals.

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LittleBoy

littleboy
Claude Monet: Boy in the Country (1857)


"May I never grow weary of yearning."


I take it as a first principle that every adult male carries a LittleBoy around inside him. Some days, the adult's in charge, but many, he's not. More often than most adult males will admit, their LittleBoy has taken control. No telling what might happen then.

The LittleBoy can be kind or cruel, generous or stingy.

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Squelching

squelching
Günter Fruhtrunk: Cloister Garden (1963)


"My home is my cloister …"


By my own assessment, I've become an expert at sequestering. I maintain no public schedule of appearances other than to manifest at pharmacy or grocery, both on irregular bases. I shun invitations. I do not ever drop in to visit. I keep my own counsel and exclusively mind to my own business. I feel overwhelmed, unable to maintain my own expectations, let alone live up to any others'. I'm behind on my weeding and feeling as though I might never finish the current repainting project. I hold myself hostage but send no ransom notes. I feel reasonably certain that nobody would respond to my ransom demands, regardless.

Two years and two full months into This Damned Pandemic, I might finally be approaching the eigenvalue of my disengagement.

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Vigiling

vigiling
Pierre Guérin: The Vigilant One (1816)


" … keeping the faith after it's been wounded again."


We all know where to go, where one goes when they're intending to show up. Some bring signs, others, candles. We all bring evidence that we have not forgotten and aren't likely to ever forget. We wonder sometimes if anyone besides us listens. We keep repeating our slogans, our mantras, our prayers anyway. We make mournful noises. Even if we're only making symbolic sounds, we figure that we've made our choices. Perhaps we gather solely to reassure ourselves.

There is no man here, nobody really in charge, no one charged with creating change, nobody who's job description includes empathic listening.

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Helped

helpedalong

Martin Schongauer: Shield with a Lion, Held by an Angel (c. 1430/50)


" … I'm good to go again, together."


As the lineman from the power company wrapped the power line running in front of the slice of wall I intended to paint, I caught myself thinking back to my first pass repainting that wall. It was a truly different time and place, before The Muse and I went on exile. Work was scarce so I decided to do something about the most embarrassing wall on the place, the South-facing one that someone in the past had attempted to save by very nearly destroying it. Rather than gently smooth the weathered surface. the perpetrator had liberally smeared silicon caulk all over the hundred year old siding boards, creating a truly terrible mess. Silicon easily fouls sandpaper, possess an extremely high kindling temperature, and a lifespan of something around fifty years. I ultimately had to tease that stuff out of the wood with an extremely anemic heat gun while suspended from a makeshift ladder-supported scaffold of sorts, a mushy old plank I'd borrowed for the purpose. This through the hottest part of a summer. I labored in tortured isolation.

I can honestly say that I made that first pass all by myself.

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Slivers

5:27:2022slivermoon
View of a Sliver Moon
from The Villa's upstairs hall back window,
early morning 5/27/2022

" … when I heeded what I couldn't have known for certain."


It must be clearest to me that I do not really know what I'm doing, though I suspect that my more dedicated readers understand well enough to appreciate the depth of my ignorance, the shallowness of my knowledge. I remain reasonably certain that nobody reads my writing with the intention of learning anything, since I seem to have very little if anything at all to impart. I mostly deal in impressions without drawing all that many conclusions. Any proclaimed certainty from me might be evidence of some fresh delusion. I'm mostly justifiably confident that I do not know all that much.

In our era, knowledge has become perhaps our primary delusion.

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NotAllIn

NotAllIn
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Wrestlers in a Circus (1909)


"He who picks away at things … also makes progress."


I suppose that ambivalence amounts to the greatest sin. When I cannot go All In on something, I seem to fritter away my gifts, however modest. I divide then slowly conquer myself, undermining my best intentions. Still, as I explored during my Authoring series, being AllIn might resolve little all by itself, for it, too, seems to take a toll, though perhaps a tad more decisively. I am realizing that I'm NotAllIn on my current batch of efforts. This Reconning Series seems to lack a certain focus. Repainting The Villa has not proven to feel all that motivating, certainly not as energizing as I'd expected it to seem. This Spring, with the weather definitely not cooperating, I've managed to fall behind on almost everything I've tried initiating. I'm realizing that some significant something's been missing and I'm loathe to understand precisely what. I'm already sorry I brought this up.

I should start listing the standard lame excuses here, explaining how this present condition might not actually be my fault.

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Knots

knots
Akan, Brass: Goldweight [Knot] (19th-20th century)


"I might have arrived too late to ever actually arrive."


I am not yet the man I intended to become. Neither am I the husband I aspired to be, nor the gardener, the songwriter, not the neighbor or the father, either. On this occasion of The Muse and my twentieth wedding anniversary, very little seems to have turned out as we'd so confidently projected back on that unforgettable day in May when we publicly declared our intention to stay together as long as forever might carry us. Those people, us, seem so innocent now, not having yet experienced all we came to know. They didn't know the depths to which I would not become. Neither did I.

That The Muse and I remain together probably amounts to at least a minor miracle.

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MovingScaffolding

movingscaffolding
Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎: Fuji with a Scaffold,
Detatched page from
One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku hyakkei) Vol. 3 (circa 1835-1847)


"The next slice will very likely seem completely different …"


I expect some controversy to continue into the far distant future whenever the question of change enters the conversation, particularly whenever the question of how much shift constitutes a "real" change. I contend that infinitesimal shifts might carry significant impact while others contend that nothing very short of a tectonic event creates much difference. I'm noticing, for instance, just how much difference I experience after I finish MovingScaffolding. I yesterday relocated the tower just two lengths down the wall, a distance of about a dozen feet, yet when I hoisted up the pieces to add the third tier, I felt as though I was standing in absolutely uncharted territory. The sea legs I'd so ably demonstrated atop the prior placement abandoned me and the shaky involuntary twerking motion had moved back into my legs again. I realized that I would have to relearn my whole scaffold repertoire, just like every time before. Twelve feet proved ample shift to qualify as significant.

I began the moving back into ritual, placing a plank across the top support, eying the electric service wire with fresh suspicion.

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MendingMitres

mendingmitres2


" … to square up that which was never square to begin with … "


The Muse holds woodshop fantasies. She dreams of sawing and planing and sanding fine wooden creations into existence. I'm the guy who hopes to never own another power tool and wouldn't use a powered saw if I had one. My sander's plenty of power tool for me. She seems to embrace opportunities to cope with obtuse angles while I seek opportunities to avoid them, yet here I am, facing a stack of mitered corners needing mending.

The Villa might be classified as a foursquare, but it's not precisely square, not rectangular, either.

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TopCoating

topcoating
Vincent van Gogh: The Large Plane Trees
[Road Menders at Saint-Rémy] (1889)


"TopCoating's practice for the FinishCoat's flourish."


I believe our language proves generally inadequate to represent our experience. We adopt labels which, if taken literally, seem to materially misrepresent what they intend to impart, but we've mostly tacitly agreed to let that insufficiency pass, considering no better could possibly be following. To become educated, then, might be to finally be introduced to the real meanings, those which cannot take formal form in words or phrasings. I might say I've been painting without noting or even really intending to suggest that I've said almost nothing about what I've actually been doing, for painting, like everything else, comes in layers, in stages, and it depends upon which stage I've been engaging in, whether I've managed to impart any understanding about what I have actually been doing. I could give a hint, though, that the part of painting I have been engaging in actually involved a brush and paint. This almost makes this stage unique in the various stages of painting. Not all painting involves paint or brushes.

I was engaging in the fine and satisfying art of TopCoating yesterday, this effort distinct from the equally fine and perhaps even more satisfying art of FinishCoating, which I expect to engage in later this morning.

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Transplant

transplant1
Adriaen Coorte: Still Life with Asparagus (1697)


"Most came from somewhere else and grew into this place …"


In this valley, folks give considerable credence to the native born. We use the phrase "born and raised here" to claim that birthright. All others take second place. Though my birth family moved me here when I was eight months old, I cannot rightfully claim the native born title, for I was born elsewhere. I, too, remain a carpet-bagger, like most folks here, not to even mention the forty-some years I did not live here, for I was one of the majority who relocated to someplace with more opportunity than this small city could afford me, and I became one who could not sustain viability after returning, so that I had to go away and reinvent myself all over again a second time before I could try to call this place mine again. I needed a place with a bigger future and a much shorter memory for me to ever outgrow who I'd become known as when growing up here. Like most, I guess, I felt that I sincerely needed to reinvent myself before I could grow into my true self, however self-deluded that might make me seem.

I wonder how the 'born and raised' crowd ever found enough space to properly reinvent themselves for adulthood.

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Respiting

respiting
Camille Pissarro: Rain Effects (1879)


" … a rusty iron fist enclosed in a soggy velvet glove."


I claim to be repainting The Villa, but I've only spent about one in five days painting so far. Almost two months in and I've completed only two stripes of wall, with a third one perhaps a day and a half away from done. Had I been able to work steadily each day, I might be a week away from finishing the job, but instead, I'm suspended somewhere not quite in the middle, in the middle of the first third, with no idea when I might finish, confident that my clever plan to complete the work before the searing summer heat reduces operating hours has become a shambles. Further, I carry a decent start on a sense of guilt for not having realized the progress I'd so confidently predicted before I began. Not only have I proven disappointing in delivery, I predicted poorly, too.

What was it that I did with that tranche of non-refundable time?

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ThinkingAboutThinking

thinkingaboutthinking
James Gillray: Political Mathematician’s, Shaking the Broad Bottom’d Hemispheres (1807)


"There are good reasons I'm not a civil engineer."


Frequent offenders (er, readers) here will have noticed my fractured relationship with most things mathematical. I am nobody's mathematician, not even my own, a condition that baffles about as much as it delights me. I understand that I really should not revel in any utter ignorance, but I get some satisfaction in recognizing this difference. I'm clearly not the standard issue. I recognized early that my MannerOfThinking was apparently insufficient to accumulate the requisite inventory of procedures and rules to support even a modest mathematical practice. Further, one apparently needed to exhibit something like a genuine interest in concepts that, quite frankly, never made much of an impression on me. I could never quite find interesting answering or even asking mathematical questions, ones intended to definitely decide something.

I have sometimes, though, gazed longingly across the chasm, wondering if I might someday and somehow stumble upon some spare proficiency in something mathematical.

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TheObserver

theobserver
Vincent van Gogh:
Terrace and Observation Deck at the Moulin de Blute-Fin, Montmartre (early 1887)


" … to feel as if my presence mattered for something …"


I find repainting The Villa refreshing because it involves me actually doing something. I'm scrambling up and down the scaffolding. I'm caulking cracks. I'm rolling and brushing in lengthy 'Wax On, Wax Off' exercises that leave my arms rubbery and my hair in disarray. I ache by the end of the day and I sleep deeply. This pattern seems very different to me because, I realize, that I've spend most of my life not as a doer, but as TheObserver. I did not plan not to do anything for a living, but I quickly became a supervisor then later a consultant, both occupations that observe in lieu of doing. They produce intangibles, exhaust insidiously, and leave little behind, certainly no physical product, not even anything as ordinary as a finished paint job. I could never at the end of a shift walk around something and marvel that I had made that. Like most holding jobs these day, I provided services, working without actually producing anything, a rather lonely and isolating sort of occupation.

Much of what's written these days appears without internal attribution.

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Paranoiac

paranoiac
Francesco Colonna: Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
-The terrified Poliphilus flying before the dragon (fol. d iii verso) (1499)

" … reassuring us that we're Hell-bound without hand baskets."


I apologize for what follows, for I find what follows extremely disturbing. I only write the following because I notice myself wrestling with how things seem to be. How things seem to be, to my estimation, should come naturally, yet they do not always seem to come naturally, for we inhabit a distinctly Paranoiac culture, and the paranoid cannot seem to ever just let things be. The paranoid feel as though they somehow owe the world salvation and they're always acting, or always saying that they're acting, to save the world, as if the world needed saving, as if they held leverage to save the world, both deeply questionable propositions. The most paranoid behave as if they are on a mission from God, an affectation that I suspect God, should such a being exist, finds deeply disturbing but hardly surprising, for if we were actually made in God's image, God should be intimately familiar with Paranoiac reactions, and so understand the choices presented and selected.

I suspect that paranoia's a choice, a particularly seductive one, and one which starts with a single victim before working outward from that middle to infect others both inadvertently and also on purpose.

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Challenging

challenging
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas:
Study for "Young Spartan Girls Challenging Boys"
Former Title: Study for "The Young Spartans Exercising"
Alternate Title: Petites Filles Spartiates provoquant des Garcons /
Spartan Girls Provoking the Boys (c. 1860-61)


"I'm just wrestling down another run-of-the-mill conundrum."


From where I stand atop the scaffolding, I cannot quite see into the one valley on my roof that manages to catch every bit of debris that passes by. There's a clog of accumulated leaves, Maple tree whirligigs, and hardened mud rendering the gutter in that corner, the only inside corner along that roofline, essentially inoperable. When it rains, water pours over the gutter and down onto the fiberglass roof of my cold frame, sounding like an arrhythmic timpani behind the rain's otherwise quiet patter. This clog hangs just above the slice of wall I'm currently Challenging myself to repaint.

I was taught that in order to feel fully alive, a person needs at least one great and almost overwhelming Challenging expectation hanging over their life.

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HollowedDays

HollowedDays
Cornelis Huysmans: The Hollow Road (c. 1700)


" … we're resigned …"


Our mostly feral cat Molly supervises the day-to-day operations around The Villa Vatta Schmaltz. She tends to be the first to notice whenever something, anything's changed. She's sniffing scornfully around the difference, just as if to determine who might be to blame for this latest outrage. I'm convinced that she'd rather everything just stay the same from day to week to year. She insists upon regular meal times and comes sniffing around should I somehow miss the deadline. She's capable of moping when she's denied her way. She's loving, in her fashion, which sometimes means she's slashing at a hand that was only trying to reassure her. She trusts no human.

The times when The Muse goes away for a few days upsets Molly most.

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Sleepwalking

sleepwalking
Honoré Daumier: The Hazard of Sleeping on a Journey (1843)


"I could be participating in One Mysterious Dream."


"I will take to the morning on the first day of my life,
and wander through the sparkling dew and sunshine,
and let her icy tingle wipe the sleep out of my soul,
for it seems to me I surely have been dreaming all this time;
but I almost half remember,
this one mysterious dream,
that came upon me just before I rose."

—One Mysterious Dream (A lyric I wrote back in the seventies)

I'm uncertain whether I'm Sleepwalking through this part of my life since I have little with which to compare my present state of mind, state of mind being at best a fleeting sort of experience, and not the sort to hang around to serve as the basis for any comparison, but I feel as though I might have recently been less than fully attentive.

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Forgivenness

forgivenness
Pier Leone Ghezzie: The Prodigal Son (c. 1720–30)


" … looking for some more Forgivenness to replace it."


If anything, age, maturity, further deepens my sense of inadequacy. What might have begun as a quiet stumble has by now established itself as a repeated pattern, a part of my personality, no longer merely transitive information but established definition. I still hold aspirations, though I mostly successfully hold them at bay. I do not wake up most days with any renewed sense that I might outgrow some long ago established shortcoming. I usually wake up accepting who and what I seem to have become, not often aspiring to overcome or get beyond anything. Some days' though, I'm tempted to ignore the preponderance of evidence and believe again, if only for a few fleeting moments, that I might hold different fates, untapped abilities, long hidden skills that might liberate me from some long-standing embarrassing shortcoming. These beliefs almost never deliver on their innocent promises, and leave me nurturing what I might call Forgivenness for myself again.

I think of Forgivenness as the self-bestowed state allowing acceptance of apparent fate.

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Paced

paced
Xiao Yuncong 蕭雲從: Album of Seasonal Landscapes, Leaf G (previous leaf 7) 山水圖冊 (1668)


"Slow and steady sustains a pace."


All activity seems to possess a pace, a rhythm most natural to its motion. This cadence doesn't always immediately disclose itself. It seems common for initial engagement to feature effort sometimes wildly out of synch with this natural one and it's not at all uncommon for the first few results to suffer somewhat from this absent understanding, too rushed or too painstakingly formed. Either can affect the quality of both the result as well as with the experience of producing the result. Initial discomfort often results from some mis-match between the adopted and the natural pace of a piece of work, and diagnosing this difficulty tends to be complicated, in that too many unknowns enter into the equation. A milling around period's often necessary before an appropriate Pace can emerge, often after investing altogether too much effort. One wonders how anyone could maintain a practice until stumbling upon a rhythm and pace that makes it easy in comparison.

I've long preached about the necessity of finding this natural rhythm but I'm realizing with repainting The Villa, that I had and still have no clue about how to induce this understanding.

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Recuperating

Recuperating
Unknown: Twenty-Armed Dancing God Ganesha,
Remover of Obstacles
(10th century, India, Madhya Pradesh)


" … the true meaning of life was presented on a day
when I was tucked up on the couch, Recuperating from something."


In the middle of it, Recuperating feels indistinguishable from slacking. The inactivity seems identical. I struggle to interpret my condition with the generosity it might not wholly deserve, for if I were true to my upbringing, I would have already cleared myself for reengagement and ended this forced idleness, but I am not true to my upbringing. I have been more or less actively rebelling against my upbringing since before I was fully brought up, and I seem unlikely to change my behavior now. It's not that I was raised by wolves. I mostly revere my parents intentions, even though they were sometimes difficult to discern. My most generous interpretation insists that they always meant well even if they weren't always able to do as well as they intended. In that, I was raised to be like them, but a point came where I needed to make my own decisions, my own choices, and beyond that point I needed to become my own parent and, curiously, my own child.

I wounded my knee painting.

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TheMovie

themovie
Charles Sheeler: Church Street El (1920)


" … none of it can ever be usefully interpreted literally …"


I believe that I am immersed within a movie produced especially for my edification and occasional enlightenment. The scenes I witness reflect something about me, always allegorically, and it's always up to me to interpret what they're trying to say. Some days I pay close attention. Other days, I doze. I know for certain that I miss much that might have proven significant had I paid closer attention, but it remains a significant part of the human condition, to which I'm no less subject than you, to not always pay close enough attention such that opportunities to more deeply understand quite naturally slip by. Nobody else can interpret my movie for me and I can never interpret anyone else's movie for them, either, and not just because I cannot quite see their movie from my perspective. Sometimes, a movie appears that was apparently produced for communal consumption. In those cases, more than one might watch and make shared meaning from the experience. This world is a complex multi-plex, with innumerable simultaneous movies running on an almost infinite number of screens.

Very few things are as they first seem.

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DsKnees

dsknees
Unknown Artist from Mexico, Guerrero, Olmec: Kneeling Figure (c. 1200-600 BC)


"Humility might humiliate …"


That part of planning asking the planner to list vulnerabilities always bugged me. Even I knew that the known vulnerabilities posed little threat, if only because one tends to cringe in sympathetic anticipation whenever anything threatens a known vulnerability. The real vulnerabilities prove to be unlistable. It's their very nature. I, for instance, when starting to repaint The Villa's exterior, would never have thought to identify my knees as anything like a vulnerability. Thanks to a persistent insistence to avoid jogging, skiing, and spinning, my knees have never bothered me. I am not now nor do I ever expect to be enqueued for knee replacement surgery, but six weeks into the effort, D'sKnees have become an unanticipated issue.

Perhaps it was those days spent grubbing out the swamp elm roots behind the garage that first prompted the pain.

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Winering

winering
Willem Claesz Heda: Still Life with a Gilt Cup (1635)


" … we already live in a destination now …"


I remember when this valley evoked not a single notion of wine. Decades later, its very identity seems inexorably tied to the stuff. A place once revered for peas became one renowned for wine, with wineries dotting the rural byways and tasting rooms lining Main Street. It's a small city story many aspire to replicate, from backwater to tourist destination, from home town to boom town. I woke from my Rip Van Winkle dream to find myself living in The Napa of the North and I doubt that I will ever successfully adjust to this shift. Cute Crap Shoppes have taken over my once practical central business district. The Goodwill Store's moving out beyond the edge of town, some tourist attraction soon to follow into its space. Barrel Tasting Weekends, periodic seemingly spontaneous celebrations, bring grid lock to downtown and lines of expensively-clad tour bike riders wandering around in circles.

The Villa Vatta Schmaltz still sits on the same three way corner it was built on a hundred and sixteen years ago when this was the edge of civilization and streetcars swept through our streets.

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Affinity

affinity
Leaf from Gratian's Decretum: Table of Affinity
(c. 1270-1300) Italy, probably Naples, 13th century


"almost identical, always unique."


I met Mark and The Muse on the same day, September 14, forever after a holiday, a day for celebrating Affinity, a mysterious attractor, a ceaseless benefactor. I cannot recount or recall how it was that we found ourselves so connected. It seemed quite natural at the time, nothing entirely unexpected yet also something absolutely extraordinary. It seemed as if we could always finish each other's sentences, always understand, always empathize. Now, when Mark visits, old patterns revisit, too. An ease. A conversation cadence more than familiar, so natural as to beg identification. We just are together, picking up wherever we last left off, continuing the narrative where it had always seemed to be headed.

Mark and his wife Rita were the first to visit The Muse and I when we entered into exile.

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SheetMetalScrewed

sheetmetalscrewed
Thomas Hart Benton: Homestead (1934)


" … there's always a trick and … the experts always neglect to mention it …"


It turns out that if I volunteer to serve as my own housepainter, the universe will quite unselfconsciously presume that I am also by extension signing on to become my own sheet metal worker. How this natural expansion occurs remains a mystery, but that it occurs seems indisputable. I set about to paint a slice of south-facing wall, this one with a downspout hanging on it. I ask Kurt, who serves as my painting consultant because he's a real painter, if I really need to take down the downspout to properly paint that face. He reassures me that it's completely optional. I can choose whichever without compromising my highest intentions. I admit that I'm more opposed to the idea of taking down the downspout than actually opposed to the taking down of it, for the idea complicates my simple-minded notion of what I'm supposed to be up to. I signed on to serve as my painter, not, by extension or otherwise, my own sheet metal worker. That downspout was fabricated out of sheet metal and while I know little about painting, I know much less about sheet metal working. I know nothing whatsoever about sheet metal working, so if I were to decide to take down that downspout, I would by extension, again, be agreeing to become my own liability, even more than agreeing to become my own housepainter rendered me. I'd step over that invisible line and crossover into truly clueless territory.

Yea, I ultimately decided that I would have to take down that downspout if I were going to properly paint that wall.

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PaintingMyHead

paintingmyhead
Unknown Artist(s): Busts of Bodhisattvas
[from Mogao Cave 321,
Dunhuang, Gansu province, East Asia, China]
(Tang dynasty, 618-907)


"It's always something."


I first negotiate with myself. The scaffolding always seems impossibly high, higher than it actually stands. It looks modest enough when standing beneath it, but climb up onto the second tier and a primal fear leaks into me. I gaze at that top tier from there and cannot quite imagine myself transported up there. It seems flimsy, however securely assembled. It seems too narrow. There are no railings up there, just a wall face and soffit, not quite six feet above it. I stand transfixed as if any option other than upward existed. I favor my good knee then, pretending that the other hadn't been wounded from too much penitent kneeling on rough concrete and scaffolding. I finally nudge myself upward, having lost or won the negotiating, depending upon how I judge the outcome. In that moment, I feel as though I've lost, but I was burning precious daylight and needed to just get on with the proceedings, wherever they might be leading me. I feel as though I've entered the famed Valley of the Shadow of Death then, and I'm proceeding. Another painting day's begun.

If I could live with myself, I would run in some other direction, but I made myself a promise and I intend to deliver on it, Hell or High Water, maybe both.

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Sprinting

sprinting
Edouard Manet: The Races (1865)


"I might just as well surrender to this feeling."


This Spring, this Reconning Spring, has moved slowly, dragging what passes for her feet every inch of its way. One day, sunny, the next three, raining and cold, some days snowing, other days just blowing, it's been inhospitable if also welcome weather. It's been welcome weather because last year, these rains never arrived. We sat here watching July and August's wheat harvest dehydrate in the fields, expectations for yields steadily plummeting. Conversation out at the Ranch Supply leaned toward catastrophe. Nobody had seen anything very much like it. No end ever came into sight right into August when the worst case descended. Wildfires raged in the mountains and a heat dome hung low over the valley. Every day dawned clear if smoky and the sprinklers ran overtime all summer. The fuchsia didn't make it.

I've admitted to hiding behind this weather, of taking solace that I could too easily justify slow walking into this season, for I was facing a daunting personal challenge. I'd committed myself to repainting the Villa, to repairing the damage I'd caused when last trying to defend it against inexorable aging, but my heart wasn't in it.

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DoubleBound

doublebound
Georges Seurat: Seated Woman with a Parasol
[study for La Grande Jatte]
(1884/85)


" … I hover on the edge of some fresh enlightenment."


I often experience what I internally mischaracterize as some sort of a problem even though no obvious solution occurs to me. These difficulties can remain remarkably persistent, essentially unsolvable for the longest time. Many of them I never resolve even though they might continue to bedevil me. Sometimes, I just conclude that the difficulty out-smarted me. This conclusion does little for my self esteem, but then I already knew that I had little to hold in very high esteem to begin with. I was just confirming facts already more than adequately evident when I failed to solve the problem that might not have been a problem in the first place. Many of these are dilemmas, damned whatever I do choices. A few fully qualify as DoubleBinds, which I might define as difficulties which straddle contexts, existing in more than one place at once, and therefore conventionally unresolvable from within any single context, or so they appear. My life, like yours, overfloweth with DoubleBinds.

It might be helpful if we each had finished at least some Post Doc work in Theoretical Physics, for if we had, we might find ourselves better positioned to cope with these damnable DoubleBinds we're forever discovering invading our lives.

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LilacSeason

lilacseason
Anselmus Boëtius de Boodt: Sering
[Syringa vulgaris] (1596 - 1610)


" … though this news was never once reliably reported anywhere."


I am reliably informed that this world has already gone to Hell. Reliably informed yet still disbelieving, I somehow manage to face each new morning, influenced for certain by Molly our cat and her first thing in the morning enthusiasm. She's tripping me down the dark staircase, often trilling in apparent anticipation, hopping up onto the dining room table as I pass, to mug for a head scratch our even a full length body stroke. She quivers in anticipation of what comes next. Next, she'll race me into the kitchen where she'll vault onto the kitchen table, glancing back to make certain I followed, where she'll position herself for what must serve as a great conformation for her, her first thing in the morning ration of kitty treats, which I pile up on a piece of newspaper before her. She digs in, every bit the trencher I know her to be at heart, submitting to ever more enthusiastic stroking on my part. I pet her in humble and sincere appreciation for her reminder, served that same time every morning, that this world has not necessarily already gone to Hell, nor does it really seem to be headed in that direction. For that moment if for no other, all's right with the world, whatever calamity flashes just over the horizon.

In the same way that Molly's enthusiasm reassures me every morning, when Spring finally arrives after weeks of unconvincing promising, the world around me takes up Molly's morning role and commences to exhibit considerable enthusiasm for life as it just is in that moment.

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Incivility

incivility
José Guadalupe Posada Aguilar: Ballad of the Snail
[Corrido del Caracol] (19th century)


"Damn me to that kind of Hell if you will."


The small pick-up truck parked in front of Popular Donuts featured a tailgate spray painted with the words Fuck Biden. That sight was enough to convince me that I didn't want any donuts that day. I felt deeply disturbed, embarrassed for the pick-up's owner, who, I suspected, had fallen in with a bad crowd. I remembered back to my late grade school days when I first encountered people my age behaving like "adults." I placed adults in quotes there, because even then I recognized that those people were more mimicking their elders than behaving like them, for there seemed a touch of the perverse in a fifth grader dabbling in four letter words and stolen smokes. The effect just embarrassed me and I quickly slipped away from those guys and tried to give them wide berth going forward. I thought them trouble if only due to their decidedly uncivil performance. They didn't so much seem grown up or liberated, as degraded, and they were voluntarily doing that to themselves! I decided that I would choose not to use that sort of language, not even to myself. I still, when I hit my thumb with a hammer, scream "Danged Nab It!" rather than some four letter deep blue facsimile of it. I won't even cuss when it's just me about.

I consider this convention to be a necessary element of civility, and Incivility to be early evidence of rot.

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Unemployable

RP-P-2018-698
Pieter Schenk: Carefree life in Hsin-yang (1702)


"We will never satisfy the formal definition of Hard Working …"

People ask me if I'm retired and I reply that I'm not, just Unemployable. I believe that unemployability has become a common state for people of a certain uncertain age. For some, Unemployability comes early and for others, later, but I dare suggest that it eventually comes for most. This amounts to no tragedy, for employability seems to be a self-liquidating state. The very act of holding a job undermines an incumbent's ability to hold that job. Eventually, this contradiction does in the job or the incumbent or both, often resulting in the incumbent's growing sense that he just can't bear to do that anymore, coupled with a conviction that to continue doing that might well prove terminal. Eventually, no amount of money in this world could properly compensate the afflicted individual. No "opportunity" sufficiently attracts. In other cases, more like my own, an individual simply grows to lack baseline skills necessary to successfuly maintain employment. He becomes a buggy whip in an automobile world. I, for instance, cannot operate a PC or type with more than two and a half fingers, both terminal shortcomings in today's competitive job market.

Unemployability seems distinctly different from obsolescence, for the Unemployable are far from idle.

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Structural

Structural
James Abbott McNeill Whistler: The Unsafe Tenement (1858)


"I'm much more skilled at the consequently superficial …"


I specialize in superficial strategies. I was the one who imagined such a thing as Brief Consulting, a philosophy rooted in the firm if not always fully justified belief that most difficulties might be fairly easily co-opted via clever reframing, that insight might often trump knowing, and that we mostly suffer from varying degrees of The Normals. It was a radical perspective dressed up as conservative approach since it only infrequently insisted upon anyone making any structural changes. It accepted the way things are as the way things are, and didn't often aspire for very much different. It was more about coping than changing, anyway.

I still find little to criticize about Brief Consulting.

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Inistential

inistentiel
Albrecht Dürer: Celestial Map of the Southern Sky
[Imagines coeli meridionalis] (1515)


" … we are the existential threat …"


We seem to inhabit a world beset with existential threats. An existential threat, for those who, unlike me, do not collect lengthy terms like fishermen collect worms, imperils our very existence. In other words, should an existential threat come to fruition, it would destroy us. Polly Pureheart faced an existential threat when Snidely Whiplash tied her to that railroad track, though I never understood why he chose to do that. Had a train come along while she was tied there, it would have been the end of her. Fortunately, Dudley DoRight's horse Nelly noticed something amiss and carried Dudley to the scene of the impending existential threat, where he was able to easily neutralize Snidely's trumped up existential threat on poor Polly, who, as a result, fell in love with Nelly, if my memory serves me correctly. Existential threats, as this story demonstrates, are very serious business.

We might also inhabit a world beset with what I might call Inistential threats, imagined perils we project, which certainly seem to us to qualify as existential threats.

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ThinkingUnder

ThinkingUnder
Attributed to Ignace-Joseph de Claussin, after Jean Jacques de Boissieu: Oude man in denkende houding (1805 - 1844)


"I make progress, then, depending upon how utterly stupid and uninquisitive I can remain …"


I have been accused of over-thinking on many occasions, perhaps because I tend to think as a first defense. It's my default response. Like all default reactions, this one does get over-used if only because it's almost always the one already saddled up and ready to go whenever anything happens. This results in a fair number of false positive reactions, where I apply precisely the wrong leverage in response to some otherwise ordinary perturbation. This amounts to perfectly normal behavior, though it often appears absolutely crazy. I imagine myself producing similar results whatever response I favored. If I tended to burst into tears in response to anything, I would seem well-adapted some percentage of the time, but I'd mostly build a reputation for being weepy. I suspect that most of us favor some pre-loaded reaction and thereby tend to react strangely some of the time. My thinking responses do not really qualify as wholly unreasonable, though thinking can sometimes violate the First, Do No Hard Clause under the standard rules of engagement.

Much work is by nature properly considered mindless.

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FairTrading

fairtrading
Juan Gris: The Painter's Window (1925)


" … the new dog teaches the old dog a new trick or two."


The Repeated Offender reader of these musings will remember Kurt Our Painter, who was a prominent figure during our extended Grand Refurbish last year. Kurt proved an able sidekick, teaching me about the practical application of paint, which turned out to be a surprisingly—shockingly— philosophical endeavor. Kurt carries an easy half century experience as a professional painter, and he's still learning, for painting, like most activities, I suppose, never was a simple matter. Of course, any Jehu can slop the stuff, though sloppy painting does disclose a definite lack of character. Real painters are painstakingly careful, patient even beyond their own belief, and wise. They change the world one mil at a time or less. They refer to accumulating paint in mils, though measuring actual depth proves impossible.

When painting, Kurt taught me that a single mil of paint sufficiently covers any lightly-used surface.

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AgingInSpace

aginginspace
Mayfield Parrish: Painting for cover of 30 Aug 1923 Life magazine


" … enjoying the journey though I knew where it was leading."


I find myself presently engaged in a rare effort, though I suspect that such activities might well become more frequent and more common in upcoming years. I claim to be repainting three sides of The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, an activity I have already in this lifetime engaged in once. What Makes this iteration different? I reasonably and fully expect that this time will be my last time erecting scaffolding around this building. If this work ages as planned, this place will not require another coat of paint in my capable lifetime. It will certainly need repainting in the far distant future, but by then, I do not expect to be physically capable of performing this service, however much I might wish to. It's genuine pain-in-the-butt grunt work, so it wasn't precisely a gift I gave myself when I decided to perform this job, yet I felt gifted.

I imagined myself savoring each brushstroke, immersing my full consciousness into the experience, painstakingly burning the effort into permanent memory, however foreshortened that might prove now.

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PhilosopherWork

philosopherworkman
Maxfield Parrish: The Lantern Bearers (1908)


"The philosopher's wary."


I have my heart set on a blue front door. Kurt Our Philosophical Painter reappears in my stories this week as he returns to finish the door we left undone in deference to Winter as we otherwise completed our Grand Refurbish. I'd intended to replace the rickety front screed door, thereby making it possible to secure the front even with the door removed, and that screen was replaced earlier this month. I peeked out my office window to see a crew of two exit their truck and head for the porch. I opened the door before they'd knocked and welcomed their presence. The new screen was fully installed less than an hour later. I didn't help much because they'd caught me immersed in my PhilosopherWork so I wasn't dressed for workman work. I find myself continually shifting gears between one persona and the other. Which am I really? Neither and both.

The philosopher in me prefers to work in slippers.

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HomingPlace

homimgplace
Marsden Hartley: “Still Life” (1932-1933)


" … our point of real reference."


It may be that there's no place like home, but I'm noticing that there's really no place like the HomingPlace, that place from which one continues the infinite homing search. It seems that search never ends. For me, my old home place is not a place of rest. My Reconning didn't cease when The Muse and I retook possession, but increased both in pace and purpose, for my Reconning finally had a base from which to once again sally forth from again and again and again. I might roost here, but this old place more prominently serves as a point of departure than a place of repose. I'm clearly going somewhere. So's The Muse.

When on exile, our Reconning seemed more like practice than purposeful.

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CaughtUp

caughtup
French (cartoon)/South Netherlandish (woven):
The Unicorn Purifies Water (from the Unicorn Tapestries)
(1495–1505)

"None of us run this race to win it …"


I complain that I'm behind just as if I was ever what even a generous interpretation might consider CaughtUp. As near as I can tell from here, I was born behind and I have been falling ever further behind since. Even when I accomplished something, I recognized that I could have done more had I really applied myself like I know I could have. Whenever I accept a fresh assignment, it lands on top of the pile of unfinished business I already have open and cluttering my desktop. When I finally organize something, a few bits of whatever it is won't quite fit into my new classification scheme, such that a strict judgement of the finished product should be that my product isn't quite finished. I maintain many backlogs, just as if they'd ever become anything else. Finished and done largely seem like acts of abandonment. I graduated from both high school and university with unfinished business. It took me a while to understand and accept that graduation resolved nothing except that I'd never be able to clean the plates I left partially eaten there.

I almost remember a time when I had actually CaughtUp.

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HighApril

highapril
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: At the Circus: The Spanish Walk
[Au Cirque: Le Pas espagnol]
(1899)


"… maybe saunter over to the neighbor's …"


Both Max and Molly, our cats, were scheduled for their annual vet visit Tuesday morning. Anticipating trouble from Molly, who remains steadfastly standoffish and feral, I dosed her with enough CBD to mollify a moose. Even so, I slipped into my heavy leather yard gloves before attempting to pick her up and tuck her into her carrier. I pulled off that move without a hitch, but Max had witnessed the kitnapping and just to help, Molly began crying most plaintively, which clearly alarmed Max. Wary then and probably remembering his past cat carrier experiences, he bolted. Then we played an extended game of catch or, more properly, failure to catch. I did manage to nab him twice as he passed by, but only because he's so deep down good natured that he likely couldn't quite muster the belief that I intended him harm. I stuffed him into his carrier, or tried to, and he managed to contort himself into a ghost and exit while I shoved him in. After two failures, I gave the game to him and decided that I would just have to explain his absence and seek another appointment, taking Molly in alone, which would probably be better, anyway.

Molly, probably thanks to the CBD, performed beautifully, submitting to touching and probing from a stranger, something she won't usually agree to at home among family, and all was well with the world.

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Interruptus

interruptus
Juan Gris: Portrait of Pablo Picasso (1912)


"Higher education, lower expectation."


The pace of classes at university fascinated me. Assignments came without regard to the size of my plate or any preexisting condition. The fact that some other class featured unrealistic expectations in no way inhibited every other class from having them too. These conflicts could not be resolved. Such was the paradox of higher education. One was chided to become a good student, but not even the best student was really expected to complete every assignment, to read every chapter, to ace every exam. Those who excelled were like The Muse, who was born with the ability to pass any test, even if she'd not studied, because she understands how to ace tests, I guess. I was not so blessed.

My university days were filled with guilt over all I could not complete.

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Finishing

finishing
Juan Gris: The Sunblind (1914)


"Some future unobservant audience will most certainly be impressed …"


I say that I'm refinishing this door, but I do not expect to reach an end. A time will come when I will choose to abandon this effort as either lost or good enough, essentially equivalent conditions, and focus my attention elsewhere, but for now, for today, I focus here. So much of my life seems to carry just this quality, where I'm not actually doing whatever I'm declaring myself doing. I do not intend to misrepresent my actions, for with this kind of work, misrepresentation might be the only possible representation. I say I'm finishing. I might be refinishing, but I do not labor to reach an end. I labor to begin and to properly attend.

This door was once damaged beyond all hope of repair.

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Refelance

refelence
Vincent van Gogh: Self-Portrait or Portrait of Theo van Gogh (Paris, Summer 1887)


"[I] never learned to trust popularity."


I might fairly characterize modern life as a search for relevance. Certainly media, public as well as social, a prominent presence in our Damned Pandemic-separated lives, operates under a strict perversion of the Democratic process, where the number of views/likes/shares/comments determines relevance. I'm uncertain who first proposed simply voting as a means for determining relevance, but majorities have since voted in favor of the most remarkable and remarkably stupid things. It seems rather rare that a number one-rated program comes anywhere near being the best program produced that year. Same with recordings. Same with films. Same, too, with seemingly almost everything. Popularity in the polls has become the new relevance, a condition to which I'll assign a potentially more telling term, Refelance, meaning 'referred relevance.'

How does an artist, a creator, any producer determine relevance?

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Resturrected

resturrection
Raphael: Resurrection of Jesus Christ (1502)


" … already arrived and on the path intended …"


Perhaps the gravest error when Reconning lies in the usually innocent attempts to plot courses to the past. We know the past much better than we know our future, so it seems a smaller stretch of imagination to project that rather than to muster fresh visions, but resurrecting's no less speculative and much more dangerous. This universe, for better or for worse, runs exclusively forward, from past toward future, and any attempt to reverse this sequence should properly create serious consequences, however unintended. That a major world religion was predicated upon resurrection seems curious if also telling, for Jesus' great works all came before the resurrecting rather than after. After, he managed an ascension, which I guess amounted to another separation, with promises, of course, but he seemed just as gone after ascension as he seemed just after crucifixion, leaving an observer to wonder what resurrection accomplished other than to confuse a question. After ascension, the legend remained, plenty powerful and present, same as just after he first departed.

I suppose I speak heresy or disclose my lack of biblical literacy, but on this Easter morning, I find myself considering another sort of celebration than one focusing upon defeating death with resurrection.

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Reprieving

repreiving
Thomas Hart Benton: City Activities with Dancehall
from America
Today mural (detail), 1930–31


" … this universe appears to be self-correcting …"


I imagine this to be a self-correcting universe. I suspect that this notion comes from the inescapable fact that nobody really has the slightest influence over this universe's trajectory and that most of its business occurs on scales which could never have the slightest direct effect on anybody. It's a continuously playing movie which never once repeats but which appears so uniform as to appear familiar. My plans might not always come to fruition, but among the infinite alternative resolutions, at least one workable substitute very reliably seems to show up. Eventually. The net effect seems to be an infinite engagement in which I for some reason choose to involve myself in finite segments, some of which do not work out but for those that don't work out, I receive a Reprieve. An alternative appears to, if not precisely save the day, preserve potential.

That's not to say that I've never been disappointed.

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ExilesReturn

exilesreturn
Thomas Hart Benton: Outreaching Hands from America Today mural (1930–31)


" … to seek dignity rather than desire."


An Exile'sReturn feels no less traumatic than his exit, for both events demand skills not previously in evidence in our hero's experience, however vast. He left only because he could not possibly stay, hardly a proper preparation for anything following. He returned because he'd finally earned passage, but after such a long absence that he would not be returning to from whence he once departed, but into a rather darkening sunrise. In most ways, an Exile'sReturn turns into yet another exile, an extension of the discontinuity begun when he first fled into exile, unaware that he would never, could never, return. It would be, he comes to understand, off-handed adaptation from there on. It would be a great blessing that he returned just as unaware as he departed. Understanding, in probably this world's greatest blessing, always comes later, after confusion and well before wisdom. An Exile'sReturn proves revealing.

After eons of ceding one's heart's desire, one might recognize that hearts know little.

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ThirdYear

thirdyear
Thomas Hart Benton: "America Today" Mural (detail), “Coal” (1930–31)


" … it sure is a good thing that The Muse and I relocated to overlooking The Center of the Universe …"

As the ThirdYear of Our Damned Pandemic began, its prolonged presence seemed to foreshorten our future. That April, our prior years' toodles around Paris and the French countryside seemed almost epic adventures dredged up from prehistoric times, times long past and unlikely to ever return, like an innocence forever lost, like coal once was. The Muse and I have so far dodged the Covid bullet, whether through early and frequent vaccination, obsessive masking, or dumb luck, nobody can say. Certainly people every bit as scrupulous as us fell prey and others who seemed scandalously pass
é stayed safe. Most recovered fully, but not all. A million people just in this country are absent today who wouldn't be gone had Covid-19 not come along. It remains, ebbing and surging, leveraging large number laws, quietly disappointing hopes and dreams.

The routine seemed perfectly sustainable at first, as any fresh experience might.

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AtHardLabor

_hardlabor
Thomas Hart Benton: Steel from America Today mural (detail) (1930–31)

"I know, ironic."


I seem to need to relearn a simple lesson each Spring, just as if each prior Springtime hadn't taught me the same damned thing. I leave my long Winter hibernation with aches and pains I can never remember acquiring. It's not like the season had demanded too much of me. Aside from a few simple snow shovelings and some firewood carrying, I hardly stretch a muscle once the Autumn leaf harvest is in. I still awaken with a grumbly back or something. It's always something. A muscle group complaining without a discernible cause. I limp around and attempt my annual stoicism performance, which fools and entertains nobody, especially me. Eventually, even The Muse catches on that I'm aching. I take my ibuprofen and attempt to carry on, avoiding strenuous activity.

Then I relearn that I need some strenuous activity to iron out Winter's remaining wrinkles.

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Hesitance

hesitance
James Gillray: The cow-pock,
-or-The wonderful effects of the new inoculation!
- Vide - the Publications of ye Anti-Vaccine Society (1802)


"I'm more of an amateur than that."


He who hesitates might be temporarily lost, but not often permanently so. The one who tries to seize the day to appear decisive more easily loses himself, but doesn't seem to notice. I usually opt for Hesitance over decisiveness if only because I only rarely ever seem to possess enough information to justify engaging very quickly. I tend to sidle up to experiences, suspicious of their impact and influence. I do not usually readily volunteer. I am an avowed and proud foot-dragger. I prefer to catch up rather than rush ahead. I'd really rather that you go first. I'm not being polite, just cautious.

Try as I might, I cannot quite manage to characterize my Hesitance as a vice.

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ZenosReality

zenosreality
Pellegrino Tibaldi: Zeno of Elea shows Youths the Doors to Truth and False (Veritas et Falsitas) (C.late 1580s)
Fresco in the Library of El Escorial, Madrid


" … we might never notice ourselves incapable of stepping into the same river once."


It has long been a popular pastime among mathematicians and logicians to poke fun at the humble Zeno of Elea, a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who left a memorable, subtle, and profound legacy of observations. He was the one who posited that one can never step into the same river twice and also the guy who cared enough to ask after the barber who shaved only those who didn't shave themselves, and wonder who shaved that barber's chin. Zeno pointed out how no arrow could logically hit any target, since each would subsume its progress by halving remaining distance, which could never logically resolve into any end point. His observations are today usually seen as provocations, interesting if largely irrelevant little insights into the limits of logical reasoning when explaining actual experience.

But we are not merely logical beings.

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SmallWinters

springsnow
Itō Takashi: Spring Snow at Kamikochi (1932)


"My boot lugs still carry soil they picked up last season …"


It's funny, but I don't remember this much variety in prior springs here. Snow spots the backyard this morning where The Muse and I planted her new Mirabelle trees yesterday afternoon. An almost fierce wind kept me off the scaffolding again and the cold will prevent me from painting today, forcing me back inside just after I'd started feeling the rhythm of this season. As if to throw my timing off, it's almost winter this morning, as I was finally prepared for spring. Of course our Colorado springtimes featured full-blown blizzards, but here in these gentler elevations and under Japanese Current influences, I just expected more consistency than this.

If I went back and checked, though, I suspect that the record would show just this slow build of the season, even including some SmallWinters in it.

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Permissions

permissions
Johann Michael Rottmayr: Apollo Granting Phaeton Permission to Drive the Chariot of the Sun (1690/95)


"I remain just as free as I'd ever care to be …"


As a gentleman of a certain age and social position, I suspect that many might suspect me of being free, or of at least feeling free to choose to do whatever I might choose to do, but that second suspicion would be far from the truth about me, a truth that only I could ever properly see. I have this gatekeeper inside me, and he decides for me what I might engage in and how. He's a stingy bastard, protective, and won't allow me to engage in just anything. He'd say that he at least tries to maintain certain "standards," but he administers them inconsistently enough that not even I can always predict what he'll permit and what he'll disallow. He insists that he's protecting my interests as he inhibits my freedom of movement and my liberties, not nearly as free as I might at first appear to be.

Consequently, I maintain a list of things he's frequently denied to me, if only to save myself the humiliation of him having to remind me again what kind of person I'm not.

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AttractingAngels

attractingangels
William Blake: The Angel Appearing to Zacharias (1799–1800)


"None of us ever was an island."


It's long been a matter of contention among theologians just precisely what human actions best serve the intention of AttractingAngels. Some insist that contrition works most reliably. Others vote for humility. Still others stand on the side of righteousness, believing that angels tend to hang with like-minded spirits. I anecdotally believe that angels seem to be attracted to trouble such that if I want to see an angel, all I have to do is get myself into some sort of trouble, even the generally irredeemable kind. If I can keep my eyes open and pay attention then, in my experience, I soon learn that whatever I did, innocent or not, if it resulted in trouble, it probably ended up attracting angels. Even sins tend to be fairly reliable attractors. In my humble experience, the kinds of angels I end up attracting do not seem all that picky about who they help. They're like the Lone Ranger but without the silly costuming. They mostly seem indistinguishable from any regular Jane or Joe. They'll let you know they're there.

Last night, I drove over to a nearby airport to fetch The Muse, who was returning from her first genuine business trip since the start of The Damned Pandemic.

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GrapeHyacinth

grapehyacinth
Publisher William Curtis in The Botanical Magazine, Hand-colored engraving #23727 (1791)


"I am not my name, either …"


In Spring, I channel my spirit flower, the humble, lovely, GrapeHyacinth. He embodies the season like no other bloom, an early riser and also a real eye catcher, he's up and at it before most others have broken ground. He's easily found and effortlessly, endlessly spreads into lawns, always beyond original intentions. He's utterly without pretension, simple, beautiful. He's neither grape nor hyacinth, but GrapeHyacinth, in that curious way that English allows a negation to become an identity. He is precisely not what he's named, but almost entirely something else.

I cannot bear to mow over that piece of lawn into which my sacred GrapeHyacinths have spread.

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Scaffoldingly

scaffoldingly
Shubha Taparia: Crescent (2021)


"I seem to need to expose myself to a certain amount of danger …"


I may have identified the source of my sense of disconnection with the recent changing of the seasons. After a long and lonely enough Winter season, Spring should have welcomed me with open arms and I really should have stepped right in there for a reassuring hug. I became stand-offish instead, as if Spring were trespassing upon my private space. I had become complacent over the final few weeks of that bleakest season, wasting opportunities to engage in this or that project, seemingly satisfied to lean back and let a little time pass by me. That was never satisfying work, but more of a defensive effort. After The Grand Refurbish ended mid-December, I'd retrenched, feeling aimless. The Muse was after me to finish a few projects, but I remained steadfastly disengaged, fitfully napping. Nothing really seemed worth doing after engaging in such a grand and satisfying furbish. Every alternative engagement just seemed to fall tragically short of something. I practiced moping.

Yesterday, Kurt Our Painter brought over his pickup truck to help me fetch scaffolding so that I could start a rather modest repainting of The Villa's outside.

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Ninja

ninja
From Suikoden of Japanese Heroes (Yeiyû Yamato Suikoden,
英雄日本水滸伝)
Publisher: Kujioka-ya Keijirô (c. 1843)
Scene:
Ogata Shuma (later Jiraiya) raising his sword to kill a python attacking a large toad,
Jiraiya is portrayed as being a ninja.


" … more lifestyle than profession."


I'm afraid that I feel compelled to break with a semi-sacred tradition and report that I am a Ninja. Yes, anyone engaging as a Ninja was cautioned in their training to keep their true identity secret, though no clear punishment was associated with violating this warning. I well understand the complications this disclosure might create, for the first and most enduring response to any Ninja disclosing their secret tends to be incredulity. Nobody ever believes it. They treat this confidence as a joke, since no Ninja in the history of this world so far ever looked like they might be a Ninja when they're out of costume, and, indeed, the costuming might well account for ninety percent of a Ninja's magic. Ninja-ing's a cosplay occupation.

I've confided this secret before, though never quite this publicly.

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Pruning

pruning
Kanō Sanraku: Set of sliding doors of Plum tree (early 17th century)


" … the Sum total of all I could not bear to Prune."


With Spring comes the great cutting back, the annual Pruning effort which eliminates unwanted excess while encouraging new growth. Pruning makes space for both new and different. It co-opts default repetition while heading off degradation. Even weeding might be considered a form of Pruning, since it, too, eliminates some life to encourage others.

I have always been a reluctant pruner, hesitating with my hedge trimmers and shy with my clippers.

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Muse-led

muse-led

Charles Meynier: Apollo and the Muses, (late 18th century)
Polyptych, from left to right:
Polyhymnia, Muse of Eloquence
Erato, Muse of Lyrical Poetry
Apollo, God of Light, Eloquence, Poetry and Fine Arts with
Urania, Muse of Astronomy
Clio, Muse of History
Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry


"Almost anything proves possible given perspective and well-informed choice."


I am not navigating by means of the nearly infamous Ded Reconning, which plays off past positions to imagine future ones. Christopher Columbus was reputed to have been a master Ded Reconner, famous for "finding" North America when he was searching for India. My reconning, the kind I employ here, might be properly referred to as Alive Reconning, for it relies much less upon the fates and intuition than does its Ded Reconning cousin. I might even suggest that I am never entirely alone when I'm navigating, for I firmly believe that my Reconning has always been inspired by muses, Muse-led.

I speak of The Muse when referencing my wife, but I speak now of The Muse
s who guide my trajectory when I'm unable to guide it myself, which is usually.

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Incompleteness

incompleteness
Paul Cézanne: Maisons parmi les arbres (circa 1904-06)


" … never finished, just contributed."


If I were charged with grading my performance so far in my life, I would not assign an immediate 'A', and not a 'B', either; nor a 'C', 'D', or even an 'F', and not only because I have not yet finished performing. I suspect that I still have an act or two left, perhaps even a few more full productions to produce, but I harbor few delusions that any future performance might nudge my grade up into the exemplary range. I am pretty much who I am. I no longer stay up late studying to achieve the next level of anything. Those who love me, love me. Those who do not, don't. I'm not completely uninterested in flipping my critics or in chasing away my fans, but I certainly do not invest much sweat toward achieving either. I am just about who and what I am, no more and little else. So what grade would I assign to my own performance so far? I'd award a big fat Incomplete, the orthogonal judgement, the forgotten achievement. Whether any fat lady's sung or not, my performance ain't quite finished yet.

Famous composers and artists left behind unfinished symphonies and paintings, so do us less famous brethren.

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Scrounging

scrounging
Vincent van Gogh: Shoes (1886)


"Without such provocations, I might never feel truly inconvenienced."


Scrounging tends to be one of the early casualties of prosperity. The dumpster diver becomes a WalMart shopper and a trajectory changes forever. Aging, though, can shift certainties to reintroduce the vagaries one might not have even noticed losing. Proud ones might faunch at the shift, feeling as though they've been assaulted or rendered undignified by it. The lucky ones might notice a certain vitality reentering their lives as what they'd grown accustomed to perceiving as their birthright is formally denied them. Insurance companies seem particularly adept at denying access once considered sacrosanct. For me, after The Muse shifted health insurance companies, the inheriting operation refused to pay for a refill for the only prescription I felt certain actually delivered on its promise. They were, of course, absolutely obtuse about their reasoning, never once actually confirming what they'd done, leaving it up to pharmacy clerks and nurses to attempt to interpret their intention and deliver their message.

As near as any of us could tell, they'd denied the refill request in spite of doctor's orders and expressly because the prescription actually worked.

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Securing

securing
Jean Metzinger: Man with a Pipe (Portrait of an American Smoker) (1911-12)


" … acknowledging this simple fact."


Two full years since my friend Thomas strongly suggested that I install a PastWord security application, I finally invited my tech guy over to install the system for me. I'm nobody's application installer, apt as I am to not quite understand the app's authors' intentions and instructions being inevitably inaccurate and imprecise, I much prefer to hire a professional to perform installations. I quickly felt satisfied with this decision as a fresh and new dizzying array of terms and functions flashed before me. My job was relegated to repeatedly entering a single PastWord as each installation stage progressed. Brian The Tech Guy somehow managed to resurrect long lost PastWords and convert them to new uses, like actually providing access for a change instead of simply serving as barriers to entry. I realized as he installed this package that I had been living incredibly insecurely, my only potentially saving grace being that I'd set up my systems in such a convoluted manner, that nobody could have ever been very likely to crack the codes, though they most prominently kept my systems secure from myself.

I, like everybody, possess a long, shadowy, and largely insecure history with security.

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Narrowing

narrowing
Jean Metzinger: Landscape (Marine, Composition Cubiste) (1912)


" … what I imagine to be their essence."


I've been noticing that the range of my Reconning radar has been Narrowing since The Muse and I returned from exile. On exile, I maintained awareness of more than just my immediate vicinity, but also of the goings on 'back home.' Back home, I do not reciprocate my interest. I doubt that I'll ever return to Colorado's Front Range. I think of it as a place we holed up in for a few years before repatriation. Now home, I've lost interest in that place, which never felt terribly hospitable or home-like, anyway. I never held more than a tactical interest in the local politics since I planned no future or legacy there. It's now become a good riddance for me.

Before exile, The Muse and I roamed a wide area.

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Gettin'

gettin_
Jean Metzinger: At the Cycle-Race Track (Au Vélodrome) (1912)


"I'd just stopped paying such close attention to what I wasn't doing."


I'm Gettin' over the idea that I need to be Gettin' over ideas. I might instead get under, around, or through, or, alternatively, I might simply let a condition be. The idea that I might one day get back to normal might perhaps prove the most poisonous possible aspiration. I seem to too easily imagine that I once experienced conditions I had never actually experienced, my old, fondly remembered, largely fictional Old Normal. Memory's a notoriously unreliable mentor. I try to take things as they come and often fail, falling into one of apparently many cognitive traps. Just day before yesterday, I complained here of feeling
StovedUp, as if that were a treatable condition rather than a statement of simple fact. I've felt StovedUp before and I most probably will feel StovedUp again. I might even find that I'm more frequently feeling StovedUp these days and pine after the time when StovedUp had not become my new normal. I only imagined it as a permanent condition, but, then again, nothing's permanent except perhaps that sense of permanence that sometimes visits.

I toughed out my StovedUp-edness.

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SurpriseSpring

suprisespring
Julian Schnabel: Rose Painting (Near Van Gogh’s Grave) V (2015)


" … just not quite prepared for it this time."


Though I thought I was paying close attention, this Spring successfully snuck up on me. I'm struggling to get into synch with it. Most years, I would have already sorted through seed packets and sliced out at least one nursery visit by now, but I have barely soiled my overall's knees yet. I just cannot seem to find the rhythm of this season. After all those years in exile dreaming of how it would finally be when we were back in The Villa Vatta again, this turn of events seems particularly disappointing, perhaps tragic. It might be a bout of Dream Come True Syndrome, where the object of long affection becomes the opposite once secured, where the true love only lives in anticipation of finding it, and withers as soon as it's actually touched. Or, it might well be something considerably less insidious. How could I possibly tell which?

I've started baby steps.

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StovedUp

stoveup
Egon Schiele: The Family (1918)

"A reckoning might be impending …"


The Muse and I arrived out of exile one year ago today. We found an empty house waiting patiently for our arrival. We set up the inflatable bed in the living room then set about settling in. The Muse's son's family had not quite finished moving out, so I spent the next day helping to relocate their stuff out of the basement in preparation for the moving van arriving the following day. The rest, as they say, is history. Few days would be spent idle until the following winter. We shaped up the yard and repainted the front porch before setting about to refurbish nine rooms, floors, walls, ceilings, windows, and doors. I spent the last day possible to paint outside, finishing painting the exterior trim on the last window before settling into a long-ish idle winter. I'd supposed that I'd earned a break, but three months off have only left me feeling StovedUp for spring.

I have aches and pains the likes of which I never once had when we were on exile.

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TheRoadToWashtucna

roadto
Rolling Hills of Palouse: Wojtek Powiertowski (2016)

"One goes nowhere to unburden."


I long ago noticed that every road in this part of the country seems to go to a little place that’s almost no place at all, Washtucna. Drive along I-90 between Spokane and Seattle and it seems that every exit between Sprague and Ritzville mentions Washtucna. Same story driving US395 between Pasco and Ritzville and US12 between Walla Walla and Lewiston, and WA127 between Colfax and the Pommeroy cutoff, every intersection points the way to Washtucna. It’s the center of the universe surrounding the center of the universe within which I live. It’s actually a very small and shrinking town plunked down in the center of a geographic square maybe seventy miles on a side. Bordered on the West by the mighty Columbia River, the East by the humble Blue Mountains, the North by I-90, and the Oregon border to the South, with the Snake River running its last stretch right through the middle before joining the Columbia. Within that square lies inarguably some of the finest cropland in the world and also some of the worst. Geologists refer to the stuff Washtucna sits on as scabland, basalt scrubbed almost barren by a series of Ice Age floods, leaving a dry Coulee country not quite large enough to qualify as grand, yet still plenty impressive.

Why would anyone willingly choose to take any of the many roads leading to Wadhtucna?

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Stages

stages
Jean Metzinger: Paysage coloré aux oiseaux aquatiques (1907)


" … it's all a series of silly games we play with passionate sincerity."


I began this Reconning Series because I sensed that I had entered a new stage of life. Typical of my species, I suspected that I'd detected this change considerably after the change had already occurred, but I still felt almost compelled to take a little deeper look and consider ramifications. One of the saddest cheap human tricks involves essentially engaging at the wrong logical level, for instance, engaging in age-inappropriate ways which might include wardrobe dysfunctions up to behavioral ones. Few sadder sights assail anyone than a person wearing some follow-on generation's fashions, the sixties grandma wearing Carnaby Street or the once distinguished gentleman in day-glo bell bottoms. These errors transcend mere faux pas to enter the realm of pathology, perhaps even treatable conditions. I suspect that many of these transgressions occur inadvertently and demonstrate more ignorance or personal insensitivity than volition. Few volunteer to appear the fool.

Yet many still manage to appear foolish, if not in their own eyes than pretty much everyone else's.

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MidnightCreep

midnightcreep
Camille Pissarro: Boulevard Montmartre in Paris (1897)

“I wrote it so that I would know what I was thinking.”


My work’s signature element must be that I engage in it almost exclusively in the wee hours. I’m a MidnightCreeper. I might forgive anyone for believing that I’m a little shy about my profession, for I engage in it so damned stealthily. Aside from the fact that I’ve lately, since reinhabiting our Villa Vatta Schmaltz, taken to writing in perhaps the most exposing window in the place, I remain terribly private and secretive about my practice. Few pass by to spot me writing in my wee hours and even then, I most often write in near total darkness, my desk only illuminated by the faint glow my laptop screen makes, my eyes dilated like a lemur’s, my silhouette essentially invisible from out there.

I remain rather embarrassed by my peculiar practice, which I think of more as ablution than actual profession.

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MidnightCreeping

MidnightCreeping
Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Sentier dans le bois (circa 1874-1877)


"I have other habits which overtake me sometimes and drive me to commit equally minor crimes for all the very best reasons."


I would have pleaded passionate excess or perhaps temporary insanity, for had I been arrested in my youth on May Day, I would have most certainly been guilty as charged. No, I had not participated in any violent protest on that day or bumped off a bank. I would have probably been charged with some form of criminal trespass for sneaking into some fortunate soul's yard around midnight for the purpose of liberating a few of his choicer flowers. May Day reminds me of this once perhaps over-proud tradition which I practiced with diligence and without supervision for well over a decade. Before I had my own gardens, I'd one night each year take it upon myself to swipe a few of another's excess blossoms to craft a May Basket for my love. It would be a simple thing, often crafted from a page torn from a notebook or a cut down paper bag, but it would mean something. It would mean that I'd risked my freedom to express my ardor. It would mean that I had not forgotten. It encouraged the sort of domestic tranquility only ever known by hardened criminals who'd made a clean getaway. I'd return to my innocent ways in days following and stay on the proper side of the law until over the night before the next May 1st. I was a studied recidivist.

The Muse and I now count ourselves among the fortunate souls who have a yard overflowing with flowers on May 1st.

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Distantcing

distantcing
N.C. Wyeth: from Robinson Crusoe, Cosmopolitan Book Corporation edition (1920)

" … I feel as though I am still free floating …"


Between my career and our grand exile, I grew accustomed to being away from home. I always felt as though I adapted well to road life, but I see that I will most likely be more tied to one place, our Villa Vatta Schmaltz, in the future. Not even Our Damned Pandemic sequestered me at home at first, for it arrived at the start of our last year of exile, stranding me in our final interim home rather than what The Muse and knew to be our real one. Finally arriving home, I hardly knew how to comport myself. I'd been short-timing myself for so many years by then that I'd become more attached to my shadow than to my actual presence. You see, as a passing entity, one gets excluded from many of the rights and obligations of full citizenship. One votes, of course, in local elections, even if on exile, but one probably does not feel as though they're contributing to any personal future by so doing, since the one certain thing always remains that you will not still be there by then. On exile, one never possesses a local future, only a far away one, and only then if lucky. One forfeits a full present local identity for the duration of exile duty.

Washing up back home felt both enormously relieving yet also deeply disturbing, for I'd grown accustomed to the emotional as well as the physical Distantcing.

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NextSteps

nextsteps
Johannes Vermeer: Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (c. 1657–1659)


"This is how our world progresses."


Beginning might break surface tension but it does little to nothing to determine NextSteps. These seem barely implied by initial movement, uncertain even of the direction taken so far, for little distance was covered and no clear rhythms or end points have yet come into focus. The first few postings of any new series sort of try on identities, hoping something clicks, for the Author aspires to create something capable of making some sort of difference. The significance of his topic choice not yet obvious, similar past beginnings managed to step up to and into their own importance, but there's nothing insisting that this one must or will step up to or into until it does and already has. I mark my time to hold my place in line. NextSteps emerge awkwardly every time.

Breaking surface tension, though, amounts to the first great success of this series for me, for nothing's written, either, insisting that surface tension might be broken this or any time.

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Begineering

beginnering
Claude Monet: The Japanese Footbridge (1899)


"I am a begineer!"


The first full day of Spring and I find myself Begineering. Beginning a fresh series, sure, but also Reconning, investigating this new space I attempt to create. I chose Reconning as the name of this series because it lately occurs to me that I have been either outrunning my past manners of living or am very likely to be out running many of them soon. Like many in my generation, I was able to extend my adolescence far beyond my childhood, and my mere adulthood well into middle age, and my middle age out to beyond its relevant range, leaving me in uncharted and largely unwanted territory. I never aspired to achieve either majority or dotage, but they seem to have almost successfully conspired to overtake me. I could die my hair and seek Botox® injections, or find some semblance of dignity in my eventual downfall. We all know for certain where this path is heading, but not its timetable.

No need to go all morbid about this.

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Whimper

whimper
Johannes Vermeer: The Concert (circa 1664)

"Thanks for coming to my table."

The final essay in my Authoring Series should wrap up my investigation, and I suppose that this piece might manage to do precisely that, though it won't succeed in the way I'd imagined it might when I started this series three months ago. Then, I had the writer's equivalent of visions of sugar plums dancing around in my head, for I, as seems so often the case, began this enquiry under innocently false premises. I'd imagined that Authoring might result in some sort of a publishing contract and a physical book sitting coquettishly on some bookstore shelf somewhere. How nineteen forties, right? We're in the twenty-first century now and you might not remember the last time you set foot inside a bookstore, and online book shopping's different enough to not really qualify as book shopping at all. Further, the book market has been static since 2007 when 400,000 new titles were shoved into it. Today, four million new titles compete for the same shelf space, much of it virtual. My publisher, the one who published my best selling The Blind Men and The Elephant back in 2003, reports that the only books that stand much of a chance in today's cluttered market are ones tied to an existing marketing plan, a subscribed workshop offering or a frequent keynote speaker. That's not my manuscript. It's not my aspiration, either.

It might be that Authoring's no longer as I imagined it might be back when I started this enquiry.

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Patience

patience
Vincent Willem van Gogh: Rain (Saint-Rémy, November 1889)


"Whatever it becomes, comes later."


I don't fear that we'll not get clear through all of Authoring's Stations of the Cross before we run out of time to explore them here, I know for certain that we'll run out of time. Running out of time seems Authoring's common companion, for Authoring as a craft and as a profession turns out to be one of the longer cycled occupations. This seems fitting if only because once published, a manuscript becomes essentially immortal. Even if it joins the ranks of the majority of published works and gets quickly returned for pulping, those three copies submitted to The Library of Congress will account for something, and anything shelved in that permanent collection remains forever retrievable. That said, Authoring's Fifth Station of the Cross simply must be Patience, for Authoring will not be rushed. Even the fast track to publication seems terribly pedantic, with checks and unbalances complicating each and every step. Even then, an error or two might occasionally get chiseled into granite, but the intention of publishing flawless works mostly works. Authoring features innumerable moving parts.

My folly at setting aside a quarter year to consider Authoring says much about the profession.

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Promotion

promotion
Sassetta AKA Stefano di Giovanni: The Agony in the Garden (1437-1444)


"This Fourth Station ain't worth my tarrying over."

And so we come to the Fourth Station of the Authoring Cross, Promotion. I have nothing authoritative to say about Promotion, for I have never mastered it. The real underlying reason I began this enquiry into Authoring had everything to do with Promotion, and, specifically, SelfPromotion, which I've long recognized as my Achilles Heel, as I explained in my earlier Reconsidering series. For someone with a degree in Marketing, I seem a particularly inept marketer. I shudder whenever I'm called to say a few supportive words about my work and either feel as though I'm bragging or underplaying, often both. I had hoped that a more focused considering of Authoring might enable me to find a more comfortable frame within which to place this Fourth Station and its many expectations, but as I watch the calendar moving toward the expected ending of this endeavor, I realize that I'm no closer to feeling any more comfortable with promoting my work than I ever was. I feel as though I've played this game to stymie again after specifically re-engaging again to learn how to play around or beyond stymie. I feel about ready to accept that I actually am me, and that the earlier instances of myself which I thought were perhaps just underdeveloped manifestations might have been instead finished pieces and I've been in denial for decades. This result does not surprise me.

I've been shopping the usual marketplaces.

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FutureFocus

futurefocus
Georges de La Tour: The Fortune-Teller (probably 1630s)

"The universe couldn't care less what you decide."

Much of whatever Authoring entails occurs on the broad plain between writing and publishing. There, the Fundamentally Unanswerable Questions reside, serving as apparent barriers between the writer and his aspiration to become a published Author. These questions also serve as the raw material for utterly transforming the Authoring experience both for the better as well as for the worse. As barriers, they reliably produce what certainly feels like worse experiences, at least until they encourage some breakthrough thinking that transcends the initial trouble. What started as a continuation of the story about writing evolves into a deeper and richer story situated above and slightly to one side of the writing as well as to whatever story the manuscript attempts to tell. This perspective emerges from what seems like overly extended wandering in wilderness, from an abject loneliness and deep isolation, from genuinely not knowing, the sure source of all understanding.

Authoring's Third Station of the Cross might well represent the lion's share of the whole Authoring experience.

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Voce

voce
Orazio Gentileschi: David Contemplating the Head of Goliath (c. 1610)
" … it's absolute magic!"


I'll call the Second Station of the Authoring Cross Você [pronounced Voe Che], because it mostly deals with the Author's manner of speaking. The writer writes while the Author shapes. The writer creates rough approximations in relative isolation, each piece produced in absence of any broader context. Once the writer completes the pieces, the Author can set to aligning those chunks into a more continuous whole. Você becomes primary among the various elements of this aligning process because it's the subtlest piece and also the one most easily noticed as absent. The voice the reader finds speaking out of the page must be recognizable, not different from chapter to chapter, beginning from end. Further, the Você stands above and beside the story and serves as the medium within which whatever story gets told. It's often best when as innocuous as the almost still and silent voice each of us knows as our own internal one, our conscience, if you will. Whatever the Author chooses as the work's Você, aligning and preserving that timbre might be the underlying purpose of the so-called Proofing pass, which superficially seems to mostly focus upon spelling and ridding the draft of dangling participles.

A great editor can preserve and even amplify the Author's voice better than even the Author could.

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TinyShifts

tinyshifts
Coëtivy Master (Henri de Vulcop?): Philosophy Consoling Boethius and Fortune Turning the Wheel (about 1460–1470)


"The greatest significance tends to hide in the tiniest focus."


I yesterday mentioned The Authoring Stations of the Cross, my sense of Authoring's underlying sequence. My sense has shifted since I started this Authoring enquiry, but shifted in unanticipated ways. Like you (I suspect), I focus upon what might make a big difference, figuring I can always fine tune the tiny side stuff, so I set about looking for whatever might make a huge contribution in my understanding of Authoring. As I near the end of the enquiry, I realize that TinyShifts seemed to have made the most significant differences, perhaps a contradiction, though not, upon reflection, a particularly surprising one. If change sometimes seems frustrating to create, it's often due to focus. I'm so intent upon seeing significance that TinyShifts slip right through my diligence. My futures tend to slip in when I'm paying attention to stuff that couldn't possibly make much difference. Authoring's no monolithic practice, but a series of almost insignificances only the experienced appreciate. Authoring's very likely to slip right past even the attentive at first because us attentive ones tend to focus upon the wrong scale, by which I mean, way too large.

I see now that if I shift just a couple of things in my daily practice, I will have much better integrated Authoring into my routine.

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InfiniteObjectives

infiniteobjectives
Artemisia Gentileschi: Danae (c. 1612)


"It's infinite engagement or its meaningless …"


With a scant week left in my scheduled Authoring investigation, I stumble upon an understanding that might have better served me at the beginning. It's really no great tragedy if I prove myself to be too late smart again, but then I wonder how this inquiry might have proven different had I achieved this small enlightenment nearer the beginning of this effort. Looking back, I realize that I might have frittered away quite a lot of time failing to winnow whatever I was up to into a finite form, as project management theory and practice have always counseled. The job of the proper project manager was always said to involve building baffles and defining edges such that the 'process' as well as the product might be thoroughly described in definite language, without hyperbole or abstraction, for the tools and techniques of 'proper' project management each utterly depend upon thorough grounding. No Utopian notions allowed. No notions allowed at all, only tangibles.

I long ago wrote a piece about solving the world hunger problem, which I characterized as an aspiration, not a realizable objective.

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ComFormation

comformation
Artemisia Gentileschi: Judith and Maidservant with Head of Holofernes (1608)

" … just so much spit in an indifferent wind."


Half of the people I'd Bcc-ed on the manuscript submission email found that message in their spam filter, so it seemed a reasonable assumption, a fifty/fifty proposition, that the publisher's spam filter had also snagged my missive. I explained yesterday how hesitant I felt about calling to confirm receipt, wanting to avoid appearing pushy, but after further goading from my supportive community, I took the chance and quickly confirmed that the publisher had, indeed, received the thing and was warmly anticipating reviewing what I'd submitted. In that moment, a line of communication manifested, its first message comforted more than I can describe. The manuscript had survived another passage from source to out there and it had found another interested reader. The publisher, too busy to review the damned thing yet, warmly anticipated reviewing it. He promised to get back to me just as soon as he's finished his perusal. That should be soon. The Blind Men was submitted and accepted in the same week. This one, accepted or rejected, should prove little different.

The often lengthy periods between submission and ComFormation hold no substance.

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StageFright

stagefright
Orazio Gentileschi: The Lute Player (1612)

"I'm just barely learning … ."


Once the manuscript's submitted, a form of StageFright settles upon the budding Author. He wants feedback but dreads it. He wants acceptance without suggestions, especially those damned helpful ones. Part of him hopes his submission just gets lost in the mail. Should the package return, he might file it on an easily overlooked shelf and conveniently forget to open it rather than submit to the judgement of the world out there. It might be a special curse that those who engage in the performing arts—and make no mistake, Authoring qualifies as a performing art—all suffer from some degree of StageFright. We desperately want to share our gift, however modest, with a world that deep down terrifies us with its casually harsh criticisms. Formally trained artists get themselves subjected to toughening up exercises as a part of their studies. They're taught to dish out harshness and also to take it in huge volumes so that they might relegate others' judgements into mere background noise. They learn not to take that shit very personally, to interpret criticism as first about the critic, and to thereby hold their creative space. Even the trained ones, though, experience a kind of StageFright as a form of respect for the performing space, which should rightfully always awe an artist at least a little bit, lest they grow calloused about entering it.

In my youth, my first real career was as a 'single acoustical artist,' as a so-called singer songwriter.

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ReConsidering

ReConsideringAuthoring
Unknown: The Stigmatization of Saint Francis,
and Angel Crowning Saints Cecilia and Valerian, French or Italian (1330s)


"I've done dark wood before."


Three years ago, I spent the whole first quarter of the year Reconsidering. I was then a year and a half into what has now turned out to have been a nearly four and three quarters-year effort, one within which I've dedicated a part of myself to writing and posting a daily essay. I began the exercise to remind myself that I was, or had been at one time, a writer. I suppose that I quickly reassured myself before falling into a rather tender trap, one which insisted that if I really was a writer, I should be writing daily, or, perhaps I'd really need to continue daily writing or lose my identity as a writer. Whichever, I've continued the practice, which you've doubtless noticed. Every morning another reflection arrives. I finished my Reconsidering series on March 20, 2019, while visiting our then rented out home in Walla Walla, the final reflection, reassuring.
[Link here.] Now, that series exists as a book, or, more properly, as a manuscript, as of yet unsubmitted for publication. I've carried the presumption that one day, Reconsidering would certainly reach publication, but my more recent focus upon Authoring finds me reconsidering that earlier presumption for that one and its soon to be nineteen brothers, as well as those two others I've written and should some day get around to properly compiling into submittable form. I do not lack for product.

One of the more useful outcomes of any investigation might be the inevitably different perspective focused perception produces.

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Spent

spent
Lewis W. Hine, photographer: Tony Casale, Newsboy, Hartford, Connecticut (March 1909)
"It might be that his urge toward Authoring was a big mistake."


This announcement will not make headline news. It won't make the back pages, either. After seventy-seven days Pursuing Authoring, our budding Author's feeling Spent, like a spawned out salmon gasping in the shallows of his home stream, wondering what that excursion might have meant. It certainly seemed circular, a round trip, there then back again, but what was gained and what might have been lost? What was that purpose again? What initiated the urge, the one that pushed the fish out of sufficiency into an apparently necessary pursuit. The long and tedious descent to sea level, the lengthy period feeding in the open ocean, the perilous return up fish ladders and over dams, dodging sea lions and gill nets, what was all that drama about? Our fish feels reasonably certain as he watches his once-noble nose turn crooked and rotting that this might not have really been about him, that he was only playing a part in a much wider and longer arc of history, a bit player, an instance. Whatever the purpose or the reason, our fish feels certain he's Spent, done for now, over, finished.

This is the point where the Author steps in to make light of the gravity of that opening paragraph. What? He isn't?

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Serializing

serializing
J. H. Garnsey: A gentleman . . . standing on his head on a footstool,
from Billtry, by
Mary Kyle Dallas (New York: The Merriam Company, 1895).
An illustration from a dime novel.

"Whatever produces Ink, works."

A hundred and fifty years ago, many popular novels were published twice. They were first Serialized in a newspaper or weekly magazine, then later compiled into a book, sometimes in different editions ranging from cheap dime novels to leather bound presentation finishes. By the time a Dickens novel was published, it had already been read by tens of thousands, each novel already a best seller at the point of publication. The blog, I guess, replaces such Serialization in today's publishing world. For an Author, Serializing offers one great benefit over simply publishing books, a more frequent experience of "Ink," the term Authors use to describe what it feels like to see their work in print. We say that we've received ink as if we'd received a blessing or a sacrament or something similar. It might serve as the true purpose of Authoring, to receive a jolt of recognition when spotting one's own writing upon a page.

It doesn't matter to us Authors, either, whether that Ink comes in the form of a Letter To The Editor in a newspaper or a hard bound book

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KnotKnowing

knotknowing
Aurèlia Muñoz: La font de la vida [The Source of Life] (1976)
"David The Rather Mediocre Author But Still Perfectly Normal"


Authoring has thus far offered me an extended experience of not knowing, KnotKnowing, by which I mean coming to discover that I'm tangled up in another Gordian Knot again and again and again. These knots seem to be the kind that cannot be simply untied, though a few have proven vulnerable to a blade. I have, like Alexander The Great (back when he was still widely considered Alexander The Rather Mediocre) just cut the untenable knots in half, thereby untying them after a fashion, but I have proven almost always incapable of conventionally untying them. My inability to succeed at conventional untying first came as a blow to my delicate ego. I felt that if I was really going to ever become worth anything as an Author, I should most certainly be capable of untying most any conventional knot, but I clearly was not. This acknowledgement reverberated down through my spirit to weaken my resolve as well as my self esteem. I felt as though I must have been proving to be a truly terrible Author.

Part of my difficulty arose from my insistence upon attempting to answer the wrong questions.

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AllIn

allin
Gustave Doré: Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1877)
"AllIn and then some … "


When I started this Authoring Series, I went AllIn. Like you, I was reared on the gospel of commitment. If I was going to do something, I should fully engage rather than dabble. I should take my engagements seriously. Consequently, my work has generally become my identity more than my occupation. I understand that when we declare what we do for a living, we say "what we are," this while also insisting that we maintain work/life balance, whatever that might be. For me, my work has usually been my identity, or perhaps I should say that I have largely mistaken my work for my identity. I do seem to become whatever I'm doing. When I throw on my overalls, I become Handyman Dave for the duration of the chore. When I play my guitar, I become David, my single acoustic performing artist self circa 1975, not having aged a minute. When I cook, I cook rather than dabble around the edges. The very minute I started this Authoring Series, I became an author for all intents and purposes. The Refurbisher I'd been the previous quarter disappeared as I focused my attention, heart, soul, body, and spirit on Authoring. Who am I really? Interesting question.

Of course, I was just play acting, for I had few clues then just what Authoring entailed.

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CopingBetter

copebetter
Sir Eduardo Paolozzi: Meet the People (1948)
"What's that latest book about, David?"


Once an insight visits, the real work begins, to interpret and explain it. The initial insight passes quickly. It might linger for less than a minute, perhaps less than a second, a flash of lightning, difficult to believe it was ever there once it leaves. The interpretation relies upon observational memory, the type of observation taken when blinking, uncertain anything was even seen, but fueled by a flush of conviction. Something terribly profound just happened. Let's not let it get away from us, now.

The first impression might serve as little more than an anchor for the receiver of the insight, an index, a reminder.

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Cogitation

cogitation
Léon Spilliaert: Self-Portrait Before the Mirror (1908)
"This Authoring's convoluted business …"


Looking back through my accumulated Authoring stories, I discover that I almost two months ago posted one entitled Cogitating which considered the long contemplative periods Authoring also entails. Today, I want to take the noun form of that same idea and explore where that might lead me, though I already know that, being a noun form, it won't contain much action or acting. As a budding codger as well as an Author, I perform much of my magic via Cogitation, by which I mean by apparently doing nothing. I excuse myself by explaining that I'm considering, thinking, figuring out, though I'm clearly not any sort of action figure while so engaged, if, indeed, I can even fairly describe myself as engaged during those times. I have gratefully not resorted to watching daytime television—how could I live with myself then?—but to any outside observer, (how did YOU get in here, anyway?) I might easily appear to be simply, perhaps profoundly slacking, and I might be slacking. The evidence that my Cogitation might bear fruit remains firmly in the grasp of the future tense during these lengthy periods. Cogitation accomplishes nothing, and without evident elegance, either.

I could probably pass for a retiree, if I would only allow myself to retire, but I remain tenaciously engaged even when, even if, I seem awfully disengaged.

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WrongQuestion

wrongquestions
Franz Marc: Birth of the Wolves [Geburt der Wölf]) (1913)
" … this tactic sometimes even works … "

They always ask the WrongQuestion, probably because there are no completely right and proper ones. The purpose of asking WrongQuestions might vary a bit from what we might innocently consider the purpose of asking a proper question, presuming, of course, that such questions exist. The purpose of asking WrongQuestions might extend no further than a desire to start a conversation, like when someone asks Fundamentally Undecidable Questions, though those might prove both right and proper. The difficulty, or at least a chief difficulty, arises when one presumes that a WrongQuestion is, in fact, a right and proper one, and being right and proper, that it deserves a right and proper answer. Therein begins the trip down into a rabbit hole and into an often inescapable labyrinth.

There are tells, clues that the question offered might prove problematic.

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TimeLagging

timelagging
Gustave Doré: Found in the Street (1872)
" … trust in my experience, even when it seems, at best, half-vast."


The Muse knows that if she wants to understand my perspective, she'll have to ask and then … … wait, for I never seem capable of responding instantly with any status request. Ask me what I think and my first reaction will be to wonder, "Was I supposed to be thinking?" I'll need to sort out some fairly hefty existential baggage before I'll muster a response. Asking me how I feel about something should spark an even lengthier delay, for I do not keep my feelings within easy reach. My mean lag time between intention and engagement tends to be lengthy, too, as I seem to need to consider most things through to some point of leverage before physically starting, so it might well seem as if I had been actively forgetting to follow through rather than spooling up for my opening gambit. I have proven to be a most frustrating partner.

I am a frustrating partner for myself, too.

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ThatVoice

thatvoice
Giorgio de Chirico: The Seer, Winter 1914–15
" … wondering if my Authoring voice might ever gain parity or prominence."


I have a voice in my head. Or is it that a voice in my head has me? Either way, there's a voice up there, though I'm uncertain if that voice belongs to me, if it's mine. Like when I hear my voice on a recording, this voice doesn't very much sound like mine, like the one I hear when I speak out loud to myself or to anyone, so I suppose that the voice in my head could belong to anyone. It chatters. It narrates my life. It tells the stories as they unfold before me, as if it had access to the script. Sometimes it reads ahead. It can fill me with delight or dread. It's my faithful companion. When I startle awake at zero dark thirty in the morning, ThatVoice greets me. As I fall asleep in the evening, it wishes me well, often by replaying that day's greatest hits and misses. It's never far and rarely silent.

Radios were originally installed in cars to prevent ThatVoice from having too much influence over each driver, to promote more uniformity and less daydreaming.

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Spark

spark
Jan Collaert: New Inventions of Modern Times [Nova Reperta],
The Invention of Book Printing, plate 4

(ca. 1600)
"If I can stay in the game and somehow retain my patience, insight eventually visits …"

When I started this Authoring series two full months ago, I suspected that success would require some fundamental understanding to emerge, though I didn't at the time understand just what that understanding might entail. Authoring involves wrestling with so many simultaneous mysteries that they prove impossible to inventory. It seemed that at least one question was hounding me each morning. Through early days, I found it convenient to just let the mysteries be. Later, the unresolved ones seemed to slow then stall my sense of forward progress. I felt tempted to just put my head down and bull through those barriers even though I knew, or believed I knew, that these were the sorts of barriers that nobody ever successfully bulls their way through. I suspected that something would happen, some seriously uncertain something, which would transform the series and at least contribute to turning the resulting book into something more than mere writing, into Authoring.

Many things just seem to require patience.

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Paradigming

paradigming
Giorgio de Chirico: The Painter’s Family (1926)
" … from his future turned dystopian on him, he might caution others to be wary …"


I want to have written a book of unique form rather than just another copy cat derivative work. All books seem very much alike in that they feature a number of pages tucked between covers, called "boards" in the trade, but the old adage that you can't tell a book by its cover also holds true for a book's form. A book is not simply a book in that it also holds the potential to transcend what the term book meant before this one came along. Forever after, history will be divided into two components, before this book and after this book. That book's the one, if I'm honest with myself and with my readers, I want to have written, to be writing. I want to believe that's the book I'm presently creating and also the book I have up in manuscript galleys awaiting publication, a great treasure awaiting discovery. A part of me, the rational, more-or-less sane part, understands that this future probably does not stand before me, yet my hope still springs eternal. The result seems to be a generic Want To, Have To, but Can't Dilemma, in no way exceptional, for it might well be that everybody, every writer, painter, chef, and teacher aspires for just this sort of impact and also that it cannot ever be engineered, no matter what. There are good reasons for this to be the case.

First, such Paradigming can only occur after the fact.

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TimeShifting

TimeShifting
Thomas P. Anshutz: The Tanagra (1909)
"Best if nobody can peek into the workshop while Geppetto's carving."

I write in the wee hours. Everything else in my life, including Authoring, comes after my writing's finished. I try to interface with everyone else's world, but I insist upon at least my writing time each morning, and that sometimes sloughs over. It seems important that my writing occurs early in the morning, under the cover of darkness into dawn. By dawn, I'm almost always finished, cleaning up the mess I always make, completing my final edits, Proofing one or two more times. By seven, I'm free to start thinking about breakfast and to get myself suited up for my day, though the last two years have found me largely suiting up to go nowhere given the Damned Pandemic restrictions, which have suited my lifestyle just fine. By the time The Muse wakes up, I've already put in four or five hours. I live that far ahead of her, I imagine. I'm TimeShifting.

We eat supper together, which might be the only time we see each other all day.

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Authdacity

authdacity
Marcel Duchamp: Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2
[French: Nu descendant un escalier n° 2] (1912)

"To do it properly means that you must seem to be doing it all wrong …"


The Muse engages in project work, which has always been a curious offshoot of what I might call regular work. Project work seems strange because its primary purpose seems to be to do away with itself. A successful project will work itself out of existence, which seems like an odd foundation upon which to build a career. Further, most professions prescribe practices common to all practitioners. Sure, a few outliers always exist, but the mainstream engage with remarkable consistency, so it shouldn't be surprising if project practitioners, too, usually attempt to adhere to a few widely-acknowledged blessed practices. The Project Management Institute even publishes and maintains what they refer to as a Body of Knowledge, an encyclopedic collection of practices they've blessed for broad application. For an engineering project, these practices might generally work, but project work, being unique, often requires some differences in how one engages. The Muse, for instance, often engages in scientific projects, ones intending to discover something. One does not plan, control, or track a scientific engagement as if it were an engineering assembly effort. Or, I should say, that one shouldn't plan, track, or control a scientific engagement that way. Most try to. The Muse doesn't, wherein lies her mastery. She appears to do it wrong.

I'm learning that Authoring, too, seems to demand some different sorts of management than does other kinds of engagement.

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BigChicken

bigchicken2
Melchior de Hondecoeter: A Cock and Two Hens, with Chicks, in a Landscape Setting (1656-95)
"A BigChicken will swallow anything."


My face mask might successfully cloak from the usual observer the fact that I'm a BigChicken. Pin feathers successfully tucked in beneath an over-sized N95, and anyone might mistake me for a man. Inside, behind that mask, lies a deep truth and a continual embarrassment. I tend to move forward by first crouching behind. I will not lift up my head to survey the territory before me for the longest time, choosing to nurture terrifying fantasies rather than getting to the normal business of slaying dragons. I am evidently not brave. Oh, I've accomplished plenty in my time, but not nearly as much as I've fled from or declined engagement with. I first imagine failing, and failing big, before getting over it and proceeding.

What courage I do exhibit tends to be of the counter phobic kind.

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Systemantics

systemantics
Peter Paul Rubens: The Incarnation as Fulfillment of All the Prophecies (1628-29)
" … without having yet achieved any maturity."


My Authoring efforts amount to nothing more than my attempts to master another system. An old systems thinking adage insists that learning one system provides insight into all systems, and having learned many systems in my time, adding Authoring to my vitae should not prove utterly impossible, and yet some days it seems as if Authoring might prove special by proving itself utterly impossible to master. The systems thinkers have this contingency covered, too, for as John Gall, system thinker and author of the sadly entertaining Systemantics- How Systems Work and Especially How They Fail (General Systemantics Press: 1975/78, 1986, 2002), all systems are not only part of larger systems but also comprised of many smaller systems, each of which is infinitely complex. Nested infinite complexity explains a lot of what I see when interacting with and attempting to master Authoring, and also what I experience when attempting to interact with even the more mature systems in my life, the ones I might naively expect to perform predictably.

Last week, I pulled into my pharmacy's "drive thru" window, responding to an automated voice message which alerted me to prescription refills ready for me to fetch.

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Backsliding

backsliding
Hans Sebald Beham: Engraving of the Prodigal Son as a Swineherd (1538)
"Backsliding into my future."

After three weeks of steadily improving Spring-like weather, the temperature started falling yesterday and has plummeted down to twenty degrees Fahrenheit (-7C) this morning, with light snow. I spent a rough half hour this morning finally managing to get past LinkedIn's login gauntlet, failing a half dozen times before mysteriously being allowed in, only then to wonder why I'd bothered. I found messages from three years ago and even older, from before I'd last lost the questionable ability to log into that world. I found an essentially infinite queue of long unanswered messages and no evidence of anything resembling my much-touted network, along with what's still the most bafflingly opaque user interface in an industry where bafflingly opaque user interfaces remain the standard. I still can't tell what LinkedIn does, what it's for, it's purpose. The universe seems to be reminding me this morning that progress, once General Electric's "Most Important Product," does not now nor has it ever moved exclusively forward. Once the very epitome of conglomeration, GE has lately been divesting, retrenching back into once core businesses. Progress was ever thus. Even rivers, if one can quiet their mind long enough to observe rather than project what they see, will exhibit prominent backeddies and backwashes along with what we generally perceive as exclusively forward motion. Progress, seen as it actually manifests, proves confusing, a complicated calculus.

And so it probably should be for Authoring, too. It's both Chutes as well as Ladders out here on the cutting edge.

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BookSale

booksale
Thomas Fleming: Inside the Old Curiosity Shop. Source: Around The Capital with Uncle Hank (1902)
"I wonder what it might have felt like to live in those days …"

The boxes sit everywhere around this town, in front of shops and stores, clearly marked as present for donations to a BookSale. The local chapter of the AAUW (American Association of University Women) sponsors this annual event as its primary fund raiser. For a weekend, they take over a large conference room at the best hotel in town and fill it with donated books, sorted by general topic and kind, and commence to selling them. This always proves to be well attended. Who wouldn't want to browse through piles of musty books on a February weekend?

The inventory includes all of the usual suspects.

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Avant

avant
Oskar Schlemmer: Bauhaus Stairway (1932)
" … wisdom can only come after already expending altogether too much time and energy and effort overthinking these questions."

I don't usually identify myself as an Avant guarde writer, but I've been rethinking that notion since The Muse introduced me to a woman who advertises herself as an Avant Gardener. In most ways, I suppose, she's a traditionalist, but she brings a twist to her focus. Sure, she can spout off Latin plant names, but she imagines them in unusual combinations, in places where no traditionalist would ever consider placing them. In this respect, then, she fully qualifies as an Avant designer, Avant meaning 'combining forms.' In a similar way, I guess, I might qualify as an Avant writer, since, I, too, combine forms to produce a unique result. Reading one of my manuscripts produces different sensations for me than does reading others' work. I thought the differences mere quirks at first and found myself rather embarrassed by them. As I've reflected upon my experience, though, I see a sort of signature emerging. This must be emblematic of David's writing, how he does it. It's not precisely wrong, but different. Whether it produces pleasing sensations might be a different question.

One should always question how to judge the quality of any Avant creation, for comparing it should properly prove problematic.

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Detritus

detritus
Winslow Homer: Sharks; also The Derelict (1885)
"I can please The Muse by finally getting around to cleaning up the last of last season's mess …"


When we replaced five large picture windows last Fall, we created Detritus. We leaned the old glass up against the fence at the back of the formal rose garden, almost out of sight and definitely out of mind. I'd asked our carpenter's wife and business partner if she knew how to advertise the panes on Facebook or somewhere and she said that she'd take care of it. Sure enough, a week or so later, she texted me to report that she'd found an interested party. I'd not seen her text until a couple of days after she'd sent it and the deal never closed. Winter passed with that glass placidly leaning, bothering nobody. Imagine my surprise when I received a message yesterday afternoon that just said, "Almost to town. Where can we meet up about the glass?" Athena send a follow-up text a few minutes later reporting that the glass guy was finally coming to collect his prize. This news delighted me because the glass had become one of the few remaining bits of Detritus from The Great Refurbish, which we'd almost finished two months ago.

I'm still learning that trying to accomplish anything produces encumbrances to further forward progress, also known as Detritus.

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Breakthrough1.0

breakthrough1.0
John Buckland Wright, Freedom (1933)
"Perhaps it was never the problem we convinced ourselves it was."

Today's Authoring Story presents a Breakthrough, what I'll label Breakthrough1.0 in recognition of the high likelihood that this will prove to be the first one of, if not many, then a few upcoming Breakthroughs. They do tend to come in manys following some stuckness. One Breakthrough begets others. A snowball might spawn an avalanche. I realize that this one might well seem out of context, because it's not about Authoring so much as a product of Authoring effort. I'd grown dissatisfied with what I'd earlier written as the preface for my Cluelessness book, the one I've been preparing for publication as part of this Authoring work. What follows serves as a second draft of that preface. I present it without further comment and humbly request that you, dear reader, savage it if you can. This preface, of course, being intended for a book entitled Cluelessness, should exhibit some Cluelessness itself. I wonder if it's understandable, compelling, or seemingly stumbling all over itself? Have at it, please. I promise to be grateful.

———

What sort of person writes a book titled Cluelessness?

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Dolt-Drums

dolt-drums
John Buckland Wright: Title Unknown (date unknown)
" … willing to tolerate anything to end up somewhere else."

A point comes, usually somewhere in the middle more than near the beginning or end, where I lose my way. Whatever forward momentum my original bright idea imparted has, by then, largely dissipated. The objective's attraction, however initially strange or alluring, loses its magnetism and I feel adrift amid considerable flotsam: the odd oar, a life jacket, a leaky ice chest, and an almost refinished manuscript. I've forgotten what I was supposed to be up to. I've lost the vision. Once steady trade winds betray me and my rigging slaps impotently against mast and spar, luffing. So recently filled with inspiration, I feel struck stupid. I lose my course and my purpose. What the ancient mariner referred to as the doldrums, the horse latitude stall, I might just as well call the Dolt-Drums. I'm struck by just how dumb I seem.

What was I thinking? What was I feeling? What, again, did I firmly believe I was pursuing?

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ChangingVenue

changingvenue
Lucian Freud: Reflection with Two Children [Self-portrait] (1965)
" … my perspective suddenly vaster"

This Damned Pandemic has severely limited my mobility. As a writer, I treasure the movability of my craft. I can just as easily write in the backyard gazebo as at my desk. For years, my desk served as the last place where I'd consider tucking into any actual work. Since the shutdown started two years ago, though, my desk has served as, well, my desk. The view overlooking the center of the universe, where we moved my desk eleven months ago, and The Grand Refurbish, finished two short months ago, improved my location if not my variety, for before the sequestering, I maintained a hot half dozen regular alternative places to work. I could just drop in either of a couple of Starbucks or a local coffee shop near the university, or even another up in our mountain village. I could choose from two fine libraries or a breakfast place with outside seating on Main Street. If I felt constrained at home, I could just head out to find some properly bounded isolation my writing seemed to thrive upon. No longer.

With the COVID and her variants, I hardly ever leave the house, let alone go sit in any of my used-to-be usual public places.

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Enhollowing

enhollowing
Theo van Doesburg: Neo-Plasticism: Composition VII [The Three Graces] (1917)
" … my bane as well as my refuge."

My daily Authoring essays have become something of status updates, a widely-abused and misunderstood art form. Back when I managed projects, I thrived or suffocated on the quality of my status reports, so much so that I might have spent the bulk of my time strolling around, visiting with project community members, gathering their impressions of where we were, where our project might be located in space and time. These were Blind Men and the Elephant excursions where each witness testified to often wildly different perspectives. One might be way ahead of where the schedule predicted where they'd be while others reported falling further behind. My job was seemingly to cobble together all these divergent perspectives to report where the effort really sat. These reports were, as a rule, works of fiction intended to keep the sponsoring and managing authorities out of the project's underpants so that we might continue working. Too much of a scent of trouble might incite an inquisition, a review featuring Fundamentally Unanswerable Questions and project managers like me, chartered to provide reassuring answers. Few events were ever more disruptive than helpful inquisitions.

Senior management would issue their own reassurances following the review so that things might return to their smooth-appearing operation again.

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Inging

inging
Flag of Qing dynasty or Manchu dynasty
"It might be that I'll be no different after."

What am I doing? Sitting. Breathing. Thinking. Being. Authoring. Inging. Not just any one of these activities, some of which actually involve movement, but simultaneously all of them. What am I, then? Sitter? Breather? Thinker? Be-er? Author? Ing-er? It seems that I'm most likely an Ing-er. I -ing, and therefore I am. Whatever I'm doing, I'm Inging. Right now, I am writing, but not just writing. At what point did I earn my creds as a writer? I know for certain that under no circumstances will I ever only write, for I must also sit, breath, think, be, author, while also Ing on several concurrent levels. Maybe I'm a perpetual part-timer.

I ask these silly seeming questions because they don't necessarily seem all that silly to me.

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StalkingDream

stalkingdream
Francisco de Goya: The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters,
No. 43 from Los Caprichos [The Caprices] (1796-17980)

"Authors of their own meanings …"

My friend Lynn Kincanon writes at least a poem every day. She writes good ones, too, ones not too full of flowery allusion and not so superficial that they don't inspire. I think of her as an every day poet, profound and subtle, accessible and good, often great. She was one year named the poet laureate of Loveland, Colorado, and enjoys a decent Facebook following. Go friend her there. You'll never regret that you did. I introduce you to each other—Lynn, PureSchmaltz member, PureSchmaltz member, Lynn—because today's Authoring story was inspired by something Lynn wrote in the last week or so. She spoke of StalkingDreams, of dreams that seem to come to her on the installment plan, visiting in odd succession, refusing to resolve. They might become close friends, familiar as family, however otherwise unsettling they might remain. It's as if these dreams were movies from an only almost parallel universe, just a touch orthogonal but almost plumb. They're damned persistent, consistently presenting key metaphors and allegories as if insisting that we come to understand their deepest meaning, as if their story really mattered.

I've hosted just such a dream for innumerable sessions over recent seasons, not just a few nights running, but months and quarters.

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TheNarrative

thenarrative
After John Flaxman: Ulysses at the Table of Circe
[The Odyssey of Homer
] (1805)
"Discovering it's a dance."

For most of history, people believed that an actual Homer, author of The Odyssey, existed. In the nineteen twenties, a young anthropologist made a shocking declaration. He claimed to have determined that Homer was most probably a role and not an actual individual historical figure. He based his assertion on observation. He visited Macedonia and listened to traditional tavern singers, who specialized in singing lengthy epic poems, often hours long. He learned that these singers could repeat these poems verbatim, night after night, with virtually no variation, a seemingly inhuman capability, yet each such singer managed it, even when in his cups. This narrative first received much push-back from the field, but over time, the simple logic of the story seemed to supplant the centuries of alternative explanation. It was eventually much easier to believe that generations of storytellers developed and preserved these stories over eons rather than that a single individual lived and chronicled them in a single generation. The story about the story changed.

A fair part of Authoring has nothing to do with the physical manuscript, the apparent story in question, but the story about that story.

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GoodAdvice

goodadvice
Theo van Doesburg: Counter-Composition VI (1925)
"I might ask if another wants the benefit of my experience."

The best advice I ever received arrived just after my friend WayneeBoy asked me if I wanted some advice. He had not begged the question, either. He made an honest offer. If I had not nodded my approval, he would have held his advice to himself, none the poorer, for his advice came on multiple levels. The first bit he communicated by observing an uncommon courtesy, similar to that extended whenever a visiting sailor seeks to board another's vessel. "Permission to come aboard, sir?" Boarding a ship without first asking permission could cause an international incident, so by long tradition, permission gets asked and extended, a small courtesy which somehow seems to sanctify the visit. We, as in you and me and almost everybody, commonly neglect to ask permission to dispense our GoodAdvice before dishing it out. We often sow our seeds without first preparing the soil, without first considering whether the one so obviously needing our GoodAdvice might be in any position to hear, let alone act upon it. We tend, then, to waste an awful lot of effort.

I know that it seems, in that pregnant moment, that I might be able to help another avoid an error or perhaps recover more easily, if only, if only. If only, indeed!

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Slideways

slideways
El Greco, View of Toledo, c. 1596–1600


"I'm sliding Slideways …"

How might I describe my writing? Probably not in the same fashion that I usually write, for a description seems of a different order than an observation or worse, an inference. It seems one thing to state that the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog and quite another to explain why. The explanation seems necessary because who could possibly conclude the intention without some sideways explanation, one posed at a slightly higher and sideways orientation, perhaps looking down upon the commotion? I'd say that no one's very likely to jump to an accurate interpretation without some outside orientation, without the author of the expression disclosing his intentions, whether those seem at all transparent or even present in his silly sentence. Explaining that the sentence in question serves as an English-language pangram—a sentence that contains all of the letters of the English alphabet—the deeper meaning comes clear. The sentence still seems queer, but more understandably so.

I face the same challenge but on a much broader scale.

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AnSight

ansight
Attributed to Jacques Le Boucq: Posthumous Portrait of Hieronymus Bosch (1550)


"The Purpose of Mathematical Programming Is Insight, Not Numbers"
Arthur M. Geoffrion

"Authoring might at essence be nothing more than discovering how to usefully think about Authoring …"


I suspect that the often frantic search for answers amounts to little more than a typical stupid human trick, one of those traps into which we as a species seem to too easily stumble. When a question stumps me, I usually seek an answer to that question, when answer rarely serves as an initial stage of resolution. An answer tends to be something more like the final stage resolution, the end of attempts to resolve, not the go-to first step, yet we persist in first seeking answers. What might we seek instead? Experience alone might have long ago suggested that we'd be much better off seeking insights instead of answers, for, like management professor Arthur M. Geoffrion proposed in his 1976 essay of the same name, The Purpose of Mathematical Programming is Insight, Not Answers. Likewise, the first purpose of resolving questions might well be to somehow stumble upon some useful insight rather than to expect to somehow cobble together some resolving answer from the outset. An insight might lead to resolution while a search for a resolving answer most often produces little more than a frustrating stymie.

As with many things, the long way seems to be the shortcut when attempting to resolve some burning question.

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Doubting

doubting
The Creation and the Expulsion from the Paradise: Giovanni di Paolo [Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia] (ca. 1438–44)
"I'm gonna take a couple of pills and call myself in the morning."


Following several focused weeks of compiling and Proofing manuscripts, a point came where Doubting kicked in. My Authoring effort, a faith-based initiative if ever one existed, finds its faith sorely tested as its nose slips past the skepticism point on the spectrum to slide into definite Doubting range. Doubting seems a touch deeper than skepticism. While the skeptic holds a possibility, those Doubting carry a conviction which can only be turned by some disconfirming personal experience. Remember the Doubting Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe in the resurrection until he could personally touch Jesus' wounds? The very presence of Jesus might have convinced any skeptic. So much for the often touted benefit of Doubting. Doubting seems more of a hanging judge type of curse than a blessing.

And I would this morning hang the whole Authoring effort from the highest yardarm, if only we had yardarms anymore.

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SecondGuessing

secondguessing
Paul Cézanne: The Large Bathers [Les grandes baigneuses] (c. 1894–1906)
"I'll feel grateful for any future acceptance and unsurprised by any upcoming rejections …"


Rather than reassuring myself, Proofing my manuscripts encourages me into SecondGuessing what I thought I was accomplishing when I wrote them. I try to read each cleanly, as if I was just any old reader, but I know my voice too well to avoid jumping ahead. I also know my thinking too well to enter or exit very innocently. I might not remember precisely what I said, but I well understand how I tend to say stuff, and my logic sometimes seems entirely too predictable and precious. I sense the next glibness coming and almost cringe watching it arrive. I've seen my stand-up routine too often to find my jokes funny or insightful anymore.

I wonder what utility my Proofing brings, but I already know the answer.

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Circuitous

circuitous
Isamu Noguchi: Slide Mantra (1986)
" … one dare not ever engage in that kind of work anymore."

In this culture, we possess highly evolved methods for streamlining, for 'making efficient.' These tactics underpin what we refer to as Process Improvement, presuming that one improves processes by trimming them down to bare minimums. We prefer methods requiring less time, fewer resources, smaller investments. We're all in for quick and easy, and even feel uneasy when something doesn't seem quick or easy enough, for it seems broken then and in need of 'improvement.' Some activities, however, do not. by their nature, lend themselves to such streamlining. I wrestle with these jobs because efficiency mantras reverberate in my head when I engage in them, telling me that something's wrong, a false positive warning when working with Circuitous processes like Authoring.

I have not yet found the straight or the narrow paths through my Authoring effort.

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Enantiodromia

enantiodromia
Eduard Tomek: Sea (1971)
"The ancients understood what we forgot."

I don't usually write about whatever we talk about during my weekly Friday PureSchmaltz Zoom Chat. Like all dialogues, one simply must be present in the room, immersed within the context, for the content to make any sense, and attempts to explain what happened to anyone absent from the primary experience seems simply doomed from the outset. Think inarticulate explanation of a movie plot, but I heard myself say something in the thick of yesterday's chat that I think might prove noteworthy, and even germane to my Authoring initiative. I heard myself say that every project ultimately turns into something other than its originating intention before it can be completed. I'd never heard myself (or anyone) state this obvious truth before. Instead, I, like everyone, I suppose, has hung onto the notion that the originating objective accurately represents a project's real purpose, that guiding the effort through to achieve that originating purpose amounted to state-of-the-art 'project management,' when experience might have convinced anyone otherwise. Certainly, many projects have been characterized as failures because they produced something other than their originally expected results, but it might prove useful to wonder if any project of any real complexity had ever succeeded under that strict metric. I doubt it.

The standard practice to counteract this perhaps common phenomena— that projects produce something other than originally intended—has been the final stage politicking typical to every effort of any size, wherein original intentions get reframed to fit within the size shoes the elves managed to produce this time.

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AnEmbarrassment

anembarrassment
Artemisia Gentileschi - Mary Magdalene in Ecstasy (1620s)


"Everything I hold dear will have become as a rusty spoon, leaving little of substance …"

By the time I finish compiling and Proofing my eighteen finished PureSchmaltz Stories manuscripts, I calculate that I'll have accumulated something like six thousand double-sided double-spaced pages, or six reams of printed material. That does not count the two or three or four other odd uncollated manuscripts I have hanging around even further backstage. It also doesn't count the material I continue producing each morning which, by the end of each quarter, adds another three hundred plus pages and yet another "finished" manuscript. Believe me, please, I am not bragging here, but sitting on the edge of a kind of ecstatic despair. Over the forty-five days since I started this Authoring effort, I've compiled five manuscripts and Proofed three, leaving two compiled but not yet proofed and six more to compile and Proof to resolve my current backlog. Try as I might, I cannot seem to proof more than one manuscript per week, for I find that work rather like reading poetry. One cannot speed-read poetry. Proofing my prose induces bouts of ecstatic despair, for the slowly shrinking pile of paper seems an authentic source of both pride and embarrassment for me, one of incalculable wealth.

I had not intended to do this to myself.

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Honing

honing
Massimiliano Soldani: The Knife Grinder (c.1700), Albertinum, Dresden
" … sharpening a skill."

Many mysteries have been resolving themselves as I continue my Authoring efforts. I've gotten to the point where I feel as though I can almost make my compiling software do my bidding, though I declare this while keeping the fingers of my right hand crossed and secreted behind my back. No use tempting fate. I feel about as proficient as a novice driver who only drops one in three of his shifts, more skilled but hardly a master yet. Let's say I'm getting by, and as I begin to get by, my collating effort seems less insurmountable; still at root insurmountable, but now, surprisingly, less so; a smaller infinity. And with this improvement, the grey cloud which had taken up residence just over my head has begun dispersing, like the fog bank which had been hiding horizons here since Christmas. It's not Spring yet, but the brutal part of the Winter's finished. I sense that the brutal part of my Authoring's behind me, too, but behind me like my right hand's behind me, with crossed fingers. Let's say that I've been Honing my craft.

Honing seems an interesting activity because it seems to sit in the often neglected middle ground beyond beginning but before ending.

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RipVanSchmaltz

ripvanschmaltz
Albertis del Orient Browere: Rip Van Winkle (1833)
"What an overlong and awfully strange nap it's been."

Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle slept for twenty-five years, at least a third of a lifetime, to awaken into an unrecognizable world where children had become adults and adults, elderly or dead. He, himself, had grown a long white beard and moved with unaccustomed difficulty. I can speak anecdotally, from my own experience, to report that one need not doze for twenty-five years to experience a Rip Van Winkle effect. I'm convinced that no wakefulness exists that's powerful enough to stave off this result, for this world seems in constant flux and moves indifferent to us. Focusing upon any piece of it will leave one out of synch with other parts, and there exists altogether too many parts for any one of us to ever even hope to keep up with their fluxes. The Muse and I went on a thirteen year exile only to return to a place essentially unrecognizable, then we set about refurbishing, which further erased many formerly reliable context markers. We returned to a place we'd never before inhabited to carry on a life that had been more than merely disrupted.

The first few years of our exile, we were able to easily maintain the dream, by which I guess I mean that we were already sleeping.

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SpurtyWork

spurty
Artemisia Gentileschi:
Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting (1638–39)
"I hope to stumble upon some insight …"

I might classify work as belonging to two general classes: steady work and SpurtyWork. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors avoided steady work, but in more modern times it has become the dominant form, usually dispatched in shifts, often extending over many contiguous hours, days, weeks, months, years, and careers. SpurtyWork exclusively occurs in bursts, often separated by lengthy idle or distracted periods, time spent away from focusing upon the effort. Steady workers and SpurtyWorkers have always held contentious, often contemptuous opinions of each other. To the dedicated steady worker, SpurtyWorkers seem frivolous and lacking in any primary focus. To SpurtyWorkers, the steady workers seem like wage slaves, masochistically mortgaging their lives to the unforgiving time clock and unrelenting seasons. Steady workers might reasonably aspire to efficient performances that could not possibly even compute when considered from within a SpurtyWork context. Steady workers might experience flow. SpurtyWorkers produce in fits, starts, and stalls, with apparently heavy focus upon stalling, idling. Farmers traditionally complained about hunter-gatherers' lax habits, thinking them lazy, though a hunter-gather could typically satisfy their needs working many fewer hours and so adopted lifestyles dominated by leisure rather than labor. Steady workers are Puritans, SpurtyWorkers, Bacchanalian, at least in each others' opinion.

Authoring's inescapably SpurtyWork.

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ShelfConfidence

shelfconfidence
Vincent van Gogh: Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat [obverse: The Potato Peeler] (1887)
"Here I come!"


Writing might be the very most introverted activity ever devised. Authoring, a staging and performing of the writer's product, seems the opposite. As a writer, I've long wondered who I thought I was writing for, with various responses, though I mostly seem to be writing to and for myself, as insular and recursive as that might seem. Authoring's queuing up that internal stuff for more public distribution and consumption, from the perspective of the writer's solipsistic whispering, an audacious act. Posting my pieces began as tiny outrageous acts, duck and cover operations, as if I was chucking each one over a sturdy wall to splat down near unnamed targets. As I attracted an audience, the possibility of becoming an adviser arose, but I've mostly chosen to share the echoing I witness happening within my head. Any advice I might give tends to come obliquely, by example, the transcribed dialogue between me, myself, and I. I lack the self confidence to otherwise promote my internal dialogues. I've mostly just chucked them over walls like unguided missiles, hopeful that they won't do too much damage or spark too awfully many complaints.

Authoring drags that self-effacing operation out of its closet, or seems to threaten to.

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DreadLines

dreadlines
Rembrandt van Rijn: Abraham's Sacrifice (1655)
"Some days, I manage to walk through walls."


I deeply dislike the term
Deadline when used to denote a point where an assignment's supposed to be completed. It connotes something almost never evident, that the date represents a drop dead point, that somebody will die should that expectation not be satisfied. This is so rarely the case, that Deadline amounts to hyperbole, intended, perhaps, to rile up the more existential instincts. I've seen project teams go insane in the shadow of an impending Deadline, though I've yet to see anybody actually die when the Deadline wasn't met. They're mostly never met. A trumped up threat might serve as the very last thing most project teams seem to need to motivate them to perform.

I've proposed calling them
Stay Awake Dates, points of special awareness well short of existential dread.

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OtherWorlds

otherworlds
Norman Rockwell: General Electric Promotional Poster
"What a Protection Electric Light Is." (1925)

"We must be blind to enter OtherWorlds …"


Authoring intrudes upon OtherWorlds. Even when producing a work of current affairs, currency quickly slips into the recent past before further immersing itself into even foggier history. Our current world quickly shifts into OtherWorlds, too, its literature—fiction, non-fiction, reference—probably irrelevant for its original intentions. Even our current world, slippery though it might seem, favors certain orders. It wants originality but not unfamiliarity. It wants inventive similarity, not precisely a copy, for that might border on plagiarism or worse, produce a derivative work. It wants an urgency, as if a work should carry a critical message such that receiving it might stave off some catastrophe. It might seek the avant garde but rarely the weird. Beatniks without beards. Hippies with clean hair and pressed jeans. A reassuring future.

Any author seeking sanity should probably consider changing careers or just stop listening to what anyone insists that they want them to produce.

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Ambivalence

ambivalence
Head of Medusa, originally attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci.
This painting was later believed to have been created by a Flemish painter in the late 16th or early 17th century.

"Authoring seems to want its own pace …"


Nearly forty days into my Authoring effort, I notice a few snakes in my head. I know, like you know, that a genuine Hero's Journey should feature a steadfast and stalwart hero, someone holding unwavering dedication, not someone questioning his charter or purpose, yet this hero has been holding a few questions. I've found through decades of engagements, that at some point—it doesn't really matter if that point comes nearer the beginning, middle, or end—it can prove useful to apply some focused ambivalence upon an imperative effort. Especially if it seemed as if it absolutely has to get finished … or else, that there exists no reasonable alternative to successfully navigating the course, no matter how harrowing, that not succeeding would be tantamount to failure, it's especially important to reconsider again just how essential the effort might have not become. Is the race still worth running? Or else what?

I store this tactic in my Anything But That! drawer, one I only rarely ever open.

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TheFortunateFew

oneofthefortunatefew
Self-portrait of Nicolas Régnier painting a portrait of Vincenzo Giustiniani (1623-24)
" … my steadily eroding naiveté sipping bitter coffee."

As details of my Authoring initiative have come into focus, I realize that these have most often appeared as fresh insults to my originating naiveté, disappointments and difficulties. Some have valiantly attempted to reassure me that I'm probably not as crazy as I seem to feel, given my testimony, and I sincerely appreciate these attempts, for I am probably not as crazy as I sometimes feel. All told, or enough told to find a coherent thread, I remain one of TheFortunateFew. I am pursuing some ends larger than my original footprints. I'm testing edges. I'm making discoveries. I might even be making a difference, though that assessment must wait until I'm through this gauntlet. I believe that any worthwhile initiative must necessarily start as a sincere expression of the protagonist's innocence. His naiveté. However experienced he might have been then, his prior experience will have to become irrelevant in light of what this latest adventure manifests. The process by which naiveté wises up, that's the means by which the worthwhile emerges here. It was never different.

Each discovery which disqualifies some element of the initiating naiveté can seem brutal if not necessarily vicious.

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HollowingDays

hollowingdays
A cross-sectional drawing of the planet Earth
showing the "Interior World" of Atvatabar,
from
William R. Bradshaw's 1892 science-fiction novel
The Goddess of Atvatabar
"This, too, should ultimately pass."

Much of what constitutes Authoring amounts to isolated effort. From ideation through writing, collating through editing, everything could occur in solitary confinement, and does, or might just as well. Especially during This Damned Pandemic, alternative activities seem few and ever further between. When even heading out for a haircut gives pause, and should, this author most often chooses to simply anti-socially distance. The cats have come to know me too well, they sense my intentions better than I do myself. I live at their beck and call since I'm always nearby, never gone, but increasingly absent for myself here, too, as January degrades into HollowingDays.

The outside temperature has not varied more than three degrees in weeks, freezing plus or minus two. Chilling.

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GrandDelusion

granddelusion
GOYA: Entierro de la Sardina [The Burial of the Sardine] (1812-14)
" … how often they come true."

In my first year of junior high school, I began to get stomach aches. My mom took me to the doctor who concluded that my stomachaches were all in my head, not caused by any physical difficulty, but an emotional one. I was at the time struggling with a French class in which I'd enrolled under the delusion that I might one day be college bound. Enrollment in colleges in those days required two years of foreign language study. I abandoned my GrandDelusion of one day attending college the day I decided to follow my doctor's advice and drop the French class. My stomachaches abandoned me shortly thereafter, but I found myself lacking a GrandDelusion in my life and feeling its absence. You see, I subscribe to the school of thought that believes in the absolute necessity of maintaining a GrandDelusion in one's life. Without one, I'm sunk.

With one, I'm sort of sunk, too, but sunk of a different order.

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Cœurage

Cœurage
Claude Monet: La Grenouillère (1869)
"We're bred as critics …"

Authoring requires more heart than I can muster some days. Draft manuscripts simply must be reviewed with empathy or they'd all be reduced to red pen scratchouts the first time through. Only a wide open heart can prevent cringe-caused muscle cramps. One simply must, or I simply must, read with a sympathetic eye, which might render me my most worthless editor. My work could not survive without generous initial interpretations. If I wanted to discredit it, I could sink the whole damned enterprise in seconds. I cannot seem to write with a vengeance or author with one, either. I engage with disturbingly transparent skin, as if my spirit suffered from circulation problems. I wear a sweater and thick socks, protecting myself from the often shocking encounter with the real world and her expectations. I must write from my heart and author from there as well. This simply seems fundamental.

I am taken by the root from which courage sprung, the Latin cor (meaning heart) and the French
Cœur (also meaning heart.)

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TimeOff

timeoff
Henri Matisse: Le Rideau Jaune [The Yellow Curtain] (1915)
" … a man scribbling his living."

For me, writing and even Authoring serve as professions which do not come with TimeOff. I work weekends, holidays, even days of holy obligation, for writing and Authoring seem more lifestyle than job. Every morning seems to bring a superior personal obligation for me to engage, however holy or otherwise. If one works as a writer, one works as a writer, always practicing, never finished. Authoring so far seems no different. One does not remove one's writing boots, kick back, and forget the latest engagement. Writing doesn't finish. It's never done. Just as soon as I finish my daily essay, I'm copyediting the thing. I usually read it through about a half dozen times before I'm satisfied that I've caught all the errors I inadvertently imbedded in it, but even then, I'm apt to return again later to find a fresh couple needing correction. It's not uncommon for my Friday review of my week's writing to uncover yet another few lurking shortcomings needing fixing. The writing work's truly never done.

Authoring, too, seems fundamentally insurmountable.

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a clean, well-lighted place

a_clean__well-lighted_place
Vincent van Gogh: Le Café de Nuit [The Night Café] (1888)
" … I'm seeking immortality …"

Visiting Portland after a long winter and Damned Pandemic-induced absence feels as refreshing as a visit to Paris or Rome. Compared to our home near the center of the universe, it's a major metropolis. Further, due to the efforts of an inept surveyor, Portland's city blocks are tiny when compared with any other American city's, lending a human-scale aspect to the place. Even further, Portland features those exemplars of civilization, clean, well-lighted places for books. Portland's many bookstores encouraged me to pursue my literary leanings, for the very best future I could imagine featured me on one of those well-organized bookshelves in the old Beaver on Hawthorne or the original Powells, or even A Clean, Well-lighted Place For Books in San Francisco. I imagined myself shelved among masters, the E. B. Whites and James Thurbers, the John O'Haras and Eliot Pauls, and so I eventually was, but rather too near the end of the reign of the great American bookstore.

It's been half a generation now since the bookstore first felt the hand of internet commerce.

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SenseMaking

sensemaking
The Frolicking Animals scroll (Chōjū-jinbutsu-giga) from Heian Japan (mid-12th century)
" … SenseMaking, not necessarily about making sense …"

I've been trying for two months to schedule a Scheduled Maintenance appointment for The Schooner. I'd been really good at keeping each prescribed appointment since we bought the car, though it was easier when the dealer was just down the hill from us and I could just stop in to schedule a visit in person. Now that we've moved out toward the end of every known distribution channel, the closest dealership's fifty miles away. I considered just having my favorite local mechanic take over the maintenance, but he maintains a steady three month waiting list for appointments, so The Schooner's odometer would be at 55,000 miles before we could complete the 52,000 mile service. I'm now trying to negotiate away the 52,000 mile service in favor of just performing the 60,000 mile service early because I've lost faith that I can schedule the appointment much before the old odometer clicks over 60K.

The dealership's website features a futuristic scheduling application which was apparently intended to handle all appointment scheduling.

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InsideOut

insideout
Banksy: Shop Until You Drop [Street art, Mayfair, London] (2011)
"I wonder if there's much of a market for that."

As my Authoring effort has focused my attention on the product of my writing, I've been spending afternoon hours actually reading what I've written. I finally submit to this work—and it genuinely feels like work to me—after procrastinating on significantly less important activities. I hesitate before reentering the Proofing space, and I consider this reluctance to be part of the experience. It's information. I'm not merely proofreading, of course, but also for the first time experiencing what it's like to be one of my readers. I sit in the chair across the room from myself and observe with great curiosity and almost equal dread. It seems somehow unnatural for someone to so closely observe himself. I sense that I might be toying with one of the inviolable boundaries like a space/time continuum. I feel concerned that I might alter an earlier self or glimpse from perspectives that I was never supposed to suspect, let alone perceive. I'm only wondering how I might describe this manuscript. Is it Little Red Riding Hood or The Boy Who Cried Wolf? What makes this different from its many siblings?

I sense that I'm dabbling in an InsideOut, for my writing seems to echo my ongoing internal narrative.

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InCompetences

incompetencies
Francis Picabia: Première Recontre [First Meeting] (1925)
"If competence were a defining attribute, this world would have long ago crumbled. "

For me, writing seems an extended experiment intended to answer a simple question. Am I a competent writer? After a half century of experimentation, I've accumulated no conclusive evidence either way. I have seen evidence that I was, at times, at least bordering on competent, like when I learned that my Blind Men and The Elephant had become a bestseller, but that proved to be a lagging indicator, suggesting that I had at one time in the past been competent enough to pen a popular title, but it could neither suggest nor prove whether that gift had persisted into then present times or whether it might extend even beyond present time into any future. My experimentation continues. I each day manage to muster enough foolhardiness or courage to face the blank screen and begin again. Some days, like yesterday, for instance, I managed to feel competent as I wrote, a rare enough occurrence for me to make a note in my lab book. Further, I felt that the result, the surviving essay, proved to be top notch. I impressed myself. Then I went on to the other activities involved in my budding Authoring practice and fell on my face. I'd encountered yet another in my deep inventory of InCompetences.

I do not feel completely incompetent.

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Mindlessnessing

mindlessnessing
Charles S. Reinhart: The Face-maker . . . becomes the Village Idiot (1876)
"Hardly an ounce of mindfulness required."

Mindfulness has become a topic of popular conversation. People offer training to increase and improve one's mindfulness, and by all reports, that sector of the economy has been booming, this in spite of the contrary trend that most work remains at least ninety percent mindless effort, and growing. I see nobody—absolutely nobody—offering the mindlessness training so sorely needed in this post-industrial economy. The late nineteenth century industrial boom utterly depended upon the efforts of a few committed engineering types who dedicated themselves, their lives, to redesigning manufacturing from the sole purview of skilled artisans into steps so simple and fundamental that a well-behaved village idiot could excel in essentially any trade. The mindfulness necessary to produce virtually every consumer good plummeted between 1850 and 1920, such that mindlessness became the hottest commodity in the overheated job market. Millions of ignorant immigrants, some of your and my forebears among them, were welcomed to our shores and into jobs designed to make the average person stupid and the exceptional, insane. Each successive automation wave, up to and including computers and smart phones, left ever fewer jobs requiring mindfulness and ever more requiring an increasing proportion of Mindlessnessing. And here we are today.

It should not be the surprise it seems, then, for me to discover that even Authoring has become a victim to modernizing Mindlessnessing.

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RevisitingPurpose

revisitingpurpose
Guercino: Allegory of Painting and Sculpture (1637)
"I answer another question entirely …"

As I "finish" manuscripts, preparing them for sharing on into the world, I catch myself asking the inevitable question. "Are these works living up to my original intention for creating them?" The answer might prove unimportant for judging their quality as writing or even as literature, but I have not been occupied these past four and a half years just writing or merely producing literature, I have been—or intended myself to have been—fulfilling an original purpose. It might prove to be a fair question to consider whether I seem to have spent my time focused or if I became victim to some distraction. Lord knows I have encountered plenty of distractions.

That I even need to ask myself the question might suggest something about my writing practice.

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SecondOrderStorytelling

secondorderstorytelling
Unknown: Replica of paintings in the Chauvet Cave (Aurignacian Era—32,000 to 30,000 years ago)
"Authoring's also like this."

As I finished reading another draft manuscript, having proofed and corrected it, and for the very first time experienced it as a complete work, I remembered what came next. Now that I'd told the story, I would be called upon to tell the story about the story, to commence with a period of SecondOrderStorytelling. If writing a book's challenging, and, believe me, it is, writing the book about the book proves even more difficult for this humble and often humbled scribbler. I imagine a promoter of the ancient artists who created the work found in France's Chauvet Cave directing those artists to explain their work, pointing out that future generations, to whom the work would inevitably belong, might struggle to understand the purpose and significance of the artwork without a crib sheet interpreting it for them. The artists, skilled in the visual arts, might well have struggled to satisfy this perfectly reasonable request, them not possessing a written language yet and all. The same fate befalls the modern writer aspiring to authorhood, for he, too, feels as though he lacks a written language adequate to explain what he readily admits might prove difficult to sell if he cannot find a way to tell the essence of his story without forcing his potential audience to actually read the manuscript and draw their own conclusions. He's called to explain himself.

I can imagine Melville mumbling that his book's about a whale.

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Rhythmia

rhythmia
歌川国芳 (Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1798 - 1861): Cats suggested as The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō
" … the effort hardly feels like working …"

Each new beginning seems to induce an arrhythmia of sorts, a break in the accustomed cadence and flow. The new pace might be sought, even insisted upon, but the first few clicks will lack some essential, though I'm unlikely to be able to describe what. Something will be missing and my world will feel off kilter. I won't know precisely what's wrong or what to do about the apparent imbalance, other than to simply soldier through it. Then, of course, I'm soldiering rather than performing and even I notice that difference. I get to wondering what happened to my once relatively effortless performance and why every damned thing I touch requires almost superhuman effort. I know, of course, but knowing, if anything, just makes the situation seem worse because if I can diagnose, why can't I resolve? I know I've lost my rhythm, my Rhythmia, but never really knew how I'd found it before. I'm tempted to suggest that I never once before ever found it, but that it exclusively found me. I wonder if it might ever find me again or if I've somehow stepped off the world I'd always known, doomed now to move without a backbeat, without a cadence.

Then one afternoon, the Rhthmia returns, at first unnoticed.

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Cogitating

cogitating
Robert Rauschenberg: Postcard Self-Portrait, Black Mountain (I) (1952)
"I ain't no action figure."

I do not behave like a standard action hero might. I decide, then slip into a period of concerted Cogitating before acting. It might even appear to the inexperienced that I do nothing at all in response to deciding, that I'm not living up to my commitment. It might even appear that way to me. I could get moody until I give myself over to accepting what seems to be my usual response to deciding something. I flee to my head, deep within my head, and commence to Cogitating. I might insist that I'm thinking then, except I cannot be certain whether I'm thinking or not. I remain uncertain what thinking entails so I cannot tell if I'm engaging in that. Cogitating might be more a meditative than a thinking state, meditation being an immersive but not necessarily an analyzing or deconstructing one. I tend to float away from key choice points having chosen but not yet ready for action. I tell myself that my Cogitating prepares me to take right action without wasting effort with hasty reactions. I tell myself this story without really knowing if I'm telling myself the truth.

The truth might be that I have no good reason, no clear justification for slipping into Cogitating inaction following making a decision.

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Gatekeepers

gatekeepers
A gatekeeper at the Srivaikuntanathan Permual Temple
"The Gatekeeper administers the first test."

I feel as if I might have wrestled the content piece of Authoring to a rough ground over the past week. The publishing software finally gave up her secrets and I assembled a second manuscript and commenced to reading into if not yet through it. I maintain a queue of future compilings and a rough process by which to achieve them. I feel a little bored, which suggests that it might probably be time for me to open another front in this Authoring effort, the front where I commence to contacting Gatekeepers.

Gatekeepers terrify me. Always have.

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Author-itative

author-itative
Forged self-portrait of Albrecht Dürer.
" … never muttered another word thereafter."

We've long known that giving a guitar to a twelve year old dramatically increases the risk that said twelve year old will start crafting verse and become, at least in their own mind, uncommonly wise, and then start dispensing advice and spouting "folk wisdom." We understand less well a similar effect resulting from teaching someone to write. The risks might be tiny, but nonetheless exist, that the budding writer might discover urges to become an author. If so, it seems a short stroll down a fairly well-trod path before said writer comes to take them self seriously, perhaps all-too seriously, and steps over that line where ever after they think of themselves as authorities and so come to speak almost exclusively in the curious dialect favored by the Author-itative. They become bores and/or whores, assuming any of scores of similarly degrading roles in society. Extreme cases might be seen guest spotting on CNN, MSNBC, or, shudder, Fox. They might even sell a lot of books.

I have personally seen how this gift of writing can evolve into the curse of Author-itative prose.

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Haunts

haunts
Utagawa Kuniyoshi: The Ghost of Asakura Togo (undated)


"Exclamation Point! Period."

If I possessed the power to give advice that might be heeded rather than mocked by people younger than I, I would find some way to convince those folks that they author their own stories. Because of this one fundamental fact, we might be incapable of victimization without our own active collusion. Plot twists notwithstanding, if we're each authoring, then we get to decide where to place the final piece of punctuation that designates the end of one of our stories, nobody else. An adage much older than I insisted that no story ever need end up a tragedy if its author simply waits until an uptick before calling the story quits. An uptick always seems to emerge, however modest. I won't argue that this world does not host true tragedies, absolute calamities, but I will insist that these are never necessarily the whole or essence of any story, and that it does everybody some good if the soul of a mangled body gets reported as transported to heaven after its fall. That's what Authoring contributes, and it's fundamental.

Not everyone—or even most—take the Authoring notion as far as actually writing anything down, but we all seem to collect our stories.

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Authorthentic

authoringthentic
Julian Schnabel: May (2017)
"I will be rewarded with a blank page …"

I admit to feeling self-conscious about how I write. This likely stems from my never having received formal training in how to write, so I suspect that I do not write properly, or right, and never have. When I say that I feel self-conscious about how I write, I mean that I usually go unconscious when writing so that I won't be thinking about what an imposter I'm being while engaging. There's a deep shame there, too, as if my act of writing should necessarily seem offensive to you and that I really should, if I were in any way thoughtful, gift this world by not further polluting it with my misbegotten work products. I do not overstate my premise here. I want to be clear about my experience. I might choose to write in what passes, for almost everybody, as the middle of the night because my practice, my actual Authoring, probably wouldn't pass muster in the fuller light of any actual day. This part of my life seems best lived surreptitiously. Once the Authoring's finished, I feel free enough to post the result without often mentioning the process by which it manifested, a process which might well be shared by every author in the history of this world so far, though not often mentioned to their readers.

Maybe cost accountants perform a similar dance when they create capital asset pricing models. They probably should.

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OpServing

opserving
Antoine Le Nain: Les Village Pipeaux [The Village Piper] (1642)
"I'm some days tempted …"

I'm taken by the differences between the life I described two years ago and the life I live today. This continuing Damned Pandemic has completely if subtly changed how I live. On my better days, I imagine myself on a mission, serving my country by observing strict protocols so as to do my part to inhibit the transmission of the virus and all of its variants. I duly upgrade my mask as suggested by the CDC. I mostly, and some days most excruciatingly, just stay home and look out my window, an OpServer more than an active actor in this world anymore. I've become a subvocalizing scold when I do venture out, pissed at all the maskless freeloaders dogpiling upon society, extending our travails, cynically shirking their civic responsibility. It would be easy, too easy, to acquiesce to the general ignorance displayed and just play along, give up, expose my position and volunteer to become a lab experiment that could quite easily kill me forever. Instead, The Muse and I keep driving, deciding when we see the overflowing maskless crowd overfilling our local tavern, to go find some more abandoned-looking business from which to order some supper to go. We even eat out at home now.

As a writer and a budding author, I some days struggle to feel as though I describe a world shared by anyone else.

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Colluding

colluding
Robert Lawson: original etching, titled “the connoisseurs,” (undated)
"
A conspiracy's gaining steam."

While writing tends toward an isolated and, indeed, isolating endeavor, Authoring becomes necessarily more social. It might take a village to bring any work to publication and distribute it beyond its author's orbit. Even in this age of viral transmission, those lowly-seeming individual producers usually have a community contributing and supporting their efforts, colluding in dozens of different little ways to make a real difference. In some ways, these helpers find their own way inside the author's circle, even when they're invited in, for these endeavors rarely seem terribly promising at the outset. Invitations get sent without great expectations that they'll be be warmly received, without knowing who might insist upon taking a lead. The resulting community expands organically, fueled by each member's own interests. In this sense, the Colluding seems inherently beneficial, occurring only because there's really no other way to get such things going. This describes what I've long referred to as a ProjectCommunity, a benevolently Colluding conspiracy of dunces intent upon becoming geniuses. Screw projects, we'd much rather collude and conspire.

As a writer untrained by formal writers' workshop orientation, I most fear the critics.

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Dedication

dedication
John Singer Sargent: Gassed (1919)
"The universe has seemed dedicated to thwarting my forward momentum …"

It seems simply axiomatic that any attempt to accomplish anything novel attracts imps, so I should not feel in the least bit surprised that every attempt to delve more deeply into Authoring has encountered frustrating complications. Trusted software fails, or seems to, then mysteriously seems to heal itself after stalling progress for a couple of days. The mere act of plugging in a faster printer, borrowed from The Muse's office, appears to have uncovered a malware infestation which then mysteriously disappeared. Small steps seem more like stumbling blocks and every damned thing I attempt to initiate becomes either another damned thing or the same damned thing all over again. I recognize these experiences as standard Dedication tests, apparently necessary encumbrances intended to test mettle and stomach. If I cannot swallow these tangles, I might consider aborting my mission now, because worse will very likely be coming, and worse in ways that would certainly prove intolerable today, but following some initial conditioning, might well prove to be less than overwhelming. I've been building up immunity to terminal disappointment by seemingly serially disappointing myself.

It seems a wonder I've made any progress, given that I feel as though I've mostly been encumbered from moving very far forward.

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Timelessnessing

timelessnessing
Francis Picabia: Force Comique (1913–14)
"Time's a jealous one …"

Authoring, like writing, can be time consuming. I might spend three hours crafting a single thousand word essay and exhaust a few days assembling a quarter's accumulation of posted pieces into a draft manuscript, then a few days proofing that manuscript, a few hours correcting the master manuscript, all that before releasing the semi-finished work to broader review and critique. The process, if, indeed, it qualifies as a process, seems interminable and I suspect that it's actually impossible to maintain much enthusiasm for a work that takes so damned much effort to produce. There's just something about working hard that encourages moving beyond the effort and into well-earned leisure, but writers and authors do not work for the purpose of not working any more, or they sure don't seem to. They seem to work for the purpose of continuing to work, for properly engaged in, their, our, work might be better labeled play. What do I do for work? I play, but only when I remember that I can make it that way.
Any time-consuming anything tends to weigh heavily upon the one engaging, for time, a concept apparently without physical substance, weighs more than any other material.

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Learnering

learnering
Francis Picabia: Machine Turn Quickly (1916–1918)
" … even more humiliation before me …"

I know of no more pitiful state than that of a learner. The learner hangs suspended between two states: ignorance and understanding, where the presence of the former becomes ever more prominent and the absence of the latter becomes ever more apparent. No resolution resides within the learner's space. Were there a process by which one might gauge progress toward understanding, the experience might feel different for the learner, but, alas, no such process exists, though competing theories about what that process might be continually add to the irresolution. The learner's experience tends toward the chaotic with resolution uncertain. It's a genuine wonder to me why anybody ever volunteers to learn anything. Ignorance being bliss seems a damned good argument against all forms of learning, and I mean this.

Once the learning's completed, one might hold some chance of being recognized as being learned, at which point the fresh scholar might lord their superior understandings over others, thereby earning their eternal enmity.

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Relearning

relearning
Francis Picabia: La Source [The Spring] (1912)
"This Authoring crap ain't for wimps"

It might be a feature of modern times that I seem to have only fragmentary understanding of how most things work. I know enough about automobiles, for instance, to drive them, or many of them (not Buicks), but not enough to fix them should they break. I tried at one point in my life to learn enough to be able to perform simple periodic maintenance on my vehicles, but vehicles have changed since then, and even then, I was prone to making mistakes when taking care of my cars. It's genuinely difficult to clean up a four quart oil spill in a driveway after discovering that you forgot to replace the drain plug before attempting to refill the crankcase. Difficult and embarrassing.

Most of the software that I use, I understand no better than I understand automobile maintenance.

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Howsing

howsing
Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Wedding Dance (1566)
" … new worlds emerge."

I caught myself, while proofing that latest manuscript, reading for something other than story. It's usual for me, when picking up a book, to read for content. Style might enter into my perusal, but never most prominently. I'm following the story, hoping that the author's word and phrasing choices won't unduly encumber my effort. Ideally, when reading, the style should remain essentially invisible, like a neutral wall color, there to frame the content never to overshadow it. But proofing my own writing, I already know the story. I'm learning that the story pretty much takes care of itself. This time through the work, I'm looking a little deeper than story at the technique, the style, the manner of describing I employed. Does it exhibit the necessary consistency? Does it encumber the story? Does it adequately hold the space?

I guess that the style of writing sets a context, and context tends to deeply influence everything around it.

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OpeningShop

openingshop
Robert Lawson: The March of Progress (circa 1930-1931)
" … further tedious justification …"

I discovered what I always discover when I finally finished circling the spot and settled into reading the next of my "finished manuscripts." The first few pages proved awkward reading, but before I hit the fiftieth, I'd settled into the rhythm of the writing and caught myself almost enjoying the experience. The autobiographical element proved very attractive for me, for it enabled me to relive past experiences. The pieces were spare sketches but lifelike enough for me to recognize myself, or a part of myself, passing by before my eyes. Short of a mirror to peer into, what could possibly prove more diverting and interesting? The flow of the work, which I'd anticipated might prove choppy, wasn't. It seemed to pretty much work, though I'd need a book designer's eye to confirm this impression. I expected to find further excuses for not finishing the work, but I stuck to it instead, which left me feeling as though I'd opened up another department in my book producing operation. I was OpeningShop.

I have spoken here before about how I tend to catastrophize upcoming effort.

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Show&Tell

show_tell
Robert Lawson: Little Elf by Big Shoe (not dated)
" … hopefully not Arithmetic."

I have a lot of material, much of it uncatalogued. Twenty years ago, I had several file boxes filled with pieces I'd written. I still have those, unopened in the interim, and several times more volume, newer stuff, less accessibly filed. I figure that most of all of that stuff was practice, warm up pitches honing my approach. I was preparing for the day when I might be called upon to commercially create, in the bigs, but that call never came. I remember the shame I felt when I first considered submitting pieces to journals only to find that my inventory was thin. I set about trying to fill it in and may have gone a little overboard. I feel like a hoarder now, squeezing between piles of finished material so randomly organized that little within it could ever be located. It's a random access filing system where the product of every search can only be randomly selected.

I created perhaps a quarter of the material in now obsolete apps, ones for which nobody seems to make translators anymore.

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TwistingPlots

twistingplot
Robert Lawson, Pegasus (not dated)
" … Unbelievable …"

The plot twist might qualify as the most over-used literary conceit. Plot twists should appear only when absolutely necessary and should generally be less dynamic than most authors seem to presume. One need not necessarily rip the wings off the plane to affect a serviceable change of course. A wing-shedding turn might most properly be reserved for a once in a lifetime event, and even then, will very likely seem overplayed.

The general rule for believable fiction differs from the same rule for non-fiction, or what's posing as non-fiction.

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InnerAuthor

author
Robert Lawson: "Uncle Phineas was wrapped up most comfortably, smoking his pipe..." (1945)
[Perhaps a self portrait of the Author/Illustrator]
"The leather elbow patches make the real difference."

Though I have authored several manuscripts, I do not very often feel very much like an author. What does an author feel like? I thought that I might poke at that question this morning, for I seem to have an InnerAuthor inhabiting if not my body, then my spirit. When I can sense his presence, I catch myself behaving more authoritatively, more like the InnerAuthor I hope I embody. At other times, I feel far separated from that sense of that particular self, and I wallow rather hopelessly. My InnerAuthor represents my exemplar, the guy I aspire to become, my spirit guide. Every writer ever published seems to have believed that a multitude inhabits each person's psyche, each personality passing for 'me' for a time, all true yet none definitive. My InnerAuthor fits right into that characterization. He exists for the purpose of inspiration, not definition. When I'm channeling his presence, the label of Author just seems to fit. When not, it doesn't.

My InnerAuthor most closely resembles Robert Lawson, an author and illustrator who published through the first half of the twentieth century.

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Proofing

proofing
Carl Moon: Women Baking Bread (ca. 1937-1943)
" … wrapped up as a manuscript."

It feels more ritual than purposeful, that first reading of the first printing of the pieces rendered into book form. I avoid this work like I avoid Covid, though I'm unsure why. I eventually manage to get over my aversion to reading my own writing and settle into the work, though it feels like hard work. I hold my red pen ready to highlight the errors I will most certainly spot, and dog-ear each corrected page for easier reference when I go back to update the mother manuscript. It's a long process. I measure it in ten page increments. something more than one hundred fifty pages. I anticipate a slog.

It's rare that I lose myself when reading my own writing.

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Fallowing

fallowing
Ohara Koson; Reclining Tiger (Ca. 1910s)
" … up to perform my daily writing ritual …"

I am occasionally accused of appearing to be productive. I sincerely apologize for this appearance, but I assure you that the productivity seems to reside in the eye of the beholder. I consider myself a first-class slacker, rarely if ever doing very much of anything, though I might occasionally tag along on some adventure, but almost always strictly as an observer. The recently completed Grand Refurbish serves as just the most recent example of just such a misrepresentation, for I contributed little on that one and feel as though I mostly received credit for effort my hired crew performed. I added a few grace notes but little of any substance.

Still, that said, I also very rarely allow myself a day off.

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AlreadyBeenDone

alreadybeendone
Pablo Picasso: Le Peintre et Son Modèle (1970)
"I do not want somebody different greeting me now."

Picasso had what some might have considered a very bad habit. He insisted upon producing paintings that had AlreadyBeenDone, often by painters judged far superior to him. Who could count how many 'painter with his model' canvasses he produced? Certainly scores if not hundreds, each one replicating a pattern at least as old and done as any subject he could have imagined. Authors do this, too, I'm moved to reflect. Someone once postulated that there were no more than six original plots in existence. Six plots to cover the entirety of human history in every language. The likelihood that my book or yours will introduce that long-elusive seventh plot seems unlikely, if not utterly impossible. It's common for an aspiring author, though, to notice that he's not been totally original and perhaps borrowed a few features from another author, one he's in awe of or jealous of. What constitutes an original work and where might plagiarism begin or end?

We're all, it seems, standing upon each others shoulders.

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Juggling

juggling
Fritz Beinke: Der Jongleur [The Juggler: A Village Fair] (1873)
" … some soul-crushing effort."

Juggling separates writing from Authoring. Writing can occur within a variety of mediums. One need not know how to use Microsoft Word to write, as I daily demonstrate. Indeed, some of our most celebrated writers employ pencil and paper to craft their works, but since published works almost never simply photocopy an author's scribblings, some transformation from the original must occur and this does not happen without expending considerable energy, either the author's or someone else's. Indeed, each transformation, each shift of medium, also demands a proofreading pass, this usually requiring a higher skill level than the one performing the migration between mediums. Even moving writing between one software application and another introduces considerable complication into manuscript creation, since different apps tend to interpret the same intentions differently, producing formatting nightmares. I have yet to discover a single application that satisfies all the different demands a single manuscript must satisfy to pass muster, so the writer, or his staff, must engage in considerable and prolonged Juggling to produce a passable manuscript.

Writers as a class despise Juggling their work product.

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Deadlining

deadlining
William Blake: The Tiger from Songs of Experience (1794)
" … right on time, in a photo finish … "

As a writer, I mostly work without the distraction deadlines bring. I have no publication date looming, no external expectations goosing me forward other than the rather tacit and largely unknowable desire my readers might have to receive my latest posting. I quite frankly don't think about that very much. The question of whom I'm writing for rarely comes up and my response rarely changes. I'm usually writing for myself and for future generations, neither constituencies terribly demanding. But once each year, I write on deadline, Deadlining, if you will. My Christmas Poem Cycle, twelve big fat juicy ones which must, according to the constraints I've constructed around the effort, emerge between Solstice and Christmas Morning. It's Christmas Morning as I write this essay, and the scent of Deadlining still clings to me.

I notice these last few days have felt different than my usual routine, though I've tried to maintain my regular routine underneath my Deadlining effort.

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BreakingRhythm

breakingrhythm
Rene Magritte - Golconda (1953)
"I might break my stride or bust a rhyme and improve the quality of my experience."

In June 2000, London's Millennium Bridge opened to flooding crowds. Unpredicted by anyone associated with bridge design or construction, the mechanical resonance of the crowd's movement set up a small swaying within the structure. This movement further encouraged a kind of sympathetic resonance within the crowd, whereby people began walking in lockstep, further amplifying the bridge's swaying. Nothing came of this event, other than that the bridge was shut down for inconclusive investigations for the month following its opening. Way back in the 1840s, some soldiers marching across a Scottish suspension bridge, brought down the structure and ended up in the water below when their marching's mechanical resonance, much like that Millennium Bridge's crowd's, matched and amplified the bridge's. Soldier now commonly break stride when crossing a bridge to prevent such occurrences.

Writer's, too, maintain a cadence in their production.

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Ledda2duhEduhduh

ledda2duheduhduh
Anton Graff: Selbstbildnis mit Augenschirm [Self-Portrait with Eye-shade] (1813)
" … actual ink on actual newsprint."

The easiest ink this author ever gets comes from having a letter published in the local paper. It doesn't amount to much of an accomplishment, but I admit that I take great personal pride in it, reading the result over and over again as if marveled by its very presence. It seems precious to me there as I stare down at the same old page made wondrous by my letter's presence.

The local paper will publish almost anything submitted by any reader, and about a quarter of those they do publish appear have to been submitted written in fat primary crayon, probably with the 'r's transcribed backwards.

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InauspiciousBeginning

inauspiciousbeginnings
Werner, E. T. C.: The Eight Immortals Crossing The Sea,
(1922) [excerpted from Myths & Legends of China. New York: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd]

" … a thousand lenses absorbing orthogonal perspectives, sending mixed messages."

I'm nobody's soothsayer. I cannot foresee anybody's future, much less my own. Furthermore, I don't really want to know what's coming next. Maybe I want to be ill-prepared when my future finally shows up. Maybe I just don't care, but I've organized my life more around the here and now than any there or then. I have aspired to little more than to do my work and be with my family and friends, though our Damned Pandemic has been straining ties to family and friends. I made that call day before yesterday to acknowledge that we would not be congregating for this upcoming holiday, either. The Muse and I are long distance grandparents, even after we managed to move back home.

As those of you who have followed my postings already understand, I fancy myself a writer.

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ColdLight

coldlight
Ohara Koson: Bush Warbler in Winter (Ca. 1900-1910s)

"The brightest light on the darkest night of the year …"

Six months ago, light came wrapped in heat. We prayed for sunset, when the hostilities might hesitate overnight, but only to reassert themselves shortly after the following first light. We cowered from light then, when only darkness brought respite and light just seemed punishing. Between sunscreen and sunglasses, we'd suit up whenever we headed outside, long sleeves, long pants, and broad-brimmed hats. We'd rush between places, limiting the time we'd spend outside of our air conditioned spaces, constantly consuming cold beverages. The summer solstice brought more light than we wanted and more heat than we could handle.

Six months later, the light comes with cold in the form of snow which seems to emanate bright.

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ExtraordinaryTimes

extraordinarytimes
Ohara Koson: Goose and Reeds (Ca. 1910)
"I'll have to wait and see …"

Our Grand Refurbish fully qualified as an ExtraordinaryTime. I extended myself special dispensation for its duration because I really felt as though I was engaging in something truly special, unique, and valuable. The effort at times felt overwhelming, but I mostly stood up to the challenges. Now I face a more daunting prospect, the utterly ordinary one of returning back into ordinary time. ExtraordinaryTimes offer easy excuses. Nobody really expects you to maintain regular hours if you're busy changing the universe. No one harshly judges anyone nobly engaged. End such an effort, though, and mundane duties and obligations rush in to fill the resulting void. There will be no citations for keeping up with the dusting and dishes. There will be few appreciations awarded for achieving nothing in particular.

For a time, I might reasonably expect to rest upon my laurels.

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StartingAtOne

startingatone
Seated Male Deity Supporting a Vajra on His Finger (last quarter of 10th–first half of 11th century)
Indonesia (Java, Ngandjuk)

" … a meditation on sanity, vanity, and satisfaction …"

Prolific author and psychotherapist Sheldon Kopp told the story of how he learned to meditate. He checked into a Zen center where a master directed him to sit quietly in a corner and count to ten. Though this seemed an inauspicious beginning, he did as instructed. He quickly found that though counting to ten had never before posed a serious challenge, he found himself losing his place when sitting there by himself trying to count to ten, so he returned to the master and reported his difficulty. The master instructed that if he were to lose his place again, he was to just go back to one and begin anew. Kopp reported that it was the longest time before he realized that meditating was not about getting to ten but going back to one.

I imagine that I'm feeling a similar sensation as I set about attempting to live post-Grand Refurbish.

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PackingUp

packingup
Christo: Package on Radio Flyer Wagon, Project (1993)
" … before telling me what he intended to do for me that day."

"Are we done?" Our Carpenter Joel asked the question, which seemed to come out of nowhere. Done? So quickly? It had been four full months since he'd first showed up, ostensibly to just lay some vinyl planking and complete a few other chores. Those few other chores had grown to include quite a few more than a few other chores, including installing five large windows, refinishing a large staircase, and rebuilding a wall of shelves from scratch. His chop saw had become a seemingly permanent fixture in the middle of our living room since the weather had turned and his periodic saw dust injections had become a part of our accepted atmosphere. He'd just come out from under his rebuilt wall of bookshelves, having anchored their stanchions with fresh long screws, and he was out of work and ready to load up. He was moving out, PackingUp his van and heading home. I could not respond to his question. Though I had been anticipating an impending ending, I had not prepared myself to recognize it when it finally appeared. I found one tiny final task before releasing him from further obligation.

Kurt Our Painter would remain for another day, touching up and cutting in, finishing the final painting, always a lagging indicator of progress

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Crowning

crowning
Bartolomeo Cavarozzi: Virgin And Child With Angels (circa 1620)
" … wrong crown, its Crowning achievement."

When the future asks after the Crowning achievement of Our Grand Refurbish, I'll retell this story, for it stands as at least emblematic of the entire venture. The Muse had insisted from our earliest conversations that we would finish the three main downstairs rooms with period-appropriate crown moulding. I was fine with leaving the crowns as they were but she was adamant. I know when to avoid doing battle, so I quickly conceded. Period-appropriate crown moulding it would be, then. We torn down the existing stuff and I donated it to the recycled house parts operation out at the old airbase. The replacement proved inconvenient to deal with since it came in sixteen foot lengths, so long that our carpenter had to fetch his other truck with the long overhead rack to transport it. We painted it before cutting and mounting it, but it was too long to store anywhere, so we had to work quickly. Kurt Our Painter spray painted the first batch, but that proved to be a big hassle. Two hours of prep and clean up for about three minutes of painting. It used a lot of paint, too, so we rolled then brushed the rest of the stuff, ending up inside after the weather turned, boards stretching between the two living rooms and creating a serious navigational hazard.

The lumber yard didn't quite know how to handle crown.

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Tractoring

tractoring

Gulls Following a Farmer on his Tractor, State Historical Society of Iowa (Date Unknown)
" … what else have we got to amuse ourselves with?"

The final few furlongs of Our Grand Refurbish seem to condense all the effort into a few remaining tasks, with each taking on the weight and importance of the sum of all the prior pieces. The final coat of paint goes on in Jovian gravity, heavy and dense. The last screw set seems to pierce stone rather than wood, the driver groans under the strain. Minutes no longer slip by, but crawl. The day seems too small to contain our aspirations for it and for ourselves. Kurt Our Painter puts his head down for a day of dedicated Tractoring, him seeming to possess a hydrostatic transmission with an amazingly low gear, capable of shoving his way through anything. His usual slow-motion Kabuki dance becomes, if anything, even more intense. He appears relentless, but effortlessly so. If the past few days have been short and slow, these next couple will might well turn endless.

A force propels us now, more pulling than pushing.

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Muddling

muddling
Vincent van Gogh: Sunflowers (1887)
" … which, of course, we ain't."

Let's consider looking at the Covid-19 pandemic as if it were one of those psychological instruments intended to provide feedback about who we really are. I know, those instruments might be the most widely misused and misinterpreted forms of self-discovery, but even this fact might better qualify them for this purpose, for this use. We don't usually read the instructions, anyway, but figure we might just as well muddle through. Muddling might be our primary means of engaging. Even when we have access to concise and accurate information, we tend to ignore that in favor of gut feel or intuition. We can consequently be fairly certain that those with their fingers on nuclear triggers have also not really read the instructions, justifying that decision with a belief that they'd never need to pull it. I mean, how hard could it be to destroy all humanity? Nobody's gonna be left to write that history.

We seem fatalistic, as if learning better might actually kill us or be more dangerous than remaining uninformed or becoming ill.

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Plumb

plumb
Jasper Johns: [title not known] (1967–9)
"Long live our illusions …"

In this house, Plumb amounts to a fictional concept intended to be interpreted rather loosely. It never refers to anything like absolute verticality, which does not exist here, but to orthogonality relative to level or flat, which also does not exist in this fine home. Every surface might play off the general concept of level and Plumb, but never actual exhibit either. Our new library shelves, the last installation in Our Grand Refurbish, are taking longer to install than expected, though we might have reasonably expected complications. The left adjacent wall, upon close scrutiny, turns out to be roughly dish shaped and canted a degree or two off Plumb. It abuts into the freshly refinished window seat, which slopes ever so slightly back to front, perhaps designed that way to keep marbles from accumulating along its top. The right adjacent wall slopes slightly away from the vertical, necessitating much ciphering and trimming in order to yield more or less level shelf surfaces and also to properly fool the observing eye, which might otherwise discern just how out of Plumb the whole construction turned out to be. Properly constructed and painted, the eye will be fooled and satisfied, for it will conclude that this little corner of the world actually appears to be Plumb, a rarity and a fiction.

We seem to prefer our fictions and even conspire to preserve them against opposing evidence.

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TinySignificances

tinysignificances
Suleiman at Wasserburg on the River Inn, in a woodcut by Michael Minck dated 24 January 1552.
"We might need gruel work."

Through The Grand Refurbish, a few tiny annoyances remained out of scope but never out of mind. We'd focused our attention on specific portions of the place and chose—at first deliberately, then out of habit—to just let anything else slip by for that time, for we could have nattered away the opportunity by attempting to attend to everything at once. It just seemed prudent to narrow our scope of interest. There would always be a tomorrow. But nearing the end of The Grand Refurbish, few improvements need my personal attention. Our carpenter and our painter cannot quite muster full shifts between them now, we're down to one room, and almost down to a final wall. Those tiny annoyances began calling again or, more properly stated, those TinySignificances continued wielding their power. I finally gave in.

The bathroom door had come to scrape on the floor beneath it.

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ThePaintPotPrinciple

thepaintpotprinciple
Henri Matisse: Blue Pot and Lemon (1897)
" … precisely what it always was and then some."

The Muse and I hired a professional painter for Our Grand Refurbish, both an expensive proposition and a priceless one. We'd never been ones to hire done our painting, figuring that we might just as well do that work ourselves and retain the wages we would have laid out. We never would have known what we would have foregone had we chosen to go that route, for one cannot notice what one does not experience. Following Kurt around has provided an education for me, exposure to much I never knew or understood about the fine art of house painting. It turns out to be every bit as exacting as anything Matisse ever produced, requiring deep skills in color, technique, and much more. For someone like me, a surface is a surface is a surface, but to Kurt, each one's a little different, demanding a unique approach. We've used a half dozen different primers alone on this job, each formulated for slightly different conditions, ones only an experienced eye might ever discern. After five months of learning, I'm catching on to much I still need to learn. I can't now imagine ever painting anything again without first at least seeking Kurt's wise advice and counsel, if not his paint brush. Oh, and I'm officially no slouch with a brush and a roller, myself.

I've been noticing how our master performs, though, like any first grader might notice in his first teacher.

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TheSecondOrderSolution

ThePenny


"I pray that I will find a ready penny when my comeuppance comes …"

Our home, The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, might be best described as the sum of its kludges. The midnight fixes that were never formalized the following morning. The interventions completed by unqualified technicians. The misunderstood instructions. The leftover parts. I might be slightly less than fully-qualified to even own a home, let alone expect myself to maintain it, but I have not always found myself in a position where I might contract with a qualified technician, so I'm forced to perform some fixes myself. I wander around the Ranch Supply or The Home Despot, every bit the homeless waif, for my home stands in that moment broken and I've been called to fix it. I might hold a notion about the source of the problem but I don't know the nomenclature, so I attempt an explanation to a hostilely disinterested clerk. I might as well be speaking Ukrainian for all the good my describing does. I'm very likely to be led to a dreaded part of the store, a part filled with tools and materials I've truly never seen or even imagined before, and abandoned there, much worse off than I was before, when I just didn't have a clue.

I call my preferred method of fixing everything TheSecondOrderSolution.

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Phinishing

phinishing
Camille Pissarro: Bois de châtaigniers à Louveciennes (1872)
"We're improvising our exit scene …"

As Our Grand Refurbish neared its end, progress became erratic. Crew called in sick or excused themselves for appointments. Expectations smeared. I feared that we might never finish, that we'd become one of those good ideas that never quite coalesced and remained permanently undone, and this outcome could happen to anyone. We tend to envision an end state but not the last furlong of the race. We seem to expect some sort of grace to nudge us over that last hump, when finishing, Phinishing, might be a unique and separate art, like the kind a closing pitcher practices, almost but not entirely unlike the skills that formerly produced the start and progress. The production mindset seems in need of disruption to finish, otherwise it might just continue to replicate itself into never-endingness. We need the opposite of that now, and it seems likely that we'll have to violate some deeply ingrained habits to pull that off. Phinishing's not just stopping work, it seems a serious disassembling process. Rather than building, we're set to take away now.

The inertia of motion argues against ever stopping.

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SpoolingUp

spoolingup
Claude Monet: Snow Effect at Argenteuil [Effet de neige à Argenteuil] (1875)
"nobody ever knows if they even exist … until they manifest on the page."

While I felt myself WindingDownish yesterday, this morning, I sense myself SpoolingUp. WindingDownish mostly involves reflecting while SpoolingUp focuses upon projecting, anticipating, preparing. It's a head-in-the-clouds experience where the future overshadows both present and past. I see the end of Our Grand Refurbish coming, but more compelling, I've started hearing my annual Holiday Poem Cycle calling. The Muse, often ahead, began baking her holiday breads last weekend. I'm just waking up, realizing that I have a dozen or more new poems to write between now and Christmas morning, and that I have not yet started stockpiling possible illustrations to serve as inspirations.

I began this tradition twenty years ago when I became disgusted with the sense of obligation this season wrought in me.

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WindingDownish

windingdownish
André Masson: Battle of Fishes (1926)
"I left a few once-shiny screws which I intended to use to hold impermanence together."

Time seems to slow as this year moves closer to its ending. The days grow shorter but feel longer, some days seeming interminable in their passage. I swim through thick molasses on my way toward New Years. This year has been like no other, for this year, I lost my darling daughter, which opened a wound that could never heal and hasn't. It was also a year overflowing with hopefulness, the year The Muse and I undertook The Grand Refurbish, an effort deliberately imbedded with much needed promise. We ended our exile and moved back home but delayed moving in until we'd fixed up the place for our entrance. Here but not yet present, either, we spent the final three-quarters of the year suspended in place, no longer there and not yet here. Now time itself has lost its usual cadence, passing in slow motion if, indeed, it's passing at all. Some days, lately, time just seems stalled.

My notions of progress conflict with my understanding of entropy, this universe's governing quantity.

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TechnicalProblems

technicalproblem
Ohara Koson: Monkey and Moon (Ca. 1900 - 20)
A long armed monkey is trying to catch the reflection of the full moon on the water surface.

"I sometimes, briefly, become the destroyer of my own world …"

I have been using the same blog software for fifteen years but I just barely understand how to use it. It sometimes gives me fits, crashing or otherwise inhibiting my simple demands for it. I chose it over the more popular alternatives because it's a native Mac application and so it works more intuitively, or so I tell myself. It mostly works without me having to know how it works. I'm confident that I only know about 1% of its features, but I almost never need to know any more than that. When I get into trouble, a User Forum provides a channel to connect with users who know one heck of a lot more than 1% of the system's operation. When the User Forum's stumped, I can resort to the developers' help desk, which, being located in Brighton, England, usually takes until the next day to get back to me. It might be every app user's dream to be the one to uncover some fatal flaw in their chosen application, to report it to the developers, and to have them heap praise on the one user who helped them avert absolute disaster. No, that's never happened for me, either. We usually find that my ISP has been messing with me or that I've inexplicably gotten tangled up in my own underpants. I tend to be the source of almost all of my so-called TechnicalProblems.

I complain about the technology, but I increasingly understand that I'm actually complaining about myself.

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YardWork

yardwork
Paul Cézanne: The House with the Cracked Walls (1892–1894)
"My bushes rely upon my heartlessness …"

With the Refurbishment winding down, I found some time on my hands and YardWork needing doing. The winter rains were predicted to begin, after which whatever leaf litter I'd left would become a sodden mess, so I set to play. I do not consider YardWork to belong to the same activity class as labor, or if it does, it falls well within the boundaries of labor of love. It's play, a matter of rearranging orders whether pruning or weeding, it seems to be all about balancing. The weed I do not stoop to pull this time through will remind me what I didn't do the next time I pass through, and will continue to remind me until I decide to do something about it. I keep mental notes about which parts have been begging for some attention. The Refurbish rendered me unavailable to come out to play for months and months. It's reassuring to me that my absence didn't seem to inflict any permanent damage. The yard abides.

I hide my messes behind the garage, around the composter, which is an active mess in continual process.

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FestivalOfLights

paradeoflights
Paul Cézanne: Antoine Dominique Sauveur Aubert, the Artist's Uncle, as a Monk
(1866)
"The nights are dark but our hearth feels warm."

Because nothing says Happy Holidays like a big, huge bucket truck festooned with lights. Festooned, being one of those words essentially reserved solely for use during December, serves as a big tell as to what's going on. The Muse and I are watching our small city's annual holiday parade, the FestivalOfLights. Main Street, holiday lights off, stands lined with people on both sides as a long line of clearly Homemade floats passes by us. As near as I can tell, the opportunity for families and strangers to wave at each other might serve as the primary purpose of the whole charade. It's equally absurd and endearing. A guy rides by astride a sway-backed Appaloosa playing We Wish You A Merry Christmas on a battered trumpet. No explanation offered or demanded. The crowd applauds. Another big, huge bucket truck rumbles by, lights manically flashing, its advertising unreadable, rider waving, smiling, and greeting. I'm moved to tears.

It had been years since The Muse and I attended a hometown parade.

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Monkish

monkish
Peter Paul Rubens [1577-1640]: Portrait of a Monk, date unknown
"I mumble my vespers to myself …"

I seem to go through periods, like Picasso's Blue Period, where I maintain most of my focus upon a very narrow range of interests. These periods can last from a few weeks to decades, and I find them both enormously satisfying and ultimately a bit suffocating. Nearer the beginning of these phases, I immerse myself in discovery. A novice then, I hunger for ever more information. Later, I might seem a tad compulsive as I erect and defend strict boundaries around my discipline, my concerns. I might seem heartless to others' perspectives, seriously disinterested, even dismissive of what others might find compelling. Later in these chapters, I might grow restless, feeling as though I might have just about sucked all the goody out that that particular popsicle. I might even grow bored and go AWOL, leaving cohorts in a lurch. Obsession has phases, just like anything else. There's no happily forever after anywhere.

Our Grand Refurbishment has been such a period.

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TouchingUp

touchingup
Detail of the preparatory design by Gustav Klimt for the mosaic friezes of the main dining room of the Stoclet Palace
(Museum für angewandte Kunst, Vienna) (circa 1903)
"The final act of every improvement TouchesUp."

Almost nothing finishes like a horse race does, with successes and failures neatly lined up in decisive conclusion. It's gone in an instant. Most activities end with more of a smear on their lens, approaching finished but never quite there yet, a spin away from conclusion. Eventually, the crowd disperses and the stadium quiets, then one might reasonably deduce that something happened but clearly, if not decisively, ended. An absence replaces a presence and we call that negative space a done. Before drawing that conclusion, though, picky little endings need tidying up. The effort might be largely concluded but not yet minutely finished. In Our Grand Refurbish, cast brass window locks sit atop sashes but have not yet been attached. Several doors remain to be hung and adorned, at least one needing some serious sanding on top in order to fit back into its frame. Little bits of painting remains, too, final coats and ragged edges, a few nail holes still need filling and final dressing, Touching Up. It's like a final accounting before the crew departs the building. The list of needed TouchingUps shrinks but seems essentially bottomless.

I like the idea that the last activities are classified as touching, for much of the Refurbish work seemed a whole lot more brutal, crushing blows and smashing throes, cutting carpeting, extracting tiny staples, floating walls and ceilings, burying past mistakes, hiding unfortunate legacies.

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Swarming

swarming
Nikolai Bogatov: Beekeeper (1875)
"They leave little footprints in the dust …"

A swarm of activity erupts from Our Grand Refurbish as we near completion. Completion still seems like absolute fiction. I cannot yet quite imagine our living room unlined with cardboard and not filled with saw horses, paint smells, and an enormous chop saw. Joel Our Carpenter pulled up to the front in his van yesterday to disgorge yet another load of fine-grained boards destined to become sills and trim for the final fresh window. I was poised on a tall ladder painting highlight trim around the last new window while Kurt Our Painter treated library shelves with conditioner in preparation for staining them. Never before in the long months this effort has dominated, has such a variety of activity bloomed at once. I cannot keep up to supervise. Fortunately, any effort as mature as this one shouldn't need much supervision. It manages itself.

It might be that we could not have possibly kept up had this variety appeared any earlier.

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Overalls

overalls
Thomas Hart Benton: Cotton Pickers (1931)
"I can carry a hammer anywhere now!"

Our GrandOther Kylie has taken to engaging in cosplay, wherein she dresses up in the costume of some Manga or Nintendo character for the apparent purpose of becoming that character for a while. Her evident pride and satisfaction as she explains her character's particular proclivities speak to the efficacy of the practice. I, never having heard of these characters before, sort of fuzz over at her explanations because I really cannot relate to them, but I engage in my own curious cosplay behavior which might well baffle anyone else. Just this week, for instance, I started test driving a pair of Overalls I'd purchased online on a whim. I saw them there, on sale, and decided in that moment that they might serve me well, or, better than my then current handyman garb. Through Our Grand Refurbish, I'd ruined three pairs of otherwise perfectly respectable jeans, wearing out the knees on two of them and slopping another pair with so much paint that they're unusable for anything but painting. Further, those jeans lacked the pockets I needed, and their cantilevered construction meant that I spent a considerable part of my day "hiking" them up. They were always sagging.

Something about that photograph of those Overalls caught my attention and in that moment, I'd nabbed the pair.

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LineADucks

lineaducks
Ohara Koson: Two Mallard Ducks and the Moon (Early 20th century)
"Faith is not unsupported belief but the belief in uncanny experience …"

I recognize that Our Grand Refurbish has elbowed its way into perhaps more stories than warranted or wanted through this series. In explanation if not apology, Our Grand Refurbish has subsumed most of my foreground and background focus for many months. I've recently been bemoaning absences, primarily of closure, for this party's extended beyond celebration and nudged into a wicked form of self-punishment. What began with enthusiasm, albeit naive, evolved into frustration as the end game refused to coherently line up. Each attempt to decisively end the effort found only a fresh barrier preventing further forward movement. Reliable suppliers failed us. Sick days stalled us. Weather drove us inside. We could see what still needed doing but we could not quite manage to get there from here. I knew that something important was missing but I could not clearly state what that something might have been. That absence was not prescriptive.

I recognize that this was always how endings emerge but I'd somehow lost accessibility to that knowledge.

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RushTheExit

rushtheexit
Ohara Koson: Geese and the Moon (Early 20th century)
"Hasten home slowly. This ending's just begun."

I suspect a cultural imperative if not an innate human tendency at work, the one encouraging people who paid fifty bucks a ticket to leave the game in the middle of the seventh inning to, as they might claim, "beat the traffic." One might beat the traffic better by lingering until well after the game ends, until the parking lot's emptier, but that tactic seems to violate that imperative or tendency. Even at big games and popular concerts, where tickets cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars, one sees some percentage of the audience RushTheExit before the event even ends. We might become lemmings, ready to follow others' leads to our own demise whenever an ending threatens. The end will come but we seem to want our endings on our own terms and so we rush them. Our Grand Refurbish has been threatening to end for a fortnight now, but once it started throwing off serious intimations, progress stalled. Joel Our Carpenter came down with something that kept him off the job for a week after supply issues added a few days to our imaginary timeline, both conspiring to add tension to the conclusion. What operated as a relatively care free enterprise for months has become a pain in the butt to live with and I feel more than ready to simply wash my hands of whatever's left. I ache for doneness.

Such conditions might breed disaster, for they erode the patience which has thus far fueled our forward progress.

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Pastiche

Pastiche
Das Leben ist schön: sculpture by "Leonardo Rossi", a fake name often used for plagiarized bronzes
" … respectfully mimicking itself in mom jeans."

As a lifelong member of the once highly-touted Baby Boomer generation, I regret to report that I'm apparently no longer a member of any demographic any retailer cares about. That mantle has passed to those who came of age after us. I'm wise to shop for clothes in vintage consignment shops. Few people now write books with my sensibilities in mind. Food has swerved toward both the bio-deplorable and the chemically-enhanced. I swear someone wants caffeine added to everything so they can call the result an energy source, that and bull pee, which has seeped into more than just the terribly regrettable Red Bull®, more an addiction than a beverage. Members of the generation just behind me are struggling to kick habits nobody had even invented yet when I was in my prime. Finding halfway decent jeans that fit without looking like they were tailored for mom has become essentially impossible. A tee shirt without either a brand name or some meaningless meme printed all over it might no longer exist. Do they even make clothes in innocuous colors anymore?

We have become a
Pastiche society, one dedicated to emulating rather than creating, copying rather than originating.

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Hinges&Doors

Hinges&Doors
Edward Hopper: Rooms by the Sea (1951)
" … blind man coping as the pinnacle of engaging."

Our Grand Refurbish has depended upon many contributions. Our workers, who serve more as artisans, and whom we have fairly compensated, still contributed their non-refundable time to help us realize our fuzzy intentions. They gave away their care and attention. Reassembling the place after transformation depends upon tiny things, most prominently, Hinges&Doors. The doors, dedicated readers will recall, filled my playbook during the early to middle Refurbishment periods. I scraped and sanded each face before repainting it. They seemed finished works of art then, merely needing hanging, until hanging proved to be the most difficult part of the operation, with no merely in it. Hinges, you see, complicate everything. Hanging a door on its hinges becomes a two-man operation, with a third hand handy, involving grunting, hammering, and cursing. A few doors slip right onto their anchors, but most require a little adjustment, a little manual reasoning before they'll fit. Once mounted, the door might not quite sit squarely within its frame and require further hinge adjustment or a little frenzied sanding or planing along its top or leading edges. It seems wondrous when any of them work. I hold lingering doubts that all of them ever will.

One disassembles and one takes chances that something might not so seamlessly reassemble again.

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NormalImpossible

NormalImpossible
Ohara Koson: A Crow on a Snow Covered Tree Stump (circa 1930s)
" … that sense that you're on the verge of being found out to be a fraud and mustered out of the club."

I so routinely engage in impossibilities that they hardly register anymore. Much of what I initiate might beforehand be much more easily proven impossible than likely, yet I proceed, often in sublime ignorance of the utter impossibility I'm initiating. I've usually convinced myself that I'm starting something rather normal, and I often am, but NormalImpossible, not any of the infinite other varieties of normal available. We might benefit from a quick declaration of definition here so that we might share a common meaning, if that's even possible. I declare the NormalImpossible to feature so much exploding variance as to render it finitely unplannable, untrackable, and uncontrollable. An exploding variance shifts due to more than a few [let's say, three] influences, moves unexpectedly or stealthily, and contains many mutually distracting moving parts. To focus upon any part of a NormalImpossibility is to render the observer essentially blind to the rest of the mechanism, producing a blind observer effect where one observer proves insufficient and more than one cannot agree upon what they've seen, producing a Blind Men and the Elephant situation, all perfectly normal in my experience engaging in NormalImpossibles.

One of the more prominent features of the NormalImpossible situation has always been the apparently normal human tendency to perceive them as much simpler than one could possibly prove to be.

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Evocations

Evocations
Ohara Koson: Autumn Grass (1900-30)
"My feelings live close to the surface here …"

The Villa smells of pumpkin custard this early morning because The Muse was baking Thanksgiving pies last night. A pecan job rests beside the pumpkin on the kitchen counter. A extremely large-breasted turkey rests, air-drying in the garage refrigerator. A low ceiling hangs over this valley. A crane-shaped airplane, the morning flight to Seattle, just roared overhead. I suspect that it was filled with people heading off to spend this holiday with family, though I don't know that for a fact. I know little for a fact, though I seem to sense plenty and make sense that way. I mostly make meaning not by knowing but by feeling. I read Evocations emanating from things and those vibes serve to inform me. Were it not for this sensory capacity, I would seem just as ignorant as I truly am. It's not a sixth sense, either, but the judicious application of the first five.

This town evokes memories from me. It plays me like a cheap guitar.

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FallingsForward

Setbacks
Ohara Koson: Hunting for Insects (1900-10)
"All progress seems to come from FallingsForward."

Years ago, a client asked me to review a project management course book he'd hired a BIG three consultant to create for his firm. The manual began by recounting many "failed" projects, adopting a backdoor don't-be strategy for teaching its subject. I found this approach odd, especially since the "failed" projects had all also been widely recognized as wild successes. The Sidney Opera House was mentioned, a notoriously failed scope and budget containment process that produced perhaps the world's most beautiful building, which was quite a trade-off. Would the world long remember the cost overage or might it move on to enjoy the remarkable fruits of its curious labor? And so the book continued.

I mention this experience because Our Grand Refurbishment, largely a blessed endeavor, has started experiencing setbacks.

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NewFashioned

NewFashioned
Ohara Koson: Kingfisher (1935)
" … new traditions never intended to become our future imperatives."

I understand just as well as any next person the sacred obligations each holiday lays upon us. We are each enjoined to at least attempt to recreate some utterly mythical, paradoxical ideal scenario in homage to some past that never actually happened, the purpose of which always gets promised as contributing to the net volume of joy in this world or gratitude or something. It's always something. We go as crazy as an ant hill on fire to achieve the understood ideal. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) often results, and understandably so, for given an absolutely unachievable necessity, you'd have to be crazy not to be driven insane by trying to pursue it. Still, when Thanksgiving comes around, we're inevitably dusting off the old Pilgrim hat, often unconsciously, while envisioning ourselves in a Normal Rockwell illustration of the mythical grandma and gramps laying an impossibly huge and perfectly roasted turkey on an already over-laden table. The thought of achieving anything less should depress you. When it comes to holiday celebration, it's damned whatever you do when recreating. We hold OldFashioned as our standard. Might NewFashioned hold some promise?

I was reminded of the delight accompanying NewFashioned when looking at our newly-fashioned window and door trim, which our carpenter fashioned to suggest a heritage they clearly never held.

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HomeAwayFrom

HomeAwayFromHome
Ohara Koson: Cat and Bowl of Goldfish (1933)
"We didn't find home lurking there, either …"

Though I lived almost half of my life in this SouthEast Portland, Oregon neighborhood, I always felt afraid here. When my first wife and I arrived in late 1975, fresh from a couple of years living in a small city in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Portland seemed huge and threatening. We found a small apartment on a major thoroughfare, just across the street from a massage parlor and on a major bus route, and settled in as if surrounded by an unseen but ever-present enemy. My wife's parents had lived in a tiny garden apartment just around the corner when they were first starting out, so I suppose that we might have found some sense of home here, but we never did. It didn't help that my wife had taken a job in a hospital that she didn't like or that I was trying to break into an unfamiliar music scene. I then still fancied myself a single acoustic performing artist. I was good at what I did, but disco threatened. I was teetering on the decision to enroll in the local state university and get out of the business, working casual labor jobs in the warehouses surrounding our apartment. I let go of a defining dream in this neighborhood.

I return now because my son and grandkids live in essentially the same neighborhood, a dozen or so blocks from that first apartment, in an apartment of their own.

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Humpty

Humpty
Ohara Koson: Two White Geese (Japanese, Meiji era, beginning of 20th century)
" … stripping out soft brass screw heads and struggling with heavy things."

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the kings horses and all the kings men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.

-Traditional Nursery Rhyme


The Villa Vatta Schmaltz seems to be experiencing a bout of Humpty as The Muse and I try to put The Villa back together again.

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CatchingShadows

CatchingShadows
Ohara Koson: Six Geese and Shadows (1926)
"Slowing down and showing up …"

I seemed somehow primed to anticipate that The Law of Unintended Consequences would tend toward rolling snake eyes, the worst possible outcomes, but Our Grand Refurbish has produced more counter examples than supportive ones. On samples, The Muse's choice of color seemed unremarkable, perhaps bordering on regrettable, being a shade of grey, for cripes sake, but in practice, it became a chameleon color, capable of surprising variations depending upon even small changes in light and shadow. Rather than drab grey walls, The Villa now has vibrant technicolor ones, each corner marking at least a subtle shift in color or texture, each angle shifting the nature of each room. It's all more than a little bit overwhelming, for the rooms seem to be in continual motion. Leave a room and it will have changed by the time you return. Step into a room and some subtle or significant shift might imprint. The place seems to have grown at least one additional dimension.

I'm most impressed with the Villa's new proclivity for CatchingShadows.

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GooseChasing

GooseChasing
Ohara Koson: Two white geese swimming by reeds (1928)
"I'd chase more geese any time it's possible."

Near the end, usually, an opportunity appears to turn tedious ladders into rapidly accelerating chutes, an apparent shortcut appears. Of course, by long tradition, most anyone would grab this opportunity like the lure it most certainly seems, rubber worm and all. Even I, experienced refurbisher now, fell prey to this call. Our carpenter had located the material he needed to refurbish the long window seat and shelves in our soon-to-be showcase library. Those boards were in Portland, 245 miles away, and the supplier couldn't say if FexEx® would even consent to ship the stuff. I volunteered to drive over and back to collect the boards, insisting that they be no longer than five feet so that they'd fit into The Schooner. Joel Our Carpenter missed the confirming call and by the time he'd caught up to it, the outlet had closed for the day. That was Wednesday.

We parted that evening with the understanding that Joel would call me just as soon as he'd confirmed that the order was ready.

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Adopting

Adopting
Robert Delaunay: Simultaneous Contrasts: Sun and Moon (1912–13)
" … will we regale them of stories of what was once there but is there no longer?"

The Muse and my relationship with our beloved Villa Vatta Schmaltz does not very much resemble a marriage, marked as it has been by extended absences. Nor does it look very much like a birth family deal. We do not share DNA. Our life here more closely favors Adopting, for we've taken this place into our family and, or so it also seems, this place has been steadily Adopting us. It's a curious relationship in that The Muse and I have been largely focused upon improving this place since we first moved in, and pursuing improvements might be hints that we're criticizing our adopted family member. I think my second wife and I got hitched on the prospect of who we might become together, but the differences between what we were and what we might improve into got us before we could arrive at our destination together. There's something genuinely poisonous about focusing upon achieving future improvements. Nothing turns off the present and no future directly influences anything before it, though the sense that we're not quite there yet can tear asunder even the truer loves. We are always here yet and never quite there yet.

That said, we love this place as if it were family.

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Spurt

Spurt
Reflection in freshly-installed front window in The Villa Vatta Schmaltz
"I'm inhabiting what was then just aspiration …"

Wasn't it just yesterday morning that I complained about The Grand Refurbish moving forward in slow motion? By noon, I found myself struggling to keep up with a pace I had not anticipated reappearing. This experience served as another reminder that time, contrary to popular misconceptions, does not move in any consistently regular fashion. It moves by Spurt and stall, by fits and starts. Clocks apparently more or less accurately track an average rate of time's expansion, a smoothed representation of a much more chaotic phenomenon. Clocks inexorably misrepresent actual experience and easily influence anticipation. When time seems to move slowly, which it sometimes does, it seems as though it might forever thereafter continue so moving, never any faster. When time whizzes by, as it also sometimes seems to, who takes the time to consider that the apparent velocity of time probably amounts to an illusion? You could be sitting right beside me and we could be experiencing time completely differently without ever noticing how our individual experiences differed.

It should be no surprise that Our Grand Refurbish still carries a surprise or two inside her.

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Disarray

Disarray
Robert Delaunay: Champs de Mars: La Tour Rouge (1911)
"We might never finish, but we're real close to done …"

I can tell that The Grand Refurbish nears completion because the house seems in ever greater Disarray. I'd imagined that as we finished rooms and even started re-inhabiting them, that the clutter might recede. Certainly, the second floor now holds only traces of the messes that dominated there for weeks and weeks, but as the effort has concentrated on the final two rooms, the materiel necessary to affect the remaining changes have been crammed into an even smaller space. I'm forever tripping over something and have taken to avoiding the workrooms unless its before or after the work day. The painter needs his space as does the carpenter, and I can do whatever I need to do in there off hours, though most of what I do in there amounts to tripping over something or tidying up, even though I know for certain that the surest way to increase the net sense of disarray involves somebody tidying up for somebody else, especially if its done without first seeking advice, counsel, or permission. The living room and library are currently in such disarray that they disturb me. I feel moved to nap through the balance of this effort. Wake me when the clutter's gone. I have no stomach for it.

Last week, The Muse cleaned up a mess I'd made by creating one of her own.

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Taping

Taping
Robert Delaunay: Paysage au disque (1906–07)
" … a final fit of preparation before the legacy begins."

I noticed as I was finishing applying the first coat of paint on our newly installed living room window's exterior, that I had spent more time preparing to paint the window than I had spent painting the window. This tends to be the case with most home improvement activities, yet I don't usually focus very much attention on the preparation, more often perceiving it as a distraction from the real operation rather than the lion's share of it. Like many, I suspect, I don't have much stomach for prep work. It often seems tedious. It produces little lasting effect, its chief benefit being what it lends to the final result, but it leaves few if any footprints. It's enduring value falls under The Dog That Didn't Bark category and gets lost in rounding.

Yesterday, i was Taping the window trim I was intending to paint, this to reduce the likelihood that I'd slop the paint color where I didn't want it.

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NotNoing

NotNoingLeger
Fernand Léger: Contrast of Forms (Contraste de formes) (1913)
"
I'm uncertain if anyone can ever outgrow that stance."

I want to speak this morning about an increasingly common situation, a form of deliberate misapprehension wherein people seek, often with considerable passion, information they might otherwise reasonably suspect isn't true, either due to its source or its form. This information often seems overly convenient, perfectly satisfying an expectation long accustomed to disappointment. It might come from a source long-acknowledged as unreliable or partisan, someone with the reputation of saying anything that might rile someone. The effect of such a transmission, deliberate misapprehension in and self-destruction out, seems perfectly represented in the vaccine deniers proudly standing up for their superior understanding and patriotism. Their position doesn't quite seem stupid, but more intentional than that. It mostly appears belligerent but without clear purpose. The self-satisfied expressions these possessors of negative knowledge display leaves me feeling 'sore afraid.'

This position seems the sole of Homemade.

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Hearth

Hearth
Fernand Léger: Les Fumeurs [The Smokers] (1911–1912)
" … a naked Hearth can no more stand than can a naked heart."

Determining the center of anything can pose a difficult dilemma. Like determining best, insufficient information often exists to declare any definitive answer.—(Huh? How could insufficient information exist? Sufficient information doesn't exist. A surfeit of insufficient information couldn't exist, but then it's a negative quantity, so I guess it gets counted differently.)—Further, one might declare centers for a variety of attributes or elements. An emotional center need not resemble a physical or intellectual one. At some level, I suspect that every element might be reasonably declared the center of something, if only a temporary center of attention before consideration passes. I bring up this question because it's come up within our Grand Refurbishment. Our color palette first held central attention. Then, door and window trims. The banister rightfully held that space for a spell. So did the stairs. Now, the living room windows and the cleverly designed library wall, but each foci in turn slipped back into an other than central position as the refurbishing machine rolled on. As it nears its destination, one glaring element remains unaddressed, though not unconsidered: The Hearth.

If any element of any house can rightfully be considered its center, I suspect that the Hearth usually holds that position, if only due to the sense that Hearth IS home and thereby irreplaceable.

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Removals

Removals
Robert Delaunay: Rhythm, Joie de vivre (1930)
" … indistinguishable from madness and joy."

I believe that we've already established that destroying's more entertaining than creating and that some work seems better suited for kids, or at least the kid inside. While Refurbishing might seem a net creative act, one must sort of blank the palette before painting, and much of the prep work comes in the inherently satisfying Making Waste category, by way of Removals. None have proven half as satisfying as removing wallpaper, though, for wallpaper mostly exists as a criminal enterprise. Often hung in lieu of fixing the underlying wall, it hides deep dark secrets, albeit poorly, thereby keeping them alive. The one who chose the wall covering might have once upon a time been satisfied with their choice, but they long ago passed on, leaving their handiwork behind which aged just as poorly as they did, yet it's still on display. In our old place, some mid-seventies remodel, we figure, left the music room/library bordered with a gilded paisley burgundy specimen, the garish out-of-placeness of which, we once sort of reveled in. The time had come to take that down.

I tried reasoning with the stuff, spraying it with warmish water and adding patience, but it would not release its grasp.

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Odds&Infinities

Odds&Infinities
Robert Delaunay: La ville no. 2 (1910–11)
"I leave muddy footprints wherever I walk."

The Grand Refurbish has resolved itself into two contiguous rooms. The upstairs will be complete later this morning, save for a few what might be called odds and ends but which I suspect some of which will very likely become Odds&Infinities, as we'll likely never fully resolve them. I've got that rebuilt door with the odd latch inset which could use some additional carving out but seems too thin for chisel work. The Muse's desk, the base of which I broke when disassembling it and needs rebuilt, blocks reinhabiting that whole room and threatens to become an infinity of its own. Our Carpenter Joel breaks new ground but leaves a few small relatively insignificant undone bits in his wake. Nothing huge or noteworthy, small infinities which don't threaten to break anything or anybody, but still sort of wear on me.

My life includes many, many Odds&Infinities.

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KindWind

Kindwind
Unattributed photo of tree pruning crew, late 1800s
"… all things seem possible."

By mid-November, Autumn color's had its day. The enormous Maple takes to sporting an embarrassing combover, the crabapples have gone bald, and the sacred apricot has yet to lose a single golden leaf. The snowball bushes and the hydrangeas seem unaffected and the dogwood's apparently indifferent, still almost fully populated with scarlet leaves. The side yard's a shuffler's heaven, and I choose to leave those leaves where they've fallen, the better to overwinter whatever lies beneath them. I was once a fussy gardener, but no more. I pull no production-quality clean-up performance like some of our neighbors put on, like I used to, seemingly chasing down each freshly fallen before it hits the ground. My lawn will sport bare spots whether covered with leaves or not and besides, I've got a secret weapon. If history can still be counted upon, a Kindwind will soon descend and effectively put an end to the autumn leaf problem, which was more of a feature than a problem, anyway.

The Kindwind blows in off the Northern Pacific, bringing strong winds for this valley, sustaining at around twenty-five with greater gusts.

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UnBoxing

Unboxing
Unattributed photo of stacks within old Main Branch of the New York City Public Library, pre-1955, now demolished.
" … by the grace of something …"

I had not noticed. How many could provide the same testimony? They hadn't noticed. An absence does not always or even often make itself felt. The hole, having no content, doesn't seem to exist. Empty often defies definition. Name the dog that didn't bark.

I put my books into boxes eight months ago, and there they sat as The Muse and I moved a third of the way across the country.

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Scarin'Myself

Scarin'Myself
Gosta Adrian-Nilsson: TJURFÄKTNINGS SCEN [Bullfighting Scene] (1934)
" … at least in my own mind …"

I hold the firm belief that it's inherently healthy for me to occasionally scare myself. This amounts to a philosophical position, however, and does not always or even usually translate into me frequently so engaging. I remain a ninny at heart and am apt to fuss over any operation near any edge and that's double for heights, so when I challenged myself to take down the long-standing and little-used scaffolding, it amounted to a big and rare event. I went looking for The Muse to help, but she was impenetrably occupied on a call, so after re-re-re-re-re-thinking one final time, I climbed to the top and started disassembling.

Were it not for the height, scaffolding could be simple, but altitude makes all the difference.

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StartingInto

StartingIn
Gosta Adrian-Nilsson: Shadows, twilight (1929)
" … finally coming back into focus."

The Muse insisted upon cleaning up what would become my office. After refurbishing, it was shrouded with a thick patina of dust, first from my removing the ancient wall-to-wall carpeting, then from sanding woodwork, wall, and ceiling patches. The room, before refurbishing and just after, had served as a warehouse for displaced stuff from every other room on the floor, so even the fresh flooring was spattered with spots of spackle, sawdust, and paint. She bravely waded into the mess and I disappeared myself down into the kitchen to set a pot roast braising. I gave her a good hour, perhaps a little less, until after I'd heard both vacuums start and stop and a long silent period probably signifying mopping up. She'd cleared that table I'd used as a catchall during the work and seemed ready for some help shifting stuff. Bookshelves, which I'd stacked on their backs in the middle of the room to facilitate crown moulding and baseboard installation, needed dusting and fresh felt feet. The carpets they laid upon needed rolling and the rest of the room wanted vacuuming, sweeping, and mopping, too. I helped arrange stuff then played scarce again.

I realized that I was not so much moving in to this room, but StartingInto it.

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Kittening

Kittening
Gosta Adrian-Nilsson: Figurer I Trappa (1923)
"I suppose that their feral beginnings serve them well."

Two years ago this week, Max came to live with us. Max was at the time a six month old feral kitten who had been captured, separated from his family, neutered, nurtured through a few common feral diseases, and held in a cage until we arrived to liberate him. He was mildly appreciative, not openly hostile, but very wary. I learned later from the shelter that the man who had captured Max resembled me, so I probably looked like the enemy to him. I set about disconfirming his initial impression of me. He became curious.

A few weeks later, we brought Max's sister Molly home from the same shelter.

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OpeningCans

OpeningCans
Andy Warhol: Campbell's Soup Cans (1962)
"A pantry in name only."

It occurs to me, finally, that This Grand Refurbish never was about demonstrating any particular wizardry, but about OpeningCans. A can serves as perfect camouflage for whatever's inside it, each uniform and seemingly holding the same contents. One must rely upon faith in labeling or blind habit to determine the contents before opening. The contents never seem quite like I've anticipated. Tuna might show up as a fine filet or as a slurry. Soup definitely needs warming. Peas just need throwing away. What was I thinking? I think OpeningCans serves as an everyday courageous act, one asserting ability, putting something on the line. OpeningCans screams that I've accepted full responsibility for dealing with the contents, whether they be worms or just what I'd imagined.

Our Grand Refurbish has opened so danged many cans that our little crew seems to have at least mastered that act.

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Seized

Seize
Gosta Adrian-Nilsson: Soldat (1917)
" … identifying now-or-never opportunities that will most certainly extend our efforts even further …"

Our Grand Refurbishment has become an audacious act. Before we began to understand the magnitude of the effort, back when we still held trivializing notions of what it might mean to 'slap on a coat of paint,' the effort seemed only reasonable, and barely that. The place desperately needed patching and painting, and what better opportunity then when we first re-inhabit the place? Then it slowly transformed into a series of 'If Not Now, When? decisions, where, as our understanding improved and expanded, we noticed wasting opportunities presenting themselves. We understood that once the patient was closed up again, she would likely not easily consent to another operation, so, under The As Long As We Have The Hood Open Rule, we expanded the original scope. Kurt Our Painter, who was confident of completing work on the master bedroom this week, instead spent the bulk of his week re-floating two overly patched walls. The result will be rather smoother walls than in any other room, but on perhaps the two least noticeable walls in the place.

We have Seized opportunities as they presented themselves but have also felt Seized by circumstances.

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Divisible

Divisible
Man Ray: Dust Breeding (1920, printed ca. 1967)
" … we're eminently Divisible and we know it!"

Joel Our Carpenter and I were hanging crown moulding when he noticed that his brad nailer was running low on brads. He remarked that he'd left a refill package on a window sill somewhere and wondered if I'd happened upon it. I hadn't. I directed him to the parts table, a now hopelessly overloaded card table I set up out of the way back in the early days of our Great Refurbish, back before it had become a great anything. That card table groans beneath its burden now. It holds every odd otherwise unclassifiable anything that needed a landing place. Paint rollers wrapped in plastic hang from its strut supports, and attempt to trip anyone passing. It's now located on the mainline between the above the front porch deck and the rest of the upstairs, a primary migration route for long crown moulding boards and baseboards headed for remounting. It's an eye of the needle passage and I suppose that every job site needs one of those, a common ground generally abused, reviled and revered in more or less equal measure. A place where we might come together, if only there was room, given the clutter.

Joel could not find his brad magazine on the impenetrable table, so I volunteered to go find him that ammo.

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BackTogetherAgain

BackTogetherAgain
Lee Krasner: NIGHT WATCH (1960)
"Life's open-ended."

Overall, I'd testify that taking stuff apart tends to be much more satisfying than putting stuff BackTogetherAgain. Tearing down satisfies the little boy in me since it hints at destruction. I guess a part of every little boy secretly wants to be The Incredible Hulk and trash the place without recrimination or remorse. Reassembling can be exacting and challenge even the very patient since it holds out the promise of perfection or something like it. It seems too easy to presume an outcome unlikely to be achieved then blame myself for falling short. Taking apart's successful when entropy peaks. BackTogetherAgain might never be achievable.

I say that BackTogetherAgain "might never be achievable" when I know for certain that it's almost always absolutely unachievable, and at all other times, only relatively so.

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Schlepping

Schlepping
Leon Bibel: Red Hot Franks (1938)
"I sound like a steam locomotive coming."

My hand truck must be the most useful tool I own. I bought it back when I often found myself Schlepping shipping boxes to the post office in preparation for another workshop but I've found uses for it far beyond Schlepping shipping boxes. I use it in the yard, for instance, instead of a wheelbarrow. This move that might never end has daily benefitted from my hand truck's presence, for This Grand Refurbishment might just as easily be called The Grand Schlep, since we seem to have moved everything we own several times since it started and we have not yet seen the end of it. With my hand truck, though, I don't have to lift much to tote a lot, something my back sincerely appreciates. Just yesterday, I moved all my books again, for something like the fourth time since we "moved in" last March. I'll move them at least once more before I'm finally ably to unbox and display them, each move made easier by my ever-present hand truck.

Everything's a Schlep.

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Proficiency

Proficiency
Judith Leyster: Self-portrait (c. 1630)
" Whatever we do, there we are."

Grand Refurbishments serve as test beds, breeding grounds for new skills. One begins a Refurbish with hopeful optimism and little knowledge of what might be required to complete the effort. One might, upon later reflection, recognize that the work couldn't help but challenge. It could not have possibly been a walk-through exercise. It would prove to be a crawl-through sometimes. Perhaps such experiences build character. I know from my own experience that in a typical year, I might gain a single fresh proficiency. In this Grand Refurbishment year, I've acquired several. This cluster has provided me with a rare opportunity to more closely observe how I learn and how I adopt lessons to become proficient.

I'm learning that it might be best for me if I can presume that I don't really know very much of anything.

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Stalled

Stalled
Paula Rego: Geppetto Washing Pinocchio (1996)
"It will be a wonder if we're ever finished."

We tend to insure against big events, even though small occurrences seem to be the more likely to do us in. Through this Grand Refurbish, I've kept my eye on our paint inventory, understanding that availability could stall our forward progress. If anything, I've over-bought paint, figuring that I could always use any extra. Just yesterday, while recounting what I imagined to be our inventory of ceiling paint, I caught myself over-estimating remaining stocks. I immediately called the paint store and ordered two more gallons. Better to have too much than to discover that we have none when we need it. The whole affair seems in delicate and unlikely balance. We never sat down and imagined together what might be coming. We adopted instead the hunter/gatherer's ethic, which more resembles the old and often surprisingly reliable hunt and peck method. We've successfully poked at progress so far.

But small things have been our bane, or at least mine.

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Flurry

Flurry
Lee Krasner: Self-Portrait, ca. 1928
"Flurries produce closure …"

This last week in October falls in a Flurry time. When we lived along Colorado's Front Range, we'd reliably see snow flurries this week. Down here in this lovely valley, flurries of leaves visit long before snow. This year of The Great Refurbish, the Flurry comes with an impending end to the effort, and it seems true with all effort, that the final push tends to become hectic. We've become lemmings now, not precisely anxious to make that final leap, but somehow compelled to jump en mass. Tiny tails remain from many of the individual tasks and these, alone, would naturally distill into a clog of activity. I've been struggling for a week to mount the first of a dozen lock sets on refurbished doors, a task I'd earlier presumed would naturally prove trivial. In practice it became non-trivial and necessitated a whole new thread, disrupting flow as I'd earlier imagined it. Window locks, which were on back order when I submitted the order three months ago, remain undelivered. Installing them will doubtless become a Flurry once they arrive and they will most certainly arrive at an inconvenient time, a point where my time's already spoken for and I cannot fit another blessed thing into my schedule. These remain perfectly normal aspects of an impending ending, an inevitable swirl, a Flurry.

We wisely planned on proceeding through this refurbish at if not a leisurely pace, then at least at a reasonable one. ,

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StabWounds

StabWounds
The Wound Man from Hans von Gersdorff's Feldbuch der Wundarznei (1530)
"We were walking wounded when we began this effort."

I had finally decided that I had studied enough. I had either learned what I needed to understand to mount the new door lockset or I had not, but I would never confirm whether I had or hadn't without trying to mount it. I was deepening the edge plate's inset when the chisel slipped and found my finger, producing a clean stab wound that bled profusely. Two things can be done profusely, I figure, cursing and bleeding. I rushed as best I could through the buzzing Refurbishment activity to the main floor bathroom where I had presciently packed in a supply of bandages. The Muse, up from her basement Zoom Lair for a bite of lunch, offered to help me stick on the bandage. I decided that I needed a lunch break then, too, so I moped around feeling stupid for a half hour before resuming my interrupted attempt at mounting that new lockset. Nothing I'd found in my search for examples of how to accomplish this task had prepared me for StabWounds. I had let down my guard and gone without gloves, a sure sign of my inexperience. I was learning, though, as evidenced by the fresh bandage on one of my two and a half typing fingers. I'm finding it difficult to type this story as a result.

I always was a noisy learner.

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Novitiate

Novitiate
Giuseppe Arcimboldo: Vertumnus (1591)
"The house remains in charge. I, it's vassal."

When my to-become first wife and I were living together on the unheated sleeping porch of her shared apartment on 19th in Seattle's U District, a pane in one of the windows which comprised most of three walls of her room somehow broke. I don't remember the circumstances under which the damage occurred and that detail's probably not important. I took it upon myself to fix the damage, me an eighteen year old with absolutely no experience fixing broken window panes and no tools. I would not have even qualified as an apprentice, but someone of slightly less position on the grand hierarchy pecking order. I was a Novitiate, one interested in dedicating myself to successfully fulfilling the assignment but without sufficient understanding to even begin understanding what that effort might entail. I also lacked even an apprentice's supervision. I had yet to discover if I had the necessary stuff for even becoming an apprentice, which requires a certain attentive interest along with an acquiescing spirit. Headstrong novitiates need not apply, neither should haughty apprentices. I was merely aspiring to become capable of completing that self-assigned commitment and didn't even know that.

I'd watched my dad fix broken window panes, including one I'd created with one over-heavy Thursday morning Oregonian through one of my customer's windows.

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Production

Production
François Boucher: The Triumph of Venus (1740)
"The value we actually bring is always a solo contribution …"

In the very late sixties, I was fortunate to attend Donovan's Seattle performance of his Gift From A Flower To A Garden Tour. Set in the voluminous, boxy Seattle Center Arena, the venue was better suited for basketball than for a folk concert, but there I was, sitting up near the nosebleed section almost as far as I could have possibly been from the stage, waiting for my favorite recording artist to take the surprisingly sparse set. It was decorated with a very large pillow and a microphone boom surrounded by fresh flowers. Nothing else. In an age now where even individual performers travel with a fleet of semis carrying their stage set, such an arrangement seems unthinkable. Now, a proper performance stage seems to require huge video screens and probably parabolic projection equipment to show movies on the ground fog produced by silently whispering machines just off stage. Further, risers must also be provided to elevate the drum sections and the horns, not to mention the space for the piano, bass, and multiple accompanying guitar players. No, the simple pillow surrounded by cut flowers just would not do today.

That was the best danged concert!

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HomeBitterHome

HomeBitterHome
Winslow Homer: Home, Sweet Home (1863)
" … I didn't think I could survive the flush of emotions involved."

My son sent me an Air B&B link to a place for rent in our old Portland neighborhood. It took me a minute or more to realize that this was our old home place, the home in which my son spent his first formative years, the one secured with my own blood, sweat, and tears, hopes and dreams, struggles and deep disappointments. Homes become the backdrop for life's dramas, where the intricate effort rarely seen and even more rarely disclosed occurs. It is the place of private fears and even more private tears, of humbling embarrassment and occasional pride. It's what you settled for and what you earned and what you couldn't quite afford all in one. It's a wonder to me that anyone, especially me, even has a home, for the rules for owning a home have always been murky, and I suspect murky for good reasons. Should anyone ever get to the bottom of the pyramid scheme, they'd very likely find that there's no foundation underneath. Imagining supports it. Home is a fiction capable of fooling almost anyone into believing it exists, especially with people like Stephen Foster writing sentimental songs about it. "Be it ever so humble … There's no place like home." Truer words might have never been spoken or more widely misinterpreted.

Needless to say, that link transported me to those years when I struggled to provide a home.

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SacredContext

SacredContext1
Titian: The Death of Actaeon (1559-75)
"It exists to change us"

Mythology tells the sorry story of the hunter Actaeon, who besides having the misfortune of possessing a name with an imbedded digraph, once stumbled upon Diana and her nymphs bathing in the forest. Diana dealt rather harshly with Actaeon's blunder, however innocent, turning him into a stag which his own dogs then hunted down and killed. I sometimes get confused about the moral this allegory intends to impart. Does it caution about blundering into nymphs or something else? I choose to interpret it as referring to what I'll call SacredContext. Every blessed and damned thing possesses SacredContext, for it is the very nature, the subtle essence, of each thing. It appears in different guise depending upon the underlying nature of each thing, and cannot be adequately anticipated. It must be discovered, often blundered into, and when violated, responds in heartlessly harsh ways. To violate a SacredContext is to violate the universe and the universe seems to possess no leniency or sense of humor where such violations exist.

I believe, if only to reassure myself, that most violations of SacredContext occur innocently, like poor Actaeon's must have.

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Bivouac

Bivouac
René Richard: Bivouac (date unknown)
"I've probably survived worse before."

The Great Refurbishment turned what might have been our home into a Bivouac, more of an encampment than a dwelling, a transitional place. We're still not hardly moved in after seven long months of pseudo-habitation with boxes being our primary companion. I long ago stopped wondering where my possessions were, trading in a level of frustration for a ration of faith that they're there somewhere and that we'll one day—not today and probably not tomorrow, but someday—be reunited. Until then, I've taken to living with the subset of my possessions that I have thus far uncovered and stopped fretting about the others. They belong to the great mystery, a constant companion but nothing really worth fussing after. The Muse and I are, in the mean time (which some days seems heartlessly mean) "making do." I would not wish our transitional lifestyle upon anyone. It's brutal.

I'm from a family that had to put everything in order before we could leave for longer than a day.

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Thises&Thatsesses

Thises&Thatsesses
Domenico Remps: Cabinet of Curiosities (1690s)
"I should very soon move back to my desk
and stop writing while hunched over this piano bench like I have been for the last few weeks."

For most of The Grand Refurbish, we focused upon single activities. We were either engaged in this or that, but after fifteen full weeks of effort, we've pretty much concluded the big stuff. Kurt Our Painter continues to motor through rooms, now in well-practiced order. He no longer need enter first with an act of discovery. He's learned what to expect and he's not lacking in necessary judgement. One crack's pretty much like every other. He enters and sets to work, fixing cracks and prepping windows and trim while his fillings set. He tapes himself off for a day to run his sander before laying down the same sequence of finishes: primer, first coat, then TopCoat. The closet gets the economy service because nobody ever needs a finely finished closet. The rest of the room he works to immaculate. Then on to the next.

The Planking finished, the leftovers either stored in the basement or carted off as trash.

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Transitioning

Transitioning
Frans Francken The Younger: The Witches' Kitchen (1606)
" … Transitioning back into the more significant but more humbling role of human again."

With The Hunter's Moon came a breath of a Pacific storm, a contradiction in terms no less welcome for its identity confusion. The leading edge of the storm brought down the maple's helicopters to litter the property and leave me with gardening as my growing priority. I'd been absent, absent in that way that only focused presence can ever produce. The Grand Refurbish had nudged most of the rest of my life to the edge of the path and left me missing dimensions. My single focus had rendered me blind to much of my usual oversight. I'd become erratic and careless and filled with the very most effective excuses. My limited time was pre-focused upon the primary project at hand. I'd become a narrow and uninteresting man, always bringing every conversation back to some arcane appreciation for some previously unacknowledged aspect of door refinishing or something equally captivating.

I realized as I moped around the place yesterday that I might be Transitioning out of that laser-focused phase, one which always so satisfyingly takes away the mind for a time.

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Leavings

Leavings
Frans Francken the Younger, Chamber of Art and Curiosities (1636)
"Every human activity produces leftovers …"

Every human activity produces Leavings, leftovers. We installed a new screen door and ended up with a few parts leftover, not because we didn't follow the installation directions, but because we did. The door as delivered was capable of being installed in several different ways depending upon specific conditions. Almost everything's like that now, which means that installing anything will surely increase at least the net inventory of odd bolts or screws, and probably leave a single use, tin whistle piece of metal I won't be able to justify discarding, so I'll retain it Just In Case. Of course I have a storage problem in my basement, just like everyone else does. I've retained so very many Leavings that I cannot for the life of me remember what I have retained. I also can never find an odd screw or bolt when I need one, though I imagine that I certainly must have at least one of every kind known to man. If I do, I cannot find where I set them aside.

Years ago, a friend gave me a dozen old wooden Coca-Cola cases which I set along the wall edge of my massive workbench to produce an instant warren of little cubby holes, a genuine Curiosity Cabinet useful, I thought, for holding my Leavings, and it has been useful, though with 144 little cubbies, there are far too many for me to remember what and where.

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GrowningUp

GroaningUp
Herkules nimmt Atlas die Last ab und trägt den Kosmos
[Hercules relieves atlas of the burden and carries the cosmos]
In the style of
Heinrich Aldegrever (1550)
"The time spent completing the task lost forever. The result, eternal …"

I looked at the final batch of baseboards, which I had uncomfortably stacked inside the garage, and I felt overwhelmed. Most of the remaining boards were long: ten, twelve, even fourteen feet, and though I'd already sanded them smooth and glued the ones that had shattered when we removed them, I could not quite face touching them again. Painting would insist that I touch each several more times, shuttling them between a painting station and drying racks, then back for each top coat. Each coat takes an hour or more for the batch and demands great focus, no breaks allowed, especially once I start applying the final TopCoat. These boards have demanded much, not the least of which has been extended detachment. I know, it might seem as though refinishing a board would be all about engagement, but it's the sort of engagement that insists upon a detachment in order to complete. One may not maintain mindfulness and manage their way through the effort. One must go at least semi-conscious if not completely unconscious or he's sunk before he's finished. One can dabble in removing baseboards, and even when mending them, but once the refinishing starts, expect long hours of demanding toil. Sanding each bare might take an hour per, or more, not to mention sweeping off the sanding dust and washing them then stacking them away out of the weather again, then unstacking and sorting and painting, I never felt completely up to any of it. I just did it anyway because I'm the grown up, GroaningUp to it's more like it.

My father taught me not to whine about my assignments but to buckle down and just complete them.

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Shortages

Shortages

Rembrandt: Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem (1630)
"Freedom might first seem like the liberty to purchase …"

I stopped in the paint store last week and found some shelves holding cans of what I might have easily mistaken for paint. I asked Luis at the counter what was going on because it almost looked as if he had some product to sell. He replied that some product had apparently accidentally trickled in, though nothing in volume. I've been fortunate through our Grand Refurbishment, since I've not had to shut down progress due to an inability to procure paint. I have had to buy better grades of paint than I might have otherwise purchased, and I have had to wait an odd day or two for an order to come through, but progress has not been stalled due to a lack of supply. My neighbor's son owns a painting company and he's had thousands of dollars worth of paint on backorder through the entirety of this year's painting season, a devastating situation with no end in sight. What we once imagined as our birthright, unlimited supplies of goods provided by a benevolent market, has now become the exception as that same market struggles to keep up with demand.

I almost expect our local newspaper to start a Shortage Of The Week column except it would probably only encourage panic buying by exploding demand for whatever it reported.

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TopCoat

TopCoat
Dorothea Tanning: Philosophie en plein air [Fresh-air Philosophy] (1969)
" … become essentially invisible while standing there in plain sight."

The rules seem clear enough, but impossible to follow. If I had infinite inside space, I might be able to lay down a perfect TopCoat, but I don't. I have baseboards balanced atop everything in the Pop-up Paint Shoppe, garbage cans, empty cat litter tubs, the table, even saw horses. It took an hour or longer to lay the prime coat on, a little less for the first TopCoat. The second, and typically the last TopCoat, should take a little longer because it gets the most meticulous preparation. It's the absolutely last chance to amend the record posterity will record. There will be some sanding and filling involved. What passed muster after priming and didn't quite cause a fluster after the first TopCoat, will find my puritan heart and demand reform before heading on. My sanding block will find some work. So will my putty knife.

Painting forces a painter into numerous poses, for there's just no applying paint while standing straight upright.

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Milage

Milage
Dorothea Tanning: The Truth About Comets (1945)
"That last millionth of an inch makes all of the difference …"

A difficulty arises when considering how to measure progress of a refurbishment, which might reasonably involve many simultaneous activities. How might one measure doneness? Horizontally comes to mind for those of us poisoned by formal training and practical experience managing projects, but viewing refurbishments, like, indeed, viewing most projects as horizontal series of activities seems sort of like artificially propping up a body so that it looks more life-like. Refurbishments live mysterious lives and seem downright discontinuous in practice, with tasks started and stalled for tenuously unpredictable reasons. There is literally no predefinable path to conclusion, so any suggestion that one knows, for instance, how much effort remains at any point in time embraces an illusion, a better portrait of the projector's presumptions than anything really likely to happen. Progress might be better measured in the tiniest measurement available, one difficult to imagine, in Mils and Microns, and along a vertical axis, in depths.


You see, the most dramatic effect any refurbishment produces likely results from painting.

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Cahnge

Cahnge
Dorothea Tanning: Concerning Wishes (1942)
"Maybe we can achieve that change with balance."

I signed on to work with a boutique consulting firm in Silicon Valley but I refused to move there. I commuted from Portland, an hour and a half flight, which left me with a shorter commute than some of my partners who lived there. The firm, like all firms must, sported a mysterious name, a made-up Sanskrit word which we claimed meant "Moving to the next level with balance." I didn't know this fictional part at first but learned it from a native Sanskrit speaker who attended one of our workshops. We were in the change business, and business boomed for us for a while, for everyone in Silicon Valley's in the change business and every firm seemed to be seeking some way to move to the next level with balance. Of course the concept was fatally flawed since moving to any new level remains an inherently unbalancing experience and nobody ever pulls off balanced transformation. It's inevitably different on the other side, and different in unanticipated ways. It properly takes a while to get used to any significant new status quo. Believing otherwise doesn't help anything, but makes things worse.

I know for myself that whatever I'm chasing will certainly turn out differently than expected.

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Compleadings

ComPleadings
Dorothea Tanning: Door 84 (1984) (oil on canvas with found door)
"I want to remain a permanent work in progress …"

Twelve weeks into our Grand Refurbishing and one might think that I'm aching for completion. After all, it's so far been three month of fine dust and irresolution. Wouldn't a spot of done do wonders right about now? My honest answer to that question would have to be a steadfast, "No!" I'm not feeling ready to let go of this pursuit, even if the original pursuit has caught up to original intentions. We're still a little shy of crossing the done, done, and done finish line, but intimations have been swarming, threatening our little operation. While the titular purpose of all this fuss and all those feathers was certainly a refurbished Villa, as always happens, a superior purpose appeared while we were on our way to finishing. A manner of living emerged, one submerged in personal aspiration and mystery, striving, disappointment, as well as genuine accomplishment. For a time here, we felt as though we could accomplish anything we set our minds to accomplishing and we daily set ourselves to experiencing that most marvelous process. We've largely succeeded, which propels me into a dance I've experienced many, many, many times before. Let's say that I'm Compleading rather than simply completing. I'm feeling like I don't want to let go of this adventure yet. Closure seems like a form of death more than a sign of success.

It was the same for me when I attended university.

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Imp-Erfection

Imp-Erfection
Pablo Picasso: Femme dans un fauteuil (Dora Maar) (1942)
" … which might have been the purpose of our pursuing all along."

Whatever I order at the butcher shop, the young woman behind the counter responds by saying, "Perfect!," in a genuinely delighted tone. I know and I suspect that she knows, too, that there's really nothing perfect about my asking for a beef cheek or a couple of duck legs, but I haven't called her on her characterization yet. I figure she's fallen in with a bad linguistic crowd and can't really help herself, like those who feel compelled to end their every sentence as if they were asking a question rather than making a statement? Some language usages seem more afflictions than conventions, and they tend to infect some generations, not others, bringing us older folks to wonder whether evolution produces better or just glaringly different. The now widespread adoption of the Perfect! response seems unlikely to improve anyone's chances for long term survival.

The longer I live, the less I feel attracted to perfection.

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Inadvertencies

Inadvertencies
Dorothea Tanning: Lumiere du Foyer (The Light of the Fireplace), 1952
"I do not have a process by which to formally disagree with their assertion …"

I have wrestled with 'process people' all my professional life, for professions tend to be dependent upon defined processes. Definite procedures exist for practicing dentistry and accountancy, and making it up as you go along is strictly forbidden if one intends to serve as an airplane pilot or a brain surgeon, but my profession belonged to that class of activities largely dependent upon Inadvertencies. To manage a project is in many ways to be managed BY that project. While many insist that there exists a right and proper procedure for managing projects, actual evidence strongly suggests otherwise. Still, I felt challenged to define what I did, to teach others how to do it, and to pretend that this profession wasn't different. I'd usually wait until the hiring executive had left the room to level with my students and collude with them to do what we could to prevent the Change Prevention Specialists in Human Resources from glimpsing the truth, hiring executives and HR professionals being notoriously thin-skinned when defending the existence of processes. It had always seemed to me that my work was better suited for birds of the field who never sowed, reaped, or stored but managed to find sustenance anyway.

I was reflecting last night, after spending the last half of my Sunday afternoon in the Pop-up Paint Shop ridding baseboards of their paint, that I had not known how to perform that operation when I'd started.

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MusicalRooms

MusicalRooms
Dorothea Tanning: Musical Chairs (1951)
"I retain faith that we'll eventually find a way to finally move in."

While The Muse and I enthusiastically initiated The Grand Refurbishment, it brings certain externalities which we cannot properly characterize as anything but inconvenient. Six months after returning to The Villa for the first time all over again, we're still not moved in. We're not moved out, but also not unboxed. Our living room looks like a stage set for some post modern melodrama or undergraduate living, perhaps both. Carpets rolled up and not quite invisibly stored behind a couch suspiciously canted to provide for additional hiding space that doesn't really hide anything. Whole rooms still stacked high with boxes, most prominently, boxes of books. We live in a suspended tile puzzle, its solution not eluding us but still pending.

We've proven better at waiting and tolerating than we earlier suspected.

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Debasement

Debasement
Henry Moore: SHELTERERS (c,1940-41)
"Masterpieces disappearing …"

I volunteered innocently, not knowing what I was agreeing to deliver. It was the first day of our Grand Refurbishment, the smoke hardly dispersing from the starting gun when Kurt Our Painter commented that we'd certainly need to remove the front hall baseboards to install the flooring. It would also, he insisted, be much easier to refinish that trim on saw horses than when it was nailed to the bottom of the walls. He set about separating those boards from their plaster-bound anchors. I followed along behind, pulling finishing nails two sizes to large out by their tails by means of the BIG F-ing Pliers. I explicitly agreed to take charge of those boards. I dutifully carted them out to the newly installed Pop-up Paint Shop in front of the garage and set to work refinishing them. That was the first batch.

Every room would have to lose their baseboards as part of their transformation.

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LosingNews

LosingNews
Henri-Edmond Cross: L'air du soir (c. 1893)
" … we're all better than continuous commotion."

I was once a news junkie. I'd wake to NPR or the BBC blaring the latest headlines at me. I'd continue throughout the day, listening in whenever I found myself on the way somewhere. It was the soundtrack of my life. I rarely missed the evening summary of the day's events and felt deficient if I hadn't received the latest dispatch. It was as if I might close the difference between ignorance and well-informed by simply tuning in and being told things. I rarely watched television news, which seemed so sixties and suburban to me, not so much like reality as was the radio broadcast version. When on exile in Colorado, I grew to depend upon the ten o'clock local television news for the latest weather, which was often threatening and usually entertaining. Since we've returned here into a much smaller market, I haven't even bothered to figure out how to watch local television channels. The radio features better graphics and brighter colors. Audio books, even better.

Kurt Our Painter listens to a locally-produced hate radio station most days.

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BrassMonkey

BrassMonkey
Henri-Edmond Cross: La ferme, soir (1893)
" … monkey business satisfactions."

I become different people as I engage in different kinds of work. My painter persona seems wholly different than my gardening one, and even my gardening one varies depending upon whether I'm digging or mowing, pruning or watering. Each chore demands a different uniform or at least a few different accessories. If I'm carpentering (shudder), I'll be wearing my tool belt. If I'm sanding, I'll sport ear plugs and a face mask. I'm no man of a thousand faces, but I manage at least a dozen different ones. Lately, I've by necessity taken up the temporary role of BrassMonkey on our Grand Refurbishing effort. As BrassMonkey, I've taken it upon myself to rid our venerable door hardware of a century's accumulated paint. It's a nasty bit of business involving toxic chemicals and awful smells, but I knew no other way to erase those errors.

My job was somewhat simplified by the decision that we would wholesale replace the knobs, which were mostly midcentury mediocre, cheap-looking tin.

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ButtoningUp

ButtoningUp
Henri-Edmond Cross: La Ferme, matin (1893)
"We'll be obeying rules now."

Throw a ball up into the air and it will fall back to Earth. In very much the same way, start a project and it will eventually turn back on itself and come to closure. Each effort encounters a point where progress no longer depends upon the initial push, but upon some force more like gravity which pulls the project to completion. Before that point, the job's all about opening fresh cans of worms and dealing with their contents. After, it's finishing touches and closing down, ButtoningUp. The project's not anywhere near over, plenty of work remains, but the nature of that work shifts. No longer exploring uncharted territory, we can reasonably foresee what's remaining. We're experienced, we've found our cadence and move to it. We're no longer poking sticks into darkness, but moving through light. We expect only modest surprises because we've already opened everything up. Now comes the closing down.

The critical component of our massive refurbishing had always been the arrival of the planking, the date of which was still very much in contention yesterday morning.

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Winderz

Winderz
Henri Matisse: Open Window, Collioure (1905)
"Master of my windows, maybe, finally, more master of myself."

Windows are not passive elements of any house. They live and they breath. They breathe light, carrying the essence of outside into the house, giving life to more than the houseplants, but to the other inhabitants of the place, the cats and the people. Windows also open up, sacrificing their essential selves, their role as barrier, to become a portal both into and out of. They frame changing portraits of the seasons, same old views with always different components. Windows are magical openings. They are consummate performers.

Yesterday, I prepped the windows I'd removed for reintroduction to their frames.

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Ache-ers

Ache-ers
Berthe Morisot: Young Woman Watering a Shrub (1883)
"I might even adopt a hobby that doesn't leave me limping."

I move like Quasimodo in the morning and like a zombie by evening. Whatever else I have been making these past ten weeks since we started The Grand Refurbishment, I have also produced Homemade aches and pains, ache-ers. My right wrist still feels the impact of my fall two or three weeks ago in the Pop-up Paint Tent. My lower back saddle feels tight with intermittent pain radiating down to my right knee. Who knows what produced that? I some days sense that I'm just actively crippling myself engaging in all this Homework. Most days, I appreciate the stretching. I sense that I might otherwise turn stationary and still and slip back to living exclusively in my head again. My body finds it interesting and entertaining to be involved again, though each new engagement seems to leave me limping away from it.

The Muse flees to the quackopractor or massage therapist at what seems to me the hint of a drop of a hat.

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DI(T)Y

DI(T)Y
Johannes Verspronck: Boy Sleeping in a High Chair (1654)
"The ultimate DIY effort seems to be cleaning up those earlier, innocently ignorant DI(T)Y efforts."

I must maintain a certain vigilance to avoid Doing It (To) Myself whenever Doing It Myself. A fine line separates these two proximate states, and even the very best of intentions cannot guarantee that an innocent one won't become a guilty other. For me, trouble seems to start with some simple-seeming misconception. I believe I know then act upon that presumed knowledge only to later learn that I didn't know at all, for how might anyone confirm something as slippery as knowledge without some actual experience to disconfirm it? I stripped to bare wood then painted The Villa's exterior under a delusion of care which later essentially undid everything I was attempting to do. In attempting to preserve the siding by slathering linseed oil on it before painting, I ruined the paint's adhesion. The sun later heated the underlying linseed oil causing it to crack the paint. Now, I'm looking at re-stripping back to bare wood again, an enormous and necessary effort made even more onerous by the fact that I Did It (To) Myself. I produced a DI(T)Y.

We have a Homemade pandemic now thanks to tens of thousands of people dutifully Doing It (To) Themselves.

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SelfDestructions

SelfDestructions
"The Americanese wall - as Congressman [John Lawson] Burnett would build it," (25 March 1916)
" … but that hope still springs eternal."

A vast part of the Homemade universe contains stuff not so much made at home as assembled there. These items arrive swathed in cardboard, often with cryptic messages imprinted on them. EZ Assembly. Assembles Itself! These come-ons invariably prove to be lies, usually damned lies. They amount to a curious kind of literary test, assessing one's ability to interpret a wholly unique literary form. Part cartoon and part text, they tend toward the disorienting and invariably assume knowledge and orientation rarely present in any homemaker, homesteader, or non-engineer. They hint at more than they declare. They've numbered pieces and prepared schematics, producing what are called exploding graphics intended to introduce the assembler to the product. They first successfully achieve in producing an overwhelming sense of disorientation. What seemed simple enough suddenly seems terribly complicated. It holds more parts and connections than anyone can successfully hold in their head at once. If the purchaser could fit the damned thing back into the box at that point, he'd return it post haste, but he cannot. Just opening the box allowed Pandora to escape along with, as will soon be revealed, three apparently essential screws which seem to have disappeared from the small, unopenable parts bag.

I call these instruction which fail to successfully instruct anyone to do anything SelfDestructions after my friend Wayne's habit of calling all instructions Destructions, as I recounted in a piece called
Destructions, which I wrote over five years ago.

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Buttling

Buttling
David Allan: An Italian Footman (about 1780)
"We are each in service to our possessions …"

I should make it clear that I am not personally completing very much of our Grand Refurbishment. The Muse and I hired out almost all of the actual work. I've accepted minor roles as a peripheral workman, refinishing doors, windows, and baseboards, primarily to avoid distracting our actual paid workmen from their primary assignments. I'm stripping and polishing brass, for instance, work nobody would pay an experienced carpenter or professional painter to perform. I think of myself as more of the butler of the effort and Buttling as my primary focus. I'm the guy who sees that the garbage cans get emptied and fresh contractor bags are available. I run to the hardware or paint store when we're running out of something. I'm offering a cold beverage mid scorching afternoon. I'm the one remembering to thank the workers for their help at the end of each workday. I never forget that I'm not the one doing very much. I'm just filling in around the edges.

I suppose that I'm filling the role of servant leader on the endeavor.

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MindReading

MindReading1
El Greco: The Opening of the Fifth Seal, The Vision of Saint John (1608–1614)
" … the source of endless unwanted entertainment."

I've learned that The Villa has eccentric windows, homemade double hungs with cords and weights dangling in the walls. They have proven themselves mysterious in almost my every encounter with them. They are not of standard design, but apparently Homemade. I've learned most of their tricks, but they still prove capable of confusing and confounding me. Earlier this week, I noticed an original pane in the lower frame of the big four foot wide window in front of my desk, the very window I usually look out through when writing, had somehow developed a crack. Kurt Our Painter and I quickly removed the stop holding the frame in place and i removed the cords. I took the frame to the glass shop for a pane replacement, retrieving it the next morning. By the end of the day yesterday, I'd finished repainting the frame and Kurt and I set about setting it back into the window, usually a trivial chore.

It didn't fit.

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SalesPitch

SalesPitch
Jan Sanders van Hemessen: The Extraction of the Stone of Madness (c. 1550)
"I'm intrigued by any sales pitch which focuses upon all I will not get if I choose them for a relationship."

Those of us who create Homemade stuff, which I guess includes pretty much all of us, maintain relationships with our reliable suppliers, and we swear by the ones we adopt. My mom might have contended that "everything comes out of the same spigot before they put different labels on it," but I firmly believe (by which I mean I believe merely as a matter of conviction) that I use the absolutely best available brand of paint, for instance. I feel secretly shocked when I learn of someone favoring a different supplier, for I see that choice as clear evidence of their poor judgement. I might not attempt to convince them of their error, but only because I understand that nobody's likely to ever convince me that I have not discerned the very best paint supplier in the world, I have considerable treasure and effort invested in that choice. Others probably do in their's, too.

I've been visiting my paint store several times each week as we've worked through this Grand Refurbishing

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OnMyKnees

OnMyKnees
Andrew Wyeth: On Her Knees, Helga (1975)
"Self reliance has little to do with standing on one's two feet …"

Almost everything used to be Homemade. Now, only exceptions are. The transition, largely accomplished over the last century and a half, proved traumatic as well as transformative. Our GrandOther wants nothing to do with learning how to sew, for instance, once considered an essential skill. The Muse dedicates a whole room as her sewing room and even fabricated a tailor's dummy of her own body to enable her to design her own patterns and better fit her creations. Almost nobody does that anymore.

I spent yesterday afternoon on my knees sanding the margins of our grand staircase.

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Crapsmanship

Crapsmanship
Abraham Mignon: The Overturned Bouquet (1660-79) -
This work is widely regarded as a truly terrible painting.

"That I can even discern the difference … suggests that I've already come far."

Removing master bedroom baseboards, I came upon one which almost defied removal. It was an odd section. While the other walls featured long single boards, this one was a short extension for a longer one. This wall's base had been broken into two sections. The Muse later noticed the outline of a prehistoric doorway just above this section, an entry into what we've imagined might have been a screened sleeping porch back before internal bathrooms were necessary. The board had been secured with four very large headed nails while the rest of the baseboard had been more properly anchored in with countersunk finishing nails. I had to destroy that board to remove it. It needed refabricating, anyway. I'd encountered a bit of shoddy workmanship again. Not my first encounter and probably not my last on this refurbishing effort. I thought back to an earlier story about our Colorado place which I titled Crapmanship and reminded myself that Crapsmanship is universal. Every house features some of it, regardless of how able a craftsman owned it then or now.

Not every fix measures up to the highest standards, and it probably makes sense that the shoddier work will need reattending to soonest.

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Plumps

Plumps
Edouard Manet: Plums (circa 1875-1885)
"[We] count ourselves wealthy and fortunate, and plump …"

When The Muse's son was small, he called plums "Plumps," in a typical childhood misunderstanding, a false cognate accomplished using only one language. My daughter referred to discussions as "disgustings" in a similar and similarly accurate misunderstanding. Plums are plump and might have been better named plumps from the outset. Of course, they are called plumps around The Villa and forever will be. Every home breeds its own dialect featuring words and interpretations unique to the people there, a Family Language. In the early Fall, The Muse's thoughts turn toward Plumps. She buys volumes of them fresh, even though most of the dried plumps from last year are still here with us, reposing in the basement larder.

The sole use for plumps in this house has been in dressing with which to stuff the Christmas goose.

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Deceiving

Deceiving

Pere Borrell del Caso: Escaping Criticism (1874)
"I hardly ever catch myself Deceiving myself anymore …"

Deceiving might be the primary skill underlying every Homemade everything. Nobody starts off competent to make very much of anything at home or elsewhere, and considerable experience might well be required to get any better at making something fit. Criticism seems the very last thing any budding maker needs. Each rather needs the opposite of that. To accomplish this, Deceiving will be required, with self deception heading the list of those targeted with this gift, but it's wise to stay out of eyeshot of well-intended neighbors and the highly skilled, for they can never do any budding maker any good and often inadvertently inflict wounds grievous enough to convince anyone not to continue attempting. Competence requires considerable attempting, best done some distance from criticism.

One learns from their mistakes but not if they cannot escape them.

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LastOne

Clabboration
Paul Gauguin: Vision after the Sermon (1888)
" … after gaining all the experience of fixing its eleven brothers."

The first one tends to be difficult for me to complete. I'm not even learning yet. I'm at best orienting myself, but I might be more accurately described as misleading myself, for I've gone off half cocked, without really understanding either the context or the possible solutions. I'm very likely a little frustrated and just attempting to dispatch this distraction, not yet having noticed a certain pattern to both this problem and to my default solution. The second one's usually much better. In terms of net improvement one over the other, the second probably represents the greatest improvement of the whole batch. Even if I do a dozen, no two will likely show as much improvement as the second from the first. The following ones will feature minor variations. That second one will likely prove to be a revelation representing the pattern for how I'll think that's done. I could still be wrong, but I'm feeling productive.

I know how to do very little and rely upon the stuff I fix to teach me how to fix them.

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Homemade?

Homemade?
John Ruskin: Zermatt (1844)
"Done once, well enough, and never to be replicated."

By the end of each afternoon, my arms covered with a fine patina of sanding dust, I'm finished with my HomeMaking for the day and ready to make something for supper, something Homemade. As you already know if you've been following my stories, The Muse and I have been attempting to move into our home, The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, for six months, but have not yet managed to move completely in. We've been Refurbishing the place before setting deep roots, still living out of boxes and with dust, primitives as we attempt to elevate this house into our home again. There are no repeat performances. We once lived here, now we live here again. We are not back, but here, again for the very first time. This is our home now, though not yet fully finished. This is how Homemade works, wholes made out of somewhat unfinisheds.

Over the past three months, I wrote my daily stories under the heading of HomeMaking.

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Headswarming

Headswarm
Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Tower of Babel (1563)
"I already know what I want for Christmas."

When I was a kid, summertime featured plenty of boredom. As an adult, boredom's been more difficult to come by. As a budding HomeMaker, it's been essentially impossible to find. This summer, passing now into Fall, featured days filled to capacity with meaningful activity, perhaps the most dangerous possible condition for anyone aspiring to become an interesting or a creative person. I have lived this season in dread fear that I might become uninteresting after spending so many days refinishing doors. What could possibly be more boring than a man going on about the finer points of door refinishing? Any infinite work queue will do, though, to turn a decent fellow into a drudge. It's not the All Work and No Play Clause kicking in, but the lesser appreciated All Activity and No Boredom one. Boredom is probably an essential human experience. Those who fail to experience it seem doomed to an overly kinetic existence, a blur of a presence.

One must not only have leisure, but know how to use it.

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LastFullDay

LastFullDay
Joan Miró: The Farm (1921-1922)
"I never want to say goodbye …"

The end of anything tends to elicit a sense of loss, however much might have been gained from the departing experience. For me, endings introduce a beginning-over rather than a continuing-into sensation. Summer does not mature into Autumn, but falls down into it. The salad season where The Muse could and would mosey out to the overgrown tomato forest to bring back supper's salad seems to be ending with no adequate replacement. Tomatoes will soon taste of cardboard again and we will leave them lying in their false promises on produce aisle shelves. We'll resort to stews and braises and less frequently grill. I'm already noticing that the morning sun no longer blinds me at breakfast. Time has taken, over the last few weeks, to moving inexorably again, dragging me along unwillingly, insisting. And I've held full days as my final defense. As long as full days stood in the way of this latest inevitable, I felt safe. Today will be the LastFullDay and will leave me with only a flimsy half day of summer remaining tomorrow. I should expend this LastFullDay extremely carefully, though it will abandon me either way.

I experience what I've not accomplished more deeply than whatever I've achieved.

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Hash

Hash
The building of the palace of Khavarnaq, from Nizami's Khamsah.
Painting attributed to the master-painter
Bihzad. Herat, late 15th century
"HomeMaking might just be home."

Homemaking's iffy work. Always attempted 'on spec', it follows no fixed path. Largely driven by intentions, no guarantees accompany its effort. One scratches at the Earth without knowing beforehand what might sprout and grow from the effort. Each instance seems distinct enough to cloak expected results. Two months and change into our Grand Refurbishment, our home seems distinctly less homey than it did when we started our work. Of course our work's not yet completed and we do not know what percent complete we are today, as if that was saying anything. Percent Complete has always been one of those bullshit concepts which seem perfectly uncontroversial, yet it presumes as knowable innumerable aspects of a pursuit, rendering any response to the question, "What Percent Complete are you?" not worth the breath expended expressing it. Nobody ever knows. I do know for certain, though, that I've made a Hash of this HomeMaking so far. While some chance remains that we might one day finally realize the home we've so long aspired to own, it's probably more likely that we'll still be aspiring when we die, never having realized what we pursued with such earnestness.

Conservative columnist George Will concluded his Washington Post column this morning by saying, "For Americans, the pursuit of happiness is happiness.'

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SecondSleep

SecondSleep
Salvador Dali:
Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Waking (1944)
"On weekends I dream my Second Sleep dreams with Max The Monster Cat kneading on my shoulder."

In centuries before industrialization and time regulation, when darkness and fire dominated every evening, people allocated their time differently than we do today. Then, most were, indeed, up with the chickens and down shortly after supper, but most maintained a second period of which they also made productive use. Most did not sleep twelve hours each night. They'd rouse in what we'd refer to as the middle of their night, get dressed, maybe snack or even go visiting neighbors. After two or three stolen hours, they'd tumble back into bed and catch a few last zzzzzzs before rising again with the chickens. They called that second snooze 'SecondSleep', and it's something we lost when we domesticated ourselves into nine-to-fives separated by commutes, when we abandoned the sun standard for time, and when we began staying up to watch the late news before bed.

That period between first and second sleep was more private than daytime wakefulness.

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Tolls

Tolls
Henri Rousseau: Toll Gate (circa 1888-1892)
"The price of progress might not be my soul …"

If there's no such thing as a free lunch—and I'm not fully prepared to accept this premise—then it might follow that all human activity exacts some sort of toll or tax on the human engaging in it. Repetitive motion injuries have been widely recognized and humbly acknowledged. It seems as if half of the more common syndromes carry a professional designation: Coal Miner's Lung, Cyclist's Knee. The most dedicated come to wear their self-inflicted infirmity as a badge of honor designating their self discipline. The less fervent might use their wound as an excuse or a cautionary example, whining rather more than seems strictly proper or necessary. I, myself, maintain a growing list of physical complaints which seem to stem from our Grand Refurbishment work. Some hold no obvious connection, by which I mean that I cannot point to a specific event or action which resulted in the affliction, but each fresh wound appeared during the period in which I was engaged in Refurbishing work, so I classify it by association. I see them as a result of my engaging whether or not they actually were. I consider these damages as representing the Tolls of Refurbishing. I feel equally honored and embarrassed by their presence.

I noticed that my fingerprint no longer works as a security check when awakening my phone.

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Woikin'

Woikin'
Ugo Mulas: James Rosenquist, New York (1964)
"I inhabit a perfect market featuring infinite supply and no demand."
I have been gainfully unemployed for so long that I no longer remember the sensation of 'having a job.' I have my work, of course. Who doesn't? But an actual job? I might have become functionally unemployable. I do not know why. It just seems that at some point, there was no demand for whatever I did. Nobody ever said anything about it. No dissatisfied customer ever protested my performance. I was just no longer working. Not retired. Not laid off. Not so much out of work, but more like employment abandoned me, leaving me to pursue my own work. When a form asks for my employer, I write in 'Self,' though I'm not actually my employer. My work employs me, but not because it pays me for my time. My work employs me because it holds my attention. Maybe next time I encounter that question on a form, I'll fill in 'my work' and see what happens.

I took a survey this week and encountered all of my questionnaire pet peeves.

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Mindering

Mindering
Paul Klee: Red Balloon [Roter Ballon] (1922)
"I've become my own DJ and audience."

When I'm painting, I can listen to an audio book, but painting's only a tiny portion of any painting project. Much more time goes to prepping, which tends to be noisy work, too noisy to allow listening to any audio input. Of course I could just finally cave in and buy a noise cancelling headset as I've threatened for years, but I'm learning to appreciate the selective availability of external entertainment and, much more importantly, I seem to be gaining a fresh appreciation for where my mind goes when denied distraction. I'll call that state Mindering. My mind wanders to the most curious places. A tune might dominate for a while, one selected from an impressive list, no justification given. Chattanooga Choo Choo accompanied me through two full Pop-Up Paint Shoppe days this week. I compose impressive essays while sanding door fronts. I relive scenes from my past and pre-live a few from my future. I engage in lengthy internal dialogues. My mind never stops chattering.

Those who engage in relatively menial activities seem to have the greatest opportunity to enjoy the joys of Mindering.

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CodeTalkin'

codetalkin0027


Photograph by Edward S. Curtis: Cañon de Chelly, Arizona (ca. 1904)
" … probably won't ever come out and declare that he never did have a clue …"

During both WWI and WWII, the US Army signal corps employed speakers of Native American languages as so-called Code Talkers, for radio chatter conducted in their native tongues was absolutely untranslatable code for German, Italian, and Japanese code breakers. Code Talker transmissions were never compromised. Now, it seems each profession maintains a native dialect, the purpose of which might mirror the original Code Talkers', to transmit sensitive information without fear of translation. Painters, plumbers, carpenters, and carpet layers each employ certain distinct patterns of speech to cloak their underlying meaning. Good often means mediocre. Awful might mean excellent, but don't let that judgement go to your head. Our flooring supplier uses standard project weasel language which I recognize from decades hanging with Project People.

Project People maintain many deeply encoded language patterns which fall under the general category of Schedule Chicken.

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MonkeyBars

MonkeyBar
William Holbrook Beard: For What Was I Created? (ca. 1886)
"Imagine how fortunate we feel …"

As the sun set last night, I called down into The Muse's Zoom® Lair to ask if she'd climbed up to the second floor yet. She hadn't. I implored her to get out there before she had to try it in the dark. She responded with the warmth of someone who'd been insulted by a suggestion. You see, we'd reached that point in our Grand Refurbishment when we could no longer just use the stairs to reach the second floor, where bedroom, full bathrooms, and showers reside. I'd erected scaffolding in anticipation of this time. Our Painter Kurt kindly donated his plank to the project. I used clamps and leftover trim wood to stabilize that plank between the flat front porch roof and the scaffolding, creating a pathway of sorts between the main floor-level front porch and the little door off the front porch roof deck into the second floor. It seemed plenty precarious so I'd practiced my ingress and egress a few times before the sun set, but The Muse hadn't. Yet.

She easily clambered up, puzzled at what my concern had been about.

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Dooring

Dooring
Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps:
Le singe peintre, aussi dit Intérieur d'atelier
[The Monkey Painter, also called Workshop Interior.]
(ca. 1833)
" I will miss this work once I'm finished."

Six weeks ago, I posted what might now qualify as an introduction to the fine art of Dooring with a piece I called Doorable. In that story, I explained how I believe that the world is always trying to teach me and that I'm a reluctant learner. Kurt Our Painter and the doors themselves have been dutifully teaching me how to paint doors over the last month and a half. Nearing the end of this part of my contribution to our Refurbishing effort, I might have a few learnings to share. I'm not yet in any way an expert doorer, or whatever a door refurbisher might answer to, but I have finished, or, more properly, refinished, nineteen door fronts now, with only four remaining, and I've been noticing a certain facility emerging in my practice. I have a method of sorts in that I seem to be following more or less the same steps with each door front I face. I work much more quickly and decisively now, with few unforeseen discouraging events, which seemed common at first. I have my tools and techniques sorted, ready to hand. By the time I finish this work, I might never refurbish another door, for only five will remain unrefurbished in the whole place.

These doors have been teaching me.

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'FraidSo

'FraidSo
Okumura Masanobu: An Impossible Feat by Imaginary Men, no. 8 from a series of 12 prints (1708)
"If you meet a fearless being on the road, run for the hills in fear."

I find HomeMaking terrifying, which isn't really saying that much, since I find life generally terrifying, so it should naturally follow that I would find HomeMaking, being an integral part of my life, terrifying. I noticed again this morning as I walked along the upstairs hall, feeling my way through pre-dawn darkness, I heard myself whisper to myself, "I am afraid." It's not an uncommon comment for me to catch myself whispering, though I usually only intend this comment for my own ears. I no longer interpret this statement as an excuse to get out of doing something, for I usually feel my fear and choose to proceed anyway, a response I've grown to invoke, if only because it enables me to do things. If I avoided engaging in activities that terrified me, I'd be hiding in the basement, though basements, too, kinda fill me with dread.

Years ago, I stumbled upon a fine little book called Art and Fear (Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking By: David Bayles; Ted Orland, 2001).

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FirstRain

FirstRain
Francis Danby: The Deluge (1840)
" … find good reason to look back longingly …"

We hadn't seen any real rain—really, no rain at all—since we'd returned to The Villa Vatta Schmaltz in late March. We'd seen what might have passed as a passing shower had it done more than briefly dampen the pavement before quickly evaporating off. One hundred and seventy days of extreme drought, also one hundred and seventy days of SettlingInto and HomeMaking, more than half a year. I'm tempted to call that period an era, because it seems as though it was. One rainy day seems to have broken a persistent spell, one during which I could not tell where its edge might lie. Those days seem to have been suspended in time and place, framing our return to this most extraordinary space, like an extended overture setting the stage for whatever follows. It seemed endless from within it, sometimes interminable. During the hottest summer days, we seemed especially cursed, but mostly it seemed as if we had been especially blessed. I knew it could not last but I didn't want it to end then, or ever. It's over now.

Oh, I expect an extended Indian Summer to work on scaffolding, tidying up a few surfaces and windows.

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UnderDoing

UnderDoing
Edgar Degas: The Ballet from "Robert le Diable" (1871)
"I seem to work just to disappoint myself."

We've been working late this week, our little crew usually still here after six most evenings. This might have been a natural reaction to having taken Monday off for the Labor Day holiday, or maybe we sense a major milestone and pivot point approaching. Maybe neither or maybe both. Effect does not require a discrete cause, but seems to beg for one. Our downstairs, main floor work will soon be finished. The planking for the second floor is supposed to be here next week, but has not yet arrived. Joel Our Carpenter reported that he has a few days' fill-in work if our progress stalls. Kurt Our Painter has plenty to keep him occupied, his work necessarily trailing behind. Joel's the finish carpenter, but Kurt actually finishes what Joel just gets started. Kurt says he's used to that.

I wake up at my usual obscenely early hour, but with a difference of late.

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Intos

Intos
Jules Bastien-Lepage: Joan of Arc (1879)
"I glance up and just notice, then, that I've turned Into someone else."

I feel humbled as our grand refurbish finally starts turning into something more than aspirations. Today marks seven weeks since Kurt Our Painter first appeared here and we began poking around the edges together, working toward a largely undefined center. The Muse and I had just settled on paint color as if that amounted to much, which it did but also did not. Paint color served as the starting point and will become one lasting effect of having done this work, but repainting was not ever the purpose of this refurbish. It served as more of a premise, a story capable of holding many conflicting elements, and in many ways repainting has served as a false premise. Yes, every square inch of much of this house will have been repainted by the time we're finished. Considerable unpainting will have been completed to accomplish finished, too, and more time will have been spent prepping than painting. The labels we give our work materially misrepresent it. Our aspirations still seem vague from today's perspective, so much closer to done than when we started. Much fuzziness remains, though we're not panicking, hoping to become more certain. We seem to have become more comfortable with not precisely knowing and letting results emerge.

The most dramatic results thus far have also been the most subtle, as Intos tend to emerge quietly, without much fanfare.

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DustToDust

DustTo
Scott Wade: Girl With A Pearl Earring, the famous Vermeer’s painting, rendered in car window dust (circa 2016)
" … one cannot successfully repaint anyplace while suspended within a blizzard of swirling dust."

Refurbishing remains first and foremost a dusty undertaking. The act of buffing up removes tarnish, which I think of as metastasized dust. Removing carpet, as I've previously mentioned, reveals a layer of fine dust more resembling talcum powder than dirt. Further, the whole house gets covered in a fine fresh layer of the stuff, even the HVAC system and its ducts. Countertops gain a slick surface as if lightly oiled, but that's dust lubricating. Even my body carries a fine layer of it. My fingertips slide over my thumb top as if they were teflon coated. We've sworn to just live with it until the project's finished. There never was any point to trying to keep up. The vacuum fills up until its tank weighs as much as a five pound bag of sugar but the floors and walls remain just as slick with it as they were before we began. We tell ourselves that we'll clean from top to bottom as the last act of this project and that might even happen.

Both The Muse and I grew up in places prone to dust storms.

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LongWayHome

LongWayHome
J. Alden Weir: The Stone Bridge (ca. 1887-1893)
"Anything to delay arrival …"

Two hundred and forty-four miles separate these two worlds, the one I was raised in and the one I came of age in. All my life, I've traveled between these two points more than between any two other. Even those years where I commuted weekly to work in Silicon Valley barely dented this enduring trajectory. Even leaving the area, moving back east, and spending years away didn't change how I related to my world. Home came in two flavors. There was home and then there was back home, each authentic, neither sufficient all alone. One home held my stuff, the other, my roots. Neither place made any sense without the other. I suppose that it's this way for anyone who moves away to make their life. One can move out but not permanently away, or at least I never found a way to permanently stay away. I was always headed home, either to where my heart was or to where my stuff resided. The two states rarely coincided, or didn't until The Muse and I decided to move "back" to my hometown and we bought The Villa. Even then, my son and grandkids came to live at precisely the two hundred and forty-four mile marker from our new home, with home taking on a fresh double meaning: where my heart resides and where my progeny lives.

We migrate between these two homes about once a month for now, taking a long weekend to visit family and perhaps a friend. It's a predictable route.

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Justing

Justing
Gaetano Gandolfi: Allegory of Justice (1760s)
" … present and damned well worth counting."

The word occasionally appears within the normal flow of conversation and to my ear, suspends the show for a moment. Back in the days when I could still eat in restaurants, I might show up at a hostess stand seeking a table, and be greeted with one of the most discouraging words in the language. "Is it just you, then?" No, I'd reply, it's not just me, it's ME in all my glory! "Just" just sounds so disappointed! Sorry to ruin your day. It's just me today.

We each engage as judge and jury over our proceedings, passing judgements over what we encounter.

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OffDays

OffDays
Gustave Courbet: Young Ladies by the River Seine (1857)
"HomeMaking, like breathing, doesn't come with time off for good behavior."

Unlike gainful employment, HomeMaking does not come with days off. It's a twenty-four/seven sort of occupation, with adequate responsibilities to keep any three individuals fully entertained for just as many hours as they'd care to contribute. Further, these are not appreciative hours, either, but largely anonymous ones, the sort where if one's properly engaged, no one will notice. Still, occasionally, some respite seems necessary if never completely justified. Rather than taking a day off, I experience an OffDay. An OffDay begins like any other, though perhaps gravity might work a little better than usual when the alarm clock rings. I'm up and moving, completing my morning rituals, writing. I'll be done about the time The Muse's alarm wakes her. My breakfast will have been warming. I set right to it, shave and shower, then slow a bit. I might lay down, I tell myself, to digest my breakfast, then doze. An hour later, I still haven't gone anywhere and still feeling dozy. I allow myself another half hour until those short cycles accumulate into having taken the whole morning.

I won't usually allow myself a whole day off when an OffDay comes calling.

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UnrelentingDecency

UnrelentingDecency
Heinrich Aldegrever: Temperance. From: The Virtues Production (1552)
" … gritting our teeth in utter embarrassment for them."

The Muse returned deeply upset from her Friday Exceptional Women breakfast. She'd heard stories of incivility at the Democrat's Fair Booth. Apparently, Republican-associated rabble had taken the opportunity to unleash venom at their presumably evil opponents there. The Muse was justifiably worried. If some people felt comfortable verbally assaulting without provocation their presumed opposition, how could we possibly avoid a civil war, or an uncivil one? She brought this question to my Friday Zoom Chat, and we mumbled over it.

It's an old question. If the opposition seems unconstrained, should we mirror their lack of discipline in order to win or must we hold ourselves to higher standards?

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SandMan

Sandman
Michael Taylor: Boy with Apple, a faux painting made for the 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel.
" … a substance expressly designed to undo the past with an unskilled hand."

As I finished sanding the last baseboard to bare wood, I caught myself having insisted upon the lowliest role again. In the grand pecking order I've constructed within my head, our painter Kurt and our carpenter Joel both hold lofty positions due to the experience and skill they bring to the effort. Even The Muse, who mostly engages in abstentia while working remotely in her Basement Zoom® Lair, holds a loftier position than mine, for she's the designer and vision keeper. She's the one everyone else waits on before they proceed. Me? I'm the guy who semi-reliably removes nails and mostly successfully tries to keep track of doorknobs. I also empty garbage and sand. I've been sanding a lot lately. Once we realized that we'd need to reclaim and alter all the existing door and window trim to satisfy The Muse's vision for them, it became necessary to sand all those boards to bare, to rid them of every trace of a hundred and fifteen years of accumulated past. Five coats for some pieces.

Rather than divert paid assistance toward such a lowly assignment, I volunteered.

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TheGrip

TheGrip
Vincent van Gogh: Two Hands (1884 - 85)
"I must be overreaching or I don't feel as if I'm living at all."

I become a sawyer when I'm sanding a board clean of paint. Sawyers stood in deep ditches and worked their long saws up into logs laid across, their partner sawing down, showering them in sawdust. Each one seven feet in length and smeared with a variety of coats, I challenge myself to clear one in a single pass without turning off the sander or loosening my grip. Forty-five minutes later, I drop a freshly cleaned board onto my padded saw horses and I loosen my grip, TheGrip. My hand lost feeling long ago under the incessant vibration of the humming little machine I held in my palm. I'm liberally covered with fine saw and paint dust the consistency of talcum powder. I sweep off the finished board, a hundred and fifteen years old and fine-grained, looking freshly milled, and add it to the finished pile. I have at least a half dozen more to finish today to avoid holding up forward progress installing window and door trim. I hold a worthy purpose in my life at the moment. I hold it with TheGrip.

It's not every day or every time when worthy purpose visits.

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Changeling

Changeling
Henry Fuseli: Der Wechselbalg (1781)
"She owns her choice …"

Granddaughters have by long tradition been the most troubling of relatives. Grandsons can reliably become meatheads without surprising anybody, but granddaughters seem mercurial, capable of material changes without any warning. Our GrandOther proves no exception. The Muse and I had noticed since we returned from exile that The Other had changed, with less energy focused upon sugar, spice, an everything nice and much more on puppy dog tails and worse. She seemed much more capable of morose and mouthy, often without apparent regard to who her words might wound. She seemed defensively haughty. We figured it might just be evidence of a phase or something. Aren't eleven year olds allowed phases? My duck feathers mostly shed her venom without it wounding me much. About the fiftieth time a granddaughter proclaims that she'd rather be dead than be with me, though, the story gets to feeling old.

And so it was that I agreed to pick her up after the second day of the new school year and transport her to The Villa where she could wait for her dad to get off work and fetch her home.

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Walker

Walker
Paul Gavarni: Man Walking (circa 1852-1866)
" … winning non-existent races, going places."

Back in the seventies when I began my second career, I still believed in the predictive powers of assessment surveys. Often advertised as psychological tests, whatever that might have been (which they weren't), they claimed to be capable of assessing what sort of a person you might be, for purposes of matching natural inclination to specific job situations. An employer, for instance, would not want an egghead in a meathead job because the egghead might over-think everything rather than mindlessly comply with directions. A popular "tool", as they were referred to, designated some individuals as Ds, or Drivers. My primitive conception of leadership at the time encouraged me to think of the Drivers as the real leaders and the others, the nurturers and philosophers and analysts as somehow further down the pecking order and therefore not really leading. I found that if I answered the survey questions not as I knew myself to be but as I aspired to become, I could easily score as a nearly perfect Driver and thereby reinforce my primitive notions of leadership while also satisfying myself. I reported to a wiley boss who saw right through my ruse without challenging me on it. She figured, I guess, that I'd best teach myself different if I was ever going to amount to much.

And so I fancied myself a Driver.

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Jerry

Jerry
Rembrandt's stolen masterpiece: The Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633)
" … a long lost friend forever."

I received last night the news of the death of a long lost friend. Jerry was lost when we first met and to my mind never really managed to find himself, though he would have doubtless disagreed with that assessment. I considered him for a time a dear friend before he became a feared one, and his story might serve as both cautionary and explanatory, for it carried a not uncommon theme of the time. His story speaks to the deeper cost of war and a paradox of justice, where punishment sometimes proves more punishing than any original crime warranted.

When Jerry was seventeen, still in high school, he was charged with stealing some records from a local drug store.

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Roostering

Roostering
Winslow Homer: The Rooster (1876)
" … my Roostering's finished just before The Muse's day begins."

The neighbor's rooster starts crowing two hours before dawn, every blessed morning. I'm almost always already up by then, anticipating my day, finishing my writing. Both that rooster and I seem to possess an active anticipation, he, an internal clock, and me, a sense that I cannot quite grok. His kind served as the original alarm clock. My kind just woke up earlier than almost anybody and set to work. It might be that the work I do cannot be performed in the full light of day, but can only emerge in faint light or anticipating light, only out of near darkness. Some might insist that the rooster's cursed to never enjoy a full night's sleep, but I suspect that the rooster would disagree, as would I, for enjoying sleep seems to require having finished working and never entails avoiding it. One might fitfully attempt to sleep with unfinished work, but probably won't enjoy it.

Lately, as my life's focus has shifted from the etherial into the more practical, my early morning ritual has seemed less important, less urgent.

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DIY

DIY
Mihály Munkácsy: Yawning Apprentice (1869)
"We're none of us islands of skill …"

The Muse, who serves as the grand designer of our great refurbishing effort, makes most of the decisions because she holds the vision. I'm not just trailing behind doing her bidding, but I'm careful what I initiate, to make sure that I've communicated what I'm attempting. It's genuinely shocking how often I find that we have not reached agreement or that my notion was somehow unconscionable once I mentioned it. She chose the color after I'd set up and painted the boxes to demonstrate how they played together. I'm learning how to become indifferent to many details. Color's not my remit. Neither is style. I contribute my part without trying to take much in the way of credit, either, for I'm not doing very much by myself or even for myself. I think of myself as bringing a certain flare, a studied style of execution, often so subtle that nobody should ever notice its presence. My doors can't rival those Kurt Our Painter finishes, but they're good enough not to stand out as amateur productions. Even Kurt consults with me, as I continually consult with him, both of us serving as if not servants, then apprentices to some larger context, one only The Muse understands.

That's not to say that she's not persuadable.

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GreatGoodFortune

GreatGoodFortune
Li Gonglin: The Classic of Filial Piety (circa 1085)
" … had we been as prescient as the venerable I Ching or a decent Tarot reading, but we weren't."

Earlier in my careers, I was forever trying to foresee what was coming next. I consulted The I Ching and various forms of Tarot, each of which use language unique to them. The I Ching, for instance, was forever speaking of GreatGoodFortune when indicators suggested a likely positive result. Eventually, though, foreseeing came to feel like taking a blood pressure reading in that it doesn't work if taken too frequently and might be accurate only to the degree that it's rarely taken. One can live in the future and miss the present just like one can lose their present in their past. In times of peril or uncertainty, I'm still not above or beyond trying to sneak a peek through the veil, but I most days proceed forward without attempting to peer around upcoming corners.

All that said, I'm presently experiencing a prolonged period of extremely GreatGoodFortune, one ingredient never ascribable to talent or skill.

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Consequent

Consequent
Diego Rivera: The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City (1931)
"If we can't make this fun, they won't find it worthy."

The early effort seemed unfocused for it sought first to figure out what needed doing and in what particular order. I contend that there never was any orderly way to determine order. It's inherently messy business. One dabbles at first, poking here and prodding there until a rough order emerges. Some rework usually results, with luck, little, without, perhaps much. We have been inordinately fortunate on this refurbishment effort, which I take as a sign that we're engaged in a right and proper undertaking. It seems to me that if I'm engaging in right work, good fortune naturally accompanies me. Great good fortune, which characterizes what we've been experiencing, seems as if a blessing from The Gods or something. Little has discouraged us so far. It's been Kurt Our Painter and I, with me struggling to keep up with even our modest initial pace. Once Joel Our Floor Guy (he's actually a finish carpenter) arrived, our previously languorous pace exploded.

I'd noticed this same effect on many of the projects with which I'd once led and consulted.

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MannerOfWorking

MannerOfWorking
Percy Frederick Horton: Blind Workers in a Birmingham Factory (Circa 1940s)
"What approach am I deploying as if it was essential?"

Five weeks into the Villa's refurbishment and I've started questioning my MannerOfWorking. Early on, I could engage productively and mindlessly, an easy feat since I was inexperienced doing most of the work my assignments entailed. I was just learning to pull nails from the bottom of boards so I didn't yet know enough to consider embellishments on the standard brute force. Kurt Our Painter introduced me to what he believes to be one of the absolutely essential tools in his considerable arsenal, The Big Fucking Pliers. The BFPs are not for fiddling with nuts and bolts. They bring a measure of brute force to a task. Cast forged steel, they weigh heavy in the hand and prove handy in a hundred ways, one of those being pulling countersunk nails from baseboards. One could choose to pound out those babies and remove them with a crowbar or hammer, but why bother with messing up the board face when it's possible to just remove those nails by the tail, preserving the smooth board face and limiting the damage to century-old fine-grained trim wood? After a few sessions of nail removing, I began to notice different possibilities. Then I began to remove nails more easily. I'd become a more experienced hand.

The story's the same with refinishing doors.

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BackOrdered

MindReading
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: At the Moulin Rouge (1892–95)
"I have been an unworthy beneficiary …"

I told The Muse that her birthday poem was back ordered, probably on a container ship held offshore at Long Beach until a dock opens up and then dependent upon a driver being available to transport it from there to here. Who knows when it might appear? It's been a queer year, and especially odd for refurbishing this old place, since supplies have been in historically short supply. The glass guy reports shortages of glass, for instance. The paint store had six gallons of the base I needed when they should have had hundreds, here in the middle of high painting season, and even then I'd had to upgrade to a more premium version. The doors and windows we ordered in April might not arrive here this year. If they arrive earlier, the installers are over-scheduled and unavailable at any price. Everything's in short supply. I bought three preemptive gallons of trim paint I didn't quite need yet to prevent running out in the future and shutting down our refurbishing efforts until who knows when. Nobody knows. We're all torn apart here and cannot wait long to achieve complete enough to close up for fall and winter. Closure's also back ordered.

My creative spark seems on back order, too.

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Sublimating

Sublimation
Wojciech Siudmak: Door (1999)
" … probably something even better!"

When I was in my early twenties, I took a job as a pot washer, the lowliest job in the kitchen. My work station was in the grimy basement beneath where the chefs reigned, adjacent to the service elevator which brought me a continuous stream of freshly-ruined pots and pans. I had not taken the job with the aspiration of advancement. I was at the time convinced that I was a songwriter. I took the job to support my songwriting, which I firmly believed would eventually bring me fame and fortune. That job served as a medium and not as an end unto itself. It turned out that I had a penchant for the work. I declared myself The Pot Wizard and challenged all comers to try to dirty a pot in a way I could not conquer. Nobody ever did.

I learned more while washing pots than I learned at university.

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Changing

Changing
François Boucher: The Interrupted Sleep (1750)
"I don't need a world or a home that doesn't seem to need changing …"

While painting yet another door front yesterday, I started thinking about all the changes The Muse and I have visited upon this old place over the twenty years we've owned it. Once we complete this current refurbishment, we will have changed flooring in every room except the basement's, every room's wall and trim color, removed and refinished or replaced every window, rebuilt the back porch, stripped the exterior to bare wood and repainted it, torn off four layers of roofing and replaced sheathing as well as roofing and gutters, repointed the chimney, replaced the front steps and entry walk, replaced half of the front retaining wall, replaced the heating system and added central air conditioning, repainted the surrounding fence, and extensively reworked every garden. We will still have a list remaining of future changes to make. As near as I could see from my pop-up paint shop, we had been Changing only superficial surfaces, not the house. It would look like a falling down wreck had we not completed those efforts, but they changed little. It seemed to me while leaning over that door that we had been more putting the place back into order than changing anything. Time had attempted to change it, maybe entropy got involved, and we just restored it to some state closer to its original condition if not precisely into the same configuration.

When removing the regrettable wall-to-wall carpeting, I found the place's bones lurking underneath.

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Eldering

Eldering
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn: Bust of an Old Man with a Beard (circa 1630)
" … mending doors might teach me all I need to know …"

I went from being a man of modest middle age to an elder in a single day, the day I turned seventy, a day which might well have lived in infamy as long as it lived, which was the usual brief twenty-four hours. How should I have responded? I very cleverly pretended that nothing had changed, but only because nothing had changed. I didn't need to pretend because I couldn't see any difference between who I'd been the night before and who I found in my skin the next morning. Yet there I was, clearly within elder territory but without a clue about what I was supposed to do to fulfill my new role's responsibilities, which, I note, were foisted upon me without my consent, just like middle age's had been foisted upon me, and fatherhood's, and adulthood's, even teen-age's. I know how this works. It starts with no discernible difference and ends in denial of even the more obvious changes, a slow fading forward, a one-way road toward oblivion.

The older, the more precarious the balance, the more conservative one becomes.

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Easy

Easy
Raphael: Detail of Pythagoras with a tablet of ratios, from The School of Athens. Vatican Palace, Rome (1509)
"I'm not working myself to death here, but working myself to life."

Since I started working on this latest refurbishing project, I've received many well-meant messages asking me to not work too hard, wondering when or if I was planning on taking a few days off. I've mostly left those messages unanswered, as if their questions had been rhetorical, because I had no idea how to even begin answering them. For me, days off usually come as the result of some injury or infirmity and not for the purposes of recreation. I look through my garage and notice that I own none of the usual recreational equipment common to a fellow of my age and social class. No golf clubs, heaven forbid. No tennis racquet, thank heavens. No basketball. There's an old baseball mitt in there somewhere in the unlikely event that I find someone interested in playing catch. That hasn't happened in twenty years or so. All those years in Colorado, I never once felt in any way interested in skiing or fly fishing or mountain biking or white water rafting or parasailing, or any of the innumerable other ways people engage in recreation there. I don't have hobbies, either.

I do have my work, which has long been my life.

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Outventory

Outventory
Unknown, Cauldron (mid-15th century)
" … both my product and my reward."

I've lately been seeing a lot of writing about the downsides of openness and transparency, both long touted as unconditional goods. Nobody really needs to know most of the picky details about any other. I do not, for instance, care to know what you really think about anything. I much prefer polite pseudo conversation to full disclosure confession. I'm fine with the persistent illusion that you're fine, just like you say when I ask you. I'm good if you think me a generally decent fellow, not given to unruly excess or extremist ideologies. You can think whatever you care to think about me as long as you do not expect me to live up to your fantasies about who I am. I have been mistaken for many things in my life. I have likewise been recognized for precisely who and what I am on multiple occasions, each surprises. We seem to so easily slot ourselves into some role or persona that we might not notice when our halos slip sideways a little. We rarely seek to set any record straight. This morning, though, it being the morning of my seventieth birthday, I intend to attempt to take a little public inventory of what I've managed to make of myself, with, of course, The Muse's generous help.

I eat beans for breakfast.

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Achings

Aching
Benjamin West: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise (1791)
"I've lately been spending my days making fresh Achings …"

I measure progress in aches and pains. A fresh and novel twinge in my back means that I must have done something different yesterday, something to engage a part of my body my earlier activities had not. Through the carpet removal period, a reliable set of complaints followed each day's work. Some of them evaporated beneath a shower, but most hung around at least long enough to see what we were having for supper that night, and a few would spend the night, cuddling right up close as I fell into my early bedtime. A few of my oldest friends wake with me each morning and remind me that I'm still not quite as young as I used to be, thank heavens. I remember times when I could lift and toil all day without carrying away even the tiniest little infirmity. Now, I barely need to think about engaging and my lower back knots up a little in anticipation. I tell myself that I'm alive and alive feels like twinging, it's eventually a welcome and unresolvable Aching, equal parts longing and savoring.

This refurbishing effort has been teaching me to revere my Achings.

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Tiling

Tiling
"The Good Shepherd" mosaic in Galla Placidia mausoleum.
UNESCO World heritage site. Ravenna, Italy. 5th century A.D.

" … one blank space which allowed shifting those tiles into any order."

We refurbish a mosaic featuring movable tiles. We shift our possessions, which serve as our mosaic's tiles, from place to place, room to room, as we prepare each space for what will have to pass for transformation this time around. We emptied the entry hall first, a modest push even with the piano. Everything easily shifted stage right into the front portion of the living room, the once and future music room, currently storage only frequented by the cats, who've found nests among the warren of boxes. That room's along the only remaining passage through the house, a narrow bridge between kitchen and front door. It might soon be easier to just go around the house outside.

The upstairs hall went next, stripped of carpet and baseboards, light fixtures dropped, doors removed from frames, then each room in turn, five in all up there, four of which have been repurposed into either fallow space awaiting baseboard removal or storage space holding everything from other rooms.

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ToldYa

ToldYa
Coloured lithograph by R. Carrick after Lieutenant James Rattray:
Men in the decorated palace of Shah Shujah Ool Moolk, Afghanistan (c. 1847)

"Maybe I was only trying to tell myself but couldn't listen."

As of this writing, we have entered the ToldYa Phase of the nearly two decades-long conflict in Afghanistan, a discretionary conflict we chose to begin then lost from the outset. We fed this conflict for longer than any other war in the history of this country, which says something about dedication and commitment, though little about reasoned judgement. One could speculate that this outcome—the country overrun by Taliban forces we and our allies were only ever able to keep at tenuous bay and us humiliated, was the originally intended outcome of the conflict, and that creating the conditions which led us and our allies to invade that country were the true purpose of the infamous 9/11 attacks. It wouldn't have taken a genius to predict that our response to that insult might easily encourage us into some of our historically infamous self-destructive behavior. We'd done it before in Vietnam, Panama, and Granada and would do it to ourselves again in Iraq, even while still in the middle of our "adventure" in Afghanistan, even though The Soviet Union and The British Expeditionary Forces might have already successfully demonstrated our likely folly in engaging in what we euphemistically referred to as "nation building" there. We produced an occupation, never a nation.

I'm not suggesting that had the conditions been different, we might have managed to encourage more permanent good, but the world was never different than it had always been, regardless of the insistences of people who probably knew better but could find no more convincing argument to engage.

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SceneQuesting

SceneQuencing
John R. Armstrong: At Your Service (1940s)
"I only know for certain what I haven't found for certain yet."

I catch myself fussing over more than contributing to our refurbishing effort. I seem to need to play through alternative scenarios before choosing if not the best of them, at least a less-worse one. To us unlearned and unwashed, the natural sequence of tasks seems at first mysterious. I might be able to envision a task as how it should appear when completed, but that end in mind does not define the sequence of actions necessary to produce that end state, and there seem to be an infinite number of alternatives from which to choose. I feel fairly certain that if I can only imagine one way to skin any particular cat, that my narrow imagination probably means that I have no business skinning that cat yet. I might grant myself permission to start skinning only after considering a few alternative scenarios for sequencing the work and choosing if not The Best, at least a less worse-seeming alternative. Refinishing one door, the sequencing hardly matters. Plan on refinishing a dozen, and a process emerges. Queues appear: untouched, prepped, primed, finish coat one, and finish coat two. The need for storage space and its availability limits possibilities. So do the number of pairs of saw horses and wait time between drying coats of paint. A complex set of choices quickly emerges. These choices comprise the bulk of what I fuss over in lieu of actually contributing to our refurbishing effort.

I suppose that my fussing might eventually add some value, though if I was drawing a paycheck from this work, I'd expect my employer to be bothered by how much effort I seem to expend while laying down with my eyes closed.

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MartianLight

MartianLight
Edvard Munch: The Scream (ca. 1910)
"I'm seeing with my hands …"

In ordinary times, The Muse and I would have plotted a day trip up into The Blues to pick wild black currents which grow in profusion along icy streams which feed into the Tucannon River. This year, that whole area has been cordoned off due to extreme fire danger. That country's on fire. The trail we walked back in March just after we arrived "back" home, searching for morels that were not there due to record drought, might have burned over again. It had burned a few years back. Down in town, smoke obscures even the rumor of sky, even threatening the concept of up. Horizons fade into similar nothingness. The usual view of the foothills from our back windows overlooks nothing but haze, with no hint of any proximate elevation. The heat which has been sitting on our faces for six weeks continues undeterred and perhaps encouraged by the poor ventilation.

My door and window refurbishing shop, set up in the driveway beneath a pop-up canopy, swelters after ten o'clock.

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Repurposing

Repurposing

George Julius Poulett Scrope: Artist's impression of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79, depicting what that eruption may have looked like. Lightning is depicted around the rising column of ash and gas. This eruption produced massive volumes of pumice.(1822)

"We could always use the wishes coming true."

We are not so much remodeling the Villa Vatta, but Repurposing it. I learned from a note scribbled on the back of some wall-to-wall carpet I removed that the middle upstairs bedroom had at one time been referred to as "the girls' room." Carpet replaced with vinyl planking, that room will proceed to fulfill another role in our lives. The kitchen, once a testament to misplaced mid-century modern design seems more timeless since we repurposed it three years ago. The dining room will remain the dining room after repainting, reflooring, and replacing light fixture and crown moulding, but it should appear a bit more formal than it did when carpeted. Along the way, various items find new purposes. A door, for instance, is no longer just the door it was, once I've contributed a little sweat equity into refinishing it. It becomes a work of art, an expression of adoration, infused with fresh meaning for me and this little rag tag family.

Kurt Our Painter mentioned earlier on that in the old days—he's a living bridge between the way it used to be and how its become, just like everyone our age—painters refinishing doors and anything with small mouldings used a piece of pumice to sand those fine surfaces smooth.

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Insignificants

Insignificants
Jules Bastien-Lepage: Study for “Les Foins” (Haymaking) (1878)
"It's a stretch to show The Muse that we're making progress."

Reviewing progress on our grand revamping of The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, I feel struck most by the utter insignificance of most of what we've accomplished. Our progress has manifested exclusively via insignificant increments, tiny steps rather than big bold moves. Not even our brush strokes have qualified as broad, but narrow, tight, and tiny. This army marches forward on its fingers. The skill in this work does not come from grand planning but modest execution, from keeping the scope simple and easily grasped, from finding satisfaction in taking baby steps and delaying gratification. Should we break our discipline and attempt to accomplish something big, I suspect that we'd break the trance that's held us steady and the whole project would digress into irrelevance. Relevance must also come in Insignificants.

I disappear when Kurt Our Painter invites me to contribute anything bordering on the relatively meaningful.

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Haunting

Haunting
Jan Steen: Soo voer gesongen, soo na gepepen ["As the Old Sing, So Pipe the Young"] (c.1668–1670)
"When I vacuum Fairy Dust, much of its magic remains."

Refurbishing a hundred plus year old home immerses me in The Great Mystery. We know bare details about who built this place and almost nothing about who remodeled it over time and why. Motive seems particularly unclear where original intent seems to have been circumvented with little apparent benefit. Why narrow doorways and trim? Why Georgian crown moulding in an Arts and Craft room? We think the less of whomever undertook these efforts and set about attempting to undo them, presuming that we somehow better understand the original owner's intentions, though we certainly have no clue what they thought they were doing. Building this home must have been an enormous undertaking. Certain shortcuts were most probably taken. We're taking a few ourselves.

One piece of one of the venerable double hung windows had gotten wet, swollen, and needs replacement.

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OtherSide

OtherSide
John F. Peto: Lights of Other Days (1906)
" … something I'd never anticipated appearing …"

I realized mid-afternoon yesterday that my head had stopped screaming. As if a gale had ceased, I first noticed the glaring absence, the disarming silence. I took this change to mean that I had popped through to the OtherSide, that I might have weaned myself off both nicotine and the drug that was supposed to help wean me off it, the second challenge the greater of the two. That drug had hijacked my brain. It screamed in response, producing a distracting background sound almost dominating the foreground as well. It was, as passages go, more tedious than difficult. I came to appreciate how The Gods staged this one, though, recalling the drug so no fallback prescription could be filled, so the addiction could not continue beyond the reach of that final half dose. I first felt betrayed, then cheated, before finally feeling blessed that fate had left me no recourse. If it was left entirely up to me, I doubt that I would ever change anything. Oh, I'd talk big but eventually backslide in secret, thickening my story and widening the gap between my public and my secret selves. Sometimes, though, circumstances align such that some genuine change slips through my defenses. I never know how to behave then, after finding myself standing on some OtherSide.

I recognize that I serve as my very own best personal change prevention specialist.

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Experteazing

Experteazing
Winslow Homer: Saved (1889)
"I guess I want the mystery to persist beyond my intervention …"

Back when I still considered myself a consultant, I promoted myself by saying that I was "an expert at not being an expert." What skill was I hawking? My colleagues held impressive curricula vitae. I did not, yet my colleagues found my presence helpful in spite of or, perhaps, because of my lack of impressive formal orientation. Maybe I'd gained street smarts or perhaps, because of my lack of formal training, I just parsed the same old problems in unique ways. Maybe I was more of an expert than I sensed.

I never managed to codify what I knew or had experienced.

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Blowin'ItUp

Blowin'ItUp
Henri-Lucien Cheffer: Soldiers and a Cannon (1915)
"'Twas always thus and still is."

Friday morning, 2am, I'd taken that remaining last half pill of the prescription I'd been given to help me break my nicotine addiction. I felt reasonably confident that I'd gotten past the worst of this withdrawal, eased by my patience, my common sense, and that prescription. I'd responded poorly to the drug at first, for it seemed to make my difficult situation worse, so I suspended taking it for a few weeks there in the middle, but as I began to feel more confident that I was successfully edging myself off the addiction, I reintroduced that medication into the mix. It hadn't made me feel so crazy that second round. I was down to just the drug, no secret supplemental placating the addiction. I'd ditched the source and had wisely left myself just this one recourse. When I reached the end of the prescription, I'd be done.

Halfway through that last day, though, I noticed myself sort of floating. My head was screaming something at me but my ears were fuzzy and I couldn't quite comprehend.

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AttentionSpanning

AttentionSpanning
Vincent van Gogh: First Steps, after Millet (1890)
" … spanning a great chasm with my bottomless inattention."

Contemplating introducing direct dial service to the phone system, Bell Labs in the 50s sponsored a study to determine how long a phone number could be. People tend to have rather narrow memories. They might reliably remember five things consigned to memory but lose a few entries from a twenty item list. How long could a phone number become before most could no longer reliably remember it? The answer, one of the more famous and consequential answers in the annals of social science, turned out to be 'seven, plus or minus two.' This means that a phone number could be as long as nine digits without most people finding it impossible to remember. Better if it could be held to five digits, but still outward bound acceptable at nine. How long are phone numbers now? Ten digits, but ten made a little easier. Area codes almost don't count, since they tend to cluster around any individual location. Many people almost never dial another area code than their own, and many more restrict their calling to two or three adjacent ones, so the effective length of most phone numbers anchors at seven, perfectly within what the study suggested most would remember.

Some of us are more like dedicated threes on Bell Lab's scale, possessing well below average-sized iconic memories.

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Paint

Paint
Johannes Vermeer: The Art of Painting (1666–1668)
"It's apparently never too late to try again to get closer to the ideal you'll never achieve."

HomeMakers struggle with no substance like they struggle with paint. Paint's different. It's permanent. Paint something, anything, and you produce a self portrait. Slopping it on produces a sorry legacy, indeed. It WILL outlive you. Mistreat it and it will mistreat you worse. One careless moment might haunt a HomeMaker forever. One fortunate experience might delight for just as long. A perfect cut between wall and moulding can appear every bit as exquisite as an Old Master's painting, and just a rare. No other substance offers so many ways to utterly fail when employing it. No other substance seems to somehow, at some time, end up in the hands of pretty much everyone. Who has not, poisoned by some slick promotional photo, decided to repaint some possession only to produce a regrettable result? Paint color cannot be reliably represented via photography. It varies by a thousand factors. It seems a subjective experience colored by context and preexisting preferences more than anything else. Paint remains a mystery to almost everybody.

Paint and I have history.

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TheLastDay

TheLastDay
John Armstrong: Icarus (1940)
"Time to cut that old transition loose."

Today doesn't so much seem very much like the first day of the rest of my life, but more like TheLastDay of some soon-to-be former one. Refurbishing The Villa seems to have exacerbated this sense, for Our Painter Curt and I destroy something daily, each act subtly changing this context. It will never be the same again, again and again, such that I'm unsure just where The Muse and I are living right now. The end of our labor has not come anywhere near to being in sight. Nor can we really remember how it was just three very long weeks ago when we began this phase in earnest. We're suspended, former status quo shredded before us, stumbling forward, each day TheLastDay for something. No day a new day for anything yet, but a continuation of the perturbation, here to finish up what yesterday started and to destroy something forever again.

Many of the tasks I'm performing, largely little supporting roles beside Curt's star turn, are new to me.

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Phublishing

Phublishing
Winslow Homer: The Herring Net (1885)
" … maybe it was just meant to be precisely like this."

No news to anyone for me to declare that trolls live out there. A whole industry exists just to take advantage of others. The numbers of people engaged in this nefarious work seems to have increased through my lifetime, or maybe I've just grown more vulnerable as I've acquired possessions worth swindling. There are contractors who gleefully accept deposits then never show up to do the work. There are no shortages of deals that seem too good to be true, and are. Used cars. Lumber. Anything sold in the frozen food aisle. None of us are strangers to the charlatans circling our doors. Lies, damned lies, and statistics. Television advertising. Much of what passes as email these days represents phishing expeditions, others trying to harvest data you aren't aware you possess that someone, somewhere has figured out how to make an odd buck off of swiping. I willingly post to Facebook every morning, even knowing that they're plotting to do me in. I'm apparently being conditioned to cooperate in my own demise.

It should have been no surprise when that Phublishing company that recently contacted me out of the blue turned out to be untrustworthy.

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CompleatIdiot

CompleatIdiot
Illustration of a village idiot from The Firebird and the Fox: Russian Culture Under Tsars and Bolsheviks,
Freedom and the Fool (Chapter 1), Cambridge University Press, 2019 (Late 19th Century Russian)

"I remain grateful for how few brains are required to live the good life here."

Contrary to a popular misconception, I have not yet achieved the lofty label of CompleatIdiot. Oh, if only I could advance to that pinnacle, but I'm unlikely to ever get there, regardless of how diligently I pursue that goal. I settle for a more modest and fitting general idiot standing instead, one which serves most of the purposes of the CompleatIdiot status, anyway. I say that I'm not a CompleatIdiot without in any way intending to denigrate the native honor associated with the idiot designation, but to rather proudly include myself as a member in decent standing of this uniquely useful class comprised of the idiots of this world. Before I'd come to terms with just what an idiot I tend to be much of the time—not all of the time, mind you, for the ability to perform continuous idioting belongs only to CompleatIdiots—I'd try to hide my little secret as if it was really a secret to anyone watching me perform. An utterly fruitless effort, but one I still felt compelled to engage in, for I imagined that if others knew the truth about my native deep down idiocy, they might think less of me. My sense of inadequacy bloomed, anyway, for no-one successfully fools those in the presence of a genuine idiot. Only after I came to accept this secret as already public knowledge, did I start discovering its power.

The idiot holds advantage in innumerable ways.

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Oftening

Oftening
Anonymous: from New Impression: Children at Play, woodblock print book (ca. 1875)
" … maybe it's just me who's overseeing …"

Repeat any activity an uncertain number of times and besides acquiring a habit, you might discover boredom. We work hard to develop routines before setting out to revile them. Vacations have long been held as an antidote to too much sameness, though through This Damned Pandemic, vacations have proven chancy and easily foregone. We've escaped a few times in recent months to see my sons and grandkids, observing strict guidelines: wearing masks, waiting forever for the hotel elevator so only us two would be on it, eating take-out, avoiding crowds. The protocols seem just as tedious when away from home as they've become at home, and there's really no escaping them as another unsurprising surge overtakes us, this one apparently more virulent than any previous. Only one of my face masks remain intact after a year and a half of continual use. The other two have started splitting, an Oftening effect, no doubt, suffering from too much of what they were designed to do. There are apparently limits.

My weekend routine has been changing since we started remodeling in earnest.

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Promoting

Promoting
`
Hanabusa Itchô. : "Blind monks examining an elephant" from Itchô's Freestyle Album (Itchô kyôga shû).
Niigata: Meguro Jûrô (1888) Woodblock-printed book.

"Is it my vanity that so soundly rejects seduction from the vanity penny press?"

A week ago, I missed an incoming call. I uncharacteristically called back to find myself trapped in a conversation I had not anticipated and in fact had been avoiding. The woman on the other end had been trying to contact me about republishing my best selling book under her company's imprint, though my The Blind Men and the Elephant (Berrett-Koehler 2003) remains in print. As she prattled on about the many benefits her operation offered, I recognized that she represented what's referred to as a vanity press, one where the author pays for publication of an edition destined to never sell. This one relies upon remarkably low prices—ninety-nine cents a copy—to entice people who might not ever read a book to buy it. Why not? A network of self-selected book reviewers each receive a free copy in the probable delusion that they might value that gift enough to write a glowing review of it. Tens of thousands of frequent ebook readers are likewise offered special give-aways and deals in an attempt to inflate readership into the noteworthy range. As I listened, I wondered how she'd gotten ahold of my phone number. I was on the phone with a junk caller.

I mentioned that I write four books each year and that comment seemed to perk up her ears.

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Floating

Floating
Ichiyûsai Kuniyoshi: famous heroes of the kabuki stage--played by frogs (circa 1850-1860)
" … dreaming to make that dream come true …"

The upstairs hall ceiling had troubled our painter Curt from the beginning of his work. He wisely set aside his concerns through the first two weeks of preparation work. By then, he'd painstakingly sanded out and primed the bannister and knocked the high points off the walls, pulled baseboards in the entry hall and fixed every ding between the front door and the stair top. Then, our series of muted conversations about the ceiling came to something. He confessed that he could see no way around Floating the damned thing, a comment of which I didn't quite know its meaning, but I nodded gravely, as if discussing a sick child. Curt listed the alternatives, each of which seemed filled with shortcomings, but he wanted this to be my decision. HomeMakers sometimes find themselves in this position, as if a wise parent or something, called to decide about something they have no clue about. I asked him to describe what Floating might entail.

It would, as Curt described, require three sets of probably two hour stretches, poised atop his four footer, smearing goop over the present ceiling covering.

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Cleanering

Cleanering
Jan Neumann: Monument to the Janitor (St Petersburg, 2007)
"Nobody later will notice."

Curt our painter and I try to run a tidy operation. We attempt to clean up the unavoidable messes renovating quite naturally produces. We keep a broom and a vacuum handy, even though we both know that we're fighting an inevitably losing battle. How ever much sanding dust we might manage to capture, at least that much remains even after we've finished cleaning. I've taken to dust mopping the walls after Curt spends a day sanding off the high points of an unfortunate gritty top coat some prior owner smeared over some of the plaster walls, leaving unsightly swirls. We're trying to render those walls minimally presentable, understanding that nothing short of replacing them with drywall could ever render them perfectly plumb again and The Muse and I want the age of this place to show through the new paint. We're not erasing history, just taming it a bit. Taming history's messy business with some new form of detritus appearing daily. Each presents a challenge we cannot completely mitigate, but we attempt to keep up with cleaning up lest we accidentally overwhelm ourselves.

Such Cleanering belongs to that special class of apparently meaningless work, effort that will either make no apparent difference or be shortly erased, but which absolutely must be accomplished.

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ColdFooting

ColdFooting
Jan Gossart: Christ on the Cold Stone (1527)
"I'll be contributing by ColdFooting every damned inch of the way."

It all seemed like a great idea at first, last March, before we'd attempted to move back into The Villa Vatta Schmaltz after a twelve year absence. We mustered an I Know, We Could Put On A Show!-quality bright idea and set our expectations on refinishing 3/4 of the floors and repainting even more of the walls. We tried to be prudent with our move-in, leaving many boxes packed and many in areas not slated for renovation, but still, we unpacked plenty that will need relocating as our renovating proceeds at a pace considerably faster than the average snail's, but of course more slowly than we'd earlier imagined. What might have been slight inconvenience appears likely to become our lifestyle until we're in the shadow of Christmas. I'm guardedly confident that I might finally unpack my books by the new year, which will almost mark a year since I started boxing them up for that big, final move. The year's been spent somewhere between there and here.

The floor contractor came yesterday to survey the upcoming job. He entered a foyer partially prepared for painting to the smell of prime coat finally spreading on the long-sanded bannister.

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Doorable

Doorable
René Magritte: La Victoire (1939)
"I sign my name on the bottom of the ones I've finished just as if I was some famous artist or something …"

On my better days, I believe that everything in this world is here to serve as my teacher. On my best days, I actually catch myself practicing this foolishness. It's not mere foolishness, though, but one of those beliefs that to hold it makes it come true, which makes it a very special sort of belief, indeed. With a run-of-the-mill belief, both ideation and execution lie in the believer and perhaps a few fellow followers. It's a baby bubble operation that only works with considerable delusion. My belief about everything being my teacher requires no delusion and no more than a mustard seed of faith because it's really more about my acceptance of my role as student than about any teacher or lesson plan. One never knows what might become the subject of the next lesson or what might appear in the role of teacher, but only the willing student gains the benefit.

I am not universally recognized as a willing student.

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Rhythming

Rhythming
Paul Klee: New Harmony (1936)
" … just as if I might one day somehow qualify to be a professional myself."

The first week or so, I just sort of followed Curt The Painter around. I'd assigned myself as his dog'sbody, available to stoop, carry, fetch, and clean up. Since I was also The Client, this self assignment might have made things feel awkward, but Curt and I are old friends and I made my role explicit. I directed some work, like removing windows, while also assuming responsibility for some work, like refinishing windows, doors, and baseboards. By the start of the second week of work, though, my role had matured into a growing independence. I had my pop-up paint shop out in the driveway and Curt had the entry, stairway, and upstairs hall to prep. He didn't need very much help from me and I became distracted feeling my way into fulfilling my responsibilities. Curt was directing me, at my continuing insistence, for I wanted my contributions to pass muster, as if a real professional had completed them, so I sought continuing direction. I didn't always understand. I'd finished the final coat on the baseboards yesterday when Curt noted that we'd had a slight miscommunication. I'll be sanding some of the final coat off those boards today to properly reapply that last coat. I'm still Rhythming.

Rhythming provides cadence until the real backbeat kicks in.

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BeatenPaths

BeatenPaths
Paul Klee: Highway and byways (1929)
" … as if to try to compensate for what was sacrificed to become somebody else."

Four months after arriving back in the old hometown, The Muse and I conclude that there is no decent pizza to be had here. We add this to a growing list of unavailables and proceed. She compensated for the lack of pizza by making her own Pizza Bianca which easily bested anything we've ever gotten from any takeout and rivaled even New York City street pizza for texture.

One aspect of modern life baffles me.

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Quittering

Quittering
Paul Klee: Death for the Idea [Original Title: Der Tod für die Idee] (1915)
"The exit routes me through negative space toward an apparent vacuum."

Just over a month ago from now, as I was nearing the end of my SettlingInto Stories, I posted a story about being a quitter. In that story, I had started quitting the inconvenient habit of ingesting nicotine, a hyperactive nerve agent and mild sedative. I was doing battle by means of a counterbalancing hyperactive nerve agent, a psychoactive drug, apparently designed to make me temporarily crazy. The drug was working better than the quitting, though I had as the more dedicated addicts always say, "Virtually" quit. First by no longer carrying, then by no longer purchasing, while continuing crawling further and further out onto an ever-narrowing limb. I had not envisioned that limb's limits. Some days it seemed like I was crawling toward oblivion, which, I understand, amounts to a perfectly respectable and even an expected reaction when quitting. But quitting connotes a definite direction, like building up or winding down, not what now seems like perpetual around and around and around. I don't yet see an end in sight, when the recent hostilities might reasonably conclude and I get to go on enjoying what's left of my life.

The difficulty with doing without might be that it amounts to negative doing. It creates a vacuum.

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Middling

Middling
Paul Klee: Twittering Machine [Original Title: Die Zwitscher-Maschine] (1922)
" … it's all about minding chickens."

There seem to be rather well-developed rules for starting and finishing things, but less distinct directions for what to do when in the middle of something. Perhaps those who create instructions consider middles more or less steady states requiring no description. I woke this morning to find myself in the middle of summer and felt myself startle at the recognition. Beyond the aspirations of spring and the easy appreciations of early summer, days have slipped into a routine, as if they were never different. The brown spots in the yard have definitively proven themselves incapable of greening, so I've stopped aspiring for them to green up. They'll rejoin the living after autumn returns. The garden's no longer becoming, but full-blown become now. It needs little tending and even less nurturing. The Muse reports an outbreak of squash beetles requiring complicated intervention involving diatomaceous earth and soapy dishwater. I'll let her handle that one. I'm busy Middling. Watering's found its schedule and hardly seems disruptive anymore. Days dawn and set with little variation. It's that part of the year when the melody suspends and the rhythm section tends to maintain the cadence; nothing's beginning and nothing's finishing, either.

I find myself in the middle of more than this season.

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Fridaying

Fridaying
Paul Klee: Senecio [The Portrait of a Man Going Senile] (1922)
"I close one book so that I might open another."

I end my work week on Thursday. I work from Friday to Thursday with no days off. I take no days off because my work is my life and nobody takes days off from living until they take all subsequent days off, and I'm unprepared to do that yet, much less on a regular basis. Friday mornings bring a special responsibility. That's when I collate the passing week's production, reread every piece, and create a summary of where I've been. I post this summary along with a fresh piece, next week's first product. I work exclusively in circles.

Even on Fridays, I wake with little idea about what I might write.

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Knowletch

Knowletch
Artemisia Gentileschi: Samson and Delilah, c. 1630–1638
"Experience doesn't come from cramming for the exam …"

Our painter Curt mixed the primer, thinning it as well as adding something to improve its viscosity to make brush marks less likely. I had prepped the entry hall baseboards, completely removing the rubber-based paint and sanding them smooth. I knew how to prep and paint, but under Curt's tutelage, I felt like an amateur. I asked if one of my old reliable brushes would work and he frowned before trundling out to his truck to fetch a more proper one. He did everything but tie my shoes for me as he handed me my paint bucket and a handful of rags. In any other context, I would have just painted those boards without thinking very much about technique or even outcome. I mean, I was just painting, no big anything for anyone. I knew how to paint. Or did I? Curt's fifty years of professional painting far surpassed my amateur experience. He even understood the underlying science behind every step in the prepping and repainting process. It wasn't just a hobby for him, as it had always been for me. I realized that my innocent ignorance far exceeded my knowledge about this subject, and so I quietly acquiesced to Curt's superior understanding.

I hesitated before applying that first brush stroke.

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Solituding

Solituding
Leonardo da Vinci: Saint Jerome in the Wilderness (c. 1480–1490) Unfinished
"We leave slug trails of surreptitious accomplishments behind us …"

Most HomeMaking happens alone, not precisely in isolation, but certainly in solitude. Attempts to soften the resulting loneliness mostly fail. The Mower's too loud to allow listening to the ball game. So's the sander. Painting might prove too exacting to be done while in any way distracted. My ear buds sit largely unused in the bottom of the right front pocket of my Handyman Dave jeans. Most of my chores seem best done alone. Barn raising's a once in a lifetime situation. Few tasks need cooperation and many seem so mindless that they might threaten sanity if over-engaged in. One must ration efforts lest they steal a dimension from you. Long days doing the same damned thing does not produce anything very interesting to talk about over supper. What's new? Nothing.

All that said, I find HomeMaking's necessary Solituding reassuring.

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Destructing

Destructing
Raphael Montañez Ortiz: 'De-Struction Ritual, Henny-Penny-Piano-Sacrifice-Concert', 1967, performance
" … a true craftsman, self-improving my self-destructing, almost machine, marvelously more human."

I never feel closer to The Villa Vatta Schmaltz then I do when I'm Destructing something here. Our painter Curt and I pulled out a couple of double hung windows and I felt like I really owned this place. Removing doors empowers me, but cutting away wall-to-wall carpeting and pulling up the underlying tack strip, that work liberated me. There will be no reinstalling that carpeting I cut, no attempt to put any Humpty Dumpty back together again. I could have and might have just uninstalled that carpet except I wanted to keep a soft-padded walkway during as long of the repainting effort as possible, so I just cut back a few inches of the edges, enough to gain access for prepping and painting trim. The flooring contractor has not yet been by to advise, anyway, so I hold my ultimate Destructing skills at bay for now. For now, but not forever. I so carefully preserve so much here, but given half a chance to utterly destroy something, I feel even more the successful steward. Maybe homes, like fruit trees, need steady pruning, removing some portion of whatever's accumulating on some regular basis. Scorch a corner of this earth and it seems to become more alive, to thrive, an apparent paradox of HomeMaking.

Weeding the garden carries a similar remit.

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ReImprinting

ReImprint
The Planet Mercury as a Doctor on Horseback,
Miscellany: Anatomical-Physiological Description of Men;
Liber Synonimorum; Descriptions of Planets, Zodiac, and Comets;
Treatises on Divination from Names, etc., German (shortly after 1464, Ms. Ludwig XII 8)
" … apparently finished ReImprinting upon our new home."

Portland's not my town anymore. Oh, I still know my way around the East side, but now only as a vaguely interested visitor rather than as a resident booster. I began as a booster. I found it quaint, more accessible than Seattle had been, more a large rather than a full-blown BIG city. I limited my experience of it to immediate necessity, only very rarely leaving the downtown and Central East Side, bounded by Lloyd Center and Sellwood, the West Hills and Mt. Tabor. Most of the West side of the place never existed for me and I scrupulously avoided it as confusing. I worked downtown. I lived just across the river. I never in nearly thirty years there, ever commuted by car. I proudly rode the bus. I treasured the libraries and the bookstores. I casually shopped the big downtown department stores as if they were mine. I had come from a much smaller city, but I'd ReImprinted upon that larger one. I'd retreat back to my hometown some weekends, but without seriously considering moving back there where opportunity seemed to have passed it by. Maybe a great place to retire or to have come from, but no place for a career.

Sunday afternoons, I'd head back to West of the Mountains without very often checking my rear view mirror.

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HisStory

HisStory
Columnar-blocky jointing basalt, Frenchman Coulee, west-central Columbia Plateau, Washington (photograph by Terry Tolan)
" … homesteading beneath this grass."

The morning reached out and enveloped me. We were toodling, our first real diversion from our regular routes since returning from our exile. We could conspire to tend ancestor graves, a chore that went begging during our absence. One corner of my mother's family arrived late to claim their section under The Homestead Act. Their piece of Oregon was not located anywhere near the Eden portion of the end of the Oregon Trail, but short of The Cascade range in rimrock country. Even today, that country is more sparsely populated than it was before the European settlers like my ancestors came. They came to claim their part of the American Dream, which must have seemed more like a nightmare to them at times. Evan and his lovely wife Sarah (nee Jackson) Wallace, who was the spitting image of my mother in her later decades, came west not by wagon train but by the Northern Pacific and stagecoach. They waited out their homesteading claim working for a family who'd already improved theirs, living in a tent on the property through their first Western winter. They lost two sons to diphtheria, leaving my great grandfather as their oldest heir.

We drove what must have been the trail Evan and Sarah took up to finally perfect their claim.

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Ordersing

Ordersing
Bertha Mary Garnett: A Corner of The Turner Room in the National Gallery (1883)
"I'm learning to consider in what order of work I am engaging."

Change comes in several guises or 'orders,' typically referred to as first through fourth order change. First Order Change involves little more than planning and execution. Second Order does First Order one better by considering, for instance, how one might improve the means of planning or executing. Third Order Change might consider the problem as the solution to the difficulty, like when after failing to counsel a teenager, the parent concedes and 'lets them have their way,' figuring they might better learn through headstrong doing than by even emphatic supervision. Fourth Order Change might revise the rules under which change gets attempted. Running around with scissors might come to be recognized as a perfectly normal activity for some, rather than a certain pathology needing definite fixing. It matters how one perceives their problem space. First Order Change strategies have little effect in situations where fundamental assumptions underly an undesirable situation. Installing new linoleum cannot resolve most marriage difficulties, regardless of what the Sunday Supplement advertisement might claim.

I mention this Ordersing here because a similar framework probably influences HomeMaking, too.

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UnSeeing

UnSeeing
Thomas Fearnley: (Joseph Mallord William) Turner Varnishing [Norweigan-Turner Fernisserer] (1837)
" … the impression might seem have been rendered by a three year old with a broken crayon."

As our painter Curt and I disassembled The Villa's entry hall for repainting, I began noticing features I swear I'd never before seen. Curt found a hook screwed into a ceiling corner I'd walked under at least ten thousand times without once noticing its presence. I might have just been seeing that same old space in a new light because we had taken down that horrid chandelier The Muse had always loved to hate. I puzzled over how the ceiling interfaced with the second floor and which spaces were foreground and which trim, a question that had never occurred to me to ask until then, poised like Christopher Robin sitting not quite half way up or down the stairway. The thing about seeing, I started thinking, seems to be that it involves an awful lot of projecting. Initially, perhaps, I might quickly see before categorizing and classifying whatever appears before me, in this instance, "Stairs." I then start UnSeeing details as they become unseen again, framed but essentially invisible. This facility generally works just fine for me. It allows me to wander all around The Villa in predawn darkness without needing to turn on any lights. It also seems to inhibit my ability to foresee, though, to envision future difference, for how can I expect to repaint surfaces I cannot actually see? Repainting seems to insist upon a fairly tight interface with whatever's really before me. My shorthand classifying manner of seeing serves me poorly then, for it seems to actually be a dandy way of UnSeeing.

The thing about drawing, insisted Betty Edwards, author of the fantastic Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain (Tarcher, 1979) and host of the
DrawRight website exploring its insights, it depends upon seeing.

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MythedInformation

MythedInformation
Rembrandt: Judas Returning the Thirty Silver Pieces (1629)
"Those who seem most righteous might just be those most infected."

As we today begin prepping interior walls for painting, I remember a time nine years ago when, filled with MythedInformation, I set about stripping and repainting The Villa's exterior. I'd given myself a month and figured that I'd probably work alone. I had researched, or searched, what I might need to succeed, but I'd consulted with no expert in the field. I'd found and tried to purchase a used Silent Paint Remover®, a six hundred dollar implement which was reputed to ease paint removal. When I arrived at the seller's place, a lovely Northern Maryland horse farm worthy of Kentucky Bluegrass Country, the seller reported that she could not get the thing to work and decided to just give me the damned thing. She could not bear to sell something that wasn't operating. Later, my step-son and son-in-law repaired the electrical switch with an eighty-nine cent replacement bought at the local Ranch Supply. The paint remover worked better with two involved and my brother generously volunteered to help. Then his wife appeared along with his step-son, and a friend drove down from Spokane to help construct scaffolding around the gazebo. My mythical, independent, one-man project became a memorable communal effort. No man ever was an island, and not even a half-decent isthmus.

I'd also gotten the notion that the siding needed remoisturizing.

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ADoorInc

ADoorInc
Patrick William Adam: Interior Morning (1918)
"I intend to paint in humble adoration, invisible masterpieces for the ages."

Like any old place, The Villa Vatta Schmaltz has a lot of doors, twenty, depending upon how I count them. A few must be original to the place for they're exercises in mortise and tenon joining, their heritage obvious by looking at their edges. Most seem of more modern heritage, but still solid five-panel doors, none of those hollow core abominations. Two appear irreparable. The rest need differing degrees of restoration ranging from simple painting to full strip, sand, prime, and finish. All need hardware stripped and probably replaced with brass. The painter visited yesterday and we roughly laid out the work before us. He approved our color palette and I took responsibility for the doors and two of the windows. I removed the first door last night, signaling the start of a significant side chapter in our overall restoration effort. I cleaned out the garage to make way for my door factory wherein I will refinish a dozen doors over the upcoming weeks. I'll erect a pop-up tent over a tarp, move in my saw horses and a work table, then tuck down my head and start refinishing. I'm calling this operation ADoorInc, though it's incorporated in spirit only and strictly not for profit, quite the opposite. It will certainly serve as a significant expense in terms of both money and aggravation, but I loves me doors. I imagine that I'm not merely refinishing them, but adoring them: ADoorInc. Get it?

I suspect that by the time I'm halfway through this pile of doors, I might no longer or ever again adore doors.

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Sorting

Sorting
Henri Rousseau, “Tropical Forest with Monkeys” (1910)
"Organization achieved by endless sorting seems the very soul of HomeMaking."

HomeMaking seems about 90% Sorting. I'm forever shuffling something from here over to there then back again. I might explain painting as a Sorting of sorts, whereby I sort a can's contents. I could go on with analogies, but you've probably already gotten my point. HomeMaking is Sorting most all of the way down, like Ghandi's elephants and Prachett's tortoise. Moving In Day, the movers seemed incapable of following The Muse and my conflicting directions, resulting in stuff smeared all over Christmas and back. We're still Sorting the result. I yesterday sorted out the garage, a chore I accomplished by first sorting out the spaces behind the garage. There, a few hundred assorted bricks, pavers, and concrete blocks needed relocating out of my Cadillac Composter to somewhere else, hopefully a place where they would not be constantly in the way, or underfoot, as they say. I decided to hide most of the bricks beside the garage, a space that has needed Sorting for ages, the place where I store my ladders. I pulled everything out of that creepy space, spiders, possum poop, and all, and swept off the resulting mess before tidily stacking everything off to the side. Then I had to sweep up the mess, which included broken fluorescent light tubes someone had tossed in there. Then I began ferrying bricks with my Muck Bucket Cart, about twenty a load. I laid the bricks, five or six across, to roughly pave that space, sorting bricks by size, color, and condition. My judgement was fine-tuning as I sorted, noticing variation where formerly none had existed. By the time I'd finished, several hours later, I had gained a deep sensitivity to the subtler features of bricks. No longer merely leftovers, I'd taken full possession of them by then. They were mine!

My neighbor Larry peeked in to comment on the proceedings, but I didn't really hear what Larry said because I had fallen into a first class Sorting trance.

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TheHandyman'sDilemma

TheHandyman'sDilemma
Frans Francken the Younger: Mankind's Eternal Dilemma – The Choice Between Virtue and Vice (1633)
"TheHandyman'sDilemma seems, in this light, utterly normal."

As a HomeMaker, I fancy myself a Handyman. I ironically refer to myself as HandyMan Dave because I'm neither a handyman nor a Dave, Dave being what people call me who attempt to affect that they know me well, but don't. I am exclusively David to myself and to my intimates, and nobody's handyman, not really. I recognize the paradox within which this title places me. This label both materially misrepresents me and my capabilities, yet I still don what I just as ironically refer to as my HandyMan Dave uniform—worn, paint-stained jeans now open at one knee and a shirt featuring smears of every color of paint I've handled while wearing it over the past decade. I crown this suit with my trusty Muse-made havelock which is equally as stained as my shirt. When so garbed, I experience a fundamental mindset shift. No longer the philosopher, I become a simple laborer. I cease fretting over making meaning of my actions, and dedicate myself to acting, and most often to acting rather mindlessly. I pride myself on my discipline then. I put my head down and simply engage. I feel most like some sort of monk then, not precisely Zen-like, but similar except absent evident wisdom.

I maintain a cast of characters within me.

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KittenMaking

KittenMaking
Albrecht Dürer: Sleeping Lioness. (circa 1520s)
Notes: Owned by the Print room of the Warsaw University Library.
Burned deliberately by the Germans in October 1944 during the Planned destruction of Warsaw.

"The smallest things seem to matter most."

The Muse and I identify as confirmed cat people and have been since before we were married, when we were still living in that apartment complex overlooking the Willamette River south of Portland, where a ginger cat with a crumpled ear adopted us. I christened him Crash and he moved right in, in clear consensual violation of our renter's agreement's prohibition against pets. Crash didn't need us to domesticate him. He domesticated us, but I suspect his primary purpose was to encourage us to provide a safe place for him to become a kitten again. As a feral or abandoned or whatever he had been before he found us, he'd had to maintain a certain street toughness. He'd had to nurture his inner lion to live. With a home, he could let down his guard, sit in a lap, and become a kitten. I think of home in the same way now. If families exist to make people, homes exist to make kittens.

I keep telling Molly, our formerly feral female, that I'm turning her into a kitten.

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Sidling

Silding
Pieter Breughel the Younger: Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (circa 1600)
When he meets the Adulteress, Jesus writes: "He that is without sin".
Based on a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, in the Courtauld Institute Galleries, London (The Princes Gate Collection, 9), 1565, grisaille
"HomeMaking's not a solo occupation …"

I recognize myself as indecisive. I only very rarely directly confront any challenge, but choose, either by habit or nature, to obliquely approach sideways. This tactic doubtless leaves me looking indecisive, but I sense that I'm more deciding than choosing not to decide. I take my time. I'll take your time, too, without first asking. I seem to need some space to make up my disordered mind. I consider from several angles. I play likely scenarios. Exhausting those, I run through a few of the more prominent unlikely ones before finally engaging. I tell myself that I am not procrastinating, though any observer might feel fully justified in questioning my assertion. I take almost forever to get started, but once started, I tend to be all in until I'm finished. I do not give up my heart on whims. Once I agree, once I engage, I'm dependable and make my commitment. I just do not commit lightly.

I consequently shove a considerable bow wave before me.

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AnOtherSummer

AnOtherSummer
Maxfield Parrish: Study for Janion's Maple (Under Summer Skies) (circa 1956)
"Part of what we visited no longer existed but we could still see it and share it …"

By the second week of July, it's finally sinking in that it's summer again. Another Summer. AnOtherSummer this time. I was impressed into service as daycare for The GrandOther this week, a role I had been secretly hoping I'd be drafted into. I'm not the greatest grandfather ever devised, but I'm also not the worst. At first, I thought of myself as more of an uncle than a gramps, but that was fifteen years and more ago when TheGrandOtter spent summers with The Muse and I. The Otter's grown and gone now and only her little sister stands between her dad and step-mom becoming empty nesters themselves, like The Muse and I once were when we pressed for annual summer GrandOtter visits. Now it's TheGrandOther's turn to receive the treatment.

The treatment. I speak of it as if it is a thing when its' not.

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BeingPrepared

BeingPrepared

J. C. Leyendecker: A boy holding a sword labeled "Be Prepared." Another person wearing a flag holds a shield behind the boy. The poster advertises USA Bonds and the Third Liberty Loan Campaign by the Boy Scouts of America. Liberty Loans and Liberty Bonds were used by the US Government to fund World War I. (1917)

" … they found that there was probably no adequate replacement for a sincere lack of preparation."

Despite a century of exhorting people to Be Prepared, The Boy Scouts, whether or not they survive as an organization, will be remembered as having been wholly unprepared to face the scandal that laid them low. They might have just as usefully insisted that people should Be Prepared To Feel Unprepared, since BeingPrepared most often amounts to simply acknowledging that one can never be adequately prepared. Build that Maginot Line only to later find that it defended against a past threat rather than a present one. The careful, almost ruinous preparations became more encumbrance than asset in the moment that mattered. I won't argue against preparation, just against over-relying upon preparation as an iron-clad defense, especially when iron cladding limits mobility to respond to the unanticipated. The German's Zeigfried Line defended no better than the Maginot did for the French. The ruins of both still stand as silent testaments to the paradox not even The Boy Scouts could avoid. Preparation might well prove necessary but only rarely sufficient. Some undeterminable portion of defensive energy might be better focused upon mobility in some utterly unforeseeable future moment.

Our best laid plans have been starting to show their vulnerabilities.

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FatEhGue

FatEhGue
Maxfield Parrish: Cadmus Sowing the Dragon's Teeth (1908), created for Collier's
" … she asks me how it was out there. Miserable, I declare …"

I read a lot of comic books in my youth. My paper route left me rather affluent for a ten year old, so I could afford a few Baby Huey or Sad Sack comics, not to mention most every edition of MAD Magazine during its heydays. When I ran into a word I didn't know, I usually made up both a pronunciation as well as a meaning, and just continued reading as if I'd understood. Some words defy any eye's naive interpretation, the term for San Sack's uniform prominent among them for me. He wore fatigues, or FatEhGues, as I sub-vocally pronounced them to myself. I was uncertain what the term referred to. Perhaps Sad Sack's attitude, which he wore more prominently than he wore his uniform. It didn't matter. I always figured that whatever peg-legged interpretation I made when reading sufficed and might even prove superior to disrupting my reading flow to reference the real pronunciation and meaning. I still hesitate when I encounter that word, though, reverting to my first parsing before snapping back into my more mature understanding.

I've been noticing just how exhausting living beneath our current heat dome has become.

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Fourth

Fourth
Claude Monet: Impression, soleil levant (1872)
" … a nation ruled by laws we steadfastly refuse to obey on the Fourth of July."

I baffled myself imagining how I might explain July the Fourth to anyone not native to the United States of America. I cannot quite explain it to myself. It tends to contain more mixed metaphors and mixed up factoids than all other holidays combined, yet it does not really count as in any way holy. It stands as our annual contradiction, a serial misrepresentation of our own history, familiar yet fuzzy, clear but curiously alien. Stand downwind of the business end of the typical July Fourth celebration and one might find themselves mistaken that we were celebrating some battle or something, so thick seems the smoke and smell of ozone and gunpowder, but history records no great victory or defeat on this date, just the founding of our country, which came as more of a whimper than an explosion. I might be committing the equivalent of Critical Race Theory here because I'm poking at the myth, looking for substance, a well-recognized crime against common decency.

I'll make no excuses. I've never liked how we celebrate our founding.

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BigNSmall

BigNSmall

A Mughal Miniature, Composition by Basawan, painting by Chitra for the left side of the illustration.Right side composition by Basawan, painting by Chetar:
Akbar riding the elephant Hawa'I pursuing another elephant (Ran Bagha) across a collapsing bridge of boats, 1561
from the Akbarnama. (circa 1590 -95)

" … that's how this world was supposed to work."

As empty nesters, The Muse and I mostly inhabit a world scaled for people who stand between five and six feet tall. At this scale, door handles seem perfectly positioned, toilets properly elevated, and mirrors more or less appropriately positioned. A city block's no kind of a walk, and a dozen easily bend to our will if we want. Either of two cars remain an option if we're in a hurry, even a bike. We live in a world scaled for us, a remarkable privilege, though we each remember when our world was not thus, back when it seemed to have been scaled for people much larger than us, a world which sometimes seemed hostile to our very presence. We persevered, matured, and more or less outgrew that humbling beginning.

I revel in nothing more than I revel in the presence of small people, adults still in waiting, the following generation, up and still coming.

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MidSummerEvening

MidSummerEvening
N. C. Wyeth: Jim, Long John Silver and his Parrot from the 1911 edition of Treasure Island
"The young ones now face even greater challenges …"

Poets and entranced travel writers have had their way with the MidSummerEvening until anyone might be easily excused for expecting them to seem romantic. I blame too many stars in way too many eyes and a gullible public, and also a distinct shortage of children in recent generations. Though I know I might well sound like the geezer I am when I insist that MidSummerEvenings remain the exclusive domain of kids, I will insist away anyway. Grown-ups, or purported ones, might find reason to sip some beer and shoot off a few illegal fireworks to celebrate a freedom they've unaccountably lost all track of, but kids, especially those not yet outgrown their age in favor of nihilistic pursuits like zombie movies and TicToc threads, own this space and always have. After supper's dispatched, which was a brief distraction at best, the kids take to the yard again as shadows start creeping in. It's still uncommonly though seasonably warm, and anything can happen within a kid enjoying the high that comes from a little too much hot dog chased with ice cream smothered in strawberries. They turn into pirates then and rampage through the long twilight hours. The best any grown-up can do is watch in wonder while perhaps helping to set up the tent in the backyard for the later sleep out.

It helps if the house has a circular yard, one which allows for unimpeded circumnavigation around the house, for as my wise niece noted, when (not if) that hose manages to soak you, running two or three trips around the world, and you're almost completely dried off.

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Cut

Cut
Giovanni Francesco Romanelli: LivioAndronico [Ceiling in the Louvre Palace] (circa 1650)
"Our home's no masterpiece to anyone but us …"

When The Muse asked if I'd like her to paint the Cut in the basement stairwell, I gratefully accepted her offer. I'd been dreading that part of the job, since I'm basically a slob when painting and I usually only manage to create fine lines by using tape. I had not wanted to tape the freshly painted ceiling. I couldn't quite reach every inch of of the line and my ladder, which I could not open all the way on the narrow landing, left me feeling like I was balancing on the head of an unstable pin. She gamely scurried off to change her clothes, grateful for some activity not involving Zoom®.

A Cut line separating wall from ceiling seems the most bedeviling element of painting.

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Permanence

Permanence
Henri Matisse: Self-Portrait (1937)

"Drawing is like making an expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence." Henri Matisse


"I paint over inevitables."

I speak of Permanence without apparent irony, though I might be one of the most temporary entities around. My mailbox could outlive me, yet I undertake what I must clearly mistake to be permanent changes as part of my HomeMaking efforts. I contribute much impermanence, too. My lawn mowing undoes itself over the course of a week. Weeding might sustain for a month or longer. Watering, depending, might last for a day or two, seemingly always needing redoing. I rarely build anything permanent. I don't personally pour concrete, though I have directed others to do that to benefit this home, HomeMaking by replacing crumbling original replacements, which were intended as permanent replacements of the original pavement, which is long gone now. The house, subjected to one hundred and fourteen years of successive HomeMaking has proven more permanent than most of its parts. Inside, I doubt that the original owners and builders would today recognize what they'd wrought. The current front porch appears to have been built atop the original. Not even the original paint remains on the outside shell since I stripped it to bare wood, that and a few original windows.

Painting's about as Permanent as I get.

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Turnings

Turnings
Pablo Picasso: Le Rêve (1932)
"It's never too late yet."

Neither a straight nor particularly narrow road, HomeMaking follows a meandering path. The past quickly fades after another seemingly inevitable turn and the way ahead remains largely obscured until just before the next future emerges. It's continuing surprise and anyone wandering there might easily lose heart, given the continuing lack of positive reinforcement. The sweetness in HomeMaking seems retroactive, occurring well after the bulk of the effort's concluded. For the duration of the excursion, aspirations fuel the engagement. Visions of imagined futures motivate continuing. It seems at root, faith-based by nature. Human nature might well prefer more tangible encouragements which remain only sporadically present. Discouragement seems most likely and might well prove deadly. Many abandon their dreams along the way. It seems extraordinary when anyone ultimately finds their way home, either again or originally. But then there are these turnings. Always the Turnings

I spent the first few days of this latest HomeMaking excursion in extremis.

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Distinguishing

Distinguishing
Auguste Rodin: The Fallen Caryatid Carrying Her Stone (Modeled 1881–82, cast 1902/24)
"HomeMaking is first about making the HomeMaker, then about making a home."

I'm unaccustomed to thinking of HomeMaking as a distinguished occupation, but like every occupation, HomeMaking involves making distinctions, Distinguishing. Considerable judgement also seems a necessary element of the effort, for a HomeMaker must do more than distinguish difference, but also determine if any intervention seems necessary and if so, how much. I imagine a huge chart denoting forms and degrees of engagement, something like:
If rough, smooth.
If smooth, texture.
And also listing the ten thousand primary elements of HomeMaking, but the pattern would quickly emerge as simple, and as fundamental as evolution:
If not right, fix or tolerate
If right, preserve or improve.
I catch myself in endless judgement of my surroundings, the better, I presume, to render them more properly like home. Not into Home but into more Home-like, an analogy. I perform this service by means of my Distinguishing. I exercise my judgement by first distinguishing. The quality of any resulting engagement feeds my judgement engine which might improve my Distinguishing. It all starts by noticing something. HomeMaking, like everything, utterly depends somebody first observing something.

There might only be five fundamental HomeMaking Distinguishing Elements: Context, Condition, Size, Shape, and Color.

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Synapsing

Synapsing
Joos de Momper: Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (circa 1620s)
" … as if Icarus had managed to fly around rather than a tad too close to the sun."

I feel as though I've flown a tad too close to the sun. Rather than tumble out of the sky like Icarus, though, I'm tumbling down through ether, imaginary space but always real enough before now. How would it be if one day you discovered that you could no longer access your intuition? No dumber than you ever were, but apparently lacking an essential connection that always reliably animated your processing before. Until then. You'd probably wonder if you'd ever recover that modest superpower again. Mine left under the influence of a certain prescription, one of those, increasingly common, which fiddles with Synapsing to fool some sense into changing. I suppose the drug's designer believed that it was just a switch, turned on or off, permanent effects unlikely. Fewer than .1% ever experience bradyphrenia, a "moderate" cognitive impairment, and I might or might not be experiencing it now. I just know that something's different. I can't even think crooked. Writing this small paragraph has taken several hours and not a second of that time seemed like writing.

I'm uncertain what to do.

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Castling

Castling
Frédéric Bazille: Queen's Gate at Aigues (1867)
" … to let some inside out and some outside back inside again."

A man's home, long reputed to be his castle, stops feeling very much like home as soon as he starts using it as if it were a castle. I know, paradoxical. The problem seems to lie in the fundamental difference between home and castle. Castles exist first and foremost as defensive barriers, as fortresses rather than as commons, while homes, it seems to me, need to be open to mean anything. Closing up a home transforms it into a mausoleum, the sort of place only tell-tale hearts might ever inhabit. Whether in response to a heat wave or a snow storm, when a HomeMaker has to hunker in, his home becomes his castle and doesn't feel all that much like home for the duration of the defensive action. Castling ain't HomeMaking.

The Home-As-Castle analogy might apply to a whole class of human responses when exercising liberties or freedoms.

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Dabbling

Dabbling
Andrea del Verrocchio: Baptism of Christ (1475) -- with an angel painted by Leonardo on the left
"Satisfied HomeMaking sometimes means Dabbling along behind."

I dabble in my duties as a HomeMaker. HomeMaking seems to be one of those occupations that do not quite qualify as an occupation and so cannot be properly considered a profession, and therefore cannot be mastered. No Master HomeMaker Designation could exist, if only because it would demand mastery of far too many elements. My first wife's mother held a master's degree in home economics, and not even she could take on every thing necessary to make a home, let alone to keep it humming. For wiring, she'd hire an electrician. She even retained the services of a professional housekeeper. A HomeMaker might be most properly characterized as a sort of chief contractor who coordinates the efforts without mastering many him/her self, except, perhaps, mastering the fine art of managing masters, though I suspect few ever approach even that level of skill. It's most likely, usually, amateurs attempting to coordinate the efforts of Journeymen, Masters, and other Rank Amateurs. Mastering that mess might be most of HomeMaking.

HomeMaking mostly involves Dabbling in a little off this and a little more of that other thing,

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Perdiction

Prediction
Edvard Munch: At the Roulette Table in Monte Carlo (1892)
" … underdelivering by means of over threatening myself again."

The weather forecast reads like a sentence passed down by a vengeful judge. I can't stop looking for the train wreck coming. I probably imagine it being much worse than it's likely to end up becoming. I remember a hundred and fourteen from when I was a kid. My mom laid out blankets on the front room rug and invited us all to camp out there instead of heading outside. We quickly fell asleep, waking after the fiercest part was over. As if that time created a precedent for future ones, grave predictions of soaring temperatures send me to ground. I hunker down and let the worst of it blow around me, or so I imagine. I focus my outside efforts to early morning or just before sunset and I hole up through the blazing afternoon. Before air conditioning, I'd flee to the basement. Even with the heat pump, lower floors seem preferable.

I wondered if the weather forecast was even accurate.

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Flimability

Flimability
Abraham Mignon: The Overturned Bouquet (1660-79)
Reputed to be Mignon's worst painting.

" … seeing through and not just looking."

HomeMakers possess the oddest ability to see through certain imperfections in their home. Perhaps this results from a certain love blindness, the sort that automatically excuses a grandchild's unfortunate nose or a favorite movie star's indiscretions. We see right through some faults. When we first moved into this would-be home, both the basement stairs and the half bath and hallway off the kitchen were painted in the most awful electrocuted green color with garnish green striped wallpaper highlighting. While we were moving in, that same day, I removed that wallpaper and painted over (two coats) that offense to my senses in the hallway and half bath. The basement stairway, decorated the same, remained unchanged for twenty years. Yesterday, in under two hours, I removed every miserable shred of that wallpaper and purchased the paint to cover the electrocuted green wall color. While ridding this world of that abomination, I was moved to wonder how it was that I managed to cohabitate for two decades with what I could not tolerate even until the end of the first day living here? Explaining this as a form of blindness makes sense. Its presence had apparently not been registering all those years.

I seem terribly skilled at pulling wool over my own eyes.

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Denizen

weesmall
Edward Hopper: Stairway at 48 rue de Lille, Paris (1906)
"I often find myself wandering around the place apparently lost …"

I consider myself more Denizen than citizen. I know myself to be a Denizen of the small hours, for instance. For me, this home seems most homey between two and six each morning. By evening, I can barely relate to the place. Through the afternoon, I'm ready to run errands, nap, or read, escapist activities, but in the early morning, I'm present and accountable.

It seems that our homes make us Denizens of them.

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BitRot

BitRot
Abraham Mignon: Still life with rotting fruit and nuts on a stone ledge (c. 1670)
"It demands patience precisely when frustration might be peaking."

Software engineers hold that a program, left alone and never touched, will eventually exhibit some evidence of failure. They refer to this common phenomenon as BitRot, an exceedingly handy term and concept, since it describes the otherwise inexplicable. It serves as a placeholder for understanding and also as a reminder that an explanation does not always prove necessary to fix an error. BitRot serves as acceptance that a problem exists without ascribing specific blame for its emergence. Sometimes, things just fall apart without a discernible cause. Blame entropy if you must, but accept the difficulty and fix it if you can.

HomeMaking encounters plenty of BitRot in its normal routine.

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CanningWorms

CanningWorms
Georges Braque: "La Table de Cuisine" (1942)
"We're never through and we leave behind messes and we start new stuff before finishing the last …"

HomeMaking does not seem to qualify as a continuous process, for it features too many flow/stall cycles. Still, it seems continual. Many initiatives get started just fine but get stalled before completion, often for the most trivial reasons. A single missing screw has delayed completion of an otherwise trivial gazebo repair for two months. I'd been to the hardware store many times since and reliably forgot to get that screw. Last week, I bought a box of those screws, just to be sure I had enough, but haven't gotten around to actually using them. If I can find that box when the stars line up, I'll be in business. Until then, I'm backed up.

Each day brings a fresh batch of interruptions as well as new restarting opportunities.

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StaleStart

StaleStart
Rembrandt van Rijn: The Artist In His Studio (c. 1628)
" … delight, its deeper purpose."

We speak of fresh starts as if there could ever be such a thing. We speak of restarting, though these more accurately represent a discontinuous resumption with history trailing. I start a fresh series understanding that, by now, for me, any new series will seem at least somewhat stale. You see, I've done this before. Familiarity need not necessarily breed contempt, but it might well encourage wariness, especially with writing. That fresh-faced feeling a beginning brings probably won't last out the morning, and on this morning after summer solstice, the day promises sweat before midday and even more sweat through the afternoon. Still, I begin again, though I'm unable to muster that innocence I once just naturally brought to my game.

The art, if there is one, entails crafting a fresh supper from stale parts, like Tuscan Bread Soup, which combines fresh ingredients with stale bread to produce a delightful dish.

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SettlingUpon

SettlingUpon
Honoré Daumier: The Third-Class Carriage (c. 1856–1858)
"Everything matters unless it doesn't."

SettlingInto eventually becomes a matter of SettlingUpon. The Muse has not quite settled upon the color palette she wants and the repainting cannot commence until then. I remain unsettled about several possible undertakings, so they're not started yet. As our SettlingInto has continued, the volume of SettlingUpons has grown. Dozens of little decisions define our way forward from here. We've successfully landed here but have yet to fully find our land legs. We're still a little wobbly, our way of living still emerging. Much remains unsettled and, indeed, unsettling so far. The SettlingInto might never end, but its infinity will most certainly be punctuated with a series of SettlingUpons. One day—not today, probably not tomorrow, but some day—these projects we've been envisioning forever will be over. Then we will have settled upon much. While our imaginations might have envisioned first class accommodations, we'll very likely settle for third-class passage and even manage to feel smug about our fortune, largely because we will have chosen, which makes a definite difference.

Deciding, though, proves challenging. I've long contended that choice serves as my chief superpower, if only because when I'm stymied, I can always at least choose again.

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Quitting

Quitting
Benjamin West: The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise (1791)
"Let him forever after be known as a quitter …"

I know myself to be a quitter, but a relatively inept one. In this culture, my culture, we revere starters, especially self starters, but look down through our glasses at quitters, with perhaps one exception. Those who've quit a dependence upon some reviled substance—demon rum, evil narcotics, or that devil tobacco—are held in some esteem for what those who've never been addicted imagine a certain depth of character. Of course it's that brand of character that came after a fall and was apparently inadequate to prevent the fall in the first place, but it's generally deemed worthy of a place near if not precisely in the hearts of the nation. Those who continue their abuse of substances sometimes get sent to treatment, which sometimes works. Others enroll themselves into twelve step programs which teach abstinence, acceptance, and forbearance in roughly equal measures, and consider addiction a life-long issue from which one might be recovering but from which nobody ever recovers. People who haven't had a drink in decades still consider themselves drunks and those who stopped using heroin continue recognizing themselves as junkies.

Addiction only somewhat involves a substance.

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Routining

Routining
Giovanni Paolo Panini: Modern Rome (1757)
" … suggestively licking their lips when I forget to call them to table."

SettlingInto wasn't accomplished in a day. It might well never end, depending upon what The Muse and I choose to settle for. Settled, however achieved, seems mostly an emergent property and not a planned, predefined one. One arrives and only then decides, partly out of necessity, who they become. The context influences almost everything and the context didn't exist until we moved into it. We moved back in, but in name only. We actually found ourselves SettlingInto alien territory with only slight resemblances to what we remembered. Some better, some worse, some simply incomparably different. I've noticed parts of my old self reassembling here, parts I hadn't seen in action for years. Other aspects, ones I'd acquired or amplified while in exile, left me puzzling about just who has returned from exile. We have been, over the past three months, slowly and unsurely establishing routine. We've been Routining.

I'd forgotten how the former dreaded routine first came into being.

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WisingUp

WisingUp
Michelangelo: The Libyan Sibyl (1508-12) from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
"A grain of insight seems worth the investment."

I seem to be getting no wiser as I age. The old adage about older and wiser seems to pair near strangers rather than inevitable partners. For me, aging, like learning, has proven to be more humbling than enlightening. Rather than great mysteries resolving themselves, they seem to grow ever more mysterious, ever less likely to ever come into sharp focus. By the time I've figured out something, I'm usually catching shadows. That thing's time has past, never to return. I might possess fresh knowledge, but almost always of an arcane variety, out-dated, the kind that would have been useful had I known it sometime in the past, but relatively useless in any imaginable future. My understanding of how this world works has accumulated much clutter and become less ordered than it was before I began acquiring knowledge. I seem to be on a glide path to die much dumber than I was born, and no wiser.

That opening declaration represents the extent of my accumulated wisdom thus far.

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DownhillBothWays

DownhillBothWays
M. C. Escher: Waterfall (1961)
"I seem to be SettlingInto a place that's actually DownhillBothWays …"

I finally found a wrinkle in my schedule a couple of weeks ago and engaged in a few minutes of recreation. I pumped up the tires on my old coaster bike and took it out for a spin. I'd found an original front wheel bushing while on exile, so the nearly sixty year-old thing runs smoother than silk. I coasted down three blocks to the park, hung a downhill right which, three blocks, later left me at the big park. I hung a reluctant left onto what was once a road but is now a path and circumnavigated the central band stand before taking backstreets back to The Villa, a short and very sweet ride. The Muse asked how it was and I reported that it was DownhillBothWays. She wouldn't buy my story, but it was true to my experience. Riding these streets on this same model bike I rode as a kid, I remember torturous uphill stretches, usually encountered on the way back home after a particularly lengthy ride. Now, the city seems essentially flat, with no street steep enough to warrant any but my ride's single speed.

I might have gained some perspective and experience while on exile. …

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MythConceptions

MythInformation
Alexandre Cabanel: The Birth of Venus (1863)
"It's not that the facts don't matter, but that stories overshadow."

We mistakenly believe that the ancient Greeks and Romans maintained the mythiest societies in history, but ours might far surpass theirs. No, we no longer believe in cloud-based gods, but the underpinnings of much of what passes for knowledge, even science, amounts to metaphors and analogies every bit as allegorical as any embraced by the ancients. Physicists searching for quantum gravity follow paths paved with stories, for little of what they seek can be observed with any of our senses, even those enhanced by machines. They twiddle concepts and conclude by means of logic and reason, their allegories growing simpler as they sense they're nearing their goal. Even science has become a faith-based initiative, easily discounted by those holding different MythConceptions and subscribing to orthogonal myth information. It's not that we don't share a serviceable language, but that we don't always share the same metaphors, the underlying stories which stand in as explanations of phenomena. No, atoms do not really resemble marbles, but they can be usefully thought of that way. The danger comes when we mistake our allegories for immutable realities rather than clever analogies, confirmation of what's proper to believe. Atoms couldn't care less what anyone believes about them.

I acknowledge that a significant portion of my admittedly meager understanding stands upon mythical shoulders.

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SettlingUp

SettlingUp
Jacopo Bassano: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (1545)
"Whatever we own, owns us back better, such that we owe it forever."

The porch needed painting but not nearly as much as I needed to paint the porch. That porch needed paint when we slinked out of here twelve years ago, evidence of a certain dereliction of responsibility on my part. I was ashamed of that porch but not as ashamed as I was in myself. SettlingInto involves facing up to some past shortcomings and SettlingUp with them. I feel both humbled and fortunate to find myself in this position. Had we simply moved on without returning, these blemishes would have been permanent or, worse, someone else would have had to do my penance for me, like we did penance for the clown that sometime in the past expanded the kitchen. It was my sincere aspiration when we first took ownership of this place that I might prove to become a worthy steward of its heritage. That's meant considerable undoing of past violations of that heritage and also plenty of doing forward, improvements congruent to its bones. There are books, I imagine, keeping record of my stewardship's debits and credits. I hold myself responsible for repaying those debts, mostly in sweat labor.

Refinishing the porch repaid a long-outstanding debt, including considerable accumulated interest, a reason for genuine celebration.

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Conspiracist

AConspiracist
"French revolution: before and after: satirical drawing by French draftsman Caran d'Ache, 1898, in the middle of the Dreyfus affair and the foundation of Action Française. Although the Ancien Régime is not shown as idyllic, the contemporary situation is shown as an increase of oppression, which technical improvements (notice the plowshare) don't lighten, and to which financial capitalism (the banker with his top hat and his wallet), the Freemason (with his set square and plumb bob) and the Jew (with a curved nose) are contributors." (Wikipedia)
" … they, too, know not what in the Hell they're doing. Neither do I."

My neighbor Larry, a perfectly lovely family man with Bible verses posted on his front door, also has a dirty little secret he's a little too enthusiastic to share. We might be quietly conversing about his RV, which he uses maybe four times a year and has never felt competent to drive, and with which he's managed to a) back into a telephone pole, b) back into the door panel of a parked pickup, and c) pull the rear bumper off of after catching it on a gas station's concrete pillar, when his secret comes out. He keeps the RV because twice each year his family, now numbering thirty-five counting great grand kids, decamps to camp somewhere for a week and he and his wife need a place to sleep then. A man needs a certain amount of aggravation in his life, and for me, that RV might fully satisfy my minimum daily requirement, but Larry's little secret compounds his despair. You see, he's also a Conspiracist.

He might be dropping off a couple of dozen eggs, which he delivers gratis, from his chickens, and the topic springs up from nowhere. "If you just read the mainstream news, you'd never know that anything was going on, but they're trying to make us socialist. …

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AMusing

AMusing
Nicolas Poussin: Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun (1658)
"Musing's almost never about actually discussing anything."

The Muse's frequent lengthy absences best typified our exile years. When we lived outside of DC, she'd spend at least a week each month in Colorado. When we relocated to Colorado, she'd spend about the same time away in DC. This left me out there on my own for what seemed like lengthy periods, often eons, fending for myself, batching it. I always somewhat reveled in that freedom. There I was all alone save for the cats, and out of view from anyone who might care what I did. I could sneak a cigar thinking that I'd likely recover before The Muse returned. I'd been domesticated so long that I would find myself out of practice and default to grown up status rather than revert back into adolescence in her absence. Those days seemed long and hollow, though, reinforcing my notion that good living demands that one somehow must be in service to another and not just to themselves. I'd reheat the bottomless pot of beans for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and never think of concocting anything more complicated or nourishing. I'd hold dialogues with the cats, bouncing ideas off them, continually asking them how they were doing in lieu of anyone asking me that question. That was a Museless existence, hollow and unsatisfying, rendering me The Invisible Husband.

She'd call, of course, more or less daily during her absences, usually on her way, a few minutes late, for her first morning meeting and/or in the final few minutes before falling asleep after an overlong day of briefings and a late sociable supper.

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Asymptosis

Asymptosis
Paul Cézanne: (unfinished) Portrait of Gustave Geffroy (1895)
" … moments savored in the moment then forgotten forever."

I haven't accomplished much in this life, largely by design. I seem to possess a strong aversion to doneness, preferring to leave good enough unhassled by finishing touches. I tend to take things up to edges, but rarely over them. I much prefer starting new projects over gaining closure on any current one, so I usually abandon an effort in favor of an alluring opportunity, which I will also leave somewhat unfinished once it's close enough but rarely actually finished. I do not suffer from some curable illness or even an incurable one, for I consider my aversion to doneness a feature of my existence and in no way an encumbrance to it. It needs no treatment, though it does have a name. Perhaps it's just a syndrome, a special purpose capability reserved for an exceptional few, which, surprisingly, seems to include me. I'm not its victim and I do not suffer, but I seem to have Asymptosis, or it has me.

Always arriving without ever having arrived. Moving towards without actually crossing any finish line.

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Withouting

Withouting
Annibale Carracci, The Choice of Hercules (1596)
" … a fonder heart and a sometimes smarter response."

He who dies with the most toys loses whatever it might have been that toys couldn't satisfy. The toys might have successfully distracted the dedicated toy collector to the point where he never missed what he might have chosen to do without, though unfulfilled wishes might have provided bitter tastes of them. If he was true to type, he considered these shortages to represent problems that future acquisition might solve, though the desire in the dedicated toy collector never wanes for long after successfully adding another to his collection. He might miss a subtle point, one argued over for millennia, back probably further than recorded history can take us. My parents raised me a proper stoic, I guess, for I firmly believe that character might be best expressed by what one chooses to do without rather than by how much one manages to acquire.

Limited availability was one of the great attractions this small city offered. …

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GrowingDown

GrowingDown
Salvator Rosa: Diogenes Casting away his Cup (1650s)
"GrowingDown seems a just reward after failing to fully grow up."

I have been growing up for most of my life so far. I've tried to put down roots but with mixed results. Between attempts, I felt as if I was living in a planter, free to grow up, but restricted in how far down I could sink roots. I've experienced at least my share of transplantings, each traumatic, a few promising. My eyes were mostly on the sky, though, more concerned with seeing where I was going then delving into where I was growing. Aspiration can transport almost as thoroughly as physical relocation. Eyes on the prize do not see the present and one can live much of a life somewhere else, head if not actually in clouds, focused there. Trajectory seems calculated up to but not actually into any destination. Careers, marriages, aspirations easily focus upon advancement rather than placement. Where am I? seems less interesting than Where I am going, intentions too easily supplant presence. I'm intending to go nowhere now. I'm SettlingInto here, finally GrowingDown.

Growing up seemed a succession of passing throughs, each pause more of a layover than an arrival.

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ClutchYerChange

Asymptosis
Paul Cézanne: (unfinished) Portrait of Gustave Geffroy (1895)
" … moments savored in the moment then forgotten forever."

I haven't accomplished much in this life, largely by design. I seem to possess a strong aversion to doneness, preferring to leave good enough unhassled by finishing touches. I tend to take things up to edges, but rarely over them. I much prefer starting new projects over gaining closure on any current one, so I usually abandon an effort in favor of an alluring opportunity, which I will also leave somewhat unfinished once it's close enough but rarely actually finished. I do not suffer from some curable illness or even an incurable one, for I consider my aversion to doneness a feature of my existence and in no way an encumbrance to it. It needs no treatment, though it does have a name. Perhaps it's just a syndrome, a special purpose capability reserved for an exceptional few, which, surprisingly, seems to include me. I'm not its victim and I do not suffer, but I seem to have Asymptosis, or it has me.

Always arriving without ever having arrived. Moving towards without actually crossing any finish line. …

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Infinities

Infinities
Franz de Paula Ferg: The Building of Noah's Ark (ca. 1730)
"I might most become myself there where my usual controls and inhibitions hold little currency."

After eons of prep work, The Porch stands ready to accept paint this morning. By day's end, if I'm lucky and diligent, I might replace the hanging fuchsia baskets, move the geezer rockers up from the gazebo (geezerabo?) and get on with fresh Infinities. This job, so simple-seeming at the start, turned complicated as soon as I set my hands on it. Ain't that the way of this world? Even small distances mislead both eye and imagination and large distances mislead even more. From exile, I easily imagined myself cutting through one SettlingInto job after another, like the proverbial hot knife through soft butter, but up close and intensely personal, gravity influences more deeply. Physics asserts her immutable laws and a perfectly acceptable naive notion turns into another Infinity. Infinities appear when it starts becoming clear just what an effort might actually entail. Some grand complication comes into focus and the timeline goes to Hell. I suddenly don't quite know how to accomplish what I'd set out to finish and I've already started. No way to turn around and not start then. I'm committed to what first seemed like a finite effort but which now seems infinite. The Infinities have found me.

My father, who, if anything, was a most dedicated worker, taught me how to deal with Infinities.

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SlideEffects

SlideEffects
Jackson Pollock: Untitled. (1953-54)
"Sometimes SlideEffects trump everything else."

Back when we still watched television, I found amusing the many adds for various prescription drugs. Some government agency still vaguely interested in truth in advertising—a concept so long considered not worth considering that I found these ads quaint—insisted that each ad list prominent side effects, which tended toward the shocking. Who wouldn't agree to take a medication likely to effectively treat some skin condition even though it might also cause permanent paralysis or one of the more dreadful forms of cancer? The tradeoffs never seemed to make sense, the side effects just too bizarre to accept the risk, however slight, since slight risks apply to large populations, not to the individual who experiences them. My mom, bless her dear departed heart, gained the reputation of only exhibiting side effects and not usually the primary intended effect of any medication. Her doctor prescribed using a form of Reverse Polish logic to achieve intended outcomes.

Economists call them externalities, the sideshows that tend to pop up around any primary intention.

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Evening

Evening
JAN BRUEGHEL THE YOUNGER: The Garden of Eden (1635)
"We're shadows glowing within this forest."

First week of June, Evening arrives as an actual breath of fresh air after another blistering afternoon. The house, closed up since late morning, suffocates by then and supper seems unappealing enough to just cancel it. The heat exhausts me without my having to exert anything and leaves me feeling worthless, hoping for morning. The Muse suggests a walk out into the Evening air, and I cannot concoct an excuse to refuse her invitation. I check to find Molly ready to come in from the back deck, I don my walk-in' shoes, and we depart into gathering darkness. The evening feels like velvet on my face. The sidewalks still hold traces of heat and the shadowy yards still show off, in silhouette rather than in full glorious color. The difference leaves them seeming magical. Flowers appear first by scent then by outline. Even