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TheWall

thewall
Josephus Augustus Knip: The Aurelian Wall in Rome (c. 1809-12)


" … always stumbled upon some resolution."


It's not if but when. Never whether, either, because as near as I can tell, we each encounter TheWall, usually at an inconvenient time. TheWall often amounts to more of a cognitive barrier than a physical one, but the way this universe works, sometimes a physical barrier brings the metaphor into sharper focus. Anything that seems to stand in the way of forward progress can stand in as TheWall. Discouragement has always been a popular flavor if not necessarily a crowd-pleaser. Whatever flavor your barrier comes in, it will be your challenge to find some way to overcome the blockage. It rarely matters if one manages to go over, under, around, or through. The fates usually leave that choice up to you and the conditions at hand to influence. Some cognitive walls can be imagined into falling. Most walls turn out to be cognitive ones.

There seem to be rules against publicly admitting to the presence of a personal wall.

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The Wabi-Sabi Corner

the_wabi-sabi_corner
Tajima Hiroyuki: Small Garden (Shōwa period, dated 1967)


In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi (
侘寂) is a worldview centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of appreciating beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" in nature. It is prevalent in many forms of Japanese art. -Wikipedia

" … a universal rule insisting upon less than perfection …"


Every gardener should maintain a Wabi-Sabi Corner, a corner deliberately unfinished, overgrown, and messy compared to the rest of the place. This practice helps keep the universe in balance, for this universe seems insistent upon maintaining a certain volume of unbridled messiness. Perfection might be its sworn enemy. Even the most famed gardens in the world feature one of these corners, though it might take some searching for a visitor to find them. They are never showcased, but they do exist. Even here, in The Villa Vatta Schmaltz Gardens, I scrupulously maintain an unmaintained corner of the yard. The Muse complains that this corner embarrasses her since it has traditionally been a corner everyone who passes can see. It's that edge just beyond the reach of every sprinkler, that corner not on my usual rounds. I've let the wildness take charge there, and the universe remains balanced. You're welcome!

Our neighborhood, too, has featured a Wabi-Sabi Corner property.

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Incomparable

incomparable
Billy Rose Theatre Division,
The New York Public Library
. (1911).
The Incomparable Albini Retrieved from
https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/b5cfbf49-a59f-7548-e040-e00a18060aef


"What if we've already arrived …?"


One of the more innocent human tricks involves comparing ourselves with others. A practitioner might select from an infinite number of attributes to compare, most of them utterly subjective. From the wicked witch's question—Who's the fairest one of all?—to questions of relative intelligence, each might represent Fundamentally Unanswerable Questions, FUQs. They might be responded to in an equally infinite number of ways, any of which might produce reassurance or devastation, depending on the situation. One rarely slows down to consider if these questions might be worth asking. What would you have if you truly were the fairest one of all? Fairness seems a fleeting attribute and rather superficial. Such assessments, especially when self-assessments, seem questionable. Other than a temporary boost to self-esteem, the question might not be worth asking under The Don't Ask Questions You Don't Really Want The Answer To Rule.

Let's say we're all the fairest in the land. If this notion seems untenable, consider the alternatives.

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AModestProposal

amodestproposal
Francis Gilbert Attwood:
General Benjamin F. Butler's Nightmare:
Proposed Procession of the Unemployed

(19th century)


"What if we're already plenty …"


To this day, I am assailed by the same old come-ons promising to make me a great leader. When did this sort of promotion ever have traction? I cannot imagine Abraham Lincoln, who was undoubtedly the most outstanding leader of his time, enrolling with an equivalent teacher to learn the "secrets to success," and not just modest success, but the very best there ever was. This very attitude renders its message untenable and unbelievable, yet they persist. If they did not exist in Lincoln's time, though I feel confident they did, what is it about our time that sees such a proliferation of these? Some skills cannot be taught, for they are not acquired through coaching, counseling, or conventional teaching. Whatever that is, leadership probably stands near the top of this pile. However, above all other topics, it enjoys the most significant proliferation of teachers and preachers, promising what anyone qualified to become a great leader must undoubtedly be able to see right through. This thought leads me to suggest that only those destined to become mediocre leaders need ever apply to learn these secrets, though they'd properly be sworn to secrecy upon acceptance.

The secret about greatness might be that greatness holds few secrets.

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CurtainCall

CurtainCall
Riva Helfond, Curtain Factory (1939)


"My purpose sleeps in the basement or beneath the neighbor's bushes."


I woke in the middle of my short night to crawl under the covers. Two hours later, I was crawling out into my morning, knowing I was crawling into an ending. I swear that I dread almost everything now, especially the inevitable. My Summer slips over a horizon foreshortened by low clouds and an utterly alien rain. The painting suspended for a day; I built my first fire of the season just to see that I hadn't lost that ability through the unrelenting Summer heat. When the turn comes, it shocks even the best-prepared, most anticipatory person, even the one who'd been counting down, even the one focused upon Honing.

It must not matter what topic I choose.

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WritingSummary For The Week Ending 09/21/2023

ws09212023
Ryūryūkyo Shinsai:
Boy Writing (Edo period, 1615-1868)


Stumble Into An Ownership
Experience doesn't very deeply influence some things. This week, I almost finished my twenty-fifth series, Honing, but nothing I'd ever experienced before properly prepared me for this almost event. I should have become accustomed to nearly finishing by now, but it remains a shocking and unsettling experience, not even the same way once. I started this series thirteen weeks ago and struggled, as I always do, to feel as though it belonged to me. I created the first stories as an imposter, holding my breath while hoping not to be discovered. I grew into their author, only recently feeling as though they might somehow come from and belong to me. It was never different. I crawl before walking and walk before I fly. I finally fly only to discover that I've run out of sky. The allotted time for this series is over, and I dare not linger over the carcass. This is how this writer experiences accomplishment. I finally stumble into an ownership, only to forfeit it to start my mystery anew.

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ExitStageLeft

exitstageleft
Edgar Degas: On Stage I (1876)


"All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages."

—William Shakespeare
(from As You Like It, spoken by Jaques)


" … one final curtain call for this production that never actually was."


Contrary to popular misconception, all the world never was a stage, and all the men and women were always much more than "merely players." Yes, they might have their exits and entrances, but they do much more than just play parts in several acts. That's all analogies, and the one thing one must understand about analogies should always be that they do not describe actual anything. The fact that Shakespeare employed this analogy means precisely that all the world is not now, nor was it ever a stage. To think otherwise violates the first rule of analogy, which insists that they never be taken literally. We see the terrible result of mistaking analogy for description played out in the world's great religions, each of which seems to possess a widely misinterpreted guidebook. While it's undoubtedly true that misinterpreting makes miracles much easier to manifest, they also materially mislead. Misinterpreting brings glorious suggestions into the realm of misleading definitions where an analogous savior somehow manages to feed a multitude with a single small can of tuna.

How much richer our lives might become if we could steadfastly refuse to take anything literally, anything at its unavoidably misleading face value.

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UsedTos

usedto
Rembrandt van Rijn:
The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild,
Known as ‘The Syndics’
(1662)


"I UsedTo be an innocent, but now I'm more experienced."


I possess a long and ever-growing list of UsedTos: things I used to do, beliefs I once held but outgrew, foods I once treasured but now consider illegal, and assorted discarded habits, vices, attractions, loves, and hates. I like to think that my tastes have moderated over time, that my sophistication has been steadily climbing some evolutionary ladder, but that's probably idle chatter, my monkey mind keeping me distracted and entertained. I still declare several of my UsedTos as remaining on my list of current skills, though I'm surely out of practice on many. I was once successful, for instance, but it's been ages since my successes or failures have influenced my choices. I no longer strive after achievement. I put down my head and continue onward instead.

The purposeful life isn't all it was once cracked up to be.

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Estrangement

estrangement
Charles Émile Jacque:
Entrance to an Inn, with Peasant Drinking (1849)


"We remain related regardless …"


What can I say about Estrangement? It seems the strangest form of human engagement, for it can only exist between people who were once rather tightly connected. Strangers can never become estranged; only friends and family can. Usually, something happens or was said to occur before becoming a legend, a defining event, or a Rubicon crossed. The memory might have never captured the offense, but it will never forget the occurrence. Over time, the relationship will seem irreparable, and the principles involved accept this and move on. "On to where?" might be the operant question. It might have seemed slight to one of the parties, but the effect will become tectonic for both. An absence appears by mutual consent, and people move on with their lives, disappointed with how that one point turned out, yet powerless to make it different. The experience gets filed under Regrets but will never be understood in the same way or entirely forgotten by either party.

We read of Prodigal Sons and more distant relatives reconnecting after lengthy separations.

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Reading

reading1
Édouard Manet: Woman Reading (1880/81)


" … successful distraction might disrupt anything, even distraction itself."


I am a cog in an enormous machine every bit as threatening as the much-feared Military-Industrial Complex. I might label mine The Non-Military Conscientious-Objector Complex because of my background with the military draft, though my complex has little to do with military matters. Mine's all about conscience, conscientiousness, and consciousness, three similar words with enormously different meanings. These three terms share at least one thing in common, which might be, without stretching their native definitions or attempting to create controversy or conspiracy, Reading. I read because it's always the right thing to do. I can never go astray if I'm reading. I also read so that I might live well. I believe it's impossible to live well unless surrounded by books. I also read to achieve the awareness required to comprehend this life. I consider it my moral and civil duty to at least try to remain literarily current.

My occupation feeds this machine.

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Betterment

betterment 2
Paula Modersohn-Becker:
Portrait of a Peasant Woman (1898/99)


"I've written plenty, but that only matters if I'm still writing."


I began writing these stories to prove something to myself. I intended them to serve as a dedication test, proof that I was, as I believed myself to be, a writer because writers don't just declare their profession; they write. If they pursue commercial success, writers must also publish; indeed, those might well budget more time for promotion than production. Most writers were never published, for they created for purposes other than publication. We believe that the system set up to identify and distribute the best writing succeeds in achieving that end. Still, we have no way to verify that this is or ever was the case, for the stuff the system failed to identify was never included in the assessment and couldn't have been. In Dicken's time, for instance, it seems entirely possible that a few dozen scribblers produced novels immeasurably better than anything he ever imagined. However, for one reason or another, they never found a publisher or any means of distribution. Their neighbors might have seen those authors as eccentrics, perhaps even hermits; they maybe even became the butt of ungenerous stories about how they only thought of themselves as writers. Only the writers themselves ever knew the truth. If they wrote, they were writers.

I long ago proved the point of my experiment.

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BetterStory

betterstory
Lewis Wickes Hine: Climbing up the Beams on the Empire State-100 Stories Up (1931)


" … it will only be my legacy."


I have lately encountered several people who seem to be living disappointing stories. They serve as complainants in their own lives, disgruntled by their plotlines. I wonder why they chose to feature those stories, ones which seemed especially designed to disappoint them when they might have chosen any of a nearly infinite array of more satisfying ones. I didn't ask any of them that question, and I suspect, without testing my suspicion, that few of them would offer an easy or appreciative response.

What about reality?

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WritingSummary For The Week Ending 09/14/2023

ws09142023
Edward Wadsworth: Requiescat (1940)


After The Physical Experience Ends
My weekly writing summaries serve as both reminiscence and discovery. I inevitably discover insights that hadn't connected through the week before I paused to reflect. This might be the highest best purpose of reflection, that it sometimes elevates experience into insight. We move through our lives as innocents—ignorants—only understanding later, often after it's too late to make any difference. We sit, then, wondering how our experience might have felt different had we understood before we stumbled into the associated insight. Experience never ends at the apparent end of the experience. The ending lags at least a few beats beyond where the incoming ceases. Without reflection, the sensory experiences, even the lived experiences, make little sense. The meaning emerges shortly (or longly) after the physical experience ends. Better, probably, when we can acknowledge this difference.


Weekly Writing Summary

I began my writing week by reprising a posting from July, 2022 about
Sleep "I realize I'm a lousy sleeper. I never aspired to become any better at it than I've become. Indeed, my current lack of skill represents a lifetime of focused practice, the payoff, not an absence."

I admitted to an introvertion preference and described the effect of too much extroversion as
ExtroversionPoisoning. This story proved the most popular this period. "I sometimes feel after over-extended exposure that I'm suffocating and can hardly continue breathing. These times alarm me most, for the weight of the world presses down upon my chest, and I simply must find respite. I will decline your invitations then and avoid promising to attend. I will not attempt to be anybody's friend, for I must befriend myself again before I can be anybody else's credible companion."

I wondered if I overthink as much as I think I overthink in
OverThinking. "It seems a genuine wonder to me when I successfully complete anything. After working my way through a hazy half-dozen scenarios, each demonstrating how I could not possibly succeed, the most unlikely result always, always, always shocks and surprises me. I wonder then if I really do overthink as much as I think I do or if the accompanying rigamarole might just be necessary for me to get begun and then get through anything to done."

I experienced a familiar scenario this week so I wrote a story about its substance,
Idiot-Making. "We seem to be, as a species, very skilled at Idiot-Making. We can transform virtually anyone into an idiot by merely less than generously interpreting their performance."

I posted a curious story about the
DangerousPlaces I inhabit. "Cynicism happens when life wounds an optimist, innocence disappoints, and a certain kind of ignorance takes preference. Cynicism produces self-inflicted first-degree knife wounds that seem to be the devil's own work to heal."

I reported on a delightful rediscovery, that my life's work apparently resides in weeding and manuscriopt-making in
SafeHavens. "I felt surrounded by so much familiar that I lost that sense of alienation my wildly fecund prior month had induced. I felt fully re-immersed in my most treasured SafeHavens, writing and weeding. The world could go to Hell, though I'd miss it terribly. I was temporarily suspended in the space intended for me, manuscript-making and weeding, two seasonal rewards there for the taking."

I ended my writing week trying to describe an alien form of organization and operation, one I quietly envied when I encounter it in
IndustrialCivility. "They do not possess a prestigious address, nor do they ever care to. They know what they do, and they do that well. There's no identity crisis or search for deeper meaning. The operation is just what it seems to be, no questions asked. "

This writing week felt like a roller-coaster ride. I began by reprising something I'd written fourteen months before. This felt like both an abrogation—what? Nothing original this morning?—and an acknowledgment and recognition that I needn't necessarily reinvent what I've already adequately considered. I honored my past by making it present again. I acknowledged the cost of fulfilling obligations and over-extending myself with ExtroversionPoisoning. I wondered if I really was that guilty of OverThinking. This question, of course, needed no answering. I encountered some vehement Idiot-Making where I was the idiot again. I admitted to living in proximity to DangerousPlaces, which doesn't make me even a little bit different or unique. I then described my protective SafeHavens. I ended this writing week admitting a tinge of jealousy for a subculture I've never personally experienced, but to which I still feel an attraction. Thank you for following along. It looks like we're finally entering the final week of Honing Stories.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved







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IndustrialCivility

IndustrialCivility
Edward Alexander Wadsworth: Illustration (Typhoon) (1914–1915)


" … people like me can only ever be a visitor. "


We inhabit a culture comprised of innumerable subcultures, each with unique rules and protocols. These subcultures might be the many we claim to come out of, E Pluribus Unum. Encountering any subculture can make anyone more aware of their own, which ordinarily exists like a fish's water, present but not accounted for. We receive little more than glimpses of other's subcultures, often through cues that seem somehow alien, different. I recently encountered one that I found enduring, heartwarming. I labeled it IndustrialCivility because it appeared to me, in my experience, most prevalent in industrial settings, a standard set of protocols common to those enterprises. These seem starkly different than the practices I've experienced in offices, for instance, or in clinics.

IndustrialCivility first appears orderly with almost a military discipline.

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SafeHavens

safehavens
Camille Pissarro: Young Peasant Having Her Coffee (1881)


"… rewards there for the taking."


The hapless homeowner faces a fecund entropy through the month following mid-August. The garden's finally producing and achieving exponential returns. The Eurasian Stinkbugs find their prey, too, and threaten to spoil The Muse's long-awaited tomato party as well as the rhubarb. Weeds take full advantage of the often frantic watering as humidity levels plummet to the lowest of the year while solar radiation threatens to burn everything in place. It's usually a frenetic pace, a plate-juggling class of fruitless efforts. Self-esteem plummets in the face of overwhelming opposition to the regular rules of order. Fertility leads to pregnancy and pregnancy to a disruptive addition to the family. I struggle to fulfill my resulting unintended obligations.

I think of our Villa Vatta Schmaltz as one of our SafeHavens, a secure spot within the chaos.

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DangerousPlaces

dangerousplaces
Martin Schongauer: The Griffin (c. 1480–90)


" … some days seem to need almost the whole day to recover …"


I often forget about the DangerousPlaces my work compels me into. I engage almost blithely, innocently exploring when I might more thoughtfully engage. I consider my manner of engaging anything but calloused, for I firmly believe that one must never become cynical. I hold myself to knowing enough to justify cynicism but choosing not to become cynical as my way to get even or stay balanced. This sometimes works. Cynicism happens when life wounds an optimist, innocence disappoints, and a certain kind of ignorance takes preference. Cynicism produces self-inflicted first-degree knife wounds that seem to be the devil's own work to heal. Better to become a Griffin's dinner than to live a cynical existence.

These DangerousPlaces sometimes deeply wound me.

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Idiot-Making

idiot-making
William Nicholson: I for Idiot (1898)


"What I choose to do in that moment always defines the outcome of my effort."


When contracting for consulting work, I'd usually confide to my prospective client that if we agreed to terms, at some point during the following engagement, he would find himself convinced that he had hired a complete idiot as a consultant. I suggested that what we chose to do then would define the effort's success. This prediction usually came true, not because I possess any particular foresight but because it was in the nature of the sort of work I contracted to perform that I would usually appear to be an idiot if I performed well. I would not always seem capable of foreseeing because what I would be doing could not be foreseen but always needed to be prized out, discovered in stream, and not usually beforehand. It was more hunt-and-peck work that the less experienced invariably attempted to manage utilizing prior specification, a sure and certain recipe for the appearance of idiocy at some time during the proceedings.

We seem to be, as a species, very skilled at Idiot-Making.

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ExtroversionPoisoning

extroversionpoisoning
William Henry Johnson: The Blind Singer (c 1945)


" … I must befriend myself again …"


I "am" an introvert. This improper way to describe my preference ignores the fact the introversion/extroversion dichotomy does not express identity but preference. I remain capable of both extroverted activities as well as my more native introverted ones. The extroverted efforts seem to take more significant tolls, though. I can always engage as an introvert for extended periods without requiring any mental health break from the activity. I do not remember ever even once needing an extroversion break, where I felt compelled to find someone to spill my guts to so that I could maintain some internal balance. I often, though, flee into any handy old cave to recover from too much interaction, a condition I refer to as ExtroversionPoisoning.

Sometimes, I seem to become altogether too much of this world.

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WritingSummary For The Week Ending 09/07/2023

ws09072023
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Wisdom (1893)


Not Letting My Reticence Chase You Off
The Muse insists that I and the world are inevitably better off when I get out and mingle in the world. I tend to disagree on principles. As an introvert, my world revolves around something other than public spectacle, but I cannot successfully disagree that more variety appears when I get off my duff and mingle. Her candidate booth at the local fair, as well as her entry into the accompanying parade, had me living well outside my usual comfort zone through almost this entire writing week. I didn't die. I might have even thrived. I might admit under mild duress that I, at times, even almost enjoyed the engagements, but mum's the word on that account. I remain a writer, your writer, and not some itinerant schmoozer. I'm the guy who appreciates those with social skills, who gratefully cedes center stage to those who seem to gain satisfaction from standing there. I'm atmosphere people, more than satisfied to chronicle my emotional experiences via the PureSchmaltz. Thank you so very much for following along and not letting my reticence chase you off.

Weekly Writing Summary

I began this writing week with an encounter with bureaucracy that left me feeling absolutely
Gutted.

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Disconceptions

disconceptions
Percy Billinghurst:
The Fool Who Sold Wisdom (1900)


“ … a particular sort of Hell.”

My time in The Muse's Fair booth unsettled me. I saw an alarming erosion of conception before me as I spoke with some people. They possessed what they might accept as received wisdom, which seemed more like bullshit. I wondered how these people could each spout the same nonsense. I wondered about the source of their understanding, for it appeared unusually unshakeable. It reflected an apparently preconscious conviction that they possessed a wisdom denied their lesser brethren. I felt them suspiciously classifying me, passing me a sort of test to determine if I was one of them or one of those. I never once aspired for them to classify me as one of them in any of these conversations, but then I was also dancing along an edge because I didn't want to chase off any potential voters for The Muse.

Friends told me that these folks were victims of Fox News, an outlet I cannot get since The Muse disabled the remote control to ignore those channels.

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Last_Night

last_night
Edgar Degas: Portrait after a Costume Ball
(Portrait of Madame Dietz-Monnin)
(1879)


"May we always remember."

Every exhibitor finally figures out their trade on the last night of the Fair. The five long days before were merely practice for this grand finale performance. By five pm, everyone's walking around like zombies, the unavoidable effect of back-to-back-to-back-to-back twelve-hour days standing on unforgiving concrete or sitting in equally torturous folding chairs. Each became a master of their wares by repetition. The come-on tried a dozen ways before finally settling on one that reliably worked. Still, more strolled by than lingered, but those who lingered on the Last_Night stayed a little longer. Everyone knows full well that this show's just about through, and most seem to want to savor its presence while that's still possible.

We've come to know those showing around us.

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FlatWrong

flatwrong
Egyptian: Plaque Depicting a Quail Chick
(
Ptolemaic Period [332–30 BCE])


" … never any different from antiquity to present."


There's wrong, and then there's FlatWrong. Wrong tends to be a run-of-the-mill error, while FlatWrong catches the perpetrator by complete surprise. Wrong might surprise, too, but it carries little consequence. Wrong turns almost always seem easily corrected. Even taking that wrong freeway out of Lexington, Kentucky, without discovering my error for over an hour resulted only in a different route home. I couldn't turn around without adding another hour to a trip I'd already lengthened by about an hour, so that error produced a plot twist of little consequence. FlatWrong cannot usually be undone. It's an unintended center stage pratfall on opening night. There's no undoing that sort of performance.

The truth's out, then.

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TheSchmoozeAlarm

theschmoozealarm
Thomas Jones Barker: Two School Boys (c. 1830)


Schmooze: To converse informally, make small talk or chat (שמועסן, shmuesn, 'converse', from Hebrew: שמועות, shəmūʿōth, 'reports/gossip'; OED, MW). Noun: schmoozer, abbr. schmooze. Wikipedia

"Blessed are the Schmoozers …"


We're each familiar with the snooze alarm, that feature of modern alarm clocks that allows us to temporarily turn off an alarm clock without actually waking, setting up an unconscious response cycle destined to undermine the very intention of setting the alarm. I would count this invention as one of humanity's peak innovations, for it reliably achieves the opposite of its designer's intentions before going on to be in almost ubiquitous use. Everyone has one, and everyone learns to sleep right through it. The very term Snooze Alarm has come to describe where an explanation further confuses and where an excuse convinces otherwise. No salesperson or pitchman wants to "hit The Snooze Alarm" when attempting to persuade. No politician does, either.

A friend running for office might be what anyone might call a wonk, a person so enthused by his knowledge about a subject that he can almost instantly chase anyone else off by just starting an explanation.

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Roe-Day-O

roe-day-o
Harold Edgerton: Rodeo (1940)


"Who or what was never made explicit."


I'd never been. I'd never attended the rodeo part in the sixty-some years since I first attended The Southeastern Washington Fair and Rodeo. It required an additional admission, and I had no particular interest. The Fair had also featured parimutuel horse racing, something for which I possessed neither curiosity nor inclination, so my birth family and I satisfied ourselves with the offerings on the Fair side of the fairgrounds: the midway, rides, animal barns, and 4-'achie entries, massive ice cream bars, and, of course, the Dippy Dogs, the local variation on corn dogs, and turkey legs. We'd see the fair queens in the parade and witness loads of cowboys, even some with cattle as well as hat, but we were never once tempted to enter into that world, even as witnesses. Never once until last night, that is.

Friends offered us loge seats in one of the newly-constructed platform boxes suspended above the chutes on the opposite side of the arena.

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RealPolitic

RealPolitic
Jack Gould:
Untitled [several people holding political posters
and signs at mock convention]
(1955)


The Muse works the passing crowd. The Pavilion at the Fair serves as its Grand Central Station. Families move through the aisles, stopping at booths to collect free handouts and enter raffles. One booth offers a free set of Bluetooth speakers; another, eternal salvation. The politicians do not dominate this space, though they are present: a city council candidate and The Muse, candidate for an open position on the local Port commission. I swear she can pull almost anyone in for at least a brief conversation—many last much longer as she makes some personal connection with the potential voter.

She starts with The Question, the qualifying question intended to winnow out those who cannot vote for her. "Are you a voter in this county?"

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Gutted

gutted
Russell Lee:
Gutting tuna at the
Columbia River Packing Association.
Astoria, Oregon
(1941)


"It would have just been my fault."
——
The Frog

Be kind and tender to the Frog,
And do not call him names,
As ‘Slimy skin,’ or ‘Polly-wog,’
Or likewise ‘Ugly James,’
Or ‘Gape-a-grin,’ or ‘Toad-gone-wrong,’
Or ‘Billy Bandy-knees’:
The Frog is justly sensitive
To epithets like these.
No animal will more repay
A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare).

HILAIRE BELLOC

I arrived at the Fairgrounds just after eight a.m.

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WritingSummary For The Week Ending 08/31/2023

ws08312023
Stefano Della Bella: Boy Writing (17th century)


Something More Suited For The Ages
I sometimes forget just how very delicate everything is. Nothing's robust or built to last. Everything’s destined to dust, however unlikely that fate seems near the beginning of anything. That head of fresh lettuce seems eternal until a few days later, when it, too, betrays your trust. I flipped my compost heap this week, an infrequent pleasure I'd delayed due to a volunteer pumpkin vine that had sprouted out of the middle bin early in the season.

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FairTrade

fairtrade
Hans Sebald Beham:
Dansend boerenpaar [Dancing Farm Couple] (1537)


" … invulnerable to most of the ailments common to mere fair visitors."


Like every public entity, Fairs operate on an Upstairs/Downstairs model. There are insiders, and then there are visitors. Staff and exhibitors live on the inside while guests remain on the outside, even after paying their admission fee, largely ignorant of the machine supporting their experience. The visitor might see the gatekeeper but will register few of the insiders making their experience possible, for insiders try hard to remain invisible. One might see somebody with Security printed on their jacket but never really witness security in action, escorting an unruly guest to the gate or invisibly monitoring booth traffic. This year, given that The Muse has contracted for exhibit space to advertise her candidacy for Port Commissioner and interact with voters, She and I get to be Fair insiders.

I revel in the permissions granted me.

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TheTurning

theturning
Suzuki Kiitsuexpan:
Moon and Waves
(First half of the nineteenth century)


" … surveying my small kingdom …"


However subtly this season might start to change, it finishes the job in a swoosh. A mighty wind blows the last complacency aside, and the world turns upside down in a single afternoon. Change seems to resist itself for the longest time before finally caving into its inevitable, unable ever after to recover what it ultimately could no longer retain. It's always been the same. The only question has always been precisely when, a question without anything resembling a reasonable response. TheTurning does not pivot on preciselies but on eventualities. Eventually, inevitably, the change appears, however lengthy the preceding longing might have been.

The Fall term starts as if to set off TheTurning.

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Fairness

fairness
Russel Lee: At the Imperial County Fair, California
(1942)


"Everybody heads home a winner anyway!"


I feel confident that I have no idea how to describe The Southeast Washington Fair and Rodeo, though I've attended this celebration for more than sixty years. The "Fair" seemed enormous and exciting in my youth, a vast playground of unusual sights and experiences. Rides, sure, but also animal barns where the farm kids would camp out with their prize stock and walk around with straw in their hair. In the old days, the Midway was a place of awe and petty crime where carnies and unlikely charlatans took the usual advantage of gullible townies. One of those sharps correctly named my first-grade teacher's first name, an astounding feat made more remarkable by the fact that her name was Pearl. What were the odds besides impossible? That single transaction convinced me to avoid betting on anything ever again. The odds are very likely somehow invisibly in someone else's favor.

The modern-day Fair seems tame, down-right lame in comparison.

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MoreAuthentic

moreauthentic
John Downman: Attention
(n.d., late 18th, early 19th Century)


"Whomever created this clockwork universe seems to have installed it backward."


We deem old stuff as MoreAuthentic than more modern things. We seem to revere the good old days with our language, for it seems to disparage newness. They must actually not build them like they used to; every updated everything, worse, slower, and ultimately more expensive rather than better, faster, or cheaper. Upgrades degrade performance and disable familiar capabilities and should be deferred as long as possible. Replacement parts invariably fail to fit properly or seem so much more cheaply manufactured that they never quite match original surroundings. New and improved prove to be an oxymoronic marriage incapable of fulfilling its promises. We remain wary of improvements and most likely should be. Progress never was anybody's most important product; entropy was.

When penny candy costs a quarter, the future has arrived as feared.

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Authentic

authentic
Jozef Israëls: A Laren Scene (1905)


" … a caricature of its original intentions."


Here in The Napa Of The North, we're noticing an encroaching reduction in authenticity as the BIG growers buy land and move into this valley. Main Street, which once offered every service imaginable in its few short blocks, now primarily features what the locals call Cute Crap Shoppes and wine-tasting rooms, so many that I haven't mustered the courage to enter any of them. They seem undifferentiated, each featuring essentially the same decor and identical ambiance. Perhaps the wine's unique to each, but I doubt that. If I attempted a tasting tour of Main Street, I doubt I could make it there and back again without over-indulging on modest pours and origin stories. Each winery and vineyard must possess a founding myth and an abiding ethos to justify its existence. The wine business never really was that much about wine.

Visitors arrive aching to experience The Walla Walla Difference.

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SlippingAway

slippingaway
Utagawa Hiroshige 歌川 広重:
Yoshitsune Awaits Benkei at Gojo Bridge (c. 1840)


“ …leaves drying before turning …”


Summer, above all seasons, seems just to slip away. Once fierce, it tames. Its once dominant sun loses weight. Somebody blows out some of her candles. Even when the thermometer hits eighty, it's a toothless and unconvincing heat. It's just going through the motions with almost another month left where it will be expected to continue fulfilling obligations. The time for frying eggs on sidewalks has already past. Successive cues will continue before this season's gone, but it’s now become an imposter and will not return until next year.

Summer became the scariest season, replacing Winter over recent years.

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Returning

Returning
Jean-François Millet:
Peasant Returning from the Manure Heap (1855–56)


"Nobody needs everlasting anything."


Returning rarely carries the cachet leaving exudes. Departure reeks of adventure, while Returning more often smells of dirty underwear and sour beach sand warming in late summer sunshine. Whatever the season, it will seem to have changed during the absence. Summer will suddenly be leaving, when a week before it had settled in until at least November. The first signs of Autumn will appear in some sunburnt Vine Maple still turning color despite the drought's malign influence. While leaving seemed an escape, Returning seems an acceptance. However adventurous the departure seemed, Returning requires genuine courage to face with renewed dedication what might have driven you away.

The hero never returns from his adventures.

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ValleyOfThe

valleyofthe
Roger Fenton:
The Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855)


"Stories never end."


The Old Wives insisted that deaths arrive in threes. I remember this notion being considered fact from my earliest recollections. I remember it proving true, too, which seemed even more disconcerting, for it was one thing to presume and quite another to experience confirmation. After my great-grandmother died when I was twelve, I dreaded another funeral for weeks after that event. These days, I've matured enough to recognize the fundamentally random distribution of such events and how my parsing can make unrelated events seem causally associated. I remain wary. When one drops, I anticipate a follow-on. When that occurs—notice how I didn't use the descriptor 'if'—I always expect a third and am rarely disappointed, though successfully anticipating departures doesn't qualify as a win. "There it goes again," I mumble to myself. Whoever posited that third time's a charm was not paying close enough attention.

I wrote this week about losing my dear friend TheAngelClair.

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Waiting...

Waiting...
Winslow Homer: Waiting for a Bite (1874)


" … reduced to roughly the equivalent of the quality of your Waiting…"


(I submit this story in recognition of The Muse’s birthday.)

No travel guidebook worth its salt would dedicate a chapter to the underappreciated art of Waiting… . This one will, though strictly speaking, this collection of Honing Stories doesn't quite qualify as a guidebook, or at least not as a conventional one. I've reported before that I have little use for guidebooks. Nobody can ever recreate another's travel or adventure, so one should properly read guidebooks only as biography or fiction—probably fiction—and work hard to avoid trying to replicate the author's experience with their own. It cannot be done, and attempting it will very likely ruin your vacation. All that said, I will try today to write a sincere appreciation of the magnificent and underappreciated art of Waiting…; for some significant portion of every adventure, every vacation, every damned day gets expended with Waiting…, and we seem ill-prepared for this effort.

The Muse and I checked the ferry schedule to learn that we would have needed to schedule our trip sometime in the past to secure a reservation on any crossing before nine-fifteen that evening.

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YachtSeen

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


"Let the inquiry fail to resolve the mystery."


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

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

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Rememberer

rememberer
Thomas Wood: Remembrance (valentine) (c. 1850)
(I could find no biographical information on this artist.)


"They hold us upright …"


Of all the roles I have played and continue playing in this life, the role of Rememberer might qualify as the sleeper. I focus most of my energy into my role of primary experiencer, for that seems to be the most purpose-laden role available. I make my history by engaging in the innumerable activities that will eventually comprise my history. I never schedule time to set aside engaging to do some serious remembering, even though much of my activity involves writing, which relies upon recollections. I never catch myself stuffing away reflections. They seem to accumulate more or less automatically, never by me more tightly focusing my attention. Indeed, squinching my mind in order to capture memories better seems paradoxical. One does not really capture anything for later consumption. Some stuff just seems to stick.

I remember visiting St. Peter's in Rome only to find the place overrun with people carrying video cameras attempting to capture their visit to St. Peter's.

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TheAngelClair

theangelclair
Odilon Redon: THE APOCALYPSE OF SAINT JOHN
And Another Angel Came Out of the Temple
which is in Heaven,
and He also Having a Sharp Sickle

1899


"Travel well, ya old bastard!"


On the morning of my seventy-second birthday, I received news from an old Takoma Park neighbor that our mutual friend and former neighbor Clair had died of congestive heart failure and dementia. I had anticipated and dreaded this news since my last visit to our exile. On that visit, Clair had agreed to fetch me from some bus stop somewhere but was uncharacteristically tardy. I started walking the route I knew he'd take, and eventually, he came along in his familiar red Prius, though it seemed to have suffered extensive front-end damage. He pulled over, I clambered in, and we retired back to his familiar home next door to the site of the first rental of our exile. He explained that it was "the damnedest thing" that his car seemed to damage itself. Michele, his artist wife, was displeased that he was still driving. He slurred his story.

I'd met Clair one bright June Sunday morning.

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Vacatering

vacatering
Eugène-Louis Boudin:
Vacationers on the Beach at Trouville (1864)


" … every other place an also-ran."


We simply must leave preparation for the very last minute. The Muse must run out to The Home Despot as the sun sets to buy replacement parts for the watering computers we hadn't used since we couldn't remember when. Leaving home in mid-summer makes no sense because who will water in our absence? We have a long history of losing plants when our automatic watering system fails. I can't use the damned things because their user interface is written in machine language. The Muse can even change their batteries. We stood in the sideyard, testing long-unused sprinklers, working out a strategy. I usually use three of our vast array of sprinklers, moving the same ones from place to place. We have no such luxury available in our absence. We must set zones so that every inch of the property gets watered without human intervention because we will be off Vacatering, absent.

I worry over the cats, who I know can take care of themselves.

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WritingSummary 08/17/2023

ws08172023
Johann Andreas Benjamin Nothnagel:
Hermit Writing (18th century)


I Seem To Flourish Anyway.

It has almost always been the case that the greater my feeling of inadequacy when publishing or posting something, the greater the readers' appreciation. This does not translate into any meaningful or particularly useful metric, for I can't seem to leverage my sense of inadequacy into validation. I quite naturally quake when feeling that all-too-familiar sensation that I've fallen short again. It must be a particularly ironic blessing that these very items that spark my greatest concern tend to return the greatest appreciations. I cringe and publish anyway, understanding enough about the process to appreciate that whatever comes out represents the best I'm likely to produce that day. I receive remarkably few invitations to submit do-overs. Given the paradoxical feedback my audience feeds me, it's a wonder that I continue. I seem to flourish anyway.

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Harvust

harvust
Paul Sérusier: The Harvest of Buckwheat (1899)


"We will not need to make time then …"


Late Summer emerges from a hot and dusty sameness anyone would swear might be neverending. Crops start ripening and, in their fashion, quickly overwhelm anyone engaging with them. Narrow windows hold promise, a precious week for some and only slightly longer for others. One starts gathering rosebuds while they may. Miss a day, and I might miss the whole year. Time becomes the premium resource, for the calendar already seemed full. Each successive crop squeezes in anyway, sideways and unsympathetic toward any whining. One learns early, and the lessons stick through frequent repetition, be prepared to sacrifice anything to preserve the Harvust.

Each year I try to hone my technique.

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SocialMorality5

socialmorality5
Claude Monet: House of the Customs Officer, Varengeville (1882)


"Would be potentates might finally receive a subpoena."


Now and then, a politician will come along primarily dedicated to misrepresenting everything. They might start small but eventually expand their practice to include every blessed thing that comes out of their mouth. They seem to be enjoying the time of their life without compunction or consequences at first. They don't age. Their story changes unselfconsciously into whatever form seems most useful at any moment, always delivered with the same supreme confidence. Anyone might come to question their judgment listening to these lies, for it violates some primal comportment to so blithely misrepresent. Eventually, even gravity loses meaning. There are those still believing, and everyone else. True believers, by which I mean those who have built their belief upon utter falsehoods, will maintain unshakeable belief, and that belief will become their uncontestable truth.

Not even politicians ever manage to avoid the truth forever.

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SocialMorality4

socialmorality4
Govaert Flinck: Blessing of Jacob (1638)


Mrs Snipkin and Mrs Wobblechin

Skinny Mrs. Snipkin,
With her little pipkin,
Sat by the fireside a-warming of her toes.
Fat Mrs. Wobblechin,
With her little doublechin,
Sat by the window a-cooling of her nose.

Says this one to that one,
"Oh! you silly fat one,
Will you shut the window down? You're freezing me to death!"
Says that one to t' other one,
"Good gracious, how you bother one!
There isn't air enough for me to draw my precious breath!"

Skinny Mrs. Snipkin,
Took her little pipkin,
Threw it straight across the room as hard as she could throw;
Hit Mrs. Wobblechin
On her little doublechin,
And out of the window a-tumble she did go.

Laura Elizabeth Richards


" … the riskiest of all propositions …"


Morality, the Thou Shalts of behavior, necessarily restricts some behaviors and altogether enjoins against others. It would prove an absolute fool's mission for me or anyone to attempt to delineate all the terms and conditions within our or anyone's SocialMorality. In very real ways, one must come to know without explicit instruction; much of that learning can only come from sincere observation. Woe be to the unobservant, for they seem destined to embarrass themselves without knowing it. They will become the ones quietly looked down upon, the self-selected second- and third-class citizens who repeatedly disqualify themselves through their actions. These feral citizens complicate the operation of any decency-seeking society and create an attractive nuisance for the more acculturated, for unlike our Skinny Mrs. Snipkin, we daresent go throwing our little pipkins every time another manages to offend us. Rightness does not empower anyone to start tossing around their pipkin, however righteously engaged in.

The righteous hold greater responsibility than anybody.

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SocialMorality3

SocialMorality3
Edmund J. Sullivan:
Ah, love! could thou and I with faith conspire (1913)


"We remain in moral peril …"


Morality seems an inherently social entity, for it's anchored in commandments. An ethic involves an individual swearing to do something, I Shall, while a moral entails accepting a commandment, Thou Shalt. An immoral act involves disobeying an order or an understanding, violating a covenant between a respected authority and its supplicant. In the case of SocialMorality, the authority might well be disembodied, a cultural understanding. "One simply never on a Sunday does," for instance, the agreement appears more often tacit than explicit. The rules seem to have been forgotten or never understood in modern times. Throughout history, modern times have considered themselves the exception, present expressly to break traditions and make new ones. A core of more or less permanent morals has weathered such abuse and tends to resurface after much misuse and disservice. Gentlemen have comported themselves in specific ways throughout the ages despite passing fancies, for instance.

The new presents this unique challenge for us.

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SocialMorality2

socialmorality2
Mervin Jules: The Art Lover (1937)


" … seeking to act upon our interdependent moral duties …"


Every social act seems presumptuous, for we are born autonomous beings utterly dependent upon each other. Our social lives seem contradictory to our survival, but they aren't. Our autonomy too convincingly encourages us to isolate, discriminate, and individuate when we are inescapably plurals, “beings," not merely "being." It's all terribly confusing, and without some orientation, we might be destined to attempt to be -ists: rugged individualists or survivalists, neither of which seem anywhere near anybody's crown of creation. We live in communion, or we fail to thrive. Primitive formations of communion include cults, competing clubs, and patriotism, each of which paradoxically relies upon separatism as the medium for community, as its unifying purpose. Each vilifies difference instead of holding it supremely sacred. SocialMorality utterly depends upon a deep reverence for difference, not just the tolerance of it but an admiration equal to the wonder that difference actually entails. Difference seems to be the unifying principle underlying all social activity and, therefore, SocialMorality.

The purpose of school should be an orientation to—learning—SocialMorality.

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VelveteenEvening

velveteenevening
Hashimoto Okiie: Quiet Evening (1958)


"Once they're here, they're gone."


By late afternoon, the cats emerge from their moist shady lairs to make their way toward the back deck. If she's back from her day campaigning, the Muse shows up at about the same time. I'm already there waiting for this moment. I find the food and set out the cats' dinner. The Muse and I take to our chairs and survey the yard. She might wander back to check her tomato plants and cucumbers. Stink bugs have infested her tomatoes, and we're trying to chase them away with diatomaceous earth. We have yet to succeed. We ease into another VelveteenEvening.

I might set up the sprinkler, a considerable undertaking: moving hoses and figuring angles.

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WritingSummary 08/10/2023

ws08102023
William Merritt Chase:
Head of a Boy (Date unknown, late 19th century)


"When I wonder why I keep doing this …"


In The Middle of a Muddle
Summer seems to stretch on forever and ever from everywhere here. Rain visited this week, bringing the first measurable moisture since April and a velvety feel to the starch-crisp breeze. The apricot tree finally stopped pelting us with jam bombs, and I let the lawn grow an extra week before mowing it again, mainly to protect my shoulder from any fresh insult. I relearned the folly of my native hesitance to visit the doctor after investing three months in ineffective treatment and discomfort, a repeating pattern. I deferred several projects in favor of nursing an unnecessary wound. I suspect I'll repeat this old pattern when I hurt myself again. A cluster of clogs cleared out this week, blockages that had been inhibiting movement and growth. As I wrote, unstuckness always turns out to be inevitable though it's the very last thing to seem possible from in the middle of a muddle.

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Campaigning

campaigning
William Merritt Chase:
Portrait of Dora Wheeler (1882–83)


"I'm still dabbling."


The picky details stall me. I don't understand the underlying patterns governing the effort. I cannot find what I need when I need it. Her organization baffles me. My organization has yet to emerge, and might never. I've forgotten how to sort a spreadsheet if I ever knew how. I cannot access her Google Drive. I have to take a photo of her QR Code, attach that to an email, then retrieve and edit it into a graphic for use in the document I'm creating. I haven't heard half the rumors governing the effort. I just learned about some gatherings I thought I was supposed to be scheduling. Just creating a simple invitation freezes me. I suddenly do not know what to say to anybody. She produced a handout using the free software that came with some stationery? I can't reuse any of that content, so I use my two-and-a-half typing fingers to transcribe it. She uses a font I do not have and don't want. I'm supposed to call somebody about something, but I've forgotten who and what.

Campaigns are supposed to start naive and full of hope.

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Convergence

convergence1
Hanns Lautensack: Landscape with the Town on a River
and the Cottage between Trees
(1551)


" … purposefully moving forward again."


Once stuck, things tend to stay stuck forever—or almost forever. Points of Convergence emerge. Who knows from where? It's as if stuckness becomes disgusted with itself, weary of the abiding irresolution, to finally take its fate into its own fists, for stuckness seems a wasting state, one inherently incapable of sustaining itself forever. It appears to possess some self-respect such that it cannot abide its own idleness and finally injects some mobility into its existence. However this happens, one can be sure this will happen regardless of how hopeless any context seems. There's always space for dreams, which take up very little space, though dreams seem infinitely expandable. To have one might be to hold the whole universe because with them on hand, anything seems possible.

Since my shoulder seized up in April—it's now August—I fell into a period of stuckness.

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InstantMessaging

instantmessenger
Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze:
Entertaining the Messenger in the Outer Hall (1856)


"We are the apps we invoke …"


I live surrounded by apps I do not know how to operate, whose instruction manual might just as well not exist. I've never cracked an instruction manual for even the most complicated. I have consented to try to sit through a tutorial or two, but certainly not more than a couple, and even those, I'm sure I never made it to the bottom of any of them. Apps are supposed to be intuitively designed, meaning they're supposed to work the way any odd user might expect them to work. Certain conventions seem universal across whole classes of apps. Map apps work similarly, and so do search apps. The differences between them might only come into play if one aspires to become a PowerUser, the sole class of app user who understands how an app works. These are such a tiny minority as not to be worth counting or counting on. They're the ones who supply the incomprehensible answers to the questions you post on an app's User Forum.

I presume I know how to operate the more prominent apps on my devices.

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Surly

surly
Paul Signac: Chromatic Circle (1888)


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


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

I depend upon myself to prevent such slides.

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Beaning

beaning
Paul Cézanne: Road in Provence (c. 1885)


" … the Rosetta Stone recipe for beans."


My life as an erstwhile cook might most easily represent an extended study of dry beans in their near-infinite variety. I was always a fancier of beans. Bean Pot qualified as my favorite childhood supper. I'd ladle pressure-cooked pintos over a slice of bread and swirl a melting hunk of Tillamook Medium Cheddar into the mix to complete the protein and complicate the flavor. From there, I attempted to cook every size, shape, and variety of dry beans I encountered, from split dal to Christmas Limas, with varying success. My beans would often seem overcooked, lacking bite and texture, refried right out of the pot. Other times, I could not get the buggers to soften. Nobody's gastrointestinal tract appreciates blood-rare garbanzos.Further, the locations of my various kitchens and varying techniques influenced the results. Beans might never thoroughly cook at nine-thousand feet in the Rockies and might finish too quickly so that a moment's inattention can render them ruined nearer sea level in Seattle or Portland or even here at The Villa. I remained an enthusiastic, if inconsistent, producer in the Beaning department.

Three significant insights have improved my results over time, and an additional most recent experience promises more consistent future results.

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Paean

paean
Paul Cézanne:
Pistachio Tree at Château Noir (c. 1900)


Paean: a thing that expresses enthusiastic praise. (Oxford Languages)

" … nothing compared to most."


I sing today a song of praise for pain, that preeminent sensation. Above all others, it garners attention. It amplifies apprehension and can inflict damage with mere anticipation. Its sharpness can dull the brightest. Its dullness can sharpen even the boldest. Its lingering promise can thwart even the finest intentions. Its promise can utterly undermine inspiration. The dread of it distorts reason. Attempting to shed it encourages addiction.

Why a Paean for pain?

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WritingSummary 08/03/2023

ws08032023
Paul Lemperly: Correspondence (1896)


Right Enough With This World
A numbing sameness settles in for the second, the downhill half of any season. What was heartily welcomed becomes merely moribund, done yet continuing, a walking finish. I revel in open windows to sit at my desk with a morning breeze blowing over, around, and almost through me while I write, yet I warmly anticipate an overnight low, rendering it too cold some days. The Muse and I flee indoors during the hottest part of the day, hiding until the fierce sun slips further West to leave the back deck in shadows while a sprinkler whispers beneath us. As context goes, so goes content. My writing week mirrored this context. I felt over-stretched, reaching as if I was reduced to leaching out the final inches from an over-used well. The water bill will astound us. The stink bugs have been assaulting The Muse's tomatoes. The composter groans beneath its belly, full of cull apricots. The driveway features leathery patches where the sun dried some apricots before I could clean them up. The yard smells like apricot jam. All's right enough with this world.

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Politicking

politicking
Paul Cezanne: Bathers (1890/94)


"I'm learning to believe."


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

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

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Harmony

harmony
Paul Signac:
In the Time of Harmony:
the Golden Age is not in the Past,
it is in the Future
(1893-95)


"The road to wherever we're going …"


Yesterday, our Justice Department indicted our former president on conspiracy charges. A man who swore to defend our constitution conspired to undermine it. He'll be arraigned tomorrow, and his actual trial might not begin until a year from now. Most commentators contend that it will only end after he exhausts all of his appeals, which might take years. Still, I feel relieved that the indictment's finally public. After the string of House January 6th Committee hearings, completed seven full months ago, many wondered if Justice would ever carry out the committee's recommendations and indict at least the ex-president. Six unindicted co-conspirators were also mentioned in the indictment, not because they will not be indicted, but apparently to keep this indictment simple enough to allow clean litigation. The ex-president has already proven that he'll employ any means to delay prosecution. Courts have been actively denying his frivolous motions since his first indictment. This latest string of accusations seems the most serious and might take precedent over his many other charges, moving this set to the head of an ever-lengthening line. Nobody sees any end to this.

I slept the sleep of the satisfied last night, even though I know yesterday was more like the start than any end of anything.

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Incompetenced

incompetenced
Paul Cezanne:
Madame Cezanne in a Yellow Chair (1888-90)


" … how to compensate for my obvious shortcomings."


"At some point during our upcoming engagement, you should come to believe that you've hired the most incompetent consultant that ever lived. It's what we choose to do then that will determine the success of this effort." This was how I often summed up my contracting conversation with a prospective client. It sometimes seemed even to me that I was attempting to sabotage the effort before beginning work, for even speaking of incompetence might awaken a genuine jinx and damn the effort before it started. Furthermore, in this culture, one should never speak of incompetence in the first person or admit to even glancing knowledge about the affliction. Incompetence is believed to exclusively belong to somebody else and never, ever, anyone's self, yet there I was, freely admitting an impending personal incompetence. I suppose I was daring my client to reject me or hold me blameless. My experience had taught me that every engagement would eventually encourage, if not insist, upon manifesting some incompetence. What value would I encourage by pretending it wouldn't happen this time?

It happens.

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AnotherEpic

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


" … surrounded by easily investigated difference …"


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

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

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pRead

pread
Paul César Helleu: Lezende vrouw in een stoel
[Woman reading in a chair]
(late 19th Century)


" … destined to replicate that one imperative."


I noticed a difference when I first encountered information presented on a screen, a mid-seventies CRT, primitive technology by today's standards. Big and bulky, it required a heads-up stance to read what I had formerly mostly absorbed in a heads-down fashion. I found that I could not retain what entered horizontally. The information seemed to slip right through me. It seemed perfectly suitable for transmitting anything that shouldn't require remembering. Indeed, those CRTs were mainly employed to present reference information, data formatted into templates where the same information was placed in the same position from case to case to case. The application seemed ideally suited to disseminating such eminently disposable information. If it needed deeper scrutiny, a screen print function allowed for a more traditional presentation.

Later, training materials began migrating to the electronic platform, baffling me.

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AlreadyGone

alreadygone
Giovanni Boldini:
Paul-César Helleu, Asleep (c. 1897)


"Time will come when time returns."


My priorities changed as I aged. Twenty years ago, I was all about presence. I actively practiced what I would have unashamedly referred to as "presencing," hoping to seize each moment or something. Twenty years later, I more often seek absence, an active disappearance into whatever I catch myself doing. If something's worth engaging in, it's well worth losing myself in, so I enter with the expressed desire to be transported elsewhere, where might not matter nearly as much as does that transcendent sense of having been utterly transported, slipping through the cracks, flying off the tracks, swiping an AWOL pass.

Flow, for instance, never seemed to be an example of presence but of absence.

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Vacationing

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


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


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

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

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WritingSummary 07/27/2023

ws070272023
John Singer Sargent: Drawing of Paul César Helleu
from the early 1880s.
Sargent cherished this candid drawing
of his lifelong friend
and hung it in the dining room
of his Paris apartment.


To Confuse and Occasionally Astound Myself
I have this persistent sense that I really should understand whatever I'm doing by now, and some days I almost feel convinced that I might. Later, I stumble upon the depth—or the shallowness?—of my delusion to conclude that I do not know what I'm doing and never have. Should this not prove disqualifying? If I really don't know what I'm doing, what benefit does knowing bring? I realize or hope that purpose might remain emergent, never evident until long after the act. Its absence should not necessarily inhibit my continuing engagement, but writing remains a deeply faith-based initiative, not as advertised or anticipated. I might engage in serial bait-and-switch, but not to hoodwink anybody but myself. The stories tend to untangle themselves in longer runs, on a Contingency basis, often just when needed though rarely under foreseen conditions. I might write to confuse and occasionally astound myself.

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Invisible

invisible1
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec:
Invitation to a Glass of Milk (1897)


"We see everything as we are rather than how it is."


Fortunately for us, this world remains altogether too big and far too complex for any of us to grasp. We too easily see pieces as if they weren't disconnected, and we quickly jump to otherwise unwarranted conclusions. We often misplace the knowledge that we fundamentally understand nothing. The budding satisfaction we feel when things finally seem to be coming clear amounts to the largest illusion by far, for that feeling might be desperately trying to tell us almost the exact opposite of what we suppose it says. We think it means we know when it should reinforce our deepening sense of ignorance. An abiding innocence accompanies all this fuss. We're never nearly as sophisticated as we suppose, and this, too, serves as a sort of buffer. It's very likely that nothing's our fault. Not Global Warming or the rising popularity of the right-wing media, for both were born from our insistent ignorance and the utter invisibility of everything surrounding us and from our unwarranted conclusions, the drawing of which perhaps constitutes our only truly human ability.

I do not intend to make excuses here.

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Reconnecting

reconnecting2
John Rubens Smith:
Arms - proportions and attitudes. (1831)
"Plot twists never redefine our heroes."


What experience serves as information and what as definition seems as a much better question, Mr. Shakespeare. To be or not to be comes in, at best, a distant second, for many different states of being exist simultaneously, and not being seems to take the whole question of that side of the equation out of the running. Being or nothingness or Being And Nothingness? These hardly amount to questions, either. The Information/Definition Divide continually haunts each of us and profoundly influences our choices. My fleeing bout of Deltoid Bursitis adopted both guises throughout its tenure. It arrived as simple information, spawning questions first focused on identifying causes. I then held no doubt that the disability would pass quickly. My denial of it characterized our initial relationship. I analyzed it as if it afflicted somebody else. I mostly felt confused by its informational content.

I later came to mistake it as definitional.

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Reagency

reagency
Isaac van Ostade:
Interior of a Stable with three Children (1642)


" … driving home with dirty blues blaring …"


By late July, the garden takes on a frantic aspect. Its regeneration has gone exponential. Cucumbers mature from flowers overnight, and The Muse leaves her morning perusal with both hands full of produce. The tomatoes come next, challenging our tolerance for beneficence and Caprese salads. The apricots produced five years of fruit in a single season, and even the geraniums have gone frantic, needing nearly daily deadheading. We're suddenly running to keep up with what seemed passive last week. It's difficult for me to remember that half the growing season's already gone and that abundance tends to be backloaded, appearing only well after seemingly unacknowledged nurturing occurred. The return comes later when it's almost completely disconnected from its origins, the entire operation utterly dependent upon equal portions of prior knowledge and patience.

I visited the acupuncturist yesterday, an entire month after scheduling the appointment, a whole month and more after the immediate care doctor gave me his diagnosis.

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ContingentStory

contigentstory
Eugène-Louis Boudin: Approaching Storm (1864)


" … the last taste of unremarkable normalcy …"


I write this story for another time, for the time when it will be necessary. Today is not that time, for all seems relatively healthy and humming this morning. One day, though—not today and probably not tomorrow— such a story will be necessary, and the need will be evident to everybody. It seems as though days follow head to toe in an unchanging succession, but sometimes something disrupts that rhythm, transforming the familiar into alien form. Nobody knows how to respond. We lose our minds then or find it impossible to find them. We have no pattern from which to draw. We only notice something missing. I write this story for that morning, for the time I know for certain is coming without knowing anything about when it might appear. When that eventually occurs, may I happen upon this story buried in my archives and find solace and reassurance. I do not know precisely what I might need then, but I can pretend this story might satisfy what I cannot foresee. Let this one serve as my ContingencyStory.

I direct myself to remember when, to look back to the morning when I created this story, back before the previously unthinkable happened.

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Testing

testing
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon:
Cupid Testing His Arrow
(Late 18th, early 19th century)


" … counting my cards, plotting my escape …"


I split these days between resting—forced idleness—and Testing—challenging my barriers. I'm supposed to cool my heels, but my heels already seem plenty chilled, and there's stuff in which I really should be engaging. The apricots won't pick themselves. The yard can't water itself, either, and supper, if it's ever going to come, requires some goading, some human intervention, or else I'll have to accept that I'll go without it again. I have my writing ritual to maintain, too, so I feel compelled to continue doing, albeit on a significantly reduced scale, or not doing will very likely become what truly ails me.

I was born to poke sticks into darkness, continually probing edges.

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Rest

rest1
John J. A. Murphy: Athletes at Rest (20th Century)


"A discontented grumbling accompanies …"


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

All the work not engaged in gathers around him.

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Recovering

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


"I have no fallback position …"


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

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

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WritingSummary 07/20/2023

ws070202023
Anders Zorn:
Augustus Saint Gaudens II
[Saint Gaudens and his model] (1897)


A Step In A Very Long Cycle
I find partially decomposed apricot pits in my flowerbeds because in years past, I threw the culls into our compost heap, where the fruits would quickly decompose into rich dirt, but the pits would remain like small stones in the mix. The Rule of Compost insists that whatever ends up in there will be resurrected many times, eventually becoming indistinguishable from surrounding dirt—eventually becoming dirt—except for those pits, which remain for decades as markers of the dirt's heritage. This writing week found me loading up the compost heap with apricot culls again. We've had more bumper crop than we can keep up with, so each day has a period where I collect smashed remains. I set down tarps to catch most of them because it's easier to scoop up the goopier ones off the tarp than off the sidewalk. This chore will be the first step in a very long cycle, one which will continue long after The Muse and I leave this place behind us. This weekly writing summary seems like a similar effort, a step in a very long cycle, too.

Weekly Writing Summary

I began my writing week recounting my experiences U Picking produce after an afternoon picking somebody else's cherries in
ForToBe. "I seem to need to be a multiplicity, switching roles and identities. I could never bear to merely remain whatever I'd become. Achievement breeds its own dissatisfactions."
fortobe
Winslow Homer: For to Be a Farmer’s Boy (1887)

"ForToBe a farmer, or a manager, or just a writer sometimes."

I continued writing, remembering when I discovered a cache of my mother's home-canned Italian Prunes when cleaning out the old home place in
Preserving. "We preserve for an uncertain future. Perhaps we only preserve for ourselves. Or maybe, just maybe, we preserve to preserve the tradition."
preserving
Vincent van Gogh: The Blue Cart
[Harvest at La Crau]
(1888)

" … wipe away my leaking past."

I explained how I source the images I use in my postings in
Museo. "It's a brilliant contribution, and in the spirit that I post and in which the Internet was created, it's not seeking profit, just a better world."
Museo
Edward Burne-Jones: The Garden Court (1870–75)

" This work continues in earnestness and love."

I told the story of what I labeled the
StandardDilemmas, those situations which render us powerless. "We're raised on fables and typically so damned full of ourselves that we cannot quite believe in our occasional powerlessness. We rarely acquiesce, thinking it a form of cowardice, so we make a fuss and produce much of the drama surrounding us."
standarddilemmas
Lucas van Leyden:
The Expulsion from Paradise (1510)

" … continue collecting experiences."

I described how a friend had agreed to pay a cool half million dollars to buy a hovel in a neighborhood of other half-million dollar hovels in
*Homemading. This story proved the most popular this period! "Societies thrive on humble beginnings that promise, fifty years hence, a fenced yard where the grandkids can romp with the neighbor kids."
homemading
Carl Mydans:
Tar papered house in New Jersey. (1936)

"Societies go to wither and die where everybody tries to earn a cool million in real estate."

I next spoke of dreams not coming true and of how I managed to get through my first great disappointment by playing
A Different-Shaped Guitar. "I lost nothing of substance when I hit that wall. I only lost a medium that, truth told, had not been working for me for a very long time. Dreams, even the best of them, can only ever sustain a dreamer so far."
ADifferent-ShapedGuitar
Imitator of
Juan Gris: Still Life with Guitar (1913)

" … a success or a failure might depend upon nothing other than whether …"

I ended my writing week on a serious but lighter note, describing what I personally consider to be
SartorialSanity. "The Muse is forever asking me how I like her "top" I hadn't noticed. I almost always insist that whatever she's wearing looks just fine. I wonder what she thinks she's doing, asking the opinion of someone who considers his stained Chambray painting shirt the height of SartorialSanity."
SartorialSanity
John Singleton Copley: Nicholas Boylston (1767)

"It's all about how they feel."


We're in that season where every morning promises to turn into Too Darned Hot before noon. Early morning offers the only respite. The cats and I inhabit those hours like refugees, reveling in sweet breezes before they become dehydrating again. MidSummer's a dreaming season, like its first cousin MidWinter, where sanity depends on an active imagination. I began this writing week with ForToBe, imagining someone I only occasionally get to be and never completely. The Muse and I accomplished some Preserving, thinking we were mainly trying to preserve ourselves and our traditions. I stumbled into a nest of Standard Dilemmas. Who doesn't sometimes? I was reminded of the downside of ever-expanding real estate markets and fondly recalled learning to play A Different-Shaped Guitar. I ended the week appreciating the insanity that manages, most days, to keep me sane and beautifully dressed, at least according to my standards. Thank you for following along here.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved






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SartorialSanity

SartorialSanity
John Singleton Copley: Nicholas Boylston (1767)


"It's all about how they feel."


I have been Honing my fashion sense since my early teens, and I formally swore off short-sleeved shirts. During my professional career, I insisted on wearing starched shirts and woolen trousers regardless of the season, later gravitating toward blue jeans and simple cotton shirts. In recent years, I've reduced my wardrobe to the basics: long-sleeved blue chambray shirts, blue jeans, and Barefoot® shoes. My nod to seasons includes optional socks in the summer and cotton jersey pullovers through the cooler months. My closet holds a dozen almost identical cotton shirts and a spare pair of jeans. That's as dressy as I ever care to be these days.

I do not wear shorts, whatever the weather.

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A Different-Shaped Guitar

ADifferent-ShapedGuitar
Imitator of Juan Gris: Still Life with Guitar (1913)


" … a success or a failure might depend upon nothing other than whether …"


At some point in their career, everyone hits their wall. The fortunate find more than one. The experience fully qualifies as the most discouraging anyone ever encounters because it represents the end of a long and satisfying dreaming period. The Wall, at first innocuous, eventually becomes a serious barrier, impossible to go over, under, around, or through. What's a protagonist to do in the face of this flummox? The standard answer responds "Something else." Anything else.

The 'anything else' comes as a forced choice, a coerced alternative that nobody would ever wish upon themselves.

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Homemading

homemading
Carl Mydans:
Tar papered house in New Jersey. (1936)


"Societies go to wither and die where everybody tries to earn a cool million in real estate."

The Villa Vatta Schmaltz was no villa when The Muse and I bought the place nearly a quarter century ago. It then promised to serve as our fixer-upper, our bottomless money pit, our eventual salvation. We paid too much for it, which would not get us into a dilapidated garage in the current market. Like many neighbors, we could not afford our place if we tried to buy it at today's prices. Today's real estate prices have always seemed insane. Yesterday's have always seemed crazy, too, but for the opposite reason.

I bought my first house for $49,950.

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StandardDilemmas

standarddilemmas
Lucas van Leyden:
The Expulsion from Paradise (1510)


" … continue collecting experiences."


I believe in the existence of a set of StandardDilemmas whose primary nature has always been that they utterly negate human agency. No matter what even the most well-meaning human might muster in the face of any of these, that human will remain utterly powerless against it. One might exhibit wisdom when encountering one of them to cede to the superior force, to go without much kicking or screaming, for they represent incarnate fate. If there's nothing to be done, then nothing might serve as the proper response. Yet people rarely exhibit such rationality when facing inevitables. We're raised on fables and typically so damned full of ourselves that we cannot quite believe in our occasional powerlessness. We rarely acquiesce, thinking it a form of cowardice, so we make a fuss and produce much of the drama surrounding us. If the arrested person would just go without a fuss as the arresting officer thoughtfully asked, the unfortunate experience might pass without raising a ripple in the pond. We often insist upon making needless tidal waves instead.

It's not that we don't usually know when we've encountered one of The StandardDilemmas.

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Museo

Museo
Edward Burne-Jones: The Garden Court (1870–75)


" This work continues in earnestness and love."


Their structure has changed in the six years and counting since I began writing these story series. Early postings featured inconsistent format from story to story, though all have remained about the same size, approximately seven hundred words, give or take. Each has featured an image, one which I used to help me focus, for I always, always, always seek an image first before I start writing a story. The image allows me to envision what I'm doing and serves as my companion as I create. I often find myself taken by an image, its creator's story, or both. You might have noticed that sometimes I've employed a series of pieces by the same artist over a week or ten days because I was just so taken by that artist's work,
Matsubara Naoko a great example.

Finding that art has become easier over time.

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Preserving

preserving
Vincent van Gogh: The Blue Cart
[Harvest at La Crau]
(1888)


" … wipe away my leaking past."


After my father died and my mom relocated from the family home into assisted living, I helped clean out that old home place. It was over-filled with memories of times by then long past, as embodied in my mom's knick-knack collection, the mere existence of which spoke of bygone ages. Do people still collect knick-knacks? Most stuff elicited no emotional response from me, but somebody in the family found almost every "treasure" evocative. For me, the basement Fruit Room held by far the fondest memories and evoked an epic lumpy throat. Those shelves behind those plain plywood doors held at least thirty years of Preserving experience in fine quart jars still lined up like well-disciplined soldiers standing at attention.

There were Italian Prunes from the late sixties, I swear. I think I was there when she "canned" them in the steamy mid-summer kitchen.

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ForToBe

fortobe
Winslow Homer: For to Be a Farmer’s Boy (1887)


"ForToBe a farmer, or a manager, or just a writer sometimes."


Fruit picking has been a part of my life since I was a toddler. I felt liberated yesterday when standing near the top of that tall orchard ladder with my head nearer the stars and my hands pulling five, six, seven, or eight cherries off at a time! Whatever the crop, my experience seems similar. I face a randomly-distributed collection that I try to tame. I feel challenged to figure out a process that promises progress as well as satisfaction. I often need to recover almost-forgotten techniques, though no harvesting yields to any single best way. The Muse scrambles up very near the top of any ladder she climbs, preferring altitude above all else, while I typically make my stand mid-way. We pick at almost the same rate.

Some crops demand that I get down on my knees as if to pray and reverently harvest.

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WritingSummary 07/13/2023

ws070132023
Gust van de Wall Perné:
Vrouw schrikt van een kikker
[Woman scared by a frog]
(1887 - 1911)


More Abundant Than Strictly Necessary
This writing week was a genuine embarrassment of riches. The apricot tree's fruit finally ripened, always a momentous happening. It produces more fruit than any ten families could reasonably consume. I realized I still needed to purchase a tall ladder to reach the highest branches. This fruit ripens first and plummets to the ground or onto anyone passing beneath. The fruit seems almost liquid, splatting in joyous reunion with gravity and the Earth. I spend some time each morning shagging fallen cots, collecting their smeared carcasses before interring them in the compost heap. The world seems too alive by at least half, and The Muse and I rush to try to keep up, a fool's mission, a cherished task. This world seems more abundant than strictly necessary, extravagant, and ultimately wasteful. It specializes in conspicuous production, so we might specialize in conspicuous consumption. The homegrown heirloom tomatoes even started coming on. Harvest should continue uninterrupted until after Autumn arrives.

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Pairings

Pairings
Bernhardt Wall: Sunbonnet twins baking. (1906)


" … just like every other Pairing of The Muse and her surroundings …"


The Muse continues to hone her political presence. Two months into her campaign, she's repeated her elevator speech dozens of times and has yet to completely memorize it. She is not practicing as an actor might with the idea of replicating each performance but with the notion that each iteration might prove authentic. Authenticity changes from performance to performance as each occurs within a unique context. There's never any telling which part of any context might prove defining. Sometimes it's the people, and other times, the hall; consistency couldn't possibly be the purpose of her practicing.

Here in this wine country, there's a lot of talk of Pairing, for each wine best combines with some sample of each menu.

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WorstKept

worstkept
Unknown artist (German) or William Kent
Two Travelers under Tree
with Village and Bridge in Distance
(1707)


"Thanks ever so much for finally …"


With the possible exception of confidential and top-secret government material, the best-kept secrets tend to be the WorstKept ones. This conclusion partly stems from the inescapable fact that anyone holding a secret might as well carry a neon sign across their chest declaring that they're holding a secret. With the possible exception of deep cover spies, almost everyone can tell when someone's withholding the whole truth and nothing but. That private business almost always turns out to be a whole lot more public than its holder ever suspects. If the lips don't loosen, some other body part will. As humans, we seem to ache to disclose, and this innate need renders our secrets into an abstruse form of public knowledge. They might not know the details yet, but they know for sure you're withholding and that the underlying story's eventually coming.

It's usually just a matter of waiting or asking.

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CuttingCords

cuttingcords
Jan Harmensz. Muller:
Creation of the World: Day One,
separation of light from dark
(1589)


"I might regret the radical act, but later."


I'd decided when I first reviewed the standard contract they'd sent in response to my query. I'd been dreaming of working with this publisher for over a year, yet when confronted with the details of what that might entail, I knew in that instant we'd never consummate a deal. I'm no lawyer, a declaration my Business Law professor insisted I memorize, but I didn't need to be an expert in contract law to recognize an embarrassingly amateurish piece of ‘work.’ I felt embarrassed and angry. Embarrassed for the representative offering this P.O.S. and angry that anyone would have ever thought it might pass muster under any condition. I thought it must show the state of desperation and innocence combined in aspiring authors that anyone would ever sign such a thing, and then I felt embarrassed all over again for my compatriots.

A part of me thought I might have been too picky.

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Wronging

wronging
Hans Weiditz (II):
Behaarde man kruipt door een bos
[Hairy man crawls through a forest]
(1514 - 1531)


" … without expecting to eventually avoid making more."


The Honing life involves more than and seems different from positive feedback loops. It primarily entails catching myself doing something wrong and nudging myself closer toward some path of righteousness, correcting my error if possible. My legacy might end up being a long series of close misses with a few more spectacular further misses sprinkled in for variety. Few hits and many, many misses. In the end, I will contend that I was in the game without often experiencing a winning season because my standards were never quite satisfied. My successes were failures, too, not usually on the scale of my catastrophes but of similar quality.

This lifestyle's no tragedy, far from it.

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RealPain

realpain
Theodore Lane: Champagne verdrijft de pijn
[Champagne driving away real pain]
(1825 - 1826)


"Waiting seems the worse sort of RealPain."


I, probably like you, have sometimes been called a real pain in the ass. I confess to the charges even though I struggle to accept the concept of RealPain, for pain seems almost entirely illusory. That's not to say that pain can't make a reasonably convincing case that it sometimes has substance; it's just that whatever that substance might be, it seems extraordinarily elusive. Even medical doctors rely upon a silly cartoon chart to asses pain levels, and their test requires patients to assess and report their own levels when most patients lack adequate experience to pass such judgments. My little sister, who would cry at the drop of a hankie, might declare a pain level of eleven for something I'd most likely label a twinge.

I've lived with chronic pain but learned not to take it very seriously.

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ZombieLand

zombieland
Hablot Knight Browne:
The Broken Cart-Rope
(n.d.-mid-nineteenth century)


Just before the 1929 market crash, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that his grandchildren would, a hundred years hence, inhabit a world requiring them to work no more than fifteen hours per week. Even then, he insisted that fifteen hours would provide more labor than the economy would strictly need to effectively operate. We easily notice today that this prediction has yet to come to fruition, though we might notice too easily and miss seeing what's happening around us. Yes, most report ever-growing pressure to work ever more hours. Yes, overwork has developed somewhat of a cachet, a status symbol such that those who work the most believe themselves to be the most essential. Yes, everyone complains about their lack of leisure time, but I'm curious if leisure means what it meant back in 1929 when Keynes published his prediction.

Leisure time then didn't include a minute of cell phone time.

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TottingUp

tottingup
Unknown Artist:
Daikon Radish and Accounting Book (19th century)


“Data-Driven crazy …”


Come Friday morning, I'm TottingUp the week's receipts, just as if I ran a small business. I count the customers and imagine significances like bean counters have always done. I avoid the formal metrics, Google Analytics® and the like, because something about how I initially organized my web presence rendered it impossible to formally evaluate. I count contacts instead: likes, comments, and views assigning a nominal value of one (1) to each. For instance, a post like this week's Discernment attracted forty-nine views, no comments, and a single like on Facebook. It also showed twelve accesses via a LinkedIn link and twenty-one via my newer Substack path, for a total of eighty-four somethings. I have no idea what that number means other than it represents something equally indeterminant and rewarding. It's my payoff!

Since each of my stories seems separate and unique, they aren't comparable.

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WritingSummary 07/06/2023

writingsummary07_05_2023
Lucian and Mary Brown:
Untitled [baby reaching for typewriter] (1950)


We Almost Exclusively Worship Mammon
General Electric, the once proud exemplar of mid-century industrial America, spouted its motto: "Progress is our most important product" in grandiose television advertisements. Productizing progress seems a fair portrait of our post-war arrogance, one still firmly held by our more conservative neighbors. GE's pride prefaced their fall at the hands of another CEO who firmly believed himself brighter than everyone before him. The ones since he retired have found ample reasons to wax their vitaes, too, since history seems to see old Jack Welch as short-sighted now. Such is vision when it confronts experience. It becomes so much schmutz on the old eyeglasses, eventually in the way of seeing what's right before one and whatever's behind. I exclusively wend my way. I take my time. I'm in no hurry to arrive; Lord knows where. I'm more of a journey-focused person. I feel fortunate to have stumbled into my present and even to be dragging my considerable past behind me. I gratefully do not have to drag all that much progress behind me. It might be that the Chamber of Commerce's mid-century characterizations of the future coming, featuring flying cars driven by Spandex® citizens, helped me better appreciate how it was rather than worship progress. I'm down on my knees most mornings whispering prayers of thanksgiving that this nation was not founded Christian. We almost exclusively worship mammon here, if we can think of that as any kind of organized religion.

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OutOfSight

outofsight
Collection of Barnett and Annalee Newman:
Eyeglasses, in case (20th century)


" … everything becomes clearer."


My eyeglasses collect schmutz better than any other substance known to man. I cannot keep up with them. Further, this schmutz seems invulnerable to any but a serious professional's hand. I, for instance, am powerless to clean my glasses. The Muse is forever noticing that I probably cannot see anything through the grimy layer accumulated on my lenses. She's apt to snatch them from my face, take them into the kitchen, and subject them to vigorous scrubbing before returning them, disgusted at my lack of hygiene and caring. I have grown indifferent and consider it my fate to move through the world half-blinded by schmutz. I occasionally visit a local optometrist to get that stuff professionally removed. My latest visit started a mystery that entertained me for two full weeks.

The person cleaning my glasses noted that the lenses had become seriously scratched in addition to the almost impenetrable layer of Schmutz.

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RetailPolitics

retailpolitics
Russell Lee:
Group of residents of Weatherford, Texas,
listening to politician speak

(1939)


"This just seems a fait accomplis."


Politicians, like used-car salespersons, mostly deserve their terrible reputations. They seem to shave the truth more proficiently than a barber might shave a baby and just as unnecessarily. We approach them warily, if at all. We understand that they can put almost anybody under a thrall. We swear we will not fall again then we reliably do. We hold ourselves to blame but sense something profoundly unsound in our characterization. The politician can seem to be everybody's friend and also frame anybody as their enemy, seemingly the same person, sometimes simultaneously. We sense a dark art at work, another bait and switch, yet we still take sides. We justify the better of two obvious evils before voting the same straight ticket. Forced choice voting often leaves us sensing little choice at all.

The Muse is running for public office and so might well be fairly characterized as a politician, a politician being one who runs for public office.

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Dandy

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


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


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

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

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MakingDo

makingdo
Lewis Wickes Hine: Making Pittsburg Stogies (1909)


"Envy us."


The Muse and I feel blessed to live very near the end of most commercial logistics networks. This Center of Our Universe isn't conveniently on the way to or from anywhere. Our founding fathers made deliberate decisions to isolate this valley. Rebuffing the railroads, they chose to forego what would have most certainly caused commercial development. At the time of the great silver rush into Northern Idaho, Spokane, today a city of over 200,000 souls, amounted to a sawmill and an isolated Indian Agency. Walla Walla reached its commercial peak then, about the same size as now, with both prospectors and their supplies routed North through what was then the commercial center of the whole Northwest. No longer.

Likely, a few things on our shopping lists will not be available here for any price.

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Garge

garge
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin:
The Attributes of the Arts and the Rewards Which Are Accorded Them
(1766)


" … I tidy until my soul can breathe again."


I think of myself as reasonably fastidious but lapse a lot in practice. My garage serves as my center, the abiding indicator of my general well-being. For many, their desktop serves this purpose, the clutter or absence of it the reliable outward sign of an inward orderliness. My desktop has never not been an apparent disaster, yet I can place a finger on anything teetering there faster than I can recover anything anywhere. Obvious clutter does not necessarily speak to internal disorderliness except in the case of my garage or, as I refer to it, my Garge.

Being the absolute center of my universe, my Garge says most about my mental health.

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Arcing

arcing
Aaron Bohrod's America, its history (1946)


"We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. "
–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,
“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”
Speech given at the National Cathedral,
March 31, 1968


" … thinking ourselves especially blessed."


The history of these United States records a definite Arcing trajectory. We do not do straight lines. Neither did our forebears. We sidle up to our futures and tend to wend away from our results. We move like drunken sailors inexorably toward our salvation, and we, probably above everything, firmly believe in our eventual salvation. Any half-baked efficiency expert could demonstrate the obvious errors in our ways, in our methods, but we seem unteachable, uninterested in straightforward pathways. We're so damned busy meandering that we can only ever see trees, rarely forest. We disagree about almost everything yet insist that we're somehow united, one nation under our multitudinous God, with aspiration enough for all. Liberty and justice might seem to be trailing ever further behind, but that's just an illusion, the result of our Arcing course, making it damnably difficult to precisely pinpoint our position on our path toward our sure salvation.

Democracy amounts to the ultimate faith-based initiative.

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WritingSummary 06/29/2023

ws06292023
Percy Loom Sperr:
One of the letter writers in the
Ellis Island Hospital Library

(c. 1920s)


Considerably More Alive
I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this week's revelations. My Vanity story couldn't describe the depth of my discovery because I wrote it just as I noticed the shift starting. A few days later, I continue reeling, realizing I could become a proudly vain author. Vanity Publishing seems a pejorative term bestowed by its competition to demean it in the author's eyes. It delineates an elite by omission, a chosen few selected to represent a whole with a decided minority. It elevates the importance of gatekeepers and reputation as if follow-on success were necessarily the product of past performance when the future remains undecided until well after it’s past. I now feel embarrassed by my hesitation to fully engage with my gifts, however questionable, in favor of impatiently waiting for recognition that was always unlikely to arrive. I feel considerably more alive after this writing week. May this sensation continue and expand.

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PerfectGame

perfectgame
Juan Gris: Glass and Playing Cards (1915)


"Play ball, not perfection!"


"The 10 regular seasons in between (2013 through 2022) featured 22,765 imperfect games," wrote NYTimes sportswriter Tyler Kepner the morning after. A PerfectGame was pitched the evening before by Yankee's pitcher Domingo Germán, who fans booed off the mound his previous start. It had been eleven years since the last Major League Baseball PerfectGame. Only twenty-four have been accomplished in MLB's long history stretching back to the 1800s. The feat will not guarantee the pitcher Hall of Fame notoriety. If history's any predictor, he's much more likely to retire into obscurity. Perfection remains just what it used to be, without lasting honor, especially in its own land.

I Hone with the implicit notion that I am seeking more perfection.

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Chronic

chronic
Duane Stephen Michals:
The Human Condition (1969)


"The Human Condition exclusively works in ways mysterious."


The Human Condition first seems acute and only later appears Chronic. There never was a cure for it, and though it at first seems passing—eminently overcomeable—it isn't. It never was. It seems more applicable to others than to you or me, but it belongs to everybody, though not necessarily equally. I acquire my aches and pains the same way as everybody. They visit, often without discernible reason, first acute, then, some of them becoming Chronic without rhyme or particular cause. The Chronic ones might settle in forever or seem to. My problem centers around my expectations. When I believe my pain's just visiting, I treat it as a guest. They might be my sensations, but I won't take them as seriously as if they were a permanent part of my extended family. Pain or Human Condition seems very much the same; we can reasonably anticipate them bedeviling us again and again and again.

My revelation yesterday transformed a long-standing acute condition into a Chronic one.

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Vanity

vanity1
Jan Saenredam after Abraham Bloemaert, published by Robert de Baudous:
Vanity, Vanity, All is Vanity (c. 1600)


"Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher,
vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labour
which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away,
and another generation cometh:
but the earth abideth for ever."

Ecclesiastes 1:2-8 King James Version


I have for years danced against the idea that I might work with a "vanity" publisher. The vanity press represents that part of the publishing world where an author contracts with a service bureau to do all a standard publisher might do. These tasks include: registering a work and securing an
ISBN—a unique registration number assigned to each edition of a published work, designing format and layout, cover design, production, and placement, among many other possible services, paid for up front by the author. The mythology of authorship insists it's humiliating to work with a vanity publisher because a real author should properly be discovered and pampered into print by a benevolent publisher who fronts the resources necessary to produce the work. In the myth, the publisher more than recoups their investment from the resulting widespread acceptance. Each new title is always destined to become a best-seller, and every author produces well above average sales.

In practice, many fewer than one percent of published works recoup their production cost.

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Blindly

blindly
Paul Klee:
Follows with Concern, As Both are Blind (1927)


"… I'm unlikely to really understand how or why."


I might say that I resolved my hash mark issue, but that would, at best, be a partial truth. The issue was resolved, and yes, I was involved, but it would be a stretch to claim that the resolution was my fault. As I explained in earlier installments—
ArrowingThrough and StrategicHesitation—I'd received hints and instructions from fellow users of my manuscripting app, though they didn't immediately resolve my issue. Five tries had left my situation worse and me increasingly frantic. I'd decided to give it a rest, resolving to stand aside and leave that sleeping dog lie for a day before making a sixth attempt to fix anything. The lag time worked, for my sixth attempt resolved the issue, though I cannot definitively say why. I did what I'd intended to do the first five times, but only that last attempt worked. I'm left no wiser and, if anything, more hesitant to engage in further Honing efforts. The headings seem slightly too small, but I'm more inclined to leave them as they are since my earlier efforts had somehow made them disappear.

I Hone after some ideal, often just a notion of what might be possible, essentially Blindly.

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Insignificant Increments

insignificantincrements
Alberto Giacometti: Le Buffet (1957)


" … grown to annoying dominance …"


Honing work—and perhaps all work—exclusively occurs in InsignificantIncrements. Each piece initially reeks of insignificance and even accumulated into bunches, rarely seeming like very much. My Weekly Writing Summaries, which I push out early every Friday morning, sometimes seem to approach significance. Still, even those seem comprised of more grunt work than any casual reader might suspect. I've come to dread Thursdays, the end of my writing week, because they always bring this obligation which I swear is sacred but the creation of which most often feels perversely secular. I buck up and perform my work as if it might eventually prove meaningful, though I also compose it exclusively in InsignificantIncrements. Any thought I might be up to anything grandiose fails to pass my Smell Test.

Once I manage to accumulate ninety of my stories into manuscripts, I once thought those might rise to some level of significance, but those, too, prove to be stunningly banal in creation.

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StrategicHesitating

hesitatating
Alfred Stevens: Hesitation (Madame Monteaux?) (c. 1867)

" … obscured in utter ignorance.#


#

After receiving the fifth follow-up advice for fixing my hash mark difficulty, I engaged in StrategicHesitating. I rarely immediately follow up on any instruction. I ruminate on it first. I was not interested in a quick fix, for in my experience, quick fixes tend to encourage downward spirals where I end up in deeper and more mysterious trouble than I had before I'd asked for assistance. I need to circle the solution first. As I did in this instance, I will pretend to implement the fix, accessing the seemingly appropriate pages but not saving any adjustments. I wanted to determine what would happen if I saved the changes without exposing myself to the risk of actually changing them. I still didn't know what I was doing, but instead considered following essentially blind instructions. It's not that I didn't trust the advice, either, just that I was confident that I didn't understand the whole of it. I needed further orientation.

#

StragegicHesitating seems like a small investment.

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ArrowingThrough

arrowingthrough
Fernand Léger:
The Railway Crossing (Sketch) (1919)


" … colleagues who don't quite understand why I don't quite understand."


Filled with the resolution of a new series, I chose to report what appeared to be a bug with my manuscripting system. I often work around shortcomings with software because I've been run around the block enough to understand that I'm probably misusing the system. Its keepers do not always warmly receive my reports. They often blame the messenger. Not that this messenger was ever necessarily blameless, mind you, but the interactions can feel abusive and are not always conducive to progress. Most of the systems I use feature areas where I, by experience or habit, refuse to go. I've learned that some functions work for others but not for me. I've grown to understand that I very likely misuse every system I employ, not just because they were seemingly designed backward, though most were. I cannot recall one I've used that was designed forward.

So, it was with circumspection that I reported this shortcoming.

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WritingSummary 06/22/2023

ws06222023
Attributed to Elisabetta Sirani:
Young Woman Writing or Drawing
(n.d. - mid-17th Century)


Now Is The Time
There's nothing else like the enthusiasm accompanying a New Beginning. Old beginnings seem materially different because we've already traveled those routes before. The New Beginnings involve different paths and destinations, so not even our best imaginations can properly set expectations. I dream big then as if precedent were meaningless and everything might be different this time. There will be space to relearn that space and time remain relatively unchanged regardless of the charted path. We remain denizens of the same neighborhood regardless of where we travel. A new series, though, opens many doors. I already perceive my usual routine as different. I'm focusing on other things than I attended to when writing my Publishing Series. Honing might allow me to implement lasting improvements, which might even make my life a little easier. I've already created a little template that might allow me to avoid ten minutes of typing each morning. This after doing the alternative only about twenty-one hundred times. New Beginnings insist that now is the time, and so it is.

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FineTuning

finetuning
Jules Bastien-Lepage:
Mower Honing a Scythe (1878)


I woke feeling ill at ease on this first full day of Summer. I finished my Publishing series yesterday and finished reading the manuscript I'd created in the background of writing that series by midafternoon. I had yet to decide whether to continue creating a new series this morning or take an extended break to try my hand at something else for a change. The world seemed more disconnected than usual in the predawn darkness. The cats noticed that the rhythm of my morning routine had been broken. We ached together for its return. There was no more obvious cure than simply starting another series, but what topic?

I looked back at my last few series: Authoring, Reconning, Againing, SetTheory, Success, and Publishing, wondering what might serve as a natural next in the progression.

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MoreBegendings

morebegendings
Winslow Homer:
The End of the Day, Adirondacks (1890)


" … the serious side of the practice."


Today is slated to extend fifteen hours and forty-five minutes, with sunlight visible for seventeen hours. These conditions make this the perfect day to end something. They also suggest a new beginning, for each ending abuts into whatever comes next. This day marks six years since I began this now lengthy experiment where I would try to create a new story each morning. I long ago lost the need to try very hard to accomplish this end. The stories slip out as a matter of course now. This morning, though, I wonder if this story, this final story in my Publishing Series, shouldn't be my last produced under this regimen. I began this practice following a professional disappointment and a lengthy discouragement. I thought it might prove courageous or at least foolhardy to create a story every morning to try to prove something. If writers write, it would not be unreasonable to expect me to write each morning since that's what writers do. That or else, perhaps I wasn't quite the writer I'd imagined myself to be.

I turned out to at least be the writer I'd imagined myself to be and more.

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TidyingUp

tidyingup
Russell Lee: Cleaning up manure in milking shed. Large dairy, Tom Green County, Texas (1939)


"It's up to the protagonist to decide what …"


Almost as if by magic, another ending arrives. The distance to the end appears impossibly long at the beginning, and it stays that way until the last few days. The morning before the final one, it might suddenly dawn on me that I never intended this series to last forever and that it, too, would be ending soon. I'm rarely ready to begin anything and even less prepared to finish. I have yet to produce what I imagined I would produce back when I chose Publishing as my theme for this quarter. I'd imagined I would have published something by now, but I have yet to. I moved closer to a point of publication, but I cannot determine for certain. I made progress preparing a single manuscript without finishing that work, though there's still time to cross that line before this series runs out of allotted time tomorrow.

Things take as long as they take.

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MakingMantras

makingmantras
Rockwell Kent: Meditation (1929)


" … merely MakingMantras all along."


While reading beneath one of our backyard ornamental crabapple trees, it occurred to me that reading works like meditation. It seems to focus attention away as well as within, into, and without, the purpose often in doubt. I was reading a biography of John Singer Sargent, but it hardly matters the reading matter's content, for any words might encourage identical contemplations or self-similar ones. However thoughtfully crafted, the book and its contents do not serve as the sole or even the primary purpose of reading. They serve as mere mantras for the focus. They exist as context.

I was raised to believe—or somehow convinced myself—that the book was the object, the stuff that Publishing produced, but I might have been mistaken.

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AngryArm

angryarm
Paul Giambarba: The Withered Arm (c. 1960)


" … no fixing in the immediate offing."


I am taken by how much foreground attention even a superficial wound can command. The Vengeful god residing in my arm leaves it feeling angry and complaining whatever I do. I suddenly seem incapable of accomplishing anything without further insulting that AngryArm. I cannot play catch with my grandson without wounding the thing, so I decline to play. I cannot do anything without incurring more damage. As the list of things I cannot do without wincing continues growing, I wonder where all this might be going. The doctor who diagnosed the ailment (Deltoid Bursitis for those not paying close attention) wrote me a script for a ninety-day supply of remarkably ineffective pain medication. This prescription suggests that he anticipated a longer haul than a short one. I might be hosting this AngryArm for some considerable time to come. I try but fail not to think about this.

Now, everything seems influenced by the presence of this AngryArm, even my Publishing efforts.

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TheIllusion

theillusion
Strobridge & Co. Lith.:
Kellar and his perplexing cabinet mysteries (1894)


"The problem with communication is the illusion that it's occurred."

a common bit of folk wisdom


Publishing serves as a means of communication, and as such, it's subject to all the laws governing it. Primary among those laws might be TheIllusion, TheIllusion that it occurred. We inhabit the pointy end of eons of development of our communication channels. The very best I can claim about any of them might be that they're still subject to the same illusion that communication ever occurs. I famously struggle to keep up with my email, for instance, whatever 'keeping up' might entail. I understand that the probability of me receiving and comprehending any individual email as its sender intended remains slight, almost zero. The Muse is forever discovering that I never received the message she forwarded to me last week and, upon researching the cause, typically finds the message right where she had thought it would be, sitting plaintively in my email queue. It had somehow slipped by me without my noticing. Independent of her intervention, I never would have "received" it. It's the same for everybody.

Face-to-face oral communication seems just as likely to surprise and fail.

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WritingSummary: 06/15/2023

ws06152023
Bartolomeo Pinelli:
The Letter-writer in Piazza Montanara in Rome
(19th century)


We Inhabit Middles.
I realize I've already completed this series's final whole writing week. It might reasonably continue forever, and just how arbitrary was my decision to dedicate only a quarter to considering my Publishing issues. I've scratched some surfaces, some severely, but I surely leave remaining more questions than I've investigated. Each subject, each focus, seems to open something infinite within us. Yes, we might well find a universe within any old anything, for our curiosities reveal tremendous self-similarity. Each part of any infinite must also represent its whole; a piece of infinity might well seem indistinguishable from the total, smaller infinities retaining their context's character. Each writing week might be destined to fall short and leave more questions unanswered, but no amount of writing—or anything—looks very likely to ever get to the bottom of anything. We inhabit middles.

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20YearJob

20yearjob
William Merritt Chase: A City Park (c. 1887)


" … knowing that probably nobody will notice."


Most of my work seems short-lived. Mowing the lawn, for instance, buys me, at most, a week's reprieve from needing to mow the lawn again. Cleaning up the kitchen extinguishes in mere hours. According to my schedule, my writing, which I sometimes think of as eternal, must be added to each morning so its reprieve extends less than a day. If I finish writing a story by six am, another aches to be born by four the following morning. House maintenance work tends to run on much longer cycles. One repaints infrequently, often a few years after it becomes absolutely necessary. I think of it as a 20YearJob, one for which I will be much older by the time it needs refreshing. It might take me three or four years to entirely paint the Villa exterior, so it’s good that its frequency moves more like an ice age.

Yesterday, I finished refinishing three cast iron-framed park benches The Villa's prior owners left behind when they moved.

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Rapt

rapt_study_
Stuart Davis: Study for “Rapt at Rappaport’s” (1952)

rapt
Stuart Davis: Rapt at Rappaport's (1952)


"Publishing ain't whitewashing …"


Writers and editors long ago acknowledged that authors make lousy proofreaders and copyeditors because they're too involved with and invested in the object of their efforts. One would never dream of employing any craftsperson as their quality control inspector, for use demands a separate set of imperatives than fabrication ever does. The maker should fall under a thrall with his creations, ardor which properly disqualifies them from passing sound finishing judgments. While creating my latest manuscript, I harbored deep doubts about the product of my effort. Well into the first third of the project, I complained that I had not yet found the rhythm of it and openly wondered if the concept possessed any inherent rhythm within it. Only when I was more than halfway done did an underlying logic emerge. Then I became more protective than critical, more the father than the humble subcontractor.

A form of evolution governs the creation of a finished work.

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HearingMyselfThink

hearingmyselfthink
Follower of Frans Hals:
The Rommel-Pot Player (c. 1630)


"Nobody ever discloses greater secrets."


I believe, without hard evidence, that we each maintain a unique dialect of how we think. Unrelated to physical speech patterns, this manner of speaking to ourselves results from a lifetime of considering in the most personal possible ways. This voice accompanied us on our most harrowing as well as our most reassuring excursions. It was, quite literally, there then and remembers. It guided most of the figuring out we've ever accomplished. We might just as well consider it our most trustworthy friend.

It's a great gift when we're able to HearOurselvesThink.

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Contact

contact
Follower of Peter Paul Rubens:
The Apotheosis of the Hero (1630/40)


"We'll see where that takes us."


A year ago this week, a publisher contacted me to see if I might be interested in working with her organization. I reluctantly receive such calls because the caller often feels compelled to pressure me into agreeing to something before I understand the offer. Nobody appreciates feeling pressured into anything, so I feel baffled about why anyone relying upon persuasion or merely information to sell something would ever resort to pressuring anyone, but they do. I always ask for more details, paper if they've got it. I want to slow down the interaction so we might get to know each other before moving on to first or second base.

I've noticed a similar strategy at work when investigating the purchase of software.

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Harbingers

harbingers
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and Workshop:
Young Woman at an Open Half-Door (1645)


“The outcome should properly prove surprising …”


The immediate care doctor reassured me that my latest ache need not be a Harbinger of things to come. It represents a strain that, properly treated, need not become chronic or recurring. I wonder, though, when aches and pains appear, whether they're here permanently, for good, ill, or whatever. In my youth, I imagined that aches and pains amounted to karma, just desserts due to some prior shortcoming or committed sin. Smoke for fifty years and see what happens. But as I've aged, I might have started learning better that much misfortune visits without an antecedent rhyme or reason, without representing anything but fortune. "It just happened" probably explains more than all the root cause analyses in the world. I still wonder which of my maladies might become permanent companions and which might reasonably disappear over time.

A month ago, I could quack like a duck, even flap my right arm wing-like in unison.

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WorkingWounded

workingwounded
Théodore Géricault:
The Wounded Cuirassier
[French: Le Cuirassier blessé quittant le feu]
(1814)


" … because that's what I do."


I admit to a certain degree of DIYdiocy. I do more than attempt to Do It Myself but sometimes seem to be actively engaging in Doing Myself In! A month or more ago, I finally set about cutting up those shrub trimmings clogging the driveway so that I could stuff them into the green waste can. After that work, an annoying ache took up residence in the region of my right deltoid, a shoulder muscle. I could manage that pain with regular doses of Ibuprofen and did. I tried to avoid activities that annoyed that spot, though just moving my arm laterally up or down could elicit a wince. I added some dedicated rest periods to my schedule and continued.

Repainting the back deck railings and superstructure brought fresh insults to my wound.

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FallingInto

fallinginto
Giuseppe Maria Crespi:
Bertoldino Falling into the Fish Pond (c. 1665-1747)


"How could I not continue?"


I prefer to think about the future as something I'm FallingInto. I understand the more popular notions insisting that we create and craft or design our futures, but those operations seem severely limited. Whatever my intentions or preferences, I might, at best, be able to choose my seat. The destination's almost always out of my control. This goes double for those engagements where I've taken charge of creating something. My influence, even under those conditions, seems at best secondary. Writing my current manuscript only came about partly by design. An awful lot of happenstance guided my hand. Much of my effort was only partially consciously driven. Writing anything includes elements perhaps best described as coming together. Set up a context, and much just follows. Any practice depends upon gravity guiding some FallingInto.

I do not suggest that I am mere flotsam. I exert great influence, just not as great and not necessarily to the degree I imagine.

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WritingSummary: 6/08/2023

ws06082023
Claude Emile Schuffenecker: Portrait of a Man Writing (19th-20th century)

If Irises Carried Grudges, Our Winters Would Never End.
I feel as though I made little progress this week, what with all the diversions and distractions presently haunting me. I might be blessed with so many interesting sidelines, but the ancient Chinese curse about living in interesting times echoes in more than just the background; it accompanies the foreground, too. Our front yard iris garden might best represent this writing week. This time last week, dozens of blooms graced the otherwise barren flowerbed. Now, only desiccated fronds remain a week later, and memories of those brilliant colors and alluring scents. Iris season lasts at most ten days, yet they require tending through the entire year. In winter, careless joggers and dog walkers tromp right through their territory. Come Spring, the unpromising plants come to reassuring life again, forgiving our many trespasses, each of which we most probably unknowingly visited upon ourselves. If Irises carried grudges, our winters would never end.

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CriticalEar

criticalear
William H. Martin: The largest ear of corn grown (c. 1908)

"I might have to smother it if I expect to succeed."


I get an earful when preparing my manuscript for Publishing. I listen to the stories in different ways than I listened to them just after writing them, and also different than I did while assembling them. Once assembled into a contiguous whole, I hear different voices than I remember hearing before. After so many repetitive listenings, my ear had learned to become more critical. If I'm not careful, and perhaps even if I manage to become really careful, my ear becomes critical. My prose relies upon a certain innocence from listening ears. Experienced through a critical filter, it seems to need endless reworking. It could have been simpler, my suddenly CriticalEar suggests. It could have been more eloquent. There's no end to the little improvements the later listenings suggest, just to be helpful, only to enhance.

I'm experienced enough to understand that the time for wholesale improvement has already passed.

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Diversions

diversions
Michael Wolgemut and Workshop
published by
Anton Koberger:
The Virtues of Christ and the Wickedness of His Enemies
Symbolized by Diverse Birds and Beasts (verso);
The Last Supper (recto),
pages 66 and 65 from the Treasury (Schatzbehalter)
(1491)


"… another good or great intention …"


Nexts tailgate my Publishing efforts as I move ever closer to concluding them, or I would be moving ever closer to finishing them were it not for the nexts crowding ever more closely and diverting my attention. I'm painting the back deck, by which I mean that I'm painting everything associated with the back deck except the deck surface, which was fabricated out of melted milk jugs and doesn't need painting. The railings and pergola-like superstructure above need repainting, so I set about to sand, wash, and sweep before settling into painting, a three-coat diversion that might take me a week to complete, what with the other diversions swarming my space. I started arranging to buy some tee shirts yesterday in lieu of painting and also instead of Publishing because The Muse is running for public office, Port Commissioner and I'm her campaign manager. Buying tee shirts pretty much marks the official start of her run. I'd been feeling delinquent because of all the Diversions lately tailgating my every movement.

I'll make no excuses or no concerted ones.

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TechSupport

TechSupport
Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo:
God the Father Supported by Angels in Clouds, II (c. 1759)


"I once insisted that I would somehow maintain my naive state …"


I foolishly swore an oath when I was first introduced to what I referred to then as Barbie and Ken Computers. I referred to the so-called personal computers, those handy, steadily shrinking little machines we're not supposed to take too awfully seriously but do. My oath insisted that I would do everything in my power to remain a naive user of the damnable little things because I'd seen otherwise sentient beings disappear into some passionate swirl of technical engagement. Whether that attention went into coding or merely formatting didn't matter. My nonrefundable time mattered to me, and I swore my oath in the naive belief that I might somehow possess the power to make good on it, which, of course, I didn't.

To engage with technology inescapably transforms anybody into their own TechSupport.

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TeachingMyself

teachingmyself
Theodore Roussel: Portrait of Myself (1901)


"Teacher, teach thyself."


What sort of book have I written? What does this manuscript aspire to become, and what have I achieved by creating it? These questions dominate my internal dialogue as I listen to this almost-finished work for the very first time after spending months producing it. The story–the narrative arc—seems familiar but not overwhelmingly so. I only sometimes know where each story's going from its beginning, for I seem to have been blessed with a remarkably short memory. Each story's conclusions also seem familiar, though I often feel that I hadn't previously recognized some aspects. I often think the endings, in particular, exhibit a certain eloquence, a sense of accurately summing up something, but what am I reading? Fiction or non? Biography or vanity? Gibberish or wisdom or some tragic combination of the two?

The work seems just fictional enough to hold attention, though I based most of the stories upon actual events, however embellished.

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StoryTime

storytime
Attributed to Sumiyoshi Jokei:
A Story of Crickets (second half 17th century)


"The sweetest dreams always came before sleep …"


When I was a child, StoryTime was my favorite time of any day. My dad used to read to his children. We'd gather around, me often perching on the back of the couch, for the first imperative would always be to get just as close as possible to the narrator. The little sisters tucked in closest. He'd smell of aftershave. His baritone resonated whatever he recited. He was one of those who could read the stock market report to rapt audiences; the story's content always seemed much less important than his performance.

But even when he was unavailable to read, someone would read aloud, the older sister or even the youngest one when she was first learning to read.

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MindSetting

MindSetting
Adolf Hohneck, After Gustav Friedrich Schlick:
"My Peace of Mind is gone" [Faust] (1834)

"I could found The Truly Terrible Publishing Company to distribute my mediocre works out into an already grossly over- stuffed marketplace featuring ever fewer interested consumers." from my Success Series, TheGames, 12/26/2022

Sitting down to finally read through that freshly compiled manuscript proves impossible. Its author feels guilty instead. He senses he might be better off if he just skips reading through the result. He expects not to like what he's created as if the mere act of reading it could only disclose a previously undetected fatal error. If he was to be honest with himself, he could only reject the work and relegate it to history's ashcan, humiliated. So instead, he dances around the job, grateful he doesn't have a printer powerful enough to render its three hundred-plus pages to paper. He distracts himself, busying his attention elsewhere, hiding out. He cannot find an appropriate mind with which to engage in this work. He consequently feels justified in just shirking this necessary next step.

Perhaps he could just move to assembling the next series in line and become, rather than published, more accomplished at assembling, a necessary skill in the vast Publishing world.

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OldWeaknesses

oldweakness
Adolphe Martial Potémont:
Old Oaks at Bas Bréau (c. 1865)
“ … shamelessly incorporating our OldWeaknesses …”

I remain a change skeptic. I see clear evidence of change but perhaps clearer evidence that nothing very drastically changes. I remain who I always was, changes in context probably contributing more to the appearance of change than to any substance. I remain distinctly recognizable, even if my once girlish figure has disappeared into belly and sags. I still feel fairly youthful for my age. My OldWeaknesses remain if more contained than they were at times. My tastes have expanded some. My palate more refined. My experience clearly greater, but the unknowns still far outnumber the knowns, and my unknowables seem essentially unchanged across decades. I remain remarkably contained.

I suspect that my OldWeaknesses are my secret strengths.

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WritingSummary: 6/01/2023

ws06012023
Johann Andreas Benjamin Nothnagel:
Hermit Writing (18th Century)

A Decent Chance Of Becoming Requitable
Now that I've finished assembling my manuscript, my schedule allows me some distractions and respite from that all-consuming focus. I became a wannabe handyman again, entering The Home Despot only to have my desires dashed by the harsh realities they almost exclusively dispense there. Between that visit and a following one to a lumber yard, my grand plan to accomplish something besides manuscript assembling fell apart. I took these experiences particularly hard, for tight on the sense of success completing assembly had brought; I'd thought myself invulnerable to disappointment, only to learn better, by which I, of course, mean worse. I realize that my small successes influence little, almost nothing, yet they still feel consequential, at least until this old world starts dispensing its usual disappointments again. Again, I'm reminded of why I became a writer. It allows me to inhabit a world primarily of my own making, where my notions of what's possible hold a decent chance of becoming requitable.

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OnSpec

onspec
Constant Troyon: The Road to Market (1858/59)
" … worth gratefully beyond measure."

It pays nobody to misunderstand how Publishing works. It does not work like most markets or, depending upon one's ability to swallow experience, it works precisely like all markets, which is to say it works mindlessly. Those who believe they can predict how a particular work might sell, especially if from an unknown author, fool themselves first. Those who believe their book might make them rich and/or famous would be better served investing in lottery tickets, where the odds are somewhat better than those offered by Publishing's invisible thumb. Invisible hands put in their place, one need not necessarily remain naive to engage. Donald Trump, Jr., barely literate by most accounts, produced a best seller, but by the most tried and true method yet devised. The Republican National Committee purchased a hundred thousand dollars worth of the forgettable title "Triggered" the week it was released for use as "collateral," giving away a "free" copy with every donation. Trump's re-election campaign repeated that purchase with an even bigger buy. This market manipulation has become common among some wildly successful authors. You'd readily recognize their names.

Random House must be the most accurately named Publishing house ever, for the markets it serves primarily serve randomness to its players.

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Read

read
Nicolas Lagneau:
Elderly Man Reading a Book (C.1650)
" … one can be fairly certain it isn't …"

What does a writer really do? This kind of question seems useful, whatever the profession, for professions notoriously label themselves as something other than the professional's primary occupation. A cook might spend considerably more time prepping than cooking. A typical astronaut might spend less than 1% of their time actually astronauting, the balance spent primarily in training. Surgeons can only spend a few hours each day in surgery and expend the balance of their days engaging in all the ancillary activities attendant to performing surgery: diagnosis, evaluation, follow-up, consultation, etc. Nobody actually does what they're advertised as doing, not primarily, and a writer's no exception. So what do writers do in lieu of writing? They read.

Every book I've ever read about how to become a writer prescribed precisely the same regimen: Read.

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Poifection

poifection
Ben Shahn:
Detail of a log fence in central Ohio (1938)

"It must have been a form of magic …"

Nothing amplifies a sense of accomplishment like a long lead-up. Finish anything quickly and effortlessly, and little sense of elation accompanies the closure. Struggle over it, though, and it seems like a very big deal, indeed. Even the more evident and normal surface imperfections might seem to disappear in the shadow of the resulting joy. And so it seemed for this dreamer who set out to publish one of his works into something resembling a book. He learned that books do not just happen, nor are they the inevitable result of the concatenation of individual parts. They must be crafted, reworked, and reimagined, whatever their original form or concept. Much picky work and many unexciting details combine to finally produce something resembling a finished product. There's even more effort required after, but the appearance of something resembling a book works as a new beginning, a platform from which further adventures might resume.

I somehow managed to stumble upon the secret, that magic something allowing me to proceed to Go and collect my obligatory Two Hundred Dollars.

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PickyDetails

pickydetails
Charles Herbert Moore,
Copy after
Vittore Carpaccio:
Much Reduced Study of the Dragon in
Carpaccio's Picture of St. George and the Dragon,
in the Chapel of S. Giorgio dei [sic] Schiavoni, Venice
, 1876
"I'll never be much more than not quite a rank amateur …"

Once assembled, my manuscript must be printed before one more round of rereading and review. The formatting's not quite right, meaning I've entered the long-dreaded PickyDetails part of this Publishing process. I've long dreaded this stage because I have not even nearly mastered my manuscripting software, which seems by any measure an absolute behemoth. It does too much for any app even to attempt. Being a purported master of so many realms, the user who seeks no more than an informal relationship seems sunk from the outset. A unique vocabulary seems at least necessary to make any headway, and I still have not begun to master even a pigeon-English dialect for this one. The app comes with hours of detailed tutorial videos which introduce the app in curious slices. These videos induce sleep better than a bootleg prescription of Nembutal. Five or six years of experience with this app still leaves me well within the Naive User classification.

The question comes down to how I might accomplish this.

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Onward&Inward

onward_inward
Jessie Willcox Smith:
One foot up, the other foot down (1918)
" … exclusively produced by fools like me …"

Two months later, I stumbled across a finish line of sorts. I finally put together that manuscript I started assembling sixty days ago. This achievement amounts to more of a milestone event than a finish line one, for many subsequent steps remain along paths as yet clearly charted. I do not yet understand where this thread continues, just that I'm not at the end of it yet. However, this event still feels momentous, for assembling this bugger was a genuine struggle. Much of the effort required patience, a commodity perennially in short supply, especially when and if one's anxious to finish. The more one wishes to accomplish something, the more difficult it becomes to achieve. I suspect that if I could only become indifferent to accomplishing anything, my life would become a breeze, but without enough passion to sustain anyone, let alone me.  Besides testing dedication, frustrations help maintain momentum and purpose. I've made progress! Sixty-six thousand, nine-hundred and ten words, projected to produce three hundred and thirteen pages when printed. Estimated reading time: four hours and forty-seven minutes.

Next comes some different challenges.

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MixingMetaphors

mixingmetaphors
Jessie Willcox Smith:
Girl seated in flower garden (1905)
"Beware of good advice and even warier of better."

As I assemble my manuscript, I catch myself unable to imagine its contents. Yes, I wrote every word, but even after creating each story and reading through each several times, I cannot quite bring to mind most of its contents. I carry a general impression of whatever's between the covers, but the details escape me, or they would escape if they'd ever been captive. I sense that I might be especially stupid to find myself unable to crisply recall what I've written. When I reread a story, I quickly realized it was mine. I recognize the voice. I usually even recall the context within which each one emerged, but I'm almost at a loss to describe much of the manuscript's contents absent that prompting. I consider this a serious shortcoming.
Like all advice-givers and consultants, I once encouraged my clients to start with a singular focus.

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Introduction

introduction
Jessie Willcox Smith:
Heidi introduced each in turn by its name to her friend Clara (1922)

The Introduction tends to be the last chapter written and the first one read. The author might have drafted an Intro as at least a placeholder before writing the contents. That one better represented the writer's intentions but intentions rarely survive encounters with a keyboard. Like every paper you tried to write to the outline you were instructed to create before you started writing, writing takes intentions in different directions. By the time the author's finished writing, he holds a firmer impression of who he's become while creating the manuscript. More likely, it won't be until after he's finished assembling the manuscript before he finally manages to catch up with himself and affect some sort of Introduction. By then, he will have become different from the aspiring author he was at the beginning and even different from the more seasoned hack he became after he'd finished writing. The proofing and sequencing effort couldn't have helped but change more than just his perspective. It changed him into someone needing an Introduction to himself.
I have watched myself as I've crawled through this latest manuscript assembly.

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WritingSummary: 4/25/2023

writingsummary-_4_25_2023
Jessie Willcox Smith: Heidi writing (1922)


Refreshed if Groggy
I primarily create my weekly writing summaries for myself. I need the reminder of how I have spent my week, of what I've discovered. Once written, an insight's quickly forgotten, buried beneath subsequent discoveries. As I've assembled my latest manuscript, I have discovered plenty. I've been continually stumbling upon identities I'd forgotten I'd ever assumed, stories written in stone but still somehow lost, bits and pieces needing connecting. These stories do not just connect themselves. Connection requires deliberation, focused attention, and clear intentions. I catch myself over-anticipating creating these summaries. Come Thursday, I foresee a lengthy effort coming Friday morning. Often, something happens on Thursday that leaves me late to bed. The alarm rings almost viciously come early Friday morning. Still, I finish the summarizing effort, pleased with myself for having done it, for it marks a milestone as I create my next manuscript. I start my new writing week refreshed if groggy, clearer about my recent history, and ready to proceed into the upcoming unknowns.

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Resolute

resolute
O. Louis Guglielmi: The River (1942)


"Where another inertia ruled the start, its counterpart commands the finish."


I can't fairly characterize myself as relentless, but beyond a certain uncertain point, I have known myself to turn Resolute. This Publishing business, for instance, which has turned out to hold far more dimensions than I at first suspected, has left me feeling, in turns, helpless and reassured, overwhelmed and bored stiff. It has offered a gauntlet of negative reinforcement and many must-dos between the beginning and realizing my aspiration. I'd even gladly bartered away my beginning naivety for a better story once I realized that I could hold my dream or realize something tangible, but not both. Now that I'm down to the final few weeks of the planned excursion, I've grown more comfortable with the intrusion. I can sense an impending resolution; I swear that I can smell it now. Downwind of resolution, I might just as well turn Resolute.

My schedule, sometimes my staunch opponent, has now become my ally.

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TwoMillionPlus

twomillionplus
Giovanni di Paolo:
Saint John the Baptist Entering the Wilderness (1455/60)


"… we periodically pretended together that it was."


I claim to be a political Progressive, meaning I subscribe to the curious notion that progress remains both possible and net positive; unlike political Conservatives who view their future skeptically, often cynically, as if it serves as a descent from prior greatness, Progressives claw ever forward. In contrast, Conservatives seek to return to past glory. We cannot possibly experience either perspective, what with entropy and all, but they're belief structures, not intended to represent reality but to harbor aspirations. As a Progressive, I hold lofty aspirations. My Conservative neighbors seem to hold more catastrophic ones. It comes down to what sort of future I imagine since an actual future has yet to manifest and perennially can't.

The question of progress made and experienced eventually enters into every human activity.

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MysteryWithin

mysterywithin
Paul Gauguin: Arlésiennes (Mistral) (1888)

"He always was before."


I dreamed I was solving a mystery. Clues appeared before me, and I dutifully tracked them down, slowly building my case. Just when I felt as though I might be getting close to identifying the guilty parties, a thought visited me, an idea that, just for a second, wondered who was writing the story. Was I solving a mystery or staring in a story where I was cast as the detective, not really solving anything but more like serving as an author's character in some work of fiction, my role not real but made up. I considered shifting my focus then from merely acting as a mystery solver to chasing after the deeper mystery to see if I could identify who was this author. I received surprise testimony from a woman who claimed to be the actual author's mother, but even she needed help determining which part of the puzzle was figure and which was serving as ground.

I remember happening upon helpful strangers, of feeling baffled just before, as if by fortunate accident, fresh useful information came into my possession.

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Clicks

clicks
Albrecht Dürer:
The Four Horsemen, from The Apocalypse (c. 1498)


"How do I compare thee to a provocative headline?"


The cynicism in this world expands at an ever-expanding rate. What passed for crass fifty years ago will hardly make noteworthy today. From
Fuck Biden bumper stickers to clickbait social media headlines, today's world trades in raw attention—the less refined, the better. Publishing, too, has fallen prey to these emerging values—if I dare use value to describe what I see happening inside. Almost twenty years ago, some brilliant upstart experienced a revelation. Where Publishing had forever focused on distributing content as its purpose, an emergent goal appeared: attention. On the internet, the Click became the metric and the purpose, and everything was or would eventually be distributed via the internet. A hollow piece with an attractive title would easily attract more attention than any unprovocative, thoughtful piece. First one, then almost all others began focusing their attention upon attracting attention, upon encouraging Clicks. The brilliant insight centered around the realization that Clicks pay, but content doesn't.

At first, It didn't matter how long attention focused on any individual item.

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Obswerving

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


"The finished work isn't finished …"


I claim to be writing a series about Publishing, but I've grown increasingly uncertain if this effort will produce what it initially implied. I know, I know, that bait-and-switch suggestion might qualify as the subtext of this whole series so far. I can hardly pick up a stick but what that stick transforms into something else, or sure seems to. Iterate that experience a few dozen times, and anyone might come to question the basis upon which they'd drawn their conclusions. The jury might opt to continue deliberations and might not ever come to any firm conclusions other than that the case was clearly not as presented and not really as expected, either. It turned into something different.

Could I once, just once, leave well enough alone?

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WritingSummary: 4/18/2023

weeklywritingsummary4_18_2023
After Raffaello Sanzio, called Raphael:
Seated Youth Writing in Book (17th/18th century)


Thrive On The Unresolvable
This week brought me back into my regular writing schedule after missing parts of three writing weeks. I had worried that I'd broken the trance that usually carries me into and through my writing work. I can be superstitious about my habits, mistaking them for necessary imperatives when they're more likely no more than random patterns. I learned—or I am still learning—that I need not necessarily fear upsetting my patterns. I am no longer the sum total of the habits I keep, for I have been actively breaking bad habits in favor of better ones, so far, without evident damage. In my relative youth, I might have been addicted to my life, convinced of the necessity of so many of my choices. One of the great gifts aging brings seems to be a loosening of those encumbering imperatives. I increasingly see that I am unnecessary, though I might still qualify as nice-to-have. I am no longer necessary if I ever was; my stories are not what they seem. It might be that our purpose here was never to resolve any great mysteries but to discover more of them. This world seems to thrive on the unresolvable.

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Piles

piles
Battista Franco: Rib Cages (early 1540s)

"Delusions like this one keep me moving forward."

One can tell a lot about an artist by learning how they organize their work. I utilize the venerable Pile, which started as a page, and emerged from an inadvertently random-access filing system. My legitimacy was always suspect because of the primitive methods I employed to keep track of my output. For me, Publishing attempts to right this error, to finally put form to what emerged almost randomly. My great sin as a writer and creator has always been that I have never understood what form my collected works might eventually take. I failed to properly anticipate. I'd produce a word, then a sentence at a time without deeply considering where I might store the product or what structure might best serve my someday heirs and archivists in the unlikely event that I left either behind. I'd pile one page upon another until the pile threatened to tip over, then I'd start another pile. Fifty years later, my library looks like an abandoned recycling center.

Fortunately, most of my pages and Piles are virtual.

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Repurposeful

repurposeful
Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾 北斎: Recycling Paper (1821)


"I repurpose and therefore am."


By the time this story becomes part of a manuscript, I will have repurposed it several times. The manuscript itself might have always been the purpose of creating the story, but each seemed to need several interim iterations before I could quietly put it to rest there. It first appeared as a part of my daily production, my each and every morning writing practice. This initial iteration sure seems finished when I first post it, but it needs fixing before it can reach anything even remotely like its final destination. I often wonder if I could simplify this terribly complicated and intricate process until I recall that this present instance represents years of evolving improvements. The process isn't yet completely static, but it's become both much simpler and more complicated as various purposes have emerged and stuck into more or less permanent practices. I've become a Repurposeful writer, poster, and publisher, reworking essentially the same kernels to satisfy their varying purposes.

Much of this effort amounts to relatively mindless copying and pasting.

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Distracting

distracting
Allart van Everdingen:
Reynard disguises as monk and distracts cock
(17th century)


" … few intentions seem very far beyond us."


Publishing sure seems like an occupation especially designed to try a practitioner's patience. Every damned thing involved in the engagement takes longer than expected and ultimately seems more complicated than strictly necessary. Still, under the It Takes Whatever It Takes Rule, I cannot characterize even these demands as excessive. They simply refuse to align with my tastes. Someone somewhere would very likely find this work rewarding, but probably nobody who'd ever very likely find themselves actually asking to engage in it. Some professions seem just like this. They seem the exclusive domains of misanthropes, those who never hoped to find their gainful employment shipping out beneath those masts. Dies cast as they cast. I might just as easily insist that I've been blessed with my Publishing mess.

I lack sufficient discipline to make the headway I had been expecting, though, as with many things, I suspect my metaphor's lacking.

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Skeptical

skeptical
Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins:
Miss Alice Kurtz (1903)


" … who once upon a time left a few utterly ordinary stories behind …"


I'm not much of a Booster. I'd make a piss-poor Rotarian, Kiwanian, or member in decent standing of the local Chamber of Commerce. My father before me stood off to the side, not precisely hiding but actively trying not to become the center of anyone's attention. The salesmen and hail fellows gladhand their way through their lives while others stand aside and gladly bid them pass by, for they seem to be on some mission. They're going somewhere, sure and certain of their own salvation, and excited at the prospect of improving others' chances, too. They seem to hold God's ear, his attention, with the explicit intention of collecting their due.

I feel uncertain whether I'm on a righteous path.

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Confidence

confidence
Adélaïde Labille-Guiard:
Portrait of Dublin-Tornelle (c. 1799)


"How could any of us ever experience the considerable benefits of our doubts if we've smothered them with our Confidence first?"


Confidence proves neither necessary nor sufficient to support any creative endeavor. It more often undermines an artist, who might find himself better served by slathering himself in criticism or doubt, for Confidence accentuates the positive at the onerous cost of other perspectives. It too easily evolves into studied self-deception, unshakable notions, and devotion to lesser Gods who grant unearned permissions and the pursuit of unwarranted commissions. One too easily falls into playing the Confidence Man, so practiced at self-deception that deception becomes first nature, trading in hollow and narrow platitudes, knowing for certain what nobody could ever know for sure, selling soap and Bibles.

The Confident author might not be worth reading other than as an example of what one should avoid reading.

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Outlying

outlying
Sebald Beham:
The Guard Near the Powder Casks
(Not Dated, c. 1520-1550)


" … my books look different than most others."


Each publication should be different than anything published before it. Not necessarily radically different, but just different enough. Nobody, for instance, really wants their New York Times to arrive looking like a tabloid Post or US News, for that difference makes little sense. So, superficially, each edition of The Times should appear, from a slight distance, almost precisely the same as every other, though once a decade or so, something so outrageous happens that the front page of even the staid and solemn Times might become an Outlier of itself to amplify the rarity of the reported event.

I try to make each of my stories unique.

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Disrupted

disrupted
Anonymous Germany (Wittenberg): Moses Destroying the Tablets (1558)


" … getting good and lost along the way?"


I usually isolate my stories from current events, hoping this convention will endow them with longer-lasting relevance. However, I make an exception with this story since this one considers Distruption. Today marks the end of the coronavirus public emergency, which, officials emphasize, does not mark the end of the coronavirus' influence on our lives. I, for instance, just tested positive (again) this morning, marking the thirteenth day of my first and so-far only Covid infection. The Muse recovered from hers more than a week ago and has been flitting around attending public meetings since then while I've hung out in the guest bedroom licking my wounds.

The libertarians, primitive thinkers that they've reliably proven themselves to be, gleefully proclaim that we live in an age of Disruption, just as if this condition were reason for celebration.

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Chiseling

chiseling
Unknown Indonedian/ Central Javaian Sculptor:
God Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles
(9th/10th century)


" … which explains my aching shoulder."


Publishing might qualify as a form of worship. Like all forms of worship, Publishing demands extended effort, as if Chiseling something out of stone, sculpting a practice from indifferent material. The practice itself needs to be coaxed into being using tools that should properly seem distinctly unsuited for their purpose, with straight edges intended to create curving lines and blunt instruments guiding the creation of fine edges. The outcome should seem unlikely from the outset and, if anything, even less likely as the faithful progress. This very difficulty feeds the resulting faith, encourages penitence, and sanctifies the practice. If it proved easy or convenient, it would prove worthless.

I mention this effort because the Amplified Collective revisited me yesterday.

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Rededicating

rededicating
Christian Julius Gustav Planer,
After
Philips Koninck: Hermit Reading (19th century)


"I might just as well be Rededicating my efforts …"


It doesn't take much to distract me. A tiny break in even a long-standing routine usually serves as more than an adequate impetus to go off my rails. I think of myself as a dedicated worker, but I seem to stand with one foot out the door, ready to divert my attention at the mere rumor of a hat dropping somewhere, anywhere. One might easily conclude that I lack an underlying discipline, and this observation might well prove both accurate as well as beside any useful point. Discipline should not be necessary and only prove essential in cases where one's held hostage, attempting to complete someone else's effort. Completing's one's own work should prove to enliven such that little discipline's demanded. I believe that if I'm focused on achieving my objectives, motivation should naturally take care of itself. That it only sometimes takes care of itself occasionally puts me at a distinct disadvantage.

The end of my Covid infection left me feeling ambivalent about Publishing, about everything.

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BoogeyMens

boogeymens
Vincent van Gogh: The Drinkers (1890)


“Our future seems secure together.”


Writing sometimes seems more like a haunting, for I am usually dredging up memories of past experiences to serve as grist for my work. I also sometimes exhume as yet unexperienced futures, and these can also prove to be problems. I imagine a few of my futures to be warm and inviting but more likely to harbor threats, many inhabited by BoogeyMens. The Boogeys remain from childhood stories rather than from lived experience. Their prior lives entirely consisted of stories, some of the types usually shared around a campfire on shadowy summer nights with a forest crowding in too tightly. Those stories promised an impending visit, scheduled for sometime between then and dawn. Later, some disturbance on the side of the tent will seem to announce doom's arrival, sparking some real drama inside. However, we almost always discovered the next morning some completely benign explanation for what we'd presumed had been our grisly demise. We'd somehow survived.

I've also somehow survived so far, though I often glimpse futures I would not willingly wish upon anyone, let alone myself.

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ReBeginningAgain

rebeginningagain
Attributed to Henry Fuseli: Perseus Starting from the Cave of the Gorgons (c. 1816)


"I should never again, ever be mistaken for anybody's spring chicken."


I somehow got the impression that beginnings and endings exclusively—or almost exclusively—came in matched pairs, with precisely one ending for each beginning and a single starting point for every ending. This notion could plausibly be further from the truth, but it needn't travel that far to expose its underlying fallacy. We've each seen multiple endings spawned from a single humble starting point, and many beginnings merge into a single ending. Commonly, something started finds itself interrupted, its routine disrupted, only to re-begin again; not usually to wholesale entirely start all over, but perhaps backtrack a little before trying to slip back into an established rut. These ReBeginnings always seem awkward, for it certainly seemed that the established routine had become well-engrained and unforgettable before the disruption. Some remembering with attendant struggling still seems evident. Nothing flawlessly re-begins.

Further, psychologists and metaphysicists insist that humans require disruption in their routines, however paradoxical this notion might seem.

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JustWhen

justwhen
William Michael Harnett: Just Dessert (1891)


"Life most often proceeds by other means than planned."


It might be an immutable law of this universe that JustWhen something seems lined up and ready to go, something else intrudes to blow up whatever best-laid plan was guiding the move. This presence justifies all the encouragement anyone can ever attract. But, regardless of how it feels, these intrusions are never about you. They're just this unsettling property of the universe breaking through at the invariably least convenient times. I know that it seems you get more of these than anybody, but that's a perspective illusion created by you having the only seat situated to see what happens to you but not to anybody else. Ninety percent of these JustWhens are invisible to everyone but the victim.

The occurrence of another JustWhen, no matter how common they seem, does not necessarily render the recipient a victim.

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CreepingFormality

creepingformality
Abraham Delfos: Oude man, schrijvend in boek
[Old Man, Writing In Book]
(1777)


"I do not yet know how I'll know when I'm finished."


As I prepare a manuscript for publication, I notice a CreepingFormality entering the effort. I began as I begin most things, naive and hope-filled. I will end this effort a little wiser and even a little more knowledgeable: more domesticated. The wild streak that fueled my first steps will have been tamed into a kind of compliance, for certain principles and practices have been replacing my feral enthusiasm with deeper understanding. I've already incorporated my earlier stage discoveries into more consistent practice. No longer simply hunting and pecking, I have been watching myself gain circumspection. No longer merely writing, I'm learning to avoid do-overs. This, despite the sure understanding that one tends to get whatever one attempt to avoid.

I sense a more profound responsibility to my broadening audience as I prepare postings for formal publication.

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Swooshing

swooshing
Peter Sheaf Hersey Newell:
Old Father William Turning a Somersault,
from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"
(c. 1901)


"I might accomplish my Publishing without too much suffering …"


The prospect of a four-and-a-half-hour airplane ride opened up some space I couldn't find while sitting at my desk. I had been unable to locate the space I felt I needed to complete the arduous manuscript assembly process for just one of the titles I'd started assembling when I began this series. I have more than a dozen backlogged. I'd been dutifully chronicling activities I had not actually been doing, but then that tactic seemed typical of my usual approach to anything. I feel the urge to nail down the philosophy of something before fully immersing myself in it. Why should Publishing prove any different? Especially the daunting effort to assemble individual blog posts into manuscript form, an inevitable copy/paste/match-style coma inducer, intricate, supremely dull, and requiring pulling down commands because I cannot decipher their keystroke equivalents:
⌘⌥⌃V, for instance.

I admit I had avoided getting too much into the thick of this effort. It scared me.

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'Tweenings

_tweening
Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne:
Fishing for Souls (1614)


" … always somewhere in between."


I spend most of my days neither here nor there. I tend to transition between one and another state, not quite gone nor quite fully arrived at any particular point in time. My experience here has therefore seemed more of a smear than an occupation, not even my transitions precisely true to any clear standard. I have proven myself fully capable of fooling myself into insisting that I've successfully made transitions and somehow managed to grow up, for instance, even though many cues strongly suggest that I remain in transition. My presence anywhere remains distinctly ambiguous.

My Renewing efforts seem to be ending, or at least The Muse and I will be returning to ordinary time today.

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Renewing

renewing
Théodore Géricault, after Nicolas Poussin:
Man Clutching a Horse in Water,
after
Poussin's "Deluge" (1816)


" … a seemingly new you to see it through."


Renewing seems indistinguishable until after it’s over. During, it might be anything. It runs on intention until it succeeds or fails. One intends to renew, but one never really knows whether one'll be successful until the resulting feeling finally catches up to them. Until then, Renewing can resemble anything, even its opposite.

This underlying feature renders Renewing more similar than different from other intentions.

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PrimitiveProgress

primitiveprogress
Edward Sheriff Curtis:
The Primitive Artist - Paviotso (1924)


"I might scratch a story in a sandstone wall …"


Backward steps can produce forward progress. I tend to get so focused on improvements that I can lose the more primal assurance I can do without all my usual accoutrements. I only really need some of the utensils my kitchen holds, for instance, or a few of the array of pens I keep on my desktop at home. I am not only capable of making do without these tools, but I might also sometimes leave myself feeling better off without them.

It's long been understood that sudden reversals of fortune can produce personal improvement, a sense of freedom curiously lacking when surrounded by the trappings of success.

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ARRR&ARRR

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


" … they get away with murder …"


The Gospel of Efficiency fails to mention the necessity of Rest and Recuperation. It exclusively focuses on nose-to-the-grindstone dedication, personal sacrifice, of laser-like focus. It calculates using only the sparest arithmetic, not the more complicated calculus of human-powered action. We naturally work in fits and starts, sprints and collapses rather than by more primitive fixed and so-called standard methods. We create by means mysterious, especially to us, so we seem prone to misrepresent our efforts, even to ourselves. We might, for instance, apply fierce dedication when some slacking might better serve. We can insist upon creating by the least creative means, defaulting to mistaking context for something industrial. We're apt to mix our metaphors and garble our messages, then follow our internal directions as if they made sense simply because we created them.

It's not until we catch ourselves slacking that we might notice that something significant must have been lacking from our earlier strategies.

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Backgrounded

backgrounding
Agnes Winterbottom Cooney:
Backyard View, Public School in Background,
Rulo, Nebraska (c. 1900)


" … a little embarrassed at my previous blindnesses."


Writing and, lately, Publishing have been my foreground occupations. These occurred within some background, typically unmentioned and perhaps unworthy of mention, for background just is and rarely seems to warrant acknowledgment. We humans are notorious for presenting ourselves as unconnected, as if we were not utterly dependent upon some fairly heavy infrastructure. Each of us belongs to a family which, depending, might or might not warrant mention. We inhabit places, sometimes embarrassing ones, which might seem as if mentioning them would somehow demean us in someone else's eyes, as a small-town rube or a big-city slicker. We conveniently neglect to mention details that might overly complicate how we wish to be perceived by others or even by ourselves. We mostly remain mum on many levels.

But we all understand that we're each imbedded within endless complications.

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Manifestering

manifestering
William Hogarth, Printmaker:
Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism. A Medley.
(1762)


" … never grant us any deeper understanding."


Publishing exists as an essentially infinite field. From an author's perspective, interacting with it carries all the context markers of any encounter with any infinite, by which I mean that there's no reasoning with it. Any individual interaction holds an essentially random possibility for any outcome: positive, negative, but mostly indifferent. In this way, at least, publishing does not quite qualify as a classic system. I might better describe it as a field and its products as perturbations. Something happens, but whatever occurs was never beforehand predictable. One casts into Publishing without ever knowing what might become of the encounter. One might dream of great good fortune, but there's no guaranteeing any outcome. The best anyone can promise might be an entry, an attractive offering. Whether anyone reads the damned thing, a matter of marketing, by which I mean a matter of credulity, superstition, and fanaticism: mysticism.

Ask any author how he happened to become successful, and the honest ones will answer with complete mystery.

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Erratics

erratics
William Pether after Joseph Wright of Derby:
Three Persons Viewing the Gladiator by Candlelight
(1769)


" … evidence of history having happened and still present …"


What makes these stories a collected work? What unifying theme do they exhibit? Publishers seem to love to ask authors these sorts of questions, for they seek a discernible purpose for publishing something. One does not properly throw any odd old bunch of pieces together and label them A Work. Consequently, I choose a theme, this series' theme being Publishing, then head out into the wilderness to see what startles up out of the underbrush. I do not work from an outline, which I'm convinced only ever exists in fifth-grade writing teachers' fantasies. I try to keep my wits about me and observe what I do, and these observations become the grist for most of the resulting stories. This series could not exist without the provocation of the overarching theme and my own continuing observing. Still, the resulting series sure does seem awful various from a publisher's perspective, Erratic.

What do I look for when I'm so aimlessly wandering through my writing wilderness?

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SwimmingLessons

swimminglesson
Fernand Siméon: Gazette du Bon Ton,
1921 - No. 6, Pl. 41:
La leçon de natation /
Costume et chale, pour le bain
[The Swimming Lesson /
Suit and shawl, for the bath] (1921)


"We all engage in SwimmingLessons which we'll never master."


I do not yet consider myself a competent practitioner of whatever it is that I do. I falsely claim to be a writer because I write, not because I consider my writing to demonstrate my competence. I no longer believe that practice might one day render me capable. I engage in a paranoid fashion, not merely as an imposter fearful of discovery, but as if I work on probation, subject to immediate dismissal at the whim of any uncaring overseer. I consider everyone competent to pass judgment on my production, their opinion, their own, and outside my direct influence. I no longer believe that I might one day manage to master my profession, but I will forever aspire to enter journeyman status from apprentice. Rather than practice, I work as if engaging in lessons, SwimmingLessons.

The ocean has never once been conquered.

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MetaProcessing

metaprocessing
Unknown, after
Masaccio: Procession of Figures (1700–1899)


" … mistaking wheel reinvention as some sort of fatal mistake …"


I've long suspected something fishy about process, and not just because of my professional encounters with Process Nazis, those people who could only see their worlds as a series of sequential procedures due to a genetic mutation or something. Modern recipes have no ancient counterpart, for the ancients never managed to become slaves to their routines. Instead, they seemed to have retained the ability to hold their intentions more lightly. As a result, they could only mass-produce a little of anything. Also likely true, they probably lived more satisfying lives as a result.

Now, we inhabit civilizations addicted to our processes.

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Bletting

bletting
Pieter Withoos: Still Life with Plums, White Plums, Peaches and Medlars (17th century)

" … maturing into final form."

Some fruits require aging beyond their tree to become edible: quince, persimmon, and medlar most prominent among these. Each proves too astringent without further curing, the medlar famous for needing to age right to the edge of rotten before it attains its highly-prized and unique flavor. This curing process, called Bletting, historically occurred in some cool, dark place on straw to cushion the curing fruit. Bletting delays the usual essentially instantaneous fruit-consuming process. Typically, fruit's fate has been immediate consumption once spotted, stored for only very short periods, or preserved, for it usually features a remarkably short shelf life. Some portion of the fruit I purchase ends up in the compost bin because I can't quite keep up with it. It's living while actively dying, and I often lose track of where it’s going until after it's already gone.

The medlar, praised since Roman times, seems especially ancient, for it might need six or even more weeks of Bletting before it comes into its own for consumption, which often involves making a jam or sauce to enhance other flavors, especially wine.

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Parallelling

parallelling
Rudolph Ruzicka:
Lowell House, Harvard University (c. 1931-32)

"My world, like yours, thrives on such intentions."

I maintain and manage a massively parallel publishing system consisting of many disparate parts conceptually connected but otherwise distant from and invisible to each other. I serve as the sole integrating factor, for only I know where the bodies have been buried because I was the one who buried every one. Using this system resembles serial graverobbing, in which my skills must approach master status. The resulting operation stretches the formal definition of system, as all integrated systems must. It was never designed and shows it. Nor has it ever been documented. Instead, it operates via a complex code of local knowledge and rumor. Some pieces barely serve their purpose, but its sole user knows of no better components or, at least, none cheaper. It includes nothing designed or marketed by Microsoft®, for our operator finds their products fundamentally unusable. This means that my publishing system most emphatically does not include MS-Word®, which, as near as I can tell, exists for the sole purpose of rendering writing, and so Publishing, fundamentally impossible.

This story, as every story I've written in this and every other series, simultaneously exists on several supposedly parallel planes.

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StrategicHesitation

strategichesitation
Alfred Stevens: Hesitation [Madame Monteaux?] (c. 1867)

"I might just be playing chicken with myself."


All who hesitate are not necessarily lost. Some certainly must be lost, but many engage strategically, not wanting to waste effort by expending it overenthusiastically and in a naive fashion. Especially immediately after experiencing some fresh revelation, people tend to go off half or even less than half-cocked, exercising freshly-discovered muscles in ways most likely to undermine intention and strain unaccustomed ligaments. I believe it essential then to resist that urge to charge forward holding that newly-discovered sword, lest that nascent swordsman do more damage than good to their cause. The first use of any insight might well best remain a sparing one. It's far too easy to overuse or even abuse unfamiliar forms of magic. It's often best to just use a sprinkle at first.

I have been encountering insights as I've explored Publishing.

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KnowingNuthingness

knowingnuthingness
Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard Grandville:
Artist admiring his work.
Jerome Paturot a la recherche d'une position sociale
[Jerome Paturot is looking for a social position] 1846

"It's an unfair trade …"

Any profession diligently practiced eventually leads its practitioner back into a state of KnowingNuthingness. Any iteration of knowing action ultimately leads to fracturing understanding. One morning, or one late evening, our protagonist will experience KnowingNuthingness, just as if he was forever before merely faking facility as if he'd never actually known a blesséd thing. He will feel embarrassed recognizing the scores of stories he'd previously and irrevocably published, tales with gross errors embedded within them, each of which quietly disclosed just what an idiot he was, how filled with presumption he had been, how he had been masquerading while probably only successfully deceiving himself. The scales fall from his eyes in that brilliant moment, and he experiences his profession's peak sensation: Nuthingness again. He knows only in that memorable moment that he never knew Nuthing, that all of his passionate strivings had successfully guided him back to zero again. Again!

The wise ones insist that these sorts of experiences benefit the professional.

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Homogenizing

homogenizing
Harold Edgerton: Milk Drop into Cup of Milk (2) (1935)

“ … only become accessible once Homogenized …”

Those final editing passes amount to a kind of Homogenizing of the manuscript. First drafts tend to seem rough and feral in form. When creating, the writer wisely ignored many of the lessons their teachers tried to impart in favor of listening to their small, almost still voices emanating from their heart. Hearts do not know crap about comma placement, however, and no amount of intuition, no matter how damned well-intended, can predict what a Grammar Nazi might insist. It seems helpful to pass the work by Hoyle to gain his perspective, but a writer must never cede creative rights to any rule book. Much that makes a piece of writing interesting comes from its personality, tone, and innate quirkiness. Nobody appreciates a voice victimized by too damned much Homogenizing.

The A-Eye Grammar Engine seems determined to homogenize my writing.

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Choreography

choreography
Thomas Lord Busby: Billy Waters, a one-legged busker.
Colored engraving from Costumes of the Lower Orders in Paris (1820)


"I build my castle upon shifting sands."

The steps I follow to successfully publish one of my daily stories have multiplied since I started writing this Publishing series. What previously seemed simple became complicated, though my intentions never considered creating anything convoluted. We all understand that this sort of outcome happens, though we remain largely baffled at how an urge to simplify produces complications. The expansion comes in insignificant increments, so-called inch-pebbles, rather than by milestones. An embellishment might require much more work yet produce an effect that seems damned well worth what initially seemed like a small additional effort. Multiply that tweak by twelve or even by five, and the resulting steps become challenging to hold in one's head yet remain too fresh to be easily turned into a checklist.

At some point, what starts as an inspired improvisation becomes an imperative, no longer mere embellishment but an integral part of every performance, not to be omitted.

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A-Eye

a_-eye
Lewis Wickes Hine: Powerhouse Mechanic (1921)


" … a rather bleak and lonely job …"


I have a confession to make. I sincerely hope that this one will prove to be good for my soul, as I'm reliably informed that confessions tend to be good for the confessor's soul. As with all confessions, this one might involve the disclosure of some sin I've committed or, if not precisely, a sin, some shortcoming. One confesses, I guess, in the sincere hope that one might gain forgiveness, at least from themself and, perhaps, from others. Atonement might or might not be indicated in this situation. I risk ruining my reputation, though, so listen generously, please, understanding that I'm just flesh, more than capable of falling short of any ideal.

I started using AI this week in the form of an Artificially Intelligent copyediting engine.

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RabbitHoling

rabbitholing
Camille Pissarro: Rabbit Warren at Pontoise (1879)


" … yet still enormously proud."


Final editing seems like preparing a corpse for burial. The body's mass and shape serve as no concern; only appearance matters then. The time for constructive criticism passed long before. The plot's pattern resolved; the author wants only to remember this story as one he finished without regrets. It will always be just as he leaves it now, and the work, on exit, nudges its author into what appear to be warrens, twisting tunnels down surprising holes. The final effort before publishing might as well be labeled RabbitHoling.

The actual finishing work feels remarkably renewing.

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PastSins

pastsins
Circle of
Hendrick van Cleve III:
Landscape (c. 1525-1589)


"A writer's work never gets done."


Publishing serves as the terminating step in a long series of creations. It works like beatification in that it represents a work's entry into that much-vaunted "state of bliss," whereby it might prove worthy of public veneration. More importantly, it moves out of what I might best describe as a persistent state of sin, for each unpublished work represents some PastSins as yet unforgiven. Writers feel haunted by their collected works which have yet to find publishers. These lay around like haphazardly set aside toys, interrupted before completing their mission. Many of those pieces probably could have never really qualified as more than practice, but they remain undead, never entirely forgotten.

The flotsam surrounding every working writer sometimes (like often) seems overwhelming.

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Grooving

grooving
Will Hicock Low:
Into the Green Recessed Woods They Flew (1885)


"The journey, not the arriving, might just be the purpose here after all."


I distrust anyone who seems to know where they're going from any outset, and that goes double for anyone who appears to know very much about how to get there. The first while should properly humble any adventurer as he settles into his somewhat surprising new context. It must be different than expected, or it’s not an adventure. More than half of any excitement comes from the surprise emanating from it. It really should seem different, though judgment had rarely matured to the point yet where very much appreciation accompanies these initiations. They're almost universally experienced as inconveniences, as problems, as broken and needing fixing. Usually and fortunately, by the time the initial disorientation settles down, some fresh Groove emerges from the chaos, and things at least start promising to unfold more smoothly, with no intervention to fix anything really necessary.

My inquiry into Publishing should have proven no different from any standard Class A excursion.

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FeedingSystems

feedingsystems
Joseph Pennell: Coal Mining Town (19th-20th century)


" … necessary effort …"


Writing works as a relatively self-contained and self-satisfying occupation because it's typically accomplished in near-perfect isolation. Just the writer and his thoughts bleeding out onto the keyboard, a tightly contained system. Publishing adds exponential complexity to writing's simplicity, to the point that writing might seem almost beside any point. The writer leaves the moment to live in anticipation of some future. He writes for an audience then and loses some connection to the familiar small, almost silent voices which had previously guided his hand. He gains the questionable gift of self-awareness, stage presence, and management obligations to engage in FeedingSystems.

That printed page proves insufficient to share and must be duplicated, packaged, and shipped somewhere, somehow, and all that requires systems.

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CopyWrongs

copywrongs
Jean Jacques de Boissieu [after Jacob van Ruisdael]:
The Public Scribe (1790)


… tend to default to their Bastard setting unless questioned …"


Publishing exercises what's called copyright, the right to copy. According to common law, copyright belongs to the creator of a work, though that ownership can and often is bargained away in exchange for Publishing. For example, one common precondition to achieve publication involves the creator agreeing to assign their copyright ownership to the work over to the publisher. This transaction has become so widespread now that it's rarely questioned, though other agreements remain possible. For example, some publishers satisfy themselves with First Print Rights, accepting that the author rightfully owns their work in perpetuity but that they might share the work more broadly without making an orphan out of it.

Copyright, in practice, seems a civilizing convention.

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UnwieldyMachine

unwieldymachine
Rube Goldberg:
Professor Butts and the Self-Operating Napkin (1931)

Soup spoon (A) is raised to mouth, pulling string (B) and thereby jerking ladle (C), which throws cracker (D) past toucan (E). Toucan jumps after cracker and perch (F) tilts, upsetting seeds (G) into pail (H). Extra weight in pail pulls cord (I), which opens and ignites lighter (J), setting off skyrocket (K), which causes sickle (L) to cut string (M), allowing pendulum with attached napkin to swing back and forth, thereby wiping chin.

"We're none of us terribly efficient."


My decades of experience with Systems Thinking leaves me incapable of not thinking of Publishing as just another sort of machine, though it seems at best an UnwieldlyMachine. Some devices, though complicated, seem relatively simple. Not so Publishing. I suspect it acquires its apparent unwieldiness from the human effort embedded within it, for Publishing's never accomplished by the mere flick of a switch. Some pieces have been long automated to various degrees. I'm thinking of Gutenberg and his bible printing machines, but even those required excessive amounts of tedious human effort to produce their product. They represented a quantum leap beyond hand-producing illustrated manuscripts, but they remained tedious as, indeed, has the overall Publishing "system" to this day.

Its necessary mindfulness helps render it Unwieldy, for mindfulness takes time when the whole purpose of systems seems focused upon trimming time from production.

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SelfReliance

selfreliance
Edvard Munch: Self-Portrait in Moonlight (1904–06)


" … a lesson which I never expect to stop learning."


However steeped in frontier tradition the concept might be, SelfReliance seems worthless when Publishing. While writing might be fairly characterized as a solo endeavor, Publishing's inescapably plural. It features altogether too many moving parts and picky pieces for any individual to master. It takes a village, and all that, to publish.

Still, the writer blanches through acceptance of this humbling fact.

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ShelfDiscipline

shelfdiscipline
Lucian and Mary Brown:
Untitled [boy playing with action figures on shelf] (c. 1950)


" … groaning in the background."


The manuscript shelves in my office hold printed, unfinished manuscripts. It serves as one of the stages in my never-ending seeming copyediting queue. Since I find copyediting disquieting, I rarely visit those shelves, so they also serve as an essentially infinite queue. I cannot imagine ever arriving at the end of that pile. It grows by one fresh member every quarter, and I'm several quarters behind. How many? I cannot tell for certain, for I only managed to start a list when I began writing this Publishing series. I've not yet finished it.

I seem to lack a specific sort of discipline; the ShelfDiscipline required to conquer my copyediting queue.

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PluralSelves

pluralselves
Frédéric Bazille: Self-Portrait (1865/66)


" … a life far removed from its author."


Most of the great nineteenth and twentieth-century painters produced self-portraits, works that at first looked very much like them but which later took on other lives. Writers perform this trick, too, for they also inescapably produce self-portraits. I might argue that anything any artist produces amounts to another self-portrait, whatever the content, and that each work goes on to live a separate life from its creator. Artists live life as PluralSelves, with at least as many instances of themself as works they produced. Publishing distributes an artist's work more broadly than their studio. In this way, an artist's presence need not depend upon that artist's physical presence. Their influence stretches much farther than they ever know.

Few consumers of any artist's work ever think to drop that artist a note of appreciation to thank them for exerting the influence they produced.

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APublication

apublication
Utagawa Toyoharu:
Newly Published Perspective Picture of the Gate
of the Palace of the Dragon King
(Shinpan uki-e Ryugu karamon no zu)
(c. 1772/89)


" … illegal prepositions at the end of imperfect sentences."


My son Wilder, visiting with his two kids over Spring Break, slipped upstairs as we waited for breakfast, returning with a slim volume. It was the long-awaited book of my dearly departed Dwarlink Dwaughta Heidi's poetry, freshly published. After she died, a family friend who had also lost her poet daughter at an even younger age volunteered to edit a volume of Heidi's surviving works, for her poetry seemed suddenly immortal, certainly more so than their author. My first wife wrote a brief forward, I contributed an afterword, and my son, an accomplished fine artist, produced the cover art. I held a thin slice of time in my hand.

APublication can achieve this sort of impossible.

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DamnedPandemic

damnedpendic
Weegee (Arthur Fellig):
Audience Reaction (c. 1940 - c. 1950)


"I'll always continue wearing my mask."


Our continuing Damned Pandemic has utterly changed my relationship with this world. Previously unimaginable reactions to what certainly appeared to be clear and present dangers left me feeling extremely paranoid. I gratefully took to wearing my mask, baffled why some found the task onerous. Fresh definitions of freedom emerged: I, with my freedom to wear my mask in public, a great and reassuring liberty to me, and others, with their belligerent insistence to never wear one, whatever the personal or collective consequences. I saw self-centered cynicism run rampant, even among family members. I, myself, sequestered. I took respite behind firm defenses. My paltry social existence further withered. I essentially became a hermit.

I invited a few into my bubble, and a blesséd few accepted my offer.

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SmallStumbles

smallstumbles
Attributed to Augustus Cordus:
The Fall of Man with Scenes of the Creation (1544)


"This is Publishing?"


The first few steps disorient me. I had become accustomed to success, easy success, and actions taken within my domain. Outside, trying different, I find walking disorienting. I cannot find my spot. I need to think carefully, ponderously, before moving, and even then, I discover that I'm moving in some wrong direction, not precisely backward, but not precisely forward, either. I seem capable only of SmallStumbles. I inch my way along. My more grandiose schemes utterly gone, I seek footholds and still stumble. I relearn that I can move forward in reverse, backing my way into my future, but I have to look over my shoulder. My perspective narrowed, and I feel grateful for achieving any momentum and calling that progress. Small steps with SmallStumbles amounts to initial success.

I'm not yet sold on the idea of Publishing.

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BreakingGround

breakingground
Winslow Homer: The Brush Harrow (1865)


" … hoping for better without ever really expecting it."


Spring threatens before arriving. I can imagine it already here, even before the equinox, even while it continues snowing some mornings. The sun's angle serves as inexorable evidence of its imminent arrival. I'm caught unprepared. Even if I had properly prepared last Fall, I would still feel unprepared because everything suddenly wants doing at once. Wherever I might begin will feel like the wrong place to start, a distracting sideshow from the actual effort needed. It doesn't matter where I get started. It very much matters that I begin.

However much I might have prayed for these days' arrival, I will drag my heels.

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Averting

averting
Rembrandt van Rijn:
Bust of an Old Bearded Man, Looking Down,
Three Quarters Right
(1631)


"I imagine that I am watching for it."


It's been a tough week here in old Lake Woebegone, or so Garrison Keillor would have said, starting another in a decades-long weekly update from his fictional hometown on the prairie. He and his Prairie Home Companion radio program long ago left my Saturday afternoons, but it was a staple while it persisted—little remains of much of my experience. I retain more writing than I seem able to manage and a few relatively scant memories. I took very few pictures, opting for the primary experience rather than the experience of attempting to capture that experience. Shifting my focus toward Publishing, the challenges seem overwhelming. I find myself Averting my attention from the full ramifications of my fresh choice. I deliberately avoid trying to see the whole expanse before me. I can barely deal with whatever's right before me. I do not need the complications a panoramic perspective provides.

Averting seems like a minor art form, yet still a definite skill.

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HelpAsk

helpask
Pieter Jansz Quast: Lame Beggar Asking for Alms,
from T is al verwart-gaern [It’s already confusing]

(not dated-early 17th Century)


" … continue into the thoroughly unforeseeable future."


If Publishing differs from writing because it requires a community's effort, an early shift for the aspiring-to-publish writer must include the HelpAsk. This act does not resemble asking for help, for our publisher nee writer can't yet form proper requests. He does not know what the difficulty might be. He suffers from symptoms and knows it. He further lacks even the expertise to properly select an expert to help. He might start 'asking around' only to find that he's surrounded by helpers whose capabilities he never suspected. One, then another, will disqualify themselves for the best of excuses. The community first grows to include the self-rejected, though these people help, too, for their refusals help narrow the search and might even render the seeker a tad less clueless, though he's unlikely to feel any improvement. He comes to understand that he's more lost than he imagined, that he'd been inhabiting a kind of fantasyland where a sense of competence served as the common experience. He grows less competent by the minute and feels this.

It would be perfectly acceptable to reject the call to this adventure.

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FamiliarTerritory

familiarterritory
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes:
A Way of Flying, from Disparates [Nonsense],
published as plate 13 in Los Proverbios [Proverbs]

(1815–17, published 1864)


"This lost feeling surely shows progress."


My blog's not working again this morning, an all-too-familiar start to my day. I'll write my daily missive in the blog software's word processor anyway, out of long habit rather than for any rational reason. I inhabit FamiliarTerritory, a Very Late Status Quo Space, a convergence of shortcomings I have been watching closely in on me for a very, very long time. The blog software has been hinting at impending failure for ages. I've been investigating resolutions without making discernible progress. Yesterday, I began a fresh series and stumbled rather badly out of the blocks. I finally successfully posted something to SubStack before spending much of my following morning editing that content, fixing apparently unavoidable errors. SubStack turned out to be just as opaque of an application as my month spent researching it suggested it would be. I should properly be months, if ever, sorting out details on that platform.

It always starts like this.

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Authoring

authoring
Ryūryūkyo Shinsai:
Boy Writing (Edo period, 1615-1868)


"Welcome along for the ride!"


I became a professional writer thirty years ago, when I sold an article to a periodical for a couple of hundred bucks. I've been professing to being a writer ever since, though my brushes with actual publication have been infrequent. This distinction between writing and publishing gets to the heart of Publishing, for an author does much more than just write. Sure, writing's a huge part of the profession, but it amounts to little more than a beginning. While writing can be an isolating undertaking, Authoring's much more social. It requires a community to author anything, however hermit-like the writer's habits. Authoring requires emerging from that shell to engage with a broader world. Any introvert worth his temperament should shudder a little at this prospect.

My writing practice seems unsustainable unless I manage to connect to an output spigot.

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Sseccus

sseccus
Katsukawa Shunsho 勝川 春章:
Man Falling Backward, Startled by a Woman’s Ghost over a River
(c. 1782)


" … because it couldn't."


I came to understand that I previously understood Success backward. It was not as I'd imagined it before I began this dialogue with myself over its nature. I make no firm conclusions, just this observation I must have previously understood backward. I might acknowledge that properly engaged in dialogue often produces this result, which is no conclusive result at all other than to suspect a previous backward understanding. Understanding grew but also created less certainty, an apparent paradox that everyone might notice seems perfectly congruent with their own experience. As a general rule, we do not ever get to the bottom of anything, though we might sometimes misleadingly sense that we're moving in that general direction.

The purpose of dialogue might just as well be this very outcome.

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Futures

futures
Giulio Bonasone, After Giulio Romano:
An Omen of the Future Greatness of Augustus (16th century)


" … we're heading in precisely that direction!"


Optimism seems an intrinsic part of Success. I can't imagine Success without a significant contribution from positive anticipation. The Eeyores of this world can't experience Success, perhaps because their perspective won't allow it to manifest. Those who firmly believe in their own positive potential seem to more comfortably realize some semblance of it. The belief need not necessarily be based upon any verifiable facts and might eventually prove to have been pure fantasy.

Nevertheless, it might still positively contribute to some sense of Success, even if it proves to be less than anticipated.

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Pasts

pasts
Johann Georg Wille: The Philosopher of the Past (1782)


"It isn't, but was, and promises to one day be before slipping behind me again."


I often imagine my Successes as assets, like coins stored in a bank, except I know there’s no bank there. I remember high points, but I must admit that I do not reside near them. Instead, they belong to my Pasts, the many and various people I've been and places I've inhabited. Each Success seems forever tied to the particular place and time in which it occurred, and though I sometimes think of them as tangible possessions, I understand that they are not and never were. Instead, they exist as memories, which seem tricky characters sometimes capable of appearing real, as if they are living in this present moment rather than suspended somewhere before.

Each of my careers experienced some Successes.

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Grudgements

begrudgements
Jacob Duck:
Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist
(mid-1600s)


" … steal every possibility for achieving Success"


I possess no foolproof method for attracting Success, just the collected anecdotes included in this almost-finished series. These, distilled together, would not render much of a magic potion, and I did not intend to write a how-do, Do-In-Yourself series on attracting Success. Success never was a commodity to be traded and conjured but more of an ecosystem of experiences, emotions, knowledge, and actions. Attracting Success seems a fool's mission, but not quite so success’s opposite. I believe that the least of us can reliably chase away Success, and often without even thinking very hard, probably usually without thinking at all. One element seems to undermine Success wherever and whenever it occurs, and that element seems to be Grudgement. Carrying a grudge naturally chases most of the positive energy out of the vehicle and renders the driver its slave. Holding a grudge seems the surest way to ensure that Success stays just as far away as possible.

I present as evidence our most recent former President, who still hasn't conceded his most recent defeat even while claiming to be running for a repeat performance.

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TimePassing

timepassing
Claude Monet: Cliff Walk at Pourville (1882)


"Everything was different after that."


Success and failure seem every bit as mercurial as time, for the mere passage of time seems capable of utterly changing either's nature. An apparent failure can become an evident Success when seen through the long-ish shadow of additional experience. Events that seemed apparent Successes in the moment they occurred can erode themselves into even more apparent failures later. TimePassing seems capable of utterly reversing almost any experience, of turning pretty much any event into its opposite. There's real wisdom in the advice to sit on or with a failure before wallowing in it, for The Gods, or somebody, remain capable of fiddling with events, reversing their nature. A stumble might enable a better rhythm to emerge later.

I'm sure that we all have our stories of catastrophes narrowly averted by what, at the moment, appeared to have been a serious setback of fortunes.

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Puzzlements

puzzlements
Okumura Masanobu:
Solving a Puzzle (n.d., circa 1700-1760s)


" … no more often than occasionally, please."


When the annual New Yorker Puzzle Edition arrives, I resign myself to missing my usual reading material that week. I won't even look at the offered puzzles because they have always just confused me. Likewise, I hop over the New York Times crossword puzzle page. I find puzzles puzzling rather than entertaining. I consider those who dedicate themselves to Wordle, whatever that is, unfortunate. The Muse is forever playing solitaire or something on her phone. I find even the mention of card games boring. I will not submit to playing board games, either, with the very occasional exception of Scrabble. I find board games aptly named in that they seem boring. Given a choice between sitting quietly in some corner and solving a puzzle, I'll choose sitting quietly in some corner fifty times out of twenty.

I admit that Success sometimes demands that I solve some genuine Puzzlement.

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|Success|

_success_
Claude Monet:
The Departure of the Boats, Étretat (1885)


" … my purpose must be clear,
for it is always and without exception,
what my actions manifest here."


I think of Success and failure as positive and negative arcs on the same old number line, with Successes progressing outward to the right of the midpoint and failures fading outward to the left. Both great Success and great failure can be represented there by their distance from the center. Some Successes don't really amount to much, less than ten on an infinite scale, while others loop off into the far, far distance. Same story with failures, though their emotional content leans toward the sorrowful rather than the joyful. Each point on both sides denotes some emotional range, from minor to great, and therefore might qualify for assessment as absolute values rather than as opposites. Yes, sadness differs in content while similar in strength. A ten on either pole might then be considered roughly equal in scope, though opposite in emotional texture.

I bring up this admittedly arcane point for a potentially practical reason.

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AbjectSuccess

abjectsuccess
Walter Crane: King Midas with his daughter,
from
Nathaniel Hawthorne's 1893 edition of
A Wonder-Book for Girls and Boys
(1893)


"The absence of its opposite …"


Midas stands as the archetypal embodiment of a specific sort of Success none of us hope to achieve. To at least try to be honest, his error seems innocent enough. He had not thought his greed to or through its logical extents. He overreached. Each of us has just as innocently stepped over some similarly unseen edge, if only when gorging at a holiday table. We celebrate our great Success, only to render ourselves miserable as a result. Too much of some good things seem worse than the worst of all possible outcomes. Midas sought a magic touch such that everything he touched might turn to gold. Granted that short-sighted wish, he found himself unable to eat or drink and, when he touched his beloved daughter, Abjectly Successful.

I suspect that each of us holds this capacity.

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Hackcess

hackcess
Pierre-Auguste Renoir: Self-Portrait (1876)


"Hackcess ever only happens once …"


I admit that I've mostly lived outside the boundaries of propriety. I didn't seek an advanced degree before practicing my professions but made up my approaches as I went along. I experienced at least my fair share of Success, but perhaps by unfair means. I dropped out of my high school typing class rather than flunk it, but I still went on to become a best-selling author, though I'm still an absolute hack typist. I present my two and a half typing fingers as prima facie evidence, along with my bestseller and the second dozen manuscripts I will have finished by this Summer's solstice. I garden, but not according to anyone's rules, not even my own, since I seem to continue making up my practice as I go along. I'm always learning but never learnéd. Forever the hacker.

One way to most reliably fail seems to me to be to hold oneself to someone else's recipe, the way things are supposed to be done.

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ThePrice

theprice
Honoré Victorin Daumier:
The Print Collector (c. 1857/63)


"Success seems priceless"


The cost of Success might eventually come into question. The underlying idea being that the value of the Success should stand in excess of the price and that Successful action should properly show a profit rather than a loss. Upon reflection, this sort of cost accounting should seem spurious since it employs less than uniform units. How might one assess value, and on what basis? Likewise, how might one reasonably account for profit and, again, using which values? Scrutiny should properly find the whole effort spurious, if not entirely worthless. Few of us won't catch ourselves attempting to complete such an assessment, though, us having been reared within a capitalist system. We were raised to produce profit and loss statements.

When it comes to Success, though, we might prefer to cipher in units of happiness or joy.

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TrueConfessions

trueconfessions
Alfred Stieglitz: Dorothy True (1919)


"I must tell my stories or else …"


It's always seemed unlikely to me that I might ever Successfully meet any challenge. I tend to start with a glass already half empty or, more often, no glass at all with which to address the challenge. I eventually discovered my adequacies lurking in eternally unexpected places and that I almost always proved capable of Success, however impossible it had earlier seemed. I suspect a lesson lurking to be discovered in there, but I hope it's not an obvious one. I despise finding out that I've been seeing right through some prominent something, the last one in the room to finally acknowledge what everyone else long ago perceived. It peeves me. It might be true, though, that I was never nearly as inadequate as I felt. I could have always interpreted those sensations as representing something else besides my inadequacies, whatever that might have been. I might have always actually been more than adequate without hardly ever feeling as though I was.

I am learning that confessing really does clean up the spirit.

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Starting

starting
Hans Kleiber: Starting on the Hunt (20th century)


" … much, much, much better at it than I've ever been."


I think of Success as necessarily tied to completing something, but its natural antecedent lies in Starting something. I can become an enthusiastic finisher once some pattern of execution settles in, but Starting seems to be my nemesis. I do not easily get moving in any direction, regardless of how alluring any impending Success might seem. Until I've found some rhythm and anticipatable pattern, each opportunity just seems like another unopened can of worms offering otherwise unnecessary complications. These complications might always be necessary, little dedication tests left expressly for my challenge, for if I cannot get myself Starting, I'll never propel myself into any Success.

I search for a handhold, someplace to start, for each effort seems first a smooth, blank wall.

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QuestioningDichotomies

questioningdichotomies
De Scott Evans: The Irish Question (1880s)


"We all know what happens then."


A decent inquiry seems to follow a predictable trajectory. It begins by making some clear distinctions and defining its territory. Later, this initiating dichotomy starts breaking down as the earlier clear distinction starts evaporating, first a little, and later, a lot. By the end of the investigation, the initial distinction should have almost completely fallen apart such that the beginning arguments might seem utter nonsense, the subject having been rendered nearly absurd by then. Like this series, started in relative innocence, into the nature of Success, I have grown to question my founding premise. I no longer believe in Success as I once presumed it existed. I've reached no definitive conclusion, which is also typical of any genuine investigation. Our expectations might have been utterly poisoned by our too-close exposures to crime fiction, where endings bring resolutions. The real world deals more in enlightening confusions.

It might just be that all dichotomies must ultimately prove to have been fictions.

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SuccessDelayed

successdelayed
Peter Paul Rubens:
The Voyage of the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand of Spain from Barcelona to Genoa in April 1633, with Neptune Calming the Tempest, Alternate Title: Quos Ego (1635)


"I revel most in those long-delayed Successes!"


Some messes prove difficult to resolve. I do not know why. The pile of boxes accumulating in the basement dated from a year ago last Christmas, if my forensic flattening figured out anything. Finally, yesterday, I tore into that mess and resolved it in something under an hour. I loaded up Elizabeth, our Lexus pick-up truck stand-in, and The Muse and I performed a royal procession to the cardboard recycling station at the local landfill. We were filled with a deep sense of genuine accomplishment, a feeling far greater and more rewarding than could have ever come from routinely dealing with those boxes as they'd come. That pile of boxes, long a source of quiet disgust, held great potential to produce tremendous satisfaction, but only after it had been liberally marinated in fifteen months of my most dedicatedly degrading procrastination.

Those months of quiet disgust at just how slovenly I'd been turned into the most extraordinary sensation of Success I'd felt since before last Christmas.

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Nullness

Nullness
Thomas Wright:
An original theory or new hypothesis of the universe
(1750)


"Success often resides in no result."


Determining when something's working can prove damnably difficult. Over many years, scientists have devised counter-intuitive methods for better bulletproofing their assertions. Prominent among them must be The Null Hypothesis. This convention turns inquiry on its head because instead of presuming effectiveness, i.e., something's different, it presumes no change at all, or no significant change. Success under this arrangement must be inferred because it might not prove directly observable. We can see what isn't much easier than we might see what might be there. This convention leads scientists to produce different conclusions than those made by the typical layperson, even one armed with connection to The Internets, because the layperson tends to ask the wrong sorts of questions.

Search, for instance, isn't very closely correlated with research.

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Judge

judge
William Blake: God Judging Adam (ca. 1795)


" … exclusively reserved for my inner masochist."


Who judges Successes and failures? For me, most of the time, it's nobody but me. This assertion makes sense since nobody but I witnesses most of what I do. I am usually the only witness to my actions. Only a select few of my engagements ever prove witnessable because most of them occur entirely, or mostly, in my head. A few busybodies with nothing better to do might be snooping over the back fence, but nobody really cares about their judgments, so they make lousy Judges, anyway. The ever-feared Court Of Public Opinion might render the occasional decision, too, but only the upwardly mobile ever really care to seek their opinion. Bosses, spouses, and police forces each seem inattentive compared to my primary Judges: me, myself, and I.

I sometimes wonder why I ever subject myself to harsh judgment.

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SelfSaboteur

selfsabatour
Jean-Siméon Chardin:
Self-Portrait with a Visor (c. 1776)


" … my fair share of nothing much at all."


However Successful I might have otherwise become, I might always remain most Successful as a SelfSaboteur. I undermine my intentions in at least ten thousand shifting ways, rarely precisely the same way twice. I head myself off and detour my own progress. I discourage myself like a master chef fillets a salmon, one clean cut, and my courage pulls free, leaving exposed flesh. I can be critical. I become distracted. I shift my priorities so my heart's most fervent desire can't find itself on my schedule. I fritter most mornings away. I go to bed early and rise even earlier until I swear I can find no time to accomplish anything. Most of my life has always seemed to be pending, idling, waiting for something. In all these things and many more, I count myself most Successful.

Success, though, real Success hardly requires much excess time or talent.

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FeyLure

feylure
Hieronymus Wierix, after Ambrosius Francken:
Volwassenheid [Maturity] (1563 - 1584)


" … our world seems much more Successful for our forebears' fumbled passes."


My parents' generation matriculated in the school of hard knocks. Their elementary education, such as it was, occurred through the depths of The Great Depression. They came of age into a world at war with itself, where the battle between good and evil actually killed their cousins. As a result, they were traumatized and paranoid adults, easy prey for the day’s propaganda. They saluted the flag or else. They devoutly opposed everything Communist. They voted the straight Republican ticket because Eisenhower embodied the victory over evil in this world. They tried and gratefully failed to instill their worldview into their children.

It has always been thus, parents failing to fully enlist their offspring into the trauma that fashioned their adulthood.

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AlsoRan

alsoran
Charles François Daubigny: The Dray Horses (1850)


"Such is the eventual nature of continual competition …"


Every horse race features a winner along with a second and third-place finisher, losers, but still paying off some bettors. The balance of the field AlsoRan, but ran out of any money. These animals lost the race. They aren't even really considered contenders. Their statistics will reflect this disappointing outing. Some of this crowd, for it comprises the majority of the entries, will be on their way up, destined for better, while others experience another step on a long and inexorable slide. It might be that the majority of every field—the entrants in every race—contribute nothing more than contextual significance. They were never destined to win, more destined to lose or not really compete, certainly never competing in the way that the reliable winners might. They could be counted as present but without distinction. They showed up without showing.

This AlsoRan state describes me most of the time.

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HasBeen

hasbeen
Hendrick Goltzius: Gillis van Breen (1588/92)


" … the most Successful HasBeen I can remember."


No inquiry into Success could be considered complete without at least mentioning the HasBeen. The HasBeen might have once held high office, but no longer. His legend's much more potent than his presence. He once was but is no longer. In government service, a protocol insists that anyone retired shall forever be acknowledged by the honorific appropriate to the highest office they held. A former President shall be forever referred to as Mr. President, even though he might have also once been a dog catcher or a Senator. Ambassadors might come a dime a dozen, but nobody outlives that designation. There's just no living down some things. Those of us who never served in government might struggle to identify the highest role we ever fulfilled. Protocol remains mute on whether it's appropriate to refer to an ex-Data Analyst II's most elevated position when acknowledging them or if the less noteworthy titles defer to Mr. or Ms. However, this suggestion backs up to treacherous pronoun territory, which should be avoided under every possible condition.

One ages into a HasBeen without volition.

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Begrudging

begrudging
Pieter van der Borcht:
Christus in het huis van Martha en Maria
[Christ in the house of Martha and Mary]
(1555-1608)


"Success brings no wisdom."


Begrudging seems the least likely side effect of Success, yet billionaires everywhere seem to have become full-time disgruntled social commentators. I would have thought that a billion bought a certain sustainable level of satisfaction, but I would have apparently been wrong and not a little wrong. Indeed, the very rich and (if only by implication, then) the very Successful seem to have been grievously wounded on their way up through the ranks. Not even those homes located in fabulous places or their super yachts or private airliners serve to salve those festering wounds, which appear to have become incapable of ever healing. Some spend lavishly churning up the rabble, funding propaganda campaigns and think tanks so well endowed that they never have to resort to actually thinking. Begrudging might seem beneath them, but it turns out to be their purpose instead.

Why, I wonder, do so many of the uber-successful consider themselves radical conservatives?

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Levitating

levitating
Lucian and Mary Brown:
Untitled [child floating in water] (c. 1950)


" … and it's "just" a feeling."


The Successful seem subject to overall less gravity weighing down their lives. They seem to Levitate above many of the most common human concerns. While I'm almost certain they are subjected to precisely the same gravitational forces the rest of us carry, those forces seem to affect the Successful differently. They seem less a burden, less encumbering as if they possessed their gravity rather than gravity possessing—owning—them. The unsuccessful seem like some onerous forces owned them, invisible yet seemingly inescapable. Maybe just an attitude distinguishes one from the other. If so, that difference sure seems to make a huge difference. They've always insisted that success breeds success, but it does more than that. It's like Success bestows a higher rate of return. The Successful seem to earn more than their more disappointed counterparts for the same amount of effort. Life does not seem to get them in the same way it gets others.

The Successful seem to age more slowly.

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-itating

-itating
Torii Kiyonobu II:
A Priest Sweeping in the Snow (1731)


" … sweeping that floor that never needed sweeping."


If you or I were to run off to a monastery to seek enlightenment, upon arrival, the Master would undoubtedly assign us some seemingly menial task and solemnly declare that work our chief responsibility. Basically, these assignments usually amount to sweeping floors that apparently do not need sweeping. If we find ourselves bored and go back to the Master seeking some more challenging assignment, our request would most certainly be rebuffed. Instead, we would be told to stick to the given job. Eventually, we might discover the more profound significance of our job that does not need doing, that we were not so much sweeping some floor that didn't need sweeping, but we were -itating instead, in this instance, med-itating.

Whether iterated sweeping floors that don't need sweeping necessarily leads to enlightenment isn't for me to say.

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Chimera

chimera
Gustave Moreau: The Chimera (1867)


" … just wait a minute and see what's served up next."


I suspect that the subject of any inquiry might eventually come to lose its initial identity. What began almost pristine in its innate separateness eventually faded into a seemingly self-sameness with its surroundings, to the point that it might have just disappeared. What was once such a specialized focus evolved to involve pretty much everything else. Try though he might, the investigator would find himself unable to segregate his inquiry into ever sharper foci, for the more he'd come to know his subject, the more it might well seem universal. Success, for instance, my focus these past two months, has expanded far beyond what I initially presumed might be its reasonable territory. I'm coming to believe that I could consider anything—any idea, any object, any emotion—in the light of Success and find that idea, object, or feeling, somehow another integral part of it. This inquisitor's moved to wonder if this effect amounts to enlightenment because it seems quite the opposite. Is endarkenment even a term?

The naive separation into individual pieces seems a reasonable enough starting point.

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DeepMystery

deepmystery
Gustave Moreau: Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra
(1875/76)


"Success often seems a stranger to me."


I hold many things to be DeepMysteries to the point that I, like everybody, believe myself unique—and not in any particularly good way. My DeepMysteries prevent me from engaging with this world as I imagine that I might, had I proven myself capable of resolving these DeepMysteries. These irresolutions do not really affect significant situations, just minor ones, making them even more insidious in most ways. I’m often stymied by some innocuous door handle or, even more often, by packaging. I cannot get to the product inside, thanks to the paranoid-level security system wrapped around the thing, which sits there so innocently within its perfectly transparent yet utterly impenetrable outer shell. I usually call for The Muse to help since such things only very rarely stymie her. She seems to be able to quickly, even preconsciously, slip through barriers I cannot penetrate under any condition.

I purchased an industrial-sized package of dishwashing detergent this week.

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Ex-Success

ex-success
Peter James Studio: Untitled
[man posing with "success" poster] (1952)


"Success only exists in past tenses …"


How long might a Success last? Some seem genuinely eternal, while others quickly evaporate. We celebrate some Successes forever. Christmas, the celebration of light Succeeding over darkness, comes to mind. When the home team wins the pennant, it seems in that minute as if every fan in those stands has experienced something genuinely eternal, yet two short seasons later, those once heroes have become a gang of bums again, spoken of derisively by the delicatessen counterman. Most Success seems alarmingly fleeting, however peaky the initial experience. Repeat the story enough times, and even the hero would really rather forget that journey. After a point, it turns into nostalgia which no amount of retelling could ever reincarnate.

I carry my standard packet of Success stories.

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Fuccess

fuccess
Franz von Stuck: Wounded Amazon (1905)


"I'll never erase those debts my Fuccesses inflicted …"


I speak today of Success that feels like failure, the advancing through terrifying turbulence, the wounding of the enthusiastic optimist. We've all been through this, where the cost of advancement hardly seems worth the effort, though we convince ourselves that it probably will be, eventually, even if it doesn't feel worth it that day. Success can be a terrible taskmaster, demanding much more than we would have willingly invested when we started, but often no more than we'd enthusiastically part with under coercion, as necessary to turn off the punishment or nudge us across some promising finish line. We imagine the expense worth it, though validation of that presumption usually has to come later. We might always carry the scar of that Success, for that wound might have made all the difference, a debt carried forward, a down payment never actually repaid. Sometimes Success changes more than one's fortune.

One might learn to approach each opportunity warily as if Success features teeth and claws once it has wounded.

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Method

method
Albrecht Dürer: Tekenaar tekent een luit
[Draftsman Draws A Lute]
(1525)


" … perhaps they're necessary, …"


Method might be necessary but never sufficient. The baker needs much more than a recipe to Succeed. So does everybody, yet the trainers invariably start by sharing recipes. They possess a "methodology,” and they promote it just as if it could contain baking's Gestalt, its practice. I suppose that teachers have to start somewhere, and wherever they begin just must prove inadequate to describe the complexities of the practice. Still, even the canny apprentice tends to imprint upon the recipe, their earliest introduction, as somehow emblematic of their practice, when it's just at best necessary but always, always, always inadequate, just like any entrance isn't the contents.

The recipes for Success seem numerous.

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Stinginess

stinginess
Juste de Juste: Pyramid of Five Men (c. 1543)


"Those who share the most toys, never really die."


Stinginess seems to have always been one of the more reliable indicators of Success. The Successful seem to become Scrooges while the more humbled remain generous Jacob Marleys. This apparent paradox, where those most able to afford, dedicate themselves to hoarding rather than sharing, has become the very foundation of modern economics, where, even more than in ancient and even antebellum times, wealth flows upward toward those least in need of it and away from those most struggling to supply it. The whole system seems some combination of heartless and needless, unnecessary, one of those anomalies we should have collectively figured out how to resolve, but we have not. Instead, we seem to be sliding even further from resolution.

I've never understood why any sentient employer would fight their employees forming a union.

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Impostoring

impostoring
Suzuki Harunobu: The Face in the Mirror (1766)


"… must be merely hollow inside."


It would surprise nobody to learn that virtually everybody engages in Impostoring, though there seem to be varying grades of individual mastery. Some practitioners work like ventriloquists, never moving lips or larynx, while others perform like the four-year-old in the family production, exhibiting much more enthusiasm than talent. Fifty years ago, this notion that even the apparently very Successful experience abiding senses of inadequacy was still a closely-held secret. It might have been a prominent presence in even the most Successful's lives, but this had not yet been discovered and named. The pair that discovered and named this condition referred to it not as a syndrome, as it has become popularly known, but as a less dramatic phenomenon. In the years since this eighth sense has taken as prominent a placement as has competence in the skill set of the genuinely Successful. One can hardly Succeed these days without, at some level formally faking the skill.

When I finished my big book, I remarked that it would forever stand as testament to what a sincere lack of faith in my ability can accomplish, for I never once had a sense when creating it that I was crafting anything extraordinary.

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Satiability

Satiability
Honoré Victorin Daumier:
“- Mr. Alfred Cabassol! You are the only one in the class who succeeded
to get through the entire week without blowing your nose into your sleeve.
Please stand to receive this prize of honour for cleanliness,”
plate 6 from Professeurs Et Moutards
(1846)


" … moving forward, if not necessarily ahead."


Given the human tendency toward dissatisfaction, I suspect that the average Satiability of the typical Success seeker might be measured in minuscule quantities, hours and days rather than months and years, but I could be wrong. I know, or think I know, that when pursuing Success, I tend to get very single-minded, as if that objective was the whole of my existence and the satisfaction I'll experience will approach infinite. After, and often even just after achieving it, I feel more of an "Oh, Is That All?" sort of sensation before going back into trolling for yet another infinite-seeming satisfaction, which will, of course, fall short of expectation once delivered. Around and around and around, I go. You might go around like this, too.

Some Success seems more sticky.

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EmergenceScenes

emergencescene
Rodolphe Bresdin: Biblical Scenes (Not Dated)


" … Successfully seeming so damned ordinary."


What if a writer didn't start with his story's end in mind? What if he considered his art, his calling, to be different from transcription of a cleverly pre-developed plot? What if he never gave plot a single thought but instead considered conveying plot to be an emergent property rather than an underlying purpose of his work? What might result, aside from said writer being rudely thrown out of the fraternity? The result might produce EmergenceScenes, glimpses of what might easily be mistaken for deliberate plot were they not so divergent. After considerable consideration, they might sum to the same thing to produce a certain coherence not evident while the emergence was busy unfolding. Rather than starting with his ending in mind, the creator of EmergentScenes begins with the intention of discovering what might later be mistaken for a plot line. He begins by simply starting with intention.

In our real world, in our lived lives, no clever plotlines exist.

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Spot

spot
Gordon W. Gahan: Star's Daughter (Fourth of eleven):
Her favorite spot for studying scripts is the big window sill in her Manhattan apartment. (1964-65)


"My internal state determines my Success …"


I have a Spot, a place where I feel emotionally, psychologically, intellectually, and physically balanced and secure. I do not continuously inhabit this place but seem to be trending toward inhabiting it instead. Some days, I find myself smack dap in the center of it, while on others, I cannot seem to find even its slightest edge. When I stand near the center of this Spot, I feel remarkably powerful and comfortable "in my skin," as the old saying goes. Though not always profoundly, I feel the absence when I’m away from it. I understand I’m more likely to do something short-sighted or stupid when absent. I'm divorced from my very best when I lose my Spot. Losing it serves as grounds for serious searching, and often in vain, for I usually prove inept when I've lost my Spot.

My Successes seem strongly correlated with my inhabiting my Spot.

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CruelOptimism

crueloptimism
Pierre-Paul Prud'hon:
Le Cruel rit des pleurs qu'il fait verser
[The Cruel One Laughs at the Tears Which It Causes To Be Shed]
(1793)

" …
getting better and better!"


Novelist and radio personality Garrison Keillor described his fictional Minnesota town of Lake Woebegone as "where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." Nobody needs me to tell them that in no population do all the members measure above average for anything. We have all been schooled in proper comportment, at least to the extent that we understand that a passing question like, "How are you?" must be responded to in the positive: "Fine, thanks. You?" Our response might qualify as pure fiction, but then so was the question, for it was a mere acknowledgment of presence and never intended to encourage disclosure. Societies depend upon such understandings.

Last night I began reading a book that I'm sure I will never finish.

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Style

style
Dominicus Custos:
A Grotesque Head with a Helmet in the Style of Arcimboldo (1594)


" … a nearly sacred responsibility to judge my own behavior …"


I yesterday experienced an existential crisis. I encountered another dark side of Success, the idea that it might be all about competing. I felt as though I'd fallen into an inescapable pit, like I'd made a poor, perhaps even hasty, choice when selecting Success as my focus for a series. As with any existential crisis, I was blinded by insight and could not see beyond it. I scratched a barely legible note on my cell wall and moved on into my day, feeling supremely disappointed in myself. I sank into a bout of self-pity from which I figure I might one day recover. My realization shook me to my core. My inquiry into Success had produced an overwhelming feeling of failure, for I had not intended and never wanted to cast myself as a competitor. I consider competition a serious illness best treated by refusing to engage. I'd imagined that Success might be managed as something other than competition. I still believe this must be possible.

I could take each of the seven deadly sins and expose each as a primary means for achieving Success.

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Complitition

complitition
Édouard Manet:
Beggar with a Duffle Coat [Philosopher] (1865/67)


" … might be an improvement."


I tried to imagine Success as something other than a result of some kind of competition. I failed.

I tried to imagine Success as something independent from winning or losing.

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T/MakingStock

t_makingstock
Berthe Morisot: Woman at Her Toilette (1875/80)


"Progress never was my most important product."


Checking progress has always been the great enemy of progress, for those focused upon making progress can barely bear to slow down, let alone stop, to TakeStock. My old friend Norm Kerth wrote a definitive book about this dilemma, reframing the stock-taking into more of a stock-making, transforming the drudge into celebration, but the connotation was never completely removed. TakingStock does not seem like a productive activity, and to those focused on making progress, it's probably always destined to seem like a relative waste of time. It might mostly be a waste of time.

About every month, I finally get fed up with the lack of space in my freezer and clean out the sucker.

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Fear

fear1
Walter Gramatté: Die Grosse Angst [The Great Fear] (1918)


I Fear Success. I suppose I am not alone in my feelings toward it, even though anyone might argue that Fear hardly qualifies as a rational response to the threat of Success. (Yea, Success seems threatening to me!) Like all feelings, fear was never supposed to follow any rational ideal. Like all emotions, it visits on its own schedule, for its own mysterious reasons, and remains fundamentally non-rational. My job seems to be to figure out how to cope with Fear's appearances.

Success seems as though it might well complicate more than improve.

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AmplifiedReflective

aplifiedreflective
Arnold Böcklin: In the Sea (1883)


"Successful beneficiaries …"


Years ago, The Muse returned from a workshop with a fresh term. I sincerely appreciate The Muse's willingness to subject herself to workshops since that urge helps me acquire fresh perspectives I'd never willingly seek by signing up for a workshop for myself. I gain much vicariously that I steadfastly refuse to receive the old-fashioned way. I used to teach workshops, but I can't imagine a situation where I would agree to submit to one myself. I correctly fear all forms of education, and not only because I tend to test poorly, though I do tend to test very poorly, a condition that a lifetime of training has failed to improve. Altogether too much emphasis exists to prove that students were paying attention and that they've managed to retain what might have never stuck. The purpose of education was never validation, but try telling that to a system trying to justify its existence.

The term The Muse dragged home was AmplifiedReflective, which I instantly recognized as perfectly formed.

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Nuthin

nuthin
Pieter Symonsz Potter: Vanitas Still Life (1646)


"Nuthin' might serve as a perfectly satisfactory purpose …"


Of all that anyone might Successfully achieve, Nuthin' ranks near the top of the Most Difficult List. The difficulty seems to be the doing. Nuthin' requires nothing, and plenty of it, generously spread over time, and something about time naturally repels Nuthin' like oil on water. A few minutes into the effort, the monkey mind takes over and starts casting thoughts out into the ether, where they try to take root. Even that simple, nearly non-action amounts to something, the opposite of the intended Nuthin’. Even if the monkey mind doesn't derail the initiative, boredom might doom the effort by driving the incumbent into something, however well-intended the effort at accomplishing Nuthin'. It's hard work, perhaps the hardest.

The Muse continues healing from her throat cancer, the primary treatment for which she finished three months ago.

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Proximity

proximity
Albrecht Dürer:
The Prodigal Son Amid the Swine (c. 1496)


" … a flow wherein the sense seems to come and go …"


They insist that misery loves company. It might be that every state aches for its similars such that any emotion promotes more of itself; any perspective creates the context for self-preservation and replication. Success seems to crave company, too. Perhaps the best preparation for any Success might come from merely placing one's self in close Proximity to some Success, be that person, place, or thing. Hang out with Successful people, and I might find myself infected with something akin to Success germs, so I might have little choice about whether to feel Successful. It "just" happens. Hang out in a place known as a Success and feel how deep an influence that place seems to exert. Our Successful remodel rendered our modest villa into a relative palace. We live like royalty as a result.

This simple principle justifies a certain discernment and careful judgment when choosing anything.

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SuperBorsolino

superborsolino
Gordon W. Gahan:
Untitled [man in white shirt and fedora] (1965-1968)


" … clearly styling."


Success seems to attract symbols of its presence, none more prominent, I suspect, than wardrobe. We 'dress for success,' as if our manner of dress would quite reasonably attract Success to us, and I suppose that this practice even works, after a fashion. I know I subscribed to 'dress for success' magical thinking during my tenure at The Insurance Company. I'd carefully shop the sale racks at the "better" haberdashers and spend every Sunday evening ironing my week's shirts, heavy on the starch. I arrived at the office each morning in costume and ready to perform the role of an up-and-comer, poised to impress myself, if nobody else. And I suppose those strange attractors worked, more or less, for my fortunes steadily rose there, and that Success could not possibly have been related to any particular talent I possessed. I might as well blame that Success on the vests.

Others possess lucky underpants, socks, and tee shirts; some even carry a "lucky" rabbit's foot on their keychain.

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Askemption

askemption
Isoda Koryusai:
Girl Playing a Prank on a Young Man who is Napping (c. 1769)


"It must have just happened just because."


I do not consider myself incurious, yet I frequently squelch one line of inquiry. I might, with genuine curiosity, ask the usual who?, what?, and when? before squelching on the why?. I do this because I long ago decided that why? serves severely limited utility and mostly fails to rise up to within the range of a necessary question and worse, why? most often proves to be an absolute barrier to resolution. In those rare instances where my personal motivation might come into question and where I'm the one expected to perform the answering, why? seems an entirely unremarkable question, but these conditions rarely reign. More often, the situation involves another's presumed motivation coming into question, or worse, a chain of presumed motivations shared between a string of actors, none of whom seem available for cross-examination. Then, I can only deepen the mystery by asking why? questions. Insisting upon answers from an apparently indifferent universe seems as though it could only ever make matters worse. I try to remember to cease and desist then and grant myself an Askemption.

Success often stands beyond closure.

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Approval

approval
Gabriël Metsu: The Herring-Seller (c. 1661 - 62)


" … rendering the whole system suicidally cynical."


By the end of his second year in office, President Joe Biden could tout one of the most successful administrations in the history of his country. On nearly every scale, he had prevailed in fixing, improving, resolving, and minimizing serious problems and longer-term inequities. Moreover, despite a cruelly opposing Senate majority, he prevailed, probably due to his superior understanding of how his government worked and in no small part due to the utter ineptness of his predecessor, who, in stark contrast with Biden's administration, produced a succession of absolute disasters. Still, Biden's Approval rating hovered around forty percent.

The previous incumbent's Approval had ranged as low as the low twenties.

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Austerity

austerity
Edgar Degas: Breakfast after the Bath (1895/98)


" … only investing in the future could move us there."


Our siblings in Great Britain suffer from decades of foolish leadership, effects we've barely sidestepped ourselves. After Reagan's disastrous economic strategies failed, along with his ally Margaret Thatcher's, a succession of Repuglican politicians continued hammering the same senseless drumbeat, warning of dire consequences for our children and our grandchildren should we not invoke deep spending cuts and agree to subject ourselves to an indefinite period of Austerity. They insisted that we could starve our way to prosperity, an absurd yet strangely popular strategy, albeit one that steadfastly ignored overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We were never in great danger of smothering ourselves with our spending. Quite the opposite! After forty years of dire warnings, our debt service remains a most modest, just under two percent of GDP, the envy of pretty much everybody else in the world.

The chorus continues in even greater earnestness.

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Edgercating

edgercating
Lucian and Mary Brown: Untitled
[children in classroom looking at globe]
(circa 1950)


"I still haunt my own periphery …"


I suspect that we all received a somewhat different than a standard education. I certainly did. Rather than advance directly to college after high school, passing Go and collecting the obligatory two hundred dollars, I entered a kind of Limbo, where for a year or so, I was neither here nor anywhere, really. I enrolled in the local community college, which I called the high school with ashtrays, and set about trying to avoid getting drafted. I never really suspected it at the time, but I was receiving an exquisite education, albeit from around the edges. I would receive no advanced degree in observational methodologies, just one Hell of a lot of practice in the field. I might not have been formally enrolled in one of the finest universities, but I was nonetheless receiving the highest quality instruction, personally curating content as well as instructors.

Within a year, I'd followed the woman who would later become my first wife back to her shared apartment in Seattle's U District, for she was formally enrolled in a genuine University.

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BlowingItUp

blowingitup
Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen: Truth and the Two Soldiers (1891)


"Blowing It Up Better."


I consider it perfectly normal to start off in the wrong direction. We are after all, humans, and humans have always excelled at heading off in some wrong direction, often for the very best of reasons. Anyone, at any time, remains perfectly capable of making just such a mistake. The only question might be how long it will take before one notices and takes corrective action. Any of an array of familiar responses might emerge whenever a human finally notices their error. (A different set appears when we notice someone else in error.) Some will attempt corrective action, just as if the fix should not require any significant course correction. However, if one's headed in the wrong direction, it might require anything up to and including a one-hundred-and-eighty-degree deflection. I usually manage a fix in more like a dozen similarly wrong-headed attempts to fix.

The issue at hand rarely seems to be a question of intent.

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Anticipations

anticipations
Edouard Manet: Le ballon [The Balloon] 1862


"Who's to say my Anticipations don't create my future?"


Success must surely be at least ninety percent Anticipations. We more often see what we believe than believe what we see. We might be incapable of moving cleanly into any future, each future first manifesting in Anticipations of what might be seen. It might be most common for one to anticipate worse rather than better. I know I usually first feel a foreboding when considering what's coming. That seems to be my default setting. It requires great concentration for me to warmly anticipate any future. I'm more apt to consider its potential shortcomings than in any way expect blessings. I suppose that I might most often manifest something worse than I would have otherwise conjured had I merely anticipated better.

Leading up to a meeting I've been invited to facilitate, I anticipate disaster.

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Gatekeeper

gatekeeper1
Waldemar Franz Herman Titzenthaler:
A soldier of the Prussian guard (1903)


" … one must always serve as their own Gatekeeper first …"


I live in conflict with my beliefs. I suspect that everyone does. Yesterday, I wrote a fine story about how I believe that Gatekeepers surround Success and deny entry to any and all not holding
GoldenTickets. As near as I can tell, I've always believed some variant of this story, even though it has rarely held true. While it's true that I have at times benefitted from some Gatekeeper's intervention, it might be equally true that they probably did not command the sole means for my gaining access. Even when a Gatekeeper intervened, I also needed to have intervened on my own behalf at some point. I was never a passive commodity impassively passed but an active entity making my own choices.

It might be true that one must always serve as their own Gatekeeper first, however unlikely this role might seem.

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GoldenTicket

gatekeeper
Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen: A Veteran of the Old Guard (1915)


"If I could just manage to hold onto those golden tickets …"


I imagine Success to be securely defended territory guarded 24/7 and then some by experienced and deadly serious Gatekeepers. These defenders of the status quo seem to know when something different approaches, and they have their game plan down pat to prevent each and any encroachment. Anyone wishing to enter those Elysian Fields must carry an invitation engraved with their personal information, issued by some duly designated authority. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, ever gains entrance by accident or solely by their own volition. Each must have gained and been given explicit permission, for access remains exclusively and forever By Invitation Only, no stragglers, gawkers, or mere do-gooders allowed. Success has always been and intends to remain an exclusive club.

At least, that's how I imagine Success.

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Rarely

rarely
Willem van Mieris: The Raree-show [’t Fraay Curieus] (1718)


" … the sorriest sort of Success."


Something encourages me to distrust anything that continually occurs, especially Successes. Success seems as though it should appear unreliably, Rarely, lest it forfeit its specialness. The magician who reliably delivers flawless performances must travel because no hometown audience would ever tolerate such consistency. No hitter delivers a home run every time they take to the plate. No painter produces endless flawless masterpieces. Flawed production might even be necessary to properly frame the extraordinary. Success seems as though it should be, at best, a rare occurrence.

What of the remaining performances?

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2ndOrderSuccess

2ndordersuccess
Lucas Kilian: Second Vision, from Mirrors of the Microcosm (1613)


" … just seem to take care of themselves."


Back in the sixties—fifty years ago—it seemed that almost every new thing came as a spinoff from President Kennedy's mission to send people to the moon and back by the decade’s end. A raft of space-age products resulted. A powdered orangish juice-like drink said to be part of the astronaut's diet emerged on the market and became wildly popular, even though it was clearly inferior to the genuine article. We began living in the future, "tomorrow today," as one multinational corporation labeled the experience. Life then was much more advanced than it seems today, as we basked in the 2ndOrderSuccess emanating from our sacred national undertaking.

2ndOrderSuccess might be best considered as what one gets as a result of achieving a Success.

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Sexcess

sexcess
Thomas Couture: The Supper after the Masked Ball (1855)


" … the only option for avoiding the addictions …"


In this culture, my culture, anyone can get addicted to absolutely anything. What was once revered as "the land of the free and the home of the brave" today seems to have increasingly become the land of the spree and the home of the enslaved. Those suffering from Success Addition Disorders (SAD) seem to be among the most troubled class, for they turn their colossal successes into abject failures. We see evidence of their influence in the tatters of the present Republican Party, a party once dedicated to promoting equality and now obsessed with just avoiding taxes. As with any negative target, and doubly true with any obsession, focusing upon avoiding anything tends to attract precisely what one seeks to avoid, that, or a deeply ingrained paranoia. Today's Success addicted, those suffering from Sexcess, exhibit all the usual symptoms of any full-blown addiction, with the added affliction that they're the most conspicuous consumers, almost as if they're proud of themselves. Don't let their gyrations confuse you. They're ill and suffering, stinking rich!

Dissatisfied with simply spending their fortunes, they employ themselves in the more dubious professions, focusing upon wealth defenses, primarily through concocting fresh schemes to avoid taxes but also extending into funding hyper-conservative pseudo-political movements.

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Vortices

vortices
Claude Monet: The Departure of the Boats, Étretat (1885)


"Success emerges from such turbulence."


Time moves irregularly. This fundamental law of the universe might have been lost on physicists but not once on the rest of us, for we daily struggle to cope with time's inherent variety. Days, even those that measure of equal length, pass differently, with wide variations apparent if not always precisely measurable. Even calendars remain steadfastly unequal, with January days typically at least forty percent longer than June's or July's.

Attempts to rectify this obvious imbalance have so far resulted in worse, like the French Revolutionary Calendar featuring

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Grasp

grasp
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres:
Studies for "The Martyrdom of Saint Symphorien"
[Saint, Mother, and Proconsul]
(1833)


" … a genuine symbol of that abstract Success."


We humans easily become attracted to abstract concepts, for they seem to be the brightest, shiniest objects distracting our focus. Napoleon insisted that men would only fight to the death for the more abstract concepts if first outfitted with colorful sashes and flashy uniforms. The unscrupulous promote an undefined patriotism and an undefinable faith to attract followers and encourage passionate responses. Only the very highest ideals seem capable of fueling the most degrading engagements. We might claim to want tangible goals, but our behaviors strongly suggest that we really desire the opposite. Running a flag up a flagpole inspires more passion than any dozen well-reasoned treatises.

These strange attractors carry one thing in common.

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Reach

reach
Alexandre Cabanel: Woman Reaching Over a Wall,
study for The Life of Saint Louis, King of France (1878)


"Reaching for the occasional impossible …"


The Muse and I differ in significant ways. I'm by far the more delicate of the two flowers. She's one tough cookie. She's more likely to dream big. Her grasp often seems to exceed her Reach. She often manages to successfully grasp something seemingly beyond her Reach. I do not know how she does this, but neither does she. She apprenticed in a world where her grasp reliably fell far short of her aspirations, where even her own bootstraps seemed to lay beyond her Reach until they just didn't anymore. She ascribes the shift as having had to do with dreaming bigger. I might insist that if you want to reliably Succeed, simply reach for things well within your grasp, while she insists that one must stretch further than that to Successfully achieve an impossible. She should know because she has had the Successes to show this sometimes works. Not every one of even The Muse's dreams falls within her grasp, though.

A class of aspiration exists which stands exclusively beyond any human's Reach or grasp, and these seem poisonous.

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Slippery

slippery
Paul Gauguin: Jean René Gauguin (1881)


"Zealots sure seem to receive the higher quality experience …"


Success seems an especially Slippery substance. It rarely appears to become what it's anticipated to become but arrives in some different guise, often surprisingly different. We pursue it with naive intensity, capable of dedicating ourselves to the merest shadows of understanding what we're actually pursuing. In the heat of such passion, clarifying questions rarely get warmly received. We behave as if further analysis might spoil the possibility for Success, and our concern might well be well advised. It seems as though we can't afford to simultaneously know and pursue, that the pursuit of success requires some profound ignorance of the true nature and the actual potential for what we might actually achieve. Throughout history, chroniclers have wondered what the perpetrators must have been thinking when reconstructing the causal chains of the greatest successes and failures. Mostly they marvel that nobody seemed to be thinking all that deeply. Both Success and failure seem particularly Slippery substances.

In the weeks leading up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Mitzi Wertheim scoured the Pentagon, asking anyone who would accept her questions about what was supposed to happen once the invading force gained Baghdad.

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PlantingFace

PlantingFace
Albrecht Dürer: St. Christopher Facing to the Right (1521)


" … the impossible nature of the questions asked …"


The holy grail of project management has always been the ability to determine whether an effort is on track to Succeed. It's damnedably difficult to determine, so a raft of artificial methods have sprung up to service this essentially insatiable need. When a method fails, that event merely fuels demand for a newer and improved means, even though there's really no way to determine beforehand whether each newer and supposedly improved means will deliver on its promise. I've sometimes speculated that the whole enterprise, project management as a practice, survives on the promise of delivering on its promises, rather than on actually delivering on them, but then that's the price of living in the future. It's never present.

The present's all we have, even though it's bound to be different than the future.

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Accshleptance

accshleptance
Jozef Israëls: Children of the Sea (1872)

"I pack 'em. I schlep them, too."


Someone wiser and even more sardonic than me once concluded that life's a Schlep. We might start without carry-on, but we quickly accumulate enough of an encumbrance to limit our mobility, then head downhill. Some people seem natively capable of accumulating more than their fair share. However, I will not mention here The Muse, who sometimes must be physically restrained to prevent her from "just stopping and looking" at every estate and garage sale she happens by. Of course, she almost always finds some reason there to add to her burden, and I remain mostly grateful for her discoveries. We try to strictly interpret the You Brought It, You Schlep It Rule. We do not consider helping anybody with their baggage a form of chivalry.

My study of Success has so far resulted in some additional carry-on.

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Modest

modest
Claude Monet: Bordighera (1884)


"Most Success is more modest than it appears."


I blush when I think of saying, "Modest Success." It seems as if I'm promoting underperforming, for everyone knows that Success was supposed to be more unconditional, as if the universe were surrendering to someone's dominion, as if the usual rules of engagement were suspended for a moment.

This idea that Success doesn't seek limits seems deeply ingrained in me, and it’s not that healthy of a perspective.

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Phobe

techterror
William Blake: Dante and Virgil Among the Blasphemers (1824-27)


"We swallow hard and continue humiliating ourselves …"


I firmly believe that we remain in the first technology era, the same one that featured both steam power and plug-board computing. Our more modern user interfaces only appear more advanced, for they remain enmired within the most primitive possible mindset. We have not yet stumbled into more sophisticated orientations, even though we suffer daily under the yoke of our backward understanding. No better example exists than what I might call The State Of The App. My iPhone and my laptop run many different apps. However, they each feature the same shortcoming, that being that I, their primary user, do not in any way understand how to properly use them. That's okay, the apologists explain, because nobody understands the first thing about the least them, not even their designers.

I rest my case there. In a less primitive future world, the typical user of an application would quite naturally understand how to use the damned thing.

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Envy

envy
Matsubara Naoko: Page from Hagoromo [Feathered Robe] (1984-86)


" … the burden of being the wealthiest …"


If I were the wealthiest person in the world, I would be better at it than the present incumbent has been. I would not become a right-wing troll, promote senseless conspiracy theories, or be even the slightest bit stingy. I would gladly give away most of my wealth and freely share my good fortune. I wouldn't own a private jet, but fly commercial coach, asking for the middle seat in the last row, and hope to find a new mother with her cranky baby seated next to me. I would live to surprise my fellow human beings, for I would dedicate myself to being a truly human being. I'd be the most benevolent person anyone ever remembers, a saint, a gem.

As it is, I am not now nor am I ever likely to share the challenges the world's richest person faces.

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Heaven

heaven
Matsubara Naoko: Waterfall (1966)


" … it produces its own perpetual Success …"


I embrace a distinctly
Panglossian philosophy. If this isn't the best of all possible worlds, it seems to be the one I have. It seems to me that I only ever inhabit the place I stand. Past has gone and future remains safely out of hand, out of touch. I can pine after what already left or aspire after some state not yet achieved or I can find satisfaction with what I presently possess, with what presently possesses me. I might be becoming but I am also being, and my being seems more powerful, more present, more dominant than any shit ton of whatever I might one day become. Consequently, where I sit this morning might just as well be Heaven, since it probably amounts to the closest I'm ever likely to see of it, anyway.

Believe me, please, I remain hugely aware of the contradictions inherent within my belief system, within any belief system.

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Limiting

limiting
Matsubara Naoko: Chinese Theatre (1959)


" … probably every damned one of us at first."


Projects more often die from indigestion than starvation. Success more often results from Limiting scope than from expanding it. If, as I proposed yesterday, all Success is Limited Success, the fine art of Limiting stands as an essential ability for anyone seeking Success. No whining, for we are not ultimately judged by how much crap we can cram into any pillowcase but by how well one manages to sleep on what was finally crammed in there. The surest ways to fail seem tied to trying to drag altogether too much stuff across any finish line. It might seem heartless, but it seems essential that we each learn how to abandon so that we might thrive. We might even be best defined by what we managed to leave behind.

I know almost for sure that my first iteration of expectations will prove too rich, altogether too expansive, for me ever to make good on.

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Limited

limited
Matsubara Naoko: Winter Forest I (1967-1968)


"After the game show ends, the taxman cometh."


There's no Success like Limited Success. Without some limiting factor, Success cannot exist. Contrary to the adolescent outlook our cultural myths insist upon, once Success occurs, "all" will not be and never has been resolved. Maybe motivation requires that we inflate the influence Success will wield. Perhaps we just speak in abbreviating shorthand, but we seem unwilling or unable to speak of Success as bringing limited and limiting results, for anything achieved likely means something else foregone, not in anything like a zero-sum outcome featuring both positives and their counterparts. Even great Success usually introduces externalities, unwanted negatives resulting from the otherwise purely positive result.

We might reasonably survey the downside and choose to pursue our outcome anyway, for every decision involves making trade-offs.

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Longuage

longuage
Matsubara Naoko: Quaker Meeting (1967)


" … never the guiding light."


Barely three weeks into writing this series, I still feel like I'm missing language to describe what I'm trying to say. This seems like familiar territory, though, because every time I've tried to introduce a different idea or perspective, I've discovered the same barrier to entry: the language couldn't support the fresh concept. Language contains the commonly understood. It finds no use for anything not yet needing describing, so of course, new concepts will be missing from the choices.

Budding communicators tend to rely upon one of three old reliables when their language proves wanting. They:
1- create new words,
2- create new meanings,
3- create new metaphors and allegories, fresh stories.

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SupposedTo

supposedto
Matsubara Naoko: Weeping Beech Tree (1967)


"I was SupposedTo want what that Success offered, but didn't."


I've always struggled with SupposedTo expectations, the ones that insisted upon one specific response. I couldn't always muster such a reaction, but I also noticed that the very injunction tended to nudge most of my motivation to comply right out of me. I'd start plotting how to avoid satisfying the expectation instead. I became a terrified learner, for instance, strapping myself in for another ordeal the first day of every quarter, certain only that I would shortly feel overwhelmed with expectations with which I'd feel unable to comply. I came of age understanding that I should be self-employed if only I possessed a talent.

Oh, I could work for someone else, but it helped if I could concoct a story that reframed the relationship from me depending upon their job to the job more depending upon me.

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Improbability

improbability
Matsubara Naoko: Funaoka [Pine Tree] (1964)


" … see what that gets you."


Someone eventually wonders after the cause of a success and asks about it, often in the form of, "What were the keys to your success?" just as if success necessarily had keys, whatever those might be. Does it follow, then, that Success originally comes with locks which, absent keys, prevent anyone from achieving it? The usual list of expected suspects emerges, highlighting the rational elements usually associated with any achievement, almost always prominently featuring a few exceptional qualities possessed by good old you-know-who. The net effect should, if properly presented, leave the successful person seeming part wizard and part fortunate, with always a little bit of bloomin' luck wisely attached. The result should be an exceptional story featuring a genuine hero and a happy ending, a pattern that any aspiring might emulate.

Reality, or what generally passes for it here, rarely, if ever, travels so formally and often hitchhikes.

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WayStation

waystation
Matsubara Naoko:
Harvard Yard in Spring (Shōwa era, 1926-1989)


"Success seems to end with concerted continuing. …"


We might be trained to parse our lives in Edwardian fashion, as if experiences had discrete beginnings and endings as if stories came with morals firmly attached. We more likely live in a quantum universe, where experiences can seem either more like waves or like particles, depending upon how we filter them. My expectations seem most calibrated to anticipate cleaner plot lines than usually emerge. In practice, my life seems to need a decent copyeditor to insert the boundaries my experiences tend to ignore. I've reached an end to a story, only to find that particular plot line continuing into one additional unwanted chapter after another. Even this writer understands that a story needs to bring a cleaner ending than living usually provides. The unmistakable hallmark of fiction might be discrete plot lines.

My experiences must be real because they would never make believable fiction.

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Striving

striving
Matsubara Naoko:
Page from Hagoromo [Feathered Robe] (circa 1984-1986)


"I strive to achieve an innocence forever lost."


I missed a deadline this week. I had been hyperaware of its approach yet felt powerless to meet it as it arrived. Sometimes, a responsibility lands on me to find me unprepared, though I've had decades to prepare myself. I remain just as inexperienced as I felt when I was starting before I’d imagined who I might become, back before I'd become anybody. Missing a deadline reminds me how tenuous the balance remains between Striving and arriving, between aspiring and succeeding. Success does not seem to be significantly improved with practice. A dozen does not necessarily render an impending one any less daunting. The pattern of one does not seem to be terribly transferrable to others. Each instance appears fresh and intimidating.

I accumulate my little failures more readily than I ever collect successes.

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Common

common
Matsubara Naoko:
Boston Common (Shōwa era, 1926-1989)


" … a Common sense and an even commoner wisdom …"


A local group, inspired and funded by outside money, fancies itself the store and font of common sense here. They call themselves Common Sense Republicans, which, by their very title, suggests that they're probably about anything but common sense, Republicans having long ago adopted the practice of naming anything they promote the opposite of whatever it might actually be. I feel confident that the members swell with associative pride to think that they've ascended to the altitude where they evoke the spirit of Thomas Paine, a revered founder, whenever they assemble. They appear at city council meetings to protest "despotic" mask mandates, school board meetings to lobby hard against freedom of speech, and in the letters to the editor column of our local newspaper to champion the most uncommon ideals, all under the rubric of common sense. Common bullshit, I might suggest.

Still, it's a part of our common mythos to believe in the sense a commoner quite naturally makes.

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WhatPrice

whatprice?
Félix Edouard Vallotton:
Money, plate five from
Intimacies (1898)


"Be careful what you wish for …"


Who among us isn't prone to insist in moments of extremity that we'd willingly pay any price, bear any cost, to achieve our desired Success? We're each probably occasionally guilty of employing loose talk rather than free speech. We will beseech while praying that the bill collector never comes calling to collect the desperate debt, especially if our sweaty investment has failed to pay off yet. Some bets never pay off in anything but desperation.

I've been watching with train wreck fascination as Kevin McCarthy, the seemingly life-long wannabe Speaker of the House of Representatives, degrades himself and his prospective office, groveling before his obvious inferiors (a term I used hesitantly, if accurately, presuming for a second that it's not more likely that McCarthy enjoys only betters).

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TulsaTime

tulsatime
Georg Pencz: The Triumph of Time,
plate four from The Triumphs of Petrarch
(c. 1539)


" … a halfway decent Country song …"


The Number One Country song of 1987 was written by accident. A well-known songwriter and studio/backup musician found himself out on tour and snowbound in the Sheraton in Tulsa. Snowbound in Tulsa could have been this Number One Country hit, but it wasn't. Instead, our songwriter was toodling around on his guitar, half-bored in his hotel room, the kind of boredom that, songwriters understand, no cable television in the history of this universe ever once thwarted. One toodles around on a guitar in such instances, or one goes out of their mind.

A two-chord lick emerged, as two-chord licks are wont to appear under such circumstances, and our songwriter, experienced as he was, recognized that he'd almost created something.

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CountingChickens

countingchickens
Odilon Redon: The Egg (1885)


" … already become well-introduced to the feeling …"


Much of the Success experience occurs before the Success arrives, in anticipation of the blesséd event. Once the finish line's crossed, the real Success experience begins, but leading up to finishing the race, much might depend upon how the runner believes he's doing. Whether he's ahead or behind, does he still feel as though he has a chance of succeeding? Any hint of impending doom might materially influence his remaining performance. If he senses inevitable defeat, he might not find his feet responding nearly as fluidly as they otherwise might. The story he conjures to describe and explain his present state affects how or even whether he ever finishes this race.

Our lonely long-distance runner probably has no idea about the pattern of his progress or the pattern of a winning trajectory.

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Syccess

syccess
Seaver W. Leslie: Thinking of Other Things (1972)


" … depending upon what I choose."


I might have already established that Success probably doesn't quite qualify as a thing but more likely exists as a feeling. However, we might best recognize it as a set of criteria, which we used to call “ success factors “ in project work.” Success Factors held the criteria upon which, ideally, any objective observer might determine whether the project had delivered upon its promises. These were not precisely the promises but more the outward signs of inward conditions. These criteria often contradict themselves, so some might become mutually exclusive. In those cases, it became a matter of judgment and perhaps even politics as to whether intentions had been satisfied. Success would often, perhaps even always, come down to a generous judgment that "good enough" had resulted. Sometimes, Success would come as an acknowledgment that no amount of continuing effort would likely improve the result enough to prove worth that additional effort. Then, Success might come as acquiescence, however different from original intentions, a divorce with ramifications.

In addition to the feeling aspect of Success assessment, there's often also a systems aspect.

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HollowingOut

hollowingout
Winslow Homer:
A Winter Morning Shoveling Out (published January 14, 1871)


" … reward for my latest Success and precursor to the next."


After New Year's, this world enters into the HollowingOut Season, one destined to continue until Spring. With winter not yet a fortnight old, I feel unaccustomed it its rhythm. I continue cruising on the cadence I adopted toward the end of Autumn, one which helped propel me into a great and glorious Success. That past, the horizon fills with emptiness, at least on those days when the freezing fog lifts enough for some semblance of a horizon to appear. Those days seem rare. I experience Success's everyday companion, the HollowingOut feeling designating the recent absence of something. The question always becomes, following even modest successes: What next? What now? Somehow, achievement's reward always includes a healthy dose of grief. The familiar pursuit's sudden absence leaves a disquieting silence.

I never know better.

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Completition

completition
Jack Gould: Untitled [man standing behind small
boxing ring where two cats are pretending to fight] (1946)


" … nothing we might do in competition would produce more than a failure."

It wasn't until I entered Junior High School, seventh grade, that I encountered any serious experience with Completition, the erosive side of the much-touted competition some say our civilization's founded upon. Survival of the Fittest seems to be a deeply ingrained notion, so firmly and widely held that we feel no compunction when we apply it to contexts within which it might not naturally hold. Darwin proposed it for physical evolution, but it's now routinely applied to social situations as if relations should naturally follow the same paths as physical development. Social Darwinists hold the most fantastical beliefs, prominent among them the notion that competition quite naturally improves those who engage in it, when it might at best improve the winner, but only if he manages not to become a sore winner, a long shot bet in many instances.


I believe competition to be, at root, an evil and, at best, an addiction.

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TheCurse

thecurse
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes:
Be Careful with that Step! (1816/1820)


" … just beneath the end of every rainbow."


New Year's Day brings the usual flurry of best wishes to drown out the flood of remembrances old years leave behind. We do not send good enough wishes, but only the very best. We do not wish ordinary times upon each other, but exclusively extraordinary ones, as if it wouldn't be good enough to wish anybody mere adequacy, only excellence. We command or demand the exceptional whenever we project into the future. Back when I worked with projects, it was rarely the case that the founding vision of any effort proposed producing a good enough result. They insisted instead that they, unlike every other project in the history of this universe before them, would create the most incredible product. It was usually not as though the organization needed an exemplary outcome to survive. They just proposed utopian outcomes, though none ever delivered even one.

This difference between proposed and delivered reliably sparked some controversy.

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Retrospecting

retrospecting
Joseph Keppler: Looking Backward, from Puck (1893)


" ... more infinite and much more significant."


It being New Year's Eve, the last day of this year, I asked myself an innocent question: Have I been successful this year? Innocent or not, this question got me to Retrospecting, reviewing what I'd accomplished, and dreading discovering what I had failed to finish. I could not even remember the names of the four series I'd written through the year; not off the top of my head, I couldn't. I had to look back through the transcripts, the 364 individual installments, to determine what I'd been so focused upon. I spent roughly fifteen hundred hours nurturing my writing habit through the year, yet I could not, near the end of the period, even remember the names of the titles of the four series I'd completed. Have I accomplished anything more than successfully forgetting what I'd created?

I read the first and last installments of each series to get a feeling for what I had been intending and how I'd judged my effort at the moment I completed each.

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Career

career
Cornelis van Poelenburch: The Expulsion from Paradise (after c. 1646)


“Maybe the future will insist that we stay in the garden …”


At nineteen, I was confident about who I wanted to be when I grew up. By the time I hit twenty-five, that certainty had abandoned me as surely as I had abandoned my first and only Career. After that, I wandered this world careerless, without a defined profession, a professional without an explicit portfolio. Had I gone on to pursue a Master's Degree, I might have finally come to adopt a professional identity. Because I hadn't, I became a generalist, a B-school graduate without a specialty. Unsurprisingly, I gravitated toward the work reserved for people like me. I found myself not so much attracted to, but conscripted into the ranks of project workers, matrixed into various roles depending upon the situation, a utility player without a formal position. I later gravitated into project leadership, then project management, but that's no career. It's more of an adjunct association with an organization, existing only for a duration and not forever like a regular role. I became management with a tenaciously small 'm'.

I searched for an association of project people, but when I found it, I refused to join because it didn't seem true to any principle.

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SuccessThink

successthink
Alexander Voet: The Old Fool and His Cat (17th Century)


"Successful might be the very last thing I ever wanted to become."


Just about the time I graduated from business school, I became interested in how I might become successful. I started frequenting the Self-Help section of Powell's Books and accumulated quite the collection of self-proclaimed helpful titles, among them perhaps the most influential Self Help title ever published, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. T&GR was initially published in the late thirties and came with an enviably attractive backstory. According to the author, he'd interviewed Andrew Carnegie, who had confided the secrets behind his success. Hill characterized himself as merely the messenger, a link in a chain stretching back into ancient eternity. He contended that all rich people subscribed to more or less the same guiding philosophy. According to Hill, the difference between them and me was just a difference in outlook. Adopt his book’s philosophy and practices, and wealth would find me. I was skeptical. (Carnegie's estate found no evidence that Hill ever visited.)

I never quite managed to get clear to the end of that book, though it still stands on my shelf.

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ExplanatoryStory

explanatorystory
Anonymous Germany (Augsburg): The Rich Man
- Scene from the
Story of Jehosophat and Barlaam (1476)


"Sometimes it seems like something entirely different."


Martin E. P. Seligmann was a graduate student when he stumbled upon his Success. He was performing experiments with dogs when he noticed that the dogs seemed to become pessimists under certain conditions and started refusing reinforcement. He hypothesized that dogs could learn pessimism. He wondered, if dogs can learn to become pessimists, could they also be taught to be optimistic, and could humans? Thus began his life's work, which so far, at age eighty, has taken him to the top of the Self-Help (a genre he almost personally invented) bestseller lists and to the head of The American Psychological Society. His book, Learned Helplessness, became the basis for the now burgeoning field of Positive Psychology, and spawned a cool half dozen follow-on books which built upon that original base. Learned Helplessness includes a very clever and attractive chart that lists various tactics for countering Learned Helplessness. We've probably all been subjected to some form of these tactics.

When I was a kid, my mother's go-to tactic for countering sadness was to advise her suffering child to "Turn that frown upside down."

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FeelingsOf

FeelingsOf
Jacob Hoolaart, after Adriaen Brouwer:
Man met een geldzak [Man Holding Moneybag] (1723-89)


"I am not at this moment feeling all that successful."


I feel as though I have been dancing around my subject with these first Success Stories. This might be a reasonable if inconvenient time to confess a misgiving I've carried with me since I started writing this series. I admitted then, in my introduction, that I didn't feel as though I knew very much about Success, given that it had been a rare presence in my life. I speak even now of success as if it were a thing, ascribing the infamous 'it' to it, as if it was ever an 'it.' The thing about 'its' is that they are, by international agreement or something, supposed to at least vaguely refer to some person, place, or thing, an entity. Success seems awfully disembodied to qualify for 'itness,' and fitness for itness might matter. Of what do I speak when I attempt to speak of Success?

As near as my beleaguered brain can ascertain, Success might at best (or worst) qualify as a feeling.

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TheGames

thegames
Charles Samuel Keene: A Game of Cards (1870/91)


"Success comes in many colors …"


What are the success games? There seem to be many. Some long, others shorter, some seemingly competitive, others more solitary. Must one master a wide array of games to become consistently successful, or does a niche strategy more likely succeed? Some seem to inhabit a dog-eat-dog world, while others seem to live in almost blissful ignorance of even a hint of competition. Some become team players while others definite solos. I think it unfortunate that in our culture, we imagine so many kinds of engagements to be at root competitions, which, by definition, spawn winners and losers. Many still subscribe to zero-sum perspectives whereby one's success, by definition, dictates another's failure. Some envision a roiling marketplace of Roman gladiator games where it's kill or be killed, without apologies, just the way the game's played, thank you.

Success might involve personal choice more than might seem obvious.

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TalkingInto

TalkingInto
Jack Gould: Untitled [door to door salesman talking to woman] (1950)


"Success follows many paths home."


My writing work falls into two basic categories: Flow and TalkingInto. The Flow pieces take care of themselves. I start them off, and the writing commences, continuing until they're done. I remain remarkably absent from the process of creating these. They come to me. The TalkingInto pieces remain the rarer of the pair. They come when I'm more self-conscious, often when I feel I have some significant stake in the outcome. They appear when I feel self-important or feel as though I should feel self-important, just as if I have something important to say. My TalkingInto state might be a form of writer's block, an affliction with which I, fortunately, have little personal experience. The TalkingInto pieces become real work before they're finished.

I usually try to flee when discovering I'm engaging with a TalkingInto story.

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The Or Deal

the_or_deal
Master of the Die:
Venus Ordering Psyche to Sort a Heap of Grain (1530/40)


"My annual ritual amounts to a fool's mission …"


Near the end of each of her weekly examinations as The Muse went through her cancer treatment, Erin, the designated keeper of records for the clinical trial, would ask the same question: "Do you want to continue the trial?" To which The Muse would respond with an enthusiastic, "Absolutely!" This ritual reminded me of one common feature of successful engagements, The Or Deal. The option always exists to abandon almost any activity, though one might not necessarily consider this option in the middle of the typical fray. One gets set into a trajectory, and changing it becomes unthinkable. However, the latitude to turn off the engagement almost always exists and remains at least worth considering. Every effort serves as a kind of dedication test, a check to determine if you retain the stomach for the success and the often previously hidden cost of that success, the ordeal. Either you maintain the stomach to continue, or you don’t; that’s The Or Deal.

Looking back on my now long life, I easily recall a few of the more prominent choice points.

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Suckcess

suckcess
Elly Verstijnen: Jongen met pop [Boy With Doll] (c. 1900-1930)


"No one is ever apathetic except when in pursuit of another's objective."
-Folk Wisdom


"I feel unlikely to ever outgrow my worse bad habits."


So far, the most troubling successes of my life have uniformly been the kind I was supposed to want but didn't. These were often promoted as somehow being for my own good and uniformly seemed more for my certain detriment instead. I'd drag my feet because I could not muster enough motivation to manage any other response. In this way, I laid myself open to various criticisms. If only I could exhibit more discipline. If Onlies then seemed to utterly dominate my foreground. I always thought these experiences exemplified the pursuit of mammon and were trying to tell me to shift my focus from chasing something destined to do me in. This kind of wisdom almost always came later in the game, after investing more than I felt I could afford to lose. Veering off onto another, healthier trajectory always proved difficult to impossible.

It might be true that nobody ever knew what they were supposed to do.

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SuccessStory

SuccessStory
Thérèse Schwartze: Portrait of Lizzy Ansingh (1902)


" … reframing what success might mean …"


This story marks the first installment of a new series focused upon Success. I feel distinctly unqualified to write this series. This sense alone might qualify me to at least attempt to write it because I hold a growing belief that those who've been held up as examples of success serve as at best poor examples of it. Certainly the richest, often presumed the default most successful, have well proven just how unqualified for emulation they tend to be. Nobody wants to grow up to be Henry Ford or Elon Musk anymore. We pity them their public frailties. Likewise those examples from most any field one cares to name. Each seemed to be poor exemplars on some level. I might well conclude that one of the better ways to elude Success might arise from attempting to emulate anyone touted as successful. This world hardly needs one Elon Musk. Heaven forbid that it had to suffer through two, even if that second one just happened to be you.

I poke at Mr. Musk since he's widely recognized as the world's richest man.

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Impossibles

impossibles
Paul Gauguin: Soyez amoureuses, vous serez heureuses
[Love, and You Will Be Happy]
, (1899)


"I will not be telling anyone what I didn't intend to tell them again."


By long tradition, the final installment of any story series should at least attempt to summarize, to digest whatever it might have attempted to impart in its prior pieces, to, in the crude vernacular of the professional trainer, "tell them what you told them." There almost always came a time, in my career as a teacher of professional people, when the organizer would start speaking of Training The Trainer. This point signified the impending end of my relationship with that organization and the doom of our inevitably short-lived initiative. Corporations seem to need to frequently change their imperatives, as if to keep fresh whatever impossible they pursue, and they might well be wise to insist upon such shifts, because when dealing with Impossibles, freshness might remain the most important consideration. While it might well be absolutely true that most corporate imperatives represent some sort of impossible intention, one cannot continue perpetually holding the unrequited. It must be "achieved" or abandoned, left without fanfare in favor of some fresh and more enlivening initiative, also inevitably another impossible, eventually facing the same fate.

The Train The Trainer speech gave notice that the client intended to transform their present impossible into standard curriculum, a process which dumbs down its content.

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PerfectEnding

perfectending
Paul Gauguin: Manao tupapau:
(She Thinks of the Ghost or The Ghost Thinks of Her),
from
the Noa Noa Suite (1893/94)


"I'm not quite finished yet."


To speak of a PerfectEnding might be to speak heresy, for the orthodoxy does not usually believe in such things. For them, endings bring opportunities for analysis, for determining what went wrong, to identify root causes, and to inflict judgement, all for the purpose of pursuing the ultimate unachievable objective: continuous improvement. Without such operations, orthodoxies would very quickly go out of business, for without the need for imposing salvation, it's whole operation seems simply fraudulent. If improvement isn't warranted, what's a higher power supposed to do? Could it thrive living in parity with its laity?

In SetTheory, such traditional hierarchies do not hold sway, for they become just another basis for conducting analysis intended to make sense of their presence.

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AfterMath

aftermath
Winslow Homer: After the Hurricane, Bahamas (1899)


"Even happily ever after suggests the storytelling will continue."


After the HouseConcert, what then? What's next? My attention had been so intensely focused through these SetTheory stories that I gave scant concern over what might happen if my dream came true and I somehow, against great odds, managed to perform a set of my songs. Well, the dream came true. The Muse and I stayed up late after the HouseConcert, doing dishes and relishing the receding warmth the evening produced. By the time The Muse went to bed, piles of clean dishes on the kitchen table and my guitar standing in the front window were the only remaining evidence that a gathering had even happened. The following morning, I woke late, feeling deeply satisfied. I had accomplished something.

I had not started studying my curious SetTheory to change the world, for I've always considered notions of changing this world to be sins of self importance.

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HouseConcert

HouseConcert
Adriaen van Ostade: The Concert (1644)


" … another storybook ending."


As unlikely as it seemed for much of the journey there, the long-touted HouseConcert actually happened. It even arrived a little ahead of the schedule requirement, which I'd imagined to be before I'd reached the end of the current seasonal quarter, before the upcoming Solstice. The right people showed up, too, precisely the proper cast which could not have been improved by the concerted efforts of even an army of over-experienced talent scouts. The light supper was very well received. It just seemed such a freedom to invite folks into The Villa, whatever the pretext. Delivering this SetList of songs seemed an embellishment atop what would have qualified as a very decent holiday gathering regardless.

I'd set the stage, such as it was, along the recently refurbished front window seat, directly in front of the massive front window, which The Muse had decorated with multicolored Christmas lights.

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FinishingTouched

finishingtouched
Gaston La Touche: Pardon in Brittany (1896)
A "Pardon" is a Breton form of penitential pilgrimage
conducted at twilight with candles.


"What's inevitably started in innocence
must perhaps necessarily end in gratitude."


Those of us instructed to 'start with the end in mind,' eventually find ourselves going out of our minds since the end always shows up differently than originally imagined. These projections must always originate hopelessly out of that future context, which carries subtleties impossible to imagine beforehand. I suppose this injunction's real intention was never to enable anyone to envision any future, but to serve instead as motivation or inspiration, just to get the imaginer moving toward something, however unlikely that something might be to ever actually manifest. As a result, people often experience endings as bait and switch operations, where what was promised never seems to have been delivered. Success sometimes feels more like a failure.

My almost three month preparation for my house concert carries all the usual vestiges, for it was an initiative no more than normally blessed.

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Patter

patter
Albrecht Dürer: The Monstrous Sow of Landser (1496)


"The breathtaking's almost always worth taking the risk."


If my years as a performer taught me anything, they taught me the necessity of Patter and also of the absurdity of preparing Patter beforehand. Proper Patter, my experience taught me, should be impromptu, off the cuff, unscripted. The Patter of which I speak comes before and between the songs, the introductions and reflections that serve as a sort of stage punctuation in the performance conversation. I know that the old vaudeville performers scripted every second of their stage time. Us veterans of coffeehouse stages and small college venues did not, or learned not to. We sought a more authentic presence on stage and did not seriously consider ourselves to be performing, certainly not acting a part, or so we would have insisted at the time. We all were, of course, trying hard to successfully channel whomever we wished to be like, so that we would be liked. Many were bad Dylans. I, myself, leaned more toward the awful Donovan persona, though I was serious about aspiring for authenticity.

What does the term Authentic Performer even mean?

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Winnowing

winnowings
Willem Witsen: Man die aan het wannen is
[Man Winnowing] (c. 1888)


"Winnowing serves as the final embellishment."


Any efficiency expert—probably even any efficiency apprentice—would tell you that this amounts to perhaps the least efficient means to accomplish anything: Over prepare to under deliver, yet this phrase precisely describes the proper method for producing a set of songs. One defers the LifeboatDrill decisions until very nearly the ending, thereby ensuring that more than twice the number of songs actually performed get rehearsed, and not half-assed rehearsed, either. Each must have been considered a genuine contender and even the more difficult ones should have been painstakingly practiced, even unto and beyond great frustration. The list, too, should have properly been re-ordered several times as if the set might last almost ninety minutes, just as if our earnest performer could last a full ninety minutes, which he probably can't.

But performer capability probably sits beside this point.

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SittingOnTop

sittingontop
Jacob de Wit, after Peter Paul Rubens:
Oude vrouw met kind en vuurtest
[Old woman with Child and Fire Test] (1734)


"There might not be any better feeling …"


I wrote most of my songs in the Key of D, both because chords in D seemed easier to play and also because its notes fell comfortably within my singing voice's range. I've noticed that many songwriter/performers write exclusively within a single key. Our recently departed and dearly beloved Nanci Griffith also wrote and performed everything in D, so I must be in good company. This choice can produce similar songs, ones only narrowly differentiated from each other, as if every one was the same one all over again, producing a Groundhog Day catalogue like Bruce Springsteen or Tommy James and the Shondells. Fans don't care that they're fed the same supper every night. They are rarely gourmets and, like my cats, tend to reject any supper that's not instantly familiar. Still, the performer might notice and try to stage songs so as to minimize this same-old effect; vary a bit.

The venerable old Key of D no longer proves one my singing range can easily reach.

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Convergering

convergering
Artist unknown [Japan], Fukusa [Gift Cover] (circa 1801–1900)


" … The Muse departs those premises for good …"


As we pulled The Schooner into the Cancer Center parking lot, the radio started playing Leroy Anderson's arraignment of Sleigh Ride, the only absolutely essential holiday song, complete with wood block hoof pounding, slapstick, and full orchestration. The Muse commenced to shake and jiggle in the seat beside me. I asked what was happening and she replied that she was channeling when she played percussion with the Groton, SD high school band. "I'm shaking sleigh bells," she said, "and whipping the slapstick." Our reverie resolved into tears, and we held hands there while weeping in recognition that this infusion would be the final one in The Muse's months-long sleigh ride through CancerLand.

The oncologist had little more to offer.

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LifeboatDrill

lifeboatdrill
Stefano della Bella:
Mannen in een reddingsboot [Men In Lifeboat]
(Undated- circa 1620-64)


" … nobody intended or wanted to do anyone any damage …"


As consultants, The Muse and I often employed experiential exercises to help our clients gain insights. These amounted to what appeared to be silly little games, though they usually managed to help the client gain traction against some difficulty. We were extremely careful with our game design, though, as we came to understand that these silly little games could leave lasting, even damaging impressions. We always avoided introducing any game which might resemble what we called LifeBoatDrills, those games where a group was forced to choose to vote one or more of its members "off the island," for these can spark real trauma and produce permanent ill feelings, more harm than good. Curiously, this design seems the most common one employed by what has been strangely labeled "reality television," since reality only very rarely if ever actually delivers these sorts of dilemmas. Those who practice LifeBoatDrills probably practice for conditions they will never encounter in the real world or they produce the sorts of experiences nobody ever really wants, probably both. A master of the LifeBoatDrill seems the sorriest master of all.

My long-anticipated house concert, though, seems to have morphed into somewhat of a LifeBoatDrill.

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Newing

newing
Paul Gauguin: Jean René Gauguin (1881)


"Not a slave to precedent nor an idiot to improvement."


For me, nothing seems sadder than a tribute band, one dedicated to reliving some heyday on stage. I respect original work, but seeing a late middle-aged troubadour replay their pubescent angst on a stage seems just as sad as Lawrence Welk's orchestra seemed in their later days: dated and then some, unappreciable. Their easy mastery no longer resembles talent or skill, but clearly came as the result of ad nauseam repetition. It was always a wonder that those band members could stay awake through the chorus of most of their tunes because they knew their parts too well to produce a credible performance, which must seem like discovery to really work. They seemed to most need some strategy to just let bygones become bygones. Their performances most reminded their audiences of the absolute the necessity of retirement.

I carry vestiges of these feelings about performing my own compositions, though I have not been vainly repeating the same old songs for generations.

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UndressedRehearsals

undressedrehearsals
Unknown Artist, Italian, 17th century:
Juno Commanding Aeolus to Release the Winds (Not dated)


" … all about believing self-deception …"


Practicing slowly morphs into rehearsals as the performance date nears. Practice focused upon bare mechanics while rehearsals include some stagecraft. A performer might scrutinize camera angles, hoping to expose their best profile and, of course, cloak the more unflattering perspectives. Beginnings and endings become more deliberate and the performer actively projects into the ever nearer future. Knowing the performance allows no do-overs, he pushes each tune to conclusion, no longer so quick to stop and repeat a flubbed phrase. He might even gain time consciousness, a terrible addition. What once was timeless becomes time bound as what was once lost slowly gets found again.

The neck of the guitar becomes less restrictive as recent familiarity increases, the product of repetition as well as rediscovery.

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SoundCheck

soundcheck
Jacob van der Heyden:
Sound, plate two from The Five Senses
(Not Dated: Artist's working dates 1593–1645)


" … success finally seemed within reasonable reach!"


Sound became the most difficult element of my effort to prepare for my house concert. I'd managed to dredge up lyrics and mostly even found the voice to sing them, transposing one song into a more workable range, but getting the sound through my microphone and guitar pick-up bedeviled me, increasingly frustrating my efforts. The slow realization that the house concert would need to be in part broadcast only increased processed sound's importance. If it wasn't my microphone troubling me, it was my studio headphones. I swear that I will never grow entirely accustomed to trailing cables behind me. They leave me feeling like a prisoner, restricted to only a scant few feet of movement whenever I'm plugged in.

I was on a Zoom® call with my old friend Franklin yesterday and had decided to plug into my sound board to give it a test with a knowledgable listener on the other end.

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Sequence

sequence
Stuart Davis:
Art Theory Text with Color Sequence Diagram (1951)


"Who's on first? …"


I hold the utterly irrational belief that natural orders exist in both nature and in the works of man, even mine. For instance, I imagine myself ordering the songs in my SetList in such a way as to maximize their impact. I imagine this without for a second having access to what might constitute impact from my perspective or from anyone else's. I might know after I've performed a set, but can only imagine after that natural order beforehand, and even if a song order works, I will have no way of verifying that the order constitutes the natural one or was in any way superior to any other. I must, it seems, create and then manage to believe in a layered fiction which might somehow reinforce itself, bringing resolution. I am today attempting to properly order my SetList songs, a provably impossible undertaking.

Sequence seems like one of those meta conditions not obvious at first glance.

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Invitation

christmasnoise
Antique Christmas Card
from The New York City Public Library's digital collection


" … who would even agree to attend … ?"


This week, I need to send out the invitations for my SetList performance. I've long planned to deliver this performance in The Villa, with me seated before the grand front window with bookshelves on either side. I've imagined my audience arrayed back into the living room, with perhaps a couple of dozen easily fitting into that space with furniture rearranged and extra chairs. A few might choose to stand. I'd keep the SetList short enough so that nobody would get too fidgety before I finished. We'd drink some wine before and more after as well as enjoy a light mobile supper. It would be a celebration as well as the conclusion of this series, my appreciation for the attention I've received through the lengthy preparation. It would also serve as an introduction of sorts, a first exposure for most present to my semi-secret songwriter background, who I once was as well as who I always was beneath my facade, and who I'll also always thereafter be. I planned it as a curious kind of coming out party.

In the two years and nine months since This Damned Pandemic locked us down, we've rarely hosted any of our usual gatherings.

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Seconds

seconds
Edward Penfield:
Will You Help the Women of France? (1917)
Printed by W. F. Powers Company Lithographers
published by United States Food Administration


"We're still praying and waiting …"


Ten days after Thanksgiving, Tetrazzini season settles in for a short visit. The turkey's tailpiece remains, the so-called Bishop's Nose, along with an odd wing and a piece of that greasy meat that once covered ribs; little else besides bone. These pieces, proven poor sandwich material, ache to become stock, their last chance to become anything useful on their way out of this world. Half the leftover meat disappeared over Thanksgiving night at the hands of what I suspect to have been a raccoon sauntering through our walk-out refrigerator, also known as the back deck. I'd used Zip-lock® bags to secure the goodies and the raccoon apparently carried a switchblade—we all know they all do— which made short work of my weak defense. The remaining bag contained the more marginal pieces, greasy and barely edible even when amply disguised with The Muse's housemade cranberry sauce, mayonnaise, and thick slices of Swiss cheese. I, too, was aching to render that meat into stock.

The Muse continues recovering from her radiation treatments.

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Justifying

Justifying
Friedrich Amerling: The Young Eastern Woman (1838)


"The cost/benefit analysis of every artistic endeavor,
SetTheory concludes, produces only The Null Set …"


In my apparent insistence to at least attempt to overthink every damned thing I engage in, I stumbled upon the poisonous question: Why? Why seems naked standing alone. It seems to need a question mark attached to its backside, as if to conceal something, and why(?) probably has much to conceal. Its unceasing attempts to justify come as close to original sin as anything anyone could possibly engage in, primarily because it asks a fundamentally unanswerable question. Nothing anyone might muster in response could possibly satisfy it. It sparks excuses, sure, and often long-winded explanations which ultimately fail to explain to anyone's full satisfaction. It amounts to distraction, focusing attention away from essence and toward insistence, like any "good" advertisement attempts. Its likely purpose seems to be to sidetrack focus, to undermine true inevitably unspeakable purpose, and to encourage a commercial mediocrity upon activities which hardly deserve this. As I said above, Why(?) almost always proves poisonous.

In business school I learned how to concoct cost/benefit analysis, this to guide what was labeled decision-making.

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ClawingForward

clawingforward
Félix Vallotton: The Protest (1893)


"I try to not make a habit of such behavior."


Each setback provides a fresh premise for ClawingForward, a new dedication test trying to determine the depth of commitment behind the pursuit. I can always forfeit whatever I've already invested and walk away, hoping nobody will notice that I surrendered. Honor, or some emotion very much like it, encourages me to continue anyway, to perhaps even courageously overcome whatever barrier I've encountered. My response more often comes from embarrassment than bravery. I cannot quite face what it might mean if I cannot overcome this encumbrance, so I continue the struggle. I sometimes even succeed, even though trying in no way guarantees any outcome. I fancy myself tenacious when I'm probably just stubborn, but hitting a wall usually incites me into action, and often into investigating some new direction, anything to maintain accustomed momentum.

I read the freaking owner's manual, though the submission was, indeed, painful.

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ReSettingBackwards

ReSettingBackwards
Claude Monet: Stack of Wheat (1890/91)


"Wrong-footed, I sprint for the finish line."


After a week of reporting solid progress, my SetTheory efforts finally hit their wall (again.) The first principle of all forward momentum mentions this wall as a certainty, an inevitability, not a possible encounter but an unavoidable one. This wall generally appears early in an effort, as the usual notional initiation notices that its context differs from what was earlier imagined and planned upon. The experience always feel deflating, as if some cruel mistake had been made against the proceedings. Most efforts manage to recover, albeit almost always on different terms than originally imagined. The possible takes over from the original imaginal intentions and the effort resumes, and often in a different direction. Initial notions of end results almost always amount to fantasies. The quality of leadership usually devolves into the acceptance of some closer semblance of reality over the originally motivating fantasy. The Wall reigns eternal, though. One can choose to go over, around, or through it, but ignoring it never works for long.

Ignoring it almost always seems the preferable alternative when it first appears.

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Fining

fining
Hans Weiditz (II) (anonymous:)
Mannen bij een proeverij [Men at a Tasting] (1514-32)


"I paint my face with well-practiced authenticity."


The mirror image of the project-initiating Milling Around Period appears nearer the end of the effort. It amounts to much dusting and polishing, sequencing and clarifying, none of it strictly necessary but all of it nonetheless useful. It might even qualify as meaningless work, but since ninety percent of all work apparently qualifies as meaningless, this classification alone provides no excuse for avoiding engaging in it. Besides, it feels so danged satisfying. Most of the earlier stress and anxiety have by then been leached out. What deadlines remain carry little threat. I feel prepared if not quite prepared enough. I am Fining.

Once a wine or a beer has finished fermenting, it's done for most intents and purposes, save one.

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Transcending

transcending
Charles Sheeler: Amaryllis (1924)


"I can see a transparent shadow of myself …"


Practicing seems like a primitive form of what this performer intends when he picks up his instrument. Initially, I struggle to just remember the progressions and to propel myself to the end of each piece, but later, after some considerable time spent immersing myself into these mysteries, my practice shifts. After, it becomes easier if not precisely easy, more expression than re-creation. I often catch myself improvising then, as if I no longer seek to resurrect or recreate, but to manifest a feeling for which the original words and music were always mere indexes, means to access a sense more than the purpose of practicing or an end unto themselves. This after space I enter amounts to Transcending, I guess. It certainly feels like a religious experience, if that description doesn't put too orthodox a spin on it. I leave refreshed and slightly light-headed, eyes clear and voice phlegm-less for a welcomed change. I feel high, as though I'm floating slightly above my former existence, witness to my experience more than mere actor.

I'm seeing that the purpose of this SetTheory experience was less about resurrecting my songbook than about rediscovering Transcending.

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Spectacular

spectacular
Henri-Edmond Cross: The Pink Cloud (c. 1896)


"Her forbearance might well be remembered …"


The Muse's oncologist reported that her "numbers are Spectacular," an uncharacteristic characterization from any practicing physician. They're professionally more restrained, less effusive. On good days, they might allow themselves to express guarded optimism and, always, unshakable support, but they only rarely enter the unconditional superlative realm. I ask a follow-up question and receive a more sobering perspective in return. I note that her tumor had become invisible on the last scan we saw. He cautioned us to take such visual evidence, however seemingly reassuring, with a grain of salt. He explained that this cancer's cells remain unbelievably tiny, that we can only visually verify their presence when they're present in the billions. A few hundred million of them cannot be seen by even the most sophisticated scanning technology. Visual verification's virtually impossible. We're poking sticks into darkness, he explains.

I thanked him for blunting my enthusiasm, and I meant it.

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FinalPrep

finalprep
Jacques Callot: Camping Place of the Gypsies:
The Preparation of the Feast

(Artist's working dates 1612–1635)


"I figure I can finish FinalPrep in the final fifteen minutes before I take the stage."


The National Weather Service predicted snow by early evening and the sky had already started spitting fine ice by the time I returned from an errand across town. I wanted to finish cleaning up the latest leaf fall before this storm hit, since the weather service also predicted a week of very cold temperatures with intermittent snowfall providing no later opportunity to complete the last of the Autumn chores before an early Winter settled in. I faced the choice of working through the icy rain or just accepting that I would fall short of my aspirations this season. I slipped into my overalls and stepped out into the weather. As usual, once imbedded within it, the drizzle seemed less ominous. I focused upon quickly removing those leaves and soon found myself finished. Then came the piddling around time.

The Muse swears that she can complete a month of unfinished business in the final few hours before she leaves on an extended trip.

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MakingPerfect

makingperfect
Vincent van Gogh: Self-Portrait (1887)


"Will we poison ourselves with critical mediocrity or with generous perfection?"


I ordinarily cannot countenance mention of perfection, for as the owner of both an aging home and body, I see little day-to-day evidence of its existence. I'd come to think of perfection as a poisonous notion. As an objective it seemed to guarantee frustration and failure. As a representation, it seemed falsely overbearing, a transparently misleading characterization. Few experiences greater frustrated me than a shopgirl mindlessly parroting everything I'd mention with a "Perfect!" exclamation. She'd ask me if she could help me with anything. I'd decline her offer and she'd declare our encounter somehow "Perfect!" I'd pray that she might somehow pull her faux enthusiasm to the curb and join the rest of us down here on the surface of the planet Earth rather than continue inhabiting her alien-seeming stratosphere above. I found her realm annoying in the extremis.

But I think I might have groused a tad too much.

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PlayForWork

playforwork
Jan Havicksz. Steen:
Children Teaching a Cat to Dance,
Known as ‘The Dancing Lesson’
(1660 - 1679)


"Maybe mastery makes fun of everything."


Early on, I imprinted on the idea that work really should be play. I sensed that the term work mischaracterized its own possibility, creating a false and disastrous dichotomy. Work might not necessarily be the opposite of play, but the very highest example of it. Mischaracterize that high-order play as work, and people might primarily engage in it to earn time away. Folks might day-dream of retirement rather than reveling in the very embodiment of what they might have been dreaming to achieve. In this way, the carrot became the stick and people started consenting to investing their time in productive but meaningless activities. Some even agreed to become professionals and a few of those consented to become responsible, and before anyone knew it, adulthood had gone to Hell without even the comforting benefit of handbaskets.

When work becomes play, it gets easier to get through the day.

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Begetting

begetting
Hans Weiditz (II) (possibly):
Het produceren van wijn en andere medicinale dranken
(Producing wine and other medicinal drinks) (1620)


"… continued Begetting regardless …"


I felt shocked when The GrandOther, sitting at our Thanksgiving table, was the one insisting that we each express our thanks for something. We're no Norman Rockwell image of any holiday family, not even piss poor Presbyterians when it comes to the iconic rituals of any holiday table, yet there was The Other, the youngest at the table, insisting that tradition be acknowledged and performed. Lord (or somebody) knew that we had plenty to feel thankful for, even though this has been a difficult year. I heard myself insist that the hardest years seem to produce the greater volume of gratitude, and not just that they're over. As a blessings generator, hard times just seem better at Begetting blessings, an apparent paradox often lost on those trudging on their knees through the harder of the hardest times. Like with all religious convictions, I guess, the blessings emerge later as reward or punishment, their eventual existence a matter of faith until they manifest.

The question comes, then, how one might reliably induce gratitudes.

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PlagueWinter

plaguewinter
Arthur Wesley Dow: Marsh Creek (c. 1905)


"The future sure seems lonely."


As we enter the third successive PlagueWinter, I find little evidence that I've fully incorporated any learning from the experience. I still pine and plan as if this disease were little more than a passing inconvenience rather than endemic, as it surely has become. I'm just starting to understand that this disease will most likely haunt my remaining days here, even if I live for decades. Gratefully, neither The Muse nor I have yet contracted this bug, though her son has been through three bouts of it and has been wrestling with long Covid symptoms for two years, since he started recovering from his first bout. A friend just finally tested negative after an eight day run with his second infection this season, and he took Paxlovid just as soon as he tested positive both times, and had just the week before received his latest booster. He said it was like having a bad cold. Of the ten people who attended his ukulele group, two apparently came already infected and six of the remaining eight tested positive the next day. Covid-19 remains alarmingly infectious, though apparently not nearly as deadly as it once was for many.

I've been dreaming of a 'normal' Christmas season, similar to the ones I used to know.

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Knotting

Knotting
Albrecht Dürer: The Fifth Knot (c. 1507)

" … to grow more familiar with my knots …"

It might be most common to think of one's self as an untier of knots, but I'm thinking just how complicating that characterization inevitably becomes. Those of us guitar players who scrupulously maintain closely-cropped fingernails find ourselves at a natural disadvantage if we consider ourselves untyers. Many others hold no particular interest in solving puzzles, merely finding them frustrating and so best avoided. No, I'm growing to appreciate that I'm naturally more of a knot tyer. My legacy, if I ever deign to have one, should probably be comprised of knots neatly tied, suitable for untying should anyone feel so moved, but otherwise perfectly fine unresolved.

Preparing my SetList songs for public performance, I almost fell into the terrible trap of believing that I would necessarily need to resolve each mystery I encountered when resurrecting every song. …

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MakingTheBest

makingthebest
Franz Marc: The Bewitched Mill (1913)

" … once existed forever."



Make The Best

"Make The Best of the curious choices
life brings you.
They won't always rhyme
and they won't always leave a reason behind them,
'cause this is a sloppy opera and a stupid ballet
and if it isn't for the best
at least it is forever."


I always use this song to end my performances.

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Innerfacing

innerfacing
Arthur Wesley Dow: The Clam House (circa 1892)


"This so-far mythical future house concert …"


Much of my effort to resurrect my SetList of songs probably qualifies as inner work. Not to go all nineties on anybody, when the publishing world gorged in The Inner Work of pretty nearly everything, the inner work of performing even my simple tunes proves daunting. The inner world, my inner world, refuses to cleanly translate into outer mediums and contexts. Feelings repeatedly fail to pass the explicit test. Meanings steadfastly remain mysterious. Even hearing what I'm singing proves complicated and seems best amended with microphone, headphones, and a confusing array of software filters.

I've been failing to learn the software through which I filter my voice for twenty-some years and I feel no closer to figuring it out than when I started.

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SurfacePrep

surfaceprep
Arthur Wesley Dow, Pencil Proof (early 20th century)


"Great inconvenience can be tolerated to ease the prep."


Yesterday's SetTheory story,
SurfaceTension, only introduced a topic key to my navigating through to finally produce my performable SetList. New readers should understand that I'm just shy of two months into an effort to resurrect a set of my own compositions into a performable set of songs such that I might perform a house concert around the upcoming Solstice. I've been introducing here the songs I'm considering including and following my process for preparing, which doesn't always seem very much like a process at all. Yesterday's story reported on the barriers to entry I encounter when I attempt to enter the once-familiar singer/songwriter space. The door does not seem wide open. I bump into encumbrances. I recognize these for what they are, completely normal, but I'm feeling a need to more deeply explain what I'm learning about overcoming these.

Upon closer scrutiny, I perceive some commonality between what I'm experiencing resurrecting my songs and what I came to understand about managing projects, back when I worked as a project management consultant.

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SurfaceTension

surfacetension
Vasily Kandinsky: Improvisation No. 30 (Cannons) (1913)


" … results that I still feel certain anyone can see through."


Each fresh task seems to carry a certain SurfaceTension which I must penetrate before I can fully engage. While the act of penetrating that tension might look like I'm engaging, it seems much more tentative than that, as if whatever effort I expend breaking through that barrier doesn't count. Indeed, that work often seems a distraction, an irrelevance. It seems to prevent me from getting started rather than an integral part of starting. I very often find myself stymied by these initiation rituals in precisely the same way that I often cannot determine how to open a package or penetrate the bullet-proof plastic shell covering a new purchase. I cannot open these things with bare hands. Scissors usually prove useless, too. I most often submit these to The Muse for resolution, since she seems to have developed specialized strategies for opening these. I most often prefer to just set them aside as not having been designed for my use. I'm easily discouraged.

I reflect on my academic career, such as it was.

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Excusing

excusing
Martin Schongauer: Saint Sebastian (c. 1480-1490)


" … everything I accomplished will become roughly equivalent to everything I ever wanted."


Two years and eight months into the Covid-19 pandemic, I've grown expert at Excusing. I understand the limitations that this damned pandemic places upon The Muse and I. I probably understand them too well, for while most of my contemporaries, colleagues, and friends seem to have moved on and back into what now passes for ordinary times, I remain steadfastly tied to wearing my mask, anti-social distancing, and, basically, turning down the opportunity to do much of anything. I'm still not eating out. I find disturbing the prospect of ever flying again. Oh, I also have somehow managed to avoid contracting Covid. In short, I live my life immersed in considerable negative space, informed more by what I refuse to permit myself than in what I grant myself permission to engage.

I some days feel as though I've become a master at Excusing.

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Marathons

marathons
Arthur Wesley Dow: Crater Lake (1919)


"We have only inadequacy to accompany us through."


As wearying as sports metaphors can get, I might best represent cancer treatment as a sequential series of Marathons, any one of which might well prove challenging and the sum total of which certainly overwhelms. No shortcuts exist. No respites, either. From the initial discovery through the diagnosis process took The Muse three full months. Once treatment started, which began with little respite from the exhausting diagnosing effort, the insults prove unrelenting. Radiation subtlety sears. Immunotherapy infusions invade. No places to hide emerge. It's one hundred percent exposed, day and night, through the treatment period, which is scheduled from the outset: five weeks of radiation at six treatments per week and six immunotherapy infusions, one every other week for eleven weeks. Next, an indeterminate period of recovery where The Muse's body will work to rediscover all the facilities wounded in healing. It's all grueling.

If food tasted decent.

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InconviencingMyself

inconveniencingmyself
Arthur Wesley Dow:
The Long Road--Argilla Road, Ipswich (1898)


An Inconvenient Time

"
It's An Inconvenient Time to cross a line,
An Inconvenient Time to be opening any new cans of worms
'cause me and my sanity have just settled into familiar scenery
and love is the last thing on my mind:
An Inconvenient Time."


I find myself very near the bottom of my tentative SetList.

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Rest

rest
Arthur Wesley Dow: Boats at Rest (c. 1895)


" … the tacit component of the effort."


Avant Garde composer John Cage famously insisted that silence comprised the essence of music, that the notes only exist to space the silences. It's easy and seductive to focus solely upon the overt pieces of a composition when preparing to perform it, but its silences significantly contribute to whatever presence it might ultimately induce. Likewise with stories. I once published a story which featured no spaces between the words. Using this technique, I was able to present something on the order of 40% more letters on the page, but while it was certainly possible to read the result, the reading felt tedious and unrewarding. The purpose of writing was never intended to see how efficiently it might employ paper. Hoarders never seem to catch on that much of the satisfaction of owning something comes from the ability to stand a few steps away and admire it. An overstuffed closet might just as well contain nothing.

I sat this morning to begin my daily writing ritual and felt for a fleeting moment as if I'd been there before.

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Noughting

noughting
Juan Gris: Nature morte cubiste à la guitarem (1924)


"I find that tension thrilling …"


I'm not just a songwriter, but also somewhat of a guitarist. Not the kind commonly seen accompanying jazz bands, fretting hand all over the neck, fingers impossibly limber, intimately familiar with a hot half-dozen forms for even the most intimidating chords in every key. I use my guitar rather more defensively. It stands between me and my audience, a wooden fence I hide behind. I do okay but aspire to play no better. I accompany myself and I struggle wherever I attempt to get too fancy. I think of myself as primarily a lyricist, certainly much more than a guitarist. I'm a single acoustical act because I'm really not fit to play with anybody else. I keep my own tempos. I play exclusively my own songs. Consequently, I might be the only one who knows how to play along or when I play one wrong.

I became a curious kind of performer, one who'd always much rather not be the center of anyone's attention.

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Prospector

prospector
Marsden Hartley:
Landscape No. 3, Cash Entry Mines, New Mexico (1920)

"I have been the one creating that world."

Jeremiah
"Jeremiah's just as wiry as the sagebrush.
He built his home out on the desert sand.
Just a toothless old fool with a mangy mule beside him,
and a scrap of worthless parchment in his hand.
But Jeremiah says he doesn't mind his neighbors,
'course he's the only living soul for miles around,
With fifty-five years behind him in the Arizona sun,
searchin' out that old Lost Dutchman's claim."


Most of my songs seem autobiographical in that I serve as the obvious protagonist.

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TheWaitingGame

thewaitinggame
Edgar Degas: Waiting (c. 1880–1882)

"My juggling of the spaces in-between …"

Only one essential game exists: TheWaitingGame. This requisite game comes imbedded within every other game, within every occupation, whether it's considered a game or not. The one element of every engagement certain to appear before it's finished, TheWaitingGame seems anything but integral. It seems more like a waste, far worse than fallow, yet it certainly must be something other than mindless idleness. Why else would it appear universally, regardless of culture, regardless of time, age, or intelligence? The stupid receive their ration right along with the smarties. The handsome as well as the ugly, no exceptions granted. No exclusions.

My efforts to resurrect my songs and create a performable SetList feature much annoying idleness.

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ChanceEncounter

chanceencounter
Martin Lewis: Chance Meeting (1940-41)

" … the good kind of double-damned bind."

Chance Encounter

"Let’s hear it for the Chance Encounter,
Let’s sing the praise of unplanned design;
‘Cause she’s always there keepin’ an eye on,
Unlikely you’ll leave her behind.
More unlikely, she’ll leave you behind …"

I fancy myself a great believer in the ChanceEncounter.

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Twenty-fiveDown

twenty-fivedown
George Stubbs: Hay-Makers (1785)


"We've both come close to exceeding our patience, waiting."


"Twenty-fiveDown and five to go," The Muse whispered as she returned to the impossible puzzle on the side table in the radiation waiting room. She swore that she'd finish that puzzle by the time she'd completed her thirty dose radiation therapy, and she was down to the last week. Reduced to whispering now and without losing even an odd ounce of weight, she was entering what both of her oncologists had predicted would be remembered as her Hell week. Well, this week and the next, since the radiation continues cooking her cancer and her system for at least a week after the final application. Throat raw and increasingly exhausted, she still insists that she's feeling much better than she'd expected, and much better than almost any other cancer patient feels at this point in their treatment.

In that waiting room, there are never any exuberant patients or Emotional Support Animal spouses or children.

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Entropying

entropying
Unknown artist-Central Tibet, mid 15th Century:
Tsong Khapa, Founder of the Geluk Order
(c. 1440–1470)


"May I never learn better."


Each season change brings a fresh disorder into focus as the reigning arrangement suited for the receding season falls out of fashion. What served as orderly then, now only appears disorderly and in need of cleaning up. Which of the infinite choices might suffice for order this time? The possible arrangements hardly approach the infinite, and seem limited by practical factors. I have limited time and perhaps even more limited imagination. The disorder seems powerful, for it disables significant portions of my imagination. I acquire a blindness to certain potentials and affinities for the familiar. I am as a result not so much ordering or even re-ordering, but Entropying: aiding and abetting a continuing disorder, rearranging deck chairs, blithely unaware.

I'm realizing that the disorder I found when I started poking into my songbook probably resulted from an inevitable.

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MellowCat

mellowcat
Cornelis Visscher: The Large Cat (1657)


" … I have no idea from precisely where this one came."


Me and My Mellow Cat

"Winter, my life is moving slow.
My dreams have turned into yesterdays
with no place left to go
and so I find myself
on this dark side of the sun,
just tryin' to find the ones I used to be."


I despise my anticipation of winter more than I've ever actually reviled the season in practice.

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Founding

founding
John William North: The Wood Gatherers (1869)


[Herbert Alexander, the artist’s biographer, described the artist’s interpretation of nature as similar to that of a poet, suggesting rather than describing: "In watercolor and oil an effect of intricate detail is found on examination to be quite illusive—multitudinous form is conjured by finding and losing it in endless hide-and-seek till the eye accepts infinity." from The Cleveland Museum's description of this work.]

" … as if my life might really have a purpose."


My songs seem to experience the most remarkable life cycle, for I've lost each after completing them, then found and resurrected some after they've spent some period essentially wandering in wilderness. Many still remain there. Had I not resurrected them, they would have most certainly been lost to the ages, as if they'd never existed, and they might well yet be lost, for this cycle most likely continues well into the future. My legacy, such as it might be, will probably be more determined by chance than by deliberate intent. I'm uncertain, anyway, what form a legacy might take and how I might set about to form one, if I was disposed to even attempt such a feat. My tunes have faded out then back into fashion. This might just be their nature, and mine.

Through the first part of this series, I noticed myself chewing on myself for losing the songs.

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Fretwork

fretwork
Frans Hals: Jester With A Lute (c. 1620 - 1625)


" … only I could ever punch the ticket I was holding …"


Little suggests that I possess my superpower. No spandex® suit, thank heavens. No special badge. Like anyone, I appear unremarkable, just another face in the crowd. Yet I believe that I possess a real gift, but one so subtle and unobservable that even I often overlook its presence. It's taken this concerted effort to produce a SetList and preparing to perform a house concert to surface this gift. Real guitar players culture their fingernails until their picking fingers become fingerpicks, darned near indestructible. Not I. Every guitar player develops calloused fingertips on their fretting hand, and often, as in my case, that hand grows a mite larger than its counterpart from constant stretching through the decades. Other than those fingertips and the outsized hand, nothing suggests that I'm a songwriter, and those aren't definitive tells, since not every guitar player writes original songs.

Songwriting's a presumed skill, one that's really only present in any verifiable form after the work's done and the purveyor becomes one who has written, but even then, the evidence of that ability won't be in evidence, not even to the scrupulous eye.

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Journaling

journaling
Pierre-Auguste Renoir: The Apple Seller (c. 1890)


" … we're each much more complicated than we appear …"


I find myself feeling extremely grateful for the songs I've written over the years. Rediscovered, they seem to represent a curious form of Journaling, diary entries made without the author intending to catalogue his experiences. Yet, replaying each song seems to reliably resurrect the times and places within which it came into being. I have been revisiting those times and those places as I recover these songs. I realize that my experience has been much more diverse than it formerly seemed as though it had been, for I suppose that nobody ever carries many details of where they've been and who they were before. Our memories summarize, favoring brevity and so-called representative snippets. We might remember an encounter without really recalling how it felt, for instance. My songs seem capable of resurrecting feelings to produce a fully emotional remembering experience.

Earlier in my adulthood, I took to Journaling.

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PaintMeAPicture

paintmeapicture
Thomas Cole: Distant View of Niagara Falls (1830)


" … the performer doesn't quite get it yet."


Paint Me A Picture

"I'm workin' my way through,
only two more sets to go and I'll be gone.
And the spotlight sees right through me,
but I don't think it shows, I mean I'm holding on.
'Cause I've been deceiving myself through the worst of it,
just hopin' to make the best of this someday.
Hey, hey!"

I began anticipating the end of my chosen career as a singer/songwriter several years before its actual demise.

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Exemplary

exemplary
Isack Elyas: Merry Company (1629)


"She has not managed to bust out of any of the human condition on her road to recovery …"


The slow-baked yellowfin tuna in cream sauce featuring lobster mushroom and shallot seemed a decent choice for supper. The Muse had, after all, received two terribly reassuring assessments over the preceding week. We could afford to celebrate her headway. Her radiation oncologist had declared her progress through cancer treatment, "Great!" and her other oncologist had just that morning characterized her condition as she passed into halfway through her immunotherapy treatment regimen as "Exemplary!" Her progress could not have been better, but she found that she could not swallow the tuna entree. She fell back to the baked acorn squash with Bosc pear side dish. Even that, she swallowed reluctantly, the radiation treatments culminating in a rough, raw throat wherein her shrinking tumor still resides.

It's Tuesday, the morning when I deliberately set aside the primary focus of this series to update on The Muse's progress through her present bout with cancer.

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Pipes

pipes
Luc-Olivier Merson:
Head of a Boy Singing [Study for Music] (c. 1898)


"I see much whispering to myself through the near future."


My songs might well be eternal, but only conceptually. Actual eternity requires more resources than might seem obvious. That ditty you heard on the radio probably cost thousands of dollars to produce. The simpler the song, the more its production likely cost, with studio time alone costing beaucoup bucks per hour, not to mention engineers, musicians, and backup singers. My songs, as I've explained before, are more like freeze-dried preserved. They need to be reconstituted each time. This requires not only the words, melody, and chords, but also a fresh performance of those, using my voice and accompanying myself on my guitar. Recovering these tunes touches every aspect of every song. I've struggled just to recover the words for some. The melodies and chords were never transcribed into musical notation, which I never mastered and couldn't read in realtime, anyway, so those need recovering from my ever-faulty memory. It was long my dream to record in a real studio, though I only ever managed that feat once. I recorded five songs in the hour I'd reserved, if you don't count the extra time the studio's owner gave without charging me, so I could finish what I'd intended, because he liked what I was doing. Even those need recovering if I ever intend to actually perform them.

So, when I say I'm recovering a set of songs, I mean that I'm actually recreating those performances, or, more accurately, creating them anew again.

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Fingerlings

fingerlings
Anton Mauve:
Aardappelrooiers [Potato Harvesters]
(1848 - 1888)


"I pursue my best with the least promising resources …"


After a few years of relative inactivity, my fingers seem almost as agile as Fingerling potatoes. They've lost their limberness. They feel stiff and inattentive when attempting to play anything the least bit intricate. They transform my guitar's fretboard into an authentically fretful place. I attempt little and achieve worse, cursing under my breath. I face a long recovery, a bare uphill track featuring few useful landmarks. I some days doubt that I will ever recover my former mindlessness, for proper guitar playing requires little if any thought. It's incarnate muscle memory in action, not in any way thoughtful or strategic. Once mastered, it just happens, freeing up consciousness to remember lyrics or control voice and volume. The guitar should properly accompany, not feature, and in order to properly disappear into the background, it must be transcended. No struggling to remember chord order or, heaven forbid, proper fingering. That must follow as a matter of course, without thought or fuss.

Now, it remains mostly thought and fuss, of course, which reliably produces the absolute opposite of reinforcement to practice, which will provide the only viable escape route back to even the appearance of competence.

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SpecialCrazy

specialcrazy
Vincent van Gogh:
Madame Roulin Rocking the Cradle
[La berceuse]
(1889)

" … this song cemented our sanity."


A Special Kind Of Crazy

"It takes a special sort of Fool to write a song for you.
That Special Kind Of Crazy can't help but just shine through,
Other lives and other places
You with yours and my displacements,
We'll integrate or simply leave behind,
'cause I'm crazy of that very special kind."

And so I started what promised to be a really terrific tune.

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Underpants

underpants
Underpants of Hendrik Casimir I: Anonymous
(1630 - 1640)


"Give me superficiality or give me certain death …"


Those who've followed my FaceBook benediction postings after my Friday PureSchmaltz Zoom Chats already know that I favor what're labeled "Novelty" tunes. I take my music seriously, as the pieces I've already introduced doubtless make clear, but I'm never more delighted than when The Muse slips some smart-assed something into the mix. Like many other songwriters, I've never really been in charge of which songs emerge. I've proven myself capable of following inspirations, but never really facile at creating them. Songs more visit me than I create them. They lead, I dutifully follow, and the responsibility does, indeed, feel like a duty to me. Like anyone, I feel enjoined to make my particular sort of noise in this world. Otherwise, why was I even born?

Amid all my more serious works, my self-described Top Fifty Truly Terrible Traveling Tunes stand eternal.

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InvisibleHusband

InvisibleHusband
William Henry Millais: Steps in a Garden (1860)


"This wholly unlikely story is absolutely true."


The Invisible Husband

"It’s late. I’m going to sleep.
You’re still awake in an airplane seat.
I’m here, holding fort,
the cats are tended and the house is dark.
I’ll see you late Friday night,
too late for supper, I’ll keep the bed warm,
let yourself in if I couldn’t keep my eyes open."

If any of my songs have proven emblematic of an era, this one certainly managed to became that.

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Magick

Magick
Corita Kent (Sister Mary Corita):
m is for magick (1968)


"[Magick] might materially misrepresent its eventual impact."


The wheat and the chessboard problem dates from at least the thirteenth century. In it, a king foolishly agrees to pay a mercenary in grain, a single kernel for the first day's effort, two kernels for the second, doubling the amount each successive day until all sixty-four squares on a chessboard are covered. The amount of grain accumulated after the first thirty-two days of effort seems huge, something on the order of 279 tons, but the thirty-third square calls for twice that amount. By the sixty-fourth square, only more than 1,600 times the world's annual grain production will meet the requirement.

I recall this story to describe how cancer treatment works.

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FoolHead

foolhead
Sebald Beham: The Fool and the Foolish Woman
(circa 1531-50)


"What wiser course could any half-wit devise?"


My mother would have said that I was singing my FoolHead off, but I was actually singing it on. Plugged into my studio headphones and finally satisfied with the filtering, I was suspended in an other world, singing while playing my guitar. Once tuned up and with my eyes closed, I had dulled all extraneous senses so that I could focus upon the few of them important to my mission. I was, in the vernacular, practicing, but I was more like focusing. The focusing's much harder, and a necessary precedent if practicing's to satisfy its purpose. The biggest challenge involves overcoming the distractions, and plugging into my sensory depravation system definitely helps. It seems that I can accomplish nothing as long as my full range of senses remain active. I must dismiss some feelings to make either sense or progress. I must put on my FoolHead, not remove it.

Performing seems a necessarily mindless activity.

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TheVoices

thevoices
Jacob Jordaens:
The Conversion of Saul with Horseman and Banner
(c. 1645–47)


"Better if he focuses exclusively upon making a joyful noise."


Performer Leo Kottke famously described his baritone singing voice as sounding like "Geese farts on a muggy day." I've long agreed with him, yet his singing voice seems perfectly appropriate, the perfect accompaniment to his masterful guitar playing. He plays his guitar so skillfully that any accompanying voice couldn't help but mesh well. A long line of less than perfect voices have passed in and out of notoriety in my short lifetime, so many that I marvel at how few really wonderful voices I've ever heard. Clearly, the quality of a voice and the quality of any given performance remain two very separate experiences, with the twain only rarely converging. The quirky seems to have little problem attracting an adequate crowd, and often, much more than a merely adequate one.

An unheard voice, the voice within, always accompanies the one projected over the accompanying music.

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BornToSee

borntosee
Frederic Edwin Church: Twilight in the Wilderness
(1860)


"Another dichotomy bites some dust."


Many of my song lyrics describe apparent contradictions, where opposites might temporarily take the same side. I was always attracted to seeming paradoxes, relations that make no rational sense, but which could be resolved with a little perspective shifting. I have often been fooled when some opposite turned into something much more similar than I'd earlier expected. I might have been making war on dichotomies, trying to demonstrate just how simplistic and self-destructive classifications can become. Many of my lyrics register surprise at discovering another nature lurking behind the obvious one. I believe that this phenomenon represents real learning. When all the innocent and ignorant others disappear into similar forms, enlightenment will have occurred. Until then, good and evil continuously battle to nobody's obvious benefit.

BornToSee The Light

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OneMysteriousDream

onemysteriousdream
Jean Morin, After Jacques Fouquières:
Landscape with a Wheatfield (17th century)


" … it matured to say precisely what needed saying …"


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."


Metaphysics might be the one consistent sub-theme running through all my lyrics.

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AFriendOfMine

afriendofmine
Unknown artist: "Pistol-Packing Pirate" still bank
(20th century)


"We're moving targets with static language."



A Friend Of Mine

"Talk about your side streets,
go on and talk about your country roads.
Talk about your alleyways, Daddy
where you're not supposed to go alone.
Sing me a song of the city at dawn
where the neon fades in shame,
and tell me all about your doorways, Daddy,
when you're sleeping' in the rain."


And so began the story of the end of AFriendOfMine.

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AWOL

awol
Albert Emmanuel Bertrand: The Absinthe Drinker
(c. 1890)


"Absence made this heart more insistent."


The Muse insisted that I take that trip, which made me absent for those treatments. The treatments had become routine. The radiation, a mere few seconds. The aftermath, difficult to assess. The oncologists both promised worsening experience over the next months. Still, each day passed without any dramatic changes: a definite but subtle tiredness, a growing willingness to sleep in each morning and to retire ever earlier after supper, but nothing dramatic. We, the patient and her Emotional Support Animal (me), might have grown complacent, continuing a long streak of decent good fortune into a surprisingly welcoming future.

The Muse's cancer treatment occurs as an experiment.

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Estranging

estranging
Maurice Denis:
But It is the Heart That Beats Too Quickly,
plate twelve from Love
(1898)
published 1899 by Ambroise Vollard


"No way could we ever possibly be tempted to say …"


Just To Break A Heart

Half truth, and half promise
like we knew our future from the start.
I told you the truth when I said I loved you,
it came right from my heart.
Then we moved through our lives with confident strides,
just as if we knew love, just as if we controlled our hearts.
Let's just say as we tumble away
that we played Just To Break A Heart.

The yin/yang symbol illustrates how this world might seem equally divided between light and dark, but that the dark also contains a spot of light and the light, a spot of dark.

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Wandering

wandering
Albert-Charles Lebourg: A Miller's Carriage (c. 1895)


The horse-drawn carriage parked at the curb beside the ice cream parlor where families sat at outside tables and watched while other families boarded and unboarded the carriage. The carriage with its driver and passengers would leave, horse walking, before making a left turn a block down the street then continuing on its excursion. A few minutes later would find that same horse and carriage moving regally up the next street over, passengers watching unremarkable storefronts pass before them. People love to take rides. That carriage would take its passengers on a short journey to nowhere, past places they could more conveniently view while walking. What compelled their adventures to no place? What drove their excursions?

The horse threw a shoe as it began a later trip.

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Elbowing

elbowing
Fons Van der Velde:
Koppen in een menigte [Heads in a crowd]
(1880 - 1936)


" … no business expecting any different."


It seems a wonder bordering on a miracle when anything gets accomplished, for setting a definite priority might have always been the surest way to create competing distractions. I might look at my calendar, conclude that I have few upcoming demands, and so take on some fresh obligation. The very moment I set that intention, competing commitments swarm such that I quickly find that I'm Elbowing my way through them to find a few stolen moments to attend to what I'd intended to complete. This simply must be some sort of law of this universe, as inexorable as entropy, because it always, always, always seems to happen to me. Those around me lodge similar complaints. One apparently never actually manages to clear a schedule to thereby exclusively focus, as if that were even possible. No, we swim through diversions or we never manage to get anything done.

The end of a day should bring exhaustion even though we might then wonder just what we managed to accomplish.

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Past-ing

past-ing
Arnold Böcklin: Ruin by the Sea (1881)


" … cast some shadow and light …"


I caught myself attempting to recreate my past, a common enough affliction for anyone touched by nostalgia, but it's an impossible. Not one of those "impossibles" intended to challenge to greatness, but one destined to produce growing frustrations. You see, the past is past and will not be seen again. Oh, I can always change the past by changing my story, by rewriting the history, my history, if I choose, but it will not be resurrected or reanimated or re-present-ed again, but only because it can't be. What I should have been aspiring to accomplish might be better understood as manifesting. I can manifest a SetList inspired and, indeed, informed by my past, but I cannot recreate what once was. Let's say that I left that on a bus back in the late seventies, so long ago that the bus company has already purged their lost and found a few dozen times since then. That past's gone and it's not ever coming back again. Period.

If I care to avoid this mistake, then, I simply must frame this SetList effort as a creating rather than as a recreating one.

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Unconvinced

unconvinced
Gerard van Honthorst: The Merry Fiddler (1623)


Three weeks into this SetTheory experiment, I remain Unconvinced of this effort's viability. I know that I was supposed to be all in as a precondition for beginning, but I believe that such strict entry criteria might do more damage than good. The myth of the necessity of unambivalence persists, though. It haunts me as if my engaging without full conviction might doom the effort from the outset. I'm beyond outset now, though, and this work seems to be unfolding more or less normally. The resulting slight sense of inevitable failure haunts me. I have my good days and my struggling ones. Some mornings I could swear I've been blessed by angels, and others, cursed by them. I wend my way rather than stick to anything very straight or narrow. Progress mostly crawls.

Yet I sense that I'm making real progress.

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Practicings

practicings
Agostino Carracci after Federico Barocci:
Aeneas and His Family Fleeing Troy (1595)


" … all the time remaining in this world to Practice …"


At its best, Practicing renews. Any its worst, it undermines its own intentions. It's never real work. It doesn't even pretend to be productive, to produce anything. It's all preliminary, preparatory, precursor to some future delivery, meaningless without its future looming before it. All that said, it can sometimes feel essential, necessary if not exactly required. It can inspire. It aspires to be more than it will likely deliver and therefore must be grasped with a forgiving hand. It can reward but it's never obligated to payback anything. It might revive or disappoint. It's too easily avoided. It probably qualifies as one of the very few truly good habits.

I become a different person under the influence of my Practicings.

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FirstIteration

firstiteration
Odilon Redon: Evocation (undated)


"I hold raw material now, rather than "half forgotten memories," …"


I realize that I had been actively resisting writing down the FirstIteration of the SetList I've been insisting I've been working to create. I'd taken solace in its absence, comforted by the latitude I could maintain until just after I started nailing down by creating a concrete target. I might have been reveling in theory more than practice, and this response seems typical of one of mine. Maybe it's an example of Hastening Slowly at the beginning, but it eventually came to feel more like active procrastination. This morning, I resorted to pen and paper, and toughed out a FirstIteration SetList. It seems certainly wrong, by which I mean it could not possibly be the FinalIteration, for that should perhaps properly come the evening before the end of this quarter, or the final morning before I'm scheduled to perform. This project just took one giant step toward becoming real.

Reality can be such a drag.

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ValleyOfShadow

valleyofshadow
Odilon Redon: Profile of Shadow (c. 1895)


"I'm left wondering who either of us might end up being …"


It might be that Tuesday mornings become the times when I set aside my SetTheory stories to visit the infinitely more significant background saga presently accompanying The Muse and my days. Consistent readers might recall last Tuesday's story, titled
Consequential, wherein I introduced The Muse's cancer diagnosis and her acceptance into a clinical trial which allowed her to forego the typical poisonous Chemo treatment. This plot twist in the cancer diagnosis that she'd already labeled her Plot Twist, left the both of us feeling extremely fortunate, as if she'd dodged an otherwise inevitable bullet, but the plot twist within this plot twist brought terms and conditions with it. She would still have to submit to radiation therapy, six times each week, for thirty iterations. Yesterday, one week after receiving her first infusion of immunotherapy magic, with no evident side effects, she was scheduled to submit to her first radiation treatment.

I was struggling with side effects from my latest Covid booster, which left me feeling clogged and groggy, but I managed to put myself together so that I could at least chauffeur her to her first radiation therapy appointment.

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Illegitimate

illegitimate
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo:
The Immaculate Conception: 1767–1768


" … some sacred responsibility to hear myself."


My talents, such as they might be, all fall under the general label of Illegitimate, for I came by none of them through proper means. I was never recognized as a prodigy of anything. I did not distinguish myself as a student of any art or science. I was never recognized as an especially inspiring leader or a particularly gifted teacher. What notoriety I have received came in through the bathroom window and was only narrowly appreciated and, even then, often misunderstood. My songwriting therefore grew to become a more private than public thing, something I demonstrated after dinner with a properly lubricated and intimate audience. I didn't so much suffer from imposter syndrome as embody it.

I believe that many, indeed, most, legitimate artists began their careers as Illegitimates.

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PluggingInto

PluggingIn
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec: Miss Loïe Fuller (1893)


"Maybe I'm deep down trying to sabotage my effort …"


I struggle most with the technology, which I believe someone invented with the notion that it might somehow render things overall easier. Under whatever rule has always reigned over technology, though, the best one can ever expect from it might be a slight shifting of some problem, never outright resolution, and each incremental improvement in something inevitably erodes some other aspect, thereby keeping everything more or less even in this universe. Advancement might well cause the cosmos to crash in upon us. Yet each field seems to eventually yield to the ceaseless seduction of a technological improvement never once evident in actual results.

My second career involved helping to upgrade computer systems into alluring futures.

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InMyHead

inmyhead
Giambattista Tiepolo (Giovanni Battista Tiepolo):
The Head of Truth (c. 1744)

" … organizing something that only exists InMyHead."

Eventually, the vague and attractive notion that initiates an undertaking starts wondering where it's going. It has always been one thing to break the inertia of rest and quite another to set a coherent course, and it's entirely normal to get moving before becoming completely clear about proper direction. It usually doesn't much matter at first if one heads off in a wrong direction as long as one gets moving. U-turns are common early on and not unknown even nearer an ending. Job one's always focused upon getting moving. Later, increasingly unsettling questions bring the questionable gift of self-awareness, especially when the adventurer cannot quite imagine how to answer them. What at first seemed if not precisely clear but certainly clear enough, comes to appear opaque. Two weeks out and self doubt enters the frame.

The questioning usually comes in the form of the universally unsettling question: If you had that, what would you have?

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Habituals

habituals
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes:
The Claws of a Cat and the Dress of a Devotee -
similar to Vice is often clothed in Virtue’s habit,
plate nine from Los Proverbios (1815/24)


"The devil deals in Habituals."


It has sadly become common practice that people try to acquire what they consider to be good habits. I guess they figure that if they can set some activity up as automatic, they're more likely to continue engaging in it. I've even heard of some who claim to have managed to set up a mindfulness habit, the thought of which just makes me cringe. Clearly, bad habits exist and seem to be almost impossible to disengage. Ask any smoker to explain why. I've long considered the Habituals a rather cheap shot, and a fundamentally misleading one at that. I doubt that salvation lies in that direction. Most things require more attention than any Habitual reaction allows.

I prefer ritual to Habitual.

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Selfless

selfless
Claude Monet: Caricature of a Man with a Big Cigar (1855/56)


I lose myself sometimes, a most curious and disturbing situation. I do not remember anyone ever tipping me off to even the vaguest possibility that I might at times misplace myself, but I have. I most often lose myself when I engage so deeply in some activity that I forget I'm there, not in any way a disturbing happenstance. I sometimes try to lose myself in the interest of experiencing what some have labeled 'flow,' but trying to lose one's self rarely works. It seems that selves must slip off all by themselves, unnoticed. It might be that one cannot notice the absence of themself while they are missing. Who would be noticing if the self was gone?

My effort to create a SetList might be my attempt to reconnect with a part of myself lost in the process of living my life.

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Dawdling

Dawdling
Pieter van der Heyden, Engraver
[after a drawing by Hans Bol, artist]
Autumnn (1570)


"… my life's work might have only approached accomplishing anything …"


The Romans insisted that one should Hasten Slowly at the beginning, but were mute with advice for ending. I've long proposed hastening even more slowly when approaching an ending, though it's become tragically popular to hasten ever more quickly then. An old saying in the project management community explains that it's "all assholes and elbows" at the end, as everyone rushes to meet some inevitably artificial deadline, rendering it and its products more meaningless in the process. Following a lengthy effort, the end rush seems ignoble, disrespectful of the painstaking effort invested into what quickly degrades with impatience as its ending approaches.

I prefer perpetual motion though I understand that it's physically impossible to achieve.

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Reviving

reviving
Gerard de Lairesse: Bacchus and Ariadne (c. 1680)


"I can sometimes hear my former selves whispering."


Creating this Set List involves reincarnating past work. My work freezes time and place in the same way as might any book or film. I watch old black and white movies expressly for the purpose of Reviving the time and place within which they were created. A Hitchcock film seems forever frozen within its time, and cannot escape into the here and now, no matter how many times I might watch it. It takes me back instead. In this same way, Reviving a song I wrote thirty years ago invokes that place and time, reanimating the me I knew so well then, one I might not have seen since. Of course, I'm older if not necessarily wiser now, so I cannot fully immerse myself into that vessel, but I get a taste, a "snootful", anyway. These excursions might feel delightful or painful, or, more probably, simultaneously both. They prove to be emotional roller coasters.

I remember the dismay I felt when I saw some once-favorite character actor twenty years after they played that role.

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Laziness

lazyman
Félix Edouard Vallotton: Laziness (1896)


"Our catalogues might eternally be narrower than even we expected."


I haven't quite come to fully accept my narrow musicianship. I get by with a few keys and just about as many chord progressions. I might daydream of writing complex Hoagy Carmichael-like melodies, but I've so-far stuck with far simpler structures. Further, assimilating new chords into my tiny repertoire seems unlikely, as my hand turns into a claw whenever attempting a fresh form. I'm reminded, again and again, of Meredith Wilson, who composed the entire The Music Man score employing essentially one melodic structure, every song a slight variation upon the very same theme. His accomplishment reassures me that my apparent Laziness might hold real promise. If it doesn't, I'm probably sunk.

I've pretty much always employed applied Laziness as my primary coping strategy.

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Dredging

dredging
Sakai Basai 酒井 梅齊:
The Sand-Carrying Festival [Sunamochi Matsuri] (1856)


"It's already far too late to have properly filed my history the first time."


Creating this set list involves considerable dredging. Had I properly filed my finished pieces, I might just scroll back through a pre-existing list and choose, but I did not maintain a list of completed works. I have multiple lists of completed works, none complete themselves, and not all even accessible any more due to obsoleted file structures and operating systems. Anything once saved as a WorkPerfect file is perfectly inaccessible now. I have paper backups which have fared little better, since the lists and, indeed, the actual lyric sheets seem spread over a considerable geographical area, some essentially unfindable. Seeking hard evidence of the existence of any specific song becomes a slog slowing filling with self-recriminations. It's already too late to do anything right the first time. Some pieces have been lost to the ages since their inception.

It's no great tragedy when I lose evidence of some past creativity.

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Delving

delving
Societa anonima cooperativa per la fabbricazione delle maioliche (Deruta, Italy):
Display Plate with a Man Striking a Heart on an Anvil (c. 1550)


" … grasped without really understanding what we're choosing …"


This work creating a Set List seems a bit different than the standard purposeful effort. Like you, I was exhorted to Start With The End In Mind, even though whatever end I might initially envision would have to be wanting, given that it was by definition not informed by the effort to determine it. That end, whatever I believed it could or should be, would just have to be different than I first imagined or it could not have been worth pursuing. So, Set Listing (if I might call my current occupation that), doesn't qualify as a standard engineering effort, either. The specs aren't nearly specific enough yet, and might never lend themselves to mechanical drawings. I sense that I am not so much pursuing, but Delving into.

Like all projects, this one began with a bright idea, a big, alluring statement of purpose, utterly vacuous at inception.

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Reassurance

reassurance
Jean-François Millet:
Peasant Returning from the Manure Heap (1855–56)


"I necessarily remain a novice at this work …"


Judging from how I seem to drag my feet into practicing, this creating a set list seems like hard work. Even the hardest work, though, might include some Reassurance, some occasional sense that it's not just hard but also rewarding. My anticipation decides much, and I too often anticipate some worst coming. This set-up leaves me surprised and sometimes even delighted when my effort produces some glimpse of goodness, when some of that old confidence shows, or when I seem to know what I'm doing again. A body of work long left idle awakens fitfully and requires Reassurance to fully awaken. Creating this set list was first just an idea, though I do not mean to demean its source since ideas seem capable of sparking most anything. Beginning again seems more daunting than was the original creation of these songs.

I sat before a small window in a cramped hotel room, guitar in hand.

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Practice

practice
Honoré Victorin Daumier: A zealous student practicing at home,
plate 6 from Les Baigneuses (1847)


"It's the pursuit of premise pursuing purpose …"


The old joke asks how to get to Carnegie Hall before disclosing: Practice, Practice, Practice. Of all human endeavor, certainly Practice stands near the most curious. I expect that we misunderstand it because I'm confident that I misunderstand it, mostly because I can't hardly stand to do it. It seems infused with purposeless, and I suppose that natively, Practice is always separate from purpose. It might be that Practice largely entails mustering a motivating backstory so as to make the effort tolerable if never entirely pleasurable. For me, it reeks of self discipline and self possession, a separation in preparation for making a connection. I often spend my practice time aching to be finished practicing and on to something more sociable and meaningful.

Still, if a musician or even a lowly songwriter ever expects to perform his work, it seems he must prepare somewhere.

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CrimeScenes

crimescenes
Mary Cassatt: Under the Lamp (c. 1882)


" … evidence of criminal conspiracy afoot."


Each song in a thirteen song collection of my original compositions evokes its source when I perform it. The situation, location, and conditions then present flood me, often almost overwhelming me, and sometimes succeeding in absolutely shutting me down. I am not always able to finish a song I've started for it transfers such an emotional load I cannot bear it in some moments, and I just have to stop. Other times, I'll get so distracted by the ginned up context that I'll forget the words. It's helpful, if deeply embarrassing, when The Muse reminds me of the next phrase after sensing that I somehow got lost on such tenaciously home turf. The scene of the original crime reappears each time, if, indeed, the birth of each song constituted a crime. If they were crimes, I could claim that they were innocent crimes of omission rather than of deliberate commission. I never once intended to capture that time, or any time, in any kind of bottle, but writing a song, any song, seems to inadvertently produce just that sort of result.

Room 327 in the La Posada in Alburquerue, originally built by Conrad Hilton, lord knows when, and featuring the most wonderful Spanish tile lobby.

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RealPlay

realplay
John George Brown: Boy Playing a Flute Date (c. 1860)


" … the play seems too real to be too serious."


Anyone raised under The Protestant Work Ethic should find confusing the concept of playing for work. I suppose all entertainers suffer from some of this muddle, with comedians perhaps suffering most, for they slave away in laughter mines more oppressive than South African diamond ones. Musicians, though, too, also deal with material most closely correlated with leisure. Their work is their audience's play. They are even said to "be playing" when they perform their work. They're supposed to at least appear light-hearted and, dare I say (in the most traditional way) gay whenever they're up on stage. Nobody pays good money to watch a morose bluesman perform. His lyrics might describe absolute despondency, but the ethic governing its presentation insists that the performer definitely not be suffering when recounting his humiliation at the hands of some two-timing nobody, his reported "baby." He's supposed to be above actually grieving over the experience and somehow, paradoxically, be absolutely reveling in it. "My baby left me, cha cha cha!"

The songwriter, too, suffers from expectations, or can if not properly disciplined.

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RealWork

RealWork
Paul Gauguin: The Large Tree (1891)


"It was an inconvenient time …"


I look at an old set list and I realize that it represents RealWork that I actually accomplished. Each title manifested the hard way; none came easy, thank heavens, for RealWork must be difficult if it ever hopes to become rewarding. Nor was I ever paid to create even the least or the very best of the songs appearing on that list. I created each as an act, and sometimes an extended act, of something very much like love. Not like love of country or of spouse, but of self, but not narcissistic love, more like the filial kind. I created none of my songs in the hope that I might one day make money off them. Well, I should amend that blanket statement by saying that I wrote precisely one song with the sincere hope of making money off it, at the encouragement of my then agent, who'd insisted that the only way I'd ever make any real money in "the business" would be to write a disco hit, so I set about attempting it. The result was the biggest piece of shit I ever produced. I will not play it for you even if you ask nicely. I won't even play it for myself. It was a blessing of a lesson, one which further solidified an understanding. RealWork's not for pay or for profit, but properly for the ages.

My understanding came slowly, the recognition that I had been training myself in RealWork since I'd started becoming addicted to my instrument, since I wrote that first song.

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DiffsGiftering

diffsgiftering
Jan Harmensz. Muller:
Blind Fortune Distributing Gifts (16th-17th century)


"Nobody ever requests the greatest gift they receive."


The ancients believed that Fortune distributed gifts to The Gods, rendering each unique. In more modern times, Fortune seems no less occupied bestowing gifts upon mere mortals. The Gods having been long ago gifted, Fortune's only alternative might have been long-term unemployment, an intolerable condition in a fundamental force of nature. It seems inarguable that different people seem to have been bestowed with different gifts. Some were seemingly born with the gift of gab while others' superpowers seem to quite naturally stifle them. It seems common enough that some aspire to achieve what for which they were never naturally gifted, with sometimes tragic results. When I attended Junior High, a purgatory between childhood and adulthood that every child must pass through, I was subjected to what was labeled a career assessment instrument. It purported to be capable of questioning a twelve year old kid and, by analyzing his responses, determine his best prospects for a career. I was declared a probable accountant, an appalling assessment I swore to resist with my heart and soul. I could not relate to the black and white photograph of a buzz cut geek in a short-sleeved white shirt and skinny tie, smiling beside a ten key machine. I dedicated myself to growing up to become anything but that!

It might be that such experiences weighed on me to the point that I would never fit into proper society.

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SetTheory

settheory
Stuart Davis: Art Theory Text with Diagrams (c. 1932)


" … employing the magic of SetTheory"


My first career, more than fifty years ago now, was that of a songwriter, an admittedly made-up career choice attractive because it required only informal study. My high school guidance counsellor declared me Not College Material, a designation I later learned actually meant Not High School Material, which cut me off from a common birth family exit. Further, I had declared myself a pacifist in the face of the Vietnam war, so the military didn't offer me an offramp, either. I pursued music, though to be fair, I really should declare that the music pursued me first, and my response was at least half defensive. I, like many in my generation, acquired a guitar addiction while still in grade school. I fell in love with the thing and dreamed in chords and rhythms. I'm convinced that it altered my DNA. Unlike most, I came to write my own songs and, through that high school within which I never belonged, I nurtured my identity performing on a tiny stage in front of an actual brick wall in a church basement coffee house replete with tiny tables and flickering candles. I later even learned to hitchhike.

I encountered my first sets in that basement.

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CodaMysterious

codamysterious
Winslow Homer: Leaping Trout (1889)


" … make way for the next day's fresh blade."


Reviewing my now extensive oeuvre,—an utterly unpronounceable word meaning 'collected works'—I see that I've written this story at least a half dozen times before, probably more. I variously labeled it BegEnding or one of its variants (BegsEnding, etc.), suggesting that an ending often also represents a beginning, perhaps even that endings tend to be infinite rather than definite. They often smear into the next story, to live beyond their pages. This result should not surprise me or my readers, since this operation, my operation, runs on precisely this sort of stuff. Enough never proves to be enough. Doneness doesn't just quit.

It might be that the most valuable element of any of my collections of stories doesn't actually inhabit any individual story or, indeed, any collection, either.

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FinalFullDay

 FinalFullDay
George Hitchcock: The Blessed Mother (1892)


" … trying to find someplace to fit into a finished picture."


What started as an experiment became a practice before changing back into an experiment again: Againing. The once full moon this morning displays only the thinnest sliver of itself, preparing to preside over an equinox, one seemingly delayed a full day beyond its usually 21st of the month appearance, scheduled to show up in this year, 2022, on the twenty-second, thanks, I guess, to the magic of Moon Mathematics. Moon Math can shave as well as add, rendering expected into slightly different forms, recognizable, but never precisely. Expectations come, I suspect, exclusively in regular shapes, while experience tends to slop over edges. We perceive similarities as well as differences, sensing familiar without fully believing when we've found it. Life still seems new, even after so much time spent both on and off the shelf of it. My sense of self still seems unfinished again, Againing.

What did I think I was doing?

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ReMounting

remounting
Henri Toulouse-Lautrec:
The Hangover (Suzanne Valadon) (c. 1888)


" … permanently resolve nothing all over again again."


Months later and I still hadn't finished painting that first side of The Villa. I'd innocently believed when I started that I would have completed painting all three sides I'd planned to repaint this year, but I hadn't. I'd become an intermittent in practice. In theory, I almost always work continuously, diligently laboring until I finish a job. In practice, I lose my spot. This year, I could safely blame the weather. Too much rain early, then way too much heat later. Whatever, I could not maintain the natural rhythm of the work, let alone find it. I relegated myself into a odd-lot contractor, unable to reach scale or maintain cadence. My execution was therefore patchy. Oh, the emerging finished product looks fine, as if produced by continuous process, even if it was not. It took more effort as intermittent work than it could have possibly otherwise taken. As I near completion, I watch myself ReMounting that scaffolding one more time.

That first time climbing to the top resolved nothing.

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Incompatible

incompatible
Attributed to Suzanne Valadon: The Circus (1889)


" … our relationship utterly depends upon us making the most generous possible interpretations …"


The Muse and I acknowledged last week that twenty-five years had passed since we met. Anyone might presume, then, that we're a compatible pair, and I suppose we are compatible, but only up to a point. In many ways, we have always been Incompatible. Our stars were never in complete alignment. We each contribute a fair measure of frustration to the relationship. We each have our ways of accomplishing things. Attempts to partner don't always fall apart, but they also don't always work. I've learned to not take these failings very seriously, for that's the point where Incompatibility begins to matter, where it starts breaking down a relationship, tearing asunder. North of serious, things work. South of there, they absolutely don't, and couldn't.

Both The Muse and I were married before, her once and me, twice.

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CreatingContext

CreatingContext
Hans Sebald Beham:
Adam zittend op boomstronk met appel in zijn hand
[Adam sitting on a tree stump with an apple in his sinning hand] (1519)

" … a seemingly secret path to actually achieving it …"


The Muse had been complaining for months about the trash wood pile on the front porch. The pile, the natural product of last year's Grand Refurbish, needed cleaning up and we both knew that it was my responsibility to clean it up, and yet that job had never risen to the top of my UnfinishedBusiness queue until yesterday. I knew that I'd have to clean up that mess before we could replace the brick pillars around the front porch, but that job had crept into the unlikely category as Summer threatened to turn into Fall. It was supposed to start in Late August. Further, just that morning, Our Carpenter Joel, in his role as prime contractor for the repillering job, had reported that the contractor he'd lined up last Spring had gone incommunicado, apparently communicating by not communicating that he'd decided not to do the job after all. Suddenly, there was even less urgency to clean up that pile.

It's not that I hadn't contributed considerable brain power to considering how to satisfy The Muse's request.

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UnfinishedBusiness

unfinishedbusiness
Stuart Davis: Study for “Unfinished Business” (1962)


" … one stumbles back out of what one stumbles into …"


The end of a season invites in the auditors to assess progress made. Nobody wants a disappointing auditor's report, but some seasons, conditions seem to conspire against success, against progress itself. For me, this result typically happens when I've managed to accumulate more obligations than I can successfully juggle. It never takes much, more like it tends to take no more than an ungainly mix of even small stuff. A single procrastinating act might set off a cascade of small avoidances which quickly accumulate into an overwhelming backlog, one which appears beyond anyone's means to dent, let alone to clear. This accumulation becomes my burden, invisible, perhaps, to everyone else, but front row center prominent for me. It weighs extremely heavily upon me, encumbering everything I attempt, dissuading me from even trying to clear the scales.

The Muse notices but wisely mostly declines to mention.

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WindingDowner

windingdowner
John La Farge: A Rishi Stirring Up a Storm (1897)


" … in preparation for an on-time arrival."


The two most dangerous parts of every airplane flight come at the beginning and at the ending of the flying. The flying itself, once aloft and leveled off at cruising altitude, becomes pretty routine, but both beginning and ending observe what the regulating authorities call Sterile Periods, where, by law, crew must remain focused upon their responsibilities. No chit chat and no playing mumbly-peg in the cockpit. Beginnings and endings remain serious business. Writing's no different, and, I suppose, if I researched any profession, I'd find a traditional respect observed for beginnings and for endings. An innocent oversight before departure can bloom into a crisis once away. In some ways, I suppose that every profession amounts to life or death since none of the time any of us invest proves to be refundable. We hasten slowly when starting and no more quickly when coming back to Earth.

This Againing Series, begun in sublime ignorance almost three months ago, has started making noises like it's just about ready to land at its destination, wherever that might be.

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Adaptigrating

adaptigrating
Thomas Cole: View of Schroon Mountain,
Essex County, New York, After a Storm
(1838)


" … appearing more or less unbidden, wet and fearful …"


Anyone insisting that they grew up in the Good Old Days was not paying attention then. The Old Days I hail from would not nearly pass muster today. It was impossible then to find a decent loaf of bread in wheat country, and even the largest cities lacked a decent cup of coffee. People smoked with impunity and drank Coke® without irony. We might have gone to church each Sunday but we went right back to our same-old secular ways come Sunday evening. We were innocently and ignorantly every -ist in today's playbooks, and damned proud of it, mostly. Say what you might about 'wokeness,' but its precursor amounted to worseness, and we are as a people and as a culture getting better, as they say, with few notable exceptions.

Conservatives thrive on the Good Old Days Myth, though a myth it most certainly remains.

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Smoked

smoked
Salvator Rosa: Philosophy (1641)
Inscription: "Keep silent or say something better than silence".


" … they remind us how blessed we remain once their curse has fled."


The late summer forest fire has become a defining event in the Great American West. If not by the end of August, then certainly by the end of September, an incident will light some woodland on fire and the resulting smoke will set about obscuring sun and sky. For days or weeks, no sunrises or sunsets grace the time. Horizons shrink. Even the foothills a short distance away disappear into thick haze. Latitude for action shrivels, too. Driving comes to seem dangerous, perspectives narrow. After perhaps weeks spent hibernating from extreme heat, the smoke seems to add insult to indignity. I ache then to free myself from this place of my liberation.

It's certainly Heavenly here, or as close to Heavenly as I've yet experienced here on Earth, yet even this Eden hosts its apples and serpents.

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Illness

illness
Félix Vallotton:
La Malade (The Patient): Hélène Chatenay (1892)

"This Illness does not render her any more special than she already was, which was always considerable."


Illness seems different and distinct from mere sickness. Sickness seems an interruption, something contracted then resolved as a matter of course. In most cases, one simply recovers from the flu without long-lingering symptoms. Illnesses seem unique in that recovery's not presumed. They typically do not just take care of themselves. They need treatment. Sometimes, a course of medicine counterbalances the intrusion; often, more extensive interventions: surgery, quarantining, physical therapy, hospitalization, psychological counseling. Some of these responses might continue for the rest of the patient's life while others come in passing. One does not necessarily ever recover from an Illness. The Parkinson's my mom contracted at sixty was still with her when she died at ninety-something, though it had progressed considerably from its beginning as a questionable quivering into a totally debilitating presence. A person might be rendered free of cancer, but they're not considered "cured" until cancer-free for five years.

The Muse found a lump in her throat and to her credit, she followed up on it. I consider this act courageous.

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Backdooring

backdooring
John Singer Sargent:
Entrance of Blue Grotto, Capri (May 21 1869)


"Wider recognition only spoils the intention."


The Muse and I have been trying out new routes between our heres and theres. Most prominent at the moment, a route through Washtucna, a town of little note and far less substance. Access comes via two lane blacktop, up through the very least densely populated portion of our county and into an even more lonely stretch in an adjacent one. The road twists unconscionably, which makes for slow going. Yet we've taken to making our way up the Road To Washtucna wherever we head West, toward Seattle. Faster ways exist, though none shorter. This route features no semi-trucks, the bane of every traveler's adventures. It's a backdoor route, one not obvious to first-time tourists and uninteresting to those who equate freeway driving with freedom. We can toodle our way away and back again without any fear of anyone spotting us getting away or returning. We're Backdooring.

The older I get, the less interested I seem to be with status and notoriety.

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Aspect

aspect
Moon over Stevens Pass 9/11/2022, 3am


" … conspiring to escape my defenses …"


Up in these woods, this weary world seems fresh. A full moon crawls beyond a sixty-foot cedar to stare down unblinking upon my very early morning doings, and finds nothing wanting, nothing awry. All seems perfectly right with this world in this moment, travails intact, problem unsolved. The Aspect here precludes the usual fears. I feel suspended above and safely beyond wanting. All seems calm. All bright.

The Muse announced the presence of her cancer in a brilliant social media post, one which nobody who knows her could have possibly mistaken her not having been its author.

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Offlining

offlining
Salvator Rosa:
Diogenes Casting Away His Bowl (1661–1662)


"I might be someone other than who I pretend to be …"


My great great grandmother, born in the eighteen forties, lived to be almost a hundred. During her life, she experienced in her youth a medieval-quality existence as an immigrant on two great migrations from New York into Florida following Gadson's campaign and then on into Texas. As a young wife, she traveled the Oregon Trail clear to Oregon on horseback. By the time she died, WW2 had ended. People were flying. Just a few years before I was born, this world had already invented most of what we would readily recognize today, but in more primitive forms. Now, all those newspapers and magazines, radios and televisions visit us via a single medium, one we carry access to with machines small enough to comfortably fit into a pocket and powerful enough to utterly distract us from ourselves. My great great grandmother was a life-long pioneer. Her great great grandson, a slave.

I admit my addiction.

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TheReveal

thereveal
Frederic Remington: First and Best Camp of the Trip (1895)


"Each a detective, none a master."


We believe in TheReveal, that whatever mystery harasses us, we will eventually come to understand and thereby resolve it. This seems an inherently naive notion, since this world, this universe, seems more vast than even our imaginations might ever grasp. Still, we entertain and employ ourselves seeking answers, often to the wrong questions. We collect pieces to these puzzles in the belief that we might one day fit them together and release the tension. In Hardy Boy novels, this release came about in TheReveal chapter, where all the story's threads came together to affect resolution. The reader would learn
who done it? and the perpetrator would be carted off to jail. Frank and Joe might receive the heartfelt if slightly surprised appreciation from the police chief or their detective dad, then go on to stumble upon another mystery needing resolution.

I am here to reveal that life does not often work like that.

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RealChange

RealChange
Félix Vallotton: Corn Fields (1900)


"Things will never be the same again."


Change seems the real constant in this world, in this life. Stasis seems impossible, yet we're weaned to wish for difference, not stasis. We genuinely fail to see the essential contradiction in our constant striving for change, RealChange. I doubt that I would recognize the real McCoy if it sat on my face. The real McCoy might look more like nothing different at all. It might seem so familiar as to appear utterly unimportant. Remember when The Damned Pandemic forced us all to take up a sedentary lifestyle, always staying home, rarely roaming anywhere? That was a real and significant change to which many reacted by feeling bored and uninterested. We ached for the same old and called that different. Change seems the constant, constancy the real difference.

The Muse and I are poised upon the cusp of a significant change.

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Becausing

becausing
Attributed to Frans Pourbus, the Younger:
Profile Portrait of a Lady (1569 - 1622)


"Just let that mystery be."


Because belongs to that august class of words which carry no specific meaning. It seems to mostly play the role of placeholder, standing in for some more substantial explanation. It pretends to explain something, but utterly fails, except in omission. It seems to say, "Don't ask. I cannot tell," more of a brush-off, really. In the absence of a root cause, just say, "Because," just because.

Psychologists insist that we become more or less the sum total of our explanatory stories.

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Dazing

dazing
Rembrandt van Rijn: Old Woman Sleeping (c. 1636)


" … done Dazing for this waning season."


At this latitude, summer changes like a supertanker turns, in a wide, almost indiscernible arc. I might be excused for thinking the first hints mere feints, practice moves with no conviction behind them. Slowly, excruciatingly slowly, though, the easy mornings finally give way to presenting high fifty degree temperatures and I gratefully don a sweatshirt and happily bid goodbye to my sweaty pillows. As almost unbearable as the nights have been, the days have been absolutely overwhelming me. If I was not done with my outside chores by eight, at the very latest nine am, I could forget about completing them that morning. I might occasionally squeak in an additional couple near the end of the day, having by then once again grown somewhat accustomed to the insult to the point where I could complete 'em in hundred degree shade. The bulk of my August days were spent Dazing, in hot weather hibernation, idly gazing, almost dozing. It was my final defense.

Let the record show that I didn't completely collapse, however otherwise misleading appearances might have seemed.

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Laboring

Laboring
Winslow Homer: For to Be a Farmer’s Boy (1887)


" … we observe it from a safe distance in the shade."


Labor Day might be the only holiday we do not celebrate. Oh, we observe it, or we certainly try to observe it, but something in the American character steadfastly refuses to celebrate Laboring. Our native Yankee genius has always been attuned to figuring out ways to avoid Laboring instead, and specializes in producing labor saving devices. We secretly consider anyone laboring to either be a convict, sentences to a term at "hard labor," or a fool, too simple to concoct a way to avoid the sweaty stuff.

We paradoxically, though, claim to revere the hard worker.

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Pa

pa
Hercules Seghers: Enclosed Valley (c. 1623–30)


" … I love my overalls …"


Years ago, when my son was barely one year old, my first wife and I bought our first house. It wasn't much. Two bedrooms featuring peeling wallpaper, worn paint, and a basement given over to cobwebs and mouse poop, but we set about fixing it up, though neither of us considered ourselves qualified. The interest rate on the mortgage was fifteen and a half percent, the best we could bargain for under Reagan's grand prosperity strategy, which left us feeling as if we'd landed in the middle of The Great Depression. The old guy we'd bought the place from left a weary pair of overalls on a basement shelf. I washed them up and tried them on, never having previously had the pleasure, and took to wearing them as I labored around the place. As often happens for me, that clothing imparted a new identity to me. I became 'Pa' whenever I wore them, a character loosely based upon an actor in a popular television series at that time, The Waltons.

I guess I needed a role model and imprinted upon him.

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NextChapter

nextchapter
Thomas Birch:
Capture of the Tripoli by the Enterprise (1806/12)


" … I'll still already be gone by then."


My experience of this life so far strongly suggests against the existence of sequential anything. Sequential seems a hypothetical, one possible alternative rarely actually encountered; a theoretical, all things being equal, when things only very rarely end up being very equal. I skip around instead. I might set off in some definite direction, following the simplest of instructions, but soon encounter some distraction, some unexpected abstraction needing fleshing out. The road not taken seemed the very soul of straightforward. The road actually traveled seemed to have meandered.

Oh, plans rely almost entirely upon sequential construction.

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Anti-

anti-
Alfred Stieglitz: Listening to the Crickets (c. 1900)


"Impossible and necessary …"


I this week declared myself Antifa because I consider myself vehemently anti-fascist. Who wouldn't be? An old acquaintance called me out, noting that a shadowy group considered to have been responsible for much anonymous street violence travels under the Antifa label, but then so, too, does a deeply anonymous collective of hackers who have uncovered considerable elite wrong-doing, and so, too, does a loose association of equality-seekers who protest financial elitism, which seems the very soul of fascism. The problem might lie in the Anti- label, what philosophers refer to as the 'negative space' identifier. Yesterday, as my dentist fitted a new cap onto one of my molars, he asked me to try to determine if it fit properly, a state I might recognize because I wouldn't notice any difference when I bite down. A positive space target would have provided an experience from which to judge success rather than the absence of an experience. We worked until I decided that I couldn't feel any difference, but I left with doubts that I'd succeeded in properly reporting success. Negative spaces work like that.

My Anti- feelings toward fascism fail to characterize what I'd consider an adequate replacement for fascism's presence.

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FairWeather

fairweather
Ben Shahn:
Untitled [county fair, central Ohio] (August 1938, printed later)


"Nostalgia seems a much more reliable companion …"


Summer's finished. It just doesn't quite realize it yet. As if to demonstrate its remaining vitality, the temperature pushed a hundred again, but the people long ago grew accustomed to even that extreme. They stream to the Fair, regardless. So do The Muse and I. We come to work the Democrat booth, a fabled responsibility. Occasionally, some delusional Q fan or Trump supporter has been known to wander by and harass whomever's working the booth, so we're wary. Cowboys wander by with smirks on their faces and "Brandon" on their lips, quietly shaking their heads as they pass. Our people stop by carrying their enthusiasm with them, grateful for our presence. It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you. They're really out to get us.

The booth has a grandstand view of the fair's entrance, a broad sidewalk where everyone entering must pass.

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Resettling

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


"The playing field suddenly seems wide open."


I peeked into The Muse's office yesterday and found her desk barren, her large display monitor and high speed printer gone, returned to The National Lab as a sure sign of her retirement. We returned to a different place than we left. Further, we returned different people than the ones who left, too. The cats were the first to notice. We came as ghosts and, once familiar patterns disrupted, neither cat seemed to know what to do with our presence. It took a day for them to switch back, or really attempt to. The house, too, seemed changed. Absent the presence of The Muse's career responsibilities, the place seemed more open, freer. It would take some Resettling to settle back in here, though I wonder if there might not be any real back to begin settling into. This rehabitation might well be an invention.

People our age refer to their forever home.

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HotPillow

hotpillow
Ary de Vois: Jacob’s Dream (1660 - 1680)


" … just as long as I don't have to make a steady habit …"


The Muse admits to being a hotel snob. After all those years spent working for the lab, through which she most months traveled at least a few days, she developed certain standards, certain expectations for what a hotel should and should not provide. Because she stayed at first class hotels when traveling on business (Why not? She received the government rate!), her previous minimum standards shifted upward. Believe me, we've stayed at some marginal digs, the kind author James Elroy referred to as HotPillow joints, implying that their primary business might not be providing places of rest but of salacious exercise. Few experiences prove quite as upsetting as discovering, typically at about three in the morning, that your sleeping room is adjacent to a brothel. This sort of thing rarely happens in your higher class lodgings, but probably only because they feature more effective soundproofing.

Now that The Muse has retired, she loses some of her previous perks, government lodging rates among them.

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Trans-IT-ioning

trans-it-ioning
Caspar David Friedrich:
The Woman with the Spider Web between Bare Trees (1803)


" … deferring arrival into our future together …"


The Muse retired three days ago, but because we haven't arrived back at The Villa Vatta Schmaltz yet, she's still Trans-IT-ioning into whatever she will next become. The traveling days serve as a buffer, allowing us both to try on fresh identities, and I say "us both" because while she's retired, my role changes, too. One cannot change any element within a tightly-bound system without also effecting every other piece, and our relationship's no exception. The Invisible Husband might not have retired, but his role significantly shifted with The Muse's. I think it a significant blessing that we're sort of dawdling our way back home, since it provides an opportunity to stumble across a fresh identity or two and try them on along the way. These things take time.

We visited The Golden Spike National Monument on our way through Utah, perhaps a premise to extend our Trans-IT-ioning, but a worthwhile one.

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TakingTime

takingtime
Weegee (Arthur Fellig): Weegee by Weegee (c. 1953)


"a thief for this day"


The outward trip insisted upon arriving "on time," for we travelled with purpose. The Muse had obligations, presentations to perform, and she could not afford to be tardy, so I drove as if MakingTime. Returning, The Muse freshly retired, urgency seemed to have been bled out of us by then. She lazed around until she was good and ready to get up, and I patiently played along. I felt anxious to get back, as I always am on the return leg of any trip, home calling, but she seemed in no hurry so we began the day's drive with the morning already half gone. Further, I drove passively, not insisting upon even keeping to the speed limit, cruising for something other than progress. We passed through Glenwood Canyon. Any day marked by passage through that timeless portal proves remarkable, whatever else might happen.

We found a mediocre barbecue joint for lunch, where I was served what seemed like a cud of pork and The Muse, an over-done and dry rib, each more satisfying than they had any right to seem.

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ExilesEnd

Exile'sEnd
Gustave Courbet: Panoramic View of the Alps,
Les Dents du Midi
(1877) unfinished work


"We gained a garden at the cost of losing that world …"


When does an exile end? The homecoming just begins the exit, for attachments made out there still hold. The Muse retained her position, so she continued connecting in more or less the same fashion after relocating home. She became a remote worker, just like any other until The Damned Pandemic started lifting. Then, she'd occasionally return, working in borrowed space, back into the workplace she'd inhabited before. Her exile followed her back home, her liberation incomplete until this week when she formally retired, turned in her credentials, and forfeited her computer and phone. Her departure almost seemed like the start of yet another exile as we drove through Golden, a town we'd grown so damned familiar with during the actual exile.

I, too, sensed the continuing connection, my well-practiced role of The Invisible Husband during the exile, continued even after we returned home.

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Morebility

morebility
Charles Laborde: Traffic, Montmartre (1925)


"Mobility has become its opposite."


My mobility will very likely be the death of me, for I cannot seem to deny the primal urge to move. My dissatisfaction with simply sitting invites me into perhaps the most self destructive habit on this planet, driving. The imagined freedom of the road goads many into what I might label Morebility, the morbidity of movement; movement for its own sake, movement as compulsion, movement as self-justifying. In the small city to which The Muse and I have settled, traffic only rarely presents a problem. When the travel time across the whole place takes about eight minutes during the peak of rush hour, such as it is, nobody's really in the business of seriously trying to limit the number of cars on the road. Along the Front Range of Colorado, though, traffic has become much more than a problem. It seems more a disease as each takes their leave and the roads quickly clog, filled to beyond their design capacity for several hours each day. Rush hour moves at a snail's pace. Freedom of movement becomes a parody of itself.

The Gods, of course, absolutely love this stuff.

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AThousandMiles

athousandmiles
Katsushika Hokusai: A Mild Breeze on a Fine Day (Gaifu kaisei),
from the series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei)”
(c. 1830/33)


" … enough distance to change the past."


I woke up AThousandMiles away from home, and feeling the distance. I sensed a deep familiarity along with an accompanying alienation, for this place, once the site of our extended exile, no longer belongs to us or us to it. When we owned a home here, I could at least believably imagine that I belonged. Since we left, I'd hardly given it an idle thought. Yet here I am and here it is, confronting each other again. Me, with my muscle memory still so well-tuned to this context that my fingers remember when to change the cruise control speed in perfect anticipation of an upcoming change. I remember which lane sets me up for the turn, just like an old hand.

I notice that this place has not stood still in my absence.

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StoryOuting

storyouting
Unknown Artisan(s)-Netherlands, early 16th century:
Story of Perseus and Andromeda (early 1500s)


"We are stories perhaps never coherently told …"


Faced with the existential crisis a birthday brings, I long ago ceased shopping for relief. I decided that I could not possibly buy myself out of this dilemma brought on by the urgent need to give the very best gift. In the past, I've usually resorted to producing a poem, and there've been plenty in their time. [I excuse The Muse her …, you get the drift.] I've sometimes produced an original song, one of which was the first ever Folk Noir tune and another, which accurately predicted our future. (The Invisible Husband, circa 2011.) This year, The Muse's Day happened when we were away. I attempted to write a poem while creeping around our shared hotel room but the context didn't feel right and the words wouldn't come. Writing a poem, especially one of potential importance, will not just come if beaconed. It must be reckoned with. It comes when it's ready and never entirely due to any sense of urgency, which most often serves to scare off the damned thing, anyway. Birthdays, as I said, produce existential crises.

We had five hundred miles of two lane blacktop looking at us, a day of traveling ahead.

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MakingTime

makingtime
attributed to Mewar Stipple Master:
Prince Amar Singh Drives His Own Elephant (c. 1695)


" … I will have become a system …"


What am I doing while I'm driving? That's a complicated question that gets down on one knee and begs an equally complicated answer; but I'm a simple man, one more prone to simplification than explication. I hold deep suspicions about anyone attempting to definitely answer that question, for too many moving parts get involved, along with human emotion. No, my friend, that's one terribly, terribly complication question.

I, myself, seem barely present when driving.

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LeaveTaking

takingleave
Jean-Léon Gérôme: Leaving the Oasis (1880s)


" … having re-earned our presence by being good and gone."


Folk songwriter John Gorka once insisted that as a traveling performer, he left more often than he ever came back. There was a time when The Muse and I lived like that. We lived as if on a continual grand tour, departing before gravity could catch us, always on the move. The Damned Pandemic slowed our viscosity. We rarely take leave now. A whole other existence lays on the flip side of mobility, a settled life, a more dependable existence. One can come to think of one's self as indispensable by default, since the home place rarely needs to get along without one's presence. Absence becomes unthinkable and the promise of LeaveTaking feels like an existential threat. I spend a few days in growing denial before finally accepting the inevitability less than twenty-four hours before departure time.

In the final hours, The Muse suggests that we might fly instead of drive, and I put down my foot. With This Damned Pandemic, I won't fly.

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TheIrrelevancies

theirrelevencies
William Michael Harnett: Memento Mori, "To This Favour" (1879)


" … inevitably slipping into a growing good twilight."


Mastering TheIrrelevancies might be that true purpose of advancing age, for youth becomes obsessed with establishing the relevance nobody can take to their grave. A younger generation will always be on the heels of any one spawned before it, and they must and will find the flaws in their forebears' arguments if they ever hope to gain prominence for their own. Some try to fight this trend and attempt relevancy until the ultimately bitterer end, an exit inevitably rendered ever more bitter and irrelevant, but irrelevancy by omission turns out to be a much, much different experience than irrelevancy by commission, the former a form of humiliation, the latter holding hope for at least some sort of salvation.

The GrandOther fulfills her part in this grand scheme by purposefully discounting pretty much everything I mention.

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CellAbrate

cellabrate
John Singer Sargent: The Birthday Party (1885)


"Each birthday just reminds me that the lifeday's the thing …"


I can't say how much I appreciate all the birthday greetings I received yesterday. I can declare that I deeply appreciated each and every one and would have written a lengthy response to each had the volume not overwhelmed me. Many insisted that I should take the day off to celebrate, which I did, but probably not in the way any of my well wishers envisioned. There was no cake. In these Damned Pandemic times, no gathering. No party, no favors. No rabble roused, nothing soused. I celebrated as I damned well pleased, as I secretly prefer. I engaged in my usual activities of daily living a tad bit more mindfully than usual, appreciating what I had, not seeking to acquire any more than I already possessed. No presents. No pretenses. I reheated leftovers for supper, fled to bed early, and slept a sleep of angels. Happy, happy birthday, indeed.

I remember when I was about ten, my parents organized a birthday party for me.

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Schrödingers

schroedingers
Giovanni di Paolo:
Saint John the Baptist Entering the Wilderness (1455/60)


"May I prove worthy of my future …"


Each morning, I sit before my keyboard possessing another unstated story. In some ways that story will only degrade from that initial point, for with each finished sentence, its potential further collapses into just whatever it will be. At the moment of inception, it could include anything. By the time I finish writing it, or call it done enough, it will have become a definite and smaller presence. It will have become unique and specific rather than general and infinite. In this way, I seize each day.

I'm coming to acknowledge that first moment as a Schrödinger, in homage to Erwin Schrödinger, who, in 1935, attempted to criticize an interpretation of a quantum condition by explicitly describing a paradox whereby a hypothetical cat may be considered simultaneously both alive and dead as a result of its fate being linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur.

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PlotTwisting

PlotTwisting
Edward Burne-Jones: The Garden Court (1870–75)


" … the ability to fall apart into unanticipated constituent bits …"


The standard fairy tales seem anything but standard, for each story prominently features some barely believable PlotTwisting. What might have begun as a straightforward stroll to grandmother's house, invariably turns into something much more interesting and, frankly, barely believable, if believable at all. Wolves do not as a general rule wear a grandmother's clothing, even after swallowing her whole. They rarely consent to crawl into anyone's bed, let alone come inside, even to chide a remarkably innocent and gullible Little Red Ridinghood, who, remarkably, does absolutely no riding in the whole story, though in the story's final scene, she does manage to perform some major surgery—or is that an autopsy?—as she extracts whole and otherwise unharmed, though apparently unmentionably slimy, her previously swallowed grandmother from the wolf's belly. The whole story's allegory, twisting in an uneven wind.

Your story and mine are, if scrutinized, hardly any less believable than the least of Hans Christian Andersen's.

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LivingInTheDark

livinginthedark
Marsden Hartley: The Dark Mountain (1909)


" … blindness seems to help me see some things better."


The more we learn about our universe, the more light seems an alien element. Our Earth, like its moon, naturally produces almost no light, but depends upon light cast by a rather distant sun. We "see" into our universe by means of light, mostly the ultraviolet kind we cannot sense without mechanical assistance. What little light we manage to produce, fleeting and dim, slips through our fingers, gone almost before we sense it and certainly leaving more than ever arriving. In a galactic sense, we LiveInTheDark. Nobody in any distant galaxy has been tracking me by the light we emit because we hardly qualify as even a dim bulb in the firmament, though we still remain eminently capable of sometimes feeling absolutely full of ourselves.

Most, and me included, hug close to our light sources.

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DoggedDays

DoggedDays
Pieter van der Heyden (engraver),
after
Pieter Bruegel (artist):
The Four Seasons: Summer (1570)


" … as if splooting somewhere in the middle of a frozen food aisle."


I abandon my bed just after midnight, wondering if night cooling has finally rid us of the previous day's heat. These Dogg
edDays of summer exhaust me. The Muse does not complain as I disappear to lie in front of a box fan or into the shadows of a lengthy mid-day nap, replete with disturbing dreams. These dreams further exhaust me, refreshment presently beyond my grasp. I hold my compass heading but make little progress. The Muse asks what I have in mind for dinner and I reply with a distracted, "Nothing," before resuming what I wasn't doing before she asked. Friends flee to the beach where fog and cool breezes bring respite. Here, wheat harvest continues and the air fills with chaff and dust and the scent of diesel engines. A flour mill burned down last weekend in Pendleton, victim of a bad bushing and an inattentive watchman. The initial fire was quickly drenched and a watchman posted to monitor for flareups. The watchman was pulled after a few hours and a couple of hours later, that fire flared and nobody was there to report the incident. By the time the brigade returned, the place had burned into a smoking shell, a total loss. Blame the DoggedDays of August.

August rhymes with exhausted.

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Mutualizing

mutualizing
Giuseppe Baldrighi: Lion (1750s)


" … this world is better off, too."


I start most days with a period of interspecies communication, Mutualizing, with Max our cat. He initiates these sessions. I'm uncertain about the details from his perspective, but I suspect that he's showing me appreciation and respect when he ambles into the library to hop up onto my lap and stretch out for a scratch and a purr. We share not even the odd verb, but I sense that we're conversing after a fashion. The chat always starts with some questions and tentative answers. Sometimes, he hesitates but consents to allow me to pick him up by the scruff and plop him onto my lap. Other times, he clambers up onto the chair back and climbs down my shirtfront. He quickly settles in, sometimes for no more than a minute—"Just checking in," he seems to say—and other times, he'd stay for hours if I didn't have business to attend to after an hour. He usually lingers for a half hour, sprawling, completely vulnerable, trusting and peaceful.

I cannot imagine a more reassuring way to start any day than to have a fine cat, who could easily choose sublime independence, decide to share some of his wildness with me, seemingly appreciatively.

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Sloughing

sloughing
Margaret Bourke-White:
World’s Highest Standard of Living [Silver Gelatin Print]
(1937)


"Arbeit macht frei!"


I fail to explain, even to myself, how I came to live this essentially binary existence where I'm either working hard or hardly working, producing something or Sloughing off. There seems to be no middle ground, or none that I've found. Even when I manage to tucker myself out, I have not even then earned a rest. What respite I grant myself, I account for as laziness, pure and simple. What rest I take, I consider sloth rather than rejuvenation, and I allow myself only the barest minimum. Beyond that, I start accumulating guilt about failing to properly apply myself. I consider myself to be a wasting asset, one which degrades, whatever I engage in, for I tend to fall short of full engagement, which would be a state with which I cannot quite relate, but recognize only by its absence. I'm confident that I've never experienced full engagement. I'm just a dabbler, I suspect.

I hear politicians divide our great population into two otherwise undifferentiated parts, the hard workers and the intolerables.

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Relentlessness

relentlessness
Jean Antoine Linck: Study of Weeds (1800-1850)


" … more like who I was when I started …"


I feel most impressed with the utter Relentlessness of this universe, where nothing, it seems, succeeds like excess. Particularly in this season, Summer, where I find myself up most mornings, dragging hoses, watering. Weeds which stand outside the watered perimeter thrive. I have no idea what they survive on, for the ground cracks and presents as distinctly unpromising, yet there's always something adapted to even the most wanting place. Give a patch of clover an inch and it will at least attempt to overgrow the whole lawn, growing stronger, shrugging off weed killer, multiplying before exponentiating with abandon. Each plant, each species, seems to lack a governor and quite naturally, Relentlessly, seeks dominion.

I speak emphatically about community, about giving and sharing, but our role models seem indifferent to such.

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Heap

Heap
Alfred Sisley: The Seine at Port-Marly, Piles of Sand (1875)


" … enriching our historical record …"


Future archeologists should be able to fairly accurately map our rhythm of life at The Villa Vatta Schmaltz, primarily by excavating our noble compost Heap. The Heap holds sequential record of our dining year from which even half-baked archeologists should be able to piece together a decent portrait of our preferences and practices. I noticed yesterday that we'd re-entered the Green Chile part of the year, which has always been squeezed in-between the cherry/apricot/plum Stone Fruit season and the now impending tomato time. We put up produce in turn, producing piles of pits and peels which we dutifully pile on top of The Heap, thereby laying down our gastronomic self portrait.

Very little goes to waste here.

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Unseen

unseen
Jacques Callot:
The Uneven One with a Cane, from
Varie Figure Gobbi (1616)


"I am also the sum total of what remains Unseen …"


The following day, my vision returned with a vengeance, in HDTV-quality as if to remind me of all that I had not been seeing, of all that I had not noticed, of all that had recently gone Unseen. I found it humbling to discover what I never really suspected, a prominent blindness. I gratefully never caught myself incapable of seeing. I never quite suspected the depth of my blindness, and presumed that I was experiencing just a slight reduction, a general fuzziness, but I had for months, perhaps a year or more, lost whole dimensions. The vision I experienced that next morning, following the cataract replacement lens clearing laser procedure, were nothing less than extraordinary. A fresh world presented itself to me, distracting in its detail. Colors brilliant, even the muted ones; the textures, profound.

I suspect that blindness must be one of those states that does not exist in any moment. It exists in reflection, by comparison.

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Seeing

seeing
Reijer Stolk: Gmünder See mit Traunstein (1906 - 1945)


" … no more than an annoying background mumble eliciting a muffled scream."


I might privately admit that over recent months, my vision had gone to shit, but I would never otherwise consider admitting this because vision, Seeing, seems such a personal and private experience. My optometrist commented—in no more than an aside, really—that it appeared to him that the lens installed during my cataract surgeries three years ago were starting to look a little cloudy. Cloudy, I thought? But I believed that the cataract surgery would be the last such insult to my eyes, to my vision, that they wouldn't require additional procedures. So much for belief, for I later learned that pretty much everyone who receives that surgery needs a follow-on procedure a few very short years later. I told my optometrist that I'd get back to him later on the subject, thereby entering that first stage of acceptance, denial.

A few weeks later, I'd grown weary of fuzzy perception.

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Installing

installing
Louise Pithoud:
Male and Female Bacchants Installing a Herm (1792)


"I consider them ours."


Installing comes after design and fabrication, and little of either of those earlier stages really prepares anyone for the final challenges. This is where idea finally meets its context, where imagination finds its anchor. Final boundaries and ultimate limits finally come into play. There was probably no way to fully prepare for this day other than to acknowledge it coming. The ruminating that dominated design matters little now. The overlooked will have their day. Last minute surprise will complicate the whole conception, a final reckoning occurs. Reputations might well be threatened and might be made. Be very afraid. It won't matter.

I warmly anticipated Installing the new front porch stair railing.

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Mac&Pleas

macnpleas_
Miep de Feijter:
Hans en Frans verkleed als Alkmaarse kaasdragers
[Hans and Frans work as
Alklmaase cheese carriers] (
c. 1928 - c. 1941)


" I eat my share warmed over …"


A time will come, because it always has, when I will once again be called upon to make "my" Mac&Cheese, my famous Mac&Cheese. My Mac&Cheese became famous because The GrandOtter liked it, or, more properly, loved! it. I made it for a few dinner parties, too, and many proclaimed it the very best they ever consumed. It thus became famous, though dinner party proclamations tend to be heavily lubricated and contextualized by a generalized camaraderie. Nobody ever openly criticizes dinner party dishes, and some gushing seems common to all of them, still, I had reason to believe that my Mac&Cheese was at least pretty good. I knew it was unusual, for I didn't use milk in my cheese sauce. I used stock, which makes a fine sauce without delivering what usually turns out to be a milk pudding sort of base. My Sauce Velout
é provides a better foundation for the cheese. I also usually avoid using actual macaroni in my Mac&Cheese.

Mac&Cheese is always, really about the cheese.

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IfOnly

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


" … slinked home without salvation …"


The Muse suggested a drive up to the top of The Scenic Loop to show her visiting nephew John a different part of this valley. We soon found ourselves standing beside a dusty road, threshing wheat in our palms, working on creating gluten balls for chewing. It's long been our practice in harvest season to glean a stalk or two from the periphery of a wheat field and wonder at the magic within them. The Muse counts forty-five kernels from one head, recalling how her father could count one head's kernels and fairly accurately project the bushels per acres he'd harvest from his field. The Muse reports word of bumper crops this year, with eighty bushels per acre on dry land and twice that from irrigated fields. Her dad counted forty bushels a bumper crop in his place and time.

We drive on, working that wheat paste as if it were chewing gum, up further into the mountains, since John lives in South Dakota and has rarely seen mountains.

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Periphery

periphery
Gustave Caillebotte:
Les raboteurs de parquet [The Floor Planers] (1875)


"I just live here."


When The Muse holds a gathering, I prefer to work the Periphery. I'll busy myself with some self-appointed responsibility perhaps only distantly related to the proceedings. I'll flit in and back out again and very likely spend the bulk of my time offline, on the back deck, perhaps, grilling something intended for the table later. I might greet a few people at the front door, but rather quickly disappear, only to reappear to lead a brief guided tour of recent home improvements. I'll suggest a beverage and see that it's delivered, stay for a brief conversation, then evaporate again. I'll contribute, but on my own terms.

I found it curious whenever I took to a stage as either a performer or a teacher that I never seriously intended to become anything like the center of anyone's attention.

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Break

break2
Gustave Caillebotte:
Study of a Man with Hands in His Pockets (1893)


"The Break seems beginningless until it doesn't."


Autumn sends a postcard sometime in August to preface the coming season. After a forever hot spell, one morning brings goose flesh or the strong suggestion that it might still exist, a distinct impossibility just the day before. Nothing never ends, not even nothing, not even that seemingly endless heat, the one that had so rudely interrupted Summer. Summer seems three separate seasons now that global warming has imprinted her presence. Early Summer's an extension of Spring, Mid-Summer's an ordeal, and Later Summer's Early Fall, clearly not yet Autumn, but reminiscent of it in the early mornings and later evenings. Later Summer seems a welcome respite, a Break from the frightening Mid-Summer melting point.

Cool eventually intrudes.

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Fittings

fittings
Mary Cassatt: The Fitting (1890–91)


" … we might just as well be satisfied with the process destined to ultimately delight us."


In the house I grew up in, the music room—the room with the piano and also the room where 'us kids' could isolate to practice our band instruments—doubled as the fitting room for my mom's seamstress business. She'd make wedding dresses and ball gowns, and she'd escort a steady stream of society ladies into that room to try on their new creations. Some pieces required multiple Fittings, as completion took on an iterative nature. There are apparently many elements of dress construction which can only be approximated without the person who will wear it present. Custom made clothing demands a great deal of patience. My mom would pin together seams for later sewing. Occasionally, she'd have to pull out the old seam ripper to completely redo something. It all seemed so exacting.

These childhood experiences tipped me off to the fact that complicated constructions do not come in one-and-done forms.

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Reward

reward
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardine:
The Attributes of the Arts and the Rewards Which Are Accorded Them (1766)


"I'll just have to wait and see …"


I sat in the dentist's chair feeling consigned to enduring my well-deserved penance. I had, after all, avoided dentists for more than a decade while I failed to work through a small trauma, a slight so minor, so seemingly routine, that I might have not even noticed, except I'd noticed and blown it all out of proper proportion, and there I was, collecting my just deserts. Except this work didn't seem all that onerous, especially when compared to how I'd for so long imagined it would be. Compared to my pre-catastrophizing, this was nothing. I imagined the same routine work being undertaken fifty years before under the technology and fumbling hands of my childhood dentist, Himmler Pearson, who always seemed to revel in the discomfort he imposed. More modern practices emphasize patient comfort. I almost expected to be offered a brandy and a Montechristo, but wasn't.

With little left to do but imagine through what once would have been the excruciatingly painful portion of the procedure, I began to consider what, if not punishment, if not penance, was I experiencing?

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Bloggering

bloggering
Edouard Vuillard: Orchard (1897)


"I seem to need to work in stone tablets."


I blog, and therefore, am. Am what? Well, a blogger for starters and by extension I suppose that I become a writer, though blogging isn't precisely what one might call writing, for blogging's pickier than simply writing. It requires considerable classification and codifying in order for the finished product to properly display and organize. I blog in series, relating all my production into quarterly segments, my current Againing Series, an example of this convention in action. Each addition, each fresh post, must satisfy a few qualifications before it can be published by posting. Each must have a unique title, for the blog software goes a little crazy when it encounters two identical titles, even when those titles belong to different series. Title must be unique, so, once I've decided upon a topic, which first often amounts to little more than a proposed title, I search both my blog archives and its Resource file to ensure that the proposed title has never been used before. I often find that I need to adjust what I thought would be the title to work around this uniqueness convention.

Molly or Max, my cats, might show up just about then, seeking breakfast and reassurance, providing distraction.

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Vectoring

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Jacob van Hulsdonck:
Still Life with Meat, Fish, Vegetables, and Fruit (c.1615–20)


" … a narrowing and no longer terribly elegant Broadway."